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Donald Trump's abnormal presidency: the week of August 28

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Donald Trump made it clear at the beginning of his campaign that he wasn’t going to follow the normal rules or tone of politics. We’re keeping track of all the ways his presidency veers from the norm in terms of policy and rhetoric.

Day 230 Sept 6

Trump “has grounds” to decertify the Iran nuclear deal

In just over a month’s time, President Donald Trump will again have to decide whether he believes Iran is living up to its side of the nuclear deal struck in 2015. Twice he has gone against his own instincts and re-certified the deal, but if Trump’s ambassador to the UN is to be believed, he will not ignore his gut a third time.

In a speech given to conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, Nikki Haley stopped short of saying outright that she thinks Trump will decertify the deal on October 15 — an agreement which gave Iran billions of dollars in global sanctions relief in exchange for severely curbing its nuclear activities — but Haley did say that should the president take that route, he would be within his rights.


“I’m not making the case for decertifying,” Haley said. “What I am saying is should [Trump] decide to decertify he has grounds to stand on.”

Haley laid out two avenues by which Trump could void the nuclear agreement.

The first is on national security grounds. The legislation Congress passed on reviewing the Iran deal requires the president to certify that the deal is vital to the national security interests of the U.S. every three months. On that basis alone, Trump could decertify the agreement.

The second is based on the fact that Iran continues to test technology capable of carrying a nuclear warhead — in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. Haley also said Iran was still supporting terrorism, conducting arms-smuggling, and violating travel bans — all reasons for Trump to pull the plug.

But Haley also said that should Trump fail to certify the deal, it did not automatically that mean the U.S. would pull out of the agreement. Under the law, Congress would have 60 days to consider whether to re-impose sanctions on Iran.

“Congress could debate whether the nuclear deal is in fact too big to fail,” Haley said.

The president has long opposed the deal struck by the Obama administration, calling it “the worst deal ever negotiated” during the election campaign.

Day 228 Sept 4

Trump likely to end DACA with a six-month delay

President Trump has decided to scrap a program protecting undocumented young immigrants who entered the country as children from deportation, according to reports. The news, which broke Sunday night, has prompted an outcry from politicians and business figures and left the fate of hundreds of thousands of so-called “Dreamers” in limbo.


Politico was first to report the news that Trump had decided to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era program launched in 2012 that protects “Dreamers” from deportation and gives them the right to work.

Enforcement of the decision would be delayed for six months to give Congress time to come up with a replacement, according to sources, effectively placing the onus back on lawmakers to find a solution to the thorny issue of immigration, one that has stubbornly eluded them for years (President Barack Obama created DACA by executive action). A statement about the issue has been scheduled for Tuesday, though some have suggested Trump could yet change his mind.

Polls suggest the majority of Americans are in favor of DACA and support the rights of Dreamers to legally remain in the U.S. The issue has divided Republicans, and even Trump has sent mixed messages in the eight months since he came into office. While he promised during his campaign to scrap the program immediately, as recently as Friday he claimed to “love the Dreamers.” “We think the Dreamers are terrific,” he told reporters.

Senior Republicans including Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Orrin Hatch have also urged Trump not to scrap the program, while Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, railed against the news on Twitter, accusing Trump of “teasing #Dreamers for months.”

But ending DACA is important to his hard-line anti-immigration base, who believe that undocumented immigrants take jobs from U.S. citizens. Rep. Steve King, a hawk on immigration, tweeted his disapproval of the decision to delay the end of DACA by six months, writing that allowing time for a potential amnesty to be agreed on was “Republican suicide.”


Many Democrats were scathing in their response to the news, with Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeting: “If Trump decides to end DACA, it will be one of the ugliest and cruelest decisions ever made by a president in our modern history.”

The nearly 800,000 Dreamers make up a tiny fraction of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Most on the program are Hispanic, with more than a quarter living in California. More than 90 percent of them are employed, contributing to the U.S. economy.

Day 225 Sept 1

Mueller teams up with IRS investigators in Trump-Russia probe

Special Counsel Robert Mueller wants everybody to help him find out if there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The latest group to be enlisted is the highly specialized and secretive IRS Criminal Investigations unit, according to a report in the Daily Beast.

The IRS investigators specialize in prosecuting financial crimes such as tax evasion and money laundering, and would have access to Trump’s tax returns, documents the U.S. president has refused to release publicly.

The news that Mueller has teamed up with the IRS comes just a day after it was revealed he was working with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman — who is no friend of Trump — to probe the financial dealings of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Mueller, who was appointed in May as special counsel, has built an all-star team of investigators who have a combined experience of 37 years at the FBI and 85 years at the Department of Justice. The team includes James Quarles, who was on the special prosecutor team during Watergate, and Andrew Weissman, who leads the DOJ’s criminal fraud unit.


Day 224 Aug 31

Kushner divests from his claims that he divested from his company

When Jared Kushner’s sister was caught on video back in May bragging to Chinese investors about her family real estate firm’s White House connections, Kushner offered a defense: He had already divested himself from the venture and had nothing to gain financially. But according to the Washington Post, Kushner did, in fact, hold a financial stake in the project.

Two months after his initial divestment claim, the Post reported, Kushner quietly submitted an amended financial disclosure. The July disclosure clarified that, despite his divestment, Kushner still held a contingent right in the project — in other words, a financial interest that would vest upon the occurrence of an agreed upon event. (These rights typically attach to something like a certain share price or revenue target.)

Kushner’s lawyer, WilmerHale partner Blake Roberts, however, defended his client’s claim of “divestment” for three reasons — he had already sold his ownership stake, he wasn’t aware of the contingent interest, and the contingent interest was worthless anyway because it was connected to a prior version of the project.

Still, the Post reported, Kushner transferred the allegedly worthless contingent stake to his sister’s account, just three days after claiming he had fully divested.

Confusing matters even more, Kushner’s White House spokesperson, Josh Raffel, offered an explanation that directly contradicted Kushner’s lawyer’s claim that Kushner was unaware of the interest. He said that the divestiture of the right was already underway before Kushner’s sister made the comments in the first place.


Day 223 Aug 30

One of the Russians at the Trump Tower meeting just testified

Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian lobbyist who attended the now-infamous June 2016 meeting with a group of Trump campaign associates at Trump Tower, gave evidence as part of the grand jury investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, according to the Financial Times.

He’s so far refused to comment publicly on the grand jury appearance, but it’s another sign that Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is focusing in on the 2016 meeting, which has been at the center of the Russia controversy since it came to light in early July.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about …  I’m not commenting on anything,” he said in an interview with the FT.

Still unclear is who Akhmetshin — a former Soviet military counterintelligence officer — was working for at the time. He was described as a “master of the dark arts” by the New York Times last month, and described himself to the FT as a “mercenary,” not a Kremlin operative.

Whatever his role, he seems to have a flair for building up the intrigue around himself: “I spend other people’s money here to achieve other people’s goals,” Akhmetshin told the FT.

Mueller has teamed up with NY’s attorney general in Manafort probe

In the latest sign that the Russia investigation is picking up steam, Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller has teamed up with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in an investigation into Paul Manafort’s financial dealings, Politico reports.

President Donald Trump last week proved he’s willing to use his pardon power to take care of his political allies when he pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. But Mueller’s partnering with the New York AG’s office indicates he may be looking to level state charges.


It’s an interesting tactic for two reasons: The president is only able to grant pardons for federal crimes, and whether Manafort decides to cooperate with the investigation may hinge on whether a presidential pardon is coming his way.

Schneiderman’s office has spoken with Mueller’s team several times over the course of the last several weeks and shared evidence of financial crimes, including money laundering, according to Politico. And Mueller’s been turning up the heat on Manafort in recent weeks. In July, his team ordered a predawn raid on Manafort’s home, and, on August 29, they issued subpoenas to two more of his associates.

Trump’s lawyer refutes explosive Russia dossier, point by point

President Donald Trump’s lawyer and representative Michael D. Cohen wrote to Congress this week to make a point: None of what you heard is true.

The letter, penned by Cohen’s lawyer, vehemently refutes, point by point, each of the allegations made in a dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele that surfaced online earlier this year, alleging a collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election.

“We have not uncovered a single document that would in any way corroborate the dossier’s allegations regarding Mr. Cohen, nor do we believe that any such document exists,” the letter to the House Intelligence committee reads, according the New York Times, which obtained a copy.


In an interview with the Huffington Post, Cohen recently admitted it all sounds like a bad movie — and one he hopes Tom Cruise will play him in if it ever gets optioned.

The letter was sent in the wake of another set of leaked emails that the New York Times published about earlier this week indicating that Felix Sater, a real estate broker with Kremlin ties, had tried to broker a deal to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater’s 2015 email reads. Building a Trump Tower in Moscow would show that Trump was a savvy deal-maker — plus, Sater mused, close ties to Russia would be a political boon to the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin says it did get an email from Cohen about building a Trump Tower in Moscow, but ignored it, according to Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for Russian president Vladimir Putin, Bloomberg and the New York Times report. They typically don’t respond to such business matters, Peskov said.

Trump’s Cabinet has to keep reining in his threats of war

Secretary of Defense James Mattis is the latest member of Trump’s Cabinet to correct the president’s jingoistic musings.

Responding to questions about Trump’s earlier tweet that insisted “talking is not the answer” with North Korea, Mattis stated that the U.S. was, in fact, willing to engage diplomatically.  “We’re never out of diplomatic solutions,” he told reporters before a meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo at the Pentagon.


“We continue to work together, and the minister and I share responsibility to provide for the protection of our nation, our populations, and our interests, which is what we are here to discuss today,” Mattis added.

It’s not the first time the administration’s top officials have contradicted the president or sought to downplay his statements on foreign policy.

Just last week, White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster flatly contradicted Trump’s stance on Venezuela by stating that the U.S. had no plans for military action. Several weeks earlier, Trump had said that the U.S. has “many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.”

And when asked by Fox News’ host Chris Wallace on Sunday whether the president speaks for American values, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson firmly replied, “The President speaks for himself.”

The U.N. just condemned Trump’s “dangerous” attacks on the media

The United Nations just condemned Donald Trump for his “demonization” of the media.

In a press conference at the international ruling body’s office in Geneva on Wednesday, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the president’s behavior could result in dangerous consequences for journalists.

“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the president,” al-Hussein said. “It’s sort of a stunning turnaround. And ultimately the sequence is a dangerous one.”


“I have to ask the question, ‘Is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?” the high commissioner added.

The United Nations isn’t the first international body to warn against Trump’s attacks on the press. On Monday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe wrote a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that begged the Trump administration to tone down the animosity.

“In addition to undermining the credibility of the media, such statements, especially those identifying the media as the ‘enemy of the people,’ could also make journalists more vulnerable to being targeted with violence and abuse,” wrote Harlem Desir, the organization’s media freedom representative.

Trump has made his campaign against “fake news” a cornerstone of his presidency so far. He repeatedly attacks news organizations like CNN and The New York Times and has even retweeted violent images.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence also remained silent when Montana Republican Greg Gianforte body-slammed Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs back in May. Gianforte later pled guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and went on to win a seat in his state’s House of Representatives. Trump, who endorsed Gianforte, hailed his “great win.”

Day 222 Aug 29

Muelle’s team is reportedly going hard against Paul Manafort

In an unusual move, Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller just issued subpoenas to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s lawyer and spokesperson, CNN reported.

The requests for documents and testimony went to Melissa Laurenza, an attorney with Akin Gump, a law firm that until recently represented Manafort, and Jason Maloni, Manafort’s current spokesman, people familiar with the matter told CNN. It’s not yet clear what prosecutors are looking for.


But subpoenaing the lawyer of someone under investigation is a tactic prosecutors usually avoid, according to CNN, because it could raise issues of attorney-client privilege. It’s not the first time, however, that Mueller’s team has taken an aggressive strategy, especially against Manafort. The FBI, on orders from Mueller, conducted a predawn raid in July of Manafort’s home, where agents found many documents he’d already turned over.

The Department of Justice has been investigating Manafort, a political consultant and lobbyist known for his work with foreign dictators, since 2014. Last year, he resigned from his role leading Trump’s campaign over his business and political ties to pro-Kremlin groups in the Ukraine as early as 2013. In fact, Manafort recently registered his public relations firm as a foreign agent with the Department of Justice for $17 million worth of work he’d done for those Ukrainian groups.

Clearly, Mueller doesn’t want to give up on Manafort now. Just last Friday, a number of Washington lobbying firms also received subpoenas that asked for their interactions with firms run by Manafort — and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — people with knowledge of the documents told the Washington Post.

Trump loved the “turnout” at his appearance in hurricane-ravaged Texas

President Donald Trump loves to boast about crowd size — even when he’s surrounded by people struggling through one of the worst hurricanes in American history.

Standing next to a fire engine in Corpus Christi, Texas, Trump unexpectedly addressed a crowd of several hundred people who had gathered outside of the firehouse where he’d met with lawmakers and officials, including Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Texas state Rep. Todd Hunter ,and FEMA Administrator Brock Long, to discuss the response to Hurricane Harvey.


“What a crowd, what a turnout,” Trump bragged of the assembled victims of Harvey, which made landfall just north of Corpus Christi. According to the White House press pool, the group was made up of mostly Trump supporters and some protesters — a notable turnout, since Trump’s location wasn’t widely advertised. (The group “somehow managed to know exactly where the president was doing the briefing,” the pool report dryly notes.)

Trump later waved a Texan flag, drawing applause from his audience.

During a press briefing earlier in the day, he also praised Long, who is in charge of the federal recovery effort in the wake of the hurricane, for becoming “very famous on television in the last couple of days.”

And Trump told reporters Monday he’d pardoned notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday as Harvey hit land because he “assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally.” Finally — someone who’s thinking of the optics.

Mueller investigating whether Trump helped Don Jr. lie, report says

The Department of Justice’s investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election is touching Donald Trump more and more these days.

First, Special Counsel Robert Mueller went after the president’s business ties. Now, investigators are reportedly looking into whether Trump helped his son hide details about that June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer.

The Washington Post reported in July that Trump had personally dictated Donald Jr.‘s statement about the meeting, which explained he and Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya had “primarily” discussed adoption in relation to U.S. sanctions when they met in Trump Tower. But emails released later by Don Jr. himself proved that characterization misleading — Don Jr. accepted the meeting with Veselnitskaya in hopes of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton to help his dad win the election.


Now, Mueller and his team of federal investigators are looking into the president’s role in helping draft the public statement, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News. They reportedly aim to discover whether Trump intended to hide any details about the meeting.

In early August, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied that Trump had “dictated” the statement but that the president “weighed in as any father would” while on board Air Force One flying back from the G-20 summit.

Day 221 Aug 28

Trump boasts of hurricane ratings before confusing two reporters

Hurricane Harvey is currently battering the state of Texas, leaving thousands stranded in unprecedented flooding, but that hasn’t stopped President Trump from making lemonade out of the suffering — to bolster his own ratings.

During a Monday press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, a reporter asked Trump why he’d pardoned controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday night — just hours before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, killing at least eight people and forcing 30,000 more into temporary shelters.

“In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally,” Trump said.

Trump also defended his pardon, arguing that former Democratic presidents Obama and Clinton had pardoned far worse offenders like Chelsea Manning. Manning, however, was not actually pardoned; her sentence was commuted by Obama after seven years behind bars. Arpaio, who was found guilty in July, was pardoned before he could be sentenced.


Arpaio was convicted on contempt charges related to his “anti-immigration sweeps,” during which he illegally detained and searched Latinos he suspected of being in the country without documentation.

“He’s very strong on borders,” Trump explained of his thought process, even though Arpaio represented Arizona’s Maricopa County, which is not on the border.

Trump also posited that Arpaio, who was voted out of office in 2016, was “loved in Arizona.”

The press conference didn’t focus on just Arpaio, though. At one point, Niinisto directed a female reporter to ask him a question. Trump seemed to think that that the reporter had already asked a question, evidently confusing her for the other woman reporter sitting right next to her.

“No, she’s not the same,” Niinisto explained, visibly surprised.

Tillerson publicly called out Trump, and we all know how that goes

The fallout from the president’s Charlottesville comments continued, with the secretary of state making his feelings clear in a Fox News interview. Rex Tillerson told host Chris Wallace that when it came to articulating American values following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville two weeks ago, Donald Trump “speaks for himself.”

A seemingly stunned Wallace followed up: “Are you separating yourself from that, sir?” referring to the president’s equivocating “both sides” response to Charlottesville.

“I’ve spoken; I’ve made my own comments as to our values as well in a speech I gave to the State Department this past week,” Tillerson said, eliminating any doubt that he was rebuffing the president.


Tillerson isn’t alone among high-level officials who’ve gone public about Trump’s refusal to unequivocally condemn those who gathered in Charlottesville and sparked the violence that led to three deaths. National Economic Council director Gary Cohn told the Financial Times last week that “citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK,” and said that the Trump administration “must do better.”

Trump has also faced condemnation for his back-and-forth comments — which many white nationalists like former KKK leader David Duke have taken as implicit support — from leaders around the world, Republican members of Congress, and the United Nations.

But while it’s extremely abnormal for such high-ranking advisers to publicly separate themselves from the president, it’s still unclear if their comments will have the normal consequences of dismissal. At the moment, it seems Trump is tolerating the dissent.

Mexico tells Trump no on the wall (again) but offers help with Harvey response

Mexico has some words for President Trump about being a good neighbor.

After Trump once again tweeted Sunday that Mexico would pay for the wall he wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexico’s Foreign Ministry was forced to once again release a statement comprehensively refuting his claim.

On top of that, Mexico offered “all the help and cooperation that can be provided” by its government for aiding the response to Hurricane Harvey, which continues to batter Texas. In the statement, the Foreign Ministry added that helping in this circumstance was something “good neighbors should always do in times of difficulty.”

Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray Caso also tweeted that he spoke to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, saying, “We will provide all the help we can.”

Mexico assisted the U.S. government in 2005 under then-President George W. Bush during the havoc of Hurricane Katrina. Mexican troops spent three weeks in Louisiana and Mississippi helping to distribute more than 184,000 tons of supplies and serving 170,000 meals, among other activities, the Washington Post reported.

Hurricane Harvey has already caused “widespread devastation” in Texas, with massive flooding and widespread power outages. Crews responded to 2,500 distress calls made from the Houston area alone on Sunday morning, according to data from Accuweather.

Mexico’s response came after President Trump called Mexico “one of the highest crime Nations in the world” in a tweet Sunday and said it would pay for a wall along the border “through reimbursement/other.”

Every level of Mexico’s government, including the foreign ministry and the Mexican president himself, have repeatedly dismissed Trump’s insistence that Mexico would pay for a border wall.