Here's Chuck Todd on Meet the Press this morning, asking White House "counselor" Kellyanne Conway why President Trump's press secretary started his first day in office by going out and lying repeatedly on national TV. Her answer: Sean Spicer was merely providing "alternative facts."
I don't want to pick on Todd, who pressed Conway hard on this, but it was almost painful watching him try so hard to avoid using the obvious word here. Over and over, he wanted to ask why Spicer had lied, which would be the usual way of phrasing his question. On a couple of occasions he even stuttered a bit while he searched for another word. He just wouldn't say it. So what's the best response to Conway's dogged unwillingness to answer questions in even a debatably truthful way? I think Jamelle Bouie has it right:
I increasingly believe that networks should refuse to have Conway on as long as she continues misleading the public. https://t.co/m789nWfN7T
There's a limit to how much TV networks should tolerate staffers who have a consistent history of viewing airtime merely as a way of promoting lies. Kellyanne Conway blew past that limit before Trump even took office. It's hard to see what the value of having her on a news show is at this point.
In other developments, hold on to your jaw—or maybe your stomach—as you watch Trump blow a kiss to FBI Director James Comey and then give him a big hug:
Pres. Trump greets FBI Director James Comey during First Responders ceremony at the White House: "He's become more famous than me." pic.twitter.com/9Rdgyqi1iM
Trump won because of Comey. Period. Without Comey's letter of October 28, Trump would have lost by 8 million popular votes and a few dozen electoral votes. And Comey knew exactly what he was doing. Published reports suggest that literally every single person he talked to advised him that writing his letter would be an unprecedented violation of rules against letting ongoing investigations interfere with elections.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned a couple hundred thousand people who sent in petitions on health care, talking about health care, you also have more than 200,000 who petitioned the White House calling on President Trump to release his full tax returns with all information needed to verify emolument's clause compliance. Whenever 100,000 petition, that triggers a White House response. So, what is the White House response?
CONWAY: The White House response is that he's not going to release his tax returns. We litigated this all through the election. People didn't care. They voted for him.
The "audit" was just a ruse all along. I don't think that will surprise anyone with a room-temperature IQ, and I guess Trump decided to stop playing the game.
1,458 days to go. I can hardly wait for the Spicer/Conway description of Trump's tax cuts and Trump's replacement for Obamacare.
I guess we've moved on from crowd size at Trump's inauguration to TV audience size. Interestingly, Trump has apparently decided not to lie about this, but only to mislead. Just for the record, then, here's the share of the population that has tuned in to watch first-term inaugurations over the past 40 years:
Watching the inauguration yesterday, I saw the smallish crowds just like everyone else. My immediate thought was: Oh God, this means tomorrow will be a 24/7 offensive from the White House about how this was the biggest inaugural crowd ever in history. The boy king will demand no less.
Sure enough, that's what we got. Trump went out to visit the CIA today and informed everyone that the inauguration crowd was at least a million, maybe a million and a half. Then he sent out his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to deliver an unprecedented screed, yelling at the assembled reporters about how dishonest they were and then spewing out a whole array of fabricated numbers to back up his boss's lies. When he was done, he turned on his heels and left without taking any questions.
I'm not interested in pointless discussions of whether Trump does this stuff to distract us (in this case, from the massive number of people at the women's marches around the country). I suppose that's part of it. But it's obvious from decades of watching Trump that he simply can't abide any criticism, either express or implied. Everything he does has to be the biggest and best. He's incapable of not lashing out when anyone suggests otherwise.
That's obvious enough to be banal at this point. What I'm more interested in is when the media is going to get over its faintheartedness and start calling this stuff what it is: lies. On MSNBC, Jim Sciutto reminded us that Trump frequently says things that "defy the facts." CNN wrote about Spicer's "misstatements of fact." The New York Times said Trump's crowd numbers were "false." Other newspapers said the same thing in different ways.
But even by the strictest definition, Trump and Spicer were lying. Trump made up his numbers out of thin air, knowing perfectly well they were based on nothing. Spicer delivered a whole bunch of numbers that were obviously either invented or just plain fake—and did it in an angry tone that was clearly meant to intimidate everyone in the room.
All of this stuff was not just "false," it was knowingly false. Everyone knows this. So let's cut out the delicate language and the earnest panel discussions about whether Spicer might have a point about one thing or another. He was lying. Trump was lying. Can't we be adults and just say so?
Trump's speech has so far had deliberate echoes of Lincoln (we are gathered here) and FDR (forgotten men and women). Now he's channeling Bill Clinton (their pain is our pain). Now Carter (I will never let you down). Now Reagan (we will shine for everyone to follow). Now himself (we will make America great again). Plus he included a very nice shout out to Sam Peckinpah (American carnage).
It's time to climb a tree and pretend none of this is happening.
Chuck Schumer says we're celebrating the peaceful transfer of power today. Then more blather. Now he's rather obviously implying that four years of Donald Trump probably won't be any worse than the four years of the Civil War. We survived that, so hey, we'll get through Trump too.
American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.
....As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts....Of the half-dozen current and former officials who confirmed the existence of the investigations, some said they were providing information because they feared the new administration would obstruct their efforts. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the cases.
This is unreal. Surely it deserves a cat to take our minds off what's about to happen?
When Steven Mnuchin, Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of the Treasury, was asked about tax reform in his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, he took things in a surprising direction: He suggested that the IRS needed a larger staff.
“I was particularly surprised, looking at the IRS numbers, that the IRS headcount has gone down quite dramatically, almost 30 percent over the last number of years,” Mnuchin said in response to a question from Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican....“Now perhaps the IRS just started with way too many people,” Mnuchin added. But he suggested that “staffing of the IRS is an important part of fixing the tax gap.”
That's, um, surprising, all right. Yessir, Mr. Mnuchin. Very surprising indeed.
For those of you who don't get the joke, this is sort of like Mnuchin testifying in front of a bunch of mafia dons and expressing surprise that they charge such high interest rates in their lending operation. Maybe with lower rates you gentlemen could expand into the suburban market and gain a share of the home equity business? Lotta kitchen remodels out there.
Basically, Mnuchin looked at the IRS numbers like a normal person and was surprised to see that they weren't trying to maximize tax collections. He apparently didn't realize that the Republicans he was testifying in front of have been very deliberately slashing the IRS budget for years precisely so they can't maximize tax collections. The last thing Republicans want is an IRS that audits rich people more closely.
Mnuchin will learn. After all, Donald Trump did. Remember when Trump suggested that women who get abortions should be punished? He had no idea what he was talking about, and just assumed that since Republicans consider abortion bad, the maximal anti-abortion position must be good. He didn't realize that jailing middle-class teenagers is a position unpopular enough to jeopardize GOP reelection prospects, and as a result Republicans have long insisted that even if they manage to make abortion illegal, they will always consider women who get abortions to be "victims" of unscrupulous butchers, not lawbreakers. That's the party line, anyway, and everyone is expected to know it.
Before long, I'm sure Mnuchin will learn to listen respectfully to harangues about the gold standard and fiat money and ending the Fed. It's a small price to pay for the opportunity to occupy the position once held by Alexander Hamilton.