Donald Trump’s highly abnormal presidency: a running guide for May
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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 134 May 31
Trump reportedly told world leaders to call him on his cell phone
It’s not enough for Donald Trump to tweet at world leaders anymore. Now, he wants them to call his private cellphone, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Trump asked the leaders of Canada and Mexico to use his personal line, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reportedly took him up on the offer, current and former U.S. officials told the AP. Trump also reportedly swapped numbers with French President Emmanuel Macron in early May.
Presidents typically use official, secure phone lines for calls to foreign leaders. Even if Trump were to use the Secret Service–encrypted smartphone he started using in January after ditching his beloved Android, it’s still a security risk, according to security experts.
And if Trump disclosed highly classified information in an Oval Office meeting with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office, imagine what he could do with a potentially unmonitored phone.
Trump also made Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State his cornerstone tactic in undermining her credibility during the 2016 presidential campaign.
P.S. Remember this?
Trump tweets defense of Carter Page, who he supposedly doesn’t know
President Trump used Twitter to defend someone other than himself early Wednesday morning.
So now it is reported that the Democrats, who have excoriated Carter Page about Russia, don't want him to testify. He blows away their….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
…case against him & now wants to clear his name by showing "the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan…" Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
But according to members of his administration, Trump doesn’t know Carter Page, who was once a foreign policy adviser for his campaign. Page left his role in September amid pressure over his dealings with Russia and has since agreed to testify in front of the House.
After Page’s departure, the Trump team attempted to distance themselves from him pretty quickly. During Trump’s first news conference, on Jan. 11, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed Trump didn’t know Page.
“Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign,” Spicer insisted.
Then on March 21, Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway doubled down on the denial.
“I’ve spoken directly with the president and other senior officials about this. He doesn’t know these gentlemen. He didn’t work with them.” Conway said on “Fox & Friends,” referring to Page and another former campaign adviser, J.D. Gordon.
Unfortunately for Trump’s damage-control team, his tweets prove otherwise. An audio recording of Trump exactly a year before Conway’s statement also caught Trump telling the Washington Post he’d be hiring “Carter Page, PhD” for his foreign policy team.
As for Trump’s claim that Democrats no longer want Page to testify — a segment of Trump’s favorite program, “Fox & Friends,” aired early Wednesday before Trump’s tweet that reported House Democrats had postponed (not revoked) their invitation to Page, as Business Insider pointed out.
Trump confuses the internet with tweet about “covfefe”
Shortly after midnight Wednesday, Donald Trump took to Twitter to address his 31 million followers. His message? “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” The mysterious message was given no explanation or correction in the six hours it remained up on the president’s account. Before being deleted, it had been retweeted 126,000 times and liked over 160,000 times.
No one really knows what Trump was doing. Did he fall asleep mid-tweet? Did he quickly hide the phone under a cushion when he was caught tweeting by an aide? Or did the message have some deeper meaning we all missed? Whatever the truth, the internet reacted just as you would expect. The tweet became a meme in record time, and the jokes kept going long after Trump deleted the message.
I was about to go to bed but I guess i have to stare at this covfefe tweet until it goes away now
— Ashley Feinberg (@ashleyfeinberg) May 31, 2017
that was the moment Trump became prsiduvhirw pic.twitter.com/fKVPPNVFH0
— Anthony Brian Smith (@AnthonyBLSmith) May 31, 2017
"Not only is covfefe a word, it's the greatest word ever uttered." pic.twitter.com/kWhfLrFaKn
— Zach Braff (@zachbraff) May 31, 2017
— Lucy Gorman (@lucy25) May 31, 2017
Trump eventually tweeted again shortly after 6 a.m., but he did little to clear things up:
Who can figure out the true meaning of "covfefe" ??? Enjoy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
Day 133 May 30
Trump condemns anonymous sources — except when they support him
President Donald Trump gave his Twitter followers a lesson over the weekend on how to spot what he called fake news. According to Trump, the words “sources say” in a story mean it’s “very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers.”
….it is very possible that those sources don't exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2017
But then on Tuesday morning, Trump retweeted the show “Fox & Friends” after it posted a Fox News story with the headline “Jared Kushner didn’t suggest Russian communications channel in meeting, source says.”
That source, according to the story, is “someone familiar with the matter.”
The Fox News story was referring to the Washington Post’s Friday report that Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak told Moscow about a suggestion Kushner allegedly made to him in early December: that the Trump transition team and the Kremlin set up a secret and secure communications channel using Russian diplomatic facilities.
That story was based on both an “anonymous letter” sent to the Post and the input of anonymous intelligence “officials.”
Trump does have a point, however — anonymous sources are sometimes quoted when people say things that are not true:
An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 6, 2012
Trump’s latest tweet slams Germany days after Merkel shaded him
President Trump continued his lecture series on financial duty Tuesday morning by calling out one of the U.S.’ strongest geopolitical and economic allies on Twitter.
We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2017
The NATO story, however, we’ve heard before. Throughout his campaign, Trump complained about member nations not paying their “fair share.” And in his first speech to NATO last week, the president said that “chronic underpayments” from 23 of the 28 countries are unfair to America, (which does pay a disproportionately large portion of its GDP to the alliance).
Trump zeroed in on Germany just days after Chancellor Angela Merkel offered a grim takeaway from his first meeting with the G-7 leaders on Sunday. Trump was the only one who didn’t recommit to the Paris Climate Agreement.
“The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over,” Merkel told the crowd at an election campaign rally in Munich Sunday. “I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.”
The contentious relationship between the German and American leaders could put a damper on a decades-old alliance.
Frmr CIA Dir McLaughlin: Trump creating rift w/ Germany and Europe "is one of the most damaging things I have seen in…years and years."
— Steve Peoples (@sppeoples) May 30, 2017
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, however, assures the damage isn’t irreparable.
“It is true that we have a difficult situation in relations between the United States and Germany,” Gabriel said. “But the United States are older and bigger than the current conflict, and so I think we will return to good relations in the future.”
Day 131 May 28
Trump resumes Twitter war on “fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media”
Back at the White House, the president resumed his war on the media Sunday, tweeting “many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media.”
The flurry of tweets broke a period of relative Twitter calm for the president during his nine-day foreign trip through the Middle East and Europe. The president did find time to congratulate Montana Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte on winning his special election, but made no mention of the fact that Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly body slamming a reporter the day before the vote.
Does anyone notice how the Montana Congressional race was such a big deal to Dems & Fake News until the Republican won? V was poorly covered
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2017
The president is presumably trying to discredit a series of anonymously sourced stories reporting son-in-law Jared Kushner is under FBI investigation, and that he set up a back-channel conversation with the Kremlin during the election. The New York Times reported the president is to meet with his newly appointed legal team Sunday, who are expected to recommend he keep a lower profile on Twitter.
It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2017
Whenever you see the words 'sources say' in the fake news media, and they don't mention names….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2017
….it is very possible that those sources don't exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2017
Jared Kushner reportedly spoke with the Russian ambassador three times during the campaign
Jared Kushner, son-in-law and close adviser to President Trump, had three previously undisclosed contacts with a Russian envoy during the 2016 presidential election, Reuters reports.
According to Reuters sources, Kushner spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak three times during the presidential election. The Washington Post reported Friday night that Kushner wanted to set up a secret line of communication with the Russians that wouldn’t be intercepted by the Obama administration, which intelligence officials thought was naive and reckless.
Trump’s entourage, meanwhile, is dodging questions about Kushner’s Russia contacts. “We’re not going to comment on Jared—we’re just not,” Gary Cohn, the White House economic adviser, told reporters at a Saturday briefing at the G-7 summit.
H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, tried to make Kushner’s contact with the Russians appear normal. “We have back-channel communications with a number of countries. What that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner, so I’m not concerned,” he said.
Day 129 May 26
Jared Kushner reportedly wanted a “secret and secure” way to communicate with the Kremlin
Jared Kushner, White House adviser and President Trump’s son-in-law, reportedly told a Russian official last December that he wanted to set up a way to communicate with the Kremlin so that the United States government, then still under Barack Obama, would not be able to to know what was said.
Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was surprised by Kushner’s suggestion that they use the Russian embassy or consulate to set up such a secret, secure communications channel, the Washington Post reported Friday evening. Intelligence officials told the Post that the whole idea was “extremely naive or absolutely crazy,” as not only would American intelligences agencies likely notice that a member of Trump’s transition team was walking in and out of Russian diplomatic headquarters, but Russian officials could leak Kushner’s request. Still, according to the Post, Kushner indicated that being able to talk to the Kremlin secretly was “necessary.”
On Thursday, NBC News reported that the FBI had started to scrutinize Kushner as part of its investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, believing that he had “significant information relevant to their inquiry.” Kusher has also previously faced criticism for failing to disclose his meetings with Russian officials, involving Kislyak and a prominent Russian banker, until the media reported on it.
Michael Flynn, who was fired as Trump’s national security adviser over his conversations with Kislyak, was also reportedly at that meeting.
Day 128 May 25
Trump barges past other world leaders to be at the front of group photos
Trump rattled his fellow NATO members in Brussels Thursday, in a couple different ways. When he spoke to the group, most analysts expected him to endorse Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that the U.S. must come to the aid of any other NATO ally if it comes under attack, following the deadly Manchester bombing. Except he didn’t, something that former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said was “a major blow to the alliance.”
— Ivo Daalder (@IvoHDaalder) May 25, 2017
Instead, Trump berated the more than two dozen NATO countries that he says are not contributing their “fair share” to defense spending. “This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States, and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years,” Trump said, as representatives of the countries looked on in silence.
With Trump, it's not "America First" but simply "Me First!" pic.twitter.com/JI8dQKHWEh
— Andrew Stroehlein (@astroehlein) May 26, 2017
Next on Trump’s NATO agenda was to make sure that he was at the front of any group of world leaders — even if that meant shoving the prime minister of Montenegro, Dusko Markovic, out of the way.
Did Trump just shove another NATO leader to be in the front of the group? pic.twitter.com/bL1r2auELd
— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) May 25, 2017
And what better way to round out the day than by insulting one of your most important NATO allies? “The Germans are bad, very bad,” Trump told EU leaders at a meeting on Thursday night, according to Der Spiegel, adding: “See the millions of cars they are selling in the U.S. Terrible. We will stop this.”
"The Germans are bad, very bad. See the millions of cars they are selling in the U.S. terrible. We will stop this." https://t.co/SZMo3MaXcM
— SPIEGEL English (@SPIEGEL_English) May 25, 2017
All in all, a very productive day for the U.S. president. Next stop: Sicily, for the G-7 summit Friday.
FBI believes Jared Kushner has “significant information” relevant to Russia probe
The FBI’s probe into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election has zeroed in on senior White House adviser and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has “significant information relevant to their inquiry,” NBC News reported Thursday.
So far in the investigation, the FBI has primarily focused on individuals connected to the Trump campaign who have since left the administration, like former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn. But targeting Kushner, as both a top-echelon White House employee and a member of the Trump family, brings the now-criminal investigation much closer to Trump himself.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that the FBI believed a senior White House official was a “person of interest” — a term with no legal definition — but didn’t name who it might be.
It’s still unclear what drew investigators to Kushner or if he’s faced any records requests from them, but Kushner has previously failed to disclose meetings with prominent Russians on security clearance forms — an oversight that could qualify as a federal felony.
Nixon’s son-in-law referred Carter Page to the Trump Administration
For months, Carter Page and his ties to Russia have been a thorn in the Trump administration’s side. The former Trump campaign adviser has continued to deny any wrongdoing, but with each new report that emerges — that the FBI suspected Page of working for the Kremlin and surveilled him, that the Senate Intelligence Committee have asked him to hand over Russia-related records — the White House has had to scramble to minimize Page’s connection to the Trump campaign.
So how did the Trump campaign ever come to accept Page as an adviser in the first place? In a twist almost too perfect to be real, President Richard Nixon’s son-in-law Eric Cox referred Page to the campaign, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
That’s right — you can thank a relative of the nation’s most infamous president for connecting Page and Trump. It’s far from the first link between Trump and Nixon — Trump’s recent firing of FBI Director James Comey echoed Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, and whose actions members of Congress have taken to calling “Nixonian” (though Nixon’s presidential library was quick to point out that Nixon never did fire an FBI director).
However, to Cox’s credit, it appears that the Trump campaign had a spectacularly spotty vetting process. As one longtime campaign official told the Post, the Trump campaign was so desperate for warm bodies it would welcome “anyone who came to us with a pulse, a resumé and seemed legit” into the ranks of the campaign.
Joffrey Baratheon is running the U.S., George R.R. Martin says
Finally, someone is speaking in terms the average American can relate to: Game of Thrones analogies. During an interview with Esquire the author of the series, George R. R. Martin, compared Trump to one of the plot’s most narcissistic and sadistic characters — King Joffrey Baratheon.
“I think Joffrey is now the king in America,” Martin told Esquire. “And he’s grown up just as petulant and irrational as he was when he was thirteen in the books.”
The best-selling author casually mentioned the similarity during an extended profile on Kit Harington who plays Jon Snow on the show. Harrington also had a few choice words to say about Trump.
“Mr. Donald Trump — I wouldn’t call him President, I’ll call him Mister,” he told Esquire. “I think this man at the head of your country is a con artist.”
This recent comparison isn’t the first time Martin has weighed in on Trump. Days before the November election he gave his opinion of the now American President on his blog.
“In my lifetime, there has never been a presidential candidate more unfit to lead this nation,” Martin wrote. “He has boasted that he could shoot someone dead on Fifth Avenue and still not lose any votes. I am beginning to think he was right.”
Trump and Macron square off during “white-knuckle” handshake
U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron met for the first time Thursday at a NATO summit in Belgium. Trump praised the centrist Macron for his “tremendous victory” in France’s May 7 election — though Trump had previously expressed support for Macron’s opponent, the far-right nationalist leader Marine Le Pen.
That may help explain the two men’s handshake.
As pool reporter Philip Rucker of the Washington Post wrote, “Each president gripped the other’s hand with considerable intensity, their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening.”
— hal (@halhod) May 25, 2017
Though Trump’s hand looked limp and helpless in a photo posted on Twitter, Trump has a reputation for aggressive handshakes in which he yanks someone toward him — for instance, a high-ranking official — so hard that the person is thrown off balance. Trump then often gives the person’s hand a gentle pat.
Kushners busted on Instagram for giant, undisclosed art collection
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump didn’t declare their multimillion-dollar art collection on government ethics forms. They did, however, declare it on Instagram, where Ivanka makes a habit of photographing herself in front of the art hanging in their Fifth Avenue apartment.
While the Office of Government Ethics requires federal employees disclose pieces of art worth more than $1,000, Kushner left a slew of works by blue-chip and emerging artists worth around half-a-million each off his form, according to ArtNet.
The pieces and artists include:
- Alex Israel
- Alex Da Corte
- David Ostrowski
- A Nate Lowman painting similar to one that sold at Sotheby’s for $665,000 in 2013
- A Dan Colen mixed-media work similar to one sold by Phillips New York for $578,500 in 2012
Kushner’s lawyer told ArtNet the couple displays their art only for “decorative purposes,” but just to be safe, they’ll file a new disclosure form that includes the pieces they omitted, although we don’t when that’s coming. Several other members of Trump’s administration didn’t forget their own art collections on the forms.
Kushner has failed to disclose several other assets and conflicts of interest to the OGE. White House ethics experts, however, have repeatedly said it’s not uncommon for administration officials to update their forms.
While ArtNet mostly operates as a large-scale research and trading platform for wealthy dealers and buyers, a few of its reporters couldn’t help but find a political scoop on the administration. (They’ve been rolling out almost daily.)
Day 127 May 24
Two more big Russia scoops just dropped
As the reach of the federal investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election increases, so has the speed at which reports about Team Trump’s ties to Russia emerges. Wednesday was no exception.
First, the New York Times reported Thursday that Russian officials discussed how to use Presidential aides Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn to influence Trump months before the 2016 election. Both Manafort and Flynn — who, at the time, respectively served as Trump’s campaign chairman and as an adviser — had ties to Russia that officials believed they could leverage, according to American officials briefed on the intelligence.
It’s still unclear if the Russians ever actually worked with Manafort and Flynn, which could qualify as collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. But American intelligence agencies were reportedly worried enough about the information to pass it onto the FBI, which opened an investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election around the same time.
Minute after the New York Times’ story broke, CNN reported that Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to reveal meetings with Russian officials when he applied for security clearance, apparently thanks to an FBI staffer’s bad advice — even though Sessions had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least twice during the Trump campaign. Sessions also didn’t mention these meetings to the Senate during his confirmation hearing for his attorney general gig, a move that ultimately led Sessions to recuse himself from the federal investigation into Russia.
Sessions is just the latest Trump official that has apparently struggled with his paperwork — Jared Kushner also reportedly failed to list his meetings with Russian officials on his security clearance form, while a top Democrat said that Flynn didn’t mention Russian contacts to Pentagon investigators.
Housing Secretary Ben Carson says poverty is just a mindset
Poverty is just a construct of the mind, Ben Carson — retired neurosurgeon and current head of Housing and Urban Development — asserted in an interview released Wednesday.
“I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind,” Carson said during a SiriusXM interview set to air Wednesday night, the Washington Post reports. “You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there.”
People develop that “state of mind,” Carson said, largely due to poor parenting. “And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.”
Carson has repeatedly criticized both welfare programs and the people who he says depend too much it, though the retired neurosurgeon was born in impoverished circumstances and benefited from a number of government-assistance programs for the poor growing up.
Trump told Duterte “great job” on drug war that’s killed 8,000
Donald Trump gave Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte a late-night ring in April to tell him what a bang-up job he’s doing with his war on drugs — which has taken more than 8,000 lives in just a year.
“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte on the call, according to a confidential transcript from the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs published by The Washington Post on Tuesday. “Many countries have the problem. We have the problem, and what a great job you are doing, and I just wanted to call you and tell you that.”
A complaint was filed against Duterte in April in International Criminal Court that accused him of being a “mass murderer” whose ordered extrajudicial killings of drug suspects constitute crimes against humanity.
The two world leaders, however, spent the bulk of the phone call talking smack about North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un. For example, Trump asked the Philippine president’s opinion on a pressing matter: Is Kim “stable or not stable?”
“He is not stable, Mr. President, as he keeps on smiling when he explodes a rocket,” Duterte ensured. “[H]e is laughing always and theres as [sic] dangerous toy in his hands which could create so much agony and suffering for all mankind.”
After discussing China’s role in addressing the mounting nuclear tensions, Trump insisted the U.S. “can handle it,” but he’d prefer if China did. Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping hung out for two days in Florida, and now, they’re good good friends, according to the POTUS. He gave Duterte permission to name-drop him when Duterte calls China about the “madman with nuclear weapons.”
Day 126 May 23
Trump retains private counsel as investigation into Russia ties continues
As the special counsel–led investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia heats up, Donald Trump has retained his longtime personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz to join his team of private attorneys, White House officials told the Wall Street Journal Tuesday.
Unlike White House counsel, who represent the office of the presidency, Kasowitz will represent Trump’s personal interests. It’s not an uncommon occurrence and other presidents have hired private attorneys before — President Bill Clinton did so repeatedly, during the “Whitewater” investigation into his real estate dealings, during his impeachment process, and again in a civil sexual harassment lawsuit. But Kasowitz’s reported hire follows days of damaging reports about Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey and amid rumors about possible impeachment. Comey is also expected to soon testify publicly about his firing and his investigation into whether Team Trump colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.
Kasowitz, according to the Wall Street Journal, had already planned to continue to represent Trump privately during Trump’s time in office.
Ex-CIA chief concerned Russia made friends on Team Trump
Former CIA Director John Brennan, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday morning, said he was concerned that Russian intelligence agents might have gained the cooperation of people in Donald Trump’s campaign last year.
“I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign,” said Brennan, who headed the CIA during the campaign season.
That part’s not much of a surprise. The CIA had intel connecting the Trump campaign to the Russian government last summer, according to the New York Times. At the time, the CIA was reportedly still feuding with the FBI over Russia’s intention: The CIA said it was to get Trump elected, the FBI contended it was just to sow chaos.
But what is new is that Brennan had reason to wonder whether the Russians had succeeded at making friends on the Trump campaign.
“I was concerned because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals [on the campaign],” Brennan testified. “And it raised questions in my mind again whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”
Meanwhile Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant, have agreed to turn over documents requested by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Michael Flynn, an early passenger on the Trump Train who was fired as national security adviser just weeks after Trump took office, has refused to comply with the Senate committee’s request for documents. According to Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, that might have to do with suspicions that he misled investigators about payments from the Russian government when he was attempting to regain his security clearance for White House work.
Black mold and raw sewage plague Kushner Co. housing, tenants say
Over the past five years in Maryland, real estate company JK Westminster LLC and its subsidiaries have filed hundreds of lawsuits against low-income tenants for almost any amount of unpaid rent, according to joint reporting from ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine. And despite tenants’ legitimate claims in the cases, the companies win nine out of 10.
“JK” happens to be the initials of Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, whose family business, Kushner Companies, owns JK Westminster. While Kushner stepped down as CEO of Kushner Companies in January, he retains a stake, reportedly as much as 90 percent of his prior holdings, worth hundreds of millions.
JK Westminster currently owns 34 complexes across Maryland, Ohio, and New Jersey, with close to 20,000 units, according to ProPublica and NYT Mag. And the largest concentration of units — 15 complexes that house as many as 20,000 people — is in Baltimore County. While some of the residents receive Section 8 assistance, the residences unofficially serve as public housing since Baltimore County has none.
A spokesperson for JK Westminster told ProPublica and NYT Mag that the companies follow industry standards for maintenance, but tenants who’ve been taken to court have complained about many different issues, including:
- black mold
- loud, violent neighbors
- charging tenants for maintenance, like holes in the walls
- understaffed management
- ceiling leaks
- broken appliances, like refrigerators
- maggots in the carpet
- raw sewage coming from the sink
In some cases, these problems caused them to move out. Read more about individual tenants’ experiences here.
A search for “JK Westminster” in Maryland District Court system revealed 548 brought by the company. And in some cases, to receive payment, lawyers worked for the company garnished tenants’ wages and cleaned out their bank accounts.
The spokesperson told ProPublica and NYT Mag that the company has a “fiduciary obligation” to its partners to collect revenue but also that “Westminster Management only takes legal action against a tenant when absolutely necessary.”
Day 125 May 22
Flynn declined to mention Russia ties to Pentagon investigators, top Democrat says
When applying for security clearance last year, former national security adviser Michael Flynn allegedly failed to mention to Pentagon investigators that he had eaten dinner with Russian president Vladimir Putin and had recently received payments from a Russian company.
The House Oversight Committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, sent a letter Monday urging committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah to subpoena the White House for documents related to Flynn, who was forced to resign in February after he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations about a Russian ambassador.
Flynn told Pentagon investigators that “U.S. companies” paid for a trip he took to Moscow in 2015, when he attended an event honoring the Kremlin propaganda outlet RT and sat at a table with Putin, according to Cummings’ letter. In fact, RT paid Flynn more than $45,000 for a speech he gave at the event. Though that money was routed through Flynn’s U.S.-based speakers’ bureau, Cummings said, RT also paid “directly” for some of Flynn’s expenses.
Falsifying or concealing such information could be illegal, adding to Flynn’s already perilous legal situation.
“We need to know what the president, vice president, White House counsel, and other top officials knew about Flynn — and when they knew it,” Cummings wrote. Last week, the New York Times reported that White House officials were already aware that Flynn was the target of a federal investigation when they hired him.
Earlier this month, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence subpoenaed Flynn for documents relating to that committee’s investigation into Russian interference into the presidential election. On Monday, hours before Cummings’ letter, Flynn’s lawyers said he would not be cooperated with that subpoena — a decision that could put Flynn in contempt of court.
Trump denies a Russia allegation the press never made
President Donald Trump stood beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday and, in an apparent off-the-cuff remark, addressed his recent meeting with Russian officials in which he revealed highly classified intelligence provided to the U.S. by Israel.
“Just so you understand,” Trump told a group of reporters, “I never mentioned the word or the name ‘Israel,’ never mentioned it, during that conversation. They’re all saying I did, so you have another story wrong.”
In fact, no one in the press had said that. As the Washington Post first reported, during a May 10 Oval Office meeting Trump revealed “highly classified information” to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak that “jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.”
Really confusing moment here where Trump stops the press from being ushered out of his photo spray with PM Netanyahu. Full video—> pic.twitter.com/A7UVcw3Zt2
— Tom Namako (@TomNamako) May 22, 2017
The intelligence reportedly concerned an ISIS plot to use laptops to damage commercial airliners. Neither the U.S. nor Israel has officially confirmed that the intel originated with Israel.
Seconds before Trump made the bizarre admission, Netanyahu told reporters that the countries’ “intelligence cooperation is terrific.”
The White House budget office wants the director of ethics to stop asking so many questions
On the campaign trail, Trump said he would have “no problem” banning lobbyists from his administration. Now, his administration is not only hiring them at a higher rate than previous one, it’s trying to make it impossible to know whether their hiring violates federal ethics rules.
Well, the head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter M. Shaub, Jr., doesn’t appreciate the secrecy. On April 28, he requested that federal agencies and the White House provide him with a copy of all ethics waivers issued by June 1. He’s reportedly intending to make the documents public.
In an unusual letter sent to Shaub last Wednesday and obtained by the New York Times, head of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, said the request “appears to raise legal questions” and asked Shaub to hold off until those can be addressed.
“It is an extraordinary thing,” Shaub told The New York Times about the White House request. “I have never seen anything like it.”
Without the information, Shaub can’t do his job. The Office of Government Ethics was created after the Watergate scandal with the primary purpose of requesting information from federal agencies to make sure they’re adhering to ethics standards.
While Trump may have signed an executive order that appeared to keep former lobbyists from working in federal positions that involve their former employers, it offered an exemption: waivers. Obama also reserved the right to grant ethics waivers but made them public with detailed explanations.
This isn’t the first time Shaub has picked a fight with the president over his ethics. In November, Shaub tweeted at Trump from the Office of Government Ethics’ account to sell off his real estate assets to avoid conflict of interest. And then in January, Shaub gave a speech criticizing Trump’s complicated web of holdings.
Jared Kushner is keeping 90 percent of his real estate holdings, report says
Despite promises to avoid conflicts of interest, financial disclosures reveal Jared Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump — both now White House employees — will keep nearly 90 percent of their real estate holdings, according to an analysis by the Washington Post.
According to the Post, the 124 assets, totaling between $132 million and $407 million, include:
- Baltimore-area apartment complexes that rely on federal housing assistance
- multimillion-dollar interests in a suburban mall in Monmouth County, New Jersey
- upscale apartments in Brooklyn, backed by private investors and banks
- a stake in BFPS Ventures, a commercial real estate company worth at least $50 million, his most valuable asset
- a Times Square real estate complex
- a slew of Midwestern apartments, from Toledo to Speedway, Indiana
- mobile home park in New Jersey
- up to a $5 million share of one of two new buildings in Jersey City
The last one sits across the street from another Kushner building from which Kushner did divest — one that his sister recently promoted, using the controversial EB-5 visa program, to a ballroom full of Chinese investors in Beijing. The White House said Kushner had recused himself from discussions about the program, which offers U.S. visas to foreign investors in domestic projects.
“30 Journal Square is a separate project that did not pose the same complexities, including EB-5 financing, as One Journal Square,” Kushner’s attorney told the Post.
Kushner declined to comment to the Post and declined requests to review his ethics agreement, which would reveal what topics he pledged to avoid due to conflicts of interest.
Day 124 May 21
Netanyahu tells Israeli Cabinet ministers they have to meet Trump at the airport
A “fuming” Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly “blew up” during a meeting with his cabinet members on Sunday after a number of them said they’d rather not attend a planned tarmac welcoming ceremony for President Donald Trump.
The Israeli prime minister reportedly told his ministers they must attend the Monday event at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, which will kick off Trump’s first visit to Israel as president. Three major Israeli newspapers — Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, and the Times of Israel — each reported that due to shifting plans for the ceremony, several members of Netanyahu’s cabinet wouldn’t be on hand to shake hands with Trump.
At least three of them — Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin — told Netanyahu they did not want to cancel previously scheduled work commitments in order to greet Trump.
The welcome ceremony had already been cut short at the request of White House officials who didn’t want to stand on the hot tarmac longer than they had to. The ministers will have to arrive two and a half hours before the meet-and-greet to undergo a security check, Haaretz reports.
Day 120 May 17
Kushner’s family firm keeps targeting Chinese investors seeking green cards
The New York Times has reviewed text messages and emails that appear to show Jared Kushner’s family real estate firm, Kushner Companies, has been soliciting investments from Chinese citizens in return for guarantees of green cards.
The Kushner family, which is trying to obtain $150 million in financing to construct a pair of luxury apartment towers in New Jersey, has reportedly turned to the little-known EB-5 program, which offers permanent residence to foreigners who invest more than $500,000 in U.S. real estate. President Donald Trump’s first major piece of legislation renewed the program, which has greatly benefitted his son-in-law’s business.
Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, made headlines earlier this month when she solicited money from Chinese investors during an event in Beijing, proposing they invest through the EB-5 program. During her sales pitch, she repeatedly highlighted her connection to Kushner and the White House.
Reporters from the New York Times and Washington Post were forced to leave the room during the pitch. A spokesperson later emphasized that Kushner had stepped down from and fully divested himself from the company, which is true, although he is still the main beneficiary.
The Kushner firm has reportedly hired two companies to solicit Chinese investors — the U.S. Immigration Fund and a company called Qiaowai, which the Times reports has been promising people a “safe investment” and a green card in exchange for financing the Kushner Organization’s projects.
A Kushner spokesperson disavowed the Qiaowai communiques, saying in a statement that “no one at Kushner Companies was aware of any statement or guarantee…. They did not and would not authorize that kind of language.”
White House lawyers reportedly researching how impeachment works
President Donald Trump has dismissed the possibility that he may have obstructed justice in firing former FBI Director James Comey as part of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history,” but White House lawyers are apparently a little more wary of getting burned.
White House lawyers have started researching impeachment, CNN reported Friday, though they believe Trump getting kicked out of office remains unlikely. Still, they want to be prepared and have reportedly begun talking to experts on how the process works.
In case you also don’t know how impeachment works, here’s a refresher: A majority of the House of Representatives must vote to impeach Trump, followed by two-thirds of the Senate agreeing to remove him. Since Republicans have not abandoned Trump en masse, impeachment remains unlikely — for now.
Still, CNN’s report captures a White House seemingly shaken by the past week’s revelations and unconvinced by Trump’s brash denials that he did anything wrong.
Staffers and foreign leaders are childproofing Trump’s inaugural trip overseas
President Trump leaves for a nine-day foreign trip Friday — his first — and foreign officials and White House staffers have a game plan to keep the president engaged: serve his favorite food, use less words with more pictures, schedule nap time and let him win.
Trump will be traveling from Saudi Arabia to Israel to the Vatican over the next nine days. He’ll kick it off Sunday with a speech on Islam, and he’ll end his trip in Brussels and Sicily, where he will attend often-lengthy summits. He’ll be the first president since Jimmy Carter not to leave the country in his first 100 days, and the AP details that foreign hosts are making very particular preparations to keep him comfortable:
- Saudi Arabia will serve Trump’s favorite meal, steak with a side of ketchup, in addition to their traditional food.
- NATO delegates plan to oversimplify complex information with short presentations and lots of visual aids.
- Trump’s team fought to schedule downtime into his jam-packed schedule.
As far as to what to expect from Trump, The New York Times says officials have prepared themselves:
“Do not assume he knows the history of the country or its major points of contention. Compliment him on his Electoral College victory. Contrast him favorably with President Barack Obama. Do not get hung up on whatever was said during the campaign. Stay in regular touch. Do not go in with a shopping list but bring some sort of deal he can call a victory.”
Day 119 May 18
Trump reportedly wants Flynn to come back to the White House after things blow over
Against the advice of his counsel, President Trump stayed in contact with his now-disgraced former Director of National Security Michael Flynn and even wants him to rejoin the administration once the FBI investigation was over, the Daily Beast reported today.
It’s an outlandish claim, but one that does track with reports detailing Trump’s unlikely loyalty to Flynn, who was Trump’s national security adviser until he was dismissed in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about a conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Flynn became the subject of a federal investigation during the campaign — something the Trump team was aware of before the election, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
But Trump didn’t appear to care. Fn fact, he pressured Flynn into taking the job in the first place, the Daily Beast reports. And Trump asked former FBI director James Comey to “let this go,” calling Flynn a “great guy,” according to a memo Comey wrote after their meeting.
Now, a White House staffer tells the Daily Beast taht the president wants Flynn back. “Trump feels really, really, really, bad about firing him, and he genuinely thinks if the investigation is over Flynn can come back,” an anonymous White House official told the Daily Beast.
In March, the president tweeted that the investigation into Flynn is a “witch hunt” of “historic proportion,” something he appears to believe he shares in common with the former general. Trump used the same term on Twitter today:
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
Nor is it the first time a sitting president has deemed an investigation into his administration a “witch hunt” — President Nixon used the same words in 1973.
Trump tells us how he really feels about being investigated by special counsel
Donald Trump apparently isn’t as calm and collected about the appointment of special counsel to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia as he previously let on.
After releasing an unusually measured statement Wednesday regarding former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, the president started tweeting Thursday morning …
This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
Like many of his other tweets, Trump doesn’t specify or offer evidence of what “illegal acts” Hillary Clinton’s campaign or President Barack Obama’s administration took that would have warranted special counsel.
Trump’s frustration seems to contradict the composure of previous statement. “A thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” he said Wednesday. “I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”
Trump team had 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians during campaign, report says
A Reuters investigation Thursday claimed that the Trump campaign made at least 18 undisclosed connections with Russian officials during last year’s presidential race. With impeccable timing, the report was published just hours after the Department of Justice announced a special counsel to investigate collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The story from Reuters cites current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges, and claims the previously undisclosed calls, text messages, and emails were exchanged between April and November 2016, and centered on easing sanctions against Moscow, curtailing China’s growing influence, and fighting the Islamic state group.
Six of the exchanges were between Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.S., and Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn – who was fired after he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak in December.
Four officials told Reuters that exchanges between Flynn and Kislyak intensified after Trump’s victory, with the pair hoping to set up a private channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move was a bid to avoid U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides viewed as an impediment to improving relations between the two countries.
While a certain level of communication between campaign teams and foreign officials is to be expected during campaigns, the volume of contact between Trump aides and Russian officials in this case was exceptional. Despite this, the officials spoken to by Reuters said that they had found no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far.
The only other name revealed in the story was that of Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and politician, who is alleged to have had contact with a Trump aide during the campaign. A close ally of Putin’s — the Russian president is godfather to his daughter — Medvedchuk denied the report, telling Reuters: “I am not acquainted with any of Donald Trump’s close associates, therefore no such conversation could have taken place.”
The identities of the other Russian officials and Trump aides alleged to have been in contact remain undisclosed.
These communications are now being reviewed by the FBI as well as the Senate and House intelligence committees. On Wednesday Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced he was appointing former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the FBI-led investigation into Russia’s interference in last year’s presidential election — and also looking at whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
Trump and his campaign team have continually insisted that contact with Russian officials has been above board. Having initially denied all contact between the campaign team and Russian officials, the White House has since admitted that four meetings took place between Kisylak and Trump aides.
The White House, Flynn and the Russian foreign ministry have all declined to comment on the story so far. At 7:39 AM ET Thursday, Trump tweeted:
With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
Day 118 May 17
Trump admin knew Flynn was under investigation weeks before inauguration
Officials in President Donald Trump’s transition team knew that Michael Flynn was under federal investigation for his secret lobbying work for Turkey weeks before the inauguration, the New York Times reported Wednesday evening — far earlier than any previous reports have indicated.
Flynn reportedly told now-White House Counsel Donald McGahn that he was under investigation by the Justice Department on January 4, a revelation that White House aides apparently discussed a few days later. However, the Trump administration hired Flynn as national security adviser anyway, and didn’t fire him even after then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told McGahn that Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
Ultimately, Flynn was forced to resign in February after it emerged that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with a Russian ambassador, which the FBI began looking into as part of a separate investigation. Flynn has remained at the center of the federal investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election ever since, as officials seek to examine the connections between Trump officials and foreign governments, and probe the possibility of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
On Tuesday, reports emerged that the day after Flynn resigned, Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to “let” the federal investigation into Flynn go — an act that some legal experts believe could qualify as obstruction of justice. Trump fired Comey last week.
The White House declined to comment on the New York Times’ report, which is based on the Times’ interviews with people familiar with the case.
House majority leader said months before the election he thought “Putin pays Trump”
Weeks before Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination last year, a group of Republican leaders meeting on Capitol Hill discussed the possibility that Trump was getting paid off by Russia, according to the Washington Post. And House Speaker Paul Ryan was not happy about it.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, referring also to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, an ardent pro-Russia legislator also from California.
Ryan reportedly then “immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy” out of fear the contents of their discussion could leak to the press.
The men had reportedly just left a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, where they had discussed the “Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.”
The Post reported that it reviewed a recording of the conversation, but it wasn’t clear who made the recording or why. The story carried a curious dateline: Kiev, Ukraine.
Evan McMullin, the former House Republican Conference policy director who was part of the conversation, confirmed the exchange. But spokespeople for both Ryan and McCarthy categorically denied the allegations.
“That never happened,” Ryan spokesperson Brendan Buck said.
“The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false,” McCarthy spokesperson Matt Sparks said.
After the Post told the two staffers that there was an audio recording of the conversation, they issued remarkably similar amended statements. Buck said, “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor,” while Sparks took it a step further, calling it a “failed attempt at humor.”
Trump brags about saving the Coast Guard money on equipment it doesn’t use
Trump used his invitation to deliver the commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy to brag about how much money he’s supposedly saving the military branch — except it doesn’t use either piece of equipment the president mentioned.
“I won’t even talk about how much I saved you on the F-35 fighter jet. I won’t even talk about it,” Trump said to the crowd of graduates and their families in Connecticut. He also asserted that the plan to replace jets in the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps with F-35s is “under budget and ahead of schedule.”
The Coast Guard, however, doesn’t use F-35s.
The United States Coast Guard does not operate F-35 fighter jets https://t.co/scAknb9qL0
— Adam Weinstein (@AdamWeinstein) May 17, 2017
And I won't tweet about the fact that the Coast Guard doesn't use the F-35 https://t.co/JBUxGyGPBw
— Shane Goldmacher (@ShaneGoldmacher) May 17, 2017
During the speech, Trump also hinted at some serious savings to come for the Coast Guard on the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, which is, in fact, used by the Navy. Trump has delivered remarks on board before.
POTUS brags about F-35 and Ford-class carrier cost savings—neither of which are in service by the Coast Guard.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) May 17, 2017
The president has repeatedly touted savings on the F-35 plan, which has been beleaguered by delays for years, to demonstrate his apparent skill as a negotiator. Before his inauguration, he tweeted that costs for the department that oversees the fighter jets were “out of control.” Since then, he’s claimed to have personally saved more than $700 million on the program.
Putin’s offer to prove Trump didn’t leak classified information isn’t helping
Like any good friend would do, Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to defend Donald Trump against allegations that the U.S. president revealed classified information to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an Oval Office meeting last week.
During a press conference Wednesday, Putin said he can provide Congress with evidence that clears Trump’s name: a transcript of the conversation. (While Russia doesn’t have audio, Putin could always ask Trump if he happened to record the conversation.)
And if there were any juicy details, Putin claimed he wasn’t informed and teased his foreign minister for leaving him out.
“I spoke to him [Lavrov] today,” Putin said with a smile, according to Reuters. “I’ll be forced to issue him with a reprimand because he did not share these secrets with us. Not with me, nor with representatives of Russia’s intelligence services. It was very bad of him.”
Maybe unsurprisingly, Putin’s attempt to help Trump out of the bind seemed to hurt more than it helped.
“Probably the last person [Trump] needs to vouch for him right now is Vladimir Putin,” Democratic California Rep. Adam Schiff said on “CBS This Morning.” “Sure, send it our way. But its credibility would be less than zero.”
Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also noted the absurdity during an interview on Fox News.
“I wouldn’t put much credibility on what Putin’s notes are, and if it comes in an email, I wouldn’t click on the attachment,” Rubio said.
During the press conference, Putin also blamed “political schizophrenia” in the U.S. for Trump’s harried and largely unsuccessful first days in office.
“It’s hard to imagine what else these people who generate such nonsense and rubbish can dream up next,” the Russian president said.
Day 117 May 16
Trump is mad at everyone, even Jared
Another day, another report indicating White House officials are paralyzed by anger, exhaustion, and confusion.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the president and his aides have been scrambling to course-correct following Trump’s disastrous reveal on Twitter that he did in fact give Russian officials sensitive information last week, just hours after national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said he didn’t.
Officials are reportedly frustrated by Trump’s unpredictability, since they frequently spend hours crafting official responses to the latest crisis only to have Trump blow up their narratives in interviews or on Twitter, as he did last week after firing FBI Director James Comey. Trump’s mood has also suffered, as he’s reportedly debating dismissing several key members of his team but hasn’t decided who to fire yet. Even his son-in-law Jared Kushner may not be safe — Trump reportedly denounced him and many other advisers as “incompetent.”
The Times report is also just one of several describing the White House as mired in infighting. Trump was apparently upset earlier this week that Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinstated mandatory-minimum sentencing when criminal justice reform is part of Kushner’s policy portfolio.
But Trump may not be capable of leaking anything too dangerous: According to three administration officials interviewed by the New York Times, Trump simply hasn’t bothered to learn enough of the details of his own government’s intelligence-gathering processes to be able to reveal anything sensitive to the Russians.
Intelligence officials worried about Trump revealing classified info before he was even elected
After Donald Trump reportedly disclosed top-secret intelligence to Russian diplomats in a meeting last week, intelligence officials, both foreign and domestic, can pretty much say, “I told you so.”
Before Trump’s inauguration in January, U.S. intelligence sources warned the Israeli government that Trump couldn’t be trusted with classified intelligence, according to Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot. And it appears they had good reason to be cautious: Israeli media is now reporting that the sources burned by Trump’s disclosures last week were either Israeli or Jordanian.
Update 2:02 p.m. ET: The New York Times reports that the classified information reportedly disclosed by Trump was, in fact, supplied by the Israelis.
Government officials have also reportedly been worried that U.S. allies in general would stop sharing intelligence because of Trump’s propensity to say whatever’s on his mind, his self-proclaimed aversion to daily intelligence briefings, and his advisers’ reported ties to the Russian government. In February, top intelligence staffers allegedly withheld intelligence from Trump over fears that he would compromise the information — inadvertently or otherwise. The director of national intelligence later denied the claims.
Even before Trump became the official Republican nominee, eight senior security officials told Reuters they worried about giving pre-election briefings to Trump because of his “shoot from the hip” style. In an interview with ABC News, former CIA Director Gen. Mike Hayden said he “would share the general concern people have expressed” but also mentioned the Constitution requires a peaceful transfer of power.
Also during the campaign, Trump’s opposition called for an end to his briefings after his apparently sarcastic call for Russian hackers find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.
“I would suggest to intelligence agencies, if you’re forced to brief this guy, don’t tell him anything. Just fake it. Because this man is dangerous,” Democratic Sen. Harry Reid told the Huffington Post.
Now that Trump reportedly has reportedly revealed some sensitive information, lawmakers and government officials in the U.S. and abroad are raising concerns about their relationships.
European official to AP: Country might stop sharing intel with US if Trump gave classified info to Russians. https://t.co/h4VbZKxkuy
— The Associated Press (@AP) May 16, 2017
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 16, 2017
McCain says reports Trump shared intel with the Russians are "deeply disturbing" and may make allies unwilling to share info with the US. pic.twitter.com/m9UVuDZ77h
— Connor O'Brien (@connorobrienNH) May 16, 2017
Day 116 May 15
Here’s how the insane past week of the Trump-Russia controversy went down
There have been a dizzying number of recent developments surrounding the ongoing investigation into potential collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign and administration. From Trump firing the director of the FBI shortly after he reportedly asked for more resources for the investigation to Trump apparently leaking highly classified information to Russian officials, here’s what happened.
Trump fires FBI Director James Comey, citing as the reason a Department of Justice memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about Comey’s mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from any investigations regarding Russia after failing to reveal during his confirmation hearing his own meetings with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., also weighed in with his own memo recommending that Comey be fired.
In praising Trump’s decision, Vice President Mike Pence insists Comey’s abrupt dismissal was brought about by the Rosenstein memo and was in no way related to the Russia investigation. Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also cites the Rosenstein memo as cause for Comey’s dismissal.
The Washington Post reports Rosenstein threatens to resign as a result of being named as the primary justification for the dismissal.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomes Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the State Department. “Was he fired? You are kidding. You are kidding,” Lavrov says to a reporter who asks him about Comey’s dismissal.
Trump welcomes Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak to the Oval Office. The meeting is closed to the American press. Photographs of the meeting are, however, disseminated by state-owned Russian media outlet Tass. Trump reportedly believed the photographer was Lavrov’s personal documentarian and did not know the photos would be made public.
When asked if he’s resigning, Rosenstein tells Sinclair Broadcast Group, “No, I’m not quitting.”
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump calls Comey a “showboat” and a “grandstander,” and says he was going to fire the FBI director “regardless of the [Rosenstein] memo.” He also says his rationale for the firing was at least in part related to the investigation. “When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”
This directly contradicts the story White House officials had been telling since the firing took place.
The Washington Post reports that during Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, he revealed highly classified information about the Islamic State’s plans to use laptop computers in targeting commercial flights. The information came from a foreign partner of the U.S. in its fight against terrorism, and was provided with the understanding that intel would be closely guarded, even from many American officials. After the Post story came out, a U.S. official reportedly told Buzzfeed News that the extent of what Trump did is “far worse than what has already been reported.”
Trump gave highly classified information to Russians, U.S. officials say
President Donald Trump revealed “highly classified information” about ISIS during his Oval Office meeting last week with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S., according to the Washington Post.
Citing “current and former U.S. officials,” the Post reported that Trump gave foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak information about ISIS that had been provided to the U.S. by an ally with intimate knowledge of the terrorist group’s internal affairs. The information was reportedly shared with the U.S. with the strict understanding that it would not be widely disseminated, even among American officials.
“[Trump] revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies,” a U.S. official told the Post, including the city in which the threat originated — a disclosure that could help the Russians identify the partner who provided the intel.
After the meeting, alarmed White House officials reportedly called both the CIA and the NSA in an attempt to control the fallout from the release of the extraordinarily sensitive information, which involved details of how ISIS intends to use electronics as weapons on airplanes. Trump also described “how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances,” the Washington Post reported. When asked about Trump’s disclosures, U.S. officials told BuzzFeed “it’s far worse than what has already been reported.”
The meeting was closed to American press but photographed and reported on by the Russian state-owned news outlet Tass. Trump was reportedly surprised to find pictures had been published because he had been under the impression that the photographer was Lavrov’s personal documentarian.
After disclosing the intelligence to his Russian guests, a U.S. official told the Post, Trump said, “Can you believe the world we live in today? Isn’t it crazy?”
The Trump administration has been deleting information that was once available to the public
The Trump administration is deleting or withholding information from the public covering climate change, potential ethics violations, federal fines, and several other topics. A number of agencies, along with the White House, have scrubbed their websites of the documents and info, according to the Washington Post.
The changes include:
- The White House has deleted almost every mention of climate change on its website.
- Most climate change information has also been deleted from the Department of the Interior’s website.
- The Greenhouse Gas Management Scorecard, which tracked whether federal energy contractors publicly disclosed their greenhouse gas emissions and whether they were working toward reducing their outputs, was discontinued.
- The Department of Agriculture removed animal welfare enforcement records from its website.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration published press releases for only two of the 200 fines it has levied against firms so far this year. Under Obama, all 200 would have required public notification, according to Jordan Barab, former deputy assistant secretary of the agency.
- The White House website no longer includes resources to assist with donating to private organizations that help Syrian refugees.
- Citing national security concerns, the White House no longer releases its visitor logs.
The deletions and omissions are an apparent rejection of Obama’s (often unfulfilled) vow to emphasize transparency during his administration. Digital experts, activists, and former Obama officials all told the Washington Post that they believe public access to information influences company behavior.
The Trump administration, however, assures it will follow the law and publish everything it’s required to publish.
“The President has made a commitment that his Administration will absolutely follow the law and disclose any information it is required to disclose,” White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said in an email Sunday.
Trump strongly advocated for the availability of records in the past.
Why is @BarackObama spending millions to try and hide his records? He is the least transparent President–ever–and he ran on transparency.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2012
White House aides have reportedly been sneaking Trump fake news
It looks like the Trump White House has a fake news problem.
While President Trump and his surrogates are quick to label any negative press coverage as “fake news,” Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is reportedly trying to stop news reports, including a few fake ones, from making their way to the president’s desk.
According to Politico, Priebus warned senior White House aides to stop surreptitiously giving the president news reports days after the deputy national security adviser KT McFarland handed Trump a printout with two Time magazine covers: one from 2008 predicting global warming and another from 1977 predicting an ice age. The opposing covers have been circulated widely for years by conservatives attempting to sow doubt in the scientific consensus of climate change.
The 1977 cover, however, is fake, and senior aides scrambled to get the correct information into Trump’s hands before he said anything about it publicly.
A staffer also gave Trump an article from GotNews.com that reported Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh was leaking information to the press, Politico reported. It’s not known whether the report was false because it didn’t provide on-the-record sourcing, but its author, Charles Johnson, has a history of false accusations.
Regardless, soon after Trump received the GotNews item, he began asking about Walsh. She then left the White House at the end of March.
Day 115 May 14
Trump is “angry at everyone” and considering a staff shake-up, according to reports
President Trump’s latest self-inflicted crisis — the abrupt and disastrously executed firing of FBI Director James Comey — likely won’t be his last this month. Trump is reportedly considering a “huge reboot,” according to Mike Allen at Axios, that could put a host of his senior advisers out of their jobs. Everyone from Steve Bannon and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, to Press Secretary Sean Spicer and White House counsel Don McGahn might get booted. Spicer’s job appears especially vulnerable, with Trump reportedly considering Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle to replace the oft-flustered press secretary, according to the New York Times.
Trump’s administration has reached new levels of chaos this week: One GOP figure close to the White House wondered whether the president was “in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion,” according to the Washington Post.
Just four months into his term, Trump is apparently “frustrated and angry at everyone,” including members of his Cabinet like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who signed a memo about mandatory-minimum sentencing Friday while Jared Kushner is working on criminal-justice reform, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, whom he holds responsible for the stalling health-care reform bill.
White House officials largely avoided the Sunday news shows.
Day 113 May 12
Trump refuses to deny he secretly recorded former FBI director James Comey
President Donald Trump’s Friday tweet suggesting he had recorded his conversations with ousted FBI Director James Comey sparked questions about whether the White House is secretly taping its visitors — questions both Trump and Press Secretary Sean Spicer are now refusing to answer.
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
When a reporter asked what to make of Trump’s incendiary tweet in his Friday briefing, Spicer said, “I’ve talked to the president. The president has nothing further to add on that.” When the reporter pressed him on the tweet, Spicer stuck to the line, bizarrely refusing to quieten the speculation that Trump has recording devices implanted in the White House as he had other rumors.
Then, in an interview with Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, Trump doubled down, saying he “can’t talk about” the possibility of tape recordings. “I won’t talk about that,” he said. “All I want is for Comey to be honest. And I hope he will be. And I’m sure he will be — I hope.”
But unlike so much of Trump’s abnormal presidency, this potential development at least has precedent, as Richard Nixon recorded his Oval Office talks using tapes that were eventually subpoenaed during the investigation into the Watergate burglary.
Those tapes, which revealed Nixon had obstructed the investigation, led to the president resigning in disgrace.
Trump might get rid of White House press briefings “for the sake of accuracy”
Donald J. Trump is a very busy president. He’s so busy, in fact, that it’s unreasonable for the public to expect spokespeople like Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders to give accurate accounts of what’s actually going on within his administration, he says. Trump himself admits there’s no reason to believe what his spokespeople are telling us.
Trump has repeatedly contradicted official White House versions of events, as he did Thursday when he told NBC’s Lester Holt that the FBI’s investigation into his campaigns ties to Russia was on his mind when he fired FBI Director James Comey.
So, Trump suggested in a series of tweets shot off Friday morning, perhaps it would be better to do away with all press briefings in favor of handing out written statements “for the sake of accuracy???”
As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
…Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future "press briefings" and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy???
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Trump admits firing Comey really was about Russia
President Trump’s aides have been frantically attempting to tie up the contradictions in their administration’s account of why the president fired FBI Director James Comey. And their boss isn’t making it any easier.
Trump, in a interview with NBC’s Lester Holt on Thursday, admitted that the FBI’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia was on his mind when he fired FBI Director James Comey, contradicting practically every White House account of the firing — including the president’s own.
“I decided to just do it. I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” Trump told Holt.
He went on to assure Holt that he wanted the Russia investigation “to be absolutely done properly.”
“I want that to be so strong and so good. … I want to get to the bottom. If Russia hacked, if Russia did anything having to do with our election, I want to know about it.” Comey and other officials have confirmed Russia did interfere with the election; the question is how.
Trump threatens fired FBI chief James Comey with “tapes”
In a truly Nixonian moment, President Trump insinuated that he had recorded his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey prior to firing him earlier this week. The New York Times reported Thursday that in a private dinner shortly after Trump took office, he had demanded a pledge of loyalty from the FBI director, even though he was overseeing a sprawling investigation to determine if there was any contact or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Comey said he would be honest with Trump but could not be “reliable” in a political sense.
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Day 112 May 11
White House might have listened to Sally Yates if they knew who she was
Why didn’t the White House fire Michael Flynn as soon as then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates told them that Russia had potentially compromised the former national security adviser?
Because, President Donald Trump told NBC News reporter Lester Holt in an interview aired Thursday, that the matter “did not sound like an emergency.”
Trump said his White House Counsel, Don McGahn, gave him that impression, but added that “she didn’t make it sound that way either, in the hearings the other day, that it had to be done immediately.” Trump was evidently referring to Yates’ testimony last week, where she revealed she had told McGahn back in January that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he’d had with a Russian official, and that Russia might use those dealings to blackmail Flynn. But it was another 18 days before the White House ultimately fired Flynn.
Trump added, “I believe that it would be very unfair to hear from somebody who we don’t even know and immediately run out and fire a general.”
Again, that “somebody who we don’t even know” was the acting attorney general of the United States.
Trump dredged up a 2016 Rosie O’Donnell tweet to troll his Comey critics
President Donald Trump — who is facing possibly his greatest internal crisis since taking office, dealing with huge blowback over his decision to fire the FBI director — found some time in his busy day to troll comedian Rosie O’Donnell.
We finally agree on something Rosie. https://t.co/BSP5F3PgbZ
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2017
The President of the United States apparently dug through O’Donnell’s Twitter archives to find a tweet dating back to December 2016. He added some of his own commentary, then retweeted it.
Trump, who’s had a long and public feud with O’Donnell, might claim victory for his sick burn, but America has surely lost.
Trump thinks he made up this 1930s economic term
To his many self-proclaimed accomplishments, Donald Trump now wants to add coining an iconic economic term.
In an interview published Thursday with The Economist, Trump took credit for coming up with “priming the pump,” a Keynesian 1930s term used to discuss government stimulation.
The exchange between Trump and the reporter went like this:
Trump: We have to prime the pump.
Reporter: It’s very Keynesian.
Trump: We’re the highest taxed nation in the world. Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?
Trump: Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just … I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.
Reporter: It’s …
Trump: Yeah, what you have to do is you have to put something in before you can get something out.
First of all, Trump has used “priming the pump” before.
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) May 11, 2017
And the phrase — an idiom that dates back to the 1800s — started to apply to economics with President Herbert Hoover’s creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a government agency tasked with assisting failing banks, in 1932. The phrase caught on even more with President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s belief that government stimulus was the only logical solution to the Great Depression.
April 8, 1930 pic.twitter.com/o2Sz1BUoC6
— Christina Sterbenz (@xtinasterbenz) May 11, 2017
Trump turned on congressional testimony and told reporters: “Watch them all choke like dogs”
Donald Trump allowed two Time magazine reporters and a photographer to trail him in the White House on the eve of firing FBI Director James Comey. Their piece offers an unfiltered view of the anger that has consumed the president over the Russia inquiry, not to mention caused him to talk like a despot.
“Watch them all choke like dogs,” Trump said, showing his favorite moments of the testimony of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates before the Senate on a giant flat-screen TV. “Watch what happens. They are desperate for breath.”
Trump was surrounded by aides (as well as the Time reporters) as he fast-forwarded to his favorite moments of the hearing where Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley asks Clapper and Yates if they ever identified or unmasked anyone intercepted as part of the Russia investigation.
“Ah, he’s choking, Ah, look,” Trump said, continuing the commentary. “See the people in back, people are gasping.” Time pointed out it’s unclear who the president is referring to on screen.
Less than 24 hours later, Trump fired Comey.
The White House is apparently upset that Russia published photos of Trump and its ambassador
Update 5/11/17 11:00 a.m. ET: As it turns out, the administration might not have known Russia was going to make the photos of the trio’s unusual meeting public.
One furious official told CNN’s Jim Acosta that the White House didn’t anticipate the move. “They tricked us,” the official said, adding “they lie.”
WH furious over Russian government photos of Trump meeting with Lavrov/Kislyak. "They tricked us," an official said of Russians "They lie."
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) May 11, 2017
Original story published on 5/10/17: Another White House official, however, told Politico that meeting with Lavrov was arranged during a recent phone call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” the official said.
Ordinarily, presidents try to avoid even the whiff of scandal. But President Donald Trump, who seems to revel in it, invited Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to the Oval Office — and then forbade American reporters from seeing it.
Instead, all photos of the meeting are credited to TASS, the official Russian news agency, as Gizmodo’s Matt Novak pointed out on Twitter.
Photos of Trump's meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak just hit the Getty wire and they're all credited to Russian news agency TASS pic.twitter.com/qE9lWB6KuS
— Matt Novak (@paleofuture) May 10, 2017
The meeting itself — scheduled just a day after Trump took the extraordinary step of firing FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election — was abnormal enough. But Kislyak, who spoke with former national security adviser Michael Flynn about lifting sanctions on Russia (a conversation that led Flynn to resign), is involved in that investigation.
And to only allow Russian media to witness it will only heighten the criticism that the Trump administration is far too cozy with the country. David Cohen, the former deputy director of the CIA, also suggested on Twitter that allowing a Russian photographer into the Oval Office may not have been the best move for national security.
No, it was not.
— David S. Cohen (@cohendavid) May 10, 2017
However, the White House press pool was allowed at least one photo op Wednesday: That of the president chatting with Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s former national security adviser and secretary of state. Apparently, according to Team Trump’s PR playbook, when members of Congress are calling you “Nixonian,” the best way to beat back the criticism is to invite one of Nixon’s most famous officials in for a chat.
Day 111 May 10
Comey is the third person Trump fired while they investigated his administration
What do Preet Bharara, Sally Yates, and James Comey have in common? Two things, actually. They were all investigating Donald Trump in some capacity — and they were all also fired by the man they were investigating.
FBI Director Comey became the latest casualty when he was fired in a surprise announcement Tuesday.
’They fired Sally Yates. They fired Preet Bharara. And they fired James Comey, the very man leading the investigation. This does not seem to be a coincidence,” Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said after the announcement. He’s one of many politicians calling for an independent investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
When Trump fired former Bharara in early March, the former U.S. district attorney was reportedly investigating stock trades in the health industry made by Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. During his confirmation hearing, however, Price told Congress all the trades he made were legal and transparent.
Notably, Trump Tower also fell under Bharara’s jurisdiction.
And then there’s Sally Yates. As acting attorney general before Jeff Sessions’ confirmation, she was a key player in the ongoing Russia probe, including intelligence-gathering. In congressional testimony Monday, Yates also revealed that she had warned Trump not to hire Mike Flynn because his false statements on contact with Russian officials made him vulnerable to blackmail.
Trump fired her at the end of January after publicly stating that she wouldn’t defend his first attempt at an executive order limiting travel to the U.S. from Muslim-majority countries.
The director of the 2020 Census, which is already a mess, just resigned
Just last week, Congress started to worry that the 2020 decennial census would go over budget. And the man who said that wouldn’t happen just resigned, leaving yet another vital position in the Trump administration empty.
Although he was expected to stay in the position until the end of the year, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau John H. Thompson abruptly announced his departure on Tuesday. Thompson, who began his career at the bureau in 1975 and became director in 2013, will finish his term next month, the bureau announced in a statement.
Testifying before a congressional spending panel on Capitol Hill last Wednesday, Thompson said the census wouldn’t go over the $12.5 billion budget — as long as the department can modernize its approach. Despite fears of more spending due to the growing and increasingly diverse U.S. population, Trump’s proposed 2018 budget for the count has largely stayed the same, according to Science Mag.
The Commerce Department has not announced a successor for Thompson, a spokesperson told the Washington Post. Neither officials from the Census Bureau nor the Commerce Department responded to requests for comment from the Post about the reason for Thompson’s sudden departure.
In addition to broad importance for statistics, the population count and demographics gathered by the census ensure the correct number of government representatives assigned to cities and states and appropriately distributed funding. But so far, the agency has had a bumpy road to completing it for 2020.
Citing funding uncertainty, it called of field tests just six months before they were due to start in 2016. And a dress rehearsal of the census — necessary to ensure all new technologies will function — is scheduled for less than a year away.
Russia’s foreign minister trolls reporters about Comey: “Was he fired? You’re kidding.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who’s making his first visit to the White House since August 2013, walked into a minefield of controversy and conspiracy Wednesday.
Luckily for Lavrov, he appeared unconcerned by Donald Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey — the man leading an investigation into the president’s campaign ties to Russia — less than 24 hours earlier.
The Russian foreign minister is in Washington to meet with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and President Trump. Lavrov is expected to discuss pressing international issues such as counterterrorism, the Syrian civil war, and the war in Eastern Ukraine.
But when asked by a reporter at the State Department if Comey’s dismissal late Tuesday “cast[s] a shadow” over the talks, Lavrov quipped: “Was he fired? You’re kidding.”
Reporter: Does the Comey firing cast a shadow over your talks?
Lavrov: "Was he fired? You're kidding." https://t.co/EA1e2llZNx
— CNN (@CNN) May 10, 2017
Lavrov was clearly playing a joke on reporters.
Day 110 May 9
White House aide says he’ll release “video” of Clinton’s call to Trump conceding election
To mark the six-month anniversary of President Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton, one White House staff member suggested an unorthodox way to celebrate: by releasing video of Clinton’s concession call.
On Tuesday, White House Director of Social Media Dan Scarvino tweeted what he said was a screenshot of an incoming 2:30 a.m. call from Clinton aide Huma Abedin to Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. Scarvino said the call took place “6 months ago,” which would be Nov. 9, the morning following Election Day. Scarvino added that he will share the video “in the near future.”
— Dan Scavino Jr. (@DanScavino) May 9, 2017
Conway quickly retweeted Scarvino, writing, “#memories… has EVERYONE ‘accepted the election results yet’?”
— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) May 9, 2017
Over the past few months, Trump and his administration have repeatedly brought up the election and suggested that criticism of his presidency amounts to a refusal to acknowledge his victory. In April, during an Oval Office interview, Trump handed two Reuters reporters electoral maps with the areas he won colored in red.
President Trump is trying to erase candidate Trump’s statements about banning Muslims
President Trump’s past statements about banning Muslims keep tripping him up in court — so his administration is trying to delete the past.
On Monday, this happened almost in real time.
“If this White House is no longer calling [the travel ban] a ‘Muslim ban’ … why does the president’s website still explicitly call for ‘preventing Muslim immigration’?” a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer during a press briefing Monday.
Minutes later, the statement in question disappeared from Trump’s campaign website, where it had been since Dec. 7, 2015 — although it briefly disappeared once before. The statement had read: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Trump’s revised travel ban, which attempts to limit travel to the U.S. from six Muslim-majority nations, keeps getting blocked in federal courts because of constitutional issues. In their decisions, judges note that Trump’s prior comments — and others from members of his campaign or administration — indicate an intent to ban Muslims in general, which constitutes religious discrimination.
But a Department of Justice lawyer argued in front of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Monday that Trump’s comments about Muslims as a candidate shouldn’t be held against him now. “Candidates talk about things on the campaign trail all the time,” the lawyer said. “Trump wasn’t talking about Muslims all over the world; that’s why this isn’t a Muslim ban.”
With its appeal Monday, the administration is trying to overturn a Maryland federal court ruling that blocked Trump’s second travel ban nationwide. And in his decision in mid-March, the judge specifically referenced the press release that disappeared from Trump’s campaign website Monday.
Even if the administration’s argument stands, Trump has made other questionable comments since Jan. 20 that judges could continue to cite as evidence of religious discrimination.
For example, while Trump eliminated the word “Muslim” from the language of his revised travel ban, the day after issuing it, his administration sent out a fundraising email that called the six countries “compromised by radical Islamic terrorism.”
— Gabriel Debenedetti (@gdebenedetti) March 6, 2017
And the day after the federal judge in Maryland issued his ruling, Trump called his revised travel ban a “watered-down version of the first order” at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee.
Day 109 May 8
Scott Pruitt axes key EPA scientists who were told their jobs were safe
Even with Donald Trump in the White House, 18 members of a key scientific review board at the Environmental Protection Agency thought their jobs were safe. They’d been told twice they could remain at the agency for at least one more term.
But that was before EPA administrator Scott Pruitt decided to dismiss half of them, all in the name of a good overhaul, according to the Washington Post. Other estimates put the number of affected staffers as high as 12.
The Science Advisory Board is responsible for reviewing the quality and relevance of the scientific and technical information used by the EPA and ensures policies are based on credible scientific data, analyses, and interpretations.
“I’ve never heard of any circumstance where someone didn’t serve two consecutive terms,” one dismissed scientists, Robert Richardson, told The Washington Post, adding that the dismissals gave him “great concern that objective science is being marginalized in this administration.”
Today, I was Trumped. I have had the pleasure of serving on the EPA Board of Scientific Counselors, and my appointment was terminated today.
— Robert Richardson (@ecotrope) May 5, 2017
Although the positions aren’t being renewed, as they often are, Pruitt’s Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson offered the opportunity to reapply in the future. He also said the agency may consider industry scientific experts for some board positions, as long as their appointments wouldn’t pose conflicts of interest. Last month, in fact, the House passed a bill to include more corporate voices on the EPA’s scientific review board.
“We’re not going to rubber-stamp the last administration’s appointees,” said a spokesman for the EPA, J.P. Freire. “This approach is what was always intended for the Board, and we’re making a clean break with the last administration’s approach.”
The decision comes from an administration already removing scientific data on climate change from its websites, publicly questioning established science on carbon dioxide’s role in climate change, and instituting a massive rollback of environmental regulations.
Jared Kushner’s sister courted Chinese investors with a controversial visa program Trump just extended
The $1.2 trillion spending bill President Donald Trump signed Friday extended the controversial EB-5 program, which grants U.S. visas to foreigners, mostly from China, who invest at least $500,000 in a domestic development project.
A day later, Jared Kushner’s sister stood at the Beijing Ritz-Carlton pitching the program to a ballroom-full of at least 100 wealthy Chinese investors. “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States,” a brochure for the event read, according to the Washington Post. The family business, Kushner Cos. LLC, needed $150 million in financing for a housing development in Jersey City, New Jersey, the New York Times reported.
While Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser at the White House, promised to fully divest from his family’s multibillion-dollar real estate empire, the presentation Saturday highlighted clear conflicts between his lingering business interests and policy decisions. Kushner has become a key diplomat in increasingly tense U.S.-China relations, among his many roles with the administration.
During the presentation, Nicole Kushner Meyer didn’t hold back linking Kushner Cos. to the current U.S. administration. She:
- mentioned that her brother left the company to work for Trump, according to the Post
- showed a slide that pictured Trump as a “key decision-maker” on the fate of the EB-5 visa, according to the Times
- encouraged attendees to invest early before the Trump administration decides to roll back the program — as Congress is pushing for, according to the Post.
“It’s incredibly stupid and highly inappropriate,” Richard Painter, former White House ethics counsel for President George W. Bush, told the Post. “They clearly imply that the Kushners are going to make sure you get your visa. . . . They’re [Chinese applicants] not going to take a chance. Of course they’re going to want to invest.”
This isn’t the first family’s first ethically questionable brush with Chinese investors and the EB-5 program. Kushner Cos. could earn as much as $500 million in a planned real estate deal, which relies on the EB-5 program for funding, with a Chinese company that has close connections to the Chinese government. And loans obtained through the EB-5 program funded about one-quarter of a Trump Tower in New Jersey.
Kusher Cos. apologized “if that mention of [Meyer’s] brother was in any way interpreted as an attempt to lure investors,” in a statement emailed to NPR.
Day 107 May 6
Trump gives himself an out on funding black colleges after making it “an absolute priority”
When President Donald Trump invited leaders of historically black colleges and universities to the Oval Office in February to show his commitment to the schools with an executive order, he said that funding would be “an absolute priority for this White House.”
So much for that. In a statement issued Friday when Trump signed Congress’ $1.1 trillion spending bill, which includes $20 million in funding for historically black colleges and universities, the president suggested the money might be unconstitutional.
“My administration shall treat provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender,” including the funding for historically black colleges and universities, “in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the due process clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment,” the statement read.
Responding to criticism around the statement, a White House spokesperson said:
“Like his predecessors, President Trump has identified certain provisions in the appropriations bill that could, in some circumstances, conflict with his constitutional authority and duties. The brief, routine signing statement simply indicates that the president will interpret those provisions consistent with the Constitution.”
While Trump’s statement doesn’t indicate any concrete policy changes, presidents often give themselves back doors when signing bills they think might run into legal trouble down the line. Bush used signing statements to challenge some 1,200 provisions in laws he signed; Obama did the same. But questioning the legality of federal funding for historically black colleges is a concerning move, especially for an administration that’s already faced criticism for its interpretation of these institutions.
In February, education secretary Betsy Devos came under fire for saying that black colleges were “pioneers when it comes to school choice.” Black colleges were founded because black students were denied entry at other universities.
In a joint statement, Rep. John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat, and Rep. Cedric Richmont, Democrat from Louisiana, called Trump’s statement “stunningly careless and divisive,” according to Politico. “We urge him to reconsider immediately.”
Dear @realDonaldTrump, hire some new lawyers if you think banning muslims is constitutional and funding black colleges is unconstitutional.
— Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (@repcleaver) May 6, 2017
Day 106 May 5
Trump and Bernie Sanders agree on one thing: Australia’s universal health care is “better”
Just hours after the House approved the Republican plan to kill Obamacare, Trump had a little Freudian slip. During a press conference in Manhattan with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the president praised the island nation’s universal health care.
“It’s going to be fantastic health care,” Trump said, referring to the Republican American Health Care Act. “I shouldn’t say this to our great gentleman and my friend from Australia, because you have better health care than we do.”
Since 1984, Australia’s government has mostly funded its health care system, known as Medicare, so that everyone has coverage. Regular taxpayers pay 2 percent of their income to fund the system, while the affluent chip in more if they don’t have private insurance. Considering that Trump despises Obamacare (and taxes, for that matter), it’s ironic he’d have a kind word to say about a more socialist system.
At least Vermont Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders got a kick out of Trump’s fumble. He campaigned for president last year on a universal health care platform and has since introduced single-payer bills into Congress.
After watching a clip of the president’s comments on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes,” Sanders couldn’t contain his laughter.
— All In w/Chris Hayes (@allinwithchris) May 5, 2017
“Wait a minute!” Sanders yelled, throwing his hands into the air after giggling. “Oh, OK. Wait a minute, wait a minute, Chris. Alright, the president has just said it. That’s great.”
Sanders’ amusement continued with CNN’s Anderson Cooper later in the evening.
“Well, Mr. President, you’re right: In Australia and every other major country on Earth, they guarantee health care to all people. They don’t throw 24 million people off health insurance,” Sanders told Cooper. “So maybe when we get to the Senate, we should start off with looking at the Australian health care system.”
Day 105 May 4
Trump could outspend the vacation costs of Obama’s entire presidency in just one year
President Donald Trump’s first two trips to Mar-a-Lago cost taxpayers more than $1.2 million. And that was just the airfare.
Operating Air Force One costs just over $142,000 per hour, and the trips to the Florida resort took a total of about nine hours, Judicial Watch said Thursday. But those estimates don’t factor in the cost of Secret Service protection or Department of Defense vehicles that travel with the president. (Back in March, the Secret Service requested an extra $60 million in funding, in part to deal with the unique challenges in protecting the Trump family. The agency didn’t get it.)
Last year, Judicial Watch found that Barack Obama spent about $96 million on travel over eight years of his presidency. As of early April, Trump had spent six weekends at his “Winter White House” in Palm Beach — which is not just a resort but a private club that charges its members $200,000 annually — at a cost of about $21.6 million, CNN reported. In other words, Trump is on his way to outspending the vacation costs of Obama’s entire presidency in just one year.
Day 104 May 3
Trump’s latest hire has been accused of sexual assault 5 times
President Trump’s latest hire has been accused of sexual assault not once, not twice, but five times, according to ProPublica. And the allegations has been reported back in 2012, raising serious questions about the Trump administration’s vetting process.
Steven Munoz, a staffer on Trump’s campaign and his Inaugural Committee, will now serve as assistant chief of visits for the State Department, a role that includes arranging for foreign heads of states’ visits to the U.S to meet with the president.
While Munoz was studying at The Citadel military college in 2010, an underclassman accused him of sexual assault. A year after he graduated, in 2011, four other students came forward. All five accusers said they were willing to press charges, and The Citadel turned the case over to police. After reviewing the case, however, the local prosecutor declined to seek an indictment.
Munoz’ accusers said he used his status as an upperclassman, class president, and head of the campus Republican Society to forcibly fondle them.
“Munoz coerced, threatened, and convinced me to allow inappropriate touching, grabbing, and kissing by leading me to believe it was what I needed to do to gain acceptance in the corps of cadets,” one accuser said in their statement. He threatened to call my upperclassmen who would be upset if I did not comply with him.”
Though an investigation by The Citadel later found that “certain assaults likely occurred,” the school only issued Munoz a warning and gave him an award for “leadership, sound character, and service to others” upon graduating in 2011.
The Trump administration is no stranger to allegations of assault. Aside from his “grab ’em by the pussy” comment, the president himself has been formerly accused of sexual assault in court. In the 1980s, Trump’s former pick for secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder ,was accused of domestic abuse, and Steve Bannon was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery in 2001, although the case was later dropped.
A Trump Tower ad starring Donald and Ivanka was taken down just 2 days ago
Until this week, President Donald Trump and his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka were the faces of another Trump Tower in the Philippines. And the CEO of the development firm handling construction is the country’s special envoy to the U.S.
The website for the new $150 million real estate venture — which is set to open near the capital, Manila, later this year — featured a video of Trump saying the building would be “something very, very special, like nobody’s seen before,” The Washington Post reported. Ivanka also made an appearance in the promotional video, calling the building a “milestone in Philippine real estate history.”
The material is no longer available online as of Monday, according to the Post.
Though filmed before Trump was elected, the video shines a fresh light on the conflicts of interest between the business investments of the Trump Organization, the use of the Trump name as a moneymaker, and the international diplomatic strategy of the White House — especially with his children, with business ties of their own, as members of the administration
Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte appointed the chief executive of the new building’s development firm, Jose E.B Antonio, to serve as a special envoy to the United States last October. Additionally, Antonio told Bloomberg News back in November that he visited Trump Tower in New York just days after the U.S. presidential elections.
Day 103 May 2
Jared Kushner fails to mention another conflict of interest, this time with Goldman Sachs and George Soros
Jared Kushner and wife Ivanka Trump are no strangers to business arrangements that present ethics complications for their jobs as top advisers to Donald Trump. The latest snag: Kushner failed to disclose his stake in the real estate startup Cadre, which is partly owned by George Soros, Peter Thiel, Goldman Sachs, and other investors.
The trouble with this, of course, is that big banks like Goldman Sachs and investors like Soros are exactly who the federal government is supposed to regulate without conflicts of interest.
Kushner’s lawyer told the Wall Street Journal that Kushner previously disclosed his stake in Cadre’s parent company and that he has “resigned from Cadre’s board, assigned his voting rights, and reduced his ownership share.”
Kushner and Ivanka remain enmeshed in their estimated $740 million real estate and finance business empire, which includes a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, loans from banks currently under investigation by the U.S. government, and a troubled Manhattan real estate venture that was the subject of recently concluded talks with a group of Chinese investors.
Trump endorses “a good shutdown” for the government in September
Donald Trump, perhaps feeling left out of the weekend deal struck in Congress to keep funding the federal government through September, tweeted on Tuesday morning that the “country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September.”
The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! We….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2017
either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good "shutdown" in September to fix mess!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 2, 2017
Without an agreement, the government will partially shut down, which has historically dealt the most damage to federal workers, veterans, and others who rely on checks and aid from the federal government.
Congress has been the burial ground for some of Trump’s biggest initiatives, including his failed repeal of Obamacare. While changing Senate rules to require just a simply majority to pass a budget might satisfy Trump’s short-term goals, Republicans and Democrats both quickly pooh-poohed any shutdown talk.
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) May 2, 2017
The President just called for a government shutdown this fall. No President has ever done anything like this.
— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) May 2, 2017
Day 102 May 1
Trump appointee calls Syria strike “after-dinner entertainment”
The Trump administration’s idea of dinner and a show apparently includes a missile launch: On Monday, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross called last month’s strike on Syria “after-dinner entertainment.”
Speaking at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference in California, Ross described how a Mar-a-Lago dinner between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping ended with an unexpected announcement. “Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said, according to Variety. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.”
“The thing was, it didn’t cost the president anything to have that entertainment,” he added, apparently forgetting that each Tomahawk missile used in the strike reportedly costs about $1 million each to replace, and that Syrian officials said that the strike claimed up to 15 lives.
“In any credible administration, this kind of comment would be Ross’s last official act,” tweeted David Rothkopf, a leading foreign policy scholar and the editor-in-chief of the FP Group, which publishes Foreign Policy magazine.
But this isn’t the first time a Trump official has spoken casually about military maneuvers. While discussing the strike last month in an interview with Fox Business, Trump himself first mistakenly said that the strike was headed toward Iraq, not Syria. But he did clearly recall what he ate while ordering the strike:
“We had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake you had ever seen,” Trump said, “and President Xi was enjoying it.”
Congress’ bill to avoid a government shutdown includes $120 million for Trump’s travel costs
The spending bill headed to President Trump’s desk includes an eye-popping number: $120 million in additional funding to protect the first family, including Trump’s adult jet-setting kids and at least three residences, according to the New York Times.
The bill sets aside almost $60 million for the Secret Service to protect the president as he travels between the White House and Trump Tower in New York City, where the first lady and their son live full-time, at least for now. The other half of the money will go toward reimbursing local jurisdictions in New York City and Palm Beach for costs they’ve incurred protecting Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago, respectively.
These costs — in addition to the travel expenses of Trump’s sons Eric and Don Jr., who run the Trump Organization, to places like Dubai, Uruguay, and Aspen — virtually guarantee the American taxpayer will spend more on travel for the Trumps in one year than in all eight years of the Obama administration. Trump spent $20 million in just his first 80 days as president, according to CNN.
Trump’s national security adviser: No, Donald, South Korea won’t pay for our missile defense system
Just days after President Donald Trump ruffled feathers by publicly saying South Korea would cough up $1 billion to fund the U.S. missile defense system, national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster calmly corrected his boss and confirmed the U.S. would, in fact, front the bill, according to a statement released by the South Korean government.
The system, also known as Terminal High-Altitude Defense or THAAD, is being deployed in South Korea in an effort to reduce nuclear threats from North Korea. The location incited controversy — including fierce protests in South Korea and a statement from China’s foreign ministry — over health concerns as well as its potential to destabilize the region.
According to the statement, McMaster assured his South Korean counterpart in a telephone call that the two countries’ alliance was at the top of his priority list and that the U.S. planned to shoulder the cost of THAAD, at least for awhile.
Trump’s comments about THAAD are the latest confusing directive to come from the president that a high-level official later needed to walk back. In mid-April, Trump said he’d sent an “armada” to North Korea, but the Navy released a photograph showing the U.S.S. Carl Vinson and its strike group heading away from the Korean Peninsula and toward Australia, where it was scheduled for training.
Trump wants to know why the Civil War happened
Donald Trump is curious why the North and the South didn’t just talk out the Civil War.
“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, you think about it: Why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not be worked out?” Trump inquired during an interview with The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito on Sirius XM radio.
— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) May 1, 2017
Despite irreconcilable differences over the morality of slavery and the role it played in the economy of the agricultural South, Trump believes one man — a man who Trump has been compared to, in fact — could have sorted out the whole situation: Andrew Jackson.
“He [Jackson] was really angry when he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, ‘There’s no reason for this,’” said Trump, who also described the seventh president of the United States as a “tough person with a big heart.”
Never mind that Jackson died more than a decade before the start of the Civil War, and largely made his wealth from a 1,000-acre plantation in Tennessee called The Hermitage, which relied on the labor of slaves. It’s unclear if the 150 people enslaved there at the time of Jackson’s death would agree with Trump’s characterization of him.
Trump ended an interview after being asked about wiretapping
“OK, it’s enough.”
That’s how President Donald Trump reacted to a question about his still unsubstantiated wiretapping claims during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
During a prerecorded interview that broadcast Monday, “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson asked the president about his bombshell tweet from early March that accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of wiretapping him in Trump Tower.
“You don’t have to ask me,” Trump interjected before Dickerson could finish his sentence. “Because I have my own opinions. You can have your own opinions.”
And with that, Trump ended the interview.
Morgan Conley, Alex Lubben, Gabrielle Bluestone, Noah Kulwin, Nick Miriello, Louisa Oreskes, Carter Sherman, David Gilbert and Christina Sterbenz contributed to these reports.