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Critics hit Trump policing order as more fig leaf than reform

President Donald Trump signs an executive order on

President Donald Trump signs an executive order on policing Tuesday in the White House Rose Garden. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

'Law and order' comes first

Before his announcement Tuesday, President Donald Trump met privately inside the White House with the families of several black Americans killed in encounters with law enforcement or other apparent racial incidents. They did not join him when he went outside to sign an executive order. Instead, Trump was flanked by officers and police union officials.

Following weeks of national protests since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that he said would encourage better police practices. But he made no mention of racism. 

Trump said he grieved for the lives lost and families devastated. But he characterized the officers who have used excessive force as a “tiny” number and devoted most of his remarks calling for supporting “the brave men and women in blue who police our streets and keep us safe.” Emphasizing "law and order," Trump went on: "Without police, there is chaos. Without law, there is anarchy. And without safety, there is catastrophe."

Trump’s executive order would establish a database that tracks police officers with excessive use-of-force complaints in their records and give police departments a financial incentive to adopt best practices. Trump said his order would ban chokeholds “except if an officer’s life is at risk,” but its actual language merely encourages such policies.

Dwayne Palmer, whose brother Everett died of mysterious circumstances in a Pennsylvania jail, told PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor that Trump had "kind words" and a lot of "platitudes" in the private meeting, but "speaking for my family, we are beyond kind words. We want to see action.” He said the families didn't want to be "props" and didn't want Trump to have "the opportunity to claim some sort of victory," adding, "we're willing to give him credit once the work is done."

Democrats and other critics said the president didn’t go nearly far enough. “One modest inadequate executive order will not make up for his decades of inflammatory rhetoric and his recent policies designed to roll back the progress that we’ve made in previous years,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Trump claimed falsely in his speech that his predecessor, Barack Obama, and former Vice President Joe Biden "never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period." In reality, the Trump administration reversed Obama's efforts at police reform and confronting bias in law enforcement. For example, the Justice Department under Trump halted the Obama-era practices of investigating police departments, issuing public reports about their failings and obtaining consent decrees enforceable by the courts to improve them.

The other extreme

Trump has singled out "antifa" as a force driving violence associated with the early weeks of the Floyd protests, labeling it a domestic terrorist group, though arrest records haven't shored up the claim, according to reviews of records by Reuters and The Washington Post. As per usual, Trump has made little mention of far-right extremists.

Authorities on Tuesday announced an Air Force sergeant linked to the "boogaloo" movement has been charged with the shooting death of a Federal Protective Service officer and the wounding of another. Both were cut down while guarding a federal building in Oakland, California, on May 29 amid the unrest.

The suspect, Steven Carrillo, was already in custody on charges of killing a Santa Cruz County sheriff's sergeant and the attempted murder of several other deputies in a June 6 ambush.

Federal authorities alleged a plot to target law enforcement officers was hatched during an online chat among members of the boogaloos, who seek to ignite a second U.S. civil war to overthrow the government. Authorities also accused a second man, Robert Alvin Justus Jr., of being an accomplice who drove the van used in the Oakland attack.

Bolton sued to stop book

The Trump administration sued former national security adviser John Bolton on Tuesday to halt the publication of an unflattering book about the president. The grounds: alleged breach of contract for violating a nondisclosure agreement.

The White House said the book contains classified information that must not be published. The lawsuit revealed that by late April, the National Security Council's senior director for records, Ellen Knight, had completed her review and was satisfied that classified material had been removed. Then another official deputy legal adviser for the NSC, Michael Ellis, decided otherwise.

The lawsuit in Washington’s federal court follows warnings from Trump that Bolton could face a “criminal problem” if he doesn’t halt plans to publish the book, which is scheduled for release next week. The memoir will allege that with Ukraine and other foreign policy moves, Trump subordinated the nation's interests to his own. The Justice Department is asking for a judge's order for Bolton to “instruct or request” that his publisher further delay publication. It also is demanding that Bolton turn over his proceeds from a book deal "allegedly worth $2 million."

"The United States is not seeking to censor any legitimate aspect of defendant’s manuscript; it merely seeks an order requiring defendant to complete the prepublication review process," the lawsuit said. Bolton’s attorney, Chuck Cooper, has said his client worked for months with classification specialists to avoid releasing classified material. 

Bolton's first interview about the memoir with ABC News is set to air in a one-hour prime-time special on Sunday. The book, "The Room Where it Happened," has been printed and shipped to warehouses ahead of the scheduled June 23 release. To read the lawsuit, click here.

Janison: Fireproof justices

The Supreme Court's decision that LGBT people are entitled by law to protection against workplace discrimination is fresh evidence that presidents and political parties cannot always rely on their favorite judges for ideological or policy "victories," writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who Trump nominated, wrote the majority opinion, turning aside arguments from Trump's Justice Department. With a lifetime term, there is no risk to his status. 

Trump reacted without the vitriol that usually follows when someone or something frustrates his side of the red-state, blue-state divide. That's likely because Trump has never signaled too much personal interest in frustrating gay rights. His stances seem to be just political business to keep social conservatives aboard with him.

Despite the new ruling, Democrats will underscore the urgency of winning the White House for the sake of controlling future Supreme Court nominations. There are more hot-button cases to come from the conservative-leaning court, particularly on abortion, voting rights and Obamacare.

Taking it outside in Tulsa?

Oklahoma's pro-Trump Republican governor, Kevin Stitt, is urging the Trump campaign to consider moving its first pandemic-era rally on Saturday from a 19,000-seat indoor arena to an outdoor location. “I’m looking for a potential other venue that maybe we could move it outside. It’s still kind of in the works," Stitt said.

Vice President Mike Pence said on "Fox & Friends" that adding "outdoor activities" were under consideration, but a campaign official told The Hill later Tuesday that the rally itself would still be held at Tulsa's indoor BOK Center. Health officials in Tulsa, where coronavirus cases are on the rise, are still calling for the rally to be canceled altogether, fearful that a crowded indoor space would breed disease spread.

“Like any other public health official, I’m a little angry,” said Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department. “Frankly, I'm afraid for a lot of people. It hurts my heart that we know this is a possibility and we’re doing it anyway. It’s like seeing the train wreck coming.”

Pence said falsely on Monday that Oklahoma has "flattened the curve" and the number of its virus cases has "declined precipitously."

Pence's hanging curve

The vice president wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed touting the Trump administration's "success" in containing the coronavirus, which has killed more than 116,000 in the U.S., and he slammed the press for "sounding the alarm bells over a ‘second wave’ ” of infections. 

"More than half of states are actually seeing cases decline or remain stable," wrote Pence. He failed to mention that cases are on the rise in over 20 states — many that were quick to loosen social distancing orders and reopen businesses, according to Business Insider.

Five states — Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas — reported record increases in new cases on Tuesday after recording all-time highs last week, Reuters reported. In Houston, officials are warning that they may need to order residents to stay at home and open a coronavirus hospital at a football complex in the city. Miami put the next phase of its reopening on pause.

As for Trump, his attention seems to be elsewhere. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top government infectious diseases expert, said in a Tuesday NPR interview that he had not talked with the president in two weeks.

Roger Stone prosecutor has story to tell

A career Justice Department prosecutor who quit the case against Trump confidant Roger Stone after political appointees under Attorney General William Barr intervened to seek a more lenient sentence is prepared to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.

"Again and again, Attorney General Barr has demonstrated that he will cater to President Trump’s private political interests, at the expense of the American people and the rule of law," said committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan.)

House Democrats issued subpoenas to the prosecutor, Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, along with a second Justice Department official, John W. Elias, who also agreed to testify in public on June 24. Both appear willing to testify, but the subpoenas are a form of legal protection to witnesses who may face orders or demands from the executive branch to keep quiet, Politico reported.

Zelinsky, who was a member of special counsel Robert Mueller's team, led the Stone prosecution. Stone, sentenced to more than 3 years for lying to Congress and witness tampering, is scheduled to report to prison on June 30. But Trump has told Stone to "sleep easy" and indicated there would be some kind of action — a pardon, commutation or other move — to prevent him from serving jail time.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The president is exploring whether he can sue estranged niece Mary Trump, who plans to come out with a book this summer slamming his character, the Daily Beast reports.
  • A poll in Michigan shows Biden has expanded his lead there to 16 points, the Detroit Free Press reports. Two weeks earlier, a poll for the newspaper by the same firm showed Biden ahead by 12 points in the state, which Trump won in 2016 by three-tenths of a point.
  • It's about more than politics, but Americans are the unhappiest they've been in almost 50 years, according to a survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago.
  • North Korea blew up a liaison office it opened with South Korea in 2018, a sign not only of worsening relations between the two countries but a seeming dead end for Trump's personal nuclear diplomacy with Kim Jong Un.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to meet a Chinese delegation at a U.S. military base in Hawaii this week to discuss bilateral ties that have soured deeply since the start of the year, Reuters reported. Along with an intensifying strategic rivalry and an unresolved trade dispute, the countries are at odds over China's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its move to impose new security legislation on Hong Kong.
  • Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said Tuesday a report about controversial comments by Trump's nominee for a top policy post at the Pentagon "got our attention." CNN found that retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata falsely called Obama a Muslim and "terrorist leader" and suggested that former CIA Director John Brennan kill himself.

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