From Emoluments to “Alternative Facts,” Trump off to a Rough Start

From Emoluments to "Alternative Facts," Trump off to a Rough Start

The new President is sending troubling signals on democracy issues

After an historic weekend including the inauguration of President Trump and massive demonstrations across the country against him and his agenda, the new administration is expected to get down to business this week. 

Trump is off to a troubling start on some key democracy issues. This morning in Manhattan, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a lawsuit accusing the President of violating the Constitution’s “emoluments clause,” which bars him from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments. 

The case, backed by an all-star lineup of law professors, centers on leases on offices at Trump Tower held by agencies of the governments of China and the United Arab Emirates. Citing the emoluments clause, CREW wants the court to order the Trump organization to stop accepting payments from the tenants tied to foreign governments. 

Trump also is trying to wall himself and at least some of his official activity off from public scrutiny. McClatchy reports this morning that he already has signed at least six orders, though only three have been made public. And on Sunday, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway announced that the President will not be releasing his tax returns; her declaration breaks Trump’s oft-repeated campaign promise to disclose his returns once the IRS completes a routine audit. 

The new White House immediately closed down several web pages maintained by the Obama administration, including one spotlighting the former President’s efforts to combat climate change. But in one faintly hopeful sign, the administration is keeping – at least for now – an Obama initiative that allows citizens to petition the President for specific policies. “I hope they keep them up,” Common Cause’s Aaron Scherb told McClatchy. 

Finally, the Trump White House is off to an ominously contentious start with the press corps following the President’s visit to CIA headquarters and Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s initial appearance in the briefing room on Saturday. Apparently hoping to patch up relations with the intelligence community, Trump told several hundred CIA employees that he will “have your back” and then launched into a stream-of-consciousness attack on journalists. “They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth,” he declared. 

CBS quoted an unnamed intelligence official who said the President’s visit “made relations with the intelligence community worse.” 

Later Saturday, Spicer ripped coverage of the inaugural ceremonies, challenging reports – backed by aerial photos – that attendance for the swearing-in and the inaugural parade were down dramatically from totals recorded for Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. The Trump festivities drew larger crowds, in person, on television and online, than any previous inauguration, Spicer falsely claimed. 

There was more trouble on Sunday, as Conway told an incredulous Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that Spicer was merely presenting “alternative facts” on the inaugural crowd size. “Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods,” Todd shot back. 

This week, look for Trump to start making good on promises to issue orders and propose legislation aimed at unraveling the Obama administration’s legacy. He got started on that shortly after Friday’s swearing-in, signing an order to agencies that may permit them to ignore key provisions of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. 

On Capitol Hill, Trump’s Cabinet nominees appear to be moving ahead. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote for Tuesday on the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, to serve as attorney general. Common Cause and a coalition of groups representing millions of Americans has urged Sessions’ defeat, citing his long record of opposition to voting rights and civil rights reforms.  

The full Senate is voting today on Trump’s CIA nominee, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-OK, and the Foreign Relations Committee is set to send the nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state to the floor.