The Donald Trump administration, which embraces the concept of “alternative facts,” has taken steps to wall off the flow of actual facts from the federal government.
How far it will go is unknown. But for now, federal agencies are placing a gag on employees’ ability to issue news releases, tweets or otherwise communicate with the public, Politico reports.
Emails to Environmental Protection Agency staff detail specific bans for news releases, blog updates or posts to the agency’s social media accounts, The Associated Press said. Similar orders were issued at other agencies, including the Agriculture and Interior departments. An official at EPA said he thought the ban there would be lifted next week.
Still, the moves have reinforced concerns that Trump will try to suppress scientific research on subjects he finds touchy, such as climate change, Reuters said.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer stoked worries over trustworthy government economic data Monday when he was asked at a briefing: What is the unemployment rate? He wouldn’t answer and said the president is “not focused on statistics.”
Forbes magazine wrote: “When an administration wants the right to redefine facts, it isn’t unreasonable to consider whether it is willing to change data to support itself.”
Someone missed the memo
Or defied it. A series of tweets Tuesday afternoon from the account of Badlands National Park in South Dakota began: “Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years. #climate”
Replies poured in expressing solidarity with the unknown employee, including an offer: “When you inevitably get fired, let me know so I can pass your resume around.” The tweets have since disappeared, but Time magazine has screen shots.
Orders from headquarters
The predicted impact of Trump's election on immigration has begun -- at least in the bureaucratic reality of executive orders. Orders are to include construction of the great wall and additional restrictions or delays on Muslim refugees entering the U.S. Sketchy accounts leaked late Tuesday by the Trump administration are here.
Agreeing to probe -- or saving face?
After drawing widespread ridicule and concern for his claim of mass voter fraud that cost him the popular vote -- yet failing to present any evidence -- Trump on Wednesday reversed course and tweeted he is asking for a major investigation.
He wrote: "I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and ... even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!"
Note "Depending on results." But he has been insisting that if not for 2.5 to 3.5 million "illegal" votes, he would not have fallen short of Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.So he either made that number up, or has crucial information he will hand over to whichever investigators he's talking about.
Voter rolls with names in two states, and a slowness to purge lists of those who have died, are anomalies that years of investigation never found to result in widespread "fraud."
Run-up to the 'investigation'
Spicer was caught between reporters and a crazy place at his Tuesday briefing as he parried questions about Trump’s renewed election fantasy — that he would have won the popular vote were it not for millions of illegal ballot-casters.
“He believes what he believes, based on the information he was provided,” Spicer said of the president’s comments to congressional leaders Monday. The press secretary cited old research that has been debunked or isn’t relevant, but dodged and weaved when asked if he believed it, too.
Pressed on whether fraud on such a massive scale as Trump alleged warrants investigation, Spicer said there are no plans for one, though “anything is possible.”
Capitol Hill Republicans would not second Trump’s emotion.
“I would urge the president to knock this off,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
The take-away: It’s a slam-bunk
Amazing. The president of the United States believes there were 3 to 5 million “illegal” votes cast in the election, and yet, for some reason, the Republican-controlled Congress wasn't jumping in to investigate, notes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
What about the nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions? Or FBI Director James Comey, who seems to have some job security now (see below)? Shouldn’t they have already been on the case?
No one seemed eager to uncover what, if Trump is right, could be one of the greatest scandals in American history, or, if he is wrong, would certify that the 45th president’s grasp on reality is itself a ripe topic for exploration.
Let it flow
Trump signed executive actions Tuesday to advance construction of the huge Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines — both of which were halted under President Barack Obama.
“The regulatory process in this country has become a tangled-up mess,” he said. His actions are supposed to speed the process, but it wasn’t clear exactly how.
Obama stopped Keystone in 2015, declaring it would undercut U.S. efforts to achieve a global climate change agreement. The Army decided last year to explore alternate routes for the Dakota pipeline after complaints it threatened drinking water and Native American cultural sites.
Immigration orders are coming
Trump will begin rolling out executive actions on immigration Wednesday, starting with steps to tighten Mexican border security, including his proposed wall, as well as other enforcement measures, administration officials told AP.
Later in the week, the president is expected to take steps to restrict the flow of refugees to the United States. Politico said the orders will also move to crack down on sanctuary cities that offer protections to immigrations without documentation.
Comey stays at FBI
FBI Director James B. Comey is less than four years into his 10-year term, and tells subordinates that Trump has asked him to stay on the job.
Comey drew ire from both sides last year for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. The conduct of Comey and others involved is now under probe by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
The FBI also is investigating Russian hacking in the campaign that appeared to be aimed at helping Trump, as well as possible links between Trump associates and Russian interests.
What else is happening
- Immigration hard-liners are upset that Trump has apparently decided to go slow instead of fulfilling his promise to “immediately” kill Obama’s actions that shield hundreds of thousands of young immigrants without documentation from deportation, Politico reports.
- Trump plans to decide this week and announce next week his choice for the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, Spicer said. Politico reported the list is down to three U.S. Court of Appeals judges — Neil Gorsuch, Thomas Hardiman and Bill Pryor. Here are profiles of each.
- Rep. Tom Price — Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary — refused to promise at a confirmation hearing that Trump’s orders for paring back Obamacare won’t cause enrollees to lose coverage, Politico says.
- The Senate voted 96-4 to confirm South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to become Trump’s ambassador to the U.N.
- The source of the most salacious allegations in a British ex-intelligence agent’s unsubstantiated dossier about Trump and the Russians is a one-time Russian government translator, a person familiar with the raw intelligence told ABC News.
- Trump threatened in an evening tweet to “send in the feds” to Chicago if officials there can’t stem the city’s soaring homicide rate.
- House Speaker Paul Ryan said Trump accepted an invitation to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28.