TrumpWatch, Day 28: Trump “Fine-Tuned Machine” in Chaos
Trump runs into more trouble with “insane” press conference, Harward rejection of National Security Advisor post, spreading Russia controversy
Developments on Day 28 of the Trump Administration:
Trump’s “Insane” Press Conference
Trump tries to counter turmoil, including spreading allegations of his Administration’s ties to Russia, in a rambling 75-minute press conference featuring attacks on the media and his insistence that the Administration is a “fine-tuned machine”.
The conference was meant to introduce Alexander Acosta, the new nominee to head the Labor Department after the withdrawal of fast food executive Andrew Puzder on Wednesday. However, it quickly turned into a litany of Trumpian complaints — “I inherited a mess”, boasts (including a claim about the historic size of his Electoral College victory, a lie exposed by a reporter’s question), and assaults on “fake news” — with nemesis CNN becoming “very fake news”.
Trump handled questions about the departure of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn with a series of lengthy discursions which, when dissected, only fed the impression that he had known about the advisor’s discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on December 29, including the prospect of reversing sanctions imposed on Moscow by the Obama Administration.
The Washington Post prints a lengthy fact-check of Trump’s claims.
Harward Rejects National Security Advisor Offer
Retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward turns down Trump’s offer to replace Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor.
Harward, seen as a well-respected officer who would have brought a measure of stability to the chaos in the National Security Council and the Administration, said he “could not make [the] commitment” of “24 hours a day, 7 days a week” to the position.
However, his decision after days of deliberation was also seen as concerns about the conduct of the Administration and his autonomy as head of the National Security Advisor. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon has reportedly been trying to assert his authority over the NSC, putting his allies on the staff and getting himself named as a full member of the Council’s Principals Committee.
A friend said Harward called the offer a “shit sandwich”. A Republican official said the Vice Admiral was not assured that he could form his own team, while a “senior Republican familiar with the process” said that “a question of clarity regarding the lines of authority” was central in Harward’s decision.
Harward is close to Defense Secretary James Mattis, whom he served as deputy when Mattis led US Central Command.
Reports: Flynn Lied to FBI About Talk With Russian Ambassador
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn told the FBI last month that he did not discuss US sanctions against Russia with Moscow’s Ambassador to the US, officials have told The Washington Post.
Flynn’s denial contradicts transcripts of intercepted communications between the two men, in which he suggested that Moscow could expect a reprieve from sanctions. He spoke five times with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on December 29, the day that Obama imposed more restrictions because of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election.
Flynn, who left the Administration on Monday evening, could face criminal charges over the claimed lying. However, some officials told the Post that bringing a case against him might prove difficult.
Trump had said in his Thursday press conference that Flynn did “nothing wrong”, although he was later dismissed because he did not give an accurate account of the conversations to Vice President Mike Pence.
Fox News Turning Against Trump?
There are signs that Fox News, which has been a bulwark for Donald Trump throughout the 2016 campaign and since his inauguration, may be turning against him.
After Thursday’s press conference, Shepard Stone lambasted Trump for his “crazy” performance, “untrue” statements, railing against the media, and failure to address the issues of his team’s ties to Russia:
Worth watching: "Demonstrably, unquestionably, 100% false." – Shep Smith, Fox News on Trump and his claims during his press conference today pic.twitter.com/OQCyBDezlw
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) February 17, 2017
Stone has been distinct from other Fox News anchors and correspondents in his willingness to challenge Trump, particularly over the President’s attacks on the media, but reports are circulating on social media this morning of others on Fox breaking ranks.
Kushner Presses Time Warner over CNN’s “Unfair” Coverage
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and close advisor, has met with a senior Time Warner Inc. executive to express the administration’s concerns about CNN coverage, according to a White House official and “other people familiar with the matter”.
In a meeting at the White House, Kushner complained to Gary Ginsberg, Executive Vice President of corporate marketing and communications at CNN’s parent company Time Warner. He has also pressed the issue with Time Warner executives including CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker.
On Thursday, Trump lambasted CNN again at his press conference, calling it “very fake news” with expert commentary that is “almost exclusively anti-Trump”.
Trump Asks Journalist To Set Up Meeting with Congressional Black Caucus, Then Lies
In his press conference, Trump asks an African American reporter to arrange a meeting for him with the Congressional Black Caucus.
Minutes after Trump insisted he was “the least racist person”, he was asked by American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan asked the him if he was going to include the CBC in conversations about his “inner city” policies.
Trump responded by repeatedly asking Ryan if she could set up a meeting with the Caucus, members of which the president suggested could be “friends” of hers.
“Are they friends of yours? No, go ahead,” Trump said. “Set up the meeting.”
He then accused the Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, a senior member of the Caucus, of being instructed not to meet with him.
The CBC later explained that they had contacted Trump:
Spokesperson from CBC said they sent letter to Trump a few weeks ago requesting a meeting but haven't heard back.
— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) February 16, 2017
“I have no idea why President Trump would make up a story about me like he did today,” Cummings said.
Trump Lift Ban on Coal Waste Near Streams
Trump signs legislation ending an Obama Administration regulation prohibiting the dumping of coal waste near streams.
The bill quashes the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule, completed in December.
On Tuesday, Trump signed a Congressional Review Act resolution undoing Obama’s financial disclosure requirement for energy companies.
At the signing, Trump called the regulation “another terrible job killing rule” and said ending it would save “many thousands American jobs, especially in the mines, which, I have been promising you — the mines are a big deal.”
Spies Withhold Intelligence From Trump
US intelligence officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised, according to “current and former officials familiar with the matter”.
In some cases, officials did not showTrump the sources and methods that the intelligence agencies use to collect information.
The current and former officials said the decision stems in large part from the President’s repeated expressions of admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his call during the Presidential campaign for Russia to continue hacking the e-mails of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.