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The Trump Tweet Tracker

Monitoring the president’s statements on Twitter—and analyzing what they mean

Spencer Platt / Getty / Zak Bickel / The Atlantic

President Trump has repeatedly issued announcements and proposals over Twitter, during both the presidential election and the transition period, embracing the medium as a superior means of communicating with the American people compared to relying on traditional media organizations.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has promised that Trump’s tweets will continue: “He has this direct pipeline to the American people, where he can talk back and forth,” Spicer recently explained to WPRI TV in Providence, Rhode Island, adding that Twitter allows him to “put his thoughts out and hear what they’re thinking in a way that no one’s ever been able to do before.”

We’ll track and unpack Trump’s tweets here, according to our best understanding of their significance.

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Trump Attacks FBI on Leaks


The Prompt

Last night CNN reported the FBI rejected a request from the White House to publicly rebut claims in the media about communications between Donald Trump’s aides and Russian intelligence during last year’s presidential campaign. The White House later said the request was made only after the bureau told Trump administration officials it believed the reporting wasn’t accurate. It was not immediately clear what prompted Trump’s tweets; such tweets typically come within a few minutes of news segments being aired on whatever Trump happens to be watching on TV in the morning.

The Context

Allegations of links to Russia and Russian intelligence officials have dogged Trump and his aides since last year. Earlier this month, a cascade of news reports about Michael Flynn’s conversation with Russian’s ambassador to the U.S. and what he told Vice President Mike Pence about it prompted Flynn’s resignation as Trump’s national-security adviser. But the scandal didn’t go away: Both The New York Times and CNN reported last week that other Trump aides were in touch with Russian intelligence officials throughout the presidential campaign. Trump last week dismissed these reports as “fake news.” When asked if he could definitively say if any of his aides were in touch with Russia during the presidential campaign, he said: “Not that I know of.”

Trump has previously used Twitter to rail against leaks, which he believes are coming from intelligence agencies and the FBI, about his administration. He previously accused them of interfering in politics, compared them to Russia, as well as to Nazi Germany. Critics say this reeks of hypocrisy because during the presidential campaign Trump called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and celebrated WikiLeaks’s publication of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee. But Trump has distinguished between those calls and the leaks emerging now by pointing out the current leaks are of classified information, and, consequently, harmful to national security.

The Response

Trump is reiterating his claim that the leaks are harming national security and suggests the FBI is unable to do its job and find who is leaking such information to the media. What he isn’t doing yet is denying the news reports about the White House request to the FBI—something he has previously done with unfavorable news coverage.

Trump Calls 'FAKE NEWS' Media 'the Enemy of the American People'

The Prompt

It’s possible that Donald Trump is preemptively trying to undermine the credibility of specific media outlets ahead of the publication of a negative story. Or it may be that he has decided to double down on his attacks on the media following a press conference on Thursday.  “The media’s trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges that we made and they’re not happy about it for whatever reason,” the president said during the event.

The Context

Trump seems to thrive in adversarial settings and now that he’s no longer campaigning for the presidency, he has so far settled on the media as his chief opponent. One of his top aides, Steve Bannon, who is a former media executive himself, has called the media “the opposition party,” and the president reportedly agrees with that characterization.

The Response

Trump’s attacks on the press aren’t new, but the president is escalating his hostility toward reporters by labeling the media an “enemy of the American people.” That’s typically the opposite of how the press is viewed in liberal democracies. The attacks may rile up Trump’s supporters ahead of a rally he is holding on Saturday in Florida. But the provocation may further erode trust between the White House and the press that covers it.

Trump, Citing Column, Says NSA, FBI 'Should Not Interfere in our Politics'

The Prompt

President Trump has tweeted six times this morning about news reports that link his associates to Russian intelligence. He has labeled The New York Times and The Washington Post, which have broken most of these stories, as “failing.” He also called MSNBC and CNN “fake news.” Leaks of intelligence agencies have already cost one top Trump aide, Michael Flynn, his job; the leaks are now targeting other Trump associates.  

Eli Lake, a Bloomberg View columnist, on Tuesday likened Flynn’s ouster to a “political assassination,” and warned that leaks by intelligence agencies that dictate political outcomes are the hallmarks of a totalitarian state. On Wednesday, he repeated those assertions on Fox & Friends—a show Trump apparently loves.

The Context

The White House said Flynn had lost Trump’s trust because of what he told Vice President Mike Pence and others about the nature of his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S.  In his column, Lake, whom I worked with about a dozen years ago, did not praise Trump—far from it—but he did point out how “intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets.” Here’s more:

This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.  

In the past it was considered scandalous for senior U.S. officials to even request the identities of U.S. officials incidentally monitored by the government (normally they are redacted from intelligence reports). … The fact that the intercepts of Flynn's conversations with Kislyak appear to have been widely distributed inside the government is a red flag.

Lake goes onto point out that many Trump associates, including Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone, are being investigated for their links to Russian intelligence. But, he adds: “That's all these allegations are at this point: unanswered questions.”

It's possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It's also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government. …

In normal times, the idea that U.S. officials entrusted with our most sensitive secrets would selectively disclose them to undermine the White House would alarm those worried about creeping authoritarianism. Imagine if intercepts of a call between Obama's incoming national security adviser and Iran's foreign minister leaked to the press before the nuclear negotiations began? The howls of indignation would be deafening.

Lake points out this is ultimately dangerous, but these sorts of selective leaks aren’t new: They brought down the Nixon presidency, revealed intimate details of what was happening in the Clinton White House, the abuses at Abu Gharaib, as well as the U.S. mass surveillance of its citizens. But they’ve also on occasion been spectacularly wrong: such as when Stephen Hatfill was accused of perpetrating the anthrax attacks, and when Wen Ho-Lee was accused of passing secrets to China.

The Response

The president, just like his predecessors, believes the leaking of classified information is illegal. Indeed, the Obama administration’s record on this is far from stellar.

Trump’s citing of Lake’s column is part of a pattern in which he praises journalists and news organizations that he believes shares his view. (Just this morning he praised Fox & Friends.)

But it’s his labeling of the leaks as “un-American” that might not persuade everyone: Selective leaks from the intelligence communities have been around for years, and the news media would certainly argue that even when those leaks are wrong they sever a larger purpose: If administrations were transparent with how they operate, such leaks would be unnecessary.

Trump Suggests NSA, FBI Are Behind Intelligence Leaks, Comparing Them to Russia

The Prompt

Michael Flynn resigned as President Trump’s national-security adviser on Monday over what the White House called “erosion of trust” because Flynn apparently misled Vice President Mike Pence and others over the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. That followed news reports late Tuesday that Flynn wasn’t the only Trump aide in regular contact with Russian officials, including those in the Russian intelligence community.

The Context

The allegations themselves aren’t new. Trump’s ties to Russia, as well as those of his aides, were the subject of much speculation and scrutiny during the election campaign. Ultimately, though, Trump triumphed over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who was unable to get the electoral-college votes needed, in part, thanks to her own scandals at the time.

What’s interesting about the allegations that emerged Tuesday was, as my colleague David Graham wrote, they “directly [contradict] statements made by Trump aides. In early November, just after the election, the Russian deputy foreign minster said the government had been in touch with the Trump team. Campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks, who is now at the White House, said then, ‘We are not aware of any campaign representatives that were in touch with any foreign entities before yesterday, when Mr. Trump spoke with many world leaders.’”

The Response

Trump isn’t the only president who hates leaks. His two immediate predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, were outspoken about how they thought leaks damaged national security. What’s different with Trump’s response is he dismisses those news organizations he believes are unfair to him—in this case MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post—as either “fake news” or “failing”; it’s probably worth pointing out he calls the two television networks “fake news” organizations, but merely suggests the Times and Post, which have both seen a surge of subscriptions since the elections, are “failing.” The two newspapers have been behind some of the most sensational revelations about the Trump White House.

Trump’s also links the latest news reports to what he sees as an attempt to cover up the “many mistakes” in the Clinton campaign. These, of course, have been heavily chronicled, with reasons ranging from Clinton being the wrong candidate, to her failure to campaign in states she thought were safe, as well as her inability to surmount her scandals.

What Trump also does is compare the information being leaked to the Times and the Post to what happens in Russia, an apparent reference to the power the intelligence agencies in that country enjoy. Trump previously compared the leaks to what went on in Nazi Germany. He also suggests Tuesday the information is being leaked by the NSA and the FBI. Disgruntled intelligence officials have been the source of spectacular leaks at least since the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon, but few, if any, administration has publicly accused the nation’s intelligence agencies of deliberately leaking information in order to make another candidate look good.

Trump Says He Has the 'Real Story' on Flynn's Resignation

The Prompt

Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser Monday night came amid a drip-drip-drip of leaks regarding his future in the White House. He’d reportedly misled the vice president and other administration officials about talks he had with the Russian ambassador, and by Monday calls for Trump to fire him had become a din. Thus, his resignation.

But Trump says he has the “real story”: not his adviser’s alleged behavior, but leaks, presumably including those that brought Flynn’s actions to light. And where did this “real story” come from? Possibly Fox News. The president has a pattern of tweeting in response to what he watches on morning TV, and roughly 15 minutes before the tweet was sent, Fox was talking about this:

The Context

All presidential administrations leak to journalists, for better or worse. But the volume of leaks coming from the Trump White House is greater than normal, and has a decidedly negative tone. In Flynn’s case, recent reports alleged that he’s the target of an Army investigation, that a Justice Department official was concerned he’d violated the Logan Act in his conversations with the Russian ambassador, and that he was a potential target for blackmail by the Russian government. Publicly, Trump appears less concerned about those allegations and more concerned that they were revealed to the press in the first place.

The Response

The president’s tweet won’t do anything to distract his critics or the press from the real “real story” here. The White House seems rife with infighting and factionalism, two motivators for staff to leak information. And his executive agencies are filled with employees who don’t support the president’s agenda—and want the press to know it. His attempt to raise the stakes with North Korea probably isn’t effective either. His first crisis with the North Koreans happened Saturday night while he was dining with the Japanese prime minister at his Mar-a-Lago club. The leaders and their teams didn’t even leave the dinner table before launching into discussions about a response. There’s little need for leaks from administration staff when club members can observe national-security talks in full view.

Trump Attacks the 'COURT BREAKDOWN' for Allowing Refugees Into the United States

The Prompt

The president was watching Fox News, as CNN’s Brian Stelter points out. A few minutes later, Trump responded to another Fox segment by accusing CNN of cutting off Senator Bernie Sanders for calling the network “fake news”—despite the fact that Sanders had used the term jokingly, and his link was disrupted by technical difficulties. (If you’re scoring at home, that’s a president spreading fake news about “FAKE NEWS @CNN” by exaggerating a Fox News report on Sanders saying “fake news.” Clear?) The tweet on refugees uses numbers from an infographic aired on Fox at 6:25 a.m.

The Context

The president remains irate that the Ninth Circuit has prevented the enforcement of his executive order on immigration. His tweet lists the seven majority-Muslim countries for which that order suspended visas, but the freeze on the intake of refugees was not restricted to those seven countries.

In 2016, the Democratic Republic of Congo was the largest country of origin for refugees admitted to the United States, with Burma in third place. In the final quarter of the year, the flow of refugees from those two countries tailed off sharply, leaving Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Iran to comprise a larger share of the total flow. That was the case before the executive order was issued—and with the temporary restraining order in effect, it is again the case today.

The Response

Last week, Trump’s nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, Neil Gorsuch, called attacks on the federal judiciary “disheartening” and “demoralizing.” Initial reports made clear he was referring to Trump; after the president expressed his anger, other sources insisted the remarks had been more general. But whether Gorsuch explicitly named Trump or not, there could be no mistaking his target—or his concern.

Calling a ruling from a three-judge appellate panel a “COURT BREAKDOWN” will do little to quiet critics who are concerned with Trump’s continuing efforts to politicize the judiciary. Trump’s criticisms of the courts are almost always results-oriented, not substantive—that is, he attacks the motives of judges, and the conclusions they reach, but does not explain why the reasoning or precedents that they offer might be incorrect. Similarly, his attack on refugee admissions faults the composition of the flow, but does not attempt to make the case that, under existing regulations, it should look any different.

Trump, Citing Lawfare Post, Calls Court's Immigration Decision 'Disgraceful'


The Prompt

As we reported last night, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco refused to reinstate President Trump’s executive order on visitors from seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries—Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. Trump tweeted almost immediately after the order was issued, saying: “See you in court, the security of our nation is at stake.” Among the legal analyses of the decision was one by Lawfare, the website that covers national-security law. This morning, MSNBC ran a segment on Lawfare’s analysis at 8:03 a.m. Trump tweeted 12 minutes later.


The Context

Candidate Donald Trump called for the “extreme vetting” of refugees, who are also barred by his order, and for a “Muslim ban.” These, he said, was essential to keep the homeland safe. Indeed, Trump has maintained that his only goal is to keep terrorist attacks from occurring in the U.S., and, as such, he has used Twitter to target judges who have ruled against the order.

Trump also maintains the law allows him to bar those individuals whom he deems dangerous to the U.S. The law states:

(f)Suspension of entry or imposition of restrictions by President

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.

The Lawfare post of Thursday’s court decision points out that “[r]emarkably, in the entire opinion, the panel did not bother even to cite this statute, which forms the principal statutory basis for the executive order (see Sections 3(c), 5(c), and 5(d) of the order). That’s a pretty big omission over 29 pages, including several pages devoted to determining the government’s likelihood of success on the merits of the case.”

But the Lawfare analysis by Benjamin Wittes, the site’s editor in chief who is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., also notes that Washington state and Minnesota, which challenged the president’s order, pointed to Trump’s past tweets about banning Muslims, and it was this argument the judges cited in their decision. (For the likely next legal steps in the battle over the executive action, go here.)

Wittes also noted that Eric Posner, the law professor at the University of Chicago, said the president’s tweets will possibly interfere even with legitimate government action in the future.

The Response

Trump hasn’t hidden his disdain for judges and courts that issue opinions that he believes are unfair. He reiterated those sentiments by calling Thursday’s decision “disgraceful.” But by citing an MSNBC snippet of Lawfare’s analysis—“Remarkably, in the entire opinion, the panel did not bother even to cite this (the) statute.”—he leaves out the other part of Wittes’s argument:

The Ninth Circuit is correct to leave the TRO in place, in my view, for the simple reason that there is no cause to plunge the country into turmoil again while the courts address the merits of these matters over the next few weeks. Are there tea leaves to read in this opinion? There sure are, particularly with respect to the judges’ analysis of the government’s likelihood of prevailing on the merits and its blithe dismissal of the government’s claims of national security necessity on pages 26-27—a matter on which the per curiam spends only one sentence and one brief footnote.

Lawfare’s response to the tweet:


Trump to 9th Circuit Judges: 'SEE YOU IN COURT'


The Prompt

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco handed the Trump administration its biggest defeat yet in the legal fight over the president’s executive order on immigration that bars visitors from seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries. Read my colleague Matt Ford’s story on the oder here.

The Context

Trump has maintained he wants to keep the homeland safe. During the campaign, he called for the “extreme vetting” of refugees, who are also barred by his order, and for a “Muslim ban.” His critics say the order is, in effect, just that. The administration point out that other, more populous Muslim countries are exempt from the order.

Last Friday, a Seattle circuit court judge blocked a major part of order. Trump responded by calling him a “so-called judge.” His administration appealed, but on Sunday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, the same court that ruled Thursday evening, refused to reinstate the order, instead ordering the Justice Department to submit a brief defending the ban. It heard arguments Tuesday from both the government’s lawyer, August Flentje, as well as from Noah Purcell, the Washington state solicitor general, who argued on behalf of Washington and Minnesota, two states that have challenged the order.

On Thursday, the three-judge panel’s ruling focused, as Matt points out, “on whether [the Seattle judge’s] temporary restraining order, which blocked the federal government from enforcing key parts of the executive order while legal proceedings continue, was justified.” In its view, it was.

The Response

Trump’s tweet makes it once again clear that he views his as a national-security issue. He’s also previously said the law is clear over his right to bar from the U.S. those deemed harmful to the nation. As to his message of seeing the judges “in court,” here’s what’s likely to happen next, as per Matt:

The Trump administration’s next move would be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Court deadlocks in a 4-4 vote on whether or not to uphold Robart’s temporary restraining order, the Ninth Circuit’s decision will stand. Both parties will also return to the federal district court in Seattle, where Robart will next consider a full injunction against enforcing the executive order for the duration of the trial.

Trump Says McCain's Criticism of Yemen Raid 'Only Emboldens the Enemy'


The Prompt

Senator John McCain, the Republican from Arizona, told reporters this week that the recent U.S. raid in Yemen that resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL was a “failure” because, in his words, the enemy being tipped off to the raid “was one of the aspects of this that made it—turned it into a failure.” Later, he said in statement that while “many of the objectives of the recent raid in Yemen were met, I would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success.”

The Context

The target of the raid Sunday was an al-Qaeda camp in Yemen. Fourteen members of the terrorist organization were killed in the operation, along with civilians, including reportedly an 8-year-old girl. The Pentagon said that the SEALs captured “materials and information that is yielding valuable intelligence.” Trump hailed the raid as a success.

But as more details of Sunday’s raid in Yemen are made public, critics of the operation questioned its timing and execution. The White House pushed back, pointing out the operation had been long planned. In fact, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, suggested Wednesday that anyone who questioned whether the raid was successful “owes an apology and [does] disservice to the life of” William “Ryan” Owens, the chief special warfare operator, who was killed during the operation.

McCain responded: “Many years ago, when I was imprisoned in North Vietnam, there was an attempt to rescue the POWs. Unfortunately, the prison had been evacuated, but the brave men who … risked their lives in an effort to rescue us prisoners of war were genuine American heroes. Because the mission failed, [it] did not in any way diminish their bravery and courage or willingness to help their fellow Americans who were held captive. Mr. Spicer should know that story.”

NBC quoted an unnamed senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the operation as saying it’s premature to label the raid a success or failure. An unnamed senior former special-operations officer told the network: “Who fired first? What was actually gathered? What went wrong? These kinds of assessments just don’t come in Twitter time. We’ll have to wait and see.”

The Response

McCain, a Vietnam war veteran who spent years in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp, is the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He’s never been shy about sharing his views on the military or about standing up for its members. His military service has been honored by his political allies and rivals alike. Trump, however, has also been outspoken about what he thinks of the Arizona Republican:  “He's not a war hero,” he said during the presidential campaign. “I like people that weren’t captured. He’s a war hero because he was captured? I like people that weren’t captured.”

Trump also suggests that McCain, a U.S. senator since 1987, has “been losing so long he doesn't know how to win anymore.” He goes onto echo a campaign theme that the U.S. is embroiled in too many conflicts around the world, a suggestion McCain, who has advocated more robust U.S. engagement overseas, will likely disagree with.

The president’s assertion that McCain’s words “only emboldens the enemy” appears to run counter to lawmakers’s past public statement on U.S. operations overseas (think the Iraq war). McCain himself has said the reason he’s been public about the raid is the U.S. “needed to know lessons learned. We need insurances that they will do everything they can to prevent such an occurrence again.”

Trump Says Senator Blumenthal Misrepresented Gorsuch's Remarks


The Prompt

Senator Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat from Connecticut, said Wednesday that Neil Gorsuch, Donald’s Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, had described as “demoralizing” and “disheartening” the president’s attacks on judiciary. The account of the conversation was confirmed by what The New York Times described as “a White House adviser working to advance the Gorsuch confirmation.” CNN, meanwhile, quoted Ron Bonjean, a Gorsuch spokesman, as saying Gorsuch made the comments when he was asked about Trump’s reference to a “so-called” Seattle circuit court judge who blocked a major part of the president’s executive order on immigration which, among other things, bans visitors from seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days.

The Context

At issue if Trump’s executive order on immigration. As I noted yesterday:

Trump signed the executive order on Friday, January 30. Almost immediately, amid reports of chaos at airports nationwide accompanied by large protests, several civil-rights groups successfully challenged the order; judges across the country blocked different parts of it. Then, last Friday, came the Seattle judge’s ruling. The Trump administration appealed. But on Sunday, [the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco] refused to reinstate the order, instead ordering the Justice Department to submit a brief defending the ban. It heard arguments Tuesday from both the government’s lawyer, August Flentje, as well as from Noah Purcell, the Washington state solicitor general, who argued on behalf of Washington and Minnesota, two states that have challenged the order.

The three-judge panel in San Francisco appeared skeptical about the government’s plea to reinstate Trump’s order banning visitors from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. Purcell, the Washington state solicitor general, argued the ban was, in essence, a ban on Muslims, though the judges were skeptical of that view, too, noting the seven countries accounted for 15 percent of the global Muslim population. Indeed, far more populous Muslim nations, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan are not subject to the ban. Nor is the ban confined to only Muslims from these seven countries. But critics say Trump campaigned on a promise of “extreme vetting” of refugees as well as repeated calls for a “Muslim ban.” They argue the immigration order achieves those goals.

In remarks Wednesday, Trump suggested the courts were playing politics, and stated the law was clear on his authority over who enters the U.S. And, he tweeted:


The Response

Trump’s first response to Gorsuch’s reported comments is familiar: He attacks its source—Blumenthal. And it’s an accurate attack because, as the Times noted in 2010, Blumenthal’s words suggesting he served in Vietnam weren’t backed by an actual service in Vietnam. Blumenthal, who joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 1970 and served six years in the U.S., apologized at the time, saying he had “misspoken about my service, and I regret that and I take full responsibility.” The scandal appeared not to hurt the then Connecticut attorney general, who won the Senate race that year.

As to the veracity of Gorsuch’s reported comments, we’ll find out soon enough. Gorsuch needs Senate confirmation to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Democrats will almost certainly press him to express his views on Trump’s attacks on the judiciary publicly.

Trump Links 'Security and Safety' to Court's Ruling on Immigration Order


The Prompt

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco appeared skeptical yesterday about the Justice Department’s plea to reinstate President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries. The Trump administration’s appeal followed a decision last Friday by a federal judge in Seattle who blocked the main part of the order, allowing citizens of the seven nations with valid U.S. visas to enter the country.

The Context

Trump has long maintained that he wants to keep the homeland safe. To this end, during the presidential campaign, he called several times for either “extreme vetting” of refugees or a “Muslim ban.”

Trump signed the executive order on Friday, January 30. Almost immediately, amid reports of chaos at airports nationwide accompanied by large protests, several civil-rights groups successfully challenged the order; judges across the country blocked different parts of it. Then, last Friday, came the Seattle judge’s ruling. The Trump administration appealed. On Sunday, the San Francisco court refused to reinstate the order, instead ordering the Justice Department to submit a brief defending the ban. It heard arguments Tuesday from both the government’s lawyer, August Flentje, as well as from Noah Purcell, the Washington state solicitor general, who argued on behalf of Washington and Minnesota, two states that have challenged the order.

The judges called the government’s reasoning “abstract,” and asked if the president’s decision was un-reviewable. After a long pause, Flentje said, “yes.” But the judges also pressed Purcell on whether it was fair to call this a ban on Muslims, given that the seven countries accounted for about 15 percent of the global Muslim population. Purcell, citing Trump’s remarks, said the government had the “intent to discriminate against Muslims.”

The Response:

Trump appears to be suggesting that the judges would be playing “politics” if they ruled against the administration. It’s not the first time he’s attacked the courts. He called the Seattle judge a “so-called federal judge” after the ruling against the order; during the campaign, he cited the “Mexican heritage” of a U.S.-born judge who allowed two class-action lawsuits brought against Trump by former Trump University customers to proceed.

Trump suggests that keeping people from these seven countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen—out is absolutely essential to keeping the homeland safe. But as my colleague Uri Friedman pointed out: “Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.”

Trump, Citing 'Fake News,' Doubles Down on Travel Ban


The Prompt

A CNN/ORC poll released last Friday showed a majority of respondents—53 percent—opposed President Trump’s executive order on immigration. Forty-seven percent said they supported the order that bans travelers from seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days. The telephone poll of 1,002 adults, which was conducted between January 31 and February 2, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample.

The Context

Trump’s executive order, signed January 30, effectively bans travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen; the countries are all in the Muslim world, but the 90-day ban extends to non-Muslims as well. The order also suspends the U.S. refugee intake for 120 days and bans all Syrian refugees indefinitely. The rationale, Trump says, is keeping the homeland safe. His critics—including refugee-rights and civil-liberties groups, as well as current and former government officials—say the order has the opposite effect: that it is un-American, makes the country less safe, and imperils U.S. interests overseas. Legal challenges against the ban succeeded. The Trump administration appealed. An appeals court in California refused Sunday to reinstate the ban and ordered the administration’s lawyers to submit a brief on Monday defending the executive order.   

The Response

Trump relies on his favorite dismissal—“fake news”—to reject a news story or finding he doesn’t like. In this case, the CNN poll showed a majority opposed the ban, and Trump’s response is to cite the major pre-election polls that showed his rival, Hillary Clinton, easily winning the election. The polls, of course, were wrong: National polls showed Clinton winning the popular vote—which she did—but Trump easily defeated her in the Electoral College.

Trump then goes on to say that “people want border security and extreme vetting.” There is evidence for this—even in the CNN poll: Trump had campaigned on a Muslim ban and on extreme vetting. For many of his supporters, the executive order is simply Trump keeping his promise; 47 percent of the poll’s respondents supported the move, not an insignificant minority. Other polls carried out before the order was signed showed even higher support for the measures.

Trump then says he calls his “own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it.” The president doesn’t cite the data he’s using for the basis of his order. Indeed, while Islamist terrorists have carried out attacks in the U.S., many of the attackers were from countries other than those on Trump’s list. Indeed, as my colleague Uri Friedman pointed out: “Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.”

Trump Attacks a 'So-Called' Federal Judge

The Prompt

A federal judge in Washington state issued a temporary nationwide injunction against President Trump’s travel ban targeting seven Muslim countries on Friday night. The injunction came in a lawsuit brought by the state of Washington challenging the constitutionality of the president’s controversial executive order. On Saturday morning, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security announced they would comply with the judge’s injunction and rolled back their enforcement of the ban.

The Context

The ban’s sudden implementation on January 27 led to chaos in major American airports, as travelers from the affected countries suddenly found themselves detained and unable to enter the country. Although it only targeted visa holders from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, lawful permanent residents also found themselves swept up in its prohibitions until Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly granted them a waiver two days later. Federal judges in multiple states also temporarily blocked its enforcement at various airports the weekend after it was announced, but Friday’s order by federal judge James Robart is the most sweeping injunction yet.

The Response

Trump’s response revives concerns about his commitment to an independent judiciary and the separation of powers. During the campaign in June, Trump also attacked federal judge Gonzalo Curiel after he allowed two class-action lawsuits brought against Trump by former Trump University customers to proceed. Among his complaints was that Curiel had an “absolute conflict” of interest against Trump because Curiel is “of Mexican heritage.” That remark drew widespread condemnation from across the political spectrum, including from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, who called it “the textbook definition of a racist remark.”

Trump later dropped his criticisms of Curiel without retracting them. But the incident raised fears among legal scholars that as president, Trump would undermine the rule of law by disregarding court orders with which he disagreed. Presidents who have been handed frustrating defeats by the judiciary in the past have nonetheless avoided criticizing the judges directly or undermining their legitimacy. The last time a president defied a Supreme Court ruling was in 1831, when the Court’s decision in favor of Indian tribes in Georgia went unenforced by President Andrew Jackson—a populist predecessor often invoked by members of the current administration.

Trump Weighs in on Attack in Paris

The Prompt

A soldier opened fire on a man wielding a large knife on Friday morning near the Louvre Museum in Paris, according to authorities. Paris police chief, Michel Cadot, said the suspect was shot five times. "He is wounded in the stomach," Cadot said. "He is conscious and he was moving." Authorities said the attacker also shouted  "Allahu akbar"—translated to “God is great”—during the incident. The French prime minister described the attack as “terrorist in nature,” and The New York Times reports the Paris prosecutor’s office has opened up a terrorism investigation.

The Context

Tensions have been high in the French capital following terrorist attacks in recent years. Concerns about attacks have transcended the French capital. During the presidential election, American voters listed terrorism as a concern they wanted to hear more about during debates, according to the Pew Research Center. Trump supporters, in particular, were more likely than GOP voters “to favor greater scrutiny for Muslims in the U.S. as part of government anti-terrorism efforts,” according to the center.

The Response

Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to end “radical Islamic terrorism.” In his tweet, he resorted to that phrase again, though the motives behind the attack are unclear.

Former President Obama warned about using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” during his tenure, arguing that doing so would establish a negative view of the United States. But his opposition to the phrase was largely criticized by Republicans. Last week, Trump signed an executive order suspending refugee admission and severely restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. During the signing he said: "I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America.” Despite mounting criticism, the White House has continued to defend the order—and Trump appears to be doing so in this tweet as well, noting “Get Smart U.S.”

Trump Ties Federal Funds for Berkeley to Milo Yiannopoulos's Canceled Speech

Updated at 10:03 a.m.


The Prompt

Last night, Milo Yiannopoulos, the provocative alt-right activist, was scheduled to deliver a speech at the University of California, Berkeley. But violent protests broke as more than 1,000 people turned out at the campus against the planned speech. Demonstrators threw rocks and set fires; police threatened to fire tear gas. A Trump supporter was pepper-sprayed while speaking to a TV reporter. The university, known to be a bastion of liberalism, canceled the speech. Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart editor, said he had to be evacuated from campus, adding: “The Left is absolutely terrified of free speech and will do literally anything to shut it down.”

The Context

At issue is whether universities, many of which receive public funds, should censor speech that is unpopular.

Yiannopoulos, a Greek-born Briton, has a history of making provocative statements. He rose to prominence in the U.S. during Gamergate, which he dismissed as a controversy started by “an army of sociopathic feminist programmers and campaigners, abetted by achingly politically correct American tech bloggers.” He has made similar comments about women, the left, and Islam. Last summer’s racist attacks on Twitter directed at Leslie Jones, the actress, were linked to Yiannopoulos’s dismissal of the all-female remake of Ghostbusters. His own criticism of Jones—“barely literate,” “a black dude”—eventually led to a permanent ban on Twitter. Yiannopoulos, however, maintains he was banned because of his political views. He is also an ardent supporter of Donald Trump, referring to him during the presidential campaign as “daddy.”

The right has long been critical of what it sees as the stifling of free speech on American college campuses. (The Atlantic even had a cover story about it.) In recent years, liberal critics have joined them, complaining about “the language police” on college campuses. Some comedians, including Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, say they are wary of performing on campuses because of protests and/or controversy.

Response

Trump’s response appears to link federal funds to free speech at Berkeley and “violence on innocent people with a different point of view.” UC Berkeley itself said it regrets “the threats and unlawful actions of a few have interfered with the exercise of First Amendment rights on a campus that is proud of its history and legacy as the home of the Free Speech Movement.”

There are a couple things to consider here: The entire University of California system receives more than $2 billion in federal research funding, along with $1.6 billion in federal aid for students. So, that would be a significant consideration if Trump were to carry out his apparent threat—even if the university said it stood by Yiannopoulos’s right to speak.

But universities have also long contended they have to balance free speech with rules like Title IX, the law that forbids discrimination on the basis of gender in federally funded educational institutions. The definition of harassment in Title IX has been broadened to mean “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” Violations of this rule, universities say, mean a possible loss of federal funding. UC Berkeley has not yet responded to the president.

Trump Attacks ‘Dumb Deal’ With Australia

The Prompt

Australia is one of the strongest allies of the United States. But you wouldn’t know it after reading an account of the Saturday call between President Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull published by The Washington Post on Wednesday evening. Besides bragging about how many electoral college votes he won and the size of his inaugural crowd, Trump spent a significant portion of the call lambasting the Australian leader over an Obama-era deal to send 1,250 refugees, currently staying in camps in the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, to the U.S. Australia currently sponsors the camps, which hosts asylum seekers from the seven Muslim-majority nations currently banned by Trump’s executive order. As part of the deal, Australia agreed to resettle refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Trump reportedly told Turnbull, “This is the worst deal ever,” and accused him of trying to export the “next Boston bombers.” According to The Post, Trump abruptly hung up 25 minutes into the call in frustration. The call was supposed to last for an hour. Trump reportedly said that “this was the worst call by far.”

It was the second unofficial account released Wednesday of phone calls Trump has had with foreign leaders. The Associated Press reported that Trump threatened to use the U.S. military in Mexico to combat drug trafficking. The White House has denied both accounts.

The Context

This account of the phone call is at odds of what both governments said in their official readouts on Saturday. According to the White House, the leaders “emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.”

Indeed, the interaction between the two leaders goes in the face of the close relationship between the U.S. and Australia over the last century. Just over the last two decades, Australian troops have fought side-by-side with Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, and given their lives in the fight. In Afghanistan, 42 Australians were killed in combat. Two other Aussie troops were killed in Iraq.

The Response

Trump’s tweet comes after the widely circulated report from The Post, just about confirming the accuracy of the newspaper’s account. Calling it “a dumb deal,” Trump seemed frustrated that he had to abide by a deal from the Obama administration, calling the refugees “illegal immigrants.”

While Turnbull would not confirm the account of the call, he did tell reporters that the call was frank. “These conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately,” he said. “If you see reports of them, I’m not going to add to them.”

Trump Blames Immigration Chaos on Delta Airlines, Schumer

Updated at 9:28 a.m.

The Prompt

President Trump’s executive order on Friday suspended U.S. refugee intake for 120 days and banned all refugees from Syrian until further notice. It also prohibited the citizens of seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.—even if they held U.S. green cards and were longtime residents of the U.S. (this part of the order appears to have been reversed Sunday). The order resulted in massive protests at airports across the country, as well as outside the White House in Washington, D.C., and successful legal challenges on behalf of those being detained at airports.

The Context

Although a Muslim ban was a part of Trump’s presidential campaign, his administration has insisted the order is not a Muslim ban, noting that other, more numerous, Muslim countries are not on the list. Trump insists that one way to keep America safe is to prevent those who wish to harm it from entering the country. This, in his view includes Muslims from countries with volatile security situations. He has consistently criticized what he sees as Europe’s error in accepting those fleeing Syria’s nearly six-year-long civil, pointing to terrorist attacks that have been linked to individuals who entered the continent with refugee documents. So, in many ways, his executive order was delivering on a longstanding campaign pledge.

Protesters didn’t see it that way, amassing at airports in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and other cities across the country. Senator Chuck Schumer held a news conference Sunday in which he teared up at the immigration restrictions, calling them “un-American.” Also Sunday, in a completely unrelated incident, Delta Airlines reported that it had suffered a systems outage, prompting it to issue a ground stop on all flights (this was lifted Monday). Protests took places at even those airports where Delta doesn’t have a robust presence.

The Response

Trump’s response begins with noting that of the 325,000 affected, 109 “were detained and held for questioning.” It’s unclear if that number includes those individuals who were deported despite having valid paperwork. Civil-rights advocates would argue that it’s not the number of people detained that matters, but the principle of detaining individuals with valid visas. Trump then goes onto blame Delta, protesters, and Schumer’s tears for the problems at the airport; including the airline in that list might have consequences for yet another company that finds itself mentioned in Trump’s tweets, though it had nothing to do with his order or the protests it prompted.

Trump added the ban had to be immediate because one that came with a one-week warning would cause a lot of bad “dudes” to “rush into our country during that week.” It takes weeks for many foreign nationals to get visas to visit the U.S.

Trump also points out that his order “was a big part of my campaign”—which is demonstrably true. His response indicated he believes the order will keep the U.S. safe—an assertion his supporters are likely to back, even if the protests at the airport and criticism of the order continues.

Trump Looks to Conservative Activist to Back Up Debunked Voter-Fraud Claims


The Prompt

On Wednesday, President Trump said he “will be asking for a major investigation into voter fraud, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and ... even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time).” Trump even told lawmakers that 3 million people voted illegally in the election, though there is no evidence—none—that this happened. His tweet Friday appears to make good on his promise of an investigation.

The Context

Trump easily defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College (306 to 232), but he lost the popular vote to his Democratic rival by about 3 million votes. This appears to have rankled the president, who, on multiple occasions and with no evidence, has said widespread voter fraud cost him the popular vote. It’s an assertion that elections experts and even members of his own party have rejected. On Tuesday, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said Trump’s claims are “based on studies and information he has.” Enter Gregg Phillips, a conservative activist and founder of VoteStand, who appears to be the source of the claim that 3 million people voted illegally in the election. Phillips hasn’t been shy about hiding who he thinks perpetrated the alleged electoral fraud, tweeting on December 30: “No matter what Obama or anyone else says, the only entity that hacked election systems was Obama's Department of Homeland Security.” Phillips says that, based on an app he developed that allows people to report what they believe to be voting irregularities, between 3 million and 5 million people voted illegally. But as The Daily Beast points out, no one has seen the data Phillips claims he has.  

The Response

Trump doesn’t seem to want to let the illegal-voting claim go, despite being urged to do so by Republicans. But he does attribute the claim of the 3 million votes to “Phillips and crew,” thus giving him a possible out when the evidence doesn’t materialize or is debunked as flawed. Stay tuned.

Trump Calls Chelsea Manning an 'Ungrateful Traitor' for Obama Criticism


The Prompt

Chelsea Manning wrote a column in The Guardian Thursday in which the former Army private criticized President Obama as being too quick to compromise with implacable opponents, leading, she said, to “few permanent accomplishments.” Fox & Friends ran a segment on the column at 5:50 a.m. ET. Trump’s tweet apparently defending Obama came at 6:04 a.m. ET.

The Context

Obama, in the last days of his presidency, commuted Manning’s 35-year prison sentence for leaking secrets to WikiLeaks. Manning, who has spent seven years at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, will be released in a few months. The move, while popular with civil-liberties activists, was criticized by many in the national-security apparatus. Sean Spicer, now the White House spokesman, said at the time Trump was “troubled” by the decision.

The Response

Trump reiterated his belief Manning’s sentence should not have been commuted, and he accused Manning of calling Obama a “weak leader.” Manning, in her column, didn’t explicitly call Obama weak, but she did say the former president’s willingness to compromise with his political opponents was never reciprocated. The word “weak” appears to have come from the way the Fox News segment dealt with the column; Abby Huntsman, the anchor, said Manning “is slamming President Obama as a weak leader with few permanent accomplishments.” Fourteen minutes later, Trump, who has, in fact, previously called Obama “weak,” fired off his tweet.

Trump Says He’ll Seek ‘Major Investigation Into Voter Fraud’


The Prompt

Several news organizations on Tuesday reported that President Trump had told congressional leaders at a meeting Monday that he would have also won the popular vote in the presidential election but for widespread voter fraud. It’s not the first time Trump has questioned the integrity of the U.S. electoral system, though the assertion has been widely debunked even by members of his own party. When news organizations pressed Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, on why Trump continued to perpetrate a lie, Spicer replied Tuesday: “I think the president has believed that for a while based on studies and information he has.”

The Context

Trump’s claims of electoral fraud aren’t new. He made them repeatedly as a candidate when it appeared that Hillary Clinton would win the election. And though he triumphed easily in the Electoral College (306-232), Trump lost the popular vote to Clinton by about 3 million votes. But when Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, sought a recount in some states where Trump’s margin of victory was close, his legal team noted: “All available evidence suggests that the 2016 general election was not tainted by fraud/mistake.” Still, his loss in the popular vote appears to have rankled Trump, and he’s brought up the claim of widespread voter fraud repeatedly since then. In fact on November 27, soon after he was elected president, Trump tweeted he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Spicer on Tuesday said that Trump’s claims were based on a Pew study that, he said, showed 14 percent of those who voted were noncitizens; Spicer also cited “other studies that have been presented to him.” But as The New York Times notes, Trump appears to have conflated two separate studies: one that was criticized for flawed data; and the other in 2012, by the Pew Center on the States, which found, in the words of its author, David Becker, “millions of out of date registration records due to people moving or dying, but found no evidence that voter fraud resulted.” On Tuesday, Becker said: “As I've noted before, voting integrity better in this election than ever before. Zero evidence of fraud.”

The Response

Trump in his response notes that his inquiry will focus on “those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal, and even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time).” This is a slight departure from his previous suggestion that voting by those in the country illegally cost him the popular vote. The Pew study noted that “approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state”; more than 1.8 million dead people were listed as voters. And while the Pew study didn’t have numbers on noncitizens voting, fact-check organization such as PoliticFact have said there’s no credible evidence that large numbers of noncitizens voted. A Trump-ordered inquiry, though there’s no indication one will materialize, could find some overlaps in voter registration and it may also find dead people on the rolls, but the numbers are likely to be inconsequential; nor is it completely knowable whether those people, if they voted, cast their ballots for Clinton or Trump.  

Trump Is Nicer to Protesters Than He Usually Is

The Prompt

On Saturday, somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-3 million people marched in dozens of American cities (and abroad), protesting Donald Trump’s presidency on the first day of his administration. Trump was away from DC for most of the day, complaining at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia about news coverage of his inauguration. But it was impossible to miss the crowds in the District, and even if he somehow did, the marches carried the news cycle for the rest of the day.

The Context

Trump has never been particularly kind to protesters. During the campaign, he suggested a man who interrupted his rally “should have been roughed up,” and told attendees at another rally that he’d “pay for the legal fees” for anyone who threw a punch at a protester. And he’s famously rough on his critics online.

It’s harder, of course, to be quite as blase about crowds all across the country, adding up to potentially millions of protesters. Trump’s first tweet (sent from an Android, it should be noted) is more restrained than usual, but it’s still mocking in tone and singles out a scapegoat—in this case, the celebrities who spoke at several of the rallies.

But the next tweet is a true aberration. Gentlemanly and conciliatory, it could have been sent from Paul Ryan’s account. And it seems to acknowledge that Saturday’s marches went off largely without incident. Also sent from an Android phone, it is exactly the presidential tone traditional members of the GOP have been hoping to see from Trump. Perhaps the president decided this wasn’t a moment where insults would work.

We’ll see if it lasts.

Trump Targets 'Biased' NBC for Questioning His Jobs-Creation Claims


The Prompt

NBC’s Today show aired a segment Wednesday morning that appeared to question whether President-elect Donald Trump has really created the jobs he’s claimed since his election in November. In it, Ari Melber, MSNBC’s chief legal correspondent, said companies he’s heard from maintain Trump’s impact on job creation is “very small or non-existent.” Companies, Melber said, make decisions about jobs after deliberating for “months if not years. … [The decisions] are not responses to a couple of days of internet attention.”

The Context

Trump’s campaign pledge, “Make America Great Again,” is predicated on bringing jobs back to the U.S.—or at least keeping them here. He’s used his bully pulpit, Twitter, to target companies that had planned to move jobs to Mexico and other places—and threatened to impose import taxes on finished goods that are brought back to the U.S. And Trump has claimed results: He’s said the CEOs of companies such as Carrier, Ford, GM, and others have changed their minds about moving jobs overseas, and, indeed, are creating thousands of jobs in the U.S. after either meeting with him or under pressure from him.

The Response

Trump found a news report he didn’t like, labeled it “FAKE NEWS,” and accused the network that ran it of bias. Although it is true that companies have announced they are keeping jobs in the U.S., it’s also true that some of the jobs that are being touted were in the works for a long time. Having said that, Ford’s CEO Mark Fields told NPR Trump’s tweets against the company, as well as his stated economic policies, did have an effect.

“I can't give you an exact percentage, but clearly it was a factor,” he said. “We have a president-elect who said very clearly he wants to create a more positive business environment for manufacturing here in the U.S., wants to create pro-growth policies, whether it's through tax reform or regulatory reform and those things matter.”

CEOs who are seeking to avoid Trump’s tweets, which have caused temporary drops in the value of several stocks, are unlikely to want to contradict the president-elect’s claims. And indeed it’s in their interest to make it seem Trump was responsible for their decisions. For example, Trump, in his broadside against NBC, also cited a Wall Street Journal report about Bayer’s announcement it would create U.S. jobs after meeting the president-elect. But that, as Nick Timiraos, the paper’s national economics correspondent, pointed out on Twitter, comes as the German chemical giant seeks regulatory approval for a merger with Monsanto, the St. Louis-based agribusiness giant. He added:

Trump Says Polls That Show Low Approval Ratings Are 'Rigged'


Several recent polls suggest Donald Trump will enter the White House with the lowest approval rating in four decades of any president-elect. The most recent of those, a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday, said 40 percent of those surveyed had a favorable view of Trump while 54 percent held an unfavorable view of him. Also, 44 percent of Americans say they believe he is qualified to serve as president; 52 percent say he is not. Still, a majority of survey respondents said they were optimistic Trump will fulfill his campaign pledges on the economy and terrorism. More on the poll, including methodology here.


The Context

The Post/ABC national poll of 1,005 adults had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, and its results roughly line up with the percentage of votes Trump received nationwide (46.1 percent) in the election against Hillary Clinton (48.2 percent), as well as many pre-election national polls. Trump’s support is mostly divided along party lines: More than eight in 10 Republicans say he is qualified to be president, the Post/ABC poll says; about the same percentage of Democrats say he isn’t qualifies. Self-identified independents are split. His comments during the presidential transition, his initial dismissal of intelligence assessments about Russian interference in the U.S. election, and his tweets disparaging his rivals and perceived enemies have been met unfavorably by the public, according to several polls. Still, there’s some good news, the Post says in its assessment of the poll. The 52 percent of those surveyed who say Trump isn’t qualified to be president is the lowest since he declared his presidential run.

The Response

Trump has long been critical of polls—and he has a point. No one, let alone pollsters, gave him a chance to beat better-known and better-funded candidates in the Republican presidential primary, nor did they give him a change against Clinton in the general election. But while some of those polls were flawed—though it’s worth pointing out they did correctly show Clinton winning the popular vote—there’s little evidence to support his claim they were “rigged.” Indeed, Nate Silver, the pundit behind fivethirtyeight.com, responded to Trump’s claim:






Trump on Brennan: 'Was This the Leaker of Fake News?'

The Prompt

On Sunday, CIA Director John Brennan offered Fox News Sunday an uncharacteristically blunt interview. He warned that President-elect Donald Trump lacks “a full understanding” of the threat Russia poses; said he took “great umbrage” at “equating intelligence community with Nazi Germany”; and scolded that “there is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for ‘leaking’ information that was already available publicly.”

The Context

Brennan spent a quarter-century rising through the ranks of the agency he now leads, including holding senior posts during the Bush administration. His appointment by Obama as CIA director raised hackles among civil libertarians of both parties, angered by his apparent support for Bush-era policies including torture, and his role in the current administration’s drone-strike program. His record in public office is less that of a political partisan, than of a loyal, institutional defender—for better and for worse—of the agency to which he has devoted much of his life.

Trump’s response to his comments is difficult to parse. He lists a variety of fronts on which Russia has acted aggressively in recent years. Is it a suggestion that the CIA failed to foresee and forestall these moves? Perhaps more likely, an argument that the administration’s dour view of Russia has produced a situation that couldn’t be much worse, and so it’s time to try a different approach? That would jibe with an interview published by The Times of London on Sunday, in which he floated the idea of dropping sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea, in exchange for reductions of nuclear arms.

Trump closed with a remarkable, and wholly unsubstantiated, accusation—suggesting that the director of the CIA was the man who leaked the unverified Trump dossier to BuzzFeed News.

The Response

It’s been widely reported that newsrooms around D.C. have been in possession of much of the dossier’s contents for months, and that its author, Christopher Steele, was desperately trying to call attention to what he believed he'd found. Mother Jones published a story based on his claims before the election. There’s no real mystery as to where the dossier came from. The notion that Brennan played any role as “the leaker of Fake News” is baffling.

But Trump’s latest broadside seems likely to intensify escalating tensions between Trump and the intelligence agencies he’ll shortly inherit. If Brennan thought that going on television and publicly warning the president-elect was an effective means of defending his agency from Trump’s attacks, he seems to have been mistaken.

Trump Worries About 'Burning' Cities as Fires Hit Historic Lows

The Prompt

After Lewis told Meet the Press that he didn’t see Trump “as a legitimate president,” Trump took to Twitter to attack the civil-rights icon on Saturday morning. And then, on Saturday night, he signed back in to take another shot.

The Context

Trump has spent the last year warning that “crime is out of control,” and painting inner-cities as dark dystopias. As my colleague David Graham has written, though, crime remains near historic lows, even if rates have ticked up for the past two years. Public perceptions, however, are a different story entirely. A majority of Americans report “a great deal” of concern about crime; during the decades of steady decline, most remained convinced it was rising.

Nothing drives home the anachronism of Trump’s critique like his reference to “burning … inner cities.” That may have been a problem in the 1970s, when the Bronx burned, but it’s not today. Since 1981, calls for fires in the United States are down by 50 percent. Big city fire departments today are more likely to worry about a dearth of major fires leaving younger firefighters short on experience than having too many fires to fight. And urban fires aren’t a good measure of social dysfunction, anyway. A recent study found that rates of residential fires in major cities are correlated with the age of the housing stock and its vacancy rate, and not with the socioeconomic status of their residents.

The Response

As my colleague Matt Ford noted earlier today when the tweets began, it’s remarkable to see a president-elect attack John Lewis on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

And, of course, it’s not clear that Trump believes what he’s tweeting. He lives in America’s largest city; he built his fortune developing properties in it, and then by licensing his name to developments in other cities; and he ended the night by inviting his followers to join him in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration, which is—and this is true—also a city. If they take him up on the invitation, they’re unlikely to find smoke, but should have plenty of half-smokes.

Trump Says Civil-Rights Icon John Lewis Is 'All Talk, Talk, Talk'

The Prompt

Representative John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, told NBC’s Meet the Press Friday that he doesn’t believe President-elect Donald Trump will be a legitimate president when he takes office on January 20. “I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said in the interview. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected, and they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.” Lewis, a widely respected leader of the civil-rights movement and the last living speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, also said he will not attend the inauguration ceremonies for the first time since he joined Congress in 1987.

The Context

Lewis is part of a growing chorus of outrage from congressional Democrats amid growing reports of Russian interference in the November presidential election. Like Lewis, many of them have cited Russia’s maneuvers as a crucial factor in Trump’s surprise victory over Clinton. During a closed House Intelligence Committee hearing on Friday, Democratic legislators reportedly erupted at FBI Director James Comey for his silence about the bureau’s investigations into Trump’s ties with Russia, drawing comparisons to the infamous letter about Clinton’s private email server he sent shortly before Election Day.

The Response

Trump’s reaction to Lewis’s comments makes two assertions, neither of which are true. Georgia’s fifth congressional district, which Lewis represents, cuts through central Atlanta. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it includes “the bulk” of Georgia’s universities and colleges and the headquarters of multiple Fortune 500 companies—hardly the crumbling dystopia depicted by Trump. Even more erroneous is Trump’s claim that Lewis is “all talk, talk, talk—no action or results.” At age 23, Lewis was among the organizers of the 1963 March on Washington; he is also the last living speaker at the event. The march spurred the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed de jure racial discrimination in public facilities throughout the United States. In 1965, Lewis focused on racial discrimination in elections and campaigned to register black voters throughout the South. He was then severely beaten by Alabama state troopers while marching across the Edmund Pettis Bridge during the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Footage of his beating and the violence towards other peaceful demonstrators pushed President Lyndon B. Johnson to support what would become the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Through both talk and action, Lewis played a major role in transforming the United States into a more just and equal society.

Whatever Trump’s intent, his aggressive reaction to Lewis could also prompt a wider Democratic boycott of his inauguration on Friday. As of Saturday morning, Politico reported that at least a dozen Democratic lawmakers said they would skip the event, with some planning on taking part in the Women’s March on Washington to protest his presidency the following day.

Trump Promises Hacking Report in 90 Days


The Prompt

Donald Trump still seems to be annoyed about the news reports this week—based on uncorroborated information—that Russian intelligence possessed compromising information about him. He responded to it twice—on Wednesday and Thursday—on Twitter, as well as in his by now well-chronicled press conference in which he assailed news organizations and accused CNN and BuzzFeed of producing “fake news.”

The Context

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia interfered with the U.S. election in order to favor Trump. They briefed Trump, who has been skeptical of the intelligence assessment of Russia’s role, last Friday about the intelligence on which this assessment on Russian hacking was based. This week, CNN, BuzzFeed, and others reported on a dossier that suggested Russian intelligence possessed compromising information on Trump. That dossier was put together by a former British spy who conducts opposition research for both Republicans and Democrats. (He has now gone to ground in the UK.) On Thursday, Reuters reported the former spy was initially hired by Jeb Bush, Trump’s rival in the Republican race. Russia denies any such dossier exists. Trump, whose relationship with the intelligence community has been frosty, at best, accused it Thursday of deliberately leaking the information to make him look bad. That prompted James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, to issue a statement saying he’d spoken to Trump, denied the intelligence community leaked the information, that the dossier had been floating around Congress and the media for weeks, if not months, before the intelligence community became aware of it, and that he considered the leak detrimental to the U.S. Clapper’s statement added that while the claims in the dossier were unsubstantiated, the intelligence community made no claim about their veracity.

Then came the unrelated revelation that the Justice Department’s Inspector General was opening an investigation into FBI Director James Comey’s letter to Congress, just days before the election, about the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Clinton has blamed that letter, in part, for her loss. The department’s inspector general said the investigation followed requests from lawmakers, groups, and members of the public.

The Response

There are two parts to Trump’s response: In the first, he seems to double down on the idea the intelligence community leaked the dossier about him to news media—despite Clapper’s emphatic denial. Once again he cites Russia as saying “nothing exists.” This illustrates Trump’s continued tendency to take Russia’s word over that of U.S. intelligence. He vowed his people will have a full report on hacking in 90 days. It’s unclear here whether Trump means his political operatives or the intelligence community that he will be soon in charge of. Once again Trump has resorted to the use of “FAKE NEWS” to describe stories he doesn’t like or agree with.

The second part of his response apparently deals with the inspector general’s investigation. Trump has blown hot and cold on Clinton. During the campaign, he vowed to investigate and jail her over the email scandal, and criticized the FBI’s assessment that there was no criminality in Clinton’s actions. Since his victory, Trump has been more gracious. Tweets like this emerge typically when questions are raised about factors that contributed to Clinton’s loss. Trump is possibly correct in pointing out that Clinton lost “because she campaigned in the wrong states.” Indeed, the intelligence community has said it has no evidence to suggest the Russian interference succeeded in changing either the vote tallies or the actual result. In other words, there may have been factors that turned voters off of Clinton, but ultimately she lost in traditional Democratic strongholds like Pennsylvania and Michigan, and that’s what cost her the election.

Trump Implores His Supporters to 'Buy L.L. Bean'

The Prompt

Eschewing the company’s trendy duck boots and absurdly generous return policy, a protest group called Grab Your Wallet is encouraging consumers to boycott L.L. Bean, the 104-year-old retail brand headquartered in Maine. Not because of any specific problem with their products or policies, but because a member of the company’s board contributed to a political action committee that supported Donald Trump.

The Context

Last weekend, the Associated Press reported that Linda Bean, whose grandfather founded L.L. Bean and who currently sits on its board, is in trouble with the Federal Election Commission. A wealthy Republican donor who’s run for office herself, Bean had contributed above the legal limit to the PAC Making America Great Again. On Fox and Friends Thursday morning, Bean criticized the “hardcore bullies out on the Left Co—West Coast in California” backing the boycott. Bean told the anchors: “I never back down, if I feel I’m right.”

The Bangor Daily News in Maine has come out strongly against the boycott, citing the number of people the company employs in the state. And on Facebook, L.L. Bean released a statement explaining that it’s “disappointed” in the boycott, and that “no individual alone speaks on behalf of the business or represents the values of the company that L.L. built.”

The Response

Backers of Grab Your Wallet’s campaign might double down on their commitment after Trump’s tweet, and Trump supporters may place orders of their own. But people judge Bean boots on their quality—and the company just opened an expanded production facility, expecting sales to increase from 600,000 to 700,000 pairs in the next year.

In recent weeks, the president-elect has repeatedly weighed in on the business decisions taken by individual companies, attacking some for plans to move jobs, and praising others for expanding or retaining domestic operations. This tweet raised new questions, though, because it showed Trump urging Americans to support a particular business, to reward Linda Bean for her “great support.”

More From Trump on the Russian Dossier

The Prompt

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said Wednesday in a statement he’d spoken to the president-elect and expressed his “profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press,” calling them corrosive to national security. He reiterated the dossier that alleges the Russian government might have compromising information about Donald Trump—and which was published Tuesday by BuzzFeed—was written by a private security company and was not a U.S. intelligence community product. He said the document had been widely circulated among the media, U.S. lawmakers, and their staff before the intelligence community became aware of it. Clapper said he emphasized to Trump he does “not believe the leaks came from within the IC.” He added though the intelligence community hasn’t made a judgment whether the dossier is reliable, and didn’t use it for the conclusions about Russian interference in the U.S. election, “part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”

The Context

This week CNN and others published claims that Russian intelligence possessed compromising material about Trump, adding the U.S. intelligence community briefed Trump last week on this material, along with their assessment that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election—with an eye to help the Republican nominee. BuzzFeed then went onto publish the dossier detailing the information the Russians allegedly have. The source of the information—which is uncorroborated—is a now-outed former British spy who does opposition research (his clients included both Republicans and Democrats). Trump went on a Twitter tirade, first calling the information “FAKE NEWS,” then accusing the intelligence community of leaking the information in order to make him look bad, comparing the situation to “Nazi Germany.” He expanded on those remarks during his news conference Wednesday, attacking the news organizations that published them and calling the leaks “a disgrace.”

The Response

Trump’s tweet Thursday morning reiterated his outrage over the information that was leaked. It did, however, corroborate part of Clapper’s statement: that the two men spoke and denounced the leaks. Trump also called the contents of the dossier “made up, phony facts”—even though Clapper’s statement made it a point to say the intelligence community “has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable.” In other words, while Trump says he believes the information is fake, Clapper isn’t saying either way whether it is or not. It’s worth noting two things here: First, the contents of the dossier have not been independently corroborated. Second, Clapper’s statement, as my colleague McKay Coppins noted, verified the essentials of CNN’s report, and the BBC, which Trump sarcastically dismissed in his news conference as “another beauty,” reported Wednesday it had multiple sources for the information about Trump. Trump ended his tweet with “Too bad!” What that’s specifically referring to is unclear, but the president-elect will likely let us know soon—on Twitter.

Trump Responds to Latest Leak Allegations: 'Are We Living in Nazi Germany?'


The Prompt

On Tuesday, CNN and other news organizations reported that intelligence officials briefed the president-elect and other top officials on allegations the Russian government might have compromising information about Donald Trump.

The Context

Last Friday, U.S. intelligence officials briefed Trump on their assessment that Moscow undermined the presidential election by releasing hacked documents from the Democratic National Committee to favor the Republican nominee and harm Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. They also noted the efforts did not have an impact on the actual vote tallies in the election, and released an unclassified version of their findings. Cut to Tuesday, when CNN and others published the claim that Russian intelligence had compromising information about Trump. But as my colleague David Graham noted: “That doesn’t mean the claim that Russian agents possessed the information was necessarily true. The origin of the claim, in fact, is decidedly partisan. A major source for the report delivered to Trump was a set of memos prepared by a former British intelligence operative, who gathered the information while working as an opposition researcher for both anti-Trump Republicans and later for Democrats.” CNN and others did not publish the actual memo because its contents couldn’t be independently verified. But later Tuesday night, BuzzFeed did, saying, “Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers.” (On why that is a problem, read this by David.) Trump responded on Twitter almost immediately, calling it “FAKE NEWS.” Claims in the memo about Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, meeting Russian agents in Prague have been rejected by Cohen.  

The Response

There are a couple ways to look at Trump’s response. First, his outrage at having the legitimacy of his election victory questioned: This is understandable because Trump not only defeated more than a dozen better-financed and favored rivals in the GOP, but also came out of seemingly nowhere to defeat Clinton, who’d all but been anointed president. Having said that, when it appeared Clinton would easily win, Trump was doing much the same: sowing the seeds to dispute the legitimacy of the entire election process.

Next, Trump’s reliance on Russia’s outright rejection of the latest claims to buttress his argument: This is less understandable given Trump consistently appears to take the word of Russian officials, but not those of the intelligence community that will soon be serving him.

Trump’s response that he has “NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA — NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” is also less easy to understand given how extensively his business dealings there have been chronicled. (You can read about it here, here, here, and here.) As to his assertion that “intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public,” it’s not clear that intelligence agencies, in fact, leaked the memo that had been shopped around for months by political-opposition groups. And while Trump may have a point, in general, about the leak of information, intelligence agencies, especially those that believe their work isn’t being taken seriously by an administration, find a way to publicize their work, and news organizations, it appears, are more than happy to publish them—even if the claims are unverified.

Trump: Only 'Stupid' People Want Bad Relations With Russia




The Prompt

On Friday, U.S. intelligence officials briefed President-elect Donald Trump on their conclusion that the Russian government undermined the presidential election by releasing hacked documents from the Democratic National Committee to harm Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and aid in Trump’s election.

The Context

President Obama responded to the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions in December by imposing unilateral sanctions on Russian spy agencies, their leaders, and their business entities. Obama also expelled 35 Russian operatives from U.S. soil and closed two compounds owned by the Russian government in Maryland and New York. When announcing those measures, Obama also indicated the U.S. might retaliate in more clandestine ways “at a time and place of our choosing.”

The Response

Those measures received broad bipartisan support from Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress, whose members have largely concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin directed the hacking and release of Democratic emails. But it’s an open question whether Trump, who has frequently praised Putin and called for closer ties with Moscow, will uphold those sanctions when he takes office in 13 days. Saturday’s tweets suggest Trump’s Friday intelligence briefing didn’t significantly alter his view of Russia.

While the president has broad authority to impose or rescind some types of sanctions, Congress could also attempt to impose its own measures against Russia and Putin’s government through legislation. That could set up an early clash between the Trump White House as it tries to move closer to Moscow and key Republican and Democratic lawmakers who want a stronger response to Russian interference in American democracy.

Trump Blames DNC for Getting Hacked

The Prompt

Just hours after he received an intelligence briefing on the influence of Russian hacking on the U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump is pushing back against the common narrative accepted by the intelligence community.

The Context

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a report Friday that detailed how top Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, ordered the hacking American political figures in order to influence the presidential election and help elect Trump. The CIA, FBI, and NSA all concluded that Russia was behind the cyber attacks. And while top officials for months have continued to blame Russia for the hacks, Trump has strayed from blaming the Kremlin, hoping to build a strong relationship with Moscow during his term.

The Reaction

Instead of pinning the blame on Russia, which the intelligence community agrees was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee, Trump instead put the blame on the DNC. Russia may have hacked the DNC, but the committee shouldn’t have let someone hack them, Trump basically says.

Trump Finds an Intelligence Investigation He Supports

The Prompt

The president-elect is being briefed on Friday on the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was behind hacks against the Democratic National Committee and other targets, and their conclusion that those hacks were intended to hurt Hillary Clinton, his rival for the presidency. A public report is expected early next week. But before that briefing, NBC News reported that U.S. officials intercepted Russian officials celebrating Trump’s win. (The Washington Post actually reported this first, though for some reason Trump picked up on NBC.)

The Context

Trump has adamantly opposed to acknowledging any Russian role in the hacks, even as a strong consensus develops among intelligence officials and also members of Congress in both parties. His hesitation is in some ways understandable—he seems to believe that Russian hacking to help him would delegitimize his victory, and it would—though increasingly untenable. He has been uninterested in some intelligence briefings since winning election.

The Response

Trump’s speed in demanding an investigation is surprising, given the lack of urgency he has shown to investigate or take seriously reports that a foreign government attempted to interfere with U.S. elections. The leak of today’s report to the press is somewhat embarrassing to Trump, and indeed it may have been intended that way—his attacks on the intelligence community seem to have riled its members. The back and forth today is another escalation of the sniping between the president-elect and the spies he will soon command, it suggests he will take a hard line against leakers, as President Obama has done.

Trump Starts His Morning With a Fight Over the 'Celebrity Apprentice'

The Prompt

It’s simple: A few days ago, the ratings for NBC’s revamped Celebrity Apprentice, hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, became public. And they were, indeed, lower than the show’s previous ratings under host Donald Trump.

The Context

Trump seems to have his facts straight here. Schwarzenegger is a movie star, and he did support Ohio Governor John Kasich during the Republican primary. (It’s less clear who the former California governor supported in the general election, though it wasn’t Trump—a possible motivation for the salty tweets.) And Trump’s ratings were higher: Monday’s premiere of Celebrity Apprentice had an average of 4.9 million viewers. That’s less than the 6.5 million the season 14 premiere—Trump’s last—had. It’s also significantly less than the 18.5 million viewers who tuned it in for the 2004 debut of The Apprentice, the previous, celebrity-less version of the show.

Trump is also correct in asking “who cares,” because really—who does?

The Reaction

The fact that Trump is criticizing a show for which he’s still, controversially, an executive producer is odd. Unless, as some have pointed out on Twitter, he’s deliberately trying to manufacture controversy to boost interest in the program.

But if that’s his angle, he didn’t get Schwarzenegger on board for the fake fight.

Trump Takes Credit for Ford Move: 'Just the Beginning'

The Prompt

Ford announced Tuesday that due to lack of demand for the small cars a planned Mexican plant was set to produce, it is scrapping the project in favor of an investment in expanding a Flat Rock, Michigan, factory. At rallies, Trump had previously decried the plan for the Mexican plant, and he seems to be heralding Ford’s about-face as a big win for his campaign to keep American manufacturing jobs from moving to Mexico.

The Context

In 2015, Ford announced that it had come to an agreement with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and would build a small-car production plant in Mexico. Trump has been going after the company since well back into his presidential campaign. In September 2016, he went so far as to baselessly claim Ford was going to "fire all its employees in the United States." The automaker tried to correct the record, but it likely wanted to stop the repeated attacks, as any company being attacked by a winning presidential candidate would. So now Ford is changing plans, pulling out of the roughly $1.7 billion investment in Mexico and announcing $700 million of spending on the Michigan facility that will produce, among other things, a hybrid Mustang due in 2020.


The Response

The company’s response threaded the needle between saying it had bowed to Trump and downplaying his influence. Ford claimed that the change was determined not by politics but by market factors—primarily shrinking demand for the small cars the Mexican plant would have built. As Ford’s CEO, Mark Fields, said, “We didn't cut a deal with Trump. We did it for our business.” But, he was also careful to praise the president-elect, saying that the decision to manufacture in America represented “a vote of confidence” in the incoming administration’s proposed economic policies. In other words, Ford’s response amounts to an amicably-toned “Fine, but I’m doing it because I want to, not because you told me to.”

Ford is just one of several major manufacturers, including GM and Carrier, to face pressure from Trump to keep jobs at home.

Corporations have long sought to maintain good relationships with the government. But earning the personal favor of the president has not often been as important as it seems to be under Trump. Particularly outrageous corporate scandals have earned presidential condemnation before, and policies including parts of the post-2008 bailouts have been aimed at particular companies, not to mention the public finger-wagging banks often get during campaign season. But Trump’s tweets in this vein are the first time in modern memory that an incoming president has used his platform to try to move public opinion for or against particular corporate decisions solely on the basis of whether they accord with his economic philosophy (in Trump’s case, trade protectionism).

In a system in which corporations might be subject to a personal scolding from the American president for their business decisions, one response might be to give the man what he wants without seeming obeisant or too cozy in the eyes of customers who might find it unseemly. As it happens, this is exactly what Ford appears to have done.

Trump Renews His Feud With the Intelligence Community Over Russian Hacking

The Prompt

Trump said last week that while it was time to “move on” from claims that the Russian government interfered in the presidential election, he would take an intelligence briefing this week to hear them out. Now he says that briefing has been delayed in this scare-quote-studded missive.

The Context

The president-elect has publicly dismissed intelligence-community assessments that Russia was behind hacks against top Democrats during the election, although he has reportedly been briefed on the matter many times, including during the election. He has offered other suggestions, including “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” And perhaps for good reason: Given that officials have said they believe the hacks were intended to help Trump win the election, it would be awkward for him to acknowledge that. Since the election, he has skipped intelligence briefings repeatedly.

The Reaction

Shortly after Trump tweeted, NBC News reported that the briefing had never been scheduled for Wednesday, as did CNN. That means either Trump or the intelligence officials aren’t telling the truth, neither of which is an appealing option. Trump has staked his response to the crisis on the assumption that the reputation of U.S. intelligence is weak among the general public, a risky battle. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warns that Trump risks starting a war with a powerful enemy—which may be true, but also makes the case that the intelligence community needs better civilian oversight.

Trump to Chevy: ‘Make in U.S.A. or Pay Big Border Tax!’

The Tweet

The Prompt

The tweet doesn’t appear to be pegged to any particular news of the day, but it follows General Motors’s November announcement that it would be laying off 2,000 workers, most of them from a Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant that produces the Chevrolet Cruze. GM had announced that it would start building some Cruzes in Mexico in March 2015.

The Context

Apart from President-elect Trump’s history of Twitter-feuding with another type of Cruzes, many of his most public acts since the election have centered on jawboning or  cajoling specific companies. He had a hand in getting Carrier Corporation to keep 730 of the roughly 1,300 jobs it had planned to outsource, arranging for a $7 million payout from his vice president-elect’s home state of Indiana to the appliance company. He has used his Twitter account to press two of the biggest government weapons contractors, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, on the price tags of big-ticket projects. Most relevantly, he claimed that a phone call with Ford’s chairman, Bill Ford, led the company to keep a Kentucky plant in the U.S., though the company had never planned to move the plant in the first place.

The Response

Trump gives GM two options: “make in U.S.A.” or “pay big border tax.” But neither makes much sense. To take them in order:

Virtually all Chevy Cruzes are built in the U.S. GM posted a response to its website soon after Trump’s tweet, clarifying that “General Motors manufactures the Chevrolet Cruze sedan in Lordstown, Ohio. All Chevrolet Cruze sedans sold in the U.S. are built in GM’s assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. GM builds the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback for global markets in Mexico, with a small number sold in the U.S.” Reuters reports that roughly 4,500 Cruze hatchbacks are sold annually in America, compared with about 190,000 Cruze sedans. That represents slightly over 2 percent of the units of this one model, from just this one of the 12 brands owned by General Motors, the biggest American automaker. (For reference, the company sold about 10 million vehicles in 2015.) Does Trump really expect GM to create or tool a whole U.S.-based plant just to build the few hatchback Cruzes that sell in the U.S.? It’s perfectly plausible that the president-elect didn’t consider the logistics of his demand to GM, which gets back to the same old issues with a policy-maker using his phone to name and shame specific companies for political points.

Not least because Trump has chosen to fight this battle over a relatively small issue, the tweet’s second option, to have an American company manufacturing abroad “pay [a] big border tax” on imports, is worrying. The money for this border tax, or import tariff, would have to come from somewhere. It would likely come from car buyers, in the form of higher prices. This is the opposite of a victory for consumers, at a moment when, for the first time in generations, much of the U.S. middle-class is finding the average new car to be a reach. Virtually every American has an interest in paying less for cars and other imported products, as well as avoiding retributive tariffs on exports that make it harder to sell domestic products abroad. Yet only a specific and (primarily due to automation) shrinking group has an interest in Americans getting paid more to build cars. They probably can’t bank their futures on Trump personally intervening every time some of them find their jobs in danger.

Trump’s affinity for these sort of public victories for his trade-protectionist agenda could create an incentive for companies to make political decisions to stay onshore or to move operations back to the U.S. in order to win favor with the White House. And that could lead to a short-term benefit in the sector’s employment at the cost of marginally higher prices on consumer goods. Over the long-term, though, no amount of personal heroics by political leaders can stop U.S. employment’s ultimate move away from industrial manufacturing..

'There Should Be No Further Releases From Gitmo,' Trump Says


The Washington Post editorial board urged him late Monday to close the U.S. detention center, arguing that its continued existence hands “easy propaganda victories to enemies of the United States.” NPR on Tuesday reported that the White House is pushing to get the detainees who have been cleared for release out of Guantanamo before Trump is sworn in later this month. Neither is likely to have persuaded him to change his mind.

The Context

At its peak, the prison in Guantanamo held 775 prisoners who were captured in the war on terrorism. Candidate Barack Obama vowed to close the facility during his first year in office. Although he failed, he did succeed in transferring the overwhelming majority of detainees to their home countries or those nations that would take them. About 40 remain.

The Response

Trump’s tweet can be broken up into two parts. In the first, he says, the detainees “are extremely dangerous people” though some 19 of them who are awaiting transfer have been vetted by intelligence, military, and law enforcement officials. At least 40 prisoners are being held indefinitely, though military and intelligence officials now believe many of the dozens of detainees were improperly labeled “the worst of the worst” and unfit for release. In the second part of his tweet, Trump says the detainees “should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.” That’s a common refrain among those opposed to closing Guantanamo. But, as my colleague Marina Koren noted last year, Congress-mandated reports from the Obama administration’s intelligence officials show the rate of confirmed recidivism is about 17 percent—or fewer than 1 in 5.

Trump Dismisses North Korea’s Nuclear Threats—and Denounces China

The Prompt

North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un, rang in the new year by announcing that preparations for test-launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)—the kind of missile that could be fitted with a nuclear warhead and endanger the continental United States—were in their “last stage," getting 2017 off to a horrendous start.

The Context

The scale of the nuclear threat from North Korea, the most cloistered country in the world, is difficult to assess, and varies depending on whether you’re in Seoul or Tokyo or Washington, D.C. Kim Jong Un, who took power after his father’s death in 2011, has conducted three of the country’s five nuclear tests and a flurry of ballistic-missile tests. Some experts believe North Korea is already capable of building nuclear bombs small enough to be placed on short- and mid-range missiles, which could potentially hit South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. territory of Guam, among other targets; other experts don’t think the North Koreans have made that much progress. Siegfried Hecker, who studies the North Korean nuclear program, recently estimated that North Korea is five to 10 years away from developing what Kim Jong Un alluded to over the weekend: a nuclear-tipped long-range missile that could reach the continental United States.

During the presidential campaign, Trump described Kim Jong Un as a ruthless “maniac” but said he was willing to enter into direct talks with the North Korean leader over the nuclear program. He accused China—already in Trump’s crosshairs for, as Trump tells it, stealing American jobs and gutting the U.S. economy through unfair trade practices—of not applying pressure on North Korea in a way that only it can. China is North Korea’s most vital ally.

The Response

The North Korean government has a habit of engaging in provocative behavior when its adversaries are in the midst of political transitions, and the United States and South Korea are both in that position as 2017 begins. Barack Obama has reportedly advised Trump that the rapid advance of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program should be the top national-security concern of the incoming administration. Most U.S. presidents face an international crisis within their first year in office, and many have struggled with the early test, regardless of how experienced they or their advisers were. Trump’s first crisis may very well involve North Korea’s nuclear program, despite the intense focus on ISIS, China, Russia, and the border with Mexico during the U.S. election.

Trump’s tweets hint at the coming challenge from North Korea, but they also raise critical questions about how the Trump administration will respond to that challenge. When Trump says, “It won’t happen!”, does that mean he doubts North Korea’s capacity to acquire long-range nuclear weapons? Is he threatening to use some sort of force—bombs, special forces, cyber weapons, assassinations of North Korean scientists—to try and reverse the North Korean nuclear program? What economic measures is Trump willing to take against China in order to neutralize the threat from North Korea?

The problems posed by the North Korean nuclear program will help clarify several big unknowns about Trump’s presidency, including the president-elect’s vision of U.S.-China relations, approach to high-stakes foreign-policy crises, ability to strike grand deals on seemingly unrelated issues, and commitment to stopping the spread of the deadliest weapon ever invented.

Trump: The Congressional Ethics Office May Be 'Unfair,' but It Shouldn't Have Been a Priority

The Prompt

On Sunday night, the House Republican Caucus took a secret-ballot vote to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, placing it under the ethics committee whose failures it was designed to remedy.

The Context

The ethics office was an outgrowth of the Jack Abramoff scandal in 2008, an effort to police corruption without partisan entanglements. Some members of Congress have complained, bitterly, about its willingness to investigate anonymous complaints—which the new rules, among other things, would bar it from doing.

The Response

Trump’s tweets, curiously, invoked his oft-made pledge to “drain the swamp” (#DTS) but offered no substantive criticism of the House’s move. Instead, he suggested its timing sent the wrong message about priorities, even as he affirmed that the current ethics set up may be “unfair.” He’s not alone on either count. Paul Ryan, who reportedly opposed the move but didn’t block it, released a statement suggesting that the committee was “in need of reform to protect due process.” And a majority of his fellow Republicans evidently agreed.

The House’s Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, drove home Trump’s point about the signal sent by the move, declaring that “ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”

For Trump, the focus on ethics may prove particularly inconvenient. He still has not held the long-promised press conference detailing how he’ll disentangle himself from his complex array of family businesses. Despite early promises, he never released his tax returns. And as my colleague Russell Berman reports, he’s been naming his cabinet members without first securing signed ethics agreements, which may produce conflicts during confirmation hearings. Whatever the virtues or vices of the old ethics process, this was not the conversation the president-elect wanted to be having.

Trump Takes Aim at Obamacare


The Prompt

No explicit motive for Trump’s two-tweet takedown of the ACA was given. But Congress starts its new session today, and the first big item on the agenda is the fight to repeal—or save—Obamacare. Across the executive and legislative branches, Republicans are united most by their pledge to get rid of Obama’s signature health reform, and Trump is likely to continue to stoke the fires of repeal during the debate.

The Context

Enrollees in the Arizona exchanges will face 116 percent increases in total premiums this year, but over three-quarters of those enrollees this year will receive government subsidies and will not see all or any of that increase. Only around five percent of Arizonans actually use the exchanges.

Former President Bill Clinton did call Obamacare the “craziest thing in the world.”  Clinton’s comments were critical of the market-based nature of pieces of the ACA, and he advocated for extending the public-insurance programs of Medicare and Medicaid to more people who cannot afford insurance. Minnesota governor Mark Dayton did criticize the law as too expensive for many Americans and stands by those criticisms.

The Response

Donald Trump and other Republicans have long cited the challenges within the private health-insurance exchanges as primary reasons to repeal Obamacare. But those objections often overstate the nature of problems within those exchanges, which form the smallest piece of the health-insurance pie. As in Arizona’s example, the sliver of people covered under the exchanges is rather small and the sliver of unsubsidized enrollees even smaller—though cost is still a significant challenge for millions of them. It is rather unclear, though, how existing Republican plans to provide health-insurance tax credits or vouchers at lower rates than many existing subsidies or plan-coverage limits will solve that problem.

Moreover, Trump’s criticisms are typical in that they don’t really address the bulk of the ACA, most notably its expansion of Medicaid to cover millions of previously uninsured people. Though he takes Clinton’s and Dayton’s comments as support for a repeal, both of them made clear that their criticisms were calls to improve on Obamacare’s base, rather than repeal it. Clinton’s comments are especially misconstrued here, as his stance appears to be that the addition of a public option, an expansion of Medicare into near-elderly populations, and an expansion of Medicaid to more low-income people are necessary components of further reform. Plans favored by Republicans generally seek to roll back public insurance and federal commitments to coverage.

Trump: Chicago's Mayor 'Must Ask for Federal Help'

The Prompt

None offered. But the city’s official tally of its deadly year received extensive media coverage, and Trump often tweets about stories he’s seen featured on the cable news networks.

The Context

There’s no question that Chicago is in crisis, with murders surging 60 percent since last year. An analysis of national trends from the Brennan Center, released in September, estimated that Chicago’s murders accounted for half the nationwide increase—and of the 30 large cities it studied, Chicago was the only one to show large increases in crime two years running. Trump has called for Chicago to implement stop-and-frisk policing, and said that if police were tougher, they could stop the crime wave in a week. But it’s unclear what sort of federal assistance he’s placing on offer.

The Response

Although crime is up in Chicago, it’s not actually record setting. It’s not close to the 974 total homicides in 1974, or the 34 per 100,000 residents in 1992. But it’s awful enough. Researchers aren’t sure why crime has fallen nationally for the past two decades, and they’re not sure why in some cities it’s now rising again. Most agree, though, that stop-and-frisk is fairly ineffective, and in practice, often unconstitutional. In Chicago, police blame endemic gang violence and witness intimidation, among other factors. The city also as an abysmally low rate of solving murders—perhaps because repeated police scandals have sowed distrust, but also because the detective and crime scene units have shrunk even as murders have spiked.

Trump has had an up-and-down relationship with the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, a famously pugnacious liberal and former chief of staff to President Obama. At one point, Trump donated $50,000 to his mayoral campaign, and he met with him a month ago. But in March, protestors broke up a Trump rally in Chicago, and the city frequently served as a target for Trump, as he has consistently exaggerated the actual rise in violent crime and risks of inner-city life.

But if America remains far safer than its been for most of the lives of contemporary Americans, there has been a small uptick the past couple years in some key indicators, and in Chicago, it’s a genuine crisis. Could federal assistance make a difference? President Bill Clinton pushed through a bill that led to the hiring of nearly 100,000 officers, and criminologists have generally credited it for having some positive effect—accounting for perhaps as much as 10 percent of the total decline. If the president-elect wants to offer additional resources to the city, it could make a real difference—but so far, he’s offered a tweet with no specifics.

Trump Wishes His 'Many Enemies' a Happy New Year

The Prompt

It was New Year’s Eve. Then it was New Year’s Day. And then New Year’s Day (Observed). If it’s worth celebrating once, why not three times?

The Context

The first tweet and the last were posted from an Android phone, which has typically been the electronic signature of tweets Trump composes and sends himself. In between came a flurry of activity from an iPhone, including the middle tweet and a retweet of an almost identical sentiment from Dan Scavino Jr., Trump’s twitter consigliere and the newly designated White House director of social media. The iPhone also shared New Year’s greetings from Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Trump Jr., and from incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

The Response

The first tweet was classic Trump. Three years ago, he marked September 11 by extending best wishes to all, “even the haters and losers.” American politics has come a long way since 1973, when the disclosure that President Nixon maintained an enemies list was treated as a shocking revelation, and perhaps an indication he was unfit for office. Trump’s taunting of his defeated foes often seemed to buoy his electoral appeal, not deflate it.

But the first and last tweet illustrate the challenge facing Trump, as his moves from being a candidate to a president. As my colleague Molly Ball has noted, in many ways, Trump has never stopped running his primary campaign, or reveling in his victories. It’s been a signature element of his rallies, his interviews, and his tweets. And for all the mockery it’s drawn and sensibilities it’s offended, it highlights the core of his message—that he’s a winner, and he’ll help American win again.

But that message may have its limits. Trump won the Republican primary with a plurality, and polled millions fewer votes than Hillary Clinton on his way to a win in November. In less than three weeks, he’ll be the president of the United States of America—of those who voted for him, those who opposed him, and those who didn’t vote at all. Most presidents begin their terms sounding more like the last of these tweets than the first; calling on their fellow Americans to join them in building a brighter future. Whether Trump wants to follow that path, or continue to relive his campaign-trail triumphs, remains to be seen.

Trump Praises Putin's 'Smart' Delay

The Prompt

On Thursday, President Obama announced a series of measures retaliating against Russia for alleged hacking to interfere with the presidential election, including sanctions on some individuals, expulsion of some officials, and revoking access to two estates. Despite expectations that Russian President Vladimir Putin would retaliate, the Kremlin instead said that “further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policies carried out by the administration of President Trump”—apparently the “delay” to which Trump refers.

The Context

The matter of alleged Russian hacking remains a sore spot for the Trump. He is upset that the intelligence community and Obama administration have openly blamed Russia and said the intention was to help Trump, since that delegitimizes the president-elect; Trump has suggested it is all sour grapes after Hillary Clinton’s loss. But Trump had been cozying up to Putin for months beforehand. He promised to have closer relations with him, said they got along well (and then clarified that they had never met), suggested he’d recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and has refused to acknowledge the idea that Russia might have been behind the hacks.

The Response

This is a peculiar state of affairs: The president-elect of the United States is praising and siding with a foreign leader in a dispute with the U.S. government, the day after the U.S. government levied sanctions on that country for interfering in elections. Trump’s tweet, as Glenn Thrush notes, amounts to Trump praising himself—for believing Putin to be smart—and disguising it as praise for Putin.

Trump Pledges to Do Two Things the Government Already Does

My Administration will follow two simple rules: BUY AMERICAN and HIRE AMERICAN! #USA

A photo posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

The Prompt

Unclear. But bringing jobs back to the United States has been a consistent theme for President-elect Donald Trump. On Wednesday, he took credit for 5,000 jobs from Sprint coming to the United States. That generated an initial flurry of positive headlines, until it became clear that these jobs were part of a Softbank initiative for which he’d already claimed credit, and which had, in any event, been planned prior to his election.

The Context

Existing federal rules already limit civil-service positions to American citizens in almost all circumstances—and congressional appropriations generally bar direct hiring of non-citizens. Similarly, since Herbert Hoover signed the Buy American Act in 1933, the federal government has generally required all federal agencies to prefer American-made goods when making purchases. In practice, that usually means that the lowest foreign bid needs to be 6 percent below the lowest American bid from a large business, 12 percent below an American small business, or 50 percent below a defense-related bid in order to win the contract.

But that’s direct hiring and purchasing. Contracting rules are more nebulous—and as the government has increasingly outsourced functions in pursuit of efficiency, rules requiring American hiring and purchasing haven’t always kept pace. Subsequent federal legislation has imposed some restrictions on transportation projects, some defense purchases, and stimulus-bill projects. Some international trade agreements have also complicated the picture, limiting the government’s ability to put a thumb on the scale in favor of American businesses. But if this is what Trump is driving at, he’s sending mixed signals: Congressional Republicans stripped a buy-American provision out of a water infrastructure bill earlier in December, and despite repeated entreaties from Democrats, Trump declined to weigh in on the debate.

The Response

It’s unclear whether there’s anything remotely new in this pledge, which lacks the sort of specifics necessary to evaluate it in any meaningful way. But then, there’s also Trump’s own record on these issues. Both Donald and Ivanka Trump have attached their names to countless products manufactured abroad, and sold in the United States—and it’s not clear that they have a viable alternative, as The New York Times reports. A CNN investigation recently found that Trump’s businesses have received 1,256 permits for foreign guest workers in the past 15 years, and filed for at least 78 for the coming year. His defenders, though, including Trump himself, have argued that the broken system has necessitated such moves, and that it’s precisely Trump’s knowledge and exploitation of the current system that positions him to fix it. But if he has remedies in mind, he’s been notably short on specifics.

Trump: 'Thought It Was Going to Be a Smooth Transition - NOT!'

The Prompt

Trump was attacking the decision by the United States not to veto last week’s United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its settlement policy, but the timing suggests that Secretary of State John Kerry’s address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may have been the proximate trigger for the comments.

The Context

The president-elect is clearly frustrated by the Obama administration’s efforts to alter the United States’s posture to the conflict on its way out the door. But as the first tweet in the sequence suggests, this is only the most recent flashpoint in a transition process that began with promises of amity, and which has devolved into acrimony. He’s hardly alone, though, in his complaints about the substantive policy at issue here—although many critics of Israeli policy are applauding the moves, the administration has also attracted some withering opposition from both sides of the aisle, including from House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, who said that as a result of the abstention at the U.N., “Israel's enemies were strengthened.”

The Response

Where to begin? It’s remarkable to see this particular president-elect attacking the administration on the grounds that it’s violating procedural norms and deviating from long-held foreign-policy stances, criticisms more commonly applied to Trump. His insistent insertion of himself into public-policy debates has challenged the principle that the nation has just one president at a time, as my colleague Uri Friedman has written. Critics pin the blame for the souring transition squarely on Trump himself, and many see the moves at the U.N. as long overdue. But others take a more jaundiced view of the administration’s last-minute Middle East maneuvers, believing it should defer action on non-time-sensitive issues for the new administration.

Trump Thanks Himself for Surging Consumer Confidence

The Prompt

This time, the president-elect made it easy. He was responding to the release of the Consumer Confidence Index, a monthly survey of 5,000 households by the the Conference Board, and independent economic-research organization. And he actually understated the increase, which was slightly more than four points.

The Context

Consumers are, on average, feeling optimistic about the future, and Trump can fairly take credit for that. A PRRI / The Atlantic poll showed something similar last month. But that survey, like a recent Gallup poll, showed a strong partisan tilt. What’s happened is that, since the election, Trump supporters are feeling better about the future, and that’s pulling up overall sentiment.

The Response

Like most economic news, the CCI offers something of a mixed bag. It’s expectations that are rising, not consumers’ assessment of their present circumstances. Trump may struggle to produce economic growth that can keep pace with those rising expectations. And more than a few commentators raised their eyebrows at his final, “Thanks Donald!”—both for its use of the third person, and for its echo of the sarcastic, “Thanks, Obama!” of recent years.