We were due for a good news week in the cycle, and this was a pretty good week — as long as Trump’s budget gets kicked to the curb and we don’t go to war with North Korea. So, you know, your mileage may vary.
Standard disclaimers still apply; I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m only summarizing the news within my area of expertise. I may touch on news I think folks should know that is outside my area as a legal generalist, but if we undertake any offroad adventures I’ll do my best to signal that for you upfront by giving that headline an asterisk. Disclaimers over, let’s look at the poisoned apple pie served up this past week.
- Standard Microwaves Cannot Be Used As Spy Cameras. This appears to be news to Kellyanne Conway, who asserted otherwise in an interview on Sunday (which she said to support Trump’s assertions that Obama monitored Trump Tower, because of course she did). She claimed afterward that her words were taken out of context (and, somewhat incredibly, that she’s “not in the job of having evidence,” though that’s another story), but looking at the context makes it clear that they weren’t.
- Remember Trump’s Taxes? Apparently investigative reporter David Cay Johnston had a copy of Trump’s tax return from 2005, but in the 90 minutes before Rachel Maddow could present it on her show, the White House released the 2005 tax return. This has been generally treated as great ado about nothing, as Trump’s taxes for this year were squeaky clean, but it demonstrates just how easily Trump could release this information if he wanted to. Also, how salty various news outlets collectively can be about cable news. Oh, we all learned the phrase ‘over-the-transom,’ so that’s a fun silver lining.
- The Call Came From Inside (Russia’s) House. The Justice Department has issued criminal cyber charges against two Russian intelligence agents relating to the heist of 500 million Yahoo user accounts in 2014. The indicted FSB officers — Dmitry Dukuchaev and Igor Sushchin — are part of the cyber investigative arm of the FSB, which is officially responsible for investigating computer intrusions in Russia.
- No, Really, Our Muslim Ban Is Not Anti-Muslim! The Trump administration’s revised travel ban has been blocked on two fronts (more about this in The Good) and the Justice Department has filed an appeal in an effort to salvage the ban. Sadly, no one yelled “SEE YOU IN COURT!” on twitter this time.
- Hey Angela, Check Your Microwave. Trump tried to involve German Chancellor Angela Merkel in conversation about his wiretapping accusations against the Obama administration, referring to reports that the NSA had tapped Merkel’s phone in 2010. Wisely, Merkel ignored him.
- But He Tapped My Wires! Really, I think this New York Times article says it best: “No matter how many officials, even in [Trump’s] own party, dismiss his unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama secretly tapped his phones last year, the White House made clear on Thursday that it would stand by the assertion.” Good luck with that.
- Steve King (R-Iowa) Hates Diversity. Okay, admittedly, by this point that’s not really news. But he laid it out for us in a particularly indefensible quote on Monday — “You cannot rebuild your civilization with someone else’s babies.” Which he then proceeded to defend, at length, while lawmakers on both sides called it reprehensible. So, in case you were curious whether the general atmosphere was emboldening people in Congress: Yes, yes it is.
- Consider Vacationing Without Your Phone. Okay, not really. But reports are trickling in that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are searching the phones of US citizens. They’ve also been detaining citizens and demanding their passwords as a condition of release, and there has been at least one report of force used. Oh, and 23 of the 25 instances of this involved Muslim citizens. Which I’m sure is just a coincidence.
- Trump’s Budget Is Here, And It’s Worse Than Expected. Trump’s proposed budget would build the wall and strengthen the military. It would also remove or cut funding to countless programs that prevent homelessness, investigate disasters, feed children, train teachers, fund scientific research, fund medical research, maintain national parks, provide legal services, help low-income families manage their energy bills, research climate control, maintain clean drinking water, and provide economic support to struggling communities in Appalachia. It proposes dramatic disruption to our national scientific and medical research systems, which has rattled a lot of people. And it would defund PBS, so apparently Trump is still sore about this episode of Sesame Street. The good news is that it’s also in the early stages, and Congress hates it — more about that below.
- Tillerson and Trump vs. North Korea. Rex Tillerson has been an unusually quiet Secretary of State, but Tillerson announced Thursday that he will be visiting Asia “to exchange views on a new approach” to North Korea’s nuclear program, which signals the end to diplomatic talks about nuclear deescalation. The North Korean Embassy in Beijing responded by announcing that any escalation is the United States’ fault and that “the situation is already on the brink of nuclear war”.
- Congressional Budget Office Condemns the Trump-Ryan Healthcare Plan. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Republican healthcare plan would add 24 million uninsured people by 2026. The White House maintains that the CBO’s assessment is wrong, but the unfavorable analysis has alarmed people and it barely squeaked through the Budget Committee (with three conservatives voting against it). So it continues to be an uphill road for everyone’s least favorite healthcare bill.
- No Darkest Dutch Timeline. Unlike us, the Netherlands had the sense to avoid electing its dangerously fascist frontline candidates this past week, though some conservative candidates did win seats. So no darkest timeline over there, but maybe a vaguely dim one. Still, were I Dutch, I would consider it a win to avoid my own national Brexit or Trumpaganza.
- Honolulu Judge Blocks Revised Travel Ban. The new Trump travel ban is just the old Trump travel ban with fancy shoes, so it presents more-or-less the same Constitutional violations. Hawaii sued accordingly, and a judge issued a restraining order to stay the travel ban nationwide. You can read the full ruling online, and particularly enjoy the part where the judge spanks this administration repeatedly with the Establishment Clause starting at page 30.
- Republicans vs. Trump’s Budget. Nobody likes the discretionary spending budget the Trump administration drafted, and I pretty much mean nobody. In addition to uniform Democrat opposition, Congressional hawks want more spending at the Pentagon, while other conservatives hate the rural support programs getting cut. And nobody wants to pay for the freaking wall. Even Trump’s closest allies say this isn’t going to fly. Trump, meanwhile, called the budget “sensible and rational,” showing that he doesn’t know what either of those words mean and cannot work with his own party (but we knew that already). Obviously we need to keep tracking, but it’s ultimately appearing very unlikely that this will pass in its current form.
- McDonald’s Hates Trump’s Tiny Hands. Well, probably it’s actually hackers who hate Trump’s tiny hands, given the aggressively neutral tweets usually put out by the account. But for twenty-five glorious minutes, this distinctly anti-Trump tweet was proudly pinned at the top of the McDonald’s twitter feed. Which probably annoyed the heck out of him, considering his long love affair with fast food.
- About That Wiretapping… According to the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, there’s no evidence that the US government ever had Trump Tower under surveillance. (Comey also repeated this today in his hearing, so it will be interesting to see what the administration does with that.)
- Maryland Judge Also Blocks Revised Travel Ban. Per a judge in Maryland, when you go on record as saying your travel ban is anti-Muslim, it’s very hard to sound believable when you say your travel ban isn’t anti-Muslim. (The judge in Hawai’i noted this also.) The ruling supports the Honolulu decision, ultimately making it harder to enforce the travel ban without a SCOTUS decision. That said, as noted above, the first decision is being appealed, so we’ll see what ultimately happens with this round of Trump vs the Judiciary.
And one last bit of news I saw fit to print: I’m going to be out of town next weekend at a memorial service, so I won’t have a standard news summary for you. But I will send you some key headlines, and then we can get back to normal (for some definition of normal!) the following week. Take care until then, and don’t burn down the Internet in my absence, please!