Thursday, August 27, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He threatened a reporter.

Washington Post reporter David Farenthold won a Pulitzer Prize for his series of articles exposing Trump's long history of lies and illegal behaviors around charities. He's also known for breaking the Access Hollywood tape story, where Trump was recorded admitting to sexual assault of women and claiming he could get away with it because he's famous.

Today, Farenthold was on the byline of a new story about Trump's ongoing attempts to profit from the presidency. It ran under the headline "Room rentals, resort fees and furniture removal: How Trump’s company charged the U.S. government more than $900,000."

In response, a White House spokesperson was dispatched to threaten Farenthold with blackmail. In a statement, spokesman Judd Deere wrote, "The Washington Post is blatantly interfering with the business relationships of the Trump Organization, and it must stop.” 

He added, “Please be advised that we are building up a very large ‘dossier’ on the many false David Fahrenthold and others stories as they are a disgrace to journalism and the American people.”

Deere is a government employee. The Trump Organization is Trump's private business. The statement did not dispute the accuracy of the article's claims.

Farenthold appeared unworried by the threat, but blackmail is one thing Trump knows a thing or two about. He is famous for his attempts to hush up uncomfortable truths about himself with nondisclosure agreements—even forcing White House employees to sign legally invalid ones as a scare tactic. 

Trump has also dabbled on the supply side of blackmail. According to his former "fixer" Michael Cohen, it's how he got the unexpected endorsement of Jerry Falwell Jr. Cohen described a quid pro quo in which Trump got Falwell's endorsement—at a time when he was widely disliked among the evangelical community—in exchange for Trump getting the National Enquirer not to run sexually compromising photographs of Falwell's wife.

Why does this matter?

  • The United States government doesn't exist to protect Donald Trump's private interests above everyone else's.
  • Threatening the press when it publishes things that make the leader look bad is what authoritarians do.
  • Making unlikely threats doesn't make you look strong.