Trump Gagged the US Agriculture Department’s Research Arm From Publicly Sharing Its Work

The US Department of Agriculture has banned scientists and other employees in its main research division from publicly sharing everything from the summaries of scientific papers to USDA-branded tweets as it starts to adjust to life under the Trump administration, BuzzFeed News has learned.

According to an email sent Monday morning and obtained by BuzzFeed News, the department told staff — including some 2,000 scientists — at the agency’s main in-house research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), to stop communicating with the public about taxpayer-funded work.

“Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents,” Sharon Drumm, chief of staff for ARS, wrote in a department-wide email shared with BuzzFeed News.

“This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content,” she added.

Indeed, the last tweet from ARS’s official account was sent the day before Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Though the terse internal note did not explicitly mention the new presidential administration, department scientists around the country interpreted it as a message from Trump that changes were coming to the department.

The memo was also met with some confusion. When asked if the notice constituted a halt on the publication of academic articles, one regional director told scientists that research papers could be published in academic journals and presented at conferences, but that all media interviews must be approved by the office of communications in Washington.

In a statement on Tuesday to BuzzFeed News, the department acknowledged sending an internal email that halted the release of “informational products like news releases and social media content” on Monday. “Scientific publications, released through peer reviewed professional journals are not included,” he added.

“As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America,” Christopher Bentley, a spokesperson for ARS, said in the statement.

Though some Agricultural Research Service work touches on sensitive subjects like pesticides and genetically modified food, its research is generally less politically charged than that conducted by other agencies, especially those focused on understanding climate change, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

But under the Obama administration, the Agriculture Department funneled research money into finding ways of cutting down the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from cows.

The nomination of former Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia as agriculture secretary puts the fate of that and other department research touching on climate change into question. Like President Trump himself, Perdue has in the past bucked the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are warming due to human activity.

“It’s become a running joke among the public,” Perdue wrote in the National Review in 2014, “and liberals have lost all credibility when it comes to climate science because their arguments have become so ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality.”

Other agencies are under lockdown as well since Trump moved into the White House.

Employees at the National Park Service were told to stop tweeting from official park accounts. The Trump administration has also imposed a freeze on grants and contracts from the EPA, the Huffington Post and ProPublica reported on Monday. The EPA, too, is no longer issuing press releases or posting on social media, according to the reports.

(h/t Buzzfeed)

 

Trump Administration Freezes All EPA Grants, Forbids Staffers From Talking to the Public

The oil-loving climate change critic President Trump picked to lead the Environmental Protection Agency still hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate, but troubling changes are already afoot at the EPA.

According to reports from ProPublica and The Huffington Post, the White House told the agency to immediately suspend its contract and grant programs on Monday and restricted all outgoing communication until further notice, measures a veteran staffer characterized as extraordinary.

The intended duration of the funding freeze was not immediately clear, but the former head of Trump’s EPA transition team, Myron Ebell, confirmed that it had been put in place Monday night.

“They’re trying to freeze things to make sure nothing happens they don’t want to have happen,” Ebell told ProPublica. “So any regulations going forward, contracts, grants, hires, they want to make sure to look at them first.”

Ebell conceded that the suspension “may be a little wider” than those instituted by previous administrations, but claimed it was still “very similar.” Whether or not that is true, however, is difficult to determine, as staffers were told to cease communicating with the public on Monday, The Huffington Post reports.

In an email obtained by site, EPA employees were instructed not to blog, post on social media, issue press releases or update agency websites “until further direction” by Trump officials. Still, some info managed to leak from the agency that, in the last year on record, awarded over $10 billion in grants and contracts across the country.

“Right now we are in a holding pattern,” wrote an EPA contracting officer in an email obtained by ProPublica. “The new EPA administration has asked that all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately. Until we receive further clarification, this includes task orders and work assignments.”

While the funding freeze has alarmed many in the scientific community, it’s sadly not a complete surprise. After all, the man Trump wants to head the EPA described himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda” on his resume.

(h/t Gizmodo)

Interior Department Banned From Twitter After Retweet of Smaller-Than-Usual Trump Inauguration Crowd

The Interior Department was ordered Friday to shut down its official Twitter accounts — indefinitely — after a National Park Service employee shared two tweets that noted President Trump’s relatively small inaugural crowds compared to the numbers former President Obama drew in 2009.

‘‘All bureaus and the department have been directed by incoming administration to shut down Twitter platforms immediately until further notice,’’ said an e-mail circulated to Park Service employees Friday afternoon.

The e-mail described the stand-down as an ‘‘urgent directive’’ and said social media managers must shut down the accounts ‘‘until further directed.’’

Interior has dozens of official Twitter accounts at its multiple offices and 10 bureaus, which include the Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and US Geological Survey.

As Trump’s inauguration ceremony got underway Friday, a Park Service employee involved in social media officially retweeted a tweet from New York Times reporter Binyamin Appelbaum (@BCAppelbaum) that pictured the crowd at Obama’s inauguration next to Friday’s gathering on the Mall.

‘‘Compare the crowds: 2009 inauguration at left, 2017 inauguration at right,’’ Appelbaum wrote. The Park Service Twitter account then shared a second tweet from someone else with a similar message.

A government official familiar with the stand-down said the agency is investigating whether the retweets were purposeful, ‘‘errant,’’ or ‘‘whether we’ve been hacked.’’

‘‘They were not reflective of Park Service policy,’’ said the official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the directive. The stand-down was ‘‘precautionary’’ until the agency completes a review of its Twitter accounts, the official said. The Park Service tweeting ban was first reported by Gizmodo.com.

A retweet is a sharing of another person’s tweet. Seen straightforwardly, it’s a way to share an interesting piece of information. In the government’s case, the agency doing the retweeting must have a policy that agrees with the information.

In this case, the Park Service didn’t. Or someone was nervous that the retweets would be seen as endorsements of a relatively low crowd estimate and rankle the new administration.

It was unclear who at Interior made the decision to ban tweeting for now. The agency is being led temporarily by a team of career civil servants while the Senate considers Representative Ryan Zinke, Republican of Montana, as Trump’s nominee for secretary.

It was unclear Friday if the retweeting Park Service employee had been identified. But the offending shares from @NatlParkService had been removed from the agency’s Twitter feed.

National Park Service spokesman Thomas Crosson declined to comment on the tweeting ban. But he said that it is against Park Service policy to estimate the size of crowds at events, because they are often inaccurate.

‘‘Due to the difficulty in accurately assessing crowd estimates for large events, most notably following 1995’s Million Man March, the National Park Service no longer makes it a practice to provide crowd estimates for permitted events,’’ Crosson said in an e-mail.

‘‘While we make internal estimates for staffing, security, and emergency response purposes, it is left to the discretion of event organizers to make a determination of the event attendance.’’

(h/t Boston Globe)

Update

New photos released via a FOIA request absolutely prove Trump’s crowd sizes were drastically smaller that Obama’s inauguration.

Newt Gingrich: Trump Should Use The CNN Confrontation As An Excuse To Break The Press

Newt Gingrich, a prominent supporter of President-elect Donald Trump and a Fox News contributor, would like to shatter the influence of an “adversarial” press. And he thinks Trump’s press conference confrontation with CNN reporter Jim Acosta has given the incoming administration the opportunity to dramatically reshape White House press interactions to favor journalists who will treat the president-elect more favorably.

During Trump’s January 11 presser, he lashed out at CNN  and demanded the network apologize for a recent report on his alleged ties to Russia, and Acosta repeatedly called out, seeking to ask a question in response. Trump replied by calling CNN “terrible,” castigating Acosta for being “rude,” and declaring, “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news!” Sean Spicer, who will serve as Trump’s White House press secretary, subsequently told Acosta that he would be removed if he continued to press for a question, and Spicer later demanded that the reporter apologize to the president-elect.

Team Trump’s efforts seem intended to both damage the credibility of CNN and cow other networks into shying away from similarly critical journalism — as Gingrich put it, to “shrink and isolate” the network. But the Fox News contributor wants the incoming administration to go even further and use the incident as an excuse to “close down the elite press.”

Gingrich laid out this strategy during an interview on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, one of the most pro-Trump venues available. He urged Spicer to learn “a couple of big lessons” from the incident. First and foremost, he suggested that Acosta be banned from reporting on Trump events for 60 days “as a signal, frankly, to all the other reporters that there are going to be real limits” for proper behavior.

https://mediamatters.org/embed/clips/2017/01/13/51770/fnc-hannity-1132017-gingrich2

But Gingrich’s recommendations went far beyond chastising Acosta. He urged Trump to stop prioritizing questions from major news outlets due to their tough coverage and confrontational attitude. Instead, he suggested that he “extend the privileges to reporters from out of town, folks that fly in from all over the country to be allowed to be at a briefing.” Those reporters, Gingrich suggested, would be “a lot more courteous” and “responsible” rather than being “adversarial.”

Gingrich went on to explain his theory of the press under the Trump administration. “You don’t have to think of The New York Times or CNN or any of these people as news organizations,” he explained. “They’re mostly propaganda organizations. And they’re going to be after Trump every single day of his presidency.”

“And he needs to understand that that’s the case, and so does Sean Spicer in speaking for him. And they simply need to go out there and understand they have it in their power to set the terms of this dialogue.” He added, “They can close down the elite press.”

Trump has already started to take steps like those Gingrich describes. During the 2016 campaign, he reportedly made a deal with the right-wing Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns television stations across the country, to provide more access to its stations in exchange for a promise from Sinclair to broadcast his interviews without commentary.

He took questions from sycophantic pro-Trump outlets Breitbart.com and One America News Network during this week’s press conference. Right Side Broadcasting Network, which has been described as “the unofficial version of Trump TV,” claims it will be in the White House press briefing room under the new president. Other right-wing outlets like Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette and Alex Jones’ conspiracy website Infowars could be next.

Alexey Kovalev, a Russian journalist who has covered Vladimir Putin’s annual press conferences, warned of the use of such tactics in a searing “message to my doomed colleagues in the American media” that he authored following Trump’s press conference.

“A mainstay of Putin’s press conferences is, of course, softball questions,” Kovalev wrote. These include both “hyperlocal issues that a president isn’t even supposed to be dealing with,” which nonetheless provide “a real opportunity for him to shine.” Putin also benefits from “people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies.”

“But there will also be one token critic who will be allowed to ask a ‘sharp’ question,” Kovalev added, “only to be drowned in a copious amount of bullshit, and the man on the stage will always be the winner (‘See? I respect the media and free speech’).”

Of course we are not there yet, but the precedent is unnerving. Gingrich wants nothing more than a cowed, broken press that exists solely to promote the Republican Party’s message. We’ll see soon enough how much of his advice Trump takes.

Update

Gingrich is not alone in urging Trump to freeze out the press. Following Trump’s election, Hannity stated that “until members of the media come clean about colluding with the Clinton campaign and admit that they knowingly broke every ethical standard they are supposed to uphold, they should not have the privilege, they should not have the responsibility of covering the president on behalf of you, the American people.”

“In other words, the mainstream press should not be allowed to cover Trump,” New York University’s Jay Rosen wrote in response to Hannity’s comments. “A few years ago that was a bridge too far. Now it’s a plausible test of poisoned waters.” It looks like we’ll see more of those tests in the days to come.

(h/t Media Matters)

 

Gingrich: Congress Should Change Ethics Laws for Trump

Newt Gingrich has a take on how Donald Trump can keep from running afoul of U.S. ethics laws: Change the ethics laws.

Trump is currently grappling with how to sufficiently disentangle himself from his multibillion-dollar business to avoid conflicts of interest with his incoming administration, and the president-elect has already pushed back a promised announcement of an ethics firewall.

Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and one-time potential running mate for Trump, says Trump should push Congress for legislation that accounts for a billionaire businessman in the White House.

“We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” Gingrich said Monday during an appearance on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” about the president-elect’s business interests. “We’re going to have to think up a whole new approach.”

And should someone in the Trump administration cross the line, Gingrich has a potential answer for that too.

“In the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon,” Gingrich said. “It’s a totally open power. He could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period. Technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

Trump’s own tweets — will include handing over the management of his real estate and investment portfolio to his two adult sons and a team of longtime executives. But key details of the Trump plan also remain a work in progress, prompting suggestions from outside Trump Tower that range from a complete selling off for all Trump assets to Gingrich’s call for a sweeping review of the country’s ethics laws themselves.

Gingrich — who says he is not joining Trump’s administration — didn’t provide many details for what a new approach would entail, other than reiterating his support for an outside panel of experts Trump should convene that would regularly monitor how his company and government are operating and “offer warnings if they get too close to the edge.”

The former Georgia GOP lawmaker did concede Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress can’t ignore the potential ethical challenges facing the president, including the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits U.S. government employees from taking payments from foreign governments or the companies they run.

“It’s a very real problem,” Gingrich said. “I don’t think this is something minor. I think certainly in an age that people are convinced that government corruption is widespread both in the U.S. and around the world, you can’t just shrug and walk off from it.”

But Gingrich said Trump is on solid political ground as he prepares to take the White House while maintaining ownership of his business. In fact, Gingrich argued that Trump’s résumé and financial history were among the reasons why the Republican won the presidential election.

“I think there was a general sense that the president had the ability, that this was going to be a billionaire presidency. I don’t think anyone who voted for him was not aware that he was a very, very successful businessman,” he said.

Gingrich also argued that Americans shouldn’t be surprised that there are certain changes that Trump shouldn’t be expected to make, including giving up licensing on his iconic last name or his communications with his adult sons, Eric and Donald Jr., who are slated to take over the business.

“You can’t say the Trump Tower is not the Trump Tower, or the Trump hotel is not the Trump hotel. And you can’t say that the kids who run it aren’t his children,” Gingrich said.

But it was Gingrich’s suggestion that Trump could sidestep potential problems inside his administration — through his constitutional right to issue pardons — that prompted an incredulous reply from the NPR program’s host and two of her guests.

“That level of authority strikes me as rather broad and perhaps ought to be in the hands of Congress rather than within his own hands,” said Rehm, who is set to retire at the end of this week after a more than 30-year run.

“Speaker Gingrich’s statement that wealth trumps the rule of law, basically that’s what he was saying, is jaw-dropping,” added American University government professor James Thurber. “I can’t believe it. He’s a historian. He should also know that we did not want to have a king. A king in this case is somebody with a lot of money who cannot abide by the rule of law.”

Richard Painter, a former George W. Bush White House ethics lawyer, said Gingrich was off on his reading of the Constitution. “If the pardon power allows that, the pardon power allows the president to become a dictator, and even Richard Nixon had the decency to wait for his successor to hand out the pardon that he received for his illegal conduct,” Painter said. “We’re going down a very, very treacherous path if we go with what Speaker Gingrich is saying, what he is suggesting.”

(h/t Politico)

Trump Will Be First President With a Personal Security Force Outside the Secret Service

President-elect Donald Trump has continued employing a private security and intelligence team at his victory rallies, and he is expected to keep at least some members of the team after he becomes president, according to people familiar with the plans.

The arrangement represents a major break from tradition. All modern presidents and presidents-elect have entrusted their personal security entirely to the Secret Service, and their event security mostly to local law enforcement, according to presidential security experts and Secret Service sources.

But Trump — who puts a premium on loyalty and has demonstrated great interest in having forceful security at his events — has opted to maintain an aggressive and unprecedented private security force, led by Keith Schiller, a retired New York City cop and Navy veteran who started working for Trump in 1999 as a part-time bodyguard, eventually rising to become his head of security.

Security officials warn that employing private security personnel heightens risks for the president-elect and his team, as well as for protesters, dozens of whom have alleged racial profiling, undue force or aggression at the hands of Trump’s security, with at least 10 joining a trio of lawsuits now pending against Trump, his campaign or its security.

“It’s playing with fire,” said Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent who worked on President Barack Obama’s protective detail during his 2012 reelection campaign. Having a private security team working events with Secret Service “increases the Service’s liability, it creates greater confusion and it creates greater risk,” Wackrow said.

“You never want to commingle a police function with a private security function,” he said, adding, “If you talk to the guys on the detail and the guys who are running the rallies, that’s been a little bit difficult because it’s so abnormal.”

Wackrow, who left the Secret Service in 2014 and is now executive director of a security company called RANE (short for Risk Assistance Network + Exchange), said if he were the lead agent at a Trump rally, “I wouldn’t allow it.” But he suggested it’s a tricky situation for the Secret Service. “What are they going to do, pick a fight with the president-elect and his advisers? That’s not a way to start a romance.”

Several past presidential nominees have used private security or, in the case of governors running for president, state police details. But the experts could not think of another example of a president-elect continuing with any private security after Election Day, when Secret Service protection expands dramatically for the winner. In fact, most candidates drop any outside security the moment they’re granted Secret Service protection.

Trump’s spending on private security, on the other hand, actually increased after he was granted Secret Service protection in November 2015.

Through the end of last month, Trump’s campaign had spent more than $1 million on private security contracting, compared with $360,000 spent by the campaign of his vanquished Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, according to Federal Election Commission reports. That’s despite the fact that every other aspect of her campaign operation dwarfed his. Overall, her campaign outspent his by nearly 75 percent.

Whereas Clinton’s security spending — like that of most presidential campaigns — went mostly to protection for her offices and payments to local law enforcement or security companies for ad hoc event security, Trump’s campaign took it to a whole different level. It built a robust private security force that traveled the country supplementing the protective personal security supplied by the Secret Service, and working to identify and remove possible protesters — or just people Trump and his allies had a bad feeling about — from his events.

The private security team has been present at each of the seven rallies on Trump’s post-election “Thank You Tour” and has removed protesters — sometimes roughly — at many stops.

That included about a dozen protesters during a rally here on Dec. 9 in a minor-league arena called the Deltaplex, where Trump mostly shrugged off the interruptions until he became impatient with a particularly disruptive protester. “Get ‘em out!” the president-elect instructed his private security. That appeared to spur Trump’s security director, Schiller, to venture away from the stage, where he arrived with Trump, and wade deep into the crowd to assist other private security personnel with the removal.

Before the end of the rally, Schiller returned to his place by Trump’s side, along with a Secret Service contingent of which he is often misidentified as a member. (Despite being — at 58 years old — significantly older than most agents, Schiller looks the part, invariably sporting a uniform of dark suits and white shirts, along with a Secret Service-issued perimeter pin, and maintaining an athletic 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound frame.) Together, the entourage accompanied Trump back to the airport, onto his plane and back to New York. It was the same routine as Schiller and Trump repeated countless times during the campaign, and it likely will be repeated countless more times over the coming years, since Schiller is expected to follow Trump into the White House, according to multiple sources on the transition team.

In interviews with about a dozen people who interact with Trump, they said even as the president-elect’s Secret Service detail has expanded significantly since the election, he remains most comfortable with Schiller and his team. A native of New Paltz, New York, and father of two, Schiller has been director of security for The Trump Organization since 2004.

The Trump associates say Schiller is expected to become a personal White House aide who would serve as the incoming president’s full-time physical gatekeeper, though he might not be able to offer his boss the wide range of services he has in the past. For instance, federal law prohibits anyone other than law enforcement officers from bringing firearms into federal buildings, and there are even stricter rules about who can carry on the White House grounds or around Secret Service protectees. Schiller had been armed at times early in the campaign, but it’s unclear whether he continued carrying a firearm after Trump was granted Secret Service protection.

Even after the arrival of Trump’s Secret Service detail, which typically marks the end of any pre-existing security arrangement, Schiller never strayed from his boss’ side.

The associates say Schiller provides more than just security. Trump has been known to ask Schiller’s opinion on all manner of subjects. When people want to reach Trump, they often call Schiller’s cellphone and he decides who gets through to the boss.

Photos often show Schiller looming over Trump’s shoulder as he works crowds, standing sentry by the stage as Trump speaks, or ejecting protesters from rallies. He’s developed a small but avid fan base on Twitter, where Trump supporters cheer Schiller’s confrontations with protesters, pose for selfies with him at events and backstage, and praise him as a brave “American Eagle” who kept Trump “safe & sound.”

And Schiller, a registered Republican, showed signs of reveling in Trump’s campaign, creating his own Twitter account just before the first primaries to promote the campaign and chronicle his unique perspective from the trail. He occasionally channeled his boss’ attacks on rivals like Ted Cruz (“Wow Lyin Ted is becoming unhinged! So sad…,” he tweeted as Trump was clinching the GOP nomination over the Texas senator) and spread false claims about Democrats, including that 20 percent of Clinton’s campaign cash came from people who were responsible for the September 2001 terrorist attacks, that a grand jury had been convened to investigate her use of a private email server for State Department business and that Obama encouraged undocumented immigrants to vote illegally.

Yet Schiller mostly remains — as one former campaign aide put it — “the most important man no one has ever heard of.”

That influence comes from Schiller’s ability to essentially control access to Trump, acting as his liaison to everyone from staff and well-wishers to dignitaries — and even Secret Service agents.

“Keith is kind of a consigliere,” said a transition team official. “He knows all the players, all the properties. He has the confidence of Trump and of the family. To describe him as a body guy would be very, very beneath the role that he actually plays.”

A younger aide — possibly the campaign’s trip director John McEntee — likely will be tapped for the traditional body man valet-like role, while Schiller would fill a new type of a hybrid staff-security role, the official explained. “Keith knows Trump inside and out. He knows when he turns right and when it turns left,” the official said.

Yet Schiller’s tight relationship with — and protectiveness of — his boss has already complicated the Secret Service’s rigid protection protocols, say allies of the agency and independent security experts.

In March, when a 32-year-old man jumped a barricade and rushed toward the stage as Trump was speaking at a rally in Dayton, Ohio, Secret Service agents immediately descended on Trump from opposite sides of the dais, encircling him in a human shield as a handful of other agents tackled the man before he could leap onto the stage. About a second after the first two agents reached Trump, Schiller leapt onto the stage and moved to position himself between the scrum and his boss.

The response appeared tightly choreographed to the untrained eye — a phalanx of men in dark suits and close-cropped hair swarming to protect their charge.

But in law enforcement circles, Schiller’s reaction was panned as too slow and was the subject of disapproving conversation among agents, according to a law enforcement source briefed on the conversations. The source said one agent described Schiller as the “JV trying to keep up in a varsity game.”

Specifically, the source said that Schiller came from a position on the dais that the agents would have used to evacuate Trump if that were to have been necessary. “If that happened, they would have run right into Keith. He was about three seconds too late,” the source said.

Joe Funk, a former Secret Service agent who worked several presidential campaigns, said agents throughout their careers are “trained nonstop to react to different situations based on your position and distance from the protectee in what they call AOP, or assaults on the principal.” That includes intensive drilling as a detail before being deployed to protect a presidential candidate or president “to familiarize yourself with the people who you are going to be working with.”

Stressing that he wasn’t assessing the response to the Dayton incident, Funk said “without any slight to Keith or to any of the guys on his team, they just haven’t had the opportunity to go through the Secret Service training that would allow them to respond to a situation like a Secret Service agent would.”

Since retiring from the Secret Service in 2005, Funk has provided private security for presidential candidates, including Obama in the early stages of the 2008 campaign and Mitt Romney in 2012. In both those cases, he said that when the Secret Service took over, he almost immediately stepped aside. “My assignment was over. That was it.”

So Funk said that he was “very surprised,” while providing security for Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign, to witness firsthand Trump’s “composite detail” including the Service and private security at multicandidate events during the primary. “I was under the impression that at some point this would be weeded out,” or that the private security would revert to more of a traditional staff role, said Funk, who is senior vice president at a private security firm called TorchStone Global. As for why that appears not to have occurred, Funk said “there may be a very good reason for it, but as a layperson on the outside looking in, I’m just kind of scratching my head. In my experience, this is unprecedented.”

Agents and their associates told POLITICO that Schiller and his team initially bristled at the Secret Service’s move to take the lead, and that the continued presence of the private security brigade at events has caused tension and in some cases gotten in the way of the Secret Service’s protocols.

During the campaign, Schiller and his team could be seen at rallies appearing to direct Secret Service agents, local police and employees of security companies hired for specific events.

Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks declined to respond to a series of questions about the private security officials, who is paying them, their relationship with the Secret Service, whether they’re armed and what their roles will be after inauguration. Instead, she said in a statement, “Trump rallies are incredibly safe events and are executed with support from USSS, local law enforcement and private security to ensure the safety and enjoyment of all guests in attendance. For further details please reach out to the USSS.”

Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole Mainor issued a statement saying, “The Secret Service does not provide information regarding our protective operations,” and referring to a section of the U.S. Code that outlines the agency’s obligations to protect the president-elect. As for the agency’s relationship with Trump’s security personnel and whether the Service has asked Trump to dial back his security or whether the security carry firearms, Mainor responded only: “The individuals you are referring to are staff personnel.”

Schiller did not respond to requests for comment.

In a little-noticed video interview recorded in Trump Tower less than two months after then-candidate Trump was granted Secret Service protection, Schiller said his team had “a great working relationship” with the Secret Service. “They bring their own set of assets, which is right now, we can use everything we can get, as far as the way the world is right now, and the campaign in itself. It’s inherently a risky business every day,” Schiller said in the interview, which was posted in January of this year.

But he also noted that he had received “some dignitary protection training through the Secret Service” when he was on the New York City police force, and he touted the capacity of the private security team he oversees. “We have the best assets money can buy, I can assure you of that, as far as protecting him, his family and his property,” Schiller told the interviewer, Rich Siegel, one of his childhood buddies from New Paltz.

Schiller explained that he has “more than a dozen people” working for him. While he said that “I’m no stranger to putting my hands on people,” thanks to his days in the New York City Police Department’s narcotics units, he added, “Things are different right now. I hire big guys who do all the fighting.”

The identities and numbers of the employees who constitute Trump’s private security operation — as well as other details — are not entirely clear. That’s partly because at least some of the costs — including Schiller’s salary at one point in the campaign — appeared to be split between The Trump Organization corporate structure and Trump’s presidential campaign, and also because the campaign paid many of its security officials, including several who continued working for Trump after the election, through opaque corporate structures.

Schiller himself was paid $181,000 for campaign work from July 2015 through mid-November, according to FEC filings, with some of it coming in the form of in-kind payments, likely indicating money paid to Schiller by The Trump Organization, and possibly reimbursed by Trump personally.

The campaign also paid $50,000 for “security services” during the second half of the year to a company called KS Global Group LLC. While the company, which was registered anonymously in Delaware in October 2015, bears Schiller’s initials, neither he nor the Trump transition team would comment on who is behind it.

Another company, Black Tie Protection Services, which a Trump campaign operative said is linked to Schiller’s team, was paid more than $106,000 in the final four months of the campaign.

And the campaign paid $28,000 for security services to a company called ASIT Consulting, which is owned by a 62-year-old former FBI agent named Don Albracht, who has been known to film and occasionally taunt protesters.

But by far the biggest recipient of Trump security cash is a company called XMark LLC, which boasts on its website that its employees have expertise in surveillance, “close quarter battle” and “tactical shooting skills” and that the firm “provided all PPD [personal protection detail] for Mr. Trump’s campaign travel to include all advance work and coordination with local law enforcement agencies, in support, throughout the country, until being relieved by the United States Secret Service in mid-November of 2015.”

Yet the company continued receiving payments from Trump’s campaign after that point, with $89,000 coming after Election Day. Its officials — including president Eddie Deck and vice president Gary Uher, both of whom are retired FBI agents — were seen policing the crowds at Trump rallies throughout the campaign, as well as during the post-election “Thank You Tour.” The pair — combined with XMark and a retired New York City cop named Michael Sharkey, who also is associated with the company — have been paid nearly $579,000 and counting by the campaign.

Trump transition team sources say the thank you rallies are being funded by Trump’s campaign committee, but that Trump, as president, might headline rallies funded and organized by a still-in-the-works outside group that will be able to accept huge donations unbound by federal campaign limits.

While Trump’s Saturday rally in Mobile, Alabama, was the last one scheduled on the tour, he hinted to the crowd that he intends to resume the rallies as president. “This is the last time I’ll be speaking at a rally for maybe a while. You know, they’re saying as president he shouldn’t be doing rallies, but I think we should, right?” he said, prompting loud applause. “We’ve done everything else the opposite. Well, no, this is the way you get an honest word out, because you can’t give it to [he press] because they’re so dishonest.”

If Trump’s team continues funding the rallies using private money, it would have the right to “decide who can attend their events, including which opinions or speech they deem acceptable by attendees,” said Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union.

She co-wrote a post in March on the ACLU’s website bemoaning that the removal of protesters of color from this year’s presidential campaign rallies is “certainly not what we want our democracy to look like.”

Nonetheless, Rowland told POLITICO that as long as Trump’s campaign or an outside group “organizes and sets the rules for a private event, and a politician, including the president, is an invited guest, then the host can decide whether and when to revoke attendees’ invitations. That would make them trespassers and allow them to be legally removed.” If the rallies were funded or organized by the government, on the other hand, then only law enforcement could identify protesters for ejection and actually remove them, and only then for breaking the law, she said.

Trump’s private security team has taken full advantage of that latitude, and Deck, who appears to be the leader of the rally security unit, has served as the point of the spear.

Deck, a buff 62-year-old who at various times took to wearing street clothes to blend into rally crowds so he could sleuth out protesters, has drawn repeated complaints about excessive force and ejecting people solely because they don’t look like Trump supporters.

At an April rally in Harrington, Delaware, Deck was captured on video calling for assistance from Delaware state troopers to remove two young African-Americans separately. When one, Anwar Dyer, protested “I didn’t say anything,” Deck responded “I don’t care. You’re leaving. You’re leaving. And if you don’t leave, you’re gonna get hooked up, and I know you don’t want to get hooked up.”

A college student who attended a Trump rally in Tucson, Arizona, in March told POLITICO that Deck “grabbed my arm and angrily pulled me through the crowd,” adding: “I genuinely believe I was kicked out because I am transgender.”

At an August rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, Deck removed an 18-year-old Indian-American Trump supporter named Jake Anantha, who Deck accused of having protested at past Trump rallies. Anantha, a registered Republican who was wearing a Trump shirt, later complained to The Charlotte Observer, “Why are all these white people allowed to attend and I’m not?”

Messages left for Albracht and at XMark email and phone numbers were not returned. And it was not clear whether they would continue working with Trump’s security team in any rallies he might do as president.

Henry Brousseau — who alleges that he was punched in the stomach by Trump supporters after shouting “Black Lives Matter” at a March rally in Charlotte — said Trump’s security “did not seem to be interested at all in public safety. They were there to keep the rally on message. They were being speech police.”

Brousseau, who was a high school senior at the time, and two fellow protesters were ejected. And now they’re suing Trump and his campaign, as well as the convention center for failing to provide adequate security, while also claiming that Trump’s calls to “get ’em out” were “calculated to incite violence against the plaintiffs.”

Brousseau said “it is a pattern of silencing his opponents” that is “unpresidential, undemocratic and un-American.”

Another lawsuit was filed three weeks before the election, in part by an African-American man who alleges he was punched, kicked and called racial slurs by Trump supporters at a November 2015 Trump rally in Birmingham, even after security arrived on the scene — all while Trump yelled “get him the hell out of here!” It calls on Trump’s campaign, the convention center and the city of Birmingham “to pay for damages, institute new procedures for security and issue a public apology to those who attended the rally in question and to the residents of Birmingham.”

A third lawsuit alleges that Schiller, Deck, Uher and two other Trump security officers assaulted a handful of protesters during a raucous protest outside the campaign’s Manhattan headquarters in September.

In an affidavit in the case, Schiller acknowledged that he struck one of the protesters in the head. But he says that was because he felt the protester “physically grab me from behind and also felt that person’s hand on my firearm, which was strapped on the right side of my rib cage in a body holster. Based on my years of training, I instinctively reacted by turning around in one movement and striking the person with my open hand.”

The protesters’ lawyers deposed Schiller, Deck and Uher in the days leading up to the Grand Rapids rally.

The judge in June ruled that Trump would not have to provide a deposition in the case, despite the assertion by the protesters’ lawyers that “Trump has had a substantial role in bringing about violence on the part of his security guards.”

(h/t Politico)

Donald Trump ‘supports policy’ that has killed 4,500 people in the Philippines in five months

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to “kill all” the country’s suspected drug users and dealers has many foreign critics, including the United States, the European Parliament and the International Criminal Court. It now has at least one high-profile supporter: President-elect Donald Trump, at least according to Duterte.

In a statement on Saturday, Duterte shared details of a seven-minute conversation that took place on Friday. He said that during the call, Trump endorsed his campaign against drug users and dealers — a campaign that has left at least 4,500 Filipinos dead in about five months. Trump told Duterte that he was doing it the “right way,” according to Duterte’s account.

“I could sense a good rapport, an animated President-elect Trump,” he added. “And he was wishing me success in my campaign against the drug problem.”

The comments, which have not been confirmed by Trump’s team, could signal another significant twist in U.S.-Philippine ties.

The Philippines is a former U.S. colony that has been a close U.S. partner for decades. Since sweeping to power last spring, Duterte has repeatedly lashed out at his longtime ally, threatening to ditch the United States for China and Russia.

In September, when President Obama raised questions about the bloody anti-drug crusade, Duterte lectured him on colonialism, referring to him with a slang term that translates, roughly, as “son of a whore.”

In the weeks that followed, he made several surprise announcements on U.S.-Philippine military ties, calling for the ouster of U.S. Special Operations forces from the southern island of Mindanao and the end of joint U.S.-Philippine military exercises — only to backtrack repeatedly.

But Trump’s triumph in the US presidential race saw Duterte switch direction again. Weeks after railing against “uncivilized” Americans, Duterte greeted the U.S. president-elect with an enthusiastic “long live” Trump. Duterte also mused that they might get along — because they both like to swear.

For the Philippine president, an expression of support from Trump could help reset ties with the United States. But endorsing Duterte’s crackdown may put Trump at odds with allies such as the European Union, whose parliament issued a resolution urging the Philippines to halt “extrajudicial executions and killings” in connection with the drug war.

(h/t Independent)

Reality

Duterte, also an authoritarian, threatens political rivals and other enemies with baseless claims that they too are drug dealers in order to intimidate into submission or move them aside, even having one political rival murdered under police custody.

Trump Calls For Jailing, Revoking Citizenship of Flag-Burners

Trump humps American flag

Burning an American flag should be a crime, President-elect Donald Trump wrote Tuesday morning on Twitter, perhaps punishable by a forfeiture of U.S. citizenship or a year in jail.

“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” Trump wrote in a post to his social media account.

Laws prohibiting the burning or desecration of the flag have been struck down by the Supreme Court, most recently in 1990, because they were found to have violated the First Amendment of the Constitution, which protects freedom of speech. A 1958 Supreme Court decision rejected the practice of stripping U.S. citizenship as a form of criminal punishment, on the grounds that it violates Eighth Amendment protections against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

In a 5-4 decision in 1989, the Supreme Court upheld the right of protesters to burn the flag, with the late Justice Antonin Scalia siding with the protesters. He later said he based his ruling on a “textual” reading of the Constitution.

“If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag,” Scalia said in 2015 in Philadelphia. “But I am not king.”

A 2005 bill that would have reinstituted a ban on flag burning was co-sponsored by Hillary Clinton, then a senator from New York. That legislation was unsuccessful.

A constitutional amendment that would allow the government to ban flag desecration has been proposed multiple times but has never passed. It was last voted down in 2006 in the Senate, where current Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee, then a Republican, were among three GOP lawmakers to vote against it. Then-Sen. Clinton also voted against it.

McConnell disagreed sharply with Trump’s tweet when asked about it during a press availability on Tuesday.

“The Supreme Court has held that that activity is a protected First Amendment right, a form of unpleasant speech, and in this country we have a long tradition of respecting unpleasant speech. I happen to support the Supreme Court’s decision on that matter,” McConnell said.

Some protesters upset with Trump’s Election Day victory have set fire to American flags at demonstrations throughout the country. At Hampshire College, a small school in western Massachusetts, administrators removed the American flag from campus after protesters there burned one, according to WWLP-TV. That decision prompted a protest of more than 1,000 people, many of them veterans, upset with the school’s decision.

Jason Miller, Trump’s senior communications adviser, struggled to defend the president-elect’s post in an interview on CNN’s “New Day” just minutes after the tweet appeared online. He refused to concede that flag burning is constitutionally protected speech, insisting that it should be illegal even as he tried in vain to pivot to the announcement of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as Trump’s pick to be secretary of health and human services.

“Chris, flag burning is completely ridiculous. And I think you know that and I think the vast majority of Americans would agree,” Miller told CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.

“But legal,” Cuomo interjected.

“But Chris, it’s completely ridiculous. And I don’t think there’s a big universe of people out there who support flag burning. It’s terrible and it’s despicable,” Miller replied.

The two continued in circles for several more rounds of back-and-forth as Cuomo tried to pin down Trump’s spokesman on the issue of flag-burning before Miller finally succeeded in turning the interview to Price’s selection, telling his interviewer that “flag burning should be illegal. End of story. Let’s get in and talk about how we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare and these fantastic picks that the president-elect announced this morning.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) readily acknowledged during an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that flag burning is constitutionally protected free speech, telling panelist Willie Geist that “we’ll protect our First Amendment” even though he does not agree with the practice.

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), asked about Trump’s tweet in a separate “New Day” interview, said, “I love my flag, and I love what it stands for, and I hate those who want to go out and burn it.” Still, Duffy added: “The court is probably right that we want to protect those people who want to protest and their right to actually demonstrate with disgracing our flag even though so many of us who love our country and love our flag object to it.”

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a libertarian-leaning member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, also took issue with Trump’s flag-desecration stance, writing on his own Twitter account that “Nobody should burn the American flag, but our Constitution secures our right to do so. No president is allowed to burn the First Amendment.”

Trump received a modicum of support from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the Armed Services Committee chairman with whom he clashed throughout his presidential run. As he made his way through a Capitol Hill office building, McCain told CNN that “I do not approve of burning the flag. I think there should be some punishment, but right now, the Supreme Court decision is that people are free to express themselves that way.”

McCain declined to offer any further comment on Trump’s social media post, telling a CNN reporter that the president-elect’s bombast is a distraction from the work he faces on Capitol Hill.

(h/t Politico)

Trump Holds Media Summit to Intimidate Executives

Donald Trump scolded media big shots during an off-the-record Trump Tower sitdown on Monday, sources told The Post.

“It was like a f–ing firing squad,” one source said of the encounter.

“Trump started with [CNN chief] Jeff Zucker and said ‘I hate your network, everyone at CNN is a liar and you should be ashamed,’ ” the source said.

“The meeting was a total disaster. The TV execs and anchors went in there thinking they would be discussing the access they would get to the Trump administration, but instead they got a Trump-style dressing down,” the source added.

A second source confirmed the fireworks.

“The meeting took place in a big board room and there were about 30 or 40 people, including the big news anchors from all the networks,” the other source said.

“Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong.’ He addressed everyone in the room calling the media dishonest, deceitful liars. He called out Jeff Zucker by name and said everyone at CNN was a liar, and CNN was [a] network of liars,” the source said.

“Trump didn’t say [NBC reporter] Katy Tur by name, but talked about an NBC female correspondent who got it wrong, then he referred to a horrible network correspondent who cried when Hillary lost who hosted a debate – which was Martha Raddatz who was also in the room.”

The stunned reporters tried to get a word in edgewise to discuss access to a Trump Administration.

“[CBS Good Morning co-host Gayle] King did not stand up, but asked some question, ‘How do you propose we the media work with you?’ Chuck Todd asked some pretty pointed questions. David Muir asked ‘How are you going to cope living in DC while your family is in NYC? It was a horrible meeting.”

Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway told reporters the gathering went well.

“Excellent meetings with the top executives of the major networks,” she said during a gaggle in the lobby of Trump Tower. “Pretty unprecedented meeting we put together in two days.”

The meeting was off the record, meaning the participants agreed not to talk about the substance of the conversations.

The hour-long session included top execs from network and cable news channels. Among the attendees were NBC’s Deborah Turness, Lester Holt and Chuck Todd, ABC’s James Goldston, George Stephanopoulos, David Muir and Martha Raddatz,

Also, CBS’ Norah O’Donnell John Dickerson, Charlie Rose, Christopher Isham and King, Fox News’ Bill Shine, Jack Abernethy, Jay Wallace, Suzanne Scott, MSNBC’s Phil Griffin and CNN’s Jeff Zucker and Erin Burnett.

Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, plans to meet with Trump Tuesday.

There was no immediate comment from the Trump Team.

(h/t New York Post)

Reality

Donald J. Trump went to war with members of the media, holding an off-the-record meeting of executives and on-air talent.

In his meeting with the press, which the members believed they would be talking about his recent lack of transparency, Trump instead spent the entire time calling each of them liars right to their face, even singling out individual networks and reporters.

Trump never produced evidence for why he believed they were liars for simply reporting on the things he said.

The worst part to learn was the attendees did not fight back or at best put up mild resistance to Trump’s unsubstantiated charges.

The role of a free and open press is a foundation of democracy, separates us from other forms of government, and any interference from an overreaching state should be seen as an attack on our liberties.

So if this is the position the press is going to be taking this early in a Trump presidency, especially with someone who has an aversion to facts, then this should be taken very seriously otherwise we’ll be in a bad state of affairs.

 

After Demanding Safe Spaces in Theaters Trump Attacks Saturday Night Live

President-elect Donald Trump has taken to Twitter again this weekend to dress down another actor: Alec Baldwin.

I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show – nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?” tweeted Trump on Sunday morning.

Baldwin did his famous Trump impersonation on the long-running NBC show on Saturday in a sketch that focused on how Trump is in way over his head as the future leader of the free world.

To Trump’s criticism, Baldwin shot off a string of tweets on Sunday, giving Trump some unsolicited advice on how to proceed as the next commander-in-chief, saying, in part, “You know what I would do if I were Prez? I’d be focused on how to improve the lives of AS MANY AMERICANS AS POSSIBLE.

And, “Equal time? Election is over. There is no more equal time. Now u try 2 b Pres + ppl respond. That’s pretty much it.”

(h/t AOL News)

Reality

Donald Trump, who claims he alone can defeat ISIS, is losing a twitter war with Broadway and Alec Baldwin

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