April 08, 2017

Week 21

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

Over the past three weeks, Trump’s approval plummeted as he struggled to take back the narrative amidst legislative failures and a ubiquitous Russia. He floated several attempts to deflect, and replace Russia as the lead story: the Obama wiretap, the Nunes brouhaha, the Susan Rice unmasking — but none seemed to work. This week he figured out a way to take back the narrative — one commonly used by autocrats — he started a war.

  1. Five weeks have passed since Trump’s tweet accusing Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower. He has yet to offer any evidence or apologize.
  2. Seeking to deflect from his growing unpopularity and Russia stories, Trump segued his Obama story to “a crooked scheme” involving Susan Rice spying on the Trump regime.
  3. Citing no evidence, Trump said Susan Rice had committed a crime. Experts debunked his claim, saying unmasking is routine for an NSA.
  4. The LA Times Editorial Board launched a scathing six-part series on the Trump presidency: “Our Dishonest President.”
  5. Since taking office, Trump has made 367 false or misleading claims according to the WAPO.
  6. Rejecting Trump’s defense, a Kentucky federal judge said a lawsuit against Trump for inciting violence at a campaign event could proceed.
  7. Trump’s popularity plunged to 34% in an April IBD/TIPP poll, including a significant loss of support among rural voters (56% to 41%) and white men (58% to 49%).
  8. A Quinnipiac poll found a similar drop in approval by Trump key demographic white men: 58% to 47%.
  9. The US jobs report for March was dismal, the weakest in almost a year. Unlike February when Trump took credit for a strong report despite his short time office, this time there was no comment.
  10. ProPublica reported that despite his pledge to remove himself from his business interests, Trump can pull money from any of his businesses, at any time, without disclosing it.
  11. At a WH press briefing, Spicer defamed ProPublica, calling it a “left-wing blog.” ProPublica issued a strong response and statement of facts, including the Trump trust documents which were revised on February 10.
  12. While under consideration for a major national security role, Stephen Feinberg said he wants to keep his stake in Cerberus, which was the 17th biggest US Army contractor in 2015.
  13. Breaking from Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp,” Politico reported that Trump ex-staffers are cashing in through foreign lobbying work.
  14. Trump has left the WH Office of Science and Technology vacant, filling just one position with the former chief of staff for Peter Thiel. As discussed in past lists, Trump is installing “spies” into agencies, while leaving key roles without appointed candidates.
  15. Researchers said the Trump regime has been deleting scientific data collected by government agencies. One scientist said, “It’s a bloodbath.
  16. In violation of the Hatch Act, Dan Scavino Jr., social media director and WH advisor, tweeted at a member of the Freedom Caucus that he was a “big liability” and should be primaried. He later changed his Twitter bio to “Personal @Twitter Handle.”
  17. Without public announcement, Trump issued an executive order changing the order of succession within the DOJ.
  18. Twitter filed a lawsuit after the Department of Homeland Security requested they reveal the identity of an anonymous account which has been critical of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office
  19. On Friday, DHS dropped its request, and Twitter withdrew its lawsuit.
  20. The Twitter account for the US agency which controls the US nuclear force, US Strategic Command, tweeted an article by Breitbart.
  21. Expanding his already huge portfolio of responsibilities, Kushner traveled to Iraq with General Dunford. The trip became the stuff of parody in a piece titled, “Jared Goes To Iraq! A Picture Story.
  22. WAPO reported Kushner Iraq trip violated protocol in that it was confirmed before they landed.
  23. Kushner’s increasing foreign relations portfolio led to questions of whether he has become the “defacto secretary of state.”
  24. The city council in Cambridge, MA passed a resolution calling for Congress to begin an impeachment investigation into Trump.
  25. Trump invited Egyptian President el-Sisi to the WH, and did not mention human rights abuses. Families of Americans being held prisoner in Egypt also said Trump had ignored their pleas for help, after Trump on the campaign trail excoriated Obama for not prioritizing prisoners in Iran.
  26. On #EqualPayDay it was noted that Trump had quietly signed an executive order taking away Obama-era protection for women workers.
  27. Trump cut all funding to UNFPA, a United Nations agency that works on maternal and reproductive health.
  28. Trump defended serial sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, calling him “a good person” and saying, “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.”
  29. In the first three months of 2017, hate crimes in NYC doubled over last year. Most crimes were anti-Semitic, with an uptick in anti-black incidents as well.
  30. The NY State Supreme Court ruled that NYC can destroy immigrants municipal ID information, as part of the City’s effort to protect undocumented immigrants from being deported by the Trump regime.
  31. An Indiana restaurant owner was deported overnight by ICE to Mexico, despite pending legal actions. According to NPR, none of his lawyers were notified.
  32. FT reported that the FBI plans to create a special unit to coordinate its investigation of Russian interference with the election.
  33. Before resigning as NSA, Flynn did not reveal income he received from Russian-related entities during 2015 for speaking fees.
  34. Yahoo reported that Trump abruptly pulled out of a meeting scheduled for February with Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia and a close ally of Putin, over disclosed ties to organized crime.
  35. ICE whisked away Evgeny Buryakov, the Russian spy mentioned in Week 20. At trial, Buryakov’s attorney fees were paid by his employer VEB, a Russian Bank whose head secretly met with Kushner in December.
  36. BuzzFeed reported that former Trump advisor Page met with an undercover Russian spy in 2013, and passed along information.
  37. WAPO reported Erik Prince, Trump insider and brother of Betsy DeVos, attended a secret meeting arranged by the UAE with a Russian close to Putin in Seychelles on January 11, opening a back-channel to Russia.
  38. A UAE crown prince also had a meeting with Flynn, Kushner, and Bannon in December. In an unusual breach of protocol, the UAE did not notify the Obama administration in advance.
  39. CNN reported the FBI is investigating links between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization servers, indicating an intention to communicate. During the campaign, 80% of Trump Org server lookups were done by Alfa Bank and 19% by Spectrum Health, which is led by Betsy DeVos’ husband.
  40. NYT reported that Kushner omitted his multiple meetings with Russians in filling out his Questionnaire for National Security Positions.
  41. In a video obtained by Forward, Trump’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, Gorka, publicly supported a violent anti-Semitic militia group.
  42. On Thursday, Nunes temporarily stepped away from chairing the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russia, citing an ethics complaint by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
  43. In a letter that afternoon, the Republican chair of the House Ethics Committee announced they too are investigating Nunes for the “unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”
  44. Confusion reigned in the Trump regime after the Assad chemical bombing. Without citing specifics, Trump said he changed his Syria policy, but no one else in the regime seemed to know details.
  45. Without a formal announcement, Trump removed Steve Bannon from the National Security Council. Jennifer Jacobs, a Bloomberg reporter, broke the story after reading it in a notice published in the Federal Register.
  46. Politico reported that mega-donor Rebekah Mercer convinced her close ally Bannon not to resign. Reporter Jane Mayer has uncovered that the Mercers stand to avoid $6.8 billion in taxes under Trump.
  47. The National Security Council page on whitehouse.gov is blank, save for these words: “Check back soon for more information.”
  48. NYT reported that as early as July, the CIA had evidence of Russia’s efforts to get Trump elected, and that Trump advisers were likely working with the Russians.
  49. In August, CIA director Brennan met with the Gang of Eight to share his findings. Sen. Harry Reid has pushed repeatedly to inform the American public, but Sen. Mitch McConnell questioned the findings and pushed for a softer version of a public letter, striking any reference to Russia.
  50. As noted in Week 4, McConnell had also been the roadblock to Obama going public in October with more explicit information on Russia’s attempted interference with our election.
  51. Also as noted in Week 4, shortly after the election, Trump chose McConnell’s wife as his nominee for transportation secretary.
  52. On Friday, McConnell passed the filibuster-ending “nuclear option” for Supreme Court picks. One columnist referred to him as “the man who broke America.
  53. Trump had also pushed McConnell towards the nuclear option. One expert in authoritarianism said of autocrats, “They will continue to rewrite major rules and disregard norms.”
  54. Wars within the Trump regime continued this week, with open animus between Kushner and Bannon, and rumors that Bannon and Priebus could be on their way out.
  55. All the while, power continues to consolidate into the hands of Trump, Ivanka, and Kushner. In the executive branch, only 4% of key roles are filled and 92% still have no nominee.
  56. In a PR stunt that fell flat, Trump donated his $78,333 paycheck to the Park Service. Ironically, Trump’s budget calls for deep cuts to the Interior Dept, which includes the Park Service, of 12% or $1.5 billion.
  57. On Thursday, amidst a continued fall in approval and a growing drumbeat of Russia, Trump used provocations by North Korea and Syria as an opportunity to threaten war against both.
  58. On Thursday night, while in Mar-a-Lago meeting with China’s President Xi, Trump launched an attack on Syria .
  59. Trump did not seek approval or notify Congress ahead of time. He did however, give advance notice to Russia.
  60. Trump cited Assad’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, including children, as justification. Ironically, one of Trump’s first actions in office was his Muslim ban, which banned Syrian refugees. Also per PolitiFact, on the campaign trail, Trump promised to remove existing Syrian refugees from the US.
  61. Also of note, the Trump regime has been responsible for killing hundreds of innocent civilians, including children, in the failed Yemen raid, and then in Mosul where pamphlets told citizens not to leave their homes.
  62. The Pentagon released a video of the US strike Thursday night, which they claimed, “Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment.
  63. Nine civilians, including four children, were killed by Trump’s airstrike.
  64. By the next day, the Assad regime was again launching airstrikes from the airfield Trump’s attack had supposedly destroyed.
  65. The media loved Trump’s show of force, and on Friday Syria become story one, displacing Russian interference and ties to Trump.
  66. The Onion ran the perfect parody of the situation on Friday, “Trump Confident U.S. Military Strike On Syria Wiped Out Russian Scandal.” Other pundits used the euphemism “Wag the Dog.”
  67. To complete the stagecraft, the Trump regime released their version of the Situation Room photo. This version was taken in Mar-a-Lago, and included Spicer, two Goldman Sachs executives, Commerce Secretary Ross, and Kushner glaring over at Bannon.

Copyright Amy Siskind, April 8, 2017

In this photo released by the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Twitter, President Trump receives a briefing on the Syria military strike in a secured conference room at his Mar-a-Lago resort. (Photo: White House Photo)