Donald Trump's highly abnormal presidency: a running guide for the week of July 24

“I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock," the White House communications director said.
July 27, 2017, 6:00pm

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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 189 July 27

Scaramucci calls Priebus a “paranoid schizophrenic” in angry tirade

Anthony Scaramucci has been the White House communications director for less than a week, but he has already expressed some — to put it politely — strong opinions about his co-workers.

Take, for instance, Scaramucci’s take on the mental health of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, which he volunteered to The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza: “Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.”

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Or Scaramucci’s thoughts on White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s apparent love of media attention: “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock. I’m not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.”

Scaramucci sounded off on Priebus and Bannon during the call to Lizza, which he apparently made in an effort to find out which White House staffer had leaked details about a recent dinner between President Donald Trump and Fox News personality Sean Hannity. When Lizza refused to reveal his source, “The Mooch” — as Scaramucci referred to himself during the call — decided that Priebus had to be the leaker. (Scaramucci reportedly referred to himself in the third person multiple times during the call.)

“They’ll all be fired by me,” Scaramucci said of the alleged leakers. “I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I’ll fire tomorrow. I’ll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus — if you want to leak something — he’ll be asked to resign very shortly.”

In other words, Scaramucci seems like a perfect fit for serving in a reality TV-spawned presidency: He’s here for the right reasons — and it’s not to make friends.

The Boy Scouts are really sorry about that Trump speech

The Boy Scouts’ motto may be to always be prepared, but as it turns out, nobody can prepare for President Donald Trump.

Chief scout executive for the Boy Scouts, Michael Surbaugh, apologized Thursday to people who may have been offended by Trump’s speech to the roughly 30,000 Boy Scouts who attended the 2017 National Jamboree last week.

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“The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition that has been extended to the leader of our nation that has had a Jamboree during his term since 1937,” Subaugh wrote. “It is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies. For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.”

Trump had used the speech not only to hint that he would fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and to talk up the latest national jobs report — even though children are probably not all that worried about their job prospects at the moment — but to also rehash his election win. Yes, again.

“Do you remember that incredible night with the maps and the Republicans are red and the Democrats are blue, and that map was so red, it was unbelievable, and they didn’t know what to say?” Trump asked the child-filled crowd, who likely didn’t remember that night since Trump’s victory was declared long past their bedtimes. The president also thanked the crowd for voting for him — even though kids can’t vote.

Don Jr. meeting was a Kremlin-backed affair, lawyer testifies

The meeting between Don. Jr and the Russians in Trump Tower last year was “absolutely” a Kremlin-backed effort to repeal the Magnitsky Act. That’s the assertion by Bill Browder, the American financier who was expelled from Russia for exposing corruption, in his testimony to the Judiciary committee Thursday. Browder also testified that the lawyer who wanted the meeting in the first place, Natalia Veselnitskaya, “was definitely working for the Russians — no question.”

“Nobody was talking about adoption,” Browder said, speaking in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday morning. “They were talking about repealing the Magnitsky Act so that Russian torturers and murderers could freely travel and keep their money in the U.S.”

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Browder alleged that not only was Veselnitskaya the point person for the Kremlin, but that Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian-American lobbyist who is believed to have worked with a Russian counterintelligence unit and was also present in the meeting, was also working on behalf of Moscow. He is a registered lobbyist for Veselnitskaya’s organization, according to CNN.

“There’s no such thing as a former intel officer in Russia — like Hotel California, check out but never leave,” said Browder.

The Magnitsky Act — a tool that allows the U.S. to deny visas to, or freeze assets of, human rights violators — was initially passed in 2012 after a Russian anti-corruption lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who worked under Browder, died after being tortured in a Moscow prison in 2009. Browder says that the Act is of direct importance to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he believes to have amassed a fortune of around $200 billion stashed in banks around the world, and his associates.

About two weeks before the meeting, June 9, 2016, Trump had clinched the Republican nomination for the presidential election.

Lindsey Graham threatens to end Trump if he goes after Mueller

As rumors about the president’s intention to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions continue to fly, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN, “If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay.”

Trump is pissed that Sessions recused himself in March from the DOJ’s Russia investigation, and he’s not happy with the guy heading that investigation, Robert Mueller, either. To get rid of both Sessions and Mueller, Trump could fire Sessions and appoint someone willing to fire Mueller.

But Graham’s comments make clear that the political backlash for a firing spree like that might be too great if Trump wants to keep any friends in Congress.

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“Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency,” said the South Carolina senator.

Graham went a step further and will reportedly introduce legislation that would prevent anyone from firing Mueller without a court’s review.

Scaramucci threatens “to fire everybody” to stop leaks

Donald Trump’s newly appointed communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, isn’t wasting any time tackling the deluge of leaks coming from the White House.

Having already fired one assistant press secretary and warning that he’ll “fire everybody” to stop leakers, Scaramucci now appears to be angling to get White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus investigated by the FBI.

On Wednesday night Scaramucci tweeted — and quickly deleted — the following message: “In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #Swamp @Reince45…”

The communications director was referencing reports that he stands to profit from his investment firm while in office, based on previously undisclosed financial disclosure forms. This led many to suggest Scaramucci wanted Priebus investigated for any possible part in leaking the documents — which are not classified.

The New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza tweeted: “I can confirm that Scaramucci wants the FBI to investigate Reince for leaking.”

The Washington Post’s White House bureau chief, Philip Rucker, added that some within the administration are preparing a chart of leakers to show Trump, implicating Priebus.

Seven hours after posting his original message, Scaramucci denied claims that he was seeking to get Priebus investigated.

Day 188 July 26

The Pentagon was ambushed by Trump’s trans ban tweets

It looks like the Pentagon didn’t know the president was going to ban transgender people from the military Wednesday.

During the nine minutes between President Trump’s first and second tweets Wednesday morning, some at the Pentagon feared that Trump was going to announce a strike on North Korea, BuzzFeed News reported. It was only after the second tweet that many at the Department of Defense understood that the president was announcing a change to military personnel policies over Twitter.

Trump blamed the ban on costs and disruption associated with trans people, saying the military must be “focused on decisive and overwhelming victory.” Officials seemed taken aback despite Trump saying he’d consulted with generals on the decision.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s new press secretary, appeared caught off-guard when she was questioned about the Pentagon’s surprise at the announcement. “When the president made the decision yesterday, the Secretary of Defense was immediately informed as were the rest of the national security team that had been part of this ongoing conversation,” she said.

Making an announcement like this through a tweet is unprecedented. Never before has a president reversed a military personnel policy through Twitter. And a tweet alone doesn’t change a standing policy.

An estimated 1,320 to 6,620 transgender individuals serve on active duty in the military, according to a report by Rand. The president’s tweets were met with strong bipartisan backlash and a flood of tweets by defiant trans military people.

Trump made 29 false statements in 26 hours

Donald Trump started this week by bigly lying to the American people. Between 6:31 p.m. on July 24 and 8:09 p.m. on July 25, the president made 29 claims that were either false or misleading, according to an analysis from the Washington Post.

That’s more than one per hour, or even more, assuming that Trump sleeps — although his 4 a.m. tweets suggest otherwise.

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The claims, made at rallies in Ohio and West Virginia, plus a flurry of tweets, ran the gamut from Trump perennials to new favorites:

  • Saying Jared Kushner “proved“ he didn’t collude with Russia, even though investigations are ongoing.
  • Saying America is not yet an energy exporter, even though it is.
  • Saying he will still build the Mexico border wall and that he has achieved “historic” increases in defense spending, even though Congress hasn’t allocated money for his requests to do either.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry duped by Russian pranksters

Most people, upon hearing that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had invented a revolutionary new biofuel made of alcohol and pig manure, might raise a skeptical eyebrow. Not Donald Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry. In a world where people are quick to cry “Fake news!,” Perry displayed a refreshing wide-eyed innocence, calling the idea “interesting” and saying the fuel would make Poroshenko “a very, very, wealthy and successful man.”

There was just one problem: Perry was being had. In a phone conversation Tuesday, he believed he was talking to Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. In fact, Perry was speaking to two well-known Russian pranksters — Vladimir Krasnov and Alexei Stolyarov — who have built a reputation for fooling celebrities, including Elton John, tricked into thinking he was speaking to Vladimir Putin.

During the 22-minute call on July 19, Perry  — whose department oversees the U.S. nuclear weapons program — also spoke to the pair known as the “Jerky Boys of Russia” about sanctions against Russia, U.S. objections to a potential pipeline across the Baltic sea for Russian gas, attacks against the U.S. power grid, and Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.

Day 187 July 25

Trump says Apple will build “beautiful manufacturing plants” in the U.S.

President Trump said Apple promised to build “three big plants, beautiful plants” in the United States during an interview with the Wall Street Journal Tuesday — a move that would be entirely unheard-of for Apple, as it outsources nearly all of its manufacturing abroad.

“I spoke to [CEO Tim Cook]. He’s promised me three big plants — big, big, big,” Trump said, without specifying where these plants will be located or when they’re expected. “I said, you know, Tim, unless you start building your plants in this country, I won’t consider my administration an economic success. He called me, and he said they are going forward.”

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Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News, and they declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal.

Donald Trump now withholding his tweets from model Chrissy Teigen

As the Senate debated whether to take healthcare away from millions of Americans Tuesday, President Trump zeroed in on one citizen in particular, depriving her of his most precious tender of all — his tweets.

He blocked model Chrissy Teigen on Twitter.

The 31-year-old celebrity, a Clinton supporter who is married to the musician John Legend, has been bashing Trump for years, and once referred to him as “the fucking most vile person on this planet.” But her latest tweet apparently was the last straw for Trump. She got the axe after responding to his Sunday tweet about a lack of Republican support, saying, “Lolllllll no one likes you.”

Teigen joins a veritable brigade of famous and semi-famous people who have been blocked by the president, including novelist Stephen King and actress Marina Sirtis.

Trump is now openly threatening to fire Sessions

Donald Trump continued his very public campaign against “beleaguered” Jeff Sessions Tuesday by telling reporters gathered in the White House’s Rose Garden that “time will tell” if the president ultimately fires his attorney general.

“I am disappointed in the attorney general,” Trump said of Sessions — the same person he glowingly nominated to the position just six months ago — during a press conference Tuesday.

Trump continued:

He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have, quite simply, picked somebody else. So I think that’s a bad thing, not for the president but for the presidency. I think it’s unfair to the presidency, and that’s the way I feel.

A person close to Sessions told the Daily Beast that the attorney general is “pissed” but not ready to resign.

Trump shared his feelings on Sessions during an unfettered interview with the New York Times last week. Since then, Trump has repeatedly attacked Sessions on Twitter.

These shrinks just decided to lift the gag rule on analyzing Trump

Want to know if President Donald Trump is mentally ill? You can now get a professional opinion.

On Tuesday, the American Psychoanalytic Association became the first major professional psychiatric organization to announce that it would back away from a rule forbidding psychologists and psychiatrists from discussing people they haven’t treated, and permit its members to publicly discuss Trump’s mental stability (or lack thereof).

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This rule, the so-called Goldwater Rule, dates back to the 1970s, when many psychiatrists publicly announced that Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was unfit to be president. After Goldwater sued a magazine for libel — and won — the nation’s professional psychiatry organizations later asked its members to refrain from commenting on people they haven’t personally treated.

And for over 30 years, the rule went relatively unchallenged.

Cue Trump.

Just a few weeks after his inauguration, in a letter to the New York Times, 33 psychiatrists publicly broke with the Goldwater Rule by writing, “Mr. Trump’s speech and actions demonstrate an inability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions. His words and behavior suggest a profound inability to empathize. Individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them (journalists, scientists).”

The doctors also criticized the Goldwater Rule for leading psychiatrists to shirk their civic duties, saying, “This silence has resulted in a failure to lend our expertise to worried journalists and members of Congress at this critical time.”

Still, don’t expect a sudden outpouring of armchair diagnoses of the president’s mental health: The American Psychiatric Association, one of the nation’s largest professional psychiatry groups, reaffirmed its commitment to the Goldwater Rule on Tuesday.

Trump undermines Jeff Sessions again, calls him “very weak”

Donald Trump woke up on the wrong side of the bed Tuesday, with undermining on his mind. Just after 6 a.m. Washington time, the president began his day by repeating a baseless claim on Twitter that Ukraine tried to undermine his election campaign last year. He then turned his attention to his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, once again undermining his position by calling him “ very weak.”

Trump has been angry with Sessions ever since he recused himself from the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Trump reportedly called a political associate in recent days to ask what would happen if he fired Sessions. The president has also raised the idea of replacing him – with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Ted Cruz among the names floated as possible replacements.

The most recent attack on Sessions comes just a day after Trump called him “beleaguered” for failing to look into “crooked Hillary’s crimes and Russia relations.”

In a remarkable admission to the New York Times Friday, Trump said he would never have picked Sessions as AG if he knew he would recuse himself. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else,” the president told the Times.

Sessions said last week that he intends to stay in the role for “as long as is appropriate,” but new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci had a warning for him Tuesday. Speaking on the Hugh Hewitt show, Scaramucci was asked whether Trump wanted to fire Sessions. “I do know the president very well, and if there’s this level of tension in the relationship, that’s public, then you’re probably right,” he replied.

Having attacked Sessions once again, Trump then turned his attention to Republicans in Congress, warning that they need to vote to repeal Obamacare later Tuesday, and indicating that he was willing to sign whatever bill was put in front of him.

Trump rounded out his busy morning Twitter session by praising son-in-law Jared Kushner and calling the Russia investigation a “witch hunt.”

Rex Tillerson is reportedly ready to quit 

Donald Trump is having a hard time holding on to his employees. From Sally Yates to Michael Flynn, Pheet Bharara, James Comey, and most recently Sean Spicer, the revolving door at the White House has been turning fast in the last six months. Now it seems that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could be next through the door.

In what’s being called “Rexit,” Tillerson has reportedly told friends he will be “lucky to last a year in his job,” as frustrations grow over his department’s ability to act independently from the president. Sources speaking to Reuters, CNN, and Politico all claim that Tillerson is upset at not having autonomy and the ability to do the job the way it’s traditionally done.

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The reports also reveal that H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, is frustrated at the “disorganization and indiscipline” on key policy issues inside the White House. One of the main bones of contention for McMaster is that Trump has largely ignored calls to take a tougher stance on Russia, with the president still challenging the assertion of the U.S. intelligence community that the Kremlin was involved in meddling with the 2016 election.

Day 186 July 24

Things are not looking good for Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Donald Trump during the campaign. Now, he is the latest to be ostracized by him.

Trump and his close advisers are reportedly considering replacing Sessions, the Washington Post and the Associated Press reported Monday, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani both on a shortlist of possible replacements.

The president has had private conversations about both the possibility of firing Sessions and the possible consequences of him resigning, according to the Post, which also reported that some in Trump’s close circle believe Trump’s dissatisfaction is part of a broader desire to shut down the investigation into the administration’s relationship to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The Russia investigation and Sessions’ recusal from it is at the center of the debacle: Trump told the Times in an interview last week that he would never have hired Sessions if he’d known he was going to recuse himself.

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“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump told the paper. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”

Trump also publicly criticized Sessions on Twitter Monday for not investigating Hillary Clinton and Russia ties, calling him a “beleaguered A.G.”

Anthony Scaramucci, the president’s new communications director, addressed the tension Monday.

“My own personal opinion: I think they’ve got to have a meeting and have a reconciliation one way or another. You know what I mean? Either stay or go, one way or another,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Trump tells group of kids a cautionary tale about a bankrupt developer

Jobs, cocktail parties with “the hottest people in New York,” and loyalty — those were just some of the topics President Trump raised in front of a sea of young Boy Scouts in West Virginia Monday.

Speaking at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree — an event held once every four years — Trump took the opportunity to relive the glory of his election, asking the child audience, “Do you remember that incredible night with the maps and the Republicans are red and the Democrats are blue, and that map was so red, it was unbelievable, and they didn’t know what to say?”

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Trump also hit on his favorite theme of “fake news,” complaining that the media would probably downplay the size of the crowd of Boy Scouts he was speaking in front of. “The fake media will say: President Trump — and you know what this is — President Trump spoke before a small crowd of Boy Scouts today. That’s some — that is some crowd,” Trump said, adding, “Fake media. Fake news. Thank you.”

Trump also bragged about the economy, telling the scouts about the state of unemployment in the U.S. and promising to bring back “trillions of dollars.”

“We had the best jobs report in 16 years,” Trump said. “The stock market on a daily basis is hitting an all-time high. We’re going to be bringing back very soon trillions of dollars from companies that can’t get their money back into this country, and that money is going to be used to help rebuild America.”

Amid rumors swirling about the possible replacement of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and on the eve of the critical Senate healthcare vote, Trump said, “We could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.”

At one point, Trump went on a bizarre anecdotal tangent about the Long Island developer who created Levittown, telling the assembled children how William Levitt made a “tremendous amount of money,” selling his company, and “bought a big yacht, and he had a very interesting life.”

Then Trump seemed to censor himself, telling the adolescents, “I won’t go any more than that because you’re Boy Scouts, so I’m not going to tell you what he did.”

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Still, Trump recalled that he saw Levitt years later in New York, after he had lost his wealth and “failed badly.”

“I saw him at a cocktail party and it was very sad because the hottest people in New York were at this party,” Trump told the assembled children. The problem? “He lost his momentum.  Meaning, he took this period of time off long — years — and then when he got back, he didn’t have that same momentum.”

A cautionary tale — but for whom?

Trump still can’t make up his mind about Russia’s election hacking

Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director for the White House, told CNN Sunday that the president had called him from Air Force One the previous day to say “Maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t do it.”

Trump’s doubt apparently stems from his belief that Russian hackers are so good that they’d evade detection. Scaramucci said Trump told him: “If the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it, you would have never had any evidence of them.”

After saying in early July, “It could very well have been Russia. I think it could well have been other countries,” Trump still appears undecided about the Kremlin’s involvement in undermining the presidential election — despite a rare consensus among the intelligence agencies that Russia did have a hand in hacking the DNC servers and releasing sensitive information to benefit Trump’s grab for the White House.

Trump will face a tough decision in relation to Russia this week: legislation designed to increase sanctions against the Kremlin. While the president is expected to sign the bill, he and Vladimir Putin had sought to avoid such actions following their numerous meetings at the G-20 summit in early July.

See updates from early in July here.

David Gilbert, Joshua Marcus, Alexa Liautaud, Tess Owen, Christina Sterbenz, and Alex Thompson contributed to this report.