Tag Archives: white house

Trump’s Bodyguard Leaks the Defense Secretary’s Phone Number ‘the Old-Fashioned Way’

Donald Trump famously doesn’t trust computers. At an event on New Year’s Eve, he told reporters, “You know, if you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old-fashioned way.” Well, a pen and paper screwed him when his bodyguard recently displayed the cellphone number of the…

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Desus and Mero Call Sean Spicer Out for Not Taking Questions After a Press Briefing

Don't you hate it when you go see your favorite band and they don't return for an encore? It's not just disheartening, but honestly kind of disrespectful. That's how the media (and some of the general public) felt after White House press secretary Sean Spicer snuck out of a press conference without taking any questions.

During Wednesday night's episode of Desus & Mero, the hosts dissed "the Spiceman" for literally not doing his job—which definitely stung a lot more than when artists refuse to play their biggest hits.

You can watch last night's Desus & Mero for free online now, and be sure to catch new episodes weeknights at 11 PM on VICELAND.

Ivanka Trump Is Not Your Friend

The Trump Century Tower is a 57-story luxury skyscraper in the heart of a gentrifying neighborhood controlled by one of the world's most bloodthirsty strongmen. In a 2012 ad for the property, you can watch the developer's son Robbie Antonio explain how the building was born out of a meeting with Ivanka Trump and promise it will be "the most important residential condominium the Philippines will ever see." As her dad plays golf in the background, Ivanka herself appeals to Filipino consumers on "a great quest for luxury."

Several years later, the tower is nearly complete, even as the American dynasty behind it has moved on to bigger things. The man who swung a golf club in the ad's b-roll is now the leader of the free world, recently launching missile strikes at Syria in what one high-level official called "after-dinner entertainment." These days, Donald Trump's eldest daughter is not just the face of a glass tower in Asia or the purveyor of the finest luxury goods your local Dillards has on offer, but a White House adviser who convenes with foreign heads of state.

Meanwhile, just before the election, the Trump Century Tower's developer, Jose Antonio, was appointed by Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte—a man whose answer to his nation's drug problem is to encourage vigilante shootings of suspected dealers and users in the street—as a special envoy to the United States. Just this weekend, President Trump invited Duterte to the White House, setting off alarm bells for exhausted watchdogs who can barely keep up with the most ethically dubious administration in decades.

Since dad began running for president, Ivanka Trump, a businesswoman and public figure in her own right, been touted as a social progressive who might moderate his worst impulses on everything from women's health to war to gay rights. But even if this proves to be the case, she has shown over and over again that she's as compromised as anyone in a White House that includes dudes admitting straight up they want to use the government to make themselves richer.

Next to the white nationalists hanging out in the West Wing, it's tempting to see Ivanka—who converted to Judaism to marry Jared Kushner, also an adviser to the president—as a comforting presence. (This may be partly the work of a marquee branding effort helmed by Democratic communications whiz Risa Heller.) Whatever Ivanka's handlers are doing behind the scenes, it seems to be working: The first daughter is currently shilling an advice book for working women that has garnered positive press—both by outlets that are and are not government-funded—even in the midst of her latest ethics controversy. (It has also won its share of scathing reviews.)

But to Jeff Hauser, executive director at the watchdog group Revolving Door Project, Ivanka Trump's meticulous attention to branding and how she's perceived might actually be the key to combatting corruption in her father's White House.

"There's a school of thought in politics where you go after the squealer—not the most important person, but the person most likely to respond to pressure," he told me. "Ivanka cares. She wants to be thought of as a moderate, smart, pragmatic, feminist success story. Scrutiny on her could actually produce results."

To back up, Ivanka Trump's conflicts raised eyebrows before her dad even won the election. After introducing him at the Republican National Convention, Ivanka tweeted about the dress she was wearing, causing it to sell out online. Then, during a November interview on CBS, the daughter of the president-elect wore a $10,800 bracelet from her jewelry line and the company sent out an email blast to fashion writers promoting the piece's appearance. After a media backlash, the brand issued an apology—something her father almost never does.

Even as President Trump angered the Chinese government early on by jumping on the phone with the leader of Taiwan, Ivanka has proven a much more effective—or at least tactful—emissary on the global stage. For starters, she seemed to garner an immense amount of good will from Beijing after a video of her daughter singing a song for Chinese New Year went viral on that country's version of Twitter. Now young Chinese apparently consider Yi Wan Ka (a.k.a. Ivanka) their idol, with tabloids reporting people are getting plastic surgery to emulate her appearance.

This idolization obviously bodes well for Ivanka, who just got a bevy of lucrative trademarks approved by the Chinese government, and with them the ability to sell a whole slew of products bearing her name to crazed fangirls sometime in the future. (It's worth mentioning that these trademarks were approved on the same day that Chinese president Xi Jinping visited the Trump resort in Mar-a-Lago in Florida to hang with Ivanka's father, and that she has additional trademarks in Japan and Canada—two countries whose leaders she met with in November and February.) Putting all of that aside, Ivanka Trump still has a stake in her father's DC hotel, where foreign dignitaries can theoretically stay in hopes of currying favor with her dad.

True to her penchant for cultivating a righteous brand, the first daughter has at least taken baby steps toward good governance, placing her own businesses in a trust. And in March, after ethics groups demanded clarity on Ivanka Trump's status in the White House, she announced plans to become an official, unpaid employee of the government.

"I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the president in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House Office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees," she said in a statement.

But Ivanka Trump hasn't gone all the way, liquidating her assets and moving them into a completely blind trust, like George W. Bush and Barack Obama did. That makes advocates like Paul S. Ryan with the good government group Common Cause think the first daughter's professed ethics concerns are more about optics than anything else.

"She cares about her brand and her reputation," Ryan says. "That may cause her to do things that we want to hear, but I'm not convinced that it will lead her to do the things we need her to do as a country. Her personal fortune is directly influenced by foreign trade policy, and because the mechanism for enforcing our ethics laws is so weak, all we can do is hope for the best."

Democratic senators Elizabeth Warren and Tom Carpenter on Monday released a response they got from the Office of Government Ethics, detailing how Ivanka's new gig will require her to tell us where she's getting her income, which includes ongoing payments from her father's company and her own brand. She says she won't participate in day-to-day business decisions, even if she can still veto specific deals. She's also promised to recuse herself from government affairs affecting her assets and is prohibited by law from intentionally enriching herself with the new gig.

But the government ethics office is not a law enforcement agency, and it can't actually compel any meaningful change—it's just there to spotlight issues and occasionally make noise about glaring misconduct, like Kellyanne Conway hawking Ivanka's clothes on TV. And the Obama-appointed head of the agency will finish his term in early 2018, which means President Trump can select a new one sympathetic to his worldview. Meanwhile, the prospect of some kind of public corruption investigation into the administration by the attorney general's office is basically nonexistent now that Jeff Sessions, a Trump campaign surrogate who was forced to recuse himself from the Russia probe, is running the show.

"I'm holding back my attempt to chuckle at the notion that he would enforce any of these laws aggressively with regards to the Trump administration—never mind with regards to a member of the Trump family," Ryan tells me.

Depressingly, it seems like one of the better ways to discourage corruption in the new administration may be as simple as Americans looking askance at Ivanka and denting her public image. In fact, around the same time President Duterte's impending visit was announced, a Twitter user posted a photo of a billboard for Trump Tower Manila featuring her likeness. Though the image sparked outrage, the photo was out of date, and conservatives used the apparent mischaracterization as a way to deflect from the glaring ethics issues at stake.

Meanwhile, ads for the Filipino property featuring Ivanka quietly disappeared from its website.

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.

The Secret Service Doesn’t Like @realDonaldTrump Either

The barrage of proclamations, admonitions, and borderline calls for war President Donald Trump fires off from his Twitter account every day have created a big-league security problem for the Secret Service, Politico reports

The president has reportedly drawn an unprecedented number of threats from folks who are pissed off at what he says on Twitter, making it tough for the agents, charged with protecting him, to do their jobs. Former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino, who worked under former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told Politico that Trump's "Twitter thing" has "generated a tidal wave of threats" that the service is too understaffed to fully address.

"It's an arithmetic impossibility to interview every single person who sends a threat. It's not possible," he told Politico. "By necessity they have to triage what's credible and what's not and it's tough to do by just looking at a 140-character tweet." 

The Secret Service is already stretched pretty thin trying to protect Trump's family and children, spanning DC and New York and—pretty regularly—taking trips across the country to the "Winter White House" at Mar-a-Lago, the New York Times reports. In March, the agency asked the White House to OK adding $60 million to the force's roughly $2 billion budget, hoping to cover the high cost of protecting the Trumps.

Aside from the fact that their jobs are more difficult than ever, it doesn't help that the Secret Service has faced a few sloppy PR scandals recently. In March, a laptop full of sensitive information was jacked from an agent's car. A day later, a man scaled the White House fence and wandered around the grounds for 17 minutes before he was detected. And earlier this month, an agent on Vice President Mike Pence's detail was caught meeting a prostitute at a Maryland hotel.

While the Secret Service can't ask Trump to stop tweeting, getting him to put his phone down—like he did before the election—might give them a bit of a reprieve and put him out of harm's way.

Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.

Trump Is Keeping His White House Visitor Log Under Wraps

The Trump administration decided to break with another Obama-era rule on Friday and announced it would keep all the White House visitor logs private, meaning the public won't have access to who's stopping by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue until after the president leaves office, TIME reports.

The administration sees the Workers and Visitors Entry System, which usually falls under the care of the US Secret Service, as "presidential records" and ineligible for Freedom of Information Act requests. The move was confirmed Friday by White House communications director Michael Dubke, who told TIME that the decision to keep the logs under wraps was due to "the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually." 

During Obama's term, the administration voluntarily published more than 6 million records containing most of its visitors on the website Open.gov, which became available about three months after they had stopped by. The only exceptions were some celebrity visitors, top donors, or those in for a private, personal meeting, like potential nominees. That website also published the salaries of various White House staff, as well as appointments, in an effort to promote transparency.

Not only is the Trump administration shutting that website down, promising to transfer some of that info to WhiteHouse.gov, but members of the public won't be able to request to see the visitor logs for at least five years after Trump leaves office. 

It's not clear, however, if the same rules will apply to visitors of the "Winter Whitehouse," or Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he's spent 17 days since taking office. Democrats in Congress are after the club's visitor logs with a bill they've appropriately named the "Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act," or MAR-A-LAGO Act.

Sean Spicer Is Bad for America

This week, famously gaffe-prone White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is in hot water after comparing Adolf Hitler favorably to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and in the process saying that Hitler didn't use chemical weapons—when in fact he gassed millions to death in concentration camps. (As of Wednesday, Spicer was still apologizing.) This is just the latest in a long string of humiliating mistakes from the Trump spokesman. But are Spicer's stumbles just a problem for the administration, or should ordinary people care that the press secretary can't get his foot out of his mouth? Politics writer Eve Peyser and politics editor Harry Cheadle debated that question today. Here's Harry's point:

Sean Spicer, whatever his faults, has a tough job: Every day, he has to go out and explain what the Trump administration is doing and why. Considering that administration is often in conflict with itself and is helmed by people who have a habit of saying things that are flat-out wrong, his task is a difficult one. Spicer started the gig having to defend a ridiculous claim by Donald Trump about the size of his inaugural crowd; his statements on the Republican healthcare plan were denounced by the left and the right; last month he had to back up his boss's bizarre (and still unproven) claim about being wiretapped by Barack Obama. To mangle a Game of Thrones quote, Trump eats and Spicer takes the shit.

As the White House press secretary, Spicer was always going to get raked over the coals by both the media and the Democrats for Trump's unpopular positions and odd tweets. That's the job, of course—he gets nearly $180,000 a year to be the mouthpiece of an administration that has made a muddle of its first three months. Spicer has added to that muddle by constantly committing gaffes, misspeaking, and at time misrepresenting the administration's positions in important ways. That's a problem for White House officials tired of "Spicer Fucks Up Again" headlines, but it's also a problem for the American people.

Read the counterpoint to this article here.

The job of a press secretary is to spin whatever the president does, but even that spin has a purpose—the public deserves an explanation for why missiles were launched, or why a piece of legislation is supported by the White House. Those explanations are going to be self-serving, but they can be a starting point for analysis and debate. So far, the administration hasn't done a good job of describing, for instance, its stance on Syria, which naturally confuses people, and it's at moments like these when Spicer's incoherence is actually dangerous.

Spicer claiming that Hitler didn't use chemical weapons was bad—as was his accidental claim, while apologizing for that gaffe, that Trump was trying to "destabilize" the Middle East—but he's made worse unforced errors. Earlier this week he implied, wrongly, that Trump would attack Syrian strongman Bashar Assad for using barrel bombs, which would be a major shift in policy, since barrel bombs are used daily in that conflict. He later "clarified" that statement, just as he had to "clarify" in January after saying incorrectly that the White House was endorsing an incredibly harsh import tax on goods from Mexico. Or how about the time he repeated a baseless rumor that the British spied on Trump for Obama, then denied that the White House apologized to the UK over the remark?

In all those cases, Spicer failed at the basic level of communicating what the White House was thinking—and that's his one job. Journalists depend on a press secretary who can represent an administration's positions accurately. Foreign governments want to know what the president's policy is on war and peace and trade. The public would presumably like to hear the White House's side of the story, even if that side of the story isn't the whole truth. When Spicer can't get through a press conference without spouting obvious nonsense that he has to take back hours later, he's failing all those constituencies. By adding an extra layer of incompetence to the already fraught relationship between the White House and the mainstream press, Spicer is helping no one, and looking like a moron to boot. Is that really worth paying him $180,000?

Follow Harry Cheadle on Twitter.

Trump’s on Track to Spend More on Travel in One Year Than Obama Ever Did

For a president who vowed he wouldn't "have time to go play golf" and slammed Obama for wasting taxpayer money taking vacations, Donald Trump has already spent a lot of cash visiting his various private clubs around the country. Trump's trips to Mar-a-Lago alone have likely cost taxpayers an estimated $21 million—placing the president on par to outspend Obama's eight years worth of travel in just one, CNN reports.

During his eight years in office, Obama spent a total of roughly $97 million on travel, according to Judicial Watch. That number includes both personal and business trips, which took Obama to places like Aspen, Martha's Vineyard, and the Everglades.

The government has withheld the price tag on Trump's trips to Florida, and until a government accountability group gets a better idea, all we've got is an educated guess. According to the Government Accountability Office, Obama took a four-day trip to Florida that cost around $3.6 million back in 2013. Since Trump has already made six similar trips since become president, the government has likely already spent approximately $21.6 million on travel.

But that's low-balling it, given the fact that the president has also traveled to his other golf clubs at least 19 days since he was sworn in, according to the New York Times

It's a bit of a paradox that Trump—who campaigned on a promise to stop wasting public money and recently proposed cutting $54 million of government funding from pretty much everything except the military—has sunk so much cash into his own travel. 

According to CNN, Trump's aides have said the president will likely taper off his visits to Mar-a-Lago come May, and start switching off between visiting his golf club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York—where it cost more than $300,000 a day to protect him before he moved to DC. Tie in the fact that the Secret Service requested $60 million extra to cover protection and travel for the Trump family in 2018, and the estimated cost to taxpayers climbs even higher.

Follow Drew Schwartz on Twitter.

The White House Can Barely Organize a Damn Easter Egg Roll

Although press secretary Sean Spicer once had the distinct honor of cosplaying the Easter bunny during the annual White House Egg Roll under President George W. Bush, the administration he now proudly serves is struggling to get the event together, according to a New York Times report

For the past 138 years, the White House has celebrated Easter with an annual egg roll, usually complete with celebrity performances, Sesame Street characters, and other family-friendly entertainment. But according to the Times, the understaffed, disorganized White House has scrambled to get even the most basic details in place for this year's event, scheduled for April 17.

Back in February, the manufacturers of the specialty eggs used every year tweeted at the Trumps, begging them to place their order in time. Since then, the White House reportedly only ordered roughly half the number of commemorative eggs that the Obamas ordered last year, as they're only planning to host around 20,000 people—17,000 fewer than attended in 2016. Considering how fussy Trump was about the inauguration crowd size, he probably won't be happy about the lower turnout.

Additionally, families from Washington, DC, public schools usually receive invitations to the event, but this year the White House has yet to reach out. And while the Easter Egg Roll is typically decorated with an array of Sesame Street characters, PBS's director of media relations, Jennifer Rankin Byrne, said the organization will only be sending over one character this year but declined to say who.

"It's the single most high-profile event that takes place at the White House each year, and the White House and the first lady are judged on how well they put it on," Melinda Bates, who organized the event for all eight years of the Clinton administration, told the Times. "I'm really concerned for the Trump people, because they have failed to fill some really vital posts, and this thing is all hands on deck." The way Bates sees it: "If you can pull off an Easter Egg Roll, you can do anything."

While the Easter Egg Roll might seem like small potatoes compared to the countless real problems the Trump administration has, the whole thing is a nice metaphor for the utter chaos of Trump's reign so far. Between the administration's struggle to push through healthcare legislation and a controversial travel ban, it doesn't seem that surprising it can't even pull off a damn egg roll.

Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter.

Neil Gorsuch Gets Sworn In as the 113th Supreme Court Justice

Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump's SCOTUS nominee, was sworn in as the high court's 113th justice on Monday in a public White House ceremony after a year of congressional infighting over Antonin Scalia's vacant seat.

The Senate confirmed Gorsuch last Friday in a 54–45 vote after Republicans invoked the "nuclear option," in response to the Democrats' successful filibuster. The unprecedented rule change no longer requires Supreme Court nominees to get a 60-vote majority to be confirmed. 

The 49-year-old Colorado judge is the youngest Supreme Court justice to take the oath since Clarence Thomas did in 1991 at just 43 years old. He's also the first justice to serve alongside his former boss, Justice Anthony Kennedy. Like Scalia, Gorsuch is known for interpreting the Constitution close to its literal meaning in an "originalist approach" to the law.

After a private swearing-in ceremony at the Supreme Court, Gorsuch took the oath from Kennedy in the White House Rose Garden. He joins the court just in time to hear a big religious freedom case concerning Missouri's ban on churches receiving public money. 

Watch the video via White House Youtube below.