Week 43: Experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember.
September 9, 2017
This week the Mueller probe edged towards engulfing Trump’s entire inner-circle. Also of great import, Facebook finally admitted to the company’s role in allowing Russian bots to infiltrate our election. Speculation grew that a foreign entity influenced our election, and that the Trump campaign was complicit.
This week the Trump regime continued its assault on marginalized communities and women, rescinding DACA and taking away protections for victims of campus sexual assault. A second major hurricane illuminated the extent to which the Trump regime has already deconstructed federal agencies like the EPA and State Department.
- Late Friday night over Labor Day Weekend, the DOJ unceremoniously announced there is no evidence Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. Trump did not apologize to Obama for this frequently repeated, false claim.
- Trump visited Hurricane Harvey survivors in Houston seeking shelter at the NRG Center. While preparing to serve lunch, Trump said his hands were “too big” to fit in the plastic serving gloves.
- As he left the shelter, Trump told survivors, “have a good time everybody.”
- The Pentagon miscalculated the number of troops deployed after Harvey: command said 6,300 were deployed, but the actual number was 1,638.
- On Saturday afternoon, AP reported that while many ultra-polluted Superfund sites in Houston were flooded, and there was concern about toxins spreading, the EPA was not on scene.
- The EPA responded with a statement on Sunday, in which the agency personally attacked the credibility of the AP reporter: “Michael Biesecker has a history of not letting the facts get in the way of his story.”
- The EPA said the Superfund sites were inaccessible, but they had used aerial imaging in their assessments. AP reported its staff had used a boat, vehicles, and gone on foot to reach seven of the sites.
- WAPO reported the EPA has taken the unusual step of putting a Trump political operative, John Konkus, who has little environmental policy experience, in charge of doling out hundreds of millions of EPA grants.
- The Government Accountability Office will investigate hiring practices by the EPA. Agencies are not supposed to hire industry lobbyists for two years, but the EPA allegedly skirted those orders using a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
- Trump nominated David Zatezalo, a former chief executive Rhino Resources, a company which repeatedly clashed with federal regulators over safety, to run the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
- Trump nominated Jim Bridenstine, a representative from Oklahoma who has denied climate change and has no science credentials, to lead NASA. This is the longest in its history that NASA has been without a leader.
- CNN reported ahead of his Senate confirmation, parts of Bridenstine’s online presence were scrubbed, including radio and video interviews, and Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts belonging to his campaign.
- Following a nuclear test by N. Korea which unleashed a 6.3-magnitude tremor Saturday, on Sunday, Trump was openly critical of S. Korea, tweeting, “their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work.”
- NYT reported Trump’s antagonistic comments recently have made S. Korea question their alliance with the US, which stretches over 67 years.
- Later that day, Mattis addressed the press and said, “our commitments among the allies are iron-clad.” Mattis repeated that commitment in a statement on Wednesday.
- This marked the third time in a week that Mattis’s message has differed from Trump (see Week 42), in addition to his statement to troops in Week 42 about upholding American values in the era of Trump.
- WSJ reported that nearly 400 EPA employees have left in recent days, leaving the agency with its lowest staffing in almost 30 years.
- The Pentagon dramatically scaled back the number of reporters traveling with Mattis overseas to just six: one wire service, one newspaper, a radio pool reporter, and a three-person pool television crew.
- AP, the oldest and largest American wire service, which provides news to thousands of print and broadcast clients and has traveled with the defense secretary for decades, will not be included in all trips.
- The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed the scope of Trump’s second Muslim ban, ruling extended family members are exempt.
- The Trump regime filed papers with the Supreme Court in support of a Christian baker in Colorado, who a state court ruled against for refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
- The US Commission on Civil Rights issues a letter denouncing Trump’s pardon of Arpaio, citing Arpaio’s repeatedly violating the of civil rights of Latinos and defying a federal court order, amongst other violations.
- Trump’s DHS planned a massive nationwide raids to target 8,400 undocumented immigrants, described as “the largest operation of its kind in the history of ICE” for later this month.
- NBC reported the “massive roundup” plan was canceled late Thursday due to Hurricane Irma and damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.
- Sessions announced nonsanctuary jurisdictions would get “priority consideration” in a grant program called COPS. While Obama had used to the program to promote trust between officers and community, Sessions and Trump are using it to crackdown on immigrants.
- On Thursday, at the same time as Donald Jr.’s senate testimony, DeVos said she will roll back an Obama-era directive on campus sexual assault at a speech at George Mason University. She did not take any questions.
- DeVos said she would develop a replacement that she said would do a better job of “balancing the rights of victims and the accused.” Men’s rights advocates applauded DeVos for listening to their side.
- On a call with survivor advocates Friday, Biden said DeVos “does not speak for the American people,” and called on advocates to meet with college and university administrators and “demand they step up.”
- CBC News reported on a spike in international undergraduate and graduate applications to Canadian universities in the wake of Trump.
- As part of the NAFTA negotiations, Canada demanded that the US end its “right to work” laws in place in some states. Canadian officials say these laws gut unions by starving them of money.
- ACLU reported ICE has asked the National Archives and Record Administration for permission to begin destroying 11 types of records, including those related to sexual assaults and solitary confinement.
- A Republican in the House referred to a female colleague challenging his amendment as “young lady” and said she “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.” He later apologized.
- The FBI will probe the brutal arrest by Utah cops of a nurse who followed hospital policy and refused to draw blood (Week 42).
- In Iowa, a photo of five high school boys in wearing KKK hoods and burning a cross circulated on social media. The boys were suspended.
- Rachel Maddow ran a segment on how Trump has given white nationalists like Bannon and the alt-right a path to power.
- An Atlantic piece, “Donald Trump is the First White President,” spoke of Trump’s white support, the undertones of racism successfully harnessed in his campaign, and his obsession with the negation of Obama’s legacy.
- USA Today investigated membership in Trump’s clubs and traced 4,500 members. For the first time in US history, wealthy people have close access to a president as a result of payments that enrich him personally.
- USA Today found membership includes 50+ executives whose companies hold federal contracts and 21 lobbyists and trade group officials. Two-thirds played on a Trump course one of the 58 days he was there.
- Republican leaders prevented a vote on a bill in the House which would have banned federal spending at Trump businesses.
- Rep. Bill Pascrell’s motion to demand Trump release his tax returns was voted down 21–14 in the House Way and Means Committee, helping Republicans avoid a more public vote in the full House. This breaks a 40-year precedent of presidents making their tax returns public.
- The GAO will investigate Sec. Zinke’s threat to withhold support for Alaska over Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Obamacare repeal vote. In Week 42, the Interior’s Office of Inspector General closed its investigation after the two Alaska senators refused to participate.
- A lawsuit filed against Trump’s Election Integrity Commission alleges that at least two members are using personal emails for office business.
- Kobach authored an article at Breitbart claiming out-of-state voters changed the outcome of the NH senate race in 2016. This claim is false.
- Kobach and the Election Integrity Committee will arrive in NH next week to discuss, among other things, “election integrity issues affecting public confidence.”
- NH Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan issued a statement condemning Trump’s Election Comm for misleading the public. They also called on NH’s Secretary of State to resign from the commission.
- Heading back from summer recess, WSJ reported on the unusually strained relations between Trump and Republicans, saying Trump invited leaders to Bedminster, “but they were unable to coordinate schedules.”
- NYT reported as late as an hour before the DACA decision was announced on Tuesday, administration officials expressed concern that Trump didn’t fully grasp the details of rescinding DACA or its impact.
- Instead of facing the public, Trump sent Sessions to speak to the press on Tuesday to be the face of ending DACA. Sessions claimed DACA was “deemed illegal by, I think, just about every legal expert.”
- Javier Palomares, the CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, resigned from Trump’s National Diversity Coalition over Trump’s decision to end DACA.
- A Politico/Morning Consult poll found just 15% believe DACA should be rescinded, while 76% believe Dreamers should be allowed to stay.
- On Tuesday, in a nighttime tweet, Trump signaled he may be open to changing his mind on DACA, saying if Congress can’t pass something in six months, “I will revisit this issue!”
- The US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement denouncing Trump’s decision to end DACA.
- Bannon told CBS’s 60 Minutes he disagrees with Trump on ending DACA, but blasted the US Conference of Catholic Bishops saying they are opposed to DACA because “they need illegal aliens to fill the churches.”
- VOX noted despite Trump’s tweet, the government is already winding down DACA, as the Trump regime is no longer accepting new applications from young immigrants.
- On Thursday, Trump again tweeted his assurance to Dreamers, falsely claiming if you “are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about — No action!”
- CNN estimated 983 undocumented immigrants per day will lose protection they previously enjoyed under DACA, as the two-year tenure of their status expires.
- At an Oval Office meeting on Wednesday, after Republican leaders and Mnuchin advocated for a 18-month hike for the debt ceiling, Trump unexpectedly sided with “Chuck and Nancy” for a three-month hike.
- Later at a rally in North Dakota, Trump called Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp, who is running for re-election, a “good woman,” and said, “these are great people. They work hard. They’re for you 100 percent.”
- On Wednesday, after months of denying Russia had purchased advertisement there, Facebook issued a bland headline, “An Update On Information Operations On Facebook,” admitting this wasn’t true.
- Facebook told Congressional investigators Wednesday that the company sold $100k of advertisements to Internet Research Agency, a “troll farm” in St. Petersburg with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda.
- Facebook reported that roughly a quarter of the ads were “geographically targeted.” The ads focus was to amplify divisive issues like LGBT matters, race issues, immigration and gun rights.
- Daily Beast calculated that $100k in Facebook ads could have reached as many as 70 million users if amplified in a sophisticated manner.
- NYT reported on the sophisticated ways “troll farms” manipulated and disseminated news on Facebook and Twitter during the 2016 election. Former FBI agent Clint Watts called it a “bot cancer eroding trust.”
- NYT also found some of the most aggressive and misogynistic Bernie Sanders supporters were actually Russian bots and trolls
- A WAPO columnist speculated that Trump would not have won without the help of an organized Russia attack on Facebook. A NYT op-ed decreed: “Facebook Wins, Democracy Loses.”
- Reuters reported Facebook turned over data to Mueller about Russian involvement, including copies of advertisements and data about buyers. Mueller is probing whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
- Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intel Comm said Facebook’s Russia disclosure is the “tip of the iceberg” on election interference through social media.
- McClatchy reported Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies may be subpoenaed. A former prosecutor said Facebook ad buys suggest “numerous crimes, including conspiracy to defraud” the US.
- USA Today reported Russia has interfered in at least 27 European and North American countries’ elections since 2004.
- Rep. Devin Nunes, who had recused himself as House chair, lashed out at Sessions in a letter for not sharing FBI and DOJ documents related to the Steele dossier. Nunes also threatened Sessions and Wray with a public hearing.
- Vanity Fair reported Rep. Trey Gowdy is also waging a war to discredit the Steele dossier. Gowdy claims subpoenas are necessary because the FBI and DOJ haven’t supplied the documents underlying the dossier.
- Trump attorney Michael Carvin filed a brief asking a federal judge to toss out lawsuit that accuses the Trump campaign of conspiring with Russian operatives to publish stolen DNC information on WikiLeaks.
- In Week 23, the DOJ said it was preparing charges against Assange, with Sessions saying Assange’s arrest is a priority. Strangely, this never happened and now the Trump regime is defending WikiLeaks.
- As a news conference in China, Putin said, Trump is “not my bride, and I am not his groom.”
- On Thursday, Donald Jr. meet with the Senate Judiciary Committee behind closed doors. Only one senate Republican attended the hearing, and stayed for only about five minutes.
- Sen. Diane Feinstein, the ranking Democrat, said Donald Jr. has agreed to public testimony, and if he doesn’t follow through he will be subpoenaed. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who Trump offered federal support for the ethanol industry in Week 42, said no final decision has been made.
- Donald Jr. claimed he took the meeting with Veselnitskaya and others because she might have damaging information “concerning the fitness, character or qualifications” of Hillary.
- NPR obtained a copy of Donald Jr.’s four-page statement in which he said Veselnitskaya “provided no meaningful information,” and the meeting was “primarily focused on Russian adoptions” and the Magnitsky Act.
- Donald Jr. disclosed, for the first time, three phones calls with Agalarov before the June 9 meeting, the content of which he couldn’t recall. He said he had no recollection of any documents left by Russian visitors.
- Donald Jr. also said he did “not collude with any foreign government and do not know of anyone who did,” and that he hoped the interview had fully satisfied the senate inquiry.
- Newsweek compiled a list of Donald Jr.’s rationales for taking the meeting. Thursday’s testimony was his fifth version so far.
- After Donald Jr.’s testimony, Democratic senator Chris Coons issued a memo citing statute 18 U.S.C. 1001(a) & ©(2), which outlines the punishments for lying to Congress.
- CNN reported Mueller will seek to interview the staff aboard Air Force One present as Trump helped craft the misleading statement issued by Donald Jr. about the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower.
- Mueller wants to know how the statement was put together, whether information was intentionally left out, and who was involved. Mueller considers the aides who helped craft the statement to be witnesses.
- In Donald Jr.’s senate testimony, he claimed he was not aware of what role, if any, his father might have played in drafting the statement.
- WAPO reported Mueller has alerted the WH that his team will seek to speak with six Trump insiders, including Hope Hicks, Priebus, Spicer, McGahn, and one of McGahn’s deputies, James Burnham.
- Mueller also expects to question Josh Raffel, a WH spokesperson who works closely with Kushner, as well as possibly Trump family members, including Kushner.
- Each of the six was privy to internal discussions in areas being investigated by Mueller including the Comey firing, Trump’s inaction on Flynn, and possible coordination with Russia.
- Daily Beast reported Mueller wants to speak with Hicks about what happened on Air Force One as Trump crafted Donald Jr.’s statement.
- Daily Beast also reported efforts are underway to organize a legal defense fund for WH staffers. Legal fees related to the Mueller probe are expected to be high with lawyers likely billing $500 to $1k per hour.
- Late Friday, Politico reported Hicks hired Robert Trout, a highly regarded attorney, to represent her in the Mueller probe.
- CNN obtained the 17-page Trump Tower Moscow letter of intent, signed by Trump in October 2015, the day of a Republican primary debate. The property would be named Trump World Tower Moscow.
- The deal would have given Trump perks including a $4 million upfront fee, no upfront costs, a percentage of the sales, and the opportunity to name the hotel spa after his daughter Ivanka.
- During the campaign, Trump said he had “nothing to do with Russia.”
- On Friday, Trump hosted Russia’s new US ambassador Anatoly Antonov in DC. Russia media reported that Antonov describe the meeting as “warm.” US media was not informed of the meeting.
- Antonov said Russia did not interfere in the US election. Two years ago, the EU put Antonov on its list of officials subject to sanctions, citing his involvement in supporting the deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine.
- Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian industrialist and top-tier Russian mob associate with ties to Manafort is fighting US prosecutors’ efforts to bring him to Chicago for a bribery trial. He remains in Vienna on $174 million bail.
- Asked for comment on the second major hurricane in two weeks, Pruitt said Hurricane Irma isn’t the right time to talk about climate change.
- On Thursday, by a 31–0 vote the Senate Appropriations Comm allocated $51 billion for the State Depart and foreign operations, nearly $11 billion more than requested by the Trump regime.
- On Friday, the committee blasted the Trump regime in its report saying its approach to foreign policy weakens US standing in the world.
- On Friday, the State Dept was criticized for its response to Hurricane Irma which had already affected thousands of Americans in the Caribbean Islands. A task force was set up Friday, after the storm hit.
- State Dept employees point out there is currently no Under Secretary of State for Management, who would typically be in charge of State’s response to a storm of Irma’s magnitude.
- In another move towards what Bannon had called the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” the OMB issued a memo directing “a net reduction in total incremental regulatory costs” for agencies.
- WSJ reported Trump is unlikely to nominate Cohn to Fed Chair when Yellen’s term comes up in February, citing Cohn’s criticism of Trump’s Charlottesville response in an FT interview (Week 41).
- NYT reported Kelly is trying to be welcoming to Cohn, but WH aides say Trump is freezing Cohn out by employing a familiar tactic: refusing to make eye contact with him.
- Bannon told CBS’s “60 Minutes” Chris Christie didn’t get a position in Trump’s cabinet because Christie wasn’t loyal after the “Access Hollywood” tapes.
- Bloomberg reported key Trump aides said Trump is rattled by the pending departure of longtime bodyguard Schiller. Aides described Schiller as the “emotional anchor” for Trump in the WH turmoil.
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Copyright Amy Siskind, September 9, 2017