Well, it looked like this was going to be a week dominated by Trump’s address to Congress. Trump was having by far the best week he’s had since taking office, getting generally positive reviews for the speech (lots of talk about his improved “tone”), and he’d managed to mostly keep himself off Twitter, with only a few restrained Tweets here & there. But once again, a Russia story has thrown the Trump administration off course. First on the list though, a totally different embarrassing story broke for the Trump administration Thursday night. . .
1. Lock him up?? Mike Pence used a private email account to conduct state business, including homeland security issues, when he was Indiana Governor. And it got hacked. This information was discovered in response to a public records request made by the IndyStar newspaper. Experts told the paper that Pence’s use of the AOL account raises both security and transparency concerns, and . . .
Cyber-security experts and government transparency advocates said Pence’s use of a personal email account for matters of state business — including confidential ones — is surprising given his attacks on Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email server:
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” in September, for example, Pence called Clinton “the most dishonest candidate for president of the United States since Richard Nixon.”
“What’s evident from all of the revelations over the last several weeks is that Hillary Clinton operated in such a way to keep her emails, and particularly her interactions while Secretary of State with the Clinton Foundation, out of the public reach, out of public accountability,” Pence said . . .
The experts told IndyStar that similar arguments about a lack of transparency could be made about Pence’s use of a personal email account.
“There is an issue of double standard here,” said Gerry Lanosga, a professor at Indiana University and past president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government. “He has been far from forthcoming about his own private email account on which it’s clear he has conducted state business. So there is a disconnect there that cannot be avoided.”
2. In response to this Washington Post story from Wednesday night revealing that he’d failed to disclose contacts during the Presidential campaign with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. , Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he would recuse himself from “matters that deal with the Trump campaign.” This language still leaves him free to oversee other Russia related matters that occurred post-campaign, such as General Flynn’s phone calls with Russia discussing U.S. sanctions. That might sound like parsing, but Bloomberg reporter Steven Dennis confirmed Thursday evening that Sessions was not ruling out remaining on any Flynn-related cases or other non-campaign cases that might arise.
But the entire saga that took place on Thursday, with the “will he or won’t he” recuse was really quite absurd, because we never should have gotten to this place to begin with. Sessions shouldn’t have been confirmed as Attorney General without committing to recuse himself from all matters relating to the Trump campaign.
Jeff Sessions was not just a Trump campaign surrogate. As this Talking Points Memo article points out, he was an integral part of the Trump campaign. In addition to being the first Senator to endorse Trump, he was also an official senior advisor to the campaign.
But more significantly, he supplied Trump with one of his most influential – and now well known – advisors and confidants: Stephen Miller, a longtime Sessions aide. And he has long been close with another of them: Steve Bannon, who had promoted Sessions’ policies on his Breitbart website for years. And Sessions is also the brain behind many of Trump’s most well known (and controversial) policies, most of which were introduced on the campaign trail. It is not going too far to wonder if Trump’s campaign would have even been feasible without the assistance of one Senator Jeff Sessions. The idea that Sessions could ever have led an impartial investigation of the Trump campaign was not credible even before these new revelations.
Richard Painter, who was a chief ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, thinks recusal isn’t enough and that Sessions needs to be fired or resign.
(Yes, that John Dean)
3. A 22-year old DREAMer named Daniela Vargas was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after leaving a press conference where she spoke out about immigration and the recent ICE raids. Her brother and father were arrested by ICE in February and await deportation. Vargas’ attorney said Thursday afternoon that officials plan to deport her without a hearing.
4. But the New York Times reports that Trump’s hard-line anti-immigration supporters are not happy that he hasn’t made it official policy to deport DREAMers by rescinding the Obama executive action that protects them from deportation and makes them eligible for work permits.
5. Also from the New York Times, many ICE agents are feeling “unshackled” by Trump’s executive orders on immigration. It’s not hard to imagine how this situation could go very wrong.
Two officials in Washington said that the shift — and the new enthusiasm that has come with it — seems to have encouraged pro-Trump political comments and banter that struck the officials as brazen or gung-ho, like remarks about their jobs becoming “fun.” Those who take less of a hard line on unauthorized immigrants feel silenced, the officials said.
6. And remember how the Trump administration defended the rollout of their first travel ban by telling us it was absolutely urgent that it be done as quickly as possible in order to defend our national security? Apparently not so much anymore (tweet was just post Trump’s speech to Congress):
7. GOP lawmakers in at least 18 states have proposed bills to deter protesting. Funny how they weren’t the least bit bothered back in 2009/10 by the Tea Party protestors, who were at least as loud and rowdy as today’s protestors and sometimes even showed up with guns strapped to their hips.
8. In last week’s round-up, I mentioned that Jackie Evancho, the teenager who sang at Trump’s inauguration, was disappointed that Trump reversed Obama’s transgender protections. Well, this week brings some good news for Jackie and her transgender sister Juliet. Juliet and two of her schoolmates just won a temporary injunction in federal court (Western District of Pennsylvania) that bars their school district from enforcing a policy that requires transgender students to either use a single-sex bathroom or a bathroom that matches their “biological sex”.
9. The White House put out a preliminary budget proposal this week, and it would slash the Environmental Protection Agency budget by a quarter. That’s an enormous cut. Part of that plan would include cutting 1 out of every 5 of the agency’s employees, bringing the workforce down to levels not seen since the 1980’s.
10. Trump press secretary Sean Spicer wasn’t happy that a Politico reporter wrote a less-than-flattering story about him (Spicer), so he fed a damaging – and misleading – story about said reporter to a conservative website as payback. This has got to be the most thin-skinned presidential administration in the history of the United States.
11. And just because I really enjoyed it, here’s a great clapback at Sean Spicer by CNN reporter Jake Tapper: