A Weekend’s Worth of Outrages
Trump Lashes Out at the FBI, Justice Department, The New York Times, and Amazon.com
The political and ethical outrages emanating from President Trump’s White House are coming so fast these days that it can be tough to keep up. Here’s a re-cap from the weekend.
In a blizzard of tweets beginning on Saturday, the president escalated his war on the FBI and career officials at the Department of Justice who he claims are bent on destroying him and his administration.
The capstone was a Sunday message in which Trump used the social media platform to “hearby demand” that Justice Department leaders “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”
Trump offered no evidence of the department’s supposed political motivation; his Twitter outburst followed published reports that a longtime U.S. intelligence source exploited contacts with three Trump advisers to assist Justice Department investigators looking into Russian interference in the election and the Trump campaign’s possible involvement in it.
Trump has been complaining for months that the investigation, now headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, is a “witch hunt.” On Saturday, he tweeted that “If the FBI or DOJ was infiltrating a campaign for the benefit of another campaign, that is a really big deal.”
Charlie Sykes, a conservative Republican and prominent Trump critic, said the president’s latest attack is part of a campaign of “slow motion obstruction of justice” by Trump and his most passionate allies in the GOP.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is overseeing the Mueller investigation, promptly announced that the Justice Department’s inspector general will look into Trump’s complaint.
“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Rosenstein said.
Rosenstein’s announcement is widely viewed in Washington as an attempt to hold off a more direct confrontation between the Justice Department and the White House. The president has repeatedly threatened to fire Rosenstein and replace him with someone willing to shut down the Mueller investigation.
Sally Yates, Rosenstein’s predecessor as deputy attorney general, told MSNBC that Trump’s order “takes his all-out assault on the rule of law to a new level.”
The Russian government apparently wasn’t alone among foreign powers in its willingness to meddle in U.S. politics and help Trump gain the White House.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that a few months before the 2016 election, George Nader, a man claiming to represent the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, met with Donald Trump Jr. to offer those countries’ help to the Trump campaign.
The meeting purportedly was arranged by Eric Prince, founder of the paramilitary private security company Blackwater. It also included a social media entrepreneur, Joel Zamel, who was hawking a multimillion dollar plan to use social media to assist Trump’s campaign.
“Donald Trump Jr. responded approvingly, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting,” the Times reported, “and after those initial offers of help, Mr. Nader was quickly embraced as a close ally by Trump campaign advisers.” The newspaper said Nader met frequently with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who became the president’s first national security adviser but was fired after just a few weeks on the job.
“After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Nader paid Mr. Zamel a large sum of money, described by one associate as up to $2 million,” the Times reported. “There are conflicting accounts of the reason for the payment, but among other things, a company linked to Mr. Zamel provided Mr. Nader with an elaborate presentation about the significance of social media campaigning to Mr. Trump’s victory.”
The president clearly was stung by the Times report; his weekend tweets included several attacks on the story. “Things are really getting ridiculous. The Failing and Crooked (but not as Crooked as Hillary Clinton) @nytimes has done a long & boring story indicating that the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt has found nothing on Russia & me so now they are looking at the rest of the World!”
The Washington Post has been a thorn in Trump’s side at least since he announced his presidential campaign in 2015. One of its reporters, David A. Fahrenthold, won journalism’s highest honor, the Pulitizer Prize, for stories including unearthing the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump is heard bragging about grabbing women’s genitals.
Trump is famous for striking hard at those who strike him. So, it’s no surprise to find that he recently called on Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the U.S. Postal Service’s delivery charges for packages shipped by Amazon.com. The online retail giant is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also happens to own the Post.
Washington Post Senior Editor Marc Fisher discussed the president’s feud with his newspaper and Amazon.com
The newspaper reported Friday that three anonymous sources have confirmed that Trump pressed Brennan to double fees charged Amazon and other retailers. The postmaster has resisted the president’s requests, telling Trump that the service’s charges to Amazon are part of a contract with the retailer that is very profitable for USPS.
Amazon reportedly spends more than $21 billion annually on shipping; an estimated 40 percent of its U.S. deliveries are made through USPS.
The Post said its sources agree that “Brennan and Trump have met at the White House about the matter several times, beginning in 2017, and most recently four months ago… The meetings have never appeared on Trump’s public schedule.”
Brennan is a Postal Service careerist, having begun 32 years ago as a letter carrier. She has been postmaster general since 2014. The job is not a presidential appointment; Brennan was hired by and reports to the Postal Service’s Board of Governors.
Bezos, whose holdings also include a space company, has shrugged off past Trump attacks. “Finally trashed by @realDonaldTrump,” he tweeted after a 2015 complaint by candidate Trump that the Post is providing a tax shelter for Amazon. “Will still reserve him a seat on the Blue Origin rocket. #sendDonaldtospace.”