The week before Christmas may go down as the strangest and most revealing of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Over just a few days, his sheer
- venality and
were laid bare. But it was also a time for Trumpian good deeds that allowed us a glimpse at how he might have governed if he had been shrewder — and had a genuine interest in the good that government can do.
.. Let’s start with his display of gangsterism and utter indifference to the law in a tweet Sunday calling his former lawyer Michael Cohen a “Rat” for telling the truth about various matters, including his dealings with Russia to build a Trump tower in Moscow and the president’s payoffs before the 2016 election to hide his alleged sexual conduct.
“Rat,” as many have pointed out, is a legendary organized-crime epithet, and we really are gazing at something like the Trump Family Syndicate. On Tuesday, the New York state attorney general, Barbara Underwood, forced the closure of the Donald J. Trump Foundation for what she described as “a shocking pattern of illegality.” She said the foundation functioned “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”
And, yes, this was an all-in-the-family thing. The foundation’s board consistedof Trump himself, his three adult children and the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg. Incidentally, if you wonder why Trump hates the media so much, consider that it was the painstaking work of The Post’s David Fahrenthold that first blew the lid off Trump’s scamming disguised as charity.
.. But that wasn’t all. Two reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee made it abundantly clear that Trump was Vladimir Putin’s preferred candidate in 2016 — and remained Putin’s guy after he won.
This is a key civil rights issue of our time. (Voting rights is another, and on this problem Trump is pushing entirely in the wrong direction.) The long sentences the new law would roll back hit African Americans the hardest. That’s particularly true of the disparity in the treatment of crack and powder cocaine sellers that the legislation would mitigate.
It’s often observed that Trump has few discernible political principles. A problem in many respects, this did give Trump enormous flexibility when he came into office. What if he had governed in other areas with the same eye toward bipartisan agreement that led him to criminal-justice reform?
Imagine a big infrastructure bill or a far less regressive approach to tax reform. Democrats would have been hard-pressed not to work with him. Instead, Trump just kept dividing us and stoking his base. He lazily went along with traditional conservatives on taxes and corporate lobbyists in the regulatory sphere because governing was never really the point. And now, he is reaping the whirlwind.
A 1977 court ruling said that administrations cannot bar correspondents from the briefing room without “due process.”
.. In January 1972, when Sherrill reapplied for White House press credentials, he was again denied without explanation. That’s when the American Civil Liberties Union took his case to federal court. With the ACLU’s help, Sherrill sued the Secret Service for violating his First and Fifth Amendment rights.
By the time a D.C. circuit-court judge ruled in his case in 1977, it had been 11 years after his credentials were originally denied... hen donald trump clashed with Jim Acosta, the chief White House correspondent for CNN, at his post-midterms news conference on Wednesday—and later revoked his press credentials—he most likely knew nothing about the precedent set by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Robert Sherrill’s case—precedent, experts said, that put the law squarely on Acosta’s side.
“Thank you Mr. President. I wanted to challenge you on one of the statements that you made on the tail end of the campaign in the midterms,” Acosta started, microphone in hand, staring ahead toward the president from the front row of the press conference.
Trump’s lips pursed and then released. “Here we go,” he said, practically breaking the fourth wall.
“If you don’t mind, Mr. President—” Acosta tried.
“C’mon, c’mon, let’s go.” The president let out a half whistle from his mouth and motioned to his rival to hurry up and ask his question.
“—that this caravan was an invasion.”
“I consider it to be an invasion,” Trump replied.
The exchange became testier and Trump’s complexion reddened. “Honestly, I think you should let me run the country. You run CNN. And if you did it well, your ratings would be better,” Trump told the reporter.
Acosta held on to the microphone as a White House intern tried to grab it back from him. “Mr. President, I had one other question, if I may ask, on the Russia investigation,” Acosta said. “Are you concerned that—”
Trump lifted a finger and wagged it from the podium. “I’m not concerned about anything about the Russia investigation, ’cause it’s a hoax.” He walked away from the podium momentarily, readying for his next hit. Acosta gave in and relinquished the mic.
“I’ll tell you what,” the president huffed. “CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN … You’re a very rude person. The way you treat Sarah Huckabee [Sanders] is horrible and the way you treat other people are horrible. You shouldn’t treat people that way.”
When Acosta returned to the White House grounds later that evening to do a live shot for Anderson Cooper 360°, the Secret Service asked for his hard pass, which he had held since 2013, and confiscated it. They were just following orders, and he understood that; the orders came from higher up. His access was revoked: He was locked out of the Trump White House.
.. To explain why Acosta’s credentials had been revoked, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, tweeted a highly edited video on Wednesday that appeared to show Acosta hitting the intern who tried to grab his microphone. Sanders wrote on Twitter, “President Trump believes in a free press and expects and welcomes tough questions of him and his administration. We will, however, never tolerate a reporter placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern…” Acosta tweeted back, “This is a lie.”
In actuality, the video Sanders shared was doctored and originally posted by Paul Joseph Watson, a British conspiracy theorist associated with the fake-news website Infowars.
.. The White House Correspondents’ Association denounced “the Trump Administration’s decision to use US Secret Service security credentials as a tool to punish a reporter with whom it has a difficult relationship.”
.. The conservative blogger Erick Erickson tweeted, “Y’all, I’m sorry to defy the tribe, but I’ve watched this video over and over and it looks more like @Acosta had his arm out pointing with his finger and when she tried to pull the microphone down, both his arms went down rather naturally.”.. Among those in media and politics, the widespread consensus was an obvious one: This was not about safety and security; this was not about an assault. Acosta was punished for the way he went about his reporting... “If there are professional concerns that the White House has about Jim Acosta or anyone else, they should express that professionally. They should be talking about that openly and there should be an effort to determine what, if anything, needs to change. The response is not engaging the Secret Service to pull someone’s credentials.”
“That’s just completely inappropriate and just this side of thuggery in my view,” Sesno added... In public remarks on Friday morning, Trump seemed unremorseful about pulling Acosta’s credentials. The president threatened further punishment for reporters like American Urban Radio Networks’ April Ryan, calling her a “loser.”
“It could be others also” if they “don’t treat the White House and the office of the presidency with respect,” Trump said.
.. “Once the government creates the kind of forum that it has created, like the White House briefing room, it can’t selectively include or exclude people on the basis of ideology or viewpoint,” said Ben Wizner, the director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.
.. The new steps enunciated in the Sherrill decision to ensure that reporters’ First Amendment rights are not violated include
- the requirement to give the reporter notice and
- the right to rebut a formal written decision, which must accompany any revocation.
“We further conclude that notice, opportunity to rebut, and a written decision are required because the denial of a pass potentially infringes upon First Amendment guarantees,” the court’s ruling states. “Such impairment of this interest cannot be permitted to occur in the absence of adequate procedural due process.”.. “If the Secret Service makes this kind of determination that they’re going to no longer let someone have access, or limit access from the start, there should be a really good reason for that,” Michele Kimball, a media-law professor at George Washington University, said. “And if you are denied that access, there should be some sort of procedural due process for you, [so] that you can find out what happened... “What they’ve done here is not only unwise, but probably illegal,” the ACLU’s Wizner concluded... He clearly relished that role as an outsider, because when he won his 11-year battle with the White House to get credentialed, he opted against it... “The fun thing about this was that when I was finally going to get a press pass, I never applied,” Sherrill told the Times. “I didn’t want to be in the White House. I had been in Washington long enough to realize that was the last place to waste your time sitting around for some dumb [expletive] to give a press conference.”When all was said and done, Sherrill knew his best work would be done far away from the place he was never allowed to visit.
Hansen represented a group of investors in Trump’s casino company, which was going bankrupt (potentially costing the investors $1.25 billion in defaulted debt). Hansen told the local police department that the caller threatened his wife and children:
My name is Carmine. I don’t know why you’re fucking with Mr. Trump but if you keep fucking with Mr. Trump, we know where you live and we’re going to your house for your wife and kids.
According to Leopold, the FBI found Hansen’s account credible enough that they gave him a portable recording device and asked him to record any other calls he got. Meanwhile, they traced the number that had shown up on Hansen’s BlackBerry back to a Manhattan phone booth across the street from the theater that hosted The Late Show With David Letterman— on which Trump taped an appearance a few hours after the call was made.
.. Four men prevented Hatixbe Bajrushi and her son from leaving. Matthew Calamari, the hulking head of security, shoved the boy. Trump’s brother-in-law, James Grau, barked questions, demanding to know why they were there. Michael Nicoll, another guard, pushed them back when they tried to leave. Grau snatched her purse and passed it to Calamari, Nicoll, and Domenic Pezzo to rifle through.[…]
Calamari threatened to harm the family if they spoke to police about what happened, according to the lawsuit. After 90 minutes, the police arrived and the Bajrushis were freed.
None of the security guards named in the lawsuit were charged, although FBI special agents told BuzzFeed News that two of them were questioned as “persons of interest.”
Because neither of these allegations resulted in criminal charges, much less convictions, they’re not proof of anything. But they bear a resemblance to some aspects of Daniels’s story: the threatening phone calls, the willingness to threaten or harm children. At the very least, they’re evidence that she’s not the first person to accuse Trump surrogates of acting like B-movie thugs.
“I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse. And I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know,” Cohen said. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?”
“You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up … for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet … you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it,” he added.
Lawsuit threats from Trump lawyers aren’t unusual, but “What I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting … I’m going to mess your life up” goes beyond a simple lawsuit threat.
.. What’s really interesting is that Cohen hasn’t publicly denied threatening to make Daniels’s life hell in 2018. What he is denying is being involved in sending the thug to intimidate Daniels in 2011 — something Daniels isn’t actually accusing him of.
The Constitution gives the president nearly unlimited power to grant clemency to people convicted of federal offenses, so Mr. Trump can pardon Mr. Arpaio. But Mr. Arpaio was an elected official who defied a federal court’s order that he stop violating people’s constitutional rights. He was found in contempt of that court. By pardoning him, Mr. Trump would show his contempt for the American court system and its only means of enforcing the law, since he would be sending a message to other officials that they may flout court orders also... (Both also spent years promoting the lie that President Barack Obama was born outside the United States.).. Both men built their brands by exploiting racial resentments of white Americans. While Mr. Trump was beginning his revanchist run for the White House on the backs of Mexican “rapists,” Mr. Arpaio was terrorizing brown-skinned people across southern Arizona, sweeping them up in “saturation patrols” and holding them in what he referred to as a “concentration camp” for months at a time... It was this behavior that a federal judge in 2011 found to be unconstitutional and ordered Mr. Arpaio to stop. He refused, placing himself above the law and the Constitution that he had sworn to uphold... would also go against longstanding Justice Department policy, which calls for a waiting period of at least five years before the consideration of a pardon application and some expression of regret or remorse by the applicant. Mr. Arpaio shows no sign of remorse; to the contrary, he sees himself as the victim. “If they can go after me, they can go after anyone in this country,” he told Fox News on Wednesday. He’s right — in a nation based on the rule of law, anyone who ignores a court order, or otherwise breaks the law, may be prosecuted and convicted... What’s remarkable here is that Mr. Trump is weighing mercy for a public official who did not just violate the law, but who remains proud of doing so. The law-and-order president is cheering on an unrepentant lawbreaker. Perhaps that’s because Mr. Arpaio has always represented what Mr. Trump aspires to be: a thuggish autocrat who enforces the law as he pleases, without accountability or personal consequence.