Once you filter out the Noise—Trump’s rant about impeachment while signing a trade deal with the Chinese; Representative Steve King blaming George Soros for making “white nationalism” a dirty phrase—the first Signal today is silence: Last week marked 300 days since the last regular White House, State Department, or Pentagon press briefings. They were, you may recall, stopped after they had become nothing more than grotesque misinformation spectacles where hapless press secretaries were sent out to defend one Trump lie after the next.
Do I miss watching those charades? No. But is it worth remembering that the White House once felt the public had the right to know what was going on? Of course it is. As 13 former senior officials wrote in a CNN op-ed, “The country needs trusted sources of information delivered on a timely and regular schedule. That is the fundamental responsibility of people who serve as spokesmen and women for presidents, cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking government officials.”
But this administration views any information sharing as a sign of weakness. Hence the extraordinary decision earlier this week to suddenly cancel two classified congressional briefings on Trump’s Iran strategy and embassy security. Given the shifting explanations for the assassination of Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, perhaps the administration figured it had more to lose by furnishing manipulated “evidence” of an imminent threat than by simply yanking the briefings.
Such contempt for the free flow of information is contagious. As the Senate impeachment trial nears, journalists are facing extraordinary restrictions on their ability to report its developments. Given the fact that majority leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he doesn’t want to call new witnesses or listen to any evidence that might force the Senate to conclude that Trump is a sociopathic lawbreaker, such restrictions make perfect sense.
Talking of witnesses and evidence: The Government Accountability Office concluded on Thursday that the administration did indeed violate the law in withholding congressionally approved aid to Ukraine. And it now turns out that shadowy Ukrainian operatives, egged on by people working with the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, were conducting a surveillance campaign against US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. That’s right, Americans close to Trump were conspiring with thugs to spy on their own diplomat because she wouldn’t go along with a scheme to undermine the integrity of the upcoming US presidential elections. If that doesn’t make your heart jump into your throat, you should probably get a medical checkup.
On the good-news front: yet another huge legal setback for the administration in its efforts to lock out refugees. This week, federal judge Peter Messitte of Maryland issued an injunction blocking a Trump executive order that had given cities, counties, and states veto power over resettlement of refugees within their jurisdictions. That means Texas Governor Greg Abbott can’t refuse to host refugees, nor can other cities or states. And it means that Trump has, yet again, been called out by the judiciary for his illegal efforts to reshape immigration policy with no congressional input.
And that sound gathering in the weekend distance? That’s millions of Americans all around the country getting ready to take part in Women’s Marches and MLK Day parades to express their hope—their demand—for a kinder, fairer, more inclusive America than the one imagined by the gangster in chief.