Congress was on recess this week and Trump had one of those very rare weeks where he managed to cage his demons (relatively speaking), so the news was mostly dominated by the very crowded & lively town hall meetings GOP members faced when they went back home to their constituents. Here are some other things that happened this week . . .
1. This first story most of you probably did catch, but it’s worth noting for the few who may have missed it. CNN reported on Thursday that the White House – specifically Chief of Staff Reince Preibus – asked the FBI to publicly dispute last week’s press reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russian intelligence during the presidential campaign.
Thankfully, the FBI turned down the request. With Congress utterly failing to perform its responsibilities as one crucial element of our system of checks & balances, it’s a relief to see our other institutions are holding up, at least so far.
Now your instincts are probably telling you that it’s pretty shady for the White House to ask the FBI to tamp down this story in order to help them out with their public relations efforts. But it’s even worse than that – as CNN notes, Preibus shouldn’t have been contacting the FBI about a pending investigation for any reason:
The direct communications between the White House and the FBI were unusual because of decade-old restrictions on such contacts. Such a request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations.
2. And another test for our institutions reported by CNN: the White House is asking the intelligence community for reports that will help justify its travel ban, which is making some in the IC uncomfortable because they see that as the “politicization of intelligence” with the White House presenting them a “a conclusion in search of evidence to support it.”
[An] issue for many in the intelligence community is the notion of the Trump White House seeking an intelligence report to fit the policy instead of the other way around, sources tell CNN. A senior government official told CNN that the normal procedure would be for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to be tasked with creating such an intelligence report, working with all relevant agencies and providing dissenting views. Theoretically, this would be done before the policy was formulated.
3. And one more in the “creating your own reality” department: Politico reports that back during the campaign, Trump’s top staffers devised a scheme for managing his Twitter eruptions. They would make sure that his media intake was always filled with positive stories about him. And during bad weeks when there were no positive stories to be found? They’d plant some in reliably friendly media outlets like Fox News, the Daily Caller and Breitbart.
And once they got the stories published, campaign officials with large numbers of Twitter followers would tweet them out.
They would also go to media amplifiers like Fox News hosts and conservative columnists to encourage them to tweet out the story so that they could print out and show a two-page list of tweets that showed that they were steering the message . . .
“He saw there was activity, so he didn’t feel like he had to respond,” the former campaign official said. “He sends out these tweets when he feels like people aren’t responding enough for him.”
4. The first two stories in this post are the reason that stories like this next one are so dangerous, even if we might enjoy a bit of schadenfreude (or I should say Trumpenfreude) when we first hear them. A CIA officer explains that he just quit the agency after 15 years because he felt he couldn’t continue to work there under Trump’s leadership. And note that while he did donate to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, he began his CIA career under President George W. Bush, so this wasn’t about politics.
This is scary news, because we need career officers and career civil servants who have experience and integrity working in these agencies to counteract exactly the sorts of things described in the first two articles. And we need their institutional knowledge simply to make the agencies function properly, particularly because most of Trump’s new hires are coming in with no experience in federal government whatsoever. If this starts to become a pattern, and too many knowledgeable, experienced people decide they don’t want to work for Trump, we’re going to be in real trouble.
5. At Thursday’s press briefing, Sean Spicer indicated that the Justice Department might start cracking down on states that have legalized recreational marijuana. This was in the same press briefing where he made a passionate argument in favor of states’ rights to defend Trump’s overturning of Obama’s transgender protections. (He also oddly defended the marijuana crackdown by pointing to the opioid epidemic).
6. And speaking of transgender protections, Jackie Evancho, a teenager (and winner of America’s Got Talent) who sang at Trump’s inauguration, would like to have a word with him on the topic. Jackie has a transgender sister and was disappointed by Trump’s decision to overturn Obama’s protections for transgender students. If anyone could actually prompt Trump to have a dialogue on this, it seems like Jackie should have a good case to make for open-mindedness, since she accepted the invitation to sing for him when he was being shunned by almost the entire entertainment industry. I’ll be curious to see what happens, especially since once upon a time Trump said this:
7. And now for a bit of good news, on Tuesday a federal judge issued an injunction, halting a Texas plan to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding. Since these things are so often seen through a partisan lens these days, note that the judge is a George H.W. Bush appointee.
6. And in more good news, local Democratic parties around the country are seeing huge surges in interest:
The overflowing crowds have sent stunned party regulars scrambling to find new venues, while the surge in interest, and the coinciding fundraising boost, is enabling local chapters to hire staff and build infrastructure in previously unthinkable ways.
The Huffington Post has details details from locations in various states.
9. Have you heard of that @Trump_Regrets Twitter account? It compiles tweets from people who seem to regret voting for Donald Trump. They’re amusing to read, but I always wondered if they were really people who had voted for him, or if they were just Trump haters finding new, creative ways to slam him on Twitter. Well the New York Times did a fun story that profiled the woman who created the account, and they also tracked down the authors of some of the tweets she’s collected. And it turns out they’re real. But they also say they still wouldn’t have voted for Hillary.
10. And finally, this one isn’t about politics, but if you’re a baseball fan (or a soccer fan), you’ll like this story about Mike Piazza and the professional soccer team he owns in Italy.
“I remember, as a player, complaining if we had a small plane,” he said. “‘We couldn’t get a 757? We had to get a 737? That’s garbage. The owners are cheap.’
“Now switch to me as the owner. I go: ‘What the hell? One hundred dollars a room? Where are you guys staying, the Four Seasons?’”