March 11, 2017

Week 17

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

This week, some threads from past weeks’ lists continue to unwind: Trump and his regime’s ties to Russia, conflicts of interest, and the dysfunctional and largely unstaffed executive branch. But the broader story of Week 17 is an underlying shift away from democracy, and it’s not subtle at all!

Under the auspices of Trump’s #2 Bannon, our democracy as we know it is transitioning under a term used widely this week: the Deep State. Know this term! A Deep State is a paranoid, authoritarian vision of a regime under siege and being infiltrated — in this case by Obama and his loyalists. This authoritarian vision has been used by the Trump regime as justification by for their ever-increasing need to consolidate power into the hands of a trusted few — transforming our democracy into an authoritarian state, and making it harder to get to the truth on the many troubling matters.

  1. As we headed into Week 17, Trump refused to back off his claims tweeted Saturday morning in Mar-a-lago that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Trump demanded that Congress investigate his claim.
  2. Trump provided no evidence for his wiretap claim. Sunday morning on Meet the Press, former DNI Clapper said “I can deny” that Trump Tower was wiretapped.
  3. Sunday, FBI’s Comey also denied Trump’s claim, and asked the DOJ to publicly reject Trump’s wiretapping claim. The DOJ has not rejected Trump’s assertion.
  4. A WH spokesperson rejected Comey’s assertion that Trump’s wiretapping claim is false. Trump regime members continued to dance around the lack of evidence all week, refusing to deny Trump’s false claim.
  5. WAPO reporters, in a disturbing piece, described Trump’s fury and instability over the weekend. Further to story, reporter Robert Costa tweeted: “Trump woke up in good spirits, per his confidants. Read the papers and watched early cable shows, liked that they covered his allegations.”
  6. Upon returning to the WH, Monday was the first weekday that Trump’s schedule was entirely closed to the press.
  7. Other members of the Trump regime acted erratically, including Roger Stone who was suspended from Twitter for his misogynistic rants. Later in the week, Stone admitted to being in contact with Guccifer 2.0, the DNC hacker, during the campaign.
  8. After his flip-flopping on Russian contact in Week 16, this week Carter Page, without offering evidence, said his phone may have been tapped.
  9. As the week closed out, Trump had still not been in contact with Comey or the FBI about his wiretapping claims. Trump’s sources for his claim were right wing media, Breitbart, and Mark Levin.
  10. Trump signed a second Muslim ban order, ignoring the findings of the DHS report he ordered, this time targeting six countries.
  11. Four states sued to stop the ban, including the state of Hawaii which used Stephen Miller’s own words on TV, that the revised travel ban is really just like the original, as evidence.
  12. Alex Orono, the Ukrainian businessman who arranged the ‘peace plan’ meeting between Cohen, Sater, and Artemenko mentioned in Week 15, died suddenly.
  13. The first imports of Russian steel arrived at a port in New Jersey.
  14. Trump WH announced, contrary to an executive order that Trump signed requiring the use of domestic steel in US pipelines, that the Keystone XL builders can use non-US steel.
  15. AP reported on how Trump’s DC hotel has become the central hub of political capital in DC. Several of Trump’s cabinet members are living at his hotel as well. Trump still financially benefits from the property.
  16. The top official in charge of the public buildings at the General Services Administration, who was in charge of overseeing Trump’s DC hotel, resigned. Trump will get to appoint his replacement.
  17. Cork Wine Bar in DC sued Trump for unfair competition over Trump’s DC hotel saying, “President Donald Trump’s ownership constitutes unfair competition and we are asking the courts to stop it.”
  18. Young people in a Sweden suburb said Russian TV crew tried to bribe them to riot. Trump has largely gone quiet on his assertions of a terrorist attack in Sweden.
  19. McClatchy reported on the curious overlap between the luxury plane of the same Russian billionaire who bought Trump’s Florida home (delivering Trump a $60 million profit) with Trump at event in Charlotte and Concord, NC. A spokesperson for the oligarch said, “Mr. Rybolovlev has never met Donald Trump.”
  20. CNN reported on a speech given by Kislyak in October 2016 in which he denied meeting Trump or his campaign team during the 2016 election. We now know that is a lie on many counts.
  21. On Sunday, after N. Korea launched a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, Trump and the State Department had no response for over 5 hours. The State Department eventually issued a statement after 10 p.m.
  22. Shortly after Trump had lunch with Tillerson, the WH issued a statement congratulating Exxon on a new program.
  23. The WH press release contained full paragraphs copied verbatim from Exxon’s press release.
  24. Bureau chiefs wrote a letter saying they were “deeply concerned” that Tillerson did not bring the press on a trip to Asia to visit important allies. Letter also says of the action, “it gives the American people no window whatsoever into the views and actions of the nation’s leaders.” Spicer claimed this was due to cost savings by Tillerson.
  25. MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell was kicked out of two State Department press briefings for trying to ask Tillerson questions. The briefings turned out to be solely photo ops.
  26. Mexico’s top diplomat came to DC and skipped the normal channels going straight to the WH to meet with Kushner, McMaster, and Cohn. The State Department did not know about the meeting.
  27. In a statement, the State Department asked the NYC Medical Examiner not to disclose the cause of death for Russian UN ambassador Churkin.
  28. Tillerson still doesn’t have a Deputy, and most of the diplomats with expertise in senior roles have been fired or left the State Department. Former Ambassador Hill said the vacuum of leadership is “unprecedented.”
  29. ProPublica reported that Trump has quietly installed 400 insiders to be his ears and eyes in the executive branch.
  30. As of March 10, 96% of key positions in the executive branch remain unfilled. Trump has nominees in the confirmation process for only 8% of positions requiring Senate confirmation.
  31. More reporting of Trump’s failed Yemen raid indicated carelessness with civilian casualties, and that despite the WH taking credit for a successful mission in which they recovered intelligence, that was not in fact that target of the mission; rather, it was a key member of al Qaeda.
  32. A top general took responsibility for the failed Yemen raid. Trump had blamed the generals in Week 15 — atypical of a commander-in-chief.
  33. Widespread anti-Semitism continued across the country, including a bomb threat to the Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn, vandalism at the largest synagogue in the Pacific Northwest on Shabbat, and incidents at two Maryland schools.
  34. Wikileaks announced another data dump they claim came from the CIA. This time, the media largely did not bite: questioning instead whether Russia was the source of the data, and whether the purpose was to distract from Trump’s wiretap claims and Russian ties.
  35. A large portion of the Wikileaks dump are from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, the unit assigned by Obama to respond to Russia’s interference in our election.
  36. Two days later, Nigel Farage visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London (March 9th). On February 25th, Farage had dinner with Trump, Ivanka, and Kushner.
  37. Costco started stocking the popular Orwell book, 1984.
  38. Gold star father Khizr Khan canceled a speaking engagement in Toronto, saying he was notified that his travel privileges were under review. At the end of the week, there were still open questions about this curious case.
  39. The ACLU filed an ethics complaint against Session in Alabama over his Senate confirmation testimony about contact with Russia to “determine whether he violated the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct.”
  40. The Office of Government Ethics director wrote a letter to Trump’s deputy WH counsel on the decision not to discipline Conway, saying he remains “concerned” about the Trump aide’s “misuse of position,” and that her evading punishment risked “undermining the ethics program.”
  41. Bannon and Breitbart increasingly used the term “deep state” to describe an imagined “covert resistance” to Trump, largely composed of Obama loyalists. Deep state is a term generally used by authoritarian regimes.
  42. Fox News’ Sean Hannity tweeted Thursday it was time for Trump “to purge the deep state saboteurs from the government.”
  43. On Friday, Rep. Steven King also suggested that a purge of federal staff needs to happen.
  44. Same day, when asked in the WH Daily Briefing, Spicer did not reject the concept of the Deep State.
  45. That afternoon, without any notice, Sessions asked all 46 remaining Obama appointed US attorneys to resign.
  46. On Wednesday Three watchdogs asked the US attorney for the Southern District of NY (home to the Trump Organization) to investigate whether Trump effectively receives benefits from foreign entities, in violation of the Constitution.
  47. The US attorney for the Southern District of NY is Preet Bharara, who was invited to Trump Tower in November and asked by Trump to stay on, only to be asked to resign in the Sessions sweep on Friday. As of today, Bharara is refusing to resign.
  48. Politico reported that Europeans are concerned about Bannon and Trump’s efforts to undo the European Union. Commerce Secretary Ross, who has ties to Russia per Week 16, is also anti-EU.
  49. Trump golf properties enjoyed an unprecedented boom of sales, as people seek access to Trump. Eric Trump bragged, “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.”
  50. The New Yorker reported on one of Trump’s questionable and likely illegal deals in Baku, Azerbaijan (a former Soviet republic). Ivanka oversaw the deal, which was linked to corrupt oligarchs and terror financiers.
  51. Russia broke a 30 year-old nuclear treaty with the US, deploying a missile with nuclear capability which threatens Europe. US Generals briefed Congress, but the Trump regime did nothing about it.
  52. Muhammad Ali Jr. was again detained at an airport in DC, this time, ironically, after meeting with lawmakers to discuss his being detained last month.
  53. In a filing this week, Flynn admitted that he had worked as a foreign agent during the campaign, lobbying Trump on behalf of the Turkish government, and earning $530,000 for his work.
  54. Examples emerged of how Flynn’s lobbying role may have interfered with US policy, such as during the transition when Flynn held approval of a Kurdish plan to seize Raqqa. The Obama WH had worked for months on this plan.
  55. Flynn also had written an op-ed, published on election day, calling Turkey “our strongest ally” against ISIS, and recommending we extradite “radical cleric” Gulen.
  56. Information in Flynn’s filing also revealed a possible bribe attempt to get an email sent by Hillary regarding Benghazi re-marked as classified.
  57. Spicer said Friday that Trump did not know that Flynn was working a secret foreign agent, as evidence mounted to suggest otherwise.
  58. In a morning interview with MSNBC, a former Trump transition team member said Trump and the transition team knew about Flynn.
  59. Pence said he didn’t know about Flynn. It was uncovered that Rep. Cummings had sent Pence a letter on this topic in November. In an awkward interview with Bret Baier Friday, Pence offered up twice that this was the first he had heard of it — not responding to a question asked.
  60. A story that had been dismissed four months ago about a computer server connection this past summer between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization re-emerged, as sources reported the FBI is investigating.
  61. Trump’s former campaign manager Manafort may face charges in Ukraine for his involvement with mass police shootings of protesters in Kiev in 2014, allegedly tied to Russia.
  62. At a WH press briefing Friday, some members of the media literally laughed at Spicer for his explanation of why Trump accepted and took unwarranted credit for this month’s jobs report, while in the past saying the jobs report was phony.
  63. As Week 17 drew to an end, and Trump marked his first 50 days in office, the media was widely critical of the frequent lies and assertions without evidence made by Trump. A concern emerged about Trump’s credibility should a crisis emerge.
  64. On Friday morning, Spicer broke a 1985 federal rule which forbids government officials from publicly commenting about the jobs report within one hour of the release, when he commented via a tweet.

Copyright Amy Siskind, March 11, 2017

A chart on Trump’s Russia ties prepared by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA).