Sunday, September 30, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He wondered out loud why he's not more popular with black voters.

This afternoon, Trump asked what appears to have been a genuine question in his mind.

Since Trump asked, there are several possible answers. One is that black voters understand perfectly well that for all Trump's talk of "record" economic numbers, there is nothing very unusual about them lately. As with many other economic indicators, the unemployment rate among African-Americans steadily recovered during the Obama administration from the bottom of the 2008 recession. 

Another possibility is that most black voters--like most American voters in general--are refusing to give Trump credit for economic "records" that haven't affected their bottom lines. Corporate profits and stock prices have gone up, but wage growth is flat--although Trump has tried to claim otherwise.

Finally, it's possible that black voters are weighing a static economic picture against the fact that Trump tried to keep black tenants out of his properties, ordered black employees off the floor of his casinos when he visited, assumed that a black reporter was the secretary for the Congressional Black Caucus, routinely lies about how popular he is with black voters, could not possibly know or care less about black history, can't promise there isn't videotape of him using racial slurs, said there were "some very fine people" among the white supremacists and neo-Nazis protesting the removal of Confederate statues, left terrorist acts off a list of terrorism if they were committed by white Americans, thinks that if a Congressional district is represented by a black person it must be "crime infested," (or, alternatively, thinks that black Americans are "living in hell"), thinks that predominantly black countries are "shitholes," called for the execution of black teenagers for a crime they were proven to not have committed, publicly supports a conspiracy theorist who accuses black Americans of wanting "white genocide,"and trolls black athletes and insults their intelligence--among other things.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents don't get to demand anyone's votes.
  • It is not a bad thing that racism has political consequences.
  • Whether or not Trump is willing to believe it, Kanye West is not a stand-in for every individual African-American.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about interfering in the FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh.

En route to a campaign rally in West Virginia, Trump promised reporters that he would not be putting restrictions on the FBI's investigations into Brett Kavanaugh, who is accused by at least three women of crimes or gross sexual misbehavior. 

Trump said that the FBI has "free rein to do whatever they have to do." But in reality, Trump has set strict limits on what the FBI is allowed to investigate in their one-week window of opportunity, according to White House officials.

The FBI will not be allowed to investigate allegations made by Julie Swetnick that Kavanaugh participated in group sex with drunk or drugged women during college parties. Swetnick is represented by Michael Avenatti, who is also the attorney for Stormy Daniels, the porn star Trump had an affair with and paid hush money to. Avenatti's brash, public taunts have infuriated Trump, and his response to Swetnick's allegations were to lash out at her lawyer.

Kavanaugh also likely perjured himself during testimony this week, and it appears that those statements will be off-limits to the FBI as well.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to say you'll do one thing, and then do another.
  • It's bad to appoint people to the most powerful positions in government if they can't stand public scrutiny of their actions.

Friday, September 28, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to have it every which way on Brett Kavanaugh's alleged attempted rape of Christine Blasey Ford.

Trump met with Chilean president Sebastián Piñera today, meaning he could not avoid answering reporters' questions about Christine Blasey Ford's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Trump had previously said that Ford was part of a "big fat con job," and mocked her for not reporting the assault when it happened.

This morning, however, Trump was more conciliatory. He said, "I thought her testimony was very compelling, and she looks like a very fine woman to me. A very fine woman. ...Certainly she was a very credible witness. She was very good in many respects."

But after authorizing a brief FBI investigation into the accusations against Kavanaugh--something he had previously and incorrectly said was impossible--Trump then insisted that Ford's "credible" testimony would not change his mind.

Kavanaugh has had six background checks during his government career, but has never been investigated for the allegations made against him recently--some of which are about crimes that had not previously been reported, some of which go to his truthfulness in his Senate testimony, and some of which would not be crimes but are extremely distasteful

Trump has not explained why, if Ford's testimony about her attempted rape was "credible," he has decided that the FBI investigation won't find anything requiring him to withdraw Kavanaugh's nomination.

What is the problem here?

  • There is no good reason for a president to nominate someone "credibly" accused of sexual assault to the Supreme Court.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Wednesday's post was accidentally hidden for most of the following day. We apologize for the mistake.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He had some mood swings.

Like many Americans today, Trump kept up with the dramatic Senate hearing on his endangered Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. He was widely reported, in near-real time, as having whipsawed through the whole emotional spectrum

In the late morning and early afternoon, Trump was reportedly furious and despairing at the emotional impact and credibility of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who says a drunken Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when she was 15. 

But later in the day, Trump was said to be thrilled by Kavanaugh's shockingly aggressive testimony, in which the nominee said it was a "national disgrace" that he had to answer the allegations about his sexual behavior, and accused Democratic Senators (and Ford) of being part of a revenge plot "on behalf of the Clintons" and "left-wing opposition groups."

Kavanaugh seems to have been deliberately playing to an audience of one, and it worked. Trump ended the day with a triumphant tweet, calling the hearing "disgraceful" and a "total sham."

Emotional roller coasters are nothing new for Trump, and they are particularly understandable where Kavanaugh is concerned. Trump may soon desperately need someone on the Supreme Court with Kavanaugh's highly specific views of the powers of the executive branch to resist investigation. 

Other than promising to listen to her testimony with an open mind yesterday--at the same time that he was saying she was part of a "big fat con job"--Trump has refused to mention Ford directly. 

While Trump reflexively defends men (and himself) who are accused of being serial sexual harassers or assailants, his unwillingness to call Ford a liar and his reaction to her testimony suggests he may believe her but want Kavanaugh to become a Supreme Court justice regardless.

So what?

  • It shouldn't be this easy to curry favor with a president.
  • A president's personal political or legal needs shouldn't be what determines who sits on the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday's post was accidentally hidden for most of the following day. We apologize for the mistake.

What did Donald Trump do today?

He accused a foreign power of attempting to sabotage American elections--but not Russia.

Trump today claimed that China was targeting him specifically in this year's Congressional elections. "Regrettably, we found that China has been attempting to interfere in our upcoming 2018 election coming up in November against my administration," he told an audience at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Trump insisted that China wanted Republicans to lose seats in Congress because he was "winning on trade." (It's not clear what he thinks "winning" means in this context.)

It certainly could be true that China is trying to influence American voters, although Trump offered no details. Earlier today, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that no country would succeed in creating "substantial interference" with American elections. But Pompeo provided no details either, which is not surprising given the enormous reluctance that Trump has shown to engage with election sabotage.

By contrast Trump has steadfastly refused to acknowledge or act on the overwhelming evidence compiled by his own government that the Putin regime used espionage and propaganda campaigns, with the active cooperation of members of his family and campaign staff, to elect him and defeat Hillary Clinton. He has repeatedly called the government's main investigation into that attack on American democracy a "witch hunt." 

Trump has also shown interest in a plan floated by Putin himself to form a joint U.S.-Russia task force on cyber-espionage. This would, in effect, give the Russian government even more information than it already has about how to penetrate American computer networks.

Why does this matter?

  • Threats to the United States are not real if and only if they hurt the president personally.
  • Nobody has less credibility on this subject than Donald Trump.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got laughed at by world leaders.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly today, Trump slipped into campaign rhetoric. He told the assembled world leaders and delegates that "In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country."

The crowd laughed loudly enough to interrupt Trump's next line, and then laughed louder after he insisted, "So true!"

Trump recovered reasonably well, smiling and saying, "I didn't expect that reaction, but that's okay." But within a few hours, the video of an American president being openly laughed at during a major world address had gone viral. 

Trump changed his story then, insisting to reporters that he was expecting that reaction because he had been deliberately trying to put a laugh line in an otherwise serious address to the U.N. General Assembly. But his own mood had visibly darkened by then.

So what?

  • The United States' position in the world depends on the rest of the world respecting the president enough to not laugh in his face.

Monday, September 24, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He praised Kim Jong-un, although it's not clear why.

Trump was in New York today for United Nations meetings. Asked about North Korea, Trump said that Kim Jong-un had "been terrific" as a partner, and touted the "tremendous progress" he'd made. He said that he was "making more progress than anybody has made ever" with North Korea.

Since their June summit, at which Kim talked Trump into canceling joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises, North Korea has:
North Korea has used this strategy--demanding peace talks and then immediately reneging--in the past, but has not had much recent success with it until Trump took office. 

Even the one thing that Trump can point to as some kind of tangible benefit from the summit--the return of the remains of two U.S. servicemembers from the Korean war--was an old North Korean tactic in which human remains were used as leverage or, in effect, sold for cash to the United States. The George W. Bush administration put a stop to the practice in 2005.

Elaborating on his enthusiasm for a second summit meeting, Trump pointed out that Kim had sent him "a beautiful letter" but offered no further explanation.

Why is this a problem?

  • Giving something and getting nothing is not a good negotiating tactic.
  • The security of the United States where a hostile nuclear-armed dictatorship is concerned is more important than the president's political fortunes.
  • Trump may actually believe that he is making progress.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about hiring Rod Rosenstein.

Trump appeared on the AM radio show Geraldo in Cleveland this morning and claimed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and not him, had hired Rod Rosenstein. “I was not involved in that process, because, you know, they go out and they get their own deputies, and the people that work in the department. And Jeff Sessions hired him.”

This is false on several levels. The president of the United States is the head of the executive branch and all its employees, regardless of whether hiring authority is delegated through other departments. 

But Rosenstein's job, Deputy Attorney General, is high enough in the DOJ hierarchy that Trump himself, as president, nominated him. Trump made that announcement the very next day after he fired Obama administration holdover Sally Yates from the same position. In fact, Rosenstein was nominated for that position well before Sessions himself was confirmed. 

Even ignoring that, Trump's insistence on absolute personal loyalty meant that every hire, no matter how junior, needed to survive his scrutiny--and not all of them did. Less than a month into his term, Trump forced the firing of Shermichael Singleton, a Republican staffer who had just begun work as an aide to Trump's HUD secretary, Ben Carson.

There is a larger political and dimension to attacks on Rosenstein for Trump. In his attempts to evade scrutiny of his connections to the Putin regime, Trump has insisted that he is the victim of a partisan "deep state" conspiracy. But all of the most significant figures in the Russia investigation--Sessions, Rosenstein, James Comey prior to his firing, and Robert Mueller--are lifelong Republicans.

So what?

  • Even seemingly trivial lies are beneath the dignity of the presidency.
  • Presidents should take responsibility for their actions.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about wages again--but otherwise laid low.

As usual for a Saturday, Trump spent the day at one of his luxury golf courses. And as is usual for Trump, if no other president before him, his public schedule was devoid of any work-related activities. 

Unusually, he has otherwise been quiet: his Twitter activity as of 10 p.m. EDT today was limited to one generic boast about unspecified economic "records," and two very brief pre-taped viedo messages.

But even a combined 70 seconds of pre-taped video was enough room for Trump to stray far from the truth. In the first of those videos, he said:
I have good news for you. It was just announced that wages, for the first time in many years, for people in the United States have gone up. ...That means you're working hard, but you're making more money.
It's not clear what Trump was referring to, but as this site noted Thursday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics's latest report shows that year-on-year wages were up two cents per hour, from $10.76 to $10.78. For a standard 2,000-hour work year, that would increase gross pay from $21,520 to $21,560.

In other words, while Trump's tax cuts have resulted in huge corporate windfalls, wages remain flat against inflation as they have since the recessions of the early 1980s.

Image result for wage growth chart inflation adjusted

The reason Trump is laying low today is that he may have singlehandedly ruined his own Supreme Court nominee's chances of confirmation. Yesterday's tweet, in which Trump sarcastically mocked Brett Kavanaugh's accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, for not reporting a rape attempt when she was 15, has backfired spectacularly. One of the swing votes on Kavanaugh's nomination, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) declared herself "appalled." Twitter was swamped by thousands of women using the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag.

Congressional Republicans, facing an election in which women are likely to be the margin of victory for Democratic challengers, were horrified as the damage to Kavanaugh's chances became clear. As one Republican Senate staffer told NBC, "They had a strategy, which was to keep [Trump] under wraps. I think Trump just couldn't help himself from becoming the center of attention." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had publicly guaranteed Kavanaugh's confirmation regardless of what Ford had to say, called Trump on Friday to make him aware of the damage he'd done.

Why should I care about this?

  • Repeating a lie does not make it true.
  • Presidents shouldn't need to be "handled" just so that they don't get in the way of their own agenda.

Friday, September 21, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He mocked a woman for coming forward with her story of sexual assault.

Earlier in the week, Trump had managed to stay more or less out of the fray around his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Today he reverted to form and attacked Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of drunkenly attempting to rape her when he was 17 and she was 15. Trump sarcastically tweeted he has "no doubt" that Dr. Ford "or her loving parents" filed a police report after she was sexually assaulted as a 15-year-old at a rowdy party.

Studies estimate that 70% of rapes and sexual assaults are never reported to the police

Survivors of these crimes often say they didn't go to the police for fear of retaliation or public shaming, or because they believed that the perpetrator would not be punished.

Trump has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by 19 different women, including his first ex-wife, Ivana Trump, who said he raped her in a deposition taken during their divorce. He has publicly defended a number of friends and political allies who harassed or assaulted women or children, including Bill O'Reilly, Roy Moore, Mike Tyson, Roger Ailes, Corey Lewandowski, and Rob Porter

Why does this matter?

  • A president who mocks survivors of sexual violence for political gain doesn't deserve to hold office.
  • It's bad if the President of the United States can't seem to believe women reporting abuse under any circumstances.
  • Sexual assault survivors will be more afraid and less likely to come forward as a result of what Trump did today.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about his stewardship of the economy--hopefully.

In an attempt to turn around Republicans' chances in the midterms, Trump tweeted twice about the economy today. In both cases, he was either trying to mislead voters--or genuinely befuddled about basic economic realities.

In one tweet, he declared that the S&P 500 stock index "HITS ALL-TIME HIGH" yesterday. That's true, but the stock markets set records all the time, because the value of companies traded on them tends to increase, except in the aftermath of recessions. For example, in the year 2013, the Dow Jones index closed at a record high on 52 separate days.

In another tweet, he claimed that "there are plenty of new, high paying jobs available in our great and very vibrant economy." It's true that, ten years into the recovery from the 2007 recession, unemployment remains low--but if Trump believes that those jobs are high-paying, he should talk to his own Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their most recent report has the average inflation-adjusted wage at $10.78 per hour, up from $10.76 last August.

Why does this matter?

  • It's really, really important that a president understand basic economic concepts.
  • If the best news a president has to offer is a 2-cent raise for American workers, he probably shouldn't call attention to the economy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about why Jeff Sessions isn't handling the Russia investigation for him.

In the midst of still yet another tirade against his attorney general, Trump today claimed that Jefferson Sessions hadn't needed to recuse himself from the Russia probe. Sessions' recusal indirectly led Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Robert Mueller as a special counsel, and his investigation has led to criminal convictions of the top two members of Trump's campaign and three other Trump associates so far.

Trump alleged that Sessions "didn’t have to recuse himself. Actually, the FBI reported shortly thereafter any reason for him to recuse himself."

In reality, Sessions was not only a member of the campaign under investigation, but was and may still be a likely target of the probe itself. He took secret meetings with the Russian ambassador and then tried to cover them up when asked about them at his confirmation hearing in early 2017--narrowly escaping prosecution for perjury himself. He appears to have been active in the effort to coordinate campaign activities with the Russian government. At the very least, he is a witness to any potential criminal conspiracy involving Trump and other senior campaign officials.

Prosecutors cannot legally participate in investigations where they know they are either a likely target or a witness, as DOJ staff immediately made clear to the newly-appointed Sessions.

Trump's anger stems from his persistent unwillingness to accept (or perhaps understand) that the attorney general is not his personal "fixer" or criminal defense lawyer

Why should I care about this?

  • The president is not above the law.
  • It's extremely bad if he thinks he is anyway.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He refused to let the FBI do anything that might jeopardize his Supreme Court nominee.

Trump today refused to allow the FBI to investigate the allegation that his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, attempted to rape a woman at a party when he was 17 and his alleged victim was 15. His explanation: "This is not really their thing." He also insisted that the FBI "doesn't want to be involved."

In reality, this is exactly the FBI's "thing." The FBI is responsible for conducting vetting and background checks on all presidential nominees, and for maintaining the file that nominees have with the White House. It re-opens those investigations when necessary--as it did in the case of Anita Hill's allegations of sexual harassment about then-nominee Clarence Thomas.

Because the presidency is in effect the FBI's client in the background investigation, it cannot act without Trump's authorization.

Kavanaugh's accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, has insisted that the FBI investigation take place before she appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In a statement released today, her attorneys argued that "A full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the committee is fully informed before conducting any hearing or making any decisions."

An FBI investigation would also potentially shed light on another development in the matter today. Mark Judge, the classmate of Kavanaugh who Ford says was present in the room during the rape attempt, said he would refuse to testify. Maryland (where the alleged rape attempt occurred) has no statute of limitations on rape and Judge cannot be forced to testify if to do so might incriminate him.

Why should I care about this?

  • The FBI exists to serve justice, not the political interests of the president.

Monday, September 17, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He interfered in an active federal investigation into himself.

Today, Trump ordered the complete and unredacted declassification of specific pages of the FBI's application for a surveillance warrant on Carter Page. Page is the Trump campaign "foreign policy advisor" with ties to the Russian government and who the FBI believes was recruited as an intelligence agent by the Putin regime. Page was described in the redacted version of that FISA warrant application as an "agent of a foreign power."

Page has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before the Senate.

The portions of the warrant that Trump is ordering declassified will apparently reveal confidential sources and intelligence-gathering methods that the FBI used to counteract Russia's attempts to recruit Page and others. Current and former national security officials have reacted with horror.  

Trump also ordered the release of text messages sent by five investigators into the Russian attack that he considers political enemies: former FBI Director James Comey, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.

The reasons for Trump's decision are murky, other than that he apparently thinks there is a political advantage in releasing just specifically these documents or pages of documents. But it does follow the pattern he has established since being elected of a scorched-earth attack on anyone, even his own Justice Department and intelligence community, who looks too closely at Russia. 

Trump did not order the release of other pages in the warrant detailing how Russia is believed to have recruited Page prior to his joining the Trump campaign.

Why should anyone care about this?

  • No one has the right to obstruct justice or interfere with national security.
  • It's more important that the United States be able to conduct intelligence operations than it is that Donald Trump score political points.
  • Just because a president can abuse power doesn't make it right or legal.
  • The FBI and the intelligence community serve the country, not Donald Trump.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He crammed an awful lot into 280 characters.

This morning, Trump managed to hit almost all of his talking points in a single emotional tweet about the investigation into the Russian attack on the 2016 election.

Nothing here is new material, but literally all of it is a lie.

It is not illegal or "not allowed under the LAW." The special counsel statute exists, and was invoked by a Trump appointee with the authority to do so.

If Trump has a reason for thinking otherwise, he's never shared it.

" search of a crime." The underlying crime--Russia's attempts to weaken Americans' faith in democracy by sabotaging its elections and putting the astonishingly Putin-friendly Trump in office--is already known.

But as for specific indictments, there have been 90 so far.

Trump has already admitted to collusion. While Trump doesn't like the word "collusion," he has (correctly) pointed out that it isn't a crime. But all of the following people connected with the Trump campaign have since admitted to having secret contacts with agents of the Russian government during the campaign: Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Jefferson Sessions, Michael Caputo, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Roger Stone, Erik Prince, Donald Trump Jr., and Peter W. Smith

Flynn, Manafort, and Papadopoulos have already been convicted or pleaded guilty to crimes related to their Russian connections, or their attempts to keep those connections secret by lying about them to federal investigators. 

The Clinton campaign did not "collude" with Russia. Trump is famous for accusing other people of his own sins, to the point where he may not be able to control himself. When he accuses Hillary Clinton's campaign of colluding, it appears he's talking about the Steele dossier, which relies on Russian sources opposed to the Putin regime. 

It is not illegal or "collusion" to ask foreigners about the evidence they have linking Trump to the Putin regime.

"17 angry Democrats." The special counsel himself is a Republican. He was appointed by and reports to a Republican. The number of other "angry democrats" Trump imagines are persecuting him has changed over time, but all were chosen by those Republicans heading the investigation.

Trump tells lies so often that it is difficult even for major news organizations to keep track of them all, and has told these lies in dozens if not hundreds of tweets already. Unfortunately for him, they don't seem to be working as well as they used to.

Why does this matter?

  • It's wrong to lie.
  • Presidents are not above the rule of law.
  • It's not normal or right for a president to be openly at war with his own Justice Department.
  • Suspected criminals don't get to pick their own police.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

Trump managed to avoid the subject of federal prosecutors' "flipping" of his Russia-connected campaign manager Paul Manafort for a whole day. But he returned to the subject today by blaming the Mueller investigation for his own unpopularity. He wrote, "While my (our) poll numbers are good, with the Economy being the best ever, if it weren’t for the Rigged Russian Witch Hunt, they would be 25 points higher!"

In reality, Trump's poll numbers are not "good." 

They are worse than any president at this point in his term since polling began except for Harry Truman, who was at 34% approval 603 days into his first, partial term after Franklin D. Roosevelt's death.

This means that at 39.9% approval, Trump is less popular than than Ronald Reagan was during a major recession (42%). Trump is less popular than Jimmy Carter during a severe bout of economic "stagflation" (42.1%). Trump is less popular than Richard Nixon in the aftermath of the Kent State shootings and a deteriorating situation in Vietnam that led Congress to rein in his warmaking powers (56.9%). Trump is vastly less popular than Dwight Eisenhower (62.7%) and George H.W. Bush (75.9%), as well as George W. Bush (65.4%) whose post-9/11 bump had not yet eroded 603 days into his presidency.

Perhaps most alarmingly for Trump, who needs Republicans to retain control of both houses of Congress to avoid real oversight, he is less popular than Barack Obama (45.9%) and Bill Clinton (43.2%) shortly before the "wave" elections of 1994 and 2010 obliterated those presidents' congressional majorities.

So what?

  • It's probably true that Trump would be more popular if there weren't so much evidence connecting him to an attack on American democracy, but that's not a great defense.

Friday, September 14, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He got ready to throw Paul Manafort under the bus.

Today, Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to two felonies in federal court. As part of a deal with prosecutors, he will now cooperate with the investigation into Russia's attack on the United States.

Trump has recently praised Manafort for not "flipping," unlike many other Trump campaign and administration figures who have pleaded guilty and cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. 

Now, faced with the prospect of Manafort telling prosecutors what he knows, Trump's legal team insisted that Manafort's criminal acts don't reflect on Trump at all. But in doing so, they accidentally admitted that they believe Manafort will be able to implicate Trump in crimes, or simply in the impeachable anti-American act of conspiring with a foreign power to influence an election. Trump's "TV lawyer" Rudy Giuliani's initial reaction was this:
Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: the President did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.
Moments later, the Trump legal team issued a "corrected" statement that left them room to call Manafort a liar:
Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: the President did nothing wrong.
Manafort, who worked for a Putin-backed puppet government in Ukraine before joining the Trump campaign, has reportedly already begun providing prosecutors with information. 

Why should I care about this?

  • What is true, and what will help Donald Trump avoid prosecution and impeachment, are not necessarily the same thing.
  • If Trump wasn't part of a criminal conspiracy to help Russia throw the election to him, he certainly seems to know a lot of people who were.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He said that roughly 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico were lies made up to hurt him politically.

This morning, with Florence bearing down on the North Carolina coast, Trump was focused on shifting the blame for the catastrophic effects of last year's Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico:
3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000 . . . This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list.

The official government death toll is 2,975, which is the midpoint estimate of a nonpartisan and independent study by George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. The study did not count individuals, whether they died of "old age" or other causes. Instead, it measured the excess deaths due to factors related to the complete failure of Puerto Rico's infrastructure. 

Lack of electricity, clean water, access to routine medical care, surgical facilities, cancer treatment and dialysis, infectious and waterborne disease outbreaks, and exposure over the six-month period covered by the study all contributed to the thousands of deaths that would otherwise not have occurred in that period. (The six month cutoff is arbitrary and more preventable deaths certainly happened past that date.)

In essence, Trump is saying that only the handful of deaths that nobody is really blaming him for--people killed by wind and floods during the storm itself--actually "count," and that it was not his job to help prevent American deaths afterwards.

Trump may feel he has no choice but to tell this lie, since he had already declared victory during his four-hour visit to the least damaged part of the island. While there, he complained in a "joke" that recovery efforts would cost too much. He later said that the Americans living in Puerto Rico "want everything done for them."

Trump "raised" no money for Puerto Rico. Recovery funds were appropriated by Congress. However, that money does not appear to have been well spent. Trump's own Governmental Accountability Office found in a report that while FEMA's response to hurricanes in Texas and Florida was adequate, Puerto Rico was "obviously... a much, much different story." Independent investigations confirmed an enormous double standard in the response.

Why does this matter?

  • Even by Trump standards, this is a pretty ugly lie.
  • Thousands of Americans are dead who don't need to be.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He provided for sanctions (if he feels like it) against foreigners who meddle in American elections (which he says doesn't happen). 

This morning, 55 days before Congressional elections, Trump signed an executive order providing for sanctions against foreign individuals or governments who interfere with American elections. 

While one member of the Trump administration called the sanctions "automatic," they are not. They would be imposed only if and only if Trump (or a future president) decided to do so, which in Trump's case is a problem. 

The only confirmed case of foreign meddling in an American election was Russia's intervention on Trump's behalf in 2016, through propaganda and cyber-attacks on his opponents. Trump has stubbornly refused to admit that the Putin regime helped get him elected, even taking Putin's side against the unanimous verdict of the U.S. intelligence community during their summit in Finland this summer. Even on the rare occasions that Trump has been forced to acknowledge the possibility of Russian interference, he has quickly walked those comments back

Trump has also been singularly unwilling to impose other sanctions on Russia, including those passed in Congress by a margin of 517-5. His transition team, through the now-convicted Trump advisor Mike Flynn, coordinated with Russia on how to respond to election-attack sanctions imposed by President Obama in December 2016.

Russian propaganda efforts, which use (actual) fake news and armies of deceptive social media accounts to weaken Americans' faith in democracy, have continued to the present day. Other than the sanctions forced on Trump by Congress, the only concrete response from the U.S. government has been the indictments against Russian individuals obtained by special counsel Robert Mueller's team. Trump has repeatedly called Mueller's investigation a "witch hunt."

Why does this matter?

  • Policies are meaningless if a president is unwilling or unable to enforce them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He called his administration's response to the Puerto Rico hurricanes of 2017 an "incredible, unsung success."

As Hurricane Florence approaches the Carolinas, Trump was asked today what lessons he'd learned from the hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands last year.

At least 2,975 Americans died as a result of the hurricanes.

Most of those deaths happened after the storms themselves had passed due to preventable causes like infectious disease outbreaks, lack of access to electricity and clean water, or an overtaxed medical system that made it impossible for many Americans to get routine life-saving treatments.

What is the problem here?

  • Anyone who thinks 3,000 preventible deaths is a "success" is morally depraved.

Monday, September 10, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He promised to "write" a book explaining why everything about his presidency is going great.

Trump's Twitter feed is often a good barometer of the extent to which he's capable of controlling his emotions on any given day. Today's 22-tweet barrage made it pretty clear that the imminent release of Bob Woodward's book Fear: Trump in the White House had gotten deeply under Trump's skin. 

For the most part, Trump simply insisted that Woodward, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner whose investigative reporting helped bring down the Nixon presidency, was simply lying about everything. But in the process, he made an interesting promise:

Actually, he probably won't: Trump has his name on about nineteen different books, none of which he wrote himself, according to the man who wrote the best-known of them, Trump: the Art of the Deal. 

Woodward's book is the third insider account of the Trump White House to emerge in the 18 months of his presidency, after reporter Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury and former staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman's book Unhinged. All three repeat the same central theme: that Trump is emotionally unstable, can't understand the basics of his job, and is being held in check by an increasingly desperate staff--like, for example, the senior Trump administration official who last week words like amoral, anti-democratic, erratic, and petty to describe Trump.

So what?

  • A person unfairly accused of emotional instability would probably be able to respond in a way that wasn't emotionally unstable.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He lied about the effects of his trade war.

On August 31, the Ford Motor Company announced that it was scrapping plans to import its Focus Active model from a Chinese factory. It said that Trump's tariffs, which would force consumers to pay an extra 25%, made it impossible to sell in the United States.

In a tweet today, Trump insisted that this was a victory, because "This car can now be BUILT IN THE U.S.A.!"

In reality, Ford has no plans to make the car in the United States, and immediately said so. 

Re-creating the entire supply chain in the U.S. would be a money-losing proposition for Ford, so the Focus Active will simply not be sold in the United States. The demand (and the profit) for small crossover models will instead be absorbed by other automakers. Since Ford has all but abandoned the U.S. market for passenger cars, the most likely winners will be Japanese and Korean automakers.

Trump told a similar lie last week about Apple when he declared that the company could simply relocate its production chain in the United States.

Trump has spent much of his presidency taking credit for business and economic expansions he had nothing to do with. These tweets seem to point to a new tactic: taking credit for things that haven't happened and never will. But given the damage done by his trade war at the worst possible time on the electoral calendar, he may feel he has no option but to run on hypothetical good news.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • It's wrong to lie for political gain.
  • A president who thinks he can simply order good economic news to happen is incompetent.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He admitted defeat to Stormy Daniels.

In court papers filed today, Trump promised not to attempt to enforce his nondisclosure agreement against Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who says she had sex with him shortly after the birth of his youngest son to his current wife. Trump had his "fixer" Michael Cohen use a shell company to pay Daniels $130,000 for her silence in the weeks before the 2016 election. The fact that both Cohen and Trump's businesses were illegally involved in funneling that money to Daniels means that Trump was part of a criminal conspiracy--as Cohen testified under oath when he pleaded guilty to related charges last month.

By giving Daniels what she wants--free rein to tell her story--Trump has apparently decided that the sordid details are less dangerous to him than undergoing a routine pre-trial deposition would be. Depositions are taken under oath. That means that Trump, who Cohen recorded directing the illegal shuffling of money, would have to choose between perjuring himself or invoking his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. 

Trump is on record as saying that only guilty people plead the Fifth, but his friends and legal team seem absolutely convinced that he would be unable to tell the truth under oath--and have repeatedly said so in public.

So what?

  • It's bad if porn actors can successfully blackmail the president.
  • Presidents who don't commit crimes in the process of trying to get elected are less vulnerable to this kind of manipulation.
  • A president who is afraid of having to tell the truth under oath is unfit for the job.

Friday, September 7, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He did some math.

Trump weighed in several times on the sentencing today of his former "foreign policy advisor" George Papadopoulous. It was Papadopoulous' drunken confession to an Australian diplomat that Russian agents had stolen e-mails from Hillary Clinton's campaign and were looking to damage her campaign that started the United States' original investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump once again denied knowing Papadopoulous

This is a lie. There is photographic evidence of them meeting--specifically, right after Papadopoulous offered "a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump," according to the Trump campaign's own internal e-mails. Trump also publicly praised Papadopoulos when naming him to the campaign team--although many people wondered at the time why the curiously unqualified Papadopoulous was suddenly playing such an important role in a presidential campaign. 

Later, Trump mocked the light 14-day sentence Papadopoulos received for lying to the FBI in an attempt to conceal his work bringing together the Trump campaign with Russian infiltrators, claiming that the 14-day sentence meant that the $28 million cost of Mueller's investigation had yielded $2 million per day of incarceration.

Papadopoulos' sentence is short because prosecutors asked for a short sentence, in exchange for his cooperation into the attack by Russian agents and their American co-conspirators.

While justice isn't normally measured in dollars per day of prison time, Trump's claim would be true if Papadopoulos were the only Trump ally convicted as a result of the Russia investigation--and if the investigation were anywhere near concluded. But many other Trump allies have already pleaded guilty, including Trump campaign deputy chair Rick Gates (facing a recommended sentence of 57-71 months in prison), Trump's national security advisor Michael Flynn (up to six months), Richard Pinedo (whose charges would normally get him 12-18 months), Alex van der Zwaan (who was sentenced to and served 1 month in prison before being deported). 

Trump's campaign chair, Paul Manafort, was convicted last month of charges likely to bring him 7-10 years in prison, and faces another trial where the potential prison term is so long that today Bloomberg News reported that he was seeking a plea deal in the hopes of avoiding what amounts to a life sentence. Last week, Manafort's associate W. Samuel Patten pleaded guilty to helping foreign nationals make illegal (and untraceable) donations to Trump's Inaugural Committee, which appears to have been used as a sort of influence-buying vehicle for Trump.

Twenty-six Russian individuals have also been indicted for their role in the attack on the 2016 election, but are unlikely to be brought to trial, at least while the Putin regime remains in power. 

Trump himself signaled yesterday through his lawyer that he intends to exercise his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions from Mueller related to obstruction of justice.

$28 million is about nine cents per U.S. citizen, or roughly a third of the cost of Trump's travel to his golf courses to date.

Why should I care about this?

  • No amount of money is too much to spend to defend the integrity of American democracy.
  • It's wrong to break the law in order to accept secret "donations" from foreign powers.
  • It should be a lot harder to find this many criminals in any one presidential campaign or administration.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He basked in praise from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Kim is the leader of the most repressive dictatorship in the world. He has maintained his grip on power through assassination, has tortured political prisoners (including Americans taken hostage as a negotiating tactic), and has openly defied Trump's attempts at nuclear appeasement.

At around the same time that Trump was thanking Kim, his Justice Department was bringing charges against a North Korean national who, acting on behalf of the Kim regime, helped launch a cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. Kim had been offended by a comedy movie produced by Sony in which American journalists are recruited to assassinate him.

Trump's embrace of Kim comes a day after a scathing editorial written by one of his own senior appointees. In it, the author complained about Trump's "preference for autocrats and dictators" including Kim. The editorial also noted that in spite of Trump's pro-dictator leanings, "the rest of the administration is operating on another track, one where [dictators] are called out for meddling and punished accordingly."

Why does this matter?

  • It shouldn't be this easy to emotionally manipulate the president.
  • Presidents should care more about the opinions of Americans than dictators of hostile nuclear-armed regimes who have kidnapped and murdered Americans.
  • The United States government is supposed to work with the president, not in spite of him.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He reacted very, very badly to criticism.

In a stunning editorial published this afternoon in the New York Times, a current serving senior administration official warned the American people that Trump's worst impulses were being restrained by a small group of staffers within the White House. 

This is the first time that a serving Trump official has so publicly admitted to "thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses." But stories of Trump's staffers and counselors keeping information from him, actively managing his mood swings, and--as Bob Woodward's forthcoming book reports--stealing documents from his desk to keep him from signing them--are common. 

Trump immediately accused the author of "TREASON" on Twitter and demanded that the New York Times identify the source "for National Security reasons." His anger, easily provoked even on relatively calm days, was described as "volcanic.

So what?

  • Criticizing the president is not treason--which is a crime punishable by death.
  • Criticizing the president is not a threat to national security.
  • Presidents who don't want to be called "impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective" shouldn't react to criticism with open fury and empty threats.
  • In a competent administration, a president's own hand-picked appointees don't say things like this about him.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened to revoke a non-existent "license" from a television network he doesn't like.

This morning, Trump tweeted this:

A part of this is actually true: NBC News is indeed coming under scrutiny for its handling of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault story, which ultimately ended with journalist Ronan Farrow taking it to the New Yorker

But the implicit threat to "look at their license" is both empty and chilling. Neither Trump nor the FCC has the power to revoke NBC's "license," because only individual local stations have broadcast licenses to revoke. NBC's cable channels do not come under the FCC's jurisdiction. And--at least under the rule of law--even local licenses can't be revoked simply because the President feels a particular news story was not reported quickly enough.

It's not clear if Trump, a former NBC employee, knows that he can't legally order a network shut down.

The real threat is Trump's apparent belief that he should shut down news organizations he doesn't like. He's tried to use the powers of his office to weaken or silence the free press before, as when he tried to force Time Warner to sell CNN in order to get Justice Department approval for a planned merger, or just last week when he threatened to slap regulations on search engines and social media platforms if they didn't change the political tone of their content.

Trump's decision to call attention to the Weinstein coverage is interesting. Many of Trump's own sexual harassment and infidelity scandals were deliberately hidden during the campaign because the National Enquirer bought the rights to them and stored the supporting evidence in a secret safe. David Pecker, the Trump ally and CEO of the Enquirer's parent company who arranged for those deals to be made, has been granted criminal immunity and is cooperating with prosecutors.

Why should I care about this?

  • Presidents should have at least a remotely accurate idea of what their actual powers are.
  • A man who pays hush money to keep his sex scandals out of the press probably isn't the best person to criticize a lack of investigative vigor in the press.

Monday, September 3, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He attacked his attorney general for not protecting House Republicans from criminal charges.

Finding it too hot to play golf, Trump spent his otherwise unstructured workday tweeting his grievances, including this one:

In other words, Trump wanted everyone to know that he was angry at Sessions for not protecting "very popular" Republicans and their House majority from legitimate criminal charges.

The members in question are Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York. Collins was indicted on insider trading charges brought by Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, a Trump appointee. Hunter is charged with fraud, falsifying records, and other felonies related to his apparent illegal use of campaign funds to maintain his lavish personal lifestyle. Indictments are not convictions, but the evidence against both Hunter and Collins is overwhelming.

Trump has always believed (wrongly) that the role of the attorney general is to protect the president from personal legal threat and to look out for his party's political interests. He's even publicly praised Eric Holder, who held the post under President Obama, for "protecting" Obama. (Holder responded that Obama didn't need his protection.)

Until Trump, presidents did not interfere in Justice Department prosecutions, especially where political figures were concerned. But then few presidents have had so much at stake in the outcome of midterm elections. If Democrats regain control of the House, whether or not they win Collins and Hunter's seats, the congressional subpoena power they would then have could threaten Trump's presidency, and even his freedom.

Why is this a bad thing?

  • The rule of law is more important than Trump's short-term political needs.
  • In a democracy, membership in the president's political party isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card.