Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sunday Week in Review

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

Love. On Tuesday, Trump predicted that Hispanic Americans would "fall in love" with him because Democrats were "doing nothing for DACA," the Obama-era policy that made children brought to the United States by noncitizen parents a low priority for immigration enforcement.

Trump is the one who ended DACA.

Lies. Trump's phenomenal unwillingness to tell the truth--or possibly his inability--is well established. But he also made news this week for a revelation that he had been lied to. According to a New York Times article published this week, Uttam Dhillon, a lawyer with the White House counsel's office, deliberately misled Trump about his legal authority to fire James Comey. Dhillon was (correctly) worried that such an action would be seen as obstruction of justice, exposing Trump to legal jeopardy and investigation. He falsely told Trump that he needed "cause" to fire Comey.

In fact, the director of the FBI can be fired by the president at any time and for any reason, or no reason. In the end, the deception didn't work: Trump simply ordered deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to write a report Comey, and then used it (without Rosenstein's knowledge or agreement) as the "cause" he thought he needed. 

It is a very serious breach of legal ethics to mislead a client, and even more so when the client is the presidency itself. But keeping information from Trump in order to keep him from endangering himself is a long-established practice among his employees

Lawyers. Since taking office, Trump has lashed out furiously at attorney general Jefferson Sessions, the FBI, and career officers in the Justice Department. The root of his anger seems to be his belief, on taking office, that their job was to legally protect him rather than apply the law to him. When Sessions recused himself from supervision of the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election--meaning that he could not protect Trump from it--Trump reportedly asked "Where's my Roy Cohn?"

Cohn was a lawyer best known for his work as Sen. Joseph McCarthy's chief counsel during the Army-McCarthy hearings, during which Cohn was accused of various illegal unethical and illegal activities, including evidence tampering. Later in life, Cohn went to work for Trump, who described him as "vicious to others in his protection of me."

Wikileaks. During the campaign, Trump famously shouted "I love Wikileaks!" in response to their release of e-mails stolen by Russia from servers run by the Democratic National Committee. This was one of several different points of connection between the Trump campaign, Russia, and the site.

The love affair was renewed today when Wikileaks tweeted a link to a full-text copy of Fire and Fury, the book that provoked Trump to demand that he be recognized as a "very stable genius." Releasing the text of a book Trump loathes may not seem like a friendly act, but as a means of driving down sales, Wikileaks' foray into piracy will help Trump much more than it will hurt him.

The tactic of politically motivated piracy was perfected by the Kim Jong-Un regime in North Korea, which used cyber-attacks against Sony Pictures in retaliation for its anti-Kim comedy The Interview, including releasing free copies of Sony movies online.

Irony. It is quite common for the White House to request screenings of current movies, but the Trump White House's request to see the movie The Post is a little odd. The movie, starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep, is the story of the Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and publisher Katharine Graham and their decision to publish the internal government report known as the Pentagon Papers. President Nixon ordered a secret (and illegal) campaign to discredit Daniel Ellsberg, the analyst who released them. Nixon sued the Post and the New York Times to prevent the publication of the report, but also carried on a public feud with reporters, who he regarded as his "enemy."

Trump has spent much of the last week promoting some sort of event, apparently a mock awards ceremony, in which he will talk about his issues with the "fake news media."

Why do these things matter?

  • Trump's 17% approval rating with Latino voters suggest that they have not yet started blaming other people for something he did.
  • It's bad if the president needs to be tricked out of committing serious crimes.
  • A president who thinks the attorney general is his personal criminal defense lawyer is incompetent.
  • A president who needs the attorney general to act as his personal criminal defense lawyer is a disgrace.
  • Roy Cohn and Julian Assange are poor role models for the President of the United States.
  • Things are not "fake news" just because a president doesn't like them being talked about.