This week in Trump’s America: The Russia subplot returns

It’s been almost a month, but not quite.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Just as Week 3 was ending, Mother Jones asked, “Whatever happened to the Trump-Russia story?” — unknowingly foreshadowing the subplot’s return.

This week saw President Trump and his administration playing defense over National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The controversy reignited speculation about potential ties between Trump officials and Russia, and Trump caved to public pressure by asking for Flynn’s resignation.

Many questions remain, including about who knew what when in the current scandal, and they’ve returned to the forefront in Week 4. Needless to say, it’s been a hot mess.

  • Muslim ban 2.0: Trump is reportedly preparing a new Muslim ban to circumvent judicial holds on his first one. In the meantime, customs agents are targeting people from nations not even named in the first ban.
  • Best LGBT President?: Less than 48 hours after assuming his position, Attorney General Jeff Sessions informed a federal court that the Department of Justice would no longer be advocating for transgender kids.
  • Tolerating opaqueness: Congress had a chance to demand Trump’s tax returns, but Republicans voted it down. There may be another way to hold Trump accountable for his conflicts of interest that doesn’t require Congress.
  • Conway conflicts: The Office of Government Ethics has recommended investigating Kellyanne Conway and disciplining her for her promotion of Ivanka Trump’s product line.
  • Anti-vaxxer in chief: Trump reiterated his belief this week that vaccines are causing an increase in autism, despite there being no evidence to support that hypothesis.
  • Lyin’ Mnuchin: Steve Mnuchin was confirmed as Treasury Secretary despite lying to the Senate.
  • Facts aren’t beliefs: Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, recently called climate change “just a religious belief.” His confirmation is being forced through despite thousands of missing emails he exchanged with oil and gas companies, which won’t be released until at least next week.
  • Absent president: Trump promised to “rarely leave the White House,” but this weekend will be headed to Florida for the third weekend in a row. Each trip costs taxpayers an estimated $3 million.

Remember, you can always check out our interactive list of Trump’s 663 campaign promises here.

  • Media blackout: When press arrived at Mar-a-Lago last weekend to cover Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s visit, they found black plastic covering the windows, blocking their view of the golf course.

  • Club membership perk: Trump and Abe discussed the North Korea missile crisis in a public dining room where Mar-a-Lago guests were taking pictures on Instagram.
  • Checks and imbalances: Stephen Miller said that the President’s executive power “will not be questioned” by the courts.
  • That didn’t fix it: When asked about anti-Semitic violence, Trump responded by bragging about his electoral victory.
  • Petty tyrant: One of the only black staffers in Trump’s administration was fired this week because he had criticized Trump in the past, even though he had already been asked about the op-ed he wrote when he was hired.
  • Christie will do anything for love: When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) visited the White House, Trump made him order the meatloaf.
  • Who’s in charge?: Stephen Miller claimed, “Steve Bannon has no role whatsoever in drafting executive orders.”
  • Fake news about “fake news”: Trump tried to claim CNN cut Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) off because he joked about them being “fake news.” He probably got the idea from Infowars.
  • That didn’t happen: White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders invented a case of voter fraud from her home state of Arkansas.
  • Laughable: Sean Spicer claimed Trump has been “incredibly tough on Russia.”
  • Flashback: Vice President Pence said back before Inauguration that “of course” there had been no communication between the Trump campaign and Russia, but new reports contradict that.
  • That press conference: We mentioned that press conference and its many lies above, but seriously, what a doozy!

With the massive controversy over Michael Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador, what he said on that call, and what he told others about that call, Trump once again targeted the media as being “very, very unfair.”

The White House put out several seemingly conflicting statements about the nature of Flynn’s resignation. Taken together, they may amount to Trump losing his first fight with the media.

On Monday, Kellyanne Conway said that Flynn had the “full confidence” of the President. But then Monday night, he resigned. The next morning, Conway said it was Flynn’s own decision to resign. But that afternoon, Sean Spicer said that the President asked for the resignation. None of the administration’s statements established clear timelines about who knew what when, given the White House was tipped off by the Department of Justice about Flynn’s calls weeks prior.

After the media reported on all the contradictions, Trump then attacked them Wednesday morning:

His first public remarks about the controversy came that afternoon, during his press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he has been treated very, very unfairly by the media. As I call it, the “fake media” in many cases. I think it’s really a sad thing he was treated so badly. I think in addition to that, from intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked. It is criminal action, a criminal act. It has been going on for a long time — before me. Now, it is really going on. People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton. I think it’s very, very unfair what’s happened to general Flynn, the way he was treated and the documents and papers that were illegally — I stress that — illegally leaked. Very, very unfair.

So which is it? Does Trump respect Flynn, or did he ask for his resignation?

There is a tidy explanation, however, that ties this all up: Both statements are true. Trump didn’t want to ask Flynn for his resignation, and it doesn’t seem like he actually received any new information about the situation on Monday. But with more information available to the public, the questions and persistence could not be stopped. In other words, Trump caved to the public outcry and took action contrary to what he wanted.

But Trump would never admit that. Instead, he blamed the press, claiming they were “unfair” for accurately reporting about how Flynn broke protocol (and potentially the law), because the reporting kept him from getting his way. He’s also blaming leaks, which of course he loved back when they were hurting his opponent, but of course, it doesn’t make sense that the leaks are a problem if their content is all “fake news.” Even Thursday morning, he was trying to blame the New York Times for simply reporting on leaked information — expressing little concern about how damning the content of those leaks may be for his administration.

That continued at his press conference Thursday afternoon, where he continued to knock the leaks as “fake news” and even acknowledged that he would have directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Russia if Trump thought he wouldn’t. In fact, it seems he even knew about it.

Instead of trying to discredit the press, it now seems Trump is also trying to reprimand them for holding him accountable. And of course, he’s trying to distract from what they’re actually reporting. It’s never been truer that Trump is blaming the press for doing their job.

Citizens across the country continue to be energized and engaged, pushing their elected representatives to actually act on their behalf. This week, there was no shortage of viral clips of constituents courageously speaking out for their own health care and the safety of the planet and their communities.

One such video really stood out this week. A ten-year-old girl concerned about pollution asked Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) at a town hall whether he believes in science, as she does. When he avoided actually answering the question — instead launching into a defense of fossil fuels — the crowd loudly called him out.

It has been an exhausting month, but this kind of engagement is still making a difference — and rattling Republican lawmakers across the country. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has even resorted to calling his constituents “enemies of American self-government and democracy” for demanding town halls to meet with him. Hundreds of Republican lawmakers are avoiding holding any town halls at all during this next recess.

There’s a quote going around some circles that has been attributed to Michael Moore, though it’s unclear if or when he actually said it. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile lesson many people probably learned from their music teachers:

This morning I have been pondering a nearly forgotten lesson I learned in high school music. Sometimes in band or choir, music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they actually can hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant. Yesterday, I read an article that suggested the administration’s litany of bad executive orders (more expected on LGBTQ next week) is a way of giving us “protest fatigue” — we will literally lose our will to continue the fight in the face of the onslaught of negative action. Let’s remember MUSIC. Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song. With special love to all the musicians and music teachers in my life.

On Monday, we’ll hit the one month mark — 47 more to go for this term.

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