Sep 30, 2019

Trump vaguely threatens 'civil war,' goes off on Twitter.

Trump vaguely threatens 'civil war,' goes off on Twitter.

The president had an active weekend online. Plus, some refugee news.

Today’s read: 8 minutes.

Trump’s wild Twitter weekend, a question about impeachment and some big refugee news.

My first correction.

On Friday, I told you about the death of Freddie Oversteegen, the Dutch communist who lured Nazis into romantic situations and killed them as a teenaged girl. As it turns out, articles about Oversteegen were being shared because it was the anniversary of her death, which actually occurred last year. I realized the mistake almost immediately after sending out the newsletter, and a few readers pointed it out as well. As far as corrections go, that’s about as good at it gets, and her story is still worth reading. You can check it out here.

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What D.C. is talking about.

Civil War (yikes) and Trump’s tweets. Late Sunday night, President Trump shared a quote on Twitter from Pastor Robert Jeffress, who said on Fox News that "If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, I'm afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal." Trump added his own parenthetical on the tweet:

Jeffress is the controversial Evangelical pastor who once said Obama was “paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.” He also famously dismissed allegations that President Trump had an affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Trump re-tweeted at least 19 people criticizing Fox News host Ed Henry for questioning the ethics of Trump’s phone call to the Ukrainian president, including one calling him a “shithead.” Then he asked whether Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff should be arrested for treason after Schiff read a made-up, parody version of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Congress without explicitly noting that what he was reading wasn’t real. Trump’s active weekend on Twitter was accompanied by allies — including policy advisor Stephen Miller, Rep. Jim Jordan and Rep. Kevin McCarthy — doing primetime news sitdowns to discuss the allegations that Trump pressured Zelensky into investigating Biden. If you missed initial coverage from Tangle of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky, you can read that here.

What Republicans are saying.

The Republican caucus is still unified, but the fractures are starting to show. On one hand, Trump’s most loyal supporters are buckling down. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy went on CBS “60 Minutes” and defended the president using three crystallized talking points:

  1. The whistleblower wasn’t on the call.
  2. The IG didn’t read the transcript before acting on the whistleblower complaint (note: it’s still unclear if this is true).
  3. The White House released the transcript — which clearly shows the president did nothing that would be impeachable.

Rep. Jim Jordan participated in a far more contentious interview on CNN with Jake Tapper, where his defenses of Trump were sparse but his attacks on Biden were plentiful. Jordan repeated over and over again that Hunter Biden was paid $50,000 a month for a job he had no experience for and attacked the media for not properly covering the story.

On Fox News, Trump’s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller took a different tact, saying it was a “partisan hit job” and attacking the media for describing the person as a “whistleblower.” Instead, Miller insisted, the person did not deserve the “honorific” of that name, and was a “deep state operative” who was hellbent on taking down the president.

Other Republicans seem less than thrilled. Last week, Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei became the first Republican in the House of Representatives to support the impeachment inquiry. Amodei is currently the chairman of Trump’s re-election campaign in Nevada. Last night, after the “civil war” tweet, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who serves in a Republican stronghold in Illinois, called Trump’s tweet “repugnant.” David French, a conservative commentator who has infrequently supported Trump, echoed those words, saying the “impeachment inquiry should focus not just on abuse of power but also fitness for office. This is repugnant.”

What Democrats are saying.

Lies, lies, lies. The response to Trump’s top defenders has been a mix of frustration and awe. Democrats are on the offensive, telling Americans that Trump is asking you not to believe what’s in front of you.

Many are shocked that McCarthy, who heads the Freedom Caucus, a group of Congressman previously known for acting independently, is now running interference for POTUS. In his “60 Minutes” interview, McCarthy refused to answer whether he thought what Trump did was appropriate. He also denied having “seen one talking point from the White House,” despite being invited to the White House to discuss the talking points and repeatedly using them in the interview. Those talking points were accidentally emailed to Democrats late last week. After the interview aired, Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian-minded Republican who recently left McCarthy’s Freedom Caucus, criticized the leader for “his unique brand of incompetence and dishonesty.” Democrats also say it appeared McCarthy hadn’t actually read the transcript, as he seemed surprised by some of the questions CBS’ Scott Pelley asked him.

In his interview with CNN, Rep. Jordan seemed to have well-crafted attacks on Biden but was unprepared to defend Trump. When Tapper conceded that he wished the children of presidents and vice presidents didn’t take these kinds of lucrative jobs, he simultaneously pressed Jordan about Ivanka’s numerous copyright claims overseas, or Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump currently doing business overseas on behalf of the president’s companies. Jordan had no clear defense. These interviews, along with a sit-down the president’s adviser Stephen Miller had with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, are being shared across social media today by Democrats as proof that Trump’s most loyal supporters are struggling to defend his actions.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are starting to lay the foundation for impeachment proceedings. Their message is simple: on top of all the ways Trump is evidently unfit for office, he clearly requested that a foreign leader open an investigation into a top political opponent, and one could easily infer that ask was weighted by U.S. aid contingent on the request being fulfilled.

My take.

My job is to be skeptical of everything I read and see. That, to me, is the essence of journalism. There is a lot to say about the gross lobbying culture that allows someone like Hunter Biden to get a $3 million a year salary working for a Ukrainian energy company. But the things being said by Trump and Republicans are increasingly unhinged, and I’m struggling to find any other way to describe them. The prosecutor involved in investigating the firm Hunter Biden worked at was fired because he wasn’t actually rooting out corruption in Ukraine. Ukranian, American and international officials have all said the same thing: there was no wrongdoing on the part of Biden, and he was not alone in the effort to remove the prosecutor from Ukraine. That’s probably why Biden bragged openly about strongarming Ukraine’s leader — he was proud of ridding them of this prosecutor. The investigation into his son wasn’t even active when the calls for this prosecutor to be removed started. Unless you’re interested in all the ways underqualified children and friends of high-ranking politicians get work outside the government (which, by the way, is a worthwhile topic), the Biden family is not integral to this story.

Meanwhile, the more important story here is still developing. On Sunday, Fox News published a piece saying it had learned “that the Pentagon, State Department, and National Security Council were ‘unanimous’ in supporting the aid to Ukraine, and that Trump acted alone in withholding the aid over the summer.” Reminder: Trump delayed foreign aid to Ukraine, which Democrats claim was the leverage he was using in the quid pro quo to get the investigation going on Biden. The aid eventually came, and Trump claimed he only delayed it because he wanted European nations to step up and provide additional money. Fox News’ report that it was Trump alone holding up the money will only fuel speculation he was pressuring Zelesnky, even if Zelensky insists he felt no pressure.

Another story broke late on Friday, too. The Federalist, a conservative news outlet whose unknown donors are often a topic of media speculation, published what appeared to be a bombshell news report. In it, The Federalist claimed that the form whistleblowers use to submit information was recently changed to allow secondhand knowledge. That story has made its way through the media ecosystem all the way up to Trump, who tweeted an accusatory question asking who changed the whistleblower rules:

But the story is largely misleading. The Daily Beast did a fantastic breakdown of the story, whistleblower laws and the deceptive nature of what’s been said about them. The long and short of it is that the form did change in 2018, but whistleblower laws have always allowed a complaint based on secondhand knowledge to be filed. In fact, the Inspector General can only deem a complaint credible if firsthand accounts back up the complaint, which apparently is exactly what happened in this case. In that way, the story The Federalist published actually makes POTUS looks worse — it means the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community found the allegations of the whistleblower complaint credible and supported by primary sourcing.

This story isn’t going anywhere, and the drip-drip-drip around it will continue to damage the president. We’ll likely be covering it for weeks and months to come.


You don’t have to take my word on a lot of this. You can watch the interviews conducted over the weekend for yourself.

Rep. Jim Jordan and CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy and CBS’ Scott Pelley.

Policy advisor Stephen Miller and Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: Tangle is about streamlining the news for readers who don’t have time to wade through story after story looking for the information they want. If you’re curious about something, just reply to this email with a question and I’ll get to it as soon as I can. Today’s question comes in via Twitter:

Tangle: Impeaching a president is a long, complex, politically fraught process. It requires investigations and testimony and votes, and ultimately it requires buy-in from the politicians involved. More importantly, though, it involves buy-in from the public. What has energized Democrats and helped the dam break on support for impeachment is that this story is simple enough to sell to the public.

Previously, the biggest scandals Democrats have pushed about President Trump were complex. The Russian interference and collusion allegations in 2016 involved dozens of different aides, obscure hacking groups, a meeting with a Russian lawyer, Facebook disinformation, former spies, political operation groups for hire, etc. And amidst all of that was accusations the Democrats acted improperly in the investigation, and accusations that members of the FBI, CIA, “deep state,” etc. were working to end Trump’s presidency. There was a lot of dodgy politicizing and cherry-picked information on both sides.

Other scandals were similarly convoluted: The Trump family’s skirting of tax laws to advance and acquire their wealth requires tangible knowledge of tax laws to understand. The allegations that Trump paid off adult film star Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about their affair with campaign funds was muddied by non-disclosure agreements and court battles over who could say what. Allegations that the Trump Organization continues to profit off of Trump’s position of power involve an obscure provision in the constitution known as the Emoluments Clause. Numerous sexual assault allegations against the president have failed to stay around either because they happened years ago, because Trump supporters didn’t believe them or because the president had settled with the accuser in court. Almost every story Democrats have tried to make stick about Trump has quickly become too difficult or longwinded for most Americans to care about or follow closely.

But this story is different. The equation Democrats are presenting is simple: Trump pressured a foreign leader into investigating a top political foe, and America’s financial support for that country was clearly at stake. There are phone call transcripts, whistleblower complaints, and public record evidence that can be presented. The president has admitted key elements of the accusation publicly. There are also lots of sources to pull from: dozens of aides and officials who were on the call, former administration officials who are willing to speak openly about Trump, Ukrainian and foreign officials familiar with how the White House does business, and so on. All of this comes, too, after the groundwork has been laid for Trump to be portrayed as corrupt. So many stories about him crossing the line as president have emerged since 2016, but the one he’s being accused of crossing now is bright and red enough that even Republican members of Congress who benefit from his presidency might not be able to stand up for him. In fact, the Republicans willing to talk about this controversy have — so far — mostly taken to attacking Biden rather than defending Trump. Democrats view that response as evidence what they’re pushing is getting through, and Republicans don’t want to go on the record tying themselves to his actions. All of this is significant.

A story that matters.

Lost in all the impeachment craziness was a pretty significant story from last week: the Trump administration reduced the refugee limit for the third straight year, announcing the United States would no longer admit more than 18,000 refugees a year. That’s the lowest level since the program began 40 years ago (it was 85,000 during Obama’s final year in office). Democrats say this is all part of an assault on legal immigration for the world’s most vulnerable and at-risk populations who come to the United States seeking a new lease on life. Republicans say that the United States is still one of the most generous countries in the world when it comes to accepting refugees, but we need to divert resources to other immigration programs — most importantly the huge backlog of asylum cases at the border. You can read more here.

Culture wars.

Over the weekend, a 6th grade African-American girl claimed three white boys at her school pinned her down, called her hair “nappy” and “ugly” and cut off her dreadlocks. The story quickly went viral. Now, a Washington Post reporter says the girl’s parents are saying she lied about the incident and are apologizing to the families of the boys. His tweets updating the piece are already igniting conservative cries about fake racist acts (similar to Jussie Smollett), while many on the left note that these infrequent false allegations are elevated by conservatives to minimize real, overt racism people of color face every day. The culture war in America rages on.

Protect yourself.

A new law in California will kick in January 1st and give Californians the ability to find out what a company knows about them and delete information they don’t want the company to have. California’s citizens will also be able to stop the company from selling that information. The California Consumer Privacy Act will apply to any company with at least $25 million in revenue, personal info on at least 50,000 people or a business model that relies on selling consumers’ personal information, according to Axios. The state law could be a preview of what future federal policies will look like. You can read more here.

Have a nice day.

The United Kingdom has officially prohibited the import of animal trophies into Britain. As a matter of practice, the law will effectively disincentivize any trophy hunters from heading to Africa and trying to kill exotic animals that they can then bring pieces of back home to the UK. Animal rights activists are celebrating the news, which they hope will reduce the number of endangered species who are killed by hunters hoping for a cool picture. I’ve personally enjoyed shooting guns in my life and am perfectly fine with ethical hunting and fishing, but I’ve always found trophy hunting gross in a palpable way. I was thrilled to see this news. You can read more here.

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