Developments on Day 218 of the Trump Administration:

Trump Plays to Hard Right with Sudden Announcements

As Americans watched for landfall in Texas of Hurricane Harvey, Donald Trump pardons Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona.

Arpaio was convicted in July of contempt of court over his aggressive tactics against undocumented immigrants. The federal court said the approach amounted to racial profiling, with US District Court Judge Susan Bolton concluding, “Not only did he abdicate responsibility, he announced to the world and to his subordinates that he was going to continue business as usual no matter who said otherwise.”

But Arpaio was a vocal supporter in 2016 of the Trump campaign, praising the candidate’s promises of The Wall on the US-Mexican border and of deportations of immigrants. Like Trump, he is a prominent “birther”, falsely claiming that Barack Obama was not born in the US.

As soon as Trump ran into trouble over his remarks on white supremacist violence in Charlottsville, Virginia two weeks ago, he held out the prospect of a pardon for “Sheriff Joe”. Trump repeated the line on Tuesday in his rambling, provocative speech to a rally in Phoenix, “So was Sheriff Joe was convicted for doing his job? I’ll make a prediction. I think he’s going to be just fine, OK.”

Sources confirmed that Trump issued the pardon without any review of the case by the Justice Department. Spokesman Ian Prior said, “The President exercised his lawful authority and we respect his decision.”

The White House said in a statement on Friday night:

Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now 85 years old, and after more than 50 years of admirable service to our nation, he is [a] worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.

Arpaio responded on Twitter:

“This Undermines Trump’s Claim for the Respect of Law”

The sheriff has long drawn criticism before his contempt of court. He bragged about a detention facility as a “concentration camp” as he ordered detained immigrants to be held in arduous conditions, with women shackled while they were in childbirth. A federal judge twice ruled that medical care was so deficient in the jails as to be “unconstitutional”.

Under his watch, Maricopa County recorded an extremely high rate of suicides by detainees. Journalists searched databases to estimate 160 deaths, but it is impossible to know the total because no authority kept track.

Meanwhile, current and former officers reported the bungling of investigation of more than 400 sex crimes, including dozens of alleged child molestations, between 2004 and 2007.

Local politicians supported the criticism by civil rights groups of Trump’s move. “Joe Arpaio illegally targeted and terrorized Latino families. Our community voted him out of power. Donald Trump can’t change that,” Greg Stanton, the Democratic mayor of Phoenix, wrote.

Arizona Senator John McCain said:

Mr. Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to illegally profile Latinos living in Arizona based on their perceived immigration status in violation of a judge’s orders. The President has the authority to make this pardon, but doing so at this time undermines his claim for the respect of rule of law as Mr. Arpaio has shown no remorse for his actions.

Arizona’s other Republican senator, Jeff Flake, wrote:

Trump Follows Up His Twitter Ban on Transgender Personnel in Military

Following up his tweet declaring that transgender personnel cannot serve in the US military, Trump signs a directive ordering Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to implement the ban on those seeking to join.

Trump gave Mattis, who has six months to fulfil the order, discretion in determining whether those already in the armed forces can continue to serve. A “senior White House official” said Mattis’s decision will be based on criteria such as military effectiveness and cost.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said Mattis had received the guidance but did not indicate how he would proceed.

Pre-empting a Pentagon review of President Obama’s 2016 authorization of transgender service, Trump announced the ban on Twitter last month, without consulting Mattis or military commanders. He used the false pretext that the military incurs a large burden through financing of medical procedures for transgender personnel.

Earlier this week Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a war veteran who lost both legs while serving in Iraq, responded to Trump:

When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter after I was shot down, I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white, or brown. All that mattered was they didn’t leave me behind.

Defense Secretary James Mattis appears to give his own message to Trump, as he addresses troops in Jordan: “Hold the line until our country gets back to respecting and understanding one another, to being friendly to one another.”

Gorka Out

White House advisor Sebastian Gorka, isolated since the dismissal of chief strategist Steve Bannon eight days ago, has been pushed out.

Gorka insisted that he resigned, but White House officials told the media that he had been removed.

Gorka’s chief contribution to the Administration had been aggressive defenses of Donald Trump in TV interviews. He was constantly under fire not only for his remarks but also reports of past links with neo-Nazi groups in Hungary and his questionable academic and professional qualifications, including his claims of being a specialist in counter-terrorism.

The advisor was effectively quarantined after John Kelly became White House chief of staff in late July. A White House official said Kelly made clear his lack of interest in retaining Gorka, following Bannon’s departure, in internal discussion.

Gorka had been on vacation for at least the last two weeks.

Officially a Deputy Assistant to the President, Gorka lashed out in a purported resignation letter to Trump:

Regrettably, outside of yourself, the individuals who most embodied and represented the policies that will “Make America Great Again”, have been internally countered, systematically removed, or undermined in recent months. This was made patently obvious as I read the text of your speech on Afghanistan this week…

The fact that those who drafted and approved the speech removed any mention of Radical Islam or radical Islamic terrorism proves that a crucial element of your presidential campaign has been lost….

Just as worrying, when discussing our future actions in the region, the speech listed operational objectives without ever defining the strategic victory conditions we are fighting for. This omission should seriously disturb any national security professional, and any American who is unsatisfied with the last 16 years of disastrous policy decisions which have led to thousands of Americans killed and trillions of taxpayer dollars spent in ways that have not brought security or victory.

Cohn Breaks from Trump Over Charlottesville and White Supremacy

Gary Cohn, the director of the White House Economic Council, breaks with Donald Trump over the response to white supremacy and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12.

Cohn told the Financial Times:

Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK.

As a Jewish American, I will not allow neo-Nazis ranting “Jews will not replace us” to cause this Jew to leave his job. I feel deep empathy for all who have been targeted by these hate groups. We must all unite together against them.

Cohn was publicly overshadowed on August 15 when Trump, rather than focusing on the Administration’s infrastructure proposals, reiterated his blame of “many sides” and excused the white supremacist march as a necessary response to attempts to remove Confederate statues. The advisor, who had to present the plans after Trump’s impromptu press conference in Trump Tower, wrote a resignation letter three days later. But sources said he changed his mind.

The advisor, who has drafted the tax changes that the White House will deliver its first major legislative victory, told the British newspaper:

I have come under enormous pressure both to resign and to remain in my current position.

As a patriotic American, I am reluctant to leave my post…because I feel a duty to fulfil my commitment to work on behalf of the American people. But I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks.

Cohn stands by, a bit uncomfortably, as Transportation Secretary Linda Cho makes her infrastructure presentations after Trump’s performance on August 15 in Trump Tower:

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to play down any difference with Trump, “[Gary’s] been very open and honest. And so I don’t think that anyone was surprised by the comments.”

But Breitbart, the outlet of recently-resigned White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, railed, “Globalist Gary Feeds False Establishment Narrative”.

Bannon and his allies have been at odds with Cohn over his supposed “globalist” approach pushing back Bannon’s pursuit of protectionism and so-called “economic nationalism”.

Breitbart contrasted Cohn’s remarks with those of Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, who has refrained from any remarks criticizing Trump.

Trump Pastor: Resisting Donald is Same as Resisting “Hand of God”

A religious confidante to Donald Trump says resisting Trump is like resisting “the hand of God”.

Pastor Paula White appeared on the Jim Bakker Show to declare:

They say about our President, “Well, he is not Presidential.” Thank goodness. Thank goodness. Thank goodness … he is not a polished politician. In other words, he is authentically — whether people like it or not — has been raised up by God. Because God says that He raises up and places all people in places of authority.

It is God who raises up a king. It is God that sets one down. When you fight against the plan of God, you are fighting against the hand of God.