Week 11 in Trump’s America
Week 11, in one sentence: President Trump released financial disclosure forms that showed his staff includes some of the wealthiest people in the country; finally settled a lawsuit brought on by students who say they were defrauded by Trump University; threatened to go after North Korea without China’s help, just days before his first meeting with China’s president; golfed with Rand Paul; accused Susan Rice, Obama’s final national security adviser, of a non-specific crime without offering any evidence; signed an incredibly unpopular bill into law that allows internet service providers to sell your online history to advertisers; donated his quarterly salary to the National Park Service, which faces drastic funding cuts under his own budget proposal; sent son-in-law Jared Kushner to Iraq as a White House envoy, a trip that violated Pentagon protocol before Kushner even arrived; kicked Steve Bannon off the National Security Council; called Bill O’Reilly “a good person” after it was revealed that the Fox News host had settled numerous sexual harassment lawsuits brought against him; and launched the first direct American attack against the Assad regime in Syria.
To get this weekly Trump update sent to your inbox, subscribe here.
Trump’s extremely wealthy administration Day 71 — March 31
The administration released financial disclosure forms, offering a glimpse of White House staffers’ personal wealth. Here’s a more detailed analysis, but this is a quick rundown of some facts revealed in the docs:
- Ivanka Trump made between $1 million and $5 million since January 2016
- Despite promising to divest from their businesses and abide by ethics rules, Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner can still benefit from their real estate empire, worth as much as $740 million.
- Steve Bannon made between $1.3 million and $2.3 million last year
- Kellyanne Conway brought in about $800,000 in 2016
- Former Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn, now the director of the National Economic Council, has assets valued as high as $611 million
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that U.S. sanctions against Russia will “remain in place” until Russia relinquishes control of Crimea to Ukraine, adding that Russia’s actions “shook the very foundations of security and stability in Europe.” Tillerson has expressed several views that deviate from Trump’s, including that Russia sanctions should stay in place.
Trump tweeted a defense of former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s request for immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony about Russia. The president later left the Oval Office without signing the executive orders at hand and dodged questions about Flynn’s request. Vice President Mike Pence attempted to retrieve Trump but ended up following him out with the unsigned orders.
Trump’s campaign comments came back to haunt him once again. A federal judge in Kentucky ruled that a lawsuit accusing Trump of inciting violence against protesters last March can move forward. Video from the rally showed Trump directing his supports to “get ’em out of here.”
A federal judge approved a $25 million settlement between Trump and students who said they were defrauded by Trump University. The money will go to the more than 6,000 students who said Trump’s real estate seminars were worthless.
Just tweetin’Day 72 — April 1
Trump had a prolific day on Twitter on April Fools Day. He reiterated that another Republican health care plan is in the works, called Obamacare “dead,” and alluded to an “intel official” who helped “unmask” Trump team members swept up in foreign surveillance for the Obama administration. (That last bit would later become the controversy surrounding Susan Rice, Obama’s final national security adviser, whom Trump accused of deliberately and illegally revealing allies’ identities for political reasons.)
Michael Flynn, briefly Trump’s national security adviser until he was forced to resign over ties to Russia, didn’t disclose income he received from Russia-linked entities on one of two financial disclosure forms released by the White House. The information is detailed on a second, amended form. No reason has been given for the discrepancy between the two forms.
Trump threatens to go after North Korea aloneDay 73 — April 2
Although he wouldn’t give specifics, Trump seemed to take his administration’s already aggressive stance on North Korea one step further. Just days ahead of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, the president threatened to “solve” the Hermit Kingdom’s nuclear ambitions on his own if China doesn’t take action.
“I’m not going to tell you,” he said in an interview with The Financial Times. “I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East.”
Trump also hit the golf course with Sen. Rand Paul, his former opponent for the GOP nomination in the 2016 presidential election. A notable critic of Obamacare, Paul also refused to vote for the GOP’s plan to replace it, which Republicans dropped for lack of support. Trump spent weeks attacking Trumpcare’s opponents, but Paul, who has his own health care plan, said he was “very optimistic” after meeting with the president.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed to end the debate in the Senate over Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to join the Supreme Court — the first official move toward the “nuclear option,” which would change the number of votes required to confirm all future Supreme Court nominees.
Susan Rice becomes Team Trump’s archenemyDay 74 — April 3
Obama’s final national security adviser became a target of the president and his allies as a means to justify Trump’s as yet unproven claims that the Obama administration spied on Trump Tower during the election.
Rice reportedly requested the “unmasking” of Trump associates whose communications were incidentally collected while the U.S. was spying on foreign targets. Usually, the identities of American people who aren’t directly targeted by surveillance are redacted from intelligence reports, but “unmasking” reveals these names. Rice has neither confirmed nor denied the validity of the accusations, but this process, by most accounts, is legal. Conservative commentators have pointed to Rice’s alleged actions as proof of Trump’s claims that he was spied on. There’s still no evidence that Obama ever wiretapped Trump Tower.
Trump signed an incredibly unpopular bill into law that allows internet service providers to sell your online history to advertisers. Polls show that even a majority of Republicans wanted Trump to veto the measure.
Trump donated $78,000 of his annual $400,000 salary to the National Park Service, which faces major funding losses under his budget proposal. Last month, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the press would get to decide where Trump donated his salary at the end of the year, although there’s no indication that the press played any role in making this decision.
Melania Trump got her first official portrait as first lady.
Official Portrait of First Lady pic.twitter.com/K1DUVE5kSI
— Melania Trump (@FLOTUS) April 3, 2017
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, went to Iraq as a White House envoy, another indicator of Kushner’s outsized role as a “shadow diplomat” for the administration. The visit caused security concerns before Kushner even arrived: White House officials confirmed the visit to Iraq ahead of time, which violates Pentagon protocol. Travel dates by high-profile individuals are usually left deliberately vague for security reasons.
Vice News Coverage
Trump condemns Assad (and Obama)Day 75 — April 4
Trump called a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria a “consequence” of Barack Obama’s “weakness and irresolution.” Syrian President Bashar Assad, backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, has a history of using chemical weapons against his opponents and civilians.
Susan Rice flatly denied that she had “unmasked” Trump associates for political reasons, calling the allegations “absolutely false.”
Carter Page, who was briefly a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, told BuzzFeed News that he met with and passed documents to a Russian agent in 2013. While Page wouldn’t say why he provided the agent with the documents, he insisted it wasn’t a big deal and didn’t believe he broke the law.
Bannon gets booted off the NSCDay 76 — April 5
Trump booted his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, from a permanent seat on the National Security Council. Trump surprised everyone when he appointed Bannon to the council in January and demoted other top intelligence officials — former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who advised Trump during the transition, called the decision a “big mistake.” Trump, however, was privately furious over Bannon’s appointment, which the president reportedly approved only because he wasn’t fully briefed on the presidential memorandum he was signing.
Trump refused to let the Susan Rice thing go. In an interview with the New York Times (that was supposed to focus on infrastructure spending), Trump suggested that Obama’s final national security adviser committed a crime — even though there’s no evidence that she has. Rice again rebuffed Trump’s accusations.
The bitter fight over Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, continued to escalate. Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley spent 15 hours on the Senate floor speaking against Neil Gorsuch to a mostly empty chamber. But don’t call it a filibuster: The 15 hours were part of a 30-hour debate period allotted after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed to end the debate earlier in the week.
Seventeen states — led by New York — filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over climate change regulation rollbacks. The coalition argues that the government has a legal duty to regulate emissions that contribute to climate change.
Trump met with King Abdullah of Jordan at the White House. At their joint press conference, Trump condemned a chemical attack in Syria that was likely ordered by President Bashar Assad.
Trump defended Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who has been accused of sexual harassment by numerous women, when it was revealed O’Reilly and Fox have paid close to $13 million to settle with his accusers.
“I think he shouldn’t have settled; personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Trump said.
Trump, of course, has dealt with his own share of sexual assault accusations and bragged about groping women without their consent.
Trump goes after AssadDay 77 — April 6
The U.S. launched more than 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in retaliation for a deadly chemical weapon attack earlier this week. Syrian President Assad ordered the attack that reportedly left at least 80 civilians dead, including 30 children. It’s the first time the United States has directly attacked the Assad regime. Trump called on “civilized nations” to join the U.S. in “seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.”
“Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,” Trump added.
Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that Assad’s chemical attacks could lead to a U.S.-led intervention in support of a regime change.
Tired of Democrats’ opposition to Neil Gorsuch, Republicans invoked the “nuclear option” and permanently changed how Supreme Court nominees get confirmed. The Republican-controlled Senate voted to change years of precedent so that, going forward, Supreme Court nominees will be confirmed by a simple majority in the Senate.
Trump had his first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, at Trump’s resort in Florida. The meeting appeared cordial — Xi even invited Trump to China — but the relationship has its share of underlying tension. Trump repeatedly blasted the U.S.’s relationship with China on the campaign trail.
“We have been treated unfairly and have made terrible trade deals with China for many, many years. That’s one of the things we are going to be talking about,” Trump told reporters before the meeting.
Environmentalists announced a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for reversing its position on a pesticide the Obama administration wanted to ban because of its links to autism and childhood brain defects.
This week in POTUS tweets:
Did Hillary Clinton ever apologize for receiving the answers to the debate? Just asking!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2017
Anybody (especially Fake News media) who thinks that Repeal & Replace of ObamaCare is dead does not know the love and strength in R Party!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2017
Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends. "Spied on before nomination." The real story.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 3, 2017