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Donald Trump made it clear at the beginning of his campaign that he wasn’t going to follow the normal rules or tone of politics. We’re keeping track of all the ways his presidency veers from the norm in terms of policy and rhetoric.
Day 239 Sept 15
Trump is still blaming “both sides” for Charlottesville violence
When it comes to the white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville last month, President Donald Trump still thinks some of them were alright — that there were some “bad dudes” among the counterprotesters.
Taking questions on Air Force One on his way to hurricane-ravaged Florida on Thursday, Trump reiterated, again, his belief that “both sides” shared responsibility for the violence that took place in Charlottesville. The comments came the day after Trump met with Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina for a meeting on race relations.
“Especially in light of the advent of antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you know, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also,” Trump said, adding, “in fact, a lot of people have actually written, ‘Gee, Trump might have a point.’”
Sen. Scott wasn’t surprised. “He is who he has been, and I didn’t go in there to change who he was,” Scott, the first African-American elected to the Senate since Reconstruction, said. “I wanted to inform and educate a different perspective. I think we accomplished that. To assume that immediately thereafter he’s going to have an epiphany is just unrealistic.”
Trump’s been widely condemned and faced major fallout for repeatedly blaming both sides in Charlottesville, drawing a moral equivalency between the marchers and the counterprotesters. Two corporate advisory panels had to be disbanded after CEOs resigned from them over Trump’s comments, and GOP leaders, like Paul Ryan, and members of his own Cabinet, including economic adviser Gary Cohn and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, have condemned the “both sides” comments.
Day 237 Sept 13
Steve Mnuchin wanted to use a military plane for his honeymoon, but he had a good reason
Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin asked for a military aircraft worth roughly $25,000 an hour to fly him and his wife around Europe for their honeymoon in June, sources told ABC News, because he apparently needed “access to secure communications.”
The former Goldman Sachs banker, reportedly worth $300 million, ultimately decided that it was “unnecessary.”
A spokesperson for the Treasury Department told ABC News that Mnuchin needed the aircraft because he’s a member of the National Security Council.
“The Secretary is a member of the National Security Council and has responsibility for the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence,” the spokesman said in a statement. “It is imperative that he have access to secure communications, and it is our practice to consider a wide range of options to ensure he has these capabilities during his travel, including the possible use of military aircraft.”
Mnuchin is already under investigation for a recent trip to Kentucky where, amid official meetings, he and his wife watched the solar eclipse from atop Fort Knox. The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing the trip “to determine whether all applicable travel, ethics, and appropriation laws and policies were observed,” the office told the Washington Post.
— Alexa Liautaud
Day 236 Sept 12
Trump keeps inviting dictators to the White House
President Donald Trump gets along well with autocratic leaders — and the scandal-ridden Malaysian Prime Minister is the latest to get a White House welcome.
Prime Minister Najib Razak visited Tuesday after Trump invited him back in August to strengthen diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Malaysia. Najib is also staying at Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., on the Malaysian government’s dime. (Trump is being sued over maintaining his financial stake in the hotel.)
Najib, known to silence and imprison those critical to him, even journalists, is a target in the Department of Justice’s largest criminal kleptocracy case ever. Investigators are looking into him for laundering $1.7 billion in Malaysian government funds through U.S. financial institutions, including jewels, a Picasso painting, and rights to a pair of Hollywood comedies.
The last time Trump met with Najib, over a round of golf a few years back, Trump signed a photo of the two of them “to my favorite prime minister,” according to the New York Times.
Trump’s warm feelings toward Najib are par for the course. During a visit to the White House, Trump told Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian leader who’s “disappeared” dissents, that he has “a great friend and ally in the United States and in me.”
Trump also invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to the White House, although Duterte rejected him. During a friendly phone chat in April, Trump congratulated Duterte for his “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” Duterte’s crusade against drug use has left thousands dead.
Trump’s lawyers were preparing for Kushner’s resignation this summer
After some of Donald Trump’s lawyers decided they wanted Jared Kushner out of the White House, their aides reportedly drafted a statement explaining his resignation — just in case, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Back in June, Trump’s lawyers were reportedly worried about Kushner’s ties to Russia amid the multiple investigations into the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. And Kushner’s multiple, highly publicized meetings with Russians had put him under the scrutiny of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who’s leading one of the investigations in the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russians.
But Trump himself wasn’t convinced Kushner had done anything wrong, and he’s since restructured his legal team, pushing out longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz in favor of John Dowd, a prominent Washington white-collar lawyer.
“I didn’t agree with that view at all. I thought it was absurd,” Dowd told the Wall Street Journal. “I made my views known.”
Dowd said he thinks Kushner’s “a great asset, real gentleman, a pleasure to work with.”
Kasowitz, meanwhile, denies any of this every happened. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, he said, “I never discussed with other lawyers for the President that Jared Kushner should step down from his position at the White House, I never recommended to the President that Mr. Kushner should step down from that position and I am not aware that any other lawyers for the President made any such recommendation either.”
Day 235 Sept 11
Trump has picked 41 men and 1 woman to be federal prosecutors
After picking just three women to serve on his 23-person Cabinet, President Trump isn’t doing any better with his U.S. Attorney nominees. Of the 42 people he has nominated so far, only one is a woman, BuzzFeed News reported.
Ninety-three U.S. attorneys serve as the country’s lead federal prosecutors, heading offices across the country. When Trump abruptly asked for the resignations of all Obama-era U.S. attorneys in March, it left 90 of those 93 spots in district offices empty.
While these positions have typically been held by men, Trump’s picks are extraordinarily, overwhelmingly male. For comparison, 12 of President Obama’s first 42 nominees for U.S. Attorney were women.
Trump’s sole female nominee is Jessie Liu, for the top job at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. Liu is an attorney at the U.S. Treasury Department as of this year, after working at several private D.C. law firms for the past decade. According to Liu’s bio at one of those firms, her work focused primarily on defending government contractors against investigations. She also worked as an attorney in the Justice Department Civil Rights Division under President George Bush.
Only three of Trump’s 42 U.S. attorney nominees have been confirmed by the Senate so far, so it could be a while before Liu takes the helm.
Bannon heads to China after comparing it to Nazi Germany
Former White House strategist Steve Bannon is headed to China this week to speak at an investor conference hosted by a state-owned Chinese brokerage firm. But that didn’t stop him from comparing Beijing to Nazi Germany.
“China right now is Germany in 1930,” Bannon told the New York Times. “It’s on the cusp. It could go one way or the other. The younger generation is so patriotic, almost ultranationalistic.”
“A hundred years from now, this is what they’ll remember — what we did to confront China on its rise to world domination,” he added.
Bannon’s expected to call for tougher American policies on China at the event, which will focus on “American economic nationalism, the populist revolt and Asia,” a spokeswoman told Bloomberg.
The former White House chief strategist, who abruptly left his role in August, gave a bombastic interview just days before he left that lambasted members of the Trump administration for “wetting themselves” on trade disputes with China and being duped in a “sideshow” over attempts to recruit Chinese help on dealing with North Korea.
Some speculate the interview sealed his ticket out of the White House.
In 2016, Bannon predicted an American war with China within a decade and has long argued Beijing’s trade policies and land-seizures in the South China Sea have harmed American workers and imbalanced global stability. Many of Trump’s stances on China since taking office have reflected a similar hard line, including an executive order to investigate alleged Chinese intellectual property theft.
The animosity cuts both ways though. State-owned newspaper China Daily ran a cartoon in February that implied Bannon was a neo-Nazi force behind Trump’s global ambitions.
— Josh Marcus
Bannon on Comey firing: biggest mistake “in modern political history”
Steve Bannon hasn’t gone quietly since leaving his role as White House chief strategist in August. Just days later, he promised to go “to war for Trump against his opponents — on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America.”
Bannon, however, seemed to go after his former boss instead of his enemies on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday. Bannon criticized Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey as the biggest mistake “in modern political history.”
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that if James Comey had not been fired we would not have a special counsel,” Bannon added.
Despite Trump’s resistance, Mueller’s wide-ranging probe has so far investigated some of Trump’s top advisers and the president’s own financial empire. In the last few months, the investigation has also grown in intensity, including raiding the home of Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, and looking into whether Trump helped his son, Donald Jr., lie about a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of the Russian government’s effort to get Trump elected.
The damage from firing Comey hasn’t stopped there either. The former FBI director testified before Congress in June that Trump had requested his loyalty and asked him to “let” his inquiries into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s Russia ties “go,” which raised concerns that Trump obstructed justice.
— Josh Marcus
Day 230 Sept 6
Trump’s campaign is selling $45 gold medals with his face on them
Only a handful of Americans will ever receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a U.S. citizen can receive. But thanks to President Trump, the similar-sounding “presidential medal” can now be had for the low price of just $45.
That’s right: You, too, can buy a presidential medal, courtesy of the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, a joint fundraising committee for Trump’s re-election campaign, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. The gold medal features Trump’s face and a promise to “Make America Great Again” (which encircles an American flag, of course).
Neither Trump’s reelection committee nor its Federal Election Commission–listed treasurer immediately returned VICE News’ request for comment about when Trump started selling the medals, but records from the Wayback Machine — an archive of most of the internet — show that the presidential medal webpage first appeared online Wednesday. Trump’s campaign also released a YouTube video on Wednesday meant to highlight the resurgence of American manufacturing but also shows workers creating medals with Trump’s face on them.
The video ends with a link to Trump’s campaign gear site.
The new commemorative medal won’t quiet critics’ cries that Trump is “licensing the presidency” — accusations that surfaced again last week when Trump wore one of his campaign’s $40 “USA” hats to tour Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. While profits from campaign merchandise ostensibly go to the campaign’s pockets, not Trump’s pockets, no other president has ever launched a re-election committee so quickly.
— Carter Sherman
Trump won’t stop lying about American taxes
Donald Trump is spreading inaccuracies about American taxes again.
In a Wednesday morning tweet, the president called the U.S. “the highest taxed nation in the world.” It’s a claim he’s made a few times in the past — and he was wrong on those occasions, too.
In fact, the U.S. places somewhere near the middle or bottom of the OECD countries using typical tax metrics, according to 2015 data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Other major economies like the U.K., Germany, and France have higher taxation rates.
Trump will discuss one of his major campaign talking points in North Dakota on Wednesday: tax cuts. House Republicans are returning to the Hill this week to begin work on a tax-cut bill to benefit businesses and rich people.
Trump will undoubtedly bring down the hammer (or at least send out some strongly worded tweets) to push the plan through Congress. Since his repeated efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare derailed, he’s in need of a legislative victory.
— Rex Santus
Trump “has grounds” to decertify the Iran nuclear deal
In just over a month’s time, President Trump will again have to decide whether he believes Iran is living up to its side of the nuclear deal struck in 2015. Twice he has gone against his own instincts and recertified the deal, but if Trump’s ambassador to the U.N. is to be believed, he will not ignore his gut a third time.
In a speech given to conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, Nikki Haley stopped short of saying outright that she thinks Trump will decertify the deal on October 15 — an agreement which gave Iran billions of dollars in global sanctions relief in exchange for severely curbing its nuclear activities — but Haley did say that should the president take that route, he would be within his rights.
“I’m not making the case for decertifying,” Haley said. “What I am saying is should [Trump] decide to decertify he has grounds to stand on.”
Haley laid out two avenues by which Trump could void the nuclear agreement.
The first is on national security grounds. The legislation Congress passed on reviewing the Iran deal requires the president to certify that the deal is vital to the national security interests of the U.S. every three months. On that basis alone, Trump could decertify the agreement.
The second is based on the fact that Iran continues to test technology capable of carrying a nuclear warhead — in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Haley also said Iran was still supporting terrorism, conducting arms-smuggling, and violating travel bans — all reasons for Trump to pull the plug.
But Haley also said that should Trump fail to certify the deal, it did not automatically that mean the U.S. would pull out of the agreement. Under the law, Congress would have 60 days to consider whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran.
“Congress could debate whether the nuclear deal is in fact too big to fail,” Haley said.
The president has long opposed the deal struck by the Obama administration, calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated” during the election campaign.
— David Gilbert