Well, it wasn’t the best of times or the worst of times. But this week was a tale of two Trumps, and that’s where all the news coverage was focused throughout the week. On one hand we had the buttoned up, reined in teleprompter Trump who appeared Monday night and Wednesday afternoon, speaking in front of military audiences. On the other hand, we had the free-wheeling, let-it-rip Trump who appeared Tuesday night at his Phoenix campaign rally.
But those of us who’ve been paying attention & are willing to acknowledge reality know that there truly is only one Trump – and that’s the one who showed up Tuesday night at the rally, the one who’s all raging grievances and uncontrolled impulses. No matter how many times members of his party and certain pundits try to convince themselves we’re seeing the pivot to a new more sober Trump, there is no other Trump. And for every time Trump is forced into the straight jacket of “teleprompter Trump” you can be sure that an explosion of “let-it-rip Trump” will follow soon behind to make up for it. Because that’s who Trump truly is, and he just can’t help himself. But lots of other news actually happened this week, while Trump was putting on his Jekyll & Hyde act. So what else happened that you might have missed?
1. First, just to touch on something that did come up during that Phoenix rally, because it’s likely to come up in the news again: Trump very strongly hinted that he will be pardoning former Maricopa Country Sheriff Joe Arapaio, who was recently convicted of criminal contempt of court. So for those who aren’t total political junkies and may be unfamiliar with “Sheriff Joe,” this CNN article explains, in brief, why he was convicted:
The July criminal contempt decision against him followed a decade-long case against the sheriff for racial-profiling practices in Arizona, during which Arpaio was ordered to stop targeting Latinos for traffic stops and detention . . .
[I]t is plain that Arpaio was not convicted for doing his job. He was convicted for willfully disobeying the law after a court ordered him to stop singling out drivers based on ethnicity and detaining them without charges. Arpaio, who first took office in 1993, rose to national prominence for his crackdown on illegal immigration, earning the nickname “America’s toughest sheriff” along the way.
He cultivated that reputation, and as [the judge’s] order makes clear, he was not going to let anyone tell him what to do.
And this Washington Post piece gives a bit more background on Arpaio. His controversial methods, which go well beyond the illegal traffic stops, go back decades. You will probably not be surprised to learn that the loyal Trump supporter is also an avowed birther. In fact, their shared birth certificate obsession laid the foundation for the Trump/Arpaio friendship.
2. The two explanatory/background articles cited in the first item are straight news pieces, so they describe the Joe Arpaio case quite dispassionately. But here’s legal correspondent Dalia Lithwick bringing a bit more feeling as she argues that Arpaio and Trump are kindred spirits in their disdain for the judiciary & the rule of law. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, as it’s helpful in understanding why many people are so angry about the idea of Arpaio being pardoned. It’s not simply because of Arpaio’s very ugly racial history.
At his federal trial, prosecutors played video of Arpaio telling TV pundits that he would continue to jail people he considered “illegals,” as well as a video of Arpaio telling a Mexican detainee through a translator: “Nobody is higher than me. I am the elected official, elected by the people. I don’t serve any governor or any president.” It’s no wonder Arpaio is the president’s spirit animal.
As the Associated Press reports, “Arpaio was accused of launching an investigation into the federal judge who ruled against him in the racial-profiling case. Before that, he questioned the impartiality of a judge initially on the case because her twin sister leads a prominent advocacy group for Latinos.” Opposing lawyers noted that Arpaio had forwarded an email to staff members in which he referred to then–U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia as a “token Hispanic female judge.”
And constitutional law professor Noah Feldman argues that a pardon of Arpaio would show not just contempt for the law but contempt for the Constitution itself. This is one that should be read in full as well.
When a sheriff ignores the courts, he becomes a law unto himself. The courts’ only available recourse is to sanction the sheriff. If the president blocks the courts from making the sheriff follow the law, then the president is breaking the basic structure of the legal order.
3. Since we’re on the topic of birthers who are suddenly becoming household names, in last week’s “What Did I Miss?” I told you that the GOP Alabama Senate primary was heading to a run-off between incumbent Senator Luther Strange and the more, shall we say, off beat candidate, Roy Moore (he’s the former AL chief justice who’s been suspended from the bench twice – most recently last year). It turns out Roy Moore is quite an avid birther as well. Moore jumped on the birther bandwagon all the way back in 2008, but as recently as last year, he was still clinging to the conspiracy theory. In 2016 he told a meeting of the Constitution Party:
“My opinion is, there is a big question about that,” Moore said when asked how he defines natural-born citizen as it relates to qualifications for president. CNN’s KFile reviewed video from the event.
“My personal belief is that he wasn’t, but that’s probably over and done in a few days, unless we get something else to come along,” he added.
And of course, Moore is blowing away his primary opponent in the polls. Two different polls this week show him leading Strange by nearly 20 points. Elected members of the Republican Party, who just last week were telling us how strongly the Party rejects hatred & bigotry, might want to check in with their base (oh, and their President).
4. Here’s an update on another story from last week. I told you about the DOJ demanding identifying information from webhosting company DreamHost relating to more than 1.3 million visitors to a website where an inauguration day protest against President Trump was organized. DreamHost resisted the demand and was preparing for a legal fight.
The Justice Department has now narrowed its demand substantially (“The new warrant excludes most visitor logs from the demand, and it also withdraws the demand for unpublished content, like draft blog posts and photos,” a lawyer advising DreamHost told NPR). Lawyers for DreamHost said that while this is a big win, there are still some remaining legal concerns:
This is a tremendous win for DreamHost, its users and the public,” DreamHost counsel Raymond Aghaian said in a statement to NPR. “There remains, unfortunately, other privacy and First and Fourth Amendment issues with the search warrant, which we will address in a separate filing and at the hearing Thursday morning.”
So DreamHost continued pursuing its case at the already scheduled hearing Thursday morning. There, the company got what it described as a win – convincing the judge (a different judge than the one who granted the original warrant) to place the entire search under court supervision along with providing some additional protections. DreamHost is now deciding whether to appeal this decision, but it is required to turn over documents in the meantime.
5. The Washington Post reports that various Republican committees have spent $1.3 million at Trump owned properties so far this year. This is disturbing on more than one level, because Republicans have already failed egregiously by not reining Trump in on his flouting of ethical norms. While he is technically exempt from the conflict of interest laws that apply to everyone else in government, no other President before him has ever taken office holding onto any business interests which would even appear to present him with a conflict between the interests of the business and the interests of the country. And certainly none have held the office while holding onto the vast business enterprise Trump retains.
Yet Republicans have completely looked the other way on this. That was bad enough. But to add insult to injury, they’re actually helping to line the President’s pockets through these businesses, as he sits in what used to be the most esteemed office in the world.
6. This is a story you may have heard about, because it’s gotten a fair amount of attention on social media, but this Axios article adds some good context: Trump’s HHS is ending Obama-era funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program, which, as the name implies, helps teenagers avoid unwanted pregnancies. The grants to various groups were supposed to last for five years, but they’re being ended after just three. HHS justified this decision by saying there was “weak evidence of positive impact” of the program.
But Rachel Fey, the director of public policy at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, explained to Axios that Trump’s HHS was erroneously basing its evaluation only on the first round of grants:
Judging the current round of grantees on the evaluation results of the first round makes no sense. The whole point of the first round was to learn what did and didn’t work, and that gets incorporated into what they’re doing in the second round.
Read more from Axios about some of the different groups that were receiving these grants and the types of work they do.
7. And on a related topic, the Wall Street Journal reports that any day now we should see a new HHS rule rolling back the Obama administration rule that requires all employers to provide insurance coverage for birth control (with limited religious exemptions). The new rule is expected to be very similar to a draft version that leaked a few months ago. I explained that leaked version in the 6/2 “What Did I Miss?”. But the very brief explanation is that under Trump’s new rule, any employer, university or insurance company will be able to opt out of providing birth control simply by saying they object to it on either religious or moral grounds. So basically, any entity will be able to opt out of the birth control mandate simply because they want to.
8. And here’s something that’s interesting, and a real change of pace from our typical day to day news fare: Neal Katyal, who was the acting solicitor general under Obama, but is more recently known as the lawyer who brought Hawaii’s challenge against Trump’s travel ban, has now asked the Supreme Court to hear a major death penalty case out of Arizona.
The hope is that this case could bring an end to death penalty in Arizona and nationwide. While this result seems unlikely, given the current makeup of the Court, such a ruling wouldn’t be unprecedented in the Court’s history. The Supreme Court found the death penalty unconstitutional once before, in 1972. The Court then allowed the death penalty to come back four years later, with new constraints on how it would be implemented. Katyal hopes to convince the Court that (a) those constraints are no longer holding in Arizona; and (b) regardless of that, the death penalty is cruel & unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment.
9. Remember Greg Gianforte? He’s the new Republican Congressman from Montana, who became infamous when he “bodyslammed” reporter Ben Jacobs the night before the election back in May, and instead of apologizing or showing any shame, decided to blame it on “aggressive behavior” by a “liberal journalist.” Thankfully there were witnesses there who were able to attest to what actually happened (there was also audio tape of the incident).
So shortly after the election was over, in June, Gianforte pled guilty to misdemeanor assault. Part of the plea deal was that he would have his mugshot and fingerprints taken (along with serving 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management and paying $385 in fines and fees). But after entering the plea deal, Gianforte’s legal team filed a motion objecting to the mugshot and fingerprints. Gianforte has refused to report to the county jail where they’re supposed to take place.
Well, this week, the local judge hearing the case ruled that Gianforte must have the mugshot and fingerprints taken:
Defendant pled guilty to assault. In imposing conditions of (Gianforte’s) deferred term, this Court apparently found that fingerprinting and photographing (Gianforte) was a reasonable condition needed for rehabilitation or for the protection of the victim or society,” Lambert wrote.
“If so, (Gianforte) should obey this court’s order.
Now the remaining question is whether Gianforte will keep his promise to sit down for an interview with Ben Jacobs, the reporter he assaulted.
10. And break out the confetti – Trump reached a milestone this week! His list of false and misleading claims since becoming President passed the 1,000 mark:
We have been tracking President Trump’s false or misleading claims for more than seven months. Somewhere around Aug. 4 or Aug. 5, he broke 1,000 claims, and the tally now stands at 1,057.
That’s an impressive number by any standard. In fact, we are a little late with this update because we have simply been overwhelmed keeping track of the deluge of claims made by the president in the later part of July. Things slowed down during the president’s “working vacation,” so we have finally been able to catch up.