“Please accept my warmest Christmas and New Year greetings.”
That’s how Russian President Vladimir Putin began a letter he sent recently to Donald Trump, the translated contents of which the transition team released on Friday, accompanied by praise for Putin from the president-elect.
This wasn’t a mere Christmas card: Putin, whose relationship with Trump remains deeply controversial, described in his note how U.S.-Russia relations “ensur[e] stability” in the world, and offered up his aspirations for a Trump presidency:
I hope that after you assume the position of the President of the United States of America we will be able—by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner—to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring our level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level.
The transition team did not release a copy of the letter in its original Russian, so its translation cannot be independently verified. Here it is in full:
The president-elect sees something promising in Putin’s words, which could be part of his motivation to release it to a scrutinizing American press. “A very nice letter from Vladimir Putin; his thoughts are so correct,” Trump said in a statement released with the letter. “I hope both sides are able to live up to these thoughts, and we do not have to travel an alternate path.”
Trump didn’t elaborate on what “an alternate path” would be. But with his recent tweets calling for expanded U.S. nuclear capabilities, and his reported support for a nuclear arms race, Trump’s critics may see something ominous in his affirming statement about the Russian president.
Trump Picks Kellyanne Conway for Top White House Job
President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Kellyanne Conway, his former campaign manager, to serve as counselor to the president. The transition team said in a statement Thursday that Conway “will continue her role as a close advisor to the president and will work with senior leadership to effectively message and execute the Administration's legislative priorities and actions.” Trump called her a “trusted advisor.”
Conway, who joined the campaign this summer, was one of Trump’s most vocal defenders on the trail, appearing often on cable shows to field questions about her candidate’s latest controversial comments.
Conway said earlier this month that working for the White House would be a “bad idea.” “My children are 12, 12, 8 and 7, which is bad idea, bad idea, bad idea, bad idea for mom going inside [the White House],” she said at a Politico event. “They have to come first, and those are very fraught ages.”
Conway's role would be similar to Karen Hughes' position in the Bush 43 administration -- placing her close to the President, and handing her responsibility for much of the big-picture communication duties for the White House, a transition source told CNN's Jim Acosta.
Clinton Won the Popular Vote by Nearly 3 Million Votes
It’s now official: Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by nearly 3 million votes in the popular vote this November.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have certified their vote totals, which David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report has tracked here: Hillary Clinton got 65.8 million votes, or 48.2 percent of the total, and Donald Trump got 63 million, or 46.1 percent. That’s a gap of more than 2 percent in Clinton’s favor, though the Electoral College awarded the victory to Trump.
Some initially thought this election had lower turnout than 2012. Not so: Overall, voters cast 7.5 million more ballots than four years ago, a jump of about 6 percent. Only a handful of states saw turnout drop—but those included the critical battleground states of Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa, all of which switched to Trump this year. (On the other hand, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan all posted bigger numbers than 2012, so there’s no clear link between fewer votes and a Trump victory.)
Trump seems troubled by his popular vote loss, even as he prepares to takes the presidency. Last month, he said he would have won if not for “the millions of people who voted illegally,” offering no substantive evidence that an illegal voting had taken place. He and his surrogates have also referred multiple times to his “landslide” victory—which it was not, by almost everystandard.
The Allegations That Trump's Pick for Interior Secretary Committed 'Travel Fraud'
Donald Trump’s nominee for interior secretary, Montana Representative Ryan Zinke, once engaged in a “pattern of travel fraud” while serving as a member of the Navy’s elite special-forces group SEAL Team 6, according to a report Tuesday in The Intercept. Anonymous sources, including three “former unit leaders,” allege that the first-term congressman sought reimbursements from the military for travel that was strictly personal. Here’s more from The Intercept:
When Zinke was a mid-career officer at SEAL Team 6, he was caught traveling multiple times to Montana in 1998 and 1999 to renovate his home. Zinke claimed that the travel was for official duties, according to the sources.
He submitted travel vouchers and was compensated for the travel costs. …
While he received no formal punishment, he was told he would not be allowed to return to the elite unit for future assignments, according to the sources. Zinke continued his career, and he was eventually promoted to Navy commander, the rank he retired at in 2008.
The report notes that during his first campaign Zinke released his service records, which included mentions of “two incidents of unapproved travel.” Those incidents don’t seem to have hurt Zinke much so far; he was, after all, elected, and then reelected, to the House after they came to light. But Zinke’s professional career—along with that of every other Trump nominee—is now being examined with more intense scrutiny. My colleague Russell Berman predicts Zinke will be easily confirmed by the Senate, but it won’t be clear how consequential these findings are until he gets a hearing.
Less than a day after his November victory was confirmed by the electoral college vote, Donald Trump was rehashing old grievances on Twitter—a sign that while the election is formally over, it’s not finished in the mind of the president-elect.
He targeted an old foe, Bill Clinton, for comments the former president made during a casual chat at a New York bookstore earlier this month. Clinton was browsing the shop on a recent Saturday when locals began asking him questions about the election, according to an account in the Bedford-Pound Ridge Record-Review, a small newspaper covering parts of Westchester County, New York, where the Clintons live. Some of the “book enthusiasts” assembled asked questions about Trump specifically:
More questions came. On Donald Trump: Yes, he did receive a phone call from the president-elect the day after the election. Mr. Trump came across as cordial, he said, incredulous, “like it was 15 years ago” when the Clintons and Trumps were seen socializing. ...
“Is Trump smart?” a man asked as a follow-up. “He doesn’t know much. One thing he does know is how to get angry, white men to vote for him,” Mr. Clinton replied.
It was these responses that seem to have irritated the president-elect Tuesday morning:
Bill Clinton stated that I called him after the election. Wrong, he called me (with a very nice congratulations). He "doesn't know much" ...
Clinton’s dig at Trump’s intelligence is beyond the realm of fact-checking. But as for Trump’s point about who called whom, the president-elect does appear to be right: "President Clinton phoned President-elect Trump this afternoon,” a Clinton aide told CNN the Thursday after the election. "During the brief call, President Clinton congratulated Mr. Trump and wished him well."
Trump Selects David Friedman for U.S. Ambassador to Israel
President-elect Donald Trump has tapped David Friedman, one of his advisers, as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.
Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, falls on the far-right specter of Israeli politics, sometimes more hard-lined than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has maintained that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not illegal.
In announcing his pick, Trump said Friedman would “maintain the special relationship between our two countries.”
Trump reinforced his plan to open an American embassy in Jerusalem. Currently, the U.S. maintains an embassy in Tel Aviv, as to avoid a dispute between Israelis and Palestinians, who both claim Jerusalem.
Friedman’s pick was met with criticism by moderates in Israeli policy. In a column for Arutz Sheva, Friedman once said liberal Jews “are far worse than kapos–Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.”
President-elect Donald Trump has made his choice for interior secretary official: It’s Ryan Zinke, the first-term Montana congressman and former Navy SEAL.
Zinke has served in the House for just two years and was expected to run for the Senate in 2018, but instead he’s joining Trump’s Cabinet. The Republican has fought to oppose the sale of federal lands but supports increased mining and drilling that environmentalists oppose. In a statement, the president-elect cited Zinke’s support for relaxing federal regulations as a reason for picking him.
“He has built one of the strongest track records on championing regulatory relief, forest management, responsible energy development, and public-land issues,” Trump said. “America is the most beautiful country in the world and he is going to help keep it that way with smart management of our federal lands. At the same time, my administration’s goal is to repeal bad regulations and use our natural resources to create jobs and wealth for the American people, and Ryan will explore every possibility for how we can safely and responsibly do that.”
Trump picked Zinke over another House Republican, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, who was reportedly a top contender. Environmental groups have come out swiftly against Zinke, criticizing his skeptical comments about climate change and his support for drilling projects like the Keystone XL pipeline. “The need to keep dirty fuels in the ground is urgent, especially on public lands,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “We cannot afford to have someone in charge who dabbles in climate denial.”
Trump's Reported Pick for Interior Secretary Is a Champion of Local Interests
President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly picked a Republican member of Congress to be interior secretary, but it’s not the GOP lawmaker that appeared likely to get the gig a few days ago.
The congressman Trump wants to head the Interior Department, according to Politico, is Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana, a first-term member of the House and a decorated combat veteran who served in the Navy Seals for more than 20 years. Trump would be passing over Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers of Washington state, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House who was reportedly on the verge of getting the job over the weekend. Politico reported the Trump has offered Zinke the post but that the congressman was still deciding whether to accept.
Zinke is a conservative who has fought for increased local input into how federal lands are managed and their resources utilized, but largely opposed new environmental regulations. Beyond leadership of the Interior Department, however, Trump’s decision has significant political ramifications in both chambers of Congress.
Republicans had viewed him as their strongest potential candidate to challenge Democratic Senator Jon Tester in 2018, and his appointment to the Cabinet could improve Tester’s chances of keeping his seat in a deeply red state. Republican campaign operatives were already grumbling about the switch on Tuesday. “There have to be better alternatives for Interior than causing a special House election & losing a potential candidate for Senate in 2018,” tweeted Brian Walsh, a former spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. And in the House, several rank-and-file Republicans had already begun campaigning for McMorris-Rodgers’ leadership post on the assumption she would be taking a job in the administration.
McMorris Rodgers appeared to confirm she was out of the running in a Facebook post on Tuesday:
It was an honor to be invited to spend time with the President-elect, and I’m energized more than ever to continue leading in Congress as we think big, reimagine this government, and put people back at the center of it.
A Republican official close to the congresswoman said that despite press reports linking her to the Interior job, she was never offered the position and had only two brief meetings with Trump.
Kanye West has kept away from media scrutiny in the past few weeks, following a month highlighted by his own erratic behavior, a cancelation of the remainder of his “Saint Pablo” tour, and a well-publicized hospitalization. But the multi-platinum rapper and producer has once again entered the world of paparazzi and flashing lights, this time at the Trump Tower.
West and president-elect Donald Trump met this morning just before Trump’s office announced the selection of former Texas Governor Rick Perry to run the Department of Energy. It’s unclear what the two talked about in their meeting, but after they posed for photos in the lobby of the tower, Trump told reporters that he and West are friends who “discussed life.”
West has sparked controversy with a rather sharp criticism of a Republican president in the past, and his recent shows were marked by equally controversial comments about the president-elect. In a stage rant in San Jose, California on November 17, West stated that he would have voted for Trump in the 2016 election if he had voted. That wasn’t quite the endorsement it seemed, as West also noted that Trump’s candidacy "inspired racists to reveal themselves." The two have, however, shared mutual admiration in comments even before Trump declared his intention to run for president.
Could there have been a deeper purpose for the meeting? After an Obama presidency and two inaugurations marked by star-studded musical appearances and supporters, Trump reportedly faces a dearth of pop artists willing to perform or even be associated with him. West’s visit already breaks a soft embargo among pop and hip-hop artists in meeting with the president-elect. Perhaps West is considering further bucking the trend and performing at Trump’s inaugural celebrations. For now, the pairing is another in a series of unconventional news items coming from the gilded tower.
Trump Picks Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State
President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be the next secretary of state, several news outlets reported late Monday.
Tillerson, who is close with Russian President Vladimir Putin and has no diplomatic experience, may have a difficult confirmation process ahead, as several congressional Republicans have expressed concern with Russia’s meddling in the U.S. general election. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, has even called Tillerson a “friend of Vladimir.”
Being a "friend of Vladimir" is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState - MR
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, has also shared his concern about Tillerson’s ties.
Trump, who was drawn to an international businessman for the top diplomatic post, is expected to announce his nomination on Tuesday morning. “A great advantage is he knows many of the players, and he knows them well,” Trump said of Tillerson on “Fox News Sunday.” “He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company,”
I will be making my announcement on the next Secretary of State tomorrow morning.
In choosing Tillerson, who has been the CEO of Exxon Mobil since 2006, Trump passes on several high-profile Republicans for the job, including former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Tillerson, if confirmed, would face several challenges across the globe, including tensions with Russia and China, and a violent civil war in Syria. During his tenure at Exxon Mobil, he expanded business to countries like Qatar and Venezuela.
The president-elect has a novel explanation for why he doesn’t need the daily intelligence briefings his predecessors have received.
"I'm, like, a smart person," Trump toldFox News Sunday. "I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years. Could be eight years—but eight years. I don't need that."
Trump complained that his briefings are repetitive, and insisted he’s receiving the information he needs, even he takes the briefings only once a week. “I get it when I need it,” Trump told Chris Wallace. “First of all, these are very good people that are giving me the briefings. And I say, ‘If something should change from this point, immediately call me. I'm available on one-minute's notice.’”
Trump also pointed out that Vice-President-elect Mike Pence receives the daily briefings he declines, although he did not explain why Pence—like every recent president—finds value in receiving the daily assessments while he does not. "And I'm being briefed also,” he told Wallace. “But if they're going to come in and tell me the exact same thing that they tell me—you know, it doesn't change, necessarily. Now, there will be times where it might change. I mean, there will be some very fluid situations. I'll be there not every day, but more than that. But I don't need to be told, Chris, the same thing every day, every morning, same words. ‘Sir, nothing has changed. Let's go over it again.’ I don't need that.”
Trump is the first person elected president without having held prior military or public office. Intelligence officials have stressed that, given his lack of prior experience, the daily briefings may be particular important in ensuring that he is fully up to speed by the time he takes the oath of office.
McCain and Graham on Russian Hacking: 'This Cannot Become a Partisan Issue'
A bi-partisan group of senators issued a remarkable statement on Sunday, calling on Democrats and Republicans to unite in response to attacks on “our democratic institutions” that have “cut to the heart of our free society.”
The statement was issued by John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee who serves as chair of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee; Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee’s ranking Democrat; Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who sits on the committee; and Chuck Schumer, the incoming Democratic minority leader of the Senate.
For years, foreign adversaries have directed cyberattacks at America's physical, economic, and military infrastructure, while stealing our intellectual property. Now our democratic institutions have been targeted. Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American.
Congress's national security committees have worked diligently to address the complex challenge of cybersecurity, but recent events show that more must be done. While protecting classified material, we have an obligation to inform the public about recent cyberattacks that have cut to the heart of our free society. Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyber-attacks.
This cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are too high for our country. We are committed to working in this bipartisan manner, and we will seek to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.
Trump, for his part, again dismissed claims of Russian responsibility as “ridiculous,” calling them “just another excuse” proffered by this political opponents for their defeat. “We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.” Trump’s Electoral College victory, in fact, was by a historically narrow margin—it ranks 46th among 58 presidential elections.
The CIA has been emphatic in pointing at Russia, and now has reportedly concluded that Russia was “quite” clearly trying to help elect Donald Trump. The FBI also points to evidence of Russian responsibility, but remains much more cautious about imputing motive or intent. It’s less a split over the evidence than over epistemology. As The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and Adam Antous wrote on Sunday:
The competing messages, according to officials in attendance, also reflect cultural differences between the FBI and the CIA. The bureau, true to its law enforcement roots, wants facts and tangible evidence to prove something beyond all reasonable doubt. The CIA is more comfortable drawing inferences from behavior.
Of course, there are good reasons for this epistemological split—and they raise questions about the standard the FBI has chosen to employ here. The FBI, as a domestic law-enforcement agency, has a variety of tools to take a preponderance of evidence and use it to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. It can interview witnesses with the threat of perjury charges, have a grand jury subpoena evidence, or ask a magistrate or judge for a search warrant. But those tools are harder to apply to a foreign government. The CIA, by contrast, habitually delivers assessments based on partial, incomplete, and contradictory information. That makes it more prone to error, as well.
Trump himself has consistently exploited the difficulty of obtaining definitive evidence of Russian responsibility, by using it to suggest that a variety of explanations are equally plausible. On Fox News Sunday, he said that “nobody really knows, and hacking is very interesting. Once they hack, if you don't catch them in the act you're not going to catch them. They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place.”
That’s been a consistent approach for Trump. In a September presidential debate, he said it could be Russia, it could be China, or it “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” Last week, he amplified that point in remarks to Time:
I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘Oh, Russia interfered.’ Why not get along with Russia? And they can help us fight ISIS, which is both costly in lives and costly in money. And they’re effective and smart. It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey. I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.
Of course, one thing the FBI and CIA do agree on is that the hacking here was done by Russia, and that it was far too sophisticated to be the work of an individual actor. But the president-elect still refuses to accept the conclusion of his own intelligence agencies.
Report: Moscow's Hackers Aimed to Help Trump, U.S. Spy Agencies Conclude
U.S. intelligence officials have reportedly concluded the Russian government covertly intervened in the American presidential election to help President-elect Donald Trump win.
The Washington Post reported Friday night that the CIA now believes hackers connected to Russian intelligence agencies stole thousands of files from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and delivered them to WikiLeaks in an effort to sabotage her candidacy. If confirmed, Moscow’s efforts would be the most significant foreign intervention in a presidential election in American history.
U.S. intelligence officials had long suspected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government played a role in the theft of Democratic files earlier this year, but concluded the hackings were an attempt to delegitimize the U.S. electoral system in general instead of an effort to aid a specific candidate. According to the New York Times, intelligence analysts changed their assessment because they believe Russian hackers had also penetrated the computer systems of the Republican National Committee, but did not release any documents from them. The RNC has long denied their computer systems had been infiltrated by foreign hackers.
In a statement, Trump’s transition team attacked the credibility of American intelligence agencies and brushed off their conclusions. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the transition team said. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Reports of direct Russian interference in the American political system have fueled growing concern from Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike. On Friday, President Obama ordered all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies to perform a “full review” of available on covert foreign activities during the 2008, 2012, and 2016 elections. Obama’s order gave the agencies a deadline of January 20—the day Trump is set to take over the White House—to compile and deliver their findings.
After a tumultuous and contentious year, it perhaps comes as no surprise that the man at the center of it all would be named Time’s person of the year.
“For reminding America that demagoguery feeds on despair and that truth is only as powerful as the trust in those who speak it, for empowering a hidden electorate by mainstreaming its furies and live-streaming its fears, and for framing tomorrow’s political culture by demolishing yesterday’s, Donald Trump is TIME’s 2016 Person of the Year,” writes Nancy Gibbs.
On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump phoned in to NBC’s Todayto express gratitude for the recognition. “It’s a great honor,” he said. “It means a lot.” This is the 10th time Trump will be on the magazine’s cover.
The president-elect also went on to stand by his claims that a U.S. Department of Defense contract with Boeing to build new presidential aircrafts is “too expensive.” He added he spoke with the head of Boeing and “we’re going to work it out.” As my colleague Russell Berman noted, Trump’s push to possibly do away with a major defense contract is not unprecedented. The Obama administration canceled a contract signed by the Bush administration with Lockheed Martin in May 2009.
Trump also shared that he’s been in regular contact with President Obama. “I really like him as a person,” he said, adding “I take his recommendations very seriously.” He also provided a glimpse into the coming days, saying he has “some other big announcements coming up today and actually tomorrow.” One of the highly anticipated picks is secretary of state. Trump confirmed that Mitt Romney, who had been an ardent critic of the presidential candidate during the election, is under consideration.
Trump and Taiwan's President Chatted, Risking China's Outrage
President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday, a surprising diplomatic move that will likely anger the Chinese government.
“President-elect Trump spoke with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, who offered her congratulations,” Trump’s transition team said in a statement. “During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political, and security ties exists [sic] between Taiwan and the United States. President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming President of Taiwan earlier this year.”
Trump later confirmed the conversation on Twitter:
The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!
According to the Financial Times, which first reported on the call, their conversation is believed to be the first of its kind between a U.S. president or president-elect and a Taiwanese president since the United States broke off diplomatic relations with the country in 1979.
Trump’s call could roil East Asian relations by undercutting a major principle governing U.S. diplomacy in the region. Under the One China policy, the U.S. government “acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.” The stance allows the United States to have formal diplomatic relations with Beijing while also maintaining unofficial ties with Taipei. My colleague David Graham has more on the protocol involved here.
Trump’s previous conversations with world leaders have reportedly distressed State Department diplomats, who fear these discussions could lead to serious misunderstandings of American foreign policy.
President-elect Donald Trump has tapped James Mattis, a retired Marine general, as his secretary of defense.
Trump, speaking at a rally in Cincinnati on Thursday, said Mattis is “the closest thing we have to General George Patton of our time.”
Mattis, known by the nickname “Mad Dog,” led a Marine division at the start of the war in Iraq in 2003 and was in charge of U.S. Central Command from 2010 until 2013. He left command because of a disagreement with the Obama administration over his position on Iran, and since leaving the military he has continued to be an outspoken opponent to President Obama’s Middle East policy, especially on combating ISIS.
In a recent meeting after Trump’s election, he reportedly convinced the president-elect that waterboarding was not an effective interrogation technique, apparently changing Trump’s mind. With his nomination, Mattis may moderate Trump’s position on other issues, including on Russia and the Iran nuclear deal.
Mattis enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969. He also served in the Persian Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan.
In order to serve, Congress will have to pass legislation exempting Mattis from a statute requiring a seven-year waiting period for members of the military looking to serve in a civilian role. The last time a exemption was granted was when President Harry S Truman nominated General George Marshall in 1950.
Donald Trump has chosen Steven Mnuchin to serve as secretary of the treasury and Wilbur Ross to serve as secretary of commerce, according to a statement released Wednesday morning by the president-elect’s transition team.
“Steve Mnuchin is a world-class financier, banker, and businessman, and has played a key role in developing our plan to build a dynamic, booming economy that will create millions of jobs,” Trump said. “His expertise and pro-growth ideas make him the ideal candidate to serve as secretary of the treasury.”
Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, has no government experience, but that’s not unusual for a treasury secretary. As my colleague Bourree Lam noted, the post “requires expertise that only insiders tend to possess,” and “historically the position’s appointees have been mixed in terms of professional background: Six of the past 15 Treasury Secretaries came from Wall Street, and two of those—Henry Paulson and Robert Rubin—came from Goldman Sachs.”
Ross, who was also reportedly considered for the treasury post, is the chairman of W.L. Ross & Co., a private-equity firm. Trump called him “a champion of American manufacturing” who “knows how to help companies succeed.”
During his presidential campaign, Trump pledged to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., and railed against his rival Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street. But his Cabinet is shaping up to be a team of political and business insiders.
Trump Says He's Removing Himself From 'Business Operations,' but Doesn't Provide Details
Updated at 9:35 a.m.
More than two weeks after being elected and facing a flurry of questions over potential conflicts of interest, Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he would remove himself from “business operations.”
Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!
The president-elect did not provide any additional details on how that plan would be executed, but said he was doing so “in order to fully focus on running the country.” The announcement also doesn’t address any conflicts that might arise from businesses that he will apparently still own and will likely be operated by his children. In an interview with The New York Times last week, Trump said “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
Trump said he will hold a press conference on December 15 to discuss his exit from his business enterprise.
Elaine Chao Is Chosen for Transportation Secretary
Updated 7:54 p.m. ET
Elaine Chao, the former secretary of labor under George W. Bush, is President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for the post of transportation secretary. Her selection was rumored earlier Tuesday and confirmed with an official announcement by the Trump transition team later in the evening.
“Secretary Chao’s extensive record of strong leadership and her expertise are invaluable assets in our mission to rebuild our infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner,” Trump said in a press release, the contents of which closely echoed Chao’s personal website. She has experience in the transportation department specifically: Prior to serving as labor secretary in Bush’s Cabinet for eight years, Chao worked as deputy secretary of transportation in his father’s Cabinet.
She’s also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—a relationship that could be consequential to Trump, as CNN reports:
At the Transportation Department, Chao would have a key role in helping Trump get an infrastructure spending bill passed through Congress and start government-backed works projects—a role likely to be complicated by her relationship with McConnell, who will also be a critical player in any infrastructure bill negotiations.
Trump noted Chao’s “amazing life story” in his announcement. His penchant for hyperbole aside, Chao does have a distinctive background. She immigrated from Taiwan as a young girl, once directed the Peace Corps—among other private- and public-sector jobs—and was the first Asian American woman to serve in a presidential Cabinet.
And then there’s this, which references the career of one Elizabeth Dole, wife of Bob:
Elaine Chao will, amazingly, be the SECOND person to have been Sec of Labor, Sec of Transportation and married to Senate majority leader
McConnell is, as to be expected, proud of his wife: “I am confident she will do an outstanding job for the nation in this new and important role,” read a statement from his office, issued shortly after Trump’s.
*This post originally stated that Chao was born in China. We regret the error.
Trump Picks Tom Price for Health and Human Services Secretary
Donald Trump has selected Representative Tom Price to serve as the secretary of Health and Human Services.
“Chairman Price, a renowned physician, has earned a reputation for being a tireless problem solver and the go-to expert on healthcare policy, making him the ideal choice to serve in this capacity,” Trump said in a statement on Tuesday. “He is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible healthcare to every American. I am proud to nominate him as Secretary of Health and Human Services.”
Price, a six-term Georgia congressman, is a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act, which Trump has pledged to repeal and replace. He’s also the chairman of the House Budget Committee. In a statement, Price said. "It is an honor to be nominated to serve our nation as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Thanks to President-elect Trump and Vice President-elect Pence for their confidence.” He added: "I am humbled by the incredible challenges that lay ahead and enthusiastic for the opportunity to be a part of solving them on behalf of the American people. There is much work to be done to ensure we have a healthcare system that works for patients, families, and doctors; that leads the world in the cure and prevention of illness; and that is based on sensible rules to protect the well-being of the country while embracing its innovative spirit."
Trump also chose Seema Verma, the president, CEO and founder of SVC, Inc., to serve as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “She has decades of experience advising on Medicare and Medicaid policy and helping states navigate our complicated systems. Together, Chairman Price and Seema Verma are the dream team that will transform our healthcare system for the benefit of all Americans,” the president-elect said in a statement.
After successfully petitioning for a recount in Wisconsin, Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein is forging ahead with efforts to trigger a recount in Pennsylvania.
According to a report in Politico, which cites the Stein campaign, “recount requests were filed Monday in more than 100 Pennsylvania precincts.” The report quotes Stein’s campaign manager, David Cobb, who states that “additionally, the campaign filed a legal petition in state court today on behalf of 100 Pennsylvania voters to protect their right to substantively contest the election in Pennsylvania beyond the recounts being filed by voters at the precinct level.”
The Stein campaign announced a fundraising drive for election recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania last week. Money quickly started pouring in, and by Friday, the Wisconsin Elections Commission indicated that it plans to proceed with a statewide recount following the receipt of Stein’s petition.
Stein’s campaign has noted, however, that it cannot guarantee recounts will take place in any of the states. CBS recently explained that of the three she’s targeting, “Pennsylvania may have the highest hurdles to a recount.” That’s in part because “it’s the only state in which candidates can’t file direct requests—they can only file a legal appeal that would be decided by the court.” The Philadelphia Inquirerhas more on the legal complications.
A New York magazine report published last week led to calls for recounts on social media. It asserted that Hillary Clinton had been “urged by a group of prominent computer scientists and election lawyers to call for a recount in three swing states won by Donald Trump”; they reportedly believe “they’ve found persuasive evidence that results in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked.” The report added, however, that there was no proof to indicate that hacking had taken place. J. Alex Halderman, a computer-science professor cited in the report, later wrote on Medium that it was more likely that “the [pre-election] polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked.” Stein announced her fundraising drive after the publication of the New York report. According to the campaign’s website, however, the “effort to recount votes … is not intended to help Hillary Clinton.”
Marc Elias, the general counsel for the Clinton campaign, subsequently announced in a post on Medium that the Clinton team would participate in the Wisconsin recount, despite also not having found evidence of hacking. “If Jill Stein follows through as she has promised and pursues recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan, we will take the same approach in those states as well,” he wrote.
Trump, meanwhile, has called the recount effort a “Green Party scam” and claimed—falsely, without evidence—that he would have “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
An Atlantic investigation reveals who they are and what they might do on Election Day.
Photographs by Philip Montgomery
Image above:Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers
Stewart Rhodes wasliving his vision of the future. On television, American cities were burning, while on the internet, rumors warned that antifa bands were coming to terrorize the suburbs. Rhodes was driving around South Texas, getting ready for them. He answered his phone. “Let’s not fuck around,” he said. “We’ve descended into civil war.”
It was a Friday evening in June. Rhodes, 55, is a stocky man with a gray buzz cut, a wardrobe of tactical-casual attire, and a black eye patch. With him in his pickup were a pistol and a dusty black hat with the gold logo of the Oath Keepers, a militant group that has drawn in thousands of people from the military and law-enforcement communities.
There’s something strange about this coronavirus pandemic. Even after months of extensive research by the global scientific community, many questions remain open.
Why, for instance, was there such an enormous death toll in northern Italy, but not the rest of the country? Just three contiguous regions in northern Italy have 25,000 of the country’s nearly 36,000 total deaths; just one region, Lombardy, has about 17,000 deaths. Almost all of these were concentrated in the first few months of the outbreak. What happened in Quito, Ecuador, in April, when so many thousands died so quickly that bodies were abandoned in the sidewalks and streets? Why, in the spring of 2020, did so few cities account for a substantial portion of global deaths, while many others with similar density, weather, age distribution, and travel patterns were spared? What can we really learn from Sweden, hailed as a great success by some because of its low case counts and deaths as the rest of Europe experiences a second wave, and as a big failure by others because it did not lock down and suffered excessive death rates earlier in the pandemic? Why did widespread predictions of catastrophe in Japan not bear out? The baffling examples go on.
His verbal stumbles have voters worried about his mental fitness. Maybe they’d be more understanding if they knew he’s still fighting a stutter.
His eyes fall to the floor when I ask him to describe it. We’ve been tiptoeing toward it for 45 minutes, and so far, every time he seems close, he backs away, or leads us in a new direction. There are competing theories in the press, but Joe Biden has kept mum on the subject. I want to hear him explain it. I ask him to walk me through the night he appeared to lose control of his words onstage.
“I—um—I don’t remember,” Biden says. His voice has that familiar shake, the creak and the croak. “I’d have to see it. I-I-I don’t remember.”
We’re in Biden’s mostly vacant Washington, D.C., campaign office on an overcast Tuesday at the end of the summer. Since entering the Democratic presidential-primary race in April, Biden has largely avoided in-depth interviews. When I first reached out, in late June, his press person was polite but noncommittal: Was an interview really necessary for the story?
Donald Trump made it so, and Chris Wallace let him.
The 90-minute spectacle tonight calls into question the value of having any “debates” of this sort ever again. No one knows more about public life than he or she did before this disaster began; some people know less; and everyone feels and looks worse.
Start with the supposed moderator, Chris Wallace. It became obvious five minutes in that Donald Trump’s strategy was to interrupt, yell, insult, and disrupt as often as he could. This is a strategy that can work only if no one gets in the way of it, and Chris Wallace just let it go on. Maybe Wallace was caught by surprise by Trump’s bellicosity and primate-dominance. (But—c’mon.) Even so, two or three minutes of this should have been enough to adjust. He didn’t adjust. And he let Trump roll over him.
Instead of a dignified discussion of important issues, the country was subjected to what felt like a toxic, drawn-out family dispute gone off the rails.
Last night’s presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden started off placidly enough, with each candidate delivering a measured, coherent answer to a question about the current Supreme Court vacancy. That sense of coherence lasted about five minutes.
What followed was shambolic—a disorienting, exasperating medley of half-thoughts, interjections, raised voices, and simultaneous monologues broken up occasionally by brief periods of uninterrupted speech. Instead of a dignified discussion of matters of national import and an opportunity to get some reassurance about the future during a deeply destabilizing year, the country was subjected to what felt like a toxic, drawn-out family dispute gone off the rails.
Former aides say that in private, the president has spoken with cynicism and contempt about believers.
One day in 2015, Donald Trump beckoned Michael Cohen, his longtime confidant and personal attorney, into his office. Trump was brandishing a printout of an article about an Atlanta-based megachurch pastor trying to raise $60 million from his flock to buy a private jet. Trump knew the preacher personally—Creflo Dollar had been among a group of evangelical figures who visited him in 2011 while he was first exploring a presidential bid. During the meeting, Trump had reverently bowed his head in prayer while the pastors laid hands on him. Now he was gleefully reciting the impious details of Dollar’s quest for a Gulfstream G650.
Trump seemed delighted by the “scam,” Cohen recalled to me, and eager to highlight that the pastor was “full of shit.”
In the 2010s, Hitler memes and “ironic” racism filled the internet. What if we had taken them seriously?
Remember when the internet used to be fun? Whitney Phillips does. The digital anthropologist was recently looking through a huge set of images from the late 2000s that had been posted to Reddit. The first comment described the era as “a more simple time,” and sure enough, the pictures were weird, silly, and creative. Talking cows. Cats playing video games. A bear on a golf course. A guy Photoshopped to have mouths for eyes.
Then she noticed something else. Something disturbing. The thread began, she wrote recently, “with a lighthearted meme about Hitler.” After that was “dehumanizing mockery of a child with disabilities. And more sneering mockery of an old man hooked up to an oxygen tank. And date rape. And violence against animals. And fat shaming. And homophobia. And racism. And pedophilia. And how hilarious 9/11 was.”
The president’s favorite debate tactic was a foundational form of disrespect—levied against his opponent as well as the nation.
There’s a story that Donald Trump tells, in The Art of the Deal, about playing with his brother Robert when they were kids. Each boy had his own set of blocks. Then Donald decided—in a whim that he suggests portended his future career—to turn the toys into a real-estate property. “I ended up using all of my blocks, and then all of his, and when I was done, I’d created a beautiful building,” Trump writes. “I liked it so much that I glued the whole thing together. And that was the end of Robert’s blocks.”
I thought of that story last night, as President Trump, having long since graduated to other forms of perfidy, met former Vice President Joe Biden in an event that was sold as a “debate” but was in practice one more parable about Trump’s great appetite for destruction. Over the course of the event, the president refused, once again, to condemn white supremacists. He told a far-right group known to engage in armed violence at protests to “stand back, and stand by.” He insulted Hunter Biden, before a national audience, to the father of Hunter Biden. As usual, Trump weaponized his words. But he also wreaked havoc through the words that were not said: Trump interrupted both Joe Biden and the event’s moderator, Chris Wallace, at nearly every turn. He used this rare moment of mass attention not to communicate with a weary public, but instead to sow empty chaos. He filibustered his own debate. The whole thing was a “shitshow,” CNN’s Dana Bash said, correctly. It was an insult to the memory of the more than 200,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19. It was an insult to the Americans who took time out of their hectic lives to listen to the men who seek to lead them. It was Donald Trump, taking the building blocks of a democracy and making them unusable for anyone else.
If the vote is close, Donald Trump could easily throw the election into chaos and subvert the result. Who will stop him?
Illustrations by Guillem Casasús / Renderings by Borja Alegre
There is a cohort of close observers of our presidential elections, scholars and lawyers and political strategists, who find themselves in the uneasy position of intelligence analysts in the months before 9/11. As November 3 approaches, their screens are blinking red, alight with warnings that the political system does not know how to absorb. They see the obvious signs that we all see, but they also know subtle things that most of us do not. Something dangerous has hove into view, and the nation is lurching into its path.
The danger is not merely that the 2020 election will bring discord. Those who fear something worse take turbulence and controversy for granted. The coronavirus pandemic, a reckless incumbent, a deluge of mail-in ballots, a vandalized Postal Service, a resurgent effort to suppress votes, and a trainload of lawsuits are bearing down on the nation’s creaky electoral machinery.
In Cleveland, the president yelled, threatened, interrupted—and changed nothing. He’s losing.
President Donald Trump arrived at the first debate with a theory and a plan. The theory was that American voters crave dominance, no matter how belligerent or offensive. The plan was to hector, interrupt, and insult in hopes of establishing that dominance.
His theory was wrong, and his plan was counterproductive.
Trump walked onto that stage in Cleveland seven or eight points behind, because the traditional Republican advantage among upper-income and educated voters has dwindled; because non-college-educated white women have turned against him; because he is losing older voters to his mishandling of COVID-19; because the groups he needs to be demobilized—African Americans, the young—are up-mobilized. On the present trajectory, nearly 150 million votes are likely to be cast in 2020. If Trump wins 43 percent of them and Joe Biden 50 percent, not even the Electoral College can convert that negative margin into a second Trump term.