Trump claims vindication, eyes vengeance

Donald J. Trump has twice gone to war with Democrats and most of the American media — and won both times, dramatically and consequentially.

The big picture: The one-two gut punch to his critics — first, beating Hillary Clinton, and now, vindication from Robert Mueller — won’t just define his first term in office. It’ll shape and sharpen his argument for re-election — and his war against the anti-Trump media.

“Within an hour of learning the findings,” the WashPost reports, “Trump called for an investigation of his critics and cast himself as a victim.”

  • “Aides say Trump plans to … call for organizations to fire members of the media and former government officials who he believes made false accusations about him.”

Attorney General William Barr writes in his summary for Congress that Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”

  • The summary leaves many open questions that could be answered by a full airing of the report, which will be Dems’ main focus this week at least.
  • On obstruction of justice, Mueller wrote that while his report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Why it matters: The outcome is a huge political victory, and Trump will use it to bludgeon the media and Democrats for the next 18 months.

  • Much of the country will probably agree with him.
  • The president will use it to cast doubt on investigations by House Democrats, or by other state and federal officials.

Now, the vengeance: Trump allies are already pushing to investigate the investigators and attack the media.

  • Don Jr., the president’s eldest son, tweeted: “How this farce started and snowballed … into one the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the America should be discovered. Those responsible should be held accountable.”
  • Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said: “The public deserves to see the interviews, documents, and intelligence that ‘justified’ this investigation in the first place.”
  • And Rudy Giuliani said on Fox News: “[T]here has to be a full and complete investigation, with at least as much enthusiasm as this one, to figure out where did this charge emanate, who started it, and who paid for it.”

State Department bars press corps from Pompeo briefing, won’t release list of attendees

The State Department on Monday said it would not be distributing a transcript or list of attendees from a briefing call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held that evening — a call from which the department’s press corps was excluded and only “faith-based media” allowed.

The afternoon phone briefing was to discuss “international religious freedom” with the secretary — who rarely participates in such calls — ahead of his trip to the Middle East. One member of the State Department press corps was invited, only to be un-invited after RSVPing. That reporter was told that the call was for “faith-based media only.”

CNN also RSVP’d to organizers, asking to be included, but received no reply.Despite repeated inquires and complaints from members of the press corps who are based at the department, the State Department on Monday night said they would not be providing a transcript of the call, a list of faith-based media outlets who were allowed to participate or the criteria to be invited.

Officials would not answer questions about whether a range of faiths was included.A reporter with EWTN Global Catholic Television told CNN they were not originally invited to take part in Monday’s call with Pompeo but had asked the State Department if they could take part. The reporter was then invited to a different call involving faith-based organizations and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback that took place Tuesday and was organized by an outside group.

An article from Religion News Service — which notes that it “is not a faith-based media organization, but rather a secular news service that covers religion, spirituality and ethics” — said participants in the Pompeo briefing “were not told that the call was limited to faith-based media.””While it was not clear which outlets were part of the call, questions were asked by Religion News Service, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Algemeiner, World Magazine and The Leaven, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. America Magazine also participated in the call,” according to RNS.On Tuesday evening, one of the participants shared a transcript of the call with the press corps. That transcript showed that Pompeo faced questions about the Israeli election, terrorism and the omission of the word “occupied” when describing the Golan Heights and the West Bank.Pompeo did take part in an on-the-record briefing with the traveling press en route to the Middle East, where he was asked similar questions and provided similar responses.The State Department told the press traveling with Pompeo that the department does not release transcripts for print roundtables. However, they typically release transcripts for all of the secretary’s public press engagements. Former State Department spokesperson John Kirby, who is a CNN Global Affairs analyst, said “it is typical practice that any on the record interview in which a Cabinet official participates is transcribed and published at the earliest appropriate opportunity.””These officials are public servants. What they say — in its entirety — is inherently of public interest. It’s inappropriate and irresponsible not to observe that obligation,” he told CNN.Kirby said he has “certainly seen times when particular journalists or columnists have been targeted for inclusion on given topics.” However, “to exclude beat reporters from something as universally relevant as religious freedom in the Middle East strikes me as not only self-defeating but incredibly small-minded,” he said. “It’s perfectly fine to ensure faith-based media have a seat at such a table. But it’s PR malpractice to cut off access to the broader press corps. I wish I could say I expected more from this crowd,” Kirby said.A State Department spokesperson said in a statement that some press engagements — “Department press briefings, teleconferences on a myriad of policy issues, briefings and sprays by the Secretary of State and other officials— are open to any interested domestic or international press.”

[CNN]

Trump Shares Clip of Fox Host Saying POTUS Has Every Right to Call ‘Fake News’ the ‘Enemy of the American People’

Donald Trump tweeted a clip of Fox News host Jesse Watters complaining about news outlets covering the White House unfavorably, and declaring that Trump “has every right to say that fake news is the enemy of the American people.

Trump continues to serve as Fox News Social Media Intern-in-Chief by posting clips from the network whose own Twitter feed has gone dark for months. On Tuesday evening, he promoted a clip from The Five, which featured Jesse Watters going on a rant about how the press covers Trump.

Watters began by accusing media companies of having a “profit motive” for “crusading” against Trump by, for example, having “reporters up Trump’s you-know-what 24/7.”

News outlets have dedicated multiple reporters to White House coverage for many decades, forming a press “corps,” if you will.

He went on to say that the presidents of CNN and MSNBC “hate this president, and they’re going on a 24-hour news cycle against him.”

Cable news networks have been covering the news 24 hours a day for several decades, as well, a format pioneered by CNN.

Watters then accused the social media networks of “deplatforming conservatives,” then rattled off some of Trump’s approval numbers probably, predicted Trump is “probably on the way to winning a second term,” but bitterly observed that “the media calls this guy a lying mentally ill racist who needs to be imprisoned or impeached.”

“It is so unfair and disgusting what is happening right now, he has every right to say ‘fake news’ is the enemy of the American people.”

Trump thanked Watters, and added “could not have said it any better myself!”, perhaps because Trump has actually said so himself dozens of times:

[Mediaite]

Trump says he’s ‘very proud’ to hear Bolsonaro use the term ‘fake news’

President Trump said Tuesday that he was “very proud” to hear Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro use the term “fake news” during a news conference at the White House.

Trump offered praise for his Brazilian counterpart, who has earned the nickname “Trump of the Tropics” for his similarities to the U.S. leader, during a diatribe against tech companies and broadcast networks. Trump suggested that those two groups are biased against him and other conservatives.

“You look at the networks, you look at the newscasts. I call it fake news,” Trump said. “I’m very proud to hear the president use the term fake news.”

Bolsonaro invoked the term Trump regularly uses to describe unfavorable news coverage during his opening remarks.

“Brazil and the United States stand side-by-side in their efforts to ensure liberties in respect to traditional family lifestyles, respect to God our creator, against the gender ideology or the politically correct attitudes and against fake news,” he said through a translator.

Tuesday’s news conference underscored the similarities and friendly relationship between Trump and Bolsonaro, who took over as president in January. The two men spoke of improving relations between their respective countries, and referenced their closely aligned views.

“I also know that we’re going to have a fantastic working relationship,” Trump said. “We have many views that are similar.”

Bolsonaro later predicted that Trump will win reelection in 2020.

“It’s an internal affair, we will respect whatever the ballots tell us on 2020,” he said through a translator. “But I do believe Donald Trump is going to be reelected.”

[The Hill]

Reality

Bolsonaro promised in his campaign he would shoot political opponents, including the press. Donald Trump is again promoting violence against those who disagree with him.

Trump Blasts ‘Lowest Rated’ Shepard Smith and Other Fox Anchors: ‘Should Be Working’ at CNN

President Donald Trump lashed out at several Fox News anchors Sunday, writing in a tweet they “should be working” at CNN.

In a day packed with Twitter missives, Trump’s latest attack takes aim at Smith, a weekday anchor, and Leland Vittert and Arthel Neville, both weekend anchors at the president’s favorite network.

“Were @FoxNews weekend anchors, @ArthelNeville and @LelandVittert, trained by CNN prior to their ratings collapse?” Trump wrote. “In any event, that’s where they should be working, along with their lowest rated anchor, Shepard Smith!”

Trump’s attack on the hard news side of Fox News comes hours after he called for Jeanine Pirro — the opinion host suspended by the network for suggesting a congresswoman’s hijab meant she was anti-American — to be brought back on air.

[Mediaite]

Trump defends Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro after Islamophobic comments

President Trump came to Fox News anchor Jeanine Pirro’s defense on Sunday in response to the network taking her off the air without explanation, one week after she implied Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) use of a hijab was antithetical to the U.S. Constitution.

“Bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro. The Radical Left Democrats, working closely with their beloved partner, the Fake News Media, is using every trick in the book to SILENCE a majority of our Country. They have all out campaigns against @FoxNews hosts who are doing too well. Fox must stay strong and fight back with vigor. Stop working soooo hard on being politically correct, which will only bring you down, and continue to fight for our Country. The losers all want what you have, don’t give it to them. Be strong & prosper, be weak & die! Stay true to the people that got you there. Keep fighting for Tucker, and fight hard for @JudgeJeanine. Your competitors are jealous – they all want what you’ve got – NUMBER ONE. Don’t hand it to them on a silver platter. They can’t beat you, you can only beat yourselves!”

Context: The string of tweets comes one day after authorities said “an immigrant-hating white supremacist” killed at least 50 people at a pair of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Trump issued a single tweet on the day of the attack extending his sympathies to the people of New Zealand, but he did not condemn the shooter’s racial motives or acknowledge the targeting of Muslims.

  • When asked on Friday if he believes white nationalism is a “rising threat,” Trump said he believes “it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” Far-right extremists have killed more people in the U.S. since 9/11 than any other organized terrorist group.

The big picture: A series of damning incidents over the past several weeks has seen Pirro, fellow host Tucker Carlson and Fox News as an entity come under fire for charges of racism and coziness with the Trump administration.

[Axios]

Trump Attacks McCain For 2nd Day Straight, Falsely Claims McCain Graduated ‘Last in His Class’

Donald Trump — who reportedly had Michael Cohen threaten all of his schools to keep his own transcripts a secret — spent a second consecutive day attacking the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), falsely claiming that McCain was “last in his class” at Annapolis.

On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted another attack on McCain, saying that it was “‘last in his class’ (Annapolis) John McCain that sent the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election.”

Trump’s claim about McCain is false. He graduated fifth from the bottom of his class, and self-effacingly noted in 1993 that “My four years here [at Annapolis] were not notable for individual academic achievement but, rather, for the impressive catalogue of demerits which I managed to accumulate.”

Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen has testified that Trump had him threaten all of his own former schools to keep his academic records secret.

Trump’s attack cones a day after he similarly slammed McCain, prompting a cutting response from Meghan McCain. Trump’s obsession with attacking John McCain’s military record dates back at least twenty years, when he told Dan Rather “He was captured. Does being captured make you a hero? I don’t know. I’m not sure.”

It was an attack that he infamously repeated during the 2016 presidential campaign, but which did not dim his popularity with Republican voters.

[Mediaite]

Trump says he intentionally called Apple’s Tim Cook ‘Tim Apple’

President Trump on Monday claimed he intentionally referred to Apple CEO Tim Cook as “Tim Apple,” seeking to push back on media coverage of his remark, which was mocked online.

Trump wrote on Twitter that he just tried “to save time & words” by referring to the tech industry titan by the wrong name last week at a White House meeting with business leaders.

“The Fake News was disparagingly all over this, & it became yet another bad Trump story!” he tweeted.

Trump made the slip of the tongue while he thanked Cook for investing in his company’s U.S. operations.

“I mean, you’ve really put a big investment in our country. We really appreciate it very much, Tim Apple,” Trump said at the time.

Cook reacted playfully, changing the name on his Twitter profile to Tim with an Apple logo emoji.

While the encounter was a viral moment for only short amount of time, it has stuck with Trump, who is sensitive about the way he is portrayed in the media.

Axios reported Sunday that Trump told a group of Republican donors over the weekend he actually said “Tim Cook, Apple” very quickly but that the “Cook” was said quietly.

A video recording of the event, however, shows Trump said “Tim Apple” and not “Tim Cook, Apple.”

[The Hill]

Media

Trump Denies Calling Tim Cook ‘Tim Apple.’ It Happened on TV.

Last week, President Trump made a small, comic gaffe when he called Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, “Tim Apple.” Friday night, at a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, Trump called the reports “fake news.” Jonathan Swan reports that Trump told the donors he actually said “Tim Cook, Apple,” very quickly, with the “Cook” part under his breath, so it sounded like “Tim Apple.”

That is not what happened. Here is the video:

“I just thought, why would you lie about that,” one of the donors told Swan. “It doesn’t even matter!”

Trump has consistently generated anxiety among the Republican elite through his habit of lying about absolutely everything, rather than just the things Republicans want him to he lie about (tax cuts don’t increase deficits, greenhouse gas emissions don’t warm the planet, repealing Obamacare won’t take away anybody’s coverage, etc.). Part of it has to do with the fact that Trump has far more things he actually needs to lie about due to his extreme shadiness. But another part is that Trump is simply a pathological liar, who tells weird and obviously made-up stories in his campaign speeches for no apparent reason.

You might think a Trump donor watching this could have some misgivings about handing money to help a pathological liar keep the most powerful job in the world — at a fundraiser held at Trump’s privately owned club, in order to guarantee that his campaign work lines his own pockets, no less. Instead the prevalent attitude is, It would be great if the president was not a pathological liar, but what are you gonna do?

[New York Magazine]

State Dept. Cancels Journalist’s Award Over Her Criticism of Trump

Jessikka Aro, a Finnish investigative journalist, has faced down death threats and harassment over her work exposing Russia’s propaganda machine long before the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. In January, the U.S. State Department took notice, telling Aro she would be honored with the prestigious International Women of Courage Award, to be presented in Washington by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Weeks later, the State Department rescinded the award offer. A State Department spokesperson said it was due to a “regrettable error,” but Aro and U.S. officials familiar with the internal deliberations tell a different story. They say the department revoked her award after U.S. officials went through Aro’s social media posts and found she had also frequently criticized President Donald Trump.

“It created a shitstorm of getting her unceremoniously kicked off the list,” said one U.S. diplomatic source familiar with the internal deliberations. “I think it was absolutely the wrong decision on so many levels,” the source said. The decision “had nothing to do with her work.”

The State Department spokesperson said in an email that Aro was “incorrectly notified” that she had been chosen for the award and that it was a mistake that resulted from “a lack of coordination in communications with candidates and our embassies.”

“We regret this error. We admire Ms. Aro’s achievements as a journalist, which were the basis of U.S. Embassy Helsinki’s nomination,” the spokesperson said. 

Aro received a formal invitation to the award ceremony not from the embassy but from the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol on Feb. 12. 

There is no indication that the decision to revoke the award came from the secretary of state or the White House. Officials who spoke to FP have suggested the decision came from lower-level State Department officials wary of the optics of Pompeo granting an award to an outspoken critic of the Trump administration. The department spokesperson did not respond to questions on who made the decision or why. 

To U.S. officials who spoke to FP, the incident underscores how skittish some officials—career and political alike—have become over government dealings with vocal critics of a notoriously thin-skinned president. The Trump administration has barred the hiring of prominent Republican foreign-policy experts who publicly denounced the president during the 2016 election season, including some who have since walked back their criticisms. As another example, Trump himself last year revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, who regularly castigates the president on Twitter, and threatened to follow suit with other former national security officials who did the same. 

In the minds of some diplomats, this has created an atmosphere where lower-level officials self-censor dealings with critics of the administration abroad, even without senior officials weighing in.

Aro said the decision to cancel her award and corresponding trip to the United States caught her completely by surprise.

“[When] I was informed about the withdrawal out of the blue, I felt appalled and shocked,” Aro told FP. “The reality in which political decisions or presidential pettiness directs top U.S. diplomats’ choices over whose human rights work is mentioned in the public sphere and whose is not is a really scary reality.”

Aro is a prolific Twitter user and was originally chosen for the award because of her investigative work exposing Russian troll factories. She often debunks misinformation spread online and comments on major news events related to propaganda and election interference, including Brexit and the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into links between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign. She has regularly tweeted criticism about Trump’s sharp political rhetoric and attacks on the press. Aro also helped organize a demonstration in Helsinki when the Finnish capital hosted a summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2018.

“I use Twitter to exchange ideas and share information freely,” Aro said. “I find the idea of U.S. government officials stalking my Twitter and politicizing my perfectly normal expressions of opinion deeply disturbing.”

After first being notified she would get the award, Aro filled out forms and questionnaires at the request of officials and cancelled paid speaking engagements to travel to Washington to attend the March 7 ceremony in Washington. The State Department also sent her an official invitation to accept the award and planned an itinerary for a corresponding tour of the United States, complete with flights and high-profile visits to newspapers and universities across the country.

Since 2007, the State Department has held an annual award ceremony honoring women around the world who “have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk and sacrifice,” according to the department’s website.

This year, the award is being given to Razia Sultana of Bangladesh; Naw K’nyaw Paw of Myanmar; Moumina Houssein Darar of Djibouti; Magda Gobran-Gorgi (“Mama Maggie”) of Egypt; Col. Khalida Khalaf Hanna al-Twal of Jordan; Sister Orla Treacy of Ireland; Olivera Lakic of Montenegro; Flor de Maria Vega Zapata of Peru; Marini de Livera of Sri Lanka; and Anna Aloys Henga of Tanzania.

The awards “demonstrate the United States commitment to gender equality, social inclusion, and advancing the global status of women and girls from all backgrounds across sectors as part of our foreign policy,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

Pompeo will host the ceremony honoring the awardees on Thursday morning. First lady Melania Trump is also expected to attend and speak at the ceremony.

In 2014, Aro pursued reporting on a Russian troll factory in St. Petersburg that aimed to alter western public opinions. Long before the U.S. elections in 2016, which propelled Russian disinformation campaigns to the spotlight, she unearthed evidence of a state-sanctioned propaganda machine trying to shape online discourse and spread disinformation. After she published her investigation, Russian nationalist websites and pro-Moscow outlets in Finland coordinated smear campaigns against her, accusing her at times of being a Western intelligence agent and drug dealer, and bombarding her with anonymous abusive messages. She also received death threats.

Aro won the Finnish Grand Prize for Journalism in 2016 for her investigative work, and in 2018, she successfully sued the founder of MV-Lehti, a far-right, pro-Russian website in Finland, for defamation and negligence after it published offensive content about her following her initial investigation.

In late February, Aro submitted a letter drafted by her lawyer to the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki asking for justification about why her award was rescinded at the last minute and who made the decision. The letter also reserved the right to seek damages, due to Aro having to cancel paid speaking events that would have conflicted with Thursday’s award ceremony.

Aro said the embassy has not yet responded to the letter.

[Foreign Policy]

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