White House: Trump’s tweet about Russia probe was an opinion
By JONATHAN LEMIRE and ZEKE MILLER
Thursday, August 2
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump bluntly declared his attorney general should terminate “right now” the federal probe into the campaign that took him to the White House, a newly fervent attack on the special counsel investigation that could imperil his presidency. Trump also assailed the trial, just underway, of his former campaign chairman by the special counsel’s team
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders scrambled to explain that Trump’s tweet Wednesday was “not an order” and the president was not directing his attorney general to do anything.
“It’s the president’s opinion,” she said.
But Trump’s early morning tweetstorm again raised the specter that he could try to more directly bring special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia-Trump election-collusion probe to a premature end. And it revived the idea that the president’s tweets themselves might be used as evidence that he is attempting to obstruct justice.
Meanwhile, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said negotiations are continuing to have Trump sit down for questions from Mueller, though the lawyer said, “I’m not going to give you a lot of hope that it’s going to happen.” He said both sides had exchanged proposals for conditions for such an interview, “and yesterday we got a letter back from them and now we’re in the process of responding.”
Trump has raged privately in recent days that both the forces of government and the media are trying to undermine him. That includes trumped-up charges against his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and distorting the outcome of the Helsinki summit to make it appear he was beholden to Russia, according to two Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak about private conversations.
Trump was closely monitoring news coverage of the Manafort proceedings, which provoked the spate of incendiary tweets, according to the two Republicans and two White House officials.
“The president’s not obstructing, he’s fighting back,” said Sanders, dismissing the idea Trump’s tweets could be tantamount to obstruction of justice.
The most inflammatory of Trump’s tweets said, “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”
The president’s anger came the day after the start of the trial of Manafort, who is facing federal charges of bank fraud and tax evasion. And while Mueller did not bring any election-related charges against Manafort, the specter of the Russian investigation is hanging over the Alexandria, Virginia, courthouse. And Trump’s White House.
“Paul Manafort worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders,” Trump tweeted. “He worked for me for a very short time. Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation. These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion – a Hoax!”
Later the president invoked one of the nation’s most notorious criminals, 1920s gangster Al Capone, and posed the question “who was treated worse” while airing his grievance about Manafort being held in solitary confinement ahead of a conviction. Manafort is in detention after having his bail revoked because of allegations that he was attempting to tamper with witnesses in his case. Federal prosecutors revealed last month that he was afforded unusual privileges while in detention.
Trump has spent more than a year trying to distance himself from his one-time top political aide, and to minimize the role Manafort played in his campaign. Trump’s protestations aside, Manafort worked on the campaign during a critical six-month period in 2016, during which he led the effort to ensure Trump won the Republican nomination. He oversaw the early days of the general election effort.
Sanders said Trump wants Mueller’s investigation concluded swiftly without intervention, though Trump has publicly mused as recently as May about interfering in the Department of Justice’s oversight of the probe. “At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!” he tweeted then.
Trump has repeatedly belittled the probe as “a hoax,” as those close to him suggest he feels that any talk of Russian interference tarnishes his electoral victory and delegitimizes his presidency.
One of the president’s confidants deemed Trump in “a dark place,” seething about the long-lasting probe and the media’s depiction of his White House under siege. Though long antagonistic toward the press, Trump’s anger toward the media has only grown over the past month, as he has berated coverage of his Singapore and Helsinki summits, the possible prosecutorial cooperation of his former legal “fixer” Michael Cohen and the Mueller probe.
After complaining about the tough questions he received from American reporters in Finland, Trump has largely steered clear of the mainstream media, instead opting for safer spaces like an interview with ally Rush Limbaugh this week. From the White House briefing room podium on Wednesday, Sanders declined to denounce the harassment of a CNN reporter during a Trump rally in Florida on Tuesday.
The president’s social media outburst renewed discussion of the significance of his tweets.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, stressed that Trump was just issuing an opinion, though he also said the White House believes “the investigation should be brought to a close.”
“I guess, if we were playing poker — we’re not — put up or shut up, what do you got?” Giuliani said. “We have every reason to believe they don’t have anything.”
When pressed by reporters on how she tells the difference between a presidential order or an opinion, Sanders said Trump makes his intentions “pretty clear.”
But the line between registering an opinion or governing by tweet has bedeviled the White House from the start, even when former press secretary Sean Spicer declared tweets could be official White House statements. Earlier this year, Trump blindsided the Defense Department when he tweeted out a transgender ban for the military, prompting the Pentagon to slow walk the program.
Mueller already is interested in some of Trump’s tweets to the extent they raise obstruction of justice concerns. Though experts believe obstruction by tweet is possible, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a particular act got in the way of an investigation and that the person who did it intended to obstruct.
The president’s tweets on Wednesday were greeted warily on Capitol Hill, with most lawmakers, regardless of party, urging Trump to let the probe run its course.
No. 3 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota said, “The idea that they should truncate it doesn’t make sense to me.” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut went much further, declaring. There is now highly credible evidence that the president of the United States is committing obstruction of justice in real time, right before our eyes.”
Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed reporting.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JonLemire and Miller at http://twitter.com/zekejmiller
Trump Tweets — Point-Counterpoint
Point: Could You Retweet This, Mr. President?
By Karen Hobert Flynn
Kanye West, Jeff Bezos, Robert Mueller and Stephen Curry. What do these four people have in common? They’ve all been the subject of tweets from Donald Trump.
Since taking office, President Trump has tweeted more than 3,500 times, ranging from issues that one could expect the president to tweet about, like immigration and health care, to more random topics like Meryl Streep’s acting career and the NFL.
But many of those tweets are distortions of the truth or even outright lies. He regularly lies both on and off Twitter about matters ranging from the size of the crowd at his inauguration to his regular denials that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential race in support of his presidential bid.
We get so little transparency from this White House, so to some degree, seeing what Trump tweets could be helpful to understand what might be on his mind at any given time. Tweeting is a way that the president can disseminate his views directly without a filter. But when it is just another platform for lies, it is incredibly damaging to our democracy.
Beyond the steady stream of lies, Trump’s tweets create a host of problems and dangers both domestically and abroad. Is official U.S. foreign and domestic policy coming from Trump’s Twitter account, or are his tweets just stream-of-consciousness reactions related to whatever he’s watching on television at that moment? Many world leaders, elected officials and journalists are continually trying to decipher his words and intentions, which often contradict each other.
His Twitter rants often attempt to inject fear and further divide our already polarized country. He’s used it to attack those who would hold him accountable, from Special Counsel Mueller to journalists asking tough questions. This dangerous and undemocratic rhetoric is not presidential, even if it’s emanating from the man who occupies the Oval Office.
Trump uses Twitter to attack, and in some cases appears to condone his supporters’ threats against anyone who disagrees with or criticizes him, including immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, reporters, judges and elected officials. He does it to our world allies and adversaries alike. Here is a recent Twitter “war” Trump had with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani:
“To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!”
11:24 PM – Jul 22, 2018
Threatening world leaders by sending public, 280-character missives, as he also did to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un earlier this year, isn’t leadership. Just like his decision-making process would probably benefit from more deliberation and analysis, Trump should proceed with caution on Twitter or else he might accidentally start a real war instead of just a Twitter war.
So Mr. President, please put down your phone and start listening more.
Listen to the thousands of refugees and immigrants who came to the United States seeking a better life and are awaiting to be reunited with their families.
Listen to the voices of ordinary Americans who have pre-existing conditions and need access to health care, instead of listening to the donor class at Mar-a-Lago.
Listen to the American intelligence community that unanimously agreed that Russia attacked our elections in 2016 and is trying to do so again.
Listen to people who disagree with you and don’t dismiss them as “fake news.”
Our capacity to solve problems would likely improve if elected officials — especially President Trump — spent less time on social media and more time listening to people with whom they disagree.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Karen Hobert Flynn is president of Common Cause. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Counterpoint: Trump’s Tweets are Helpful to America
By Emery McClendon
In the era of social media, President Trump has taken Twitter to a new level by using it to not only address his supporters but also to help set his agenda with the media and his opponents.
Trump uses Twitter like no other politician to express his point of view and answer his critics.
The president’s tweets can be patriotic or responding to criticism of his family members. Some are complements for good deeds the president wants to recognize. And sometimes they respond to those opposing his administration’s policies.
Trump has learned to use Twitter to his advantage in a very masterful way. Like it or not, it is a line of communication the president seems to have no intention of giving up — in the same way President Obama refused to give up his Blackberry after entering the White House.
But is the president’s tweeting helpful? Many would argue it is, but there is a competing chorus of dissenters who think his tweeting is too divisive. Such views tend to be divided along partisan lines. For those who still refuse to accept him as president, everything he does seems to be wrong — and his tweets will forever be looked upon as an affront to their worldview and agenda.
To Trump’s ardent supporters, the tweets are a fresh alternative to the sound of crickets in the mainstream media when it comes to hearing good news about the president’s agenda and record. Without these tweets, many Americans think they would lose an opportunity to learn about the president’s accomplishments and policies.
This is particularly true for the black community. The media have repeatedly failed to report about administration policies regarding employment, housing and other issues that affect black Americans. The president’s tweets communicate that his agenda and these policies are designed to help all Americans and not just a few.
Trump’s tweets also promote his “America First” policies that strengthen our nation’s position on the world stage. It’s indisputable that using social media to demonstrate America’s strength, follow up on the president’s trips abroad and answer emerging threats from our adversaries seems to have brought about a new attention from foreign leaders. These foreign leaders are now taking this administration more seriously because of the president’s social media activity.
The president’s tweets have also motivated others to use social media for purposes of civic engagement. Social media is providing Americans with new avenues of political expression and robust debate. At the same time, social media provides increased accountability for media outlets that are tempted to report “fake news.” That’s a really good thing for America.
As he pushes his agenda, Trump is trying to wake up as many citizens as possible to actively pursue the American Dream. He vigorously uses social media to get his message in front of them and update them on his progress. He may not always use the best words to express himself, but he’s never claimed to be a polished politician who relies upon carefully crafted and vetted language to swoon an audience.
I say, “Tweet on, Mr. President.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Emery McClendon is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Fake News, Fake Pharmacies — What’s Next?
By Carmen Catizone
Every week brings new details of the negative externalities of social media and e-commerce websites. But fake bots aren’t the only wrongdoers trying to find anonymous hiding places online to harm Americans. With deadlier consequences than election interference, online criminal enterprises posing as pharmacies are selling adulterated or counterfeit drugs.
What connects them all — along with other online harms from harassment and cyberbullying to piracy and theft — is internet security and in particular the ability to pierce the shield of anonymity and find out basic information about who we are dealing with online.
This will be a hot topic at hearings in the Senate Commerce Committee when the Senate Intelligence Committee brings in executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter. And it is already causing havoc around the world as the entity in charge of managing the internet “domain name” system, ICANN, wrestles with the newly implemented European “GDPR” privacy regulations and law enforcements need for access to basic website data in order to bring internet criminals to justice.
ICANN has ordered changes to the “WHOIS” database that identifies the domain name owners in order to comply with the GDPR, resulting in a gross over compliance that severely limits the ability of law enforcement and others to identify bad actors online.
The problems are severe. Anonymity fueled online pharmacies have become “notorious for selling unapproved, substandard, counterfeit and falsified medicine.” Recent reports show that more than half of online pharmacies offer controlled substances, with 40 percent of them offering one or more of the drugs frequently adulterated with fentanyl.
Unfortunately, consumers have little ability to separate legitimate operations from rogue drug mills. A seemingly authentic Oxycodone prescription might be laced with fentanyl — a drug that is highly addictive and much more potent than heroin, placing patients at a severe risk of accidental overdose. This is a crisis — a recent study by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy found that 95.7 percent of online pharmacies were out of compliance with state and federal law and applicable safety standards.
That’s why domain registries such as “WHOIS” are vital. The database offers identity and contact information for domain owners, allowing law enforcement and other investigators to find out who is selling illegal or adulterated controlled substances and connect the dots to other illegal operations. But ICANN’s implementation of GDPR places roadblocks in the way of the WHOIS system, by limiting access to WHOIS information.
ICANN had the opportunity to interpret GDPR to sustain WHOIS and keep online privacy rules consistent with long accepted and vital limitations common in the physical world. Car owners must register motor vehicles and provide information about their true identity. This database allows officers faced with a hit and run to quickly identify the owner of any vehicle that flees an accident.
When malicious actors sell opioids online laced with fentanyl that kill unsuspecting patients, law enforcement should able be to do no less. And the same is true for purveyors of fake news, online bullies and harassers, and mass digital piracy operations.
Compliance with GDPR might well require the WHOIS database to shield some information from being provided to third parties unless and until a showing is made that the domain is being used for illegal activity. But such “tiered access” should not eliminate the public availability of email addresses or basic business information. To do so would erode law enforcement and other stakeholders’ ability to connect the dots and link up different websites run as part of large criminal enterprises. This is critical when sites are selling counterfeit drugs, child pornography or phishing to compromise computer systems.
The GDPR itself certainly does not draw these lines or require “tiered access” to business information — it plainly states that the rules exist to protect private information about “natural persons.”
Unfortunately, ICANN has taken an overbroad view of the GDPR, and neutered WHOIS by cutting off public access to this resource where the data is associated with a business, applying the rules globally rather than within the applicable GDPR jurisdiction, and not providing clear, reasonable guidelines for access to personal information that isn’t available publicly for law enforcement and other legitimate purposes.
That is why the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is part of the Coalition for a Secure and Transparent Internet (CSTI), which includes advocates for cybersecurity and protection of American products from online theft. CSTI has joined together to urge ICANN to avoid overreacting in this way.
As Congress looks back at the election interference in 2016, one lesson is that Cambridge Analytica’s abuses of data requires better privacy protections. But another is that Russian bots, online opioid mills, hackers and child pornographers use online invisibility to do harm, and a safe internet requires users to have better information about who they are dealing with, not less.
When the Senate Commerce Committee meets to discuss online governance, it should ask questions about whether ICANN’s WHOIS reforms are furthering or thwarting these aims.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Carmen Catizone is executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.