Wednesday, August 30, 2017

It's Friday, I'm Insane

I know in national politics, Fridays are supposed to be quiet days where the media is preparing for the weekend, and so a story that you want to receive far less attention than normal, you release on a Friday afternoon or evening. Hopefully by Monday the country has moved on from your potentially negative story. Under the Trump administration it seems like the President doesn't understand this dynamic and somehow imagines that if news is released on a Friday it will get more coverage, because it is an exciting night of partying. Last week Trump once again redefined political wisdom or convention by, in the middle of hurricane preparations, released a huge number of news, that left the media gasping to figure out how to cover it all. Here are some snippets of that epic Friday news dump.

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Trump Under Fire Over Epic Friday News Dump
by Josh Dawsey
8/26/16
Politico

It was a Friday night news dump like rarely seen before: President Donald Trump's administration announced a series of polarizing decisions that had been under discussions for weeks, just as a hurricane bore down on the Texas coast.

Trump privately had signaled for weeks he would pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, praising the sheriff's loyalty and telling at least one adviser that his base wanted it badly.

Seb Gorka, a national security aide, was on the outs with Chief of Staff John Kelly after criticizing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on TV earlier in August. Kelly had told others Gorka had no future in the White House, and Gorka had aligned himself closely with now ousted chief strategist Steve Bannon.

And Trump's top advisers had scrambled to write implementation orders for the military transgender ban for several weeks, after Trump startled lawyers and advisers with tweets they considered ill-advised and had warned against.

The pardon, the exit and the guidelines all came on Friday evening, as a ferocious hurricane barreled down the Texas coastline, dizzying chyron operators and buzzing phones across Washington. White House aides and advisers said it was coordinated to handle polarizing decisions that were sure to alienate various constituencies.

"With a natural disaster on the horizon, you have one shot at the public seeing the news and then they quickly move on to more important issues," said Mark Corallo, a veteran consultant who briefly worked for Trump's White House. "It is Washington PR 101."

The Arpaio pardon was the most contentious within Trump's White House. More moderate advisers and aides had tried to talk Trump out of pardoning the convicted ex-sheriff, who ran sweltering, punishing jails where inmates died and was accused of targeting Latino residents. Trump had floated announcing the pardon at a rally in Arizona Tuesday night, but was persuaded to hold off.
One White House adviser said that it wasn't a "matter of if he was going to do it, it was a matter of when." So it was announced Friday evening even though sentencing was months away.

The move surprised top officials at the Justice Department, this adviser said, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to describe private discussions. 

The pardon was met with swift and widespread condemnation, drawing comparisons to Bill Clinton's infamous pardon of Marc Rich. The two Republican senators from Arpaio's home state of Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, suggested the move showed a lack of respect by Trump for law and order.

"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," McCain said in a statement.

Democrats were harsher.

"Joe Arpaio ignored the courts of law in order to systemically target Latinos in AZ. Definition of racism and bigotry," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter, who added he "ran to Camp David" to "use the cover of Hurricane Harvey to avoid scrutiny." 

"So sad, so weak," Schumer added, parroting some of Trump's favorite put-downs.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Saturday that the Justice Department "found that for years Sheriff Arpaio systematically violated the civil rights of the people he was charged with serving and protecting. President Trump indicates that he approves of that behavior with last night’s decision, which will only serve to deepen the divisions in our country.”

Republican strategist Alex Conant, a former adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla), said that while "there are a lot of Republicans that want to support the president," the pardon "goes against a lot of what Republicans have traditionally stood for."

Trump knew the move would rankle Flake and McCain and be popular with his base, said one adviser who speaks with him often. And the president often saw the sheriff on TV defending the president and himself, and came to believe the conviction was unfair. 

Corallo said that those who hated Trump would hate him regardless, but the pardon would energize many in the base — and that the president acted well within his authority.

"It was a politicized persecution by the Obama Justice Department," said Tom Fitton, who leads the conservative group Judicial Watch. "The president has a very different understanding than the establishment class. He creates absolute hysteria in his opponents. Absolute hysteria."

Gorka's dismissal had been simmering for weeks, and several officials said it essentially had to happen at some point. He was increasingly isolated in the White House, with many officials unsure what he did other than go on TV to praise the president.

Gorka issued a resignation letter that criticized the White House for taking a new direction and installing too many aides who didn't align with the president's "Make America Great Again" vision, imploring Trump to shift direction. But the White House quickly disputed that he resigned, even sending a note to surrogates so they would spread the message that the exit was not voluntary.
"Hopefully no one remembers Seb Gorka by this time next week," one White House official said Saturday morning. But others close to the White House noted that Gorka was well-liked by the president and is popular among the nationalists who propelled his victory.

Gorka did not respond to a phone call seeking comment. 

The announcement likely to have the widest impact are the guidelines for his ban on transgender people in the military. It was another issue the White House knew it had to address but would create a firestorm when it landed. Trump had tweeted out his decision to issue the ban in July without any policy guidance, and it caught even some top White House officials by surprise.

There was no clear word on whether transgender troops already in the military could continue to serve or how the ban would be enforced. 

The president was convinced to leave transgender troops serving in the military alone in discussions after his declaration, but the guidelines once again alighted a firestorm over a social issue.

Conant said that with the changing direction of news, it is unclear whether dumping news on Friday evening — a longtime strategy — would blunt its impact like it once did. There may be some residual effect from news they hoped would wash away with the hurricane, he said. 

"Controversies build over time," Conant said. "The announcements you made on Friday night, you can still be dealing with next week." 

Emily Goldberg contributed to this report.


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President Trump's flagrant Friday night news dump
by Amber Phillip
The Independent (UK)
8/26/17

It's Friday night. A Category 4 hurricane is about to slam the Texas coastline, and President Donald Trump just directed the Pentagon to ban transgender people from joining the military and pardoned a politically radioactive convicted former sheriff. News also broke that one of his more controversial advisers, Sebastian Gorka is leaving the White House.
This isn't your average sleepy Friday news dump - a trick newsmakers use to bury unpopular news by releasing it when most people aren't reading news. This is a flagrant attempt to hide a series of politically fraught (but base-pleasing) moves under the cover of an August Friday night hurricane.
In other words, it's transparent that Trump is doing controversial things he knows are controversial, and he and the White House would prefer the public and the media not focus on it.

Of course, the irony for Trump is that the exact opposite is happening. In so obviously trying to downplay this news, he's framing it in neon flashing signs.

The contrast of a president making not one but two major decisions - and suffering more White House staffing turmoil - as the strongest hurricane to hit the US in more than a decade is making landfall is stark. Oh, and North Korea just fired short-range missiles. Oh, and NBC News reports that special counsel Robert Mueller III and his team have issued subpoenas for officials with ties to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to testify to a grand jury.

That's news to fill an entire week, let alone the span of a few hours on a weather-dominated Friday night.

Is it possible Trump and his team had always planned to formalise a major policy change to military recruits and pardon former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio after the president had dinner on Friday 25 August? Maybe. Trump hinted both were coming over the past month. (Arpaio was convicted in 2017 of contempt of court for failing to stop racially profiling illegal immigrants after a judge ordered him to stop.)

"Do people in this room like Sheriff Joe?" Trump asked at a Phoenix rally on Tuesday. "I'll make a prediction: I think he's going to be just fine, okay?"

But that doesn't explain why Trump went ahead and signed those orders as a massive, news-dominating hurricane is about to make landfall. Why the urgency?

Pouring unpopular news out like this is an extremely politically risky decision for Trump. Hurricane Harvey is his first major test as emergency-commander-in-chief. Earlier in the day, top Republicans had urged him to stop tweeting insults to them and focus on keeping people safe in Texas and Louisiana.

Trump risks looking like he's using this potentially deadly hurricane as political cover.
As GOP strategist Alex Conant pointed out, by breaking all this news now, Trump also risks fomenting outrage by giving even the appearance of hiding this underneath a hurricane. And he catches any potential supporters flat-footed.

Sure enough, Democrats in Congress quickly jumped on Twitter and called up reporters to express their outrage.

"President Trump is a coward," said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who represents much of the area where Arpaio was sheriff, told The Post's David Weigel. "He waited until a Friday evening, as a hurricane hits, to pardon a racist ex-sheriff. Trump should at least have the decency to explain to the American public why he is undermining our justice system."

Arizona Republican congressmen Trent Franks and Andy Biggs issued statements supporting Trump's decision.

Franks tweeted: The president did the right thing -- Joe Arpaio lived an honourable life serving our country, and he deserves an honourable retirement.

While Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., tweeted: Regarding the Arpaio pardon, I would have preferred that the President honor the judicial process and let it take its course.

Here's Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer's, D-N.Y., tweet: "Then he ran to Camp David. The only reason to do these right now is to use the cover of Hurricane Harvey to avoid scrutiny 4."
This hurricane Friday night news dump is bold, even for Trump. And if he hoped to keep backlash to a minimum, his plan is already backfiring.

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 Trump gives new meaning to the Friday night news dump, enraging his critics
by Abby Phillip
August 26, 2017
Washington Post

As a monster hurricane not seen on American shores in over a decade bore down on Texas on Friday night, a tsunami of news out of Washington was also on its way.

President Trump, in the space of four hours, made official a ban on transgender people serving in the military, pardoned a controversial sheriff accused of racial profiling and parted ways with polarizing aide and conservative media darling Sebastian Gorka.

The announcements were made in the evening hours as the nation focused on Hurricane Harvey, which threatened catastrophic damage to areas along the Gulf Coast, giving new meaning to the Friday night news dump strategy that has long been a staple for Washington politicians looking to bury controversial decisions.

“It was very risky, because if the hurricane is as bad as the experts were predicting, then he’s opening himself up to a lot of potential criticism,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former aide to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “But very little that Trump does surprises me any longer. He’s proven to be very unpredictable and to not act within the norms of other politicians.”

Like most aspects of Trump’s presidency, the perceived news dump enraged his detractors and buoyed his most ardent supporters, while leaving open the question of how it will be received by voters who don’t fit neatly into either camp.

Some Republicans said the timing of the announcements reflected the current state of the White House — new Chief of Staff John F. Kelly trying to instill more order even as the president remains the most disruptive force.

One Republican close to the White House said Kelly appeared to be trying to quietly clean up Trump’s policy move on transgender troops, which had been left in limbo for weeks after the president announced his decision on Twitter to the surprise of the military and with no formal plan ready to be released. While the policy was formally released Friday, it did not provide certainty on the most pressing question: the fate of transgender people currently serving. The presidential memorandum left it to the Pentagon to commission a report on how to deal with the service members’ fate, keeping open the possibility they may be permitted to remain on active duty.

Gorka’s ouster had been expected for weeks following Kelly’s hiring, especially after the departure of his ally, former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, despite Trump’s fondness for Gorka’s willingness to go on television and criticize the media. Gorka’s credentials as a counterterrorism expert have long been in question, and he was criticized inside and outside the White House for having no concrete responsibilities beyond serving as a surrogate for Trump on the airwaves. But the move was still expected to draw criticism from Trump’s allies, who view it as the death knell for the populist wing in the White House, making the leak of the news late Friday advantageous for the administration.

Kelly was probably aware there was little he could do to stop Trump from pardoning Arpaio despite — and perhaps because of — the likely backlash.

“Kelly is really strong right now,” said the Republican close to the White House. “He gives his best advice, but he wasn’t going to stop the Sheriff Joe thing. Everything else was textbook what a really good chief of staff would do: dump a whole bunch of stuff when there’s a hurricane coming.”

Democrats and activist groups saw a cynical motive and play, and accused Trump of using a natural disaster as cover for unpalatable moves that were aimed mostly at rousing his base and that sent clear messages to the LGBT community and Hispanic Americans that he condoned discrimination.

“As millions of people in TX and LA are prepping for the hurricane, the President is using the cover of the storm to pardon a man who violated a court’s order to stop discriminating against Latinos and ban courageous transgender men and women from serving our nation’s Armed Forces,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) posted on Twitter. “So sad, so weak.”

The Arpaio pardon, which Trump foreshadowed at a raucous rally in Phoenix days earlier, was aimed squarely at satisfying his base by rewarding a political loyalist on an issue, illegal immigration, that was central to Trump’s political appeal.

“The President brought justice to a situation where the Obama administration had attempted to destroy a political opponent,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.). “Sheriff Joe Arpaio made many enemies in the judicial system, the media and the left because he enforced laws that the federal government ignored. He did right by the law even as the political consequences continued to mount.”

But among legal experts, the pardon raised disturbing questions about Trump’s willingness to flout long-standing tradition and Department of Justice procedures in a way that undermined the judicial system, said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias.

“Certainly the pardon seemed principally political and without much thought about the history of that or the procedures used,” Tobias said. “It’s a bigger piece of Trump’s contempt for the judiciary. Every federal judge in the country knows you can’t have those orders violated, otherwise the federal court system won’t work. So that’s very disturbing.”

The White House’s balancing act was evident in the president’s own social media feed. Hours after the Arpaio pardon was announced, Trump tweeted confirmation that the federal government had approved a disaster declaration for Texas. Fifteen minutes later, he congratulated Arpaio.

“I am pleased to inform you that I have just granted a full Pardon to 85 year old American patriot Sheriff Joe Arpaio,” Trump said. “He kept Arizona safe!”

Some Republicans, including Arizona’s two Republican senators, who have both recently been in Trump’s crosshairs, questioned the decision to circumvent the judicial process. Arpaio was scheduled to be sentenced in October after being convicted of defying a court order to end the practice of detaining people merely on suspicion of their immigration status.

Sen. John McCain decried the message Trump sent by pardoning Arpaio, who had been accused of continuing to “illegally profile Latinos living in Arizona based on their perceived immigration status.”

“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,” McCain added.
As Trump’s approval ratings have fallen to historic lows, however, most analysts expect him to continue making moves that will please his base even if they draw criticism from others.

“The president has great political instincts. He can read the temperature of the public better than almost anyone else,” Conant said. “He is very well aware that his base is shrinking, and in a way, that explains almost everything he’s done over the last month.”


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