Week 16 in Trump’s America: firing Comey
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Week 16, in one sentence: President Donald Trump signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill; held “meetings!” in “beautiful” New Jersey; pressured Senate Republicans to pass Trumpcare, which passed the House last week; implied that former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was responsible for leaks to the press about his administration; fired FBI Director James Comey based on memos from the attorney general and deputy attorney general, but then contradicted his own staff by saying he was going to fire Comey with or without recommendations from the DOJ; admitted that firing Comey had something to do with the FBI’s investigation of his campaign’s possible ties to Russia; threatened Comey by alluding to “tapes” of conversations they’ve had together; questioned whether he should cancel press briefings because it’s impossible for his aides to have “perfect accuracy”; allowed only Russian press into his meeting with a Russian foreign minister and Russia’s ambassador and was reportedly upset that Russian state media posted photos; postponed a meeting to discuss the Paris climate change agreement — again; signed an executive order to investigate his baseless claims of election fraud; infuriated Turkey’s President Erdoğan by agreeing to arm Kurdish militants in Syria; and trolled Rosie O’Donnell.
No shutdown (until September) Day 106 — May 5
Trump signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill that funds the government through September, ending a standoff with Democrats that could have led to a government shutdown. While the bill will boost military funding by $19.9 billion, Trump compromised with his opponents by eliminating border wall funding.
Trump boasted that he scrapped most of his first New York City visit as president to save the country money (even though he’s on pace to outspend all eight years of Obama’s travel in just one year) and avoid a big disruption in the city. Instead, he stayed in New Jersey at his Bedminster golf resort.
“Meetings!”Day 107 — May 6
Trump apparently had a pretty quiet day for once. The president tweeted about staying in “beautiful” Bedminster, New Jersey, because staying in New York City would be much more “expensive and disruptive. Meetings!”
Twitter diplmacyDay 108 — May 7
Trump used his favorite platform to discuss a variety of policy issues.
Trump tweeted congratulations to centrist newcomer Emmanuel Macron, the victor in France’s presidential election. Trump had previously expressed support for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, whose views on terrorism and immigration more closely align with his.
Trump pressured Republican senators to vote in favor of Trumpcare, which just passed the House but faces a steep uphill climb to get through the Senate.
Trump announced, by retweeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, that for his first visit abroad as president, he’ll travel to Israel later this month to discuss a renewed peace process with Palestine.
Trump attacked a factory in Indiana that made the decision to move its production line out of the state to Texas and Mexico.
Sally Yates is back in the spotlightDay 109 — May 8
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates — along with former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper — testified before a Senate subcommittee that she had warned Trump that his former national security adviser Michael Flynn had lied to the vice president about his contact with Russia and opened himself to “be blackmailed.”
Flynn was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had, indeed, misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he’d had with a Russian ambassador. Trump later fired Yates for an unrelated action: instructing the Department of Justice not to defend Trump’s first travel ban over questions of its legality.
Earlier in the day, Trump seemed to accuse Yates of being responsible for leaks to the press related to Flynn.
Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Counsel.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
That day, Trump hosted Time magazine reporters in the White House. At one point, Trump showed them his favorite clips of Yates and Clapper testifying before the Senate.
“Watch them start to choke like dogs,” Trump said. “Watch what happens. They are desperate for breath.”
(The Time story, which would publish later in the week, on Thursday, also revealed that Trump allows himself two scoops of ice cream, when everyone else at the White House gets one.)
Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt rejected the advice of his advisers and decided not to reappoint nine scientists to the Board of Scientific Counselors, who were previously told their jobs were safe — twice. Now, Pruitt could fill the seats with representatives from the industries that the EPA is supposed to regulate.
VICE NEWS’ COVERAGE
This week, we published the first edition of VICE News Issues, a semi-regular look at some of the biggest and most important topics in the world. Think of this as an antidote to the craziest news cycle in history — a mini, digital magazine, with dispatches from across the globe. The topic this time? Populism.
Trump axes ComeyDay 110 — May 9
Trump sent shockwaves through the U.S. capital when he abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, the man overseeing the bureau’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation, recommended the firing. Despite praising Comey for months, Trump said the FBI director was “not doing a good job.”
Comey learned he’d lost his job while he was giving a speech in Los Angeles and saw the news flash across a TV in front of him. Afterward, a swarm of members of Congress — including some Republicans — called the move “Nixonian” and demanded the appointment of a special prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation of the possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the U.S. election.
Trump, however, believes the opposition to his Comey firing is just partisan nonsense. “The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!” the president tweeted. In late October, just 11 days t before the election, Comey made himself the enemy of prominent Democrats when he announced the FBI would be reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Comey is the third person Trump has fired while they were investigating his administration, along with Sally Yates and Preet Bharara.
Instead of going on camera to brief reporters about Comey’s firing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer hid in (or, as he later corrected, “among”) some bushes outside the White House to avoid speaking with reporters. Spicer later agreed to answer their questions if they stopped filming him. He would miss the next day’s press briefing because of his previously scheduled Navy Reserve duty, leaving the podium to his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who had done only one other on-camera briefing.
The Trump administration again postponed a meeting to discuss the Paris climate change agreement, which Ivanka Trump has apparently been leading. The delay is reigniting fears that the White House will abandon the accord. The meeting’s new date is yet uncertain.
The White House struggles to get its story straightDay 111 — May 10
The Trump administration said its chief reason for firing Comey was that he mishandled the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but numerous reports indicate that the president was furious with the FBI’s investigation into his own campaign’s alleged ties to Russia — an investigation that was reportedly ramping up. While the administration has yet to name a replacement for Comey, several names, including Acting Director Andrew McCabe and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have been floated.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a subpoena to Flynn to hand over documents related to the committee’s investigation of the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Flynn previously requested immunity in exchange for Congressional testimony about Russia.
Even before the burgeoning scandal over his firing of Comey, Trump’s disapproval rating continued to plummet to new lows with the American people.
Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. in the Oval Office. The White House allowed only Russian press into the room, and Russian state media later posted photos, reportedly without the White House’s blessing.
“They tricked us,” an angry White House official told CNN.
A furious Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan called on Trump to reverse a decision to arm Kurdish militants in Syria. The decision was made as part of a Pentagon effort to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State group. “We want to know that our allies will side with us and not with terror organizations,” Erdoğan said.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was loudly booed as she delivered a commencement speech at historically black Bethune-Cookman University. About half of the 380 students turned their backs to DeVos. DeVos was widely mocked for calling historically black colleges and universities, which were created in response to segregation, “pioneers of school choice” in February.
The Trump administration’s use of a little-known legislative magic wand, known as the Congressional Review Act, expired at midnight. With the help of Congress, Trump used the act used to repeal Obama-era regulations enacted within the last 60 congressional workdays.
After Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price declined to answer a reporter’s questions about whether domestic violence would be labeled as a pre-existing condition under the American Health Care Act, West Virginia police arrested the reporter for “willful disruption of government processes.”
“Just do it”Day 112 — May 11
Trump started to change his story about firing Comey. Since the fateful day, the vice president, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sanders, and others have repeatedly pushed the narrative that Trump made the decision after receiving recommendations from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
But in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holter, Trump said that he was going to fire Comey “regardless of the recommendation,” adding that Comey was a “showboat” and a “grandstander.”
The president also admitted that he had fired Comey at least partially because of the Russia investigation. Trump told Holt:
“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 signed an executive order that makes the heads of executive departments responsible for their agencies’ cybersecurity in an effort to make the U.S. government less susceptible to cyberthreats.
Trump signed another executive order that establishes a commission on “election integrity” — or, in other words, a committee to monitor elections for his still-unproven claims of mass voter fraud. Vice President Mike Pence will chair the commission along with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who reportedly advised the president to investigate voter fraud in the first place and has pushed anti-immigrant conspiracy theories as part of his ties to radical right-wing group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Trump took credit for making up an economic term — “priming the pump” — that was coined in the 1930s.
The FBI raided a Republican consulting firm in Annapolis, Maryland, but it had nothing do with the investigation of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia (as some had initially speculated), according to the firm’s president. The warrant was issued over work the firm had done for the failed 2013 campaign of Ken Cuccinelli to become Virginia’s governor.
Trump dug up a Rosie O’Donnell tweet in which she called for the firing of Comey in December 2016.
“We finally agree on something Rosie,” Trump tweeted.
Twitter tantrumDay 113 — May 12
In an early-morning tweet, the president questioned whether he should cancel all press briefings after Sanders came under fire for offering a different explanation for why Comey had been fired than the president himself gave. “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!….” read the first in a series of tweets.
Trump went on to threaten Comey, tweeting that the fired FBI director “better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” The threat drew immediate comparisons to Richard Nixon.
This week in POTUS tweets:
The Fake Media is working overtime today!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a Democrat EXCUSE for losing the election.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 11, 2017
Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017