Since Trump’s inauguration, it has been more difficult than usual to keep up with politics. So we decided that a weekly column summarizing what happened during the week was in order. We’ll follow all the stories and then bring the week’s events to you in condensed form. So without further ado, here it is, the week in politics:
Jeff Sessions, who has been the Attorney General for less than one month, has recused himself from the investigation into the Russian interference of the 2016 election. This action came less than 24 hours after the Washington Post broke a story detailing that Sessions may have lied under oath at his Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on January 10th. During the hearing, Senator Al Franken (D-Minn), asked Sessions,
Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.’ These documents also allegedly say quote, ‘There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.’ Now, again, I’m telling you this as it’s coming out, so you know. But if it’s true, it’s obviously extremely serious and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.
Yet, as the Washington Post article revealed, Sessions actually spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Sessions claims he did not lie during the confirmation hearing, as he did not consider the conversations relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember in detail what he discussed with Kislyak.
Many Media Outlets Barred from White House Briefing
The White House barred several news organizations from an off-camera press briefing on Friday, handpicking a select group of reporters that included a number of conservative outlets friendly toward Donald Trump. Outlets seeking to gain entry whose requests were denied included the Guardian, the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC, the Daily Mail and others. Conservative publications such as Breitbart News, the One America News Network and the Washington Times were allowed into the meeting, as well as TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC. The Associated Press and Time were invited but boycotted the briefing. (Kudos to the Associated Press and Time for standing up to this flagrant abuse of the 1st Amendment!!!). (The Guardian)
The FBI Won’t Do the White House’s Bidding, But Congress Might
Earlier in the week, we learned that the FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign. This is kind of a big deal, as there are restrictions on such contacts. This request, which came from Reince Priebus, the White House Chief of Staff, is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations. (CNN) White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, also asked CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr, (R-N.C.), and House Intelligence Committee Chairman David Nunes, (R-Calif) to discredit a story about the Trump campaign’s alleged contacts with Russian intelligence officials. (Salon) Nunes went public to say,
As of right now, I don’t have any evidence of any phone calls. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist … What I’ve been told by many folks is that there’s nothing there.
But, the committee’s ranking member, Adam Schiff, (D-Calif) stated:
“We’ve reached no conclusion, nor could we, in terms of issues of collusion because we haven’t called in a single witness or reviewed a single document on that issue yet.”
Travel Ban Report Request Attempts to Politicize Intelligence?
President Donald Trump has assigned the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to help build the legal case for its temporary travel ban on individuals from seven countries. Some administration intelligence officials are concerned that this is an attempt by the White House to politicize intelligence, as the White House seems to be seeking an intelligence report to fit their policy instead of the other way around. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations said,
It looks wrong to me. We ought to be doing the intel first, then set the policy and in large part based upon the intelligence,” Haass said. “If these reports are true, it’s yet another example where this administration is having real trouble forging a functional relationship with the intelligence community. (CNN)
In fact, last month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report assessing the terrorist threat posed by people from the seven countries covered by President Trump’s travel ban that casts doubt on the necessity of the executive order, concluding that citizenship is an “unreliable” threat indicator and that people from the seven countries have rarely been implicated in U.S.-based terrorism. (Washington Post)
Protecting Us from Children’s Authors, Holocaust Historians, and the Sons of Famous Boxers Everywhere
One thing to be said for Trump’s new approach to immigration is that we are being kept safe from all sorts of dubious people, such as Australian children’s author, Mem Fox (I always thought that anyone who writes about green sheep was suspicious!). Immigration also detained noted French holocaust historian, Henry Rousso, for ten hours. Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother, Khalilah Camacho Ali, both U.S. citizens, were also detained and questioned extensively after flying to Jamaica. None of these people were from the seven countries that Trump’s ban is aimed at. So the question I have is American customs just an absolute mess or have employees been emboldened by the general atmosphere in the country right now and now are wielding their limited authority like despots? And these are the three famous people we have heard about, what do regular people have to endure when they come into our country? Is this the welcome we want to be giving to visitors to our country?
And We Mustn’t Forget the Damn Wall
Yes, sometimes I do try to convince myself it is all a bad dream, but it’s not. Trump really does plan to build a giant wall along the U.S./Mexican border. And his administration has taken the first steps towards building the thing.
Trump Addresses Congress
President Trump, in his first address to a joint session of Congress, defended his tumultuous presidency on Tuesday and said he was eager to reach across party lines and put aside “trivial fights” to help ordinary Americans. Many reporters and Republicans were salivating over Trump’s subdued manner during the speech, saying that Trump had finally pivoted and had become “Presidential”. Trevor Noah, however, was not so easily swayed and pointed to a previous speech by Trump when Trump “acted Presidential”.
Another One Bites the Dust
Another of Trump’s cabinet nominees has dropped out of the running. Trump’s nominee for secretary of the navy, Philip Bilden, has withdrawn from consideration for the post, citing concerns about privacy and separating himself from his business interests. Bilden’s withdrawal follows the withdrawal of Vincent Viola, who was nominated for Secretary of the Army, and the withdrawal of Andy Puzder, who was nominated for Secretary of Labor. In addition, Mike Flynn, Trumps’ National Security Advisor, was fired for lying to the Vice-President. And now Trump’s Attorney General is possibly in trouble with the law. And Trump has only been President for six weeks.
Really Chaffetz? Really?
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is investigating a months-old tweet from his state’s Bryce Canyon National Park. This investigation is really not important, except for the fact that Chaffetz still does not feel the need to investigate Trumps’ many conflicts of interest or possible ties to Russia. (The Hill) I’m going to take a moment here to give Jason Chaffetz a bit advice. Jason, bro, when the thousands of demonstrators at your Town Hall chanted, “Do your job!”, this is not what they meant. They meant, investigate Trump.
As always, there were many other stories that were important, but didn’t stand out enough to make it the cut for this column. I hope you all have a good week! Stay safe, stay sane, and stay strong!