February 18, 2017

Week 14

Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things
subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.

After a slight reprieve last week, this week was again chaos, and the longest weekly list so far. An overarching theme to watch is the consolidation of power: positions in the executive branch are going unfilled and layoffs continue. Meanwhile, Trump, his children, and his small circle of insiders are making all major decisions domestically and abroad.

  1. Trump was tested in his first national security incident, as N. Korea launched intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Trump, at Mar-a-Lago hosting PM Abe, conferred with a small circle of aides AND Abe, using a flashlight app that could have been compromised. Trump then proceeded to stop by a wedding for a photo-op at his club.
  2. The public exchange was captured by a member of the Mar-a-Lago club, who posted it publicly on his Facebook page.
  3. After staying mum about Flynn over the weekend, Trump spokespeople went from saying Flynn “enjoys the full confidence,” to Trump is “evaluating the situation” on Monday. That evening, Flynn “resigned.”
  4. Flynn became the third Trump advisor to resign over inappropriate ties to Russia (others are Paul Manafort and Carter Page).
  5. After firing Flynn, Trump pivoted to blaming the media and intelligence for leaks. He referred to intelligence in quotes, again. Trump also denied any wrongdoing by Flynn.
  6. The NYT reported that several Trump campaign aides had repeated contact with Russia in the year before the election. CNN reported in fact, Trump aides were in constant contact with Russian officials.
  7. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, chose to investigate leaks, but not Trump and his regime’s connections to Russia.
  8. AG Sessions refused to recuse himself from investigations into Trump and his regime’s ties to Russia, despite his ties to Trump during the campaign.
  9. As Trump’s battle with intelligence agencies intensified, he brought in loyalist, billionaire hedge fund manager Stephen Feinberg to lead a broad review of the intelligence agencies.
  10. The FBI released 400 pages of records from their race discrimination probe of Trump’s real estate company in the 1970s.
  11. The WSJ reported that the Pentagon has no records of approving Flynn’s Russian-TV payment.
  12. WAPO reported that Trump staffers are so scared of being accused of leaking to the media that they are now using an unsecured secret chat app called Confide to communicate.
  13. After her Senate confirmation, Betsy DeVos removed a website for disabled students. After outrage by Democratic senators and the public, it was restored.
  14. A Gallup poll found that Americans see US world standing as the worst in decades. Only 29% think world leaders respect Trump.
  15. The Windsor, Ontario school board cancelled all student trips to the US, citing “safety and equity” concerns.
  16. Trump picked a longtime friend for the post of Ambassador of Austria because Park is a big fan of the Sound of Music.
  17. Democrats in public and Republicans in private (mostly) voiced concern about Trump’s mental health. Mental health professionals also warned about Trump.
  18. WH senior policy advisor Stephen Miller was awarded “bushels of Pinocchios” for a series of lies told on Sunday talk shows. Pundits compared his tone, demeanor, and content to that of propaganda minister.
  19. In one of his first actions as AG, Sessions signaled he would not pursue states that refused to enforce Obama’s transgender policy.
  20. The list of stores dropping Trump lines continued to grow.
  21. In joint press conferences with heads of state from Japan, Canada, and Israel, Trump took two questions each time from only friendly news sources, and refused to take any from the major media present.
  22. Bloomberg reported that while Trump was making calls about the cost of Lockheed’s F-35, the CEO of rival Boeing was in the room.
  23. Secretary of State Tillerson irked his Russian counterpart in their first meeting, when he made journalists leave the room before his opening remarks. “Why did you shush them out?” Lavrov said.
  24. A federal judge in Virginia granted an injunction against Trump’s Muslim ban. By the end of the week, Trump said he would not appeal.
  25. Trump’s efforts to deport immigrants broadened to include a Dreamer, and detaining a woman who was seeking a protective order against an abusive boyfriend. ICE refused to respond to inquiries by Democrats, as deportations escalated.
  26. The Pentagon may propose sending troops to Syria in response to Trump’s order to come up with proposals to fight ISIS.
  27. After meeting with Trump, Canadian PM Trudeau urged deeper EU-Canadian ties due to Trump’s isolationist policies.
  28. The director of the Office of Government Ethics said there was a “strong reason” to think Conway violated rules, and that disciplinary action is warranted for her on-air comments to buy Ivanka’s brand.
  29. In a room of all white men, Trump signed the repeal of transparency rules for oil companies to disclose foreign payments.
  30. The 23 Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee voted not to require Trump to release his tax returns.
  31. Russia dealt Trump several provocations including: placing a ship outfitted with spying equipment 30 miles off Connecticut’s coast; deploying a cruise missile, in violation of an arms control treaty; and buzzing a US warship in the Black Sea.
  32. Meanwhile, Russian backed forces continued to escalate violence in Ukraine.
  33. Russian-TV’s coverage of Trump started to become less flattering.
  34. The WSJ reported that Trump appointee for Commerce, Wilbur Ross, Jr.,  wants to keep his stake in 11 entities that he would affect as commerce secretary.
  35. The week after Trump announced he would support China’s “One China” policy, China awarded Trump valuable rights to his name in the form of a 10-year trademark for construction services.
  36. When asked about the alarming rise of anti-Semitism in the US during his press conference with Netanyahu, Trump shifted to bragging about his electoral college victory.
  37. The WSJ reported that US intelligence agencies are withholding information from Trump, citing concerns that information would be leaked or compromised. The DNI and CIA denied this is happening.
  38. Secretary of State Tillerson was conspicuously absent from Trump’s meetings with heads of state. Tillerson also did not invite the customary press corps to accompany him on a truncated trip to a Group of 20 meeting.
  39. Politico reported on the frustration of Tillerson, Mathis, Kelly, and Pompeo for being left out decision making. Kushner is described as a “shadow Secretary of State,” running his own foreign policy.
  40. The already gutted State Department conducted additional layoffs, a sign that key foreign policies will be made at the WH.
  41. Mother Jones reported on a classified memo for intelligence on how to prepare Trump’s Daily Brief: “less material, less nuance, less dissent.”
  42. Rachel Maddow reported on the Kushner family’s desire to buy the Marlins, as the owner who is selling the team is considered by Trump for the plum job of Ambassador to France.
  43. Trump hit his lowest approval level in a Pew Research poll: approve 39%, disapprove 56%, and in Gallup Daily tracking poll: approve 38%, disapprove 56%.
  44. Six of Trump’s staffers were escorted out of the WH after failing their FBI background checks.
  45. Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald reported that US allies in Europe are conducting their own intelligence operations to assess Trump ties to Russia.
  46. Ten members of Trump’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders resigned citing, “portrayal of immigrants, refugees, people of color and people of various faiths as untrustworthy, threatening, and a drain on our nation.”
  47. Trump hosted an unhinged, lie-ridden, impromptu 80 minute press conference. A GOP Senator texted CNN’s John King, “He should do this with a therapist, not on live television.”
  48. Also at the press conference, Trump insulted reporter April Ryan when she asked if he planned to arrange a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. Trump replied, “Do you want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?
  49. Also when asked by a Jewish reporter about anti-Semitism, Trump called him a liar, told him to sit down, and said anti-Semitism was coming from “the other side.
  50. WAPO reported that Flynn lied in a January 24 FBI interview, denying sanction discussions with Kislyak. Lying to the FBI is a felony offense.
  51. Ret. Vice Adm. Bob Harward turned down the offer to replace Flynn, citing a chaotic WH. According to a friend, Harward described Trump’s offer as a “shit sandwich.”
  52. Gen. David Petraeus also bowed out of consideration for NSA, citing the inability to pick his own staff.
  53. Kushner met with Time Warner executives to complain about CNN’s coverage of Trump. Time Warner has a pending merger with AT&T, which requires governmental approval.
  54. Trump held his first 2020 campaign event today in Florida. A Craigslist ad, which offered money for enthusiastic attendees, was taken down.
  55. AP reported on a leaked draft memo which shows Trump is considering using 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants.
  56. Germany’s Minister of Defense warned the US against hurting European cohesion, abandoning core Western values and cozying up to Russia.
  57. Trump tweeted, then deleted, then expanded his list of media outlets and tweeted, that the media is the “enemy of the American people” — a slogan also used by Lenin and Stalin.
  58. After a closed door meeting between Comey and the Senate Intelligence Committee before leaving for recess, Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted, “I am now very confident Senate Intel Comm I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of #Putin interference and influence.”
  59. The cost of protecting Trump and his family is staggering. Obama averaged $12 million a year, while Trump’s 3 weekend visits to Mar-a-Lago alone cost $10 million, and the guards at NYC Trump Tower $183 million/year.
  60. Rep. Barbara Lee introduced legislation signed by 70+ House Democrats urging the removal of Bannon from the NSC.
  61. PBS, Americorps, Legal Service Corp and the National Endowments for the Arts are all set to be eliminated in Trump’s preliminary budget.

Some Things We’ve Already Normalized:

  • Trump continues to financially benefit from his businesses, AND to gain additional revenues from his position of power (#35, China)
  • Very few open positions in the executive branch are getting filled.
  • Trump has still not come to agreement on the lease of his DC hotel on federal land.
  • Without an official government role, Ivanka Trump continues to attend meetings with heads of state and leaders of corporate America.

Copyright Amy Siskind, February 18, 2017

A club member posted images on Facebook of the scene at Mar-a-Lago as Trump and Abe got news of a missile strike by North Korea.