Barriers and breakups
Even some of his voters doubted he’d actually do it. But President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he is moving full speed ahead with building a wall on the Mexican border. He is also moving on other fronts to change or end American relationships with the outside world.
His administration is preparing executive orders that could dramatically reduce the U.S. role in the United Nations and other international organizations -- including drastic funding cuts, officials told The New York Times. He also will launch a process to potentially scrap some multilateral treaties.
Back to the wall: Its funding is still murky, The Associated Press reports. While Trump promised again that Mexico will pay for it, U.S. taxpayers are expected to cover the initial costs.
The Department of Homeland Security has about $100 million in unspent funds for border security, fencing and infrastructure — enough just for planning to get started — but Congress would have to approve billions more. But Trump told ABC News construction could start “within months.”
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Wednesday that his country “will not pay for any wall,” defying the claims Trump has made. But he did not cancel his trip, planned for the United States next week.
Immigration crackdown begins
Trump also signed an order to punish so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to allow their police to enforce federal immigration law. He would strip them of federal grant money, a move sure to provoke legal challenges.
Trump said he will halt the issuance of U.S. visas in countries where adequate screening cannot occur and suspend entry for citizens of countries of particular concern for 30 days. He is expected to specifically suspend any immigration, including for refugees, from Syria.
The fraud detective
It looks like nothing is going to make Trump back down from his baseless claims that millions of illegal votes — unanimously cast for Hillary Clinton — robbed him of a popular vote victory. He tweeted he will ask for a “major investigation” — and spun out his theory during an interview with ABC anchor David Muir.
“Of those votes cast, none of them come to me. They would all be for the other side,” Trump said.
When Trump said a Pew Center study backed him up, Muir pointed out its author said it did no such thing. “Then he’s groveling again,” Trump replied. (Story and video clip here.)
“Groveling” is the same word he used against journalist Serge Kovaleski, who debunked Trump’s claim that his reporting supported the Republican’s tale about thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks.
The Washington Post reviewed nine major investigations of voter fraud in the past decade and what they found: not much.
The take-away: The voting dead
So Trump will use the power and resources of the federal government to investigate the kinds of fraud Trump sees. Among them: “those registered to vote in two states” and “those registered to vote who are dead,” he tweeted.
Well, guess what. As Newsday’s Dan Janison notes, White House adviser Steve Bannon was on voter rolls in both New York and Florida (until Wednesday). Treasury Secretary nominee Steve Mnuchin is registered in California and New York. Trump’s younger daughter, Tiffany, is listed in Pennsylvania and New York.
Lock ’em up? No. It’s not a crime or fraud to be registered in two places — only to vote in both places in the same election. It’s just that when people move or die voter registrars don’t get an instant heads-up.
Torture still appeals to Trump
Trump told ABC News he “absolutely” thinks waterboarding works and would consider reinstating it as an interrogation technique to fight terrorism. But for now, he won’t, based on the advice of Defense Secretary James Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
“I will rely on Pompeo and Mattis and my group. And if they don’t want to do, that’s fine. If they do wanna do, then I will work toward that end. I want to do everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally,” Trump said. “But do I feel it works? Absolutely, I feel it works.”
But he also said he had asked top intelligence officials in the past day: “Does torture work? And the answer was yes, absolutely.”
The story so far
Trump as president has shown himself to be impetuous and instinctive, convinced of broad but hidden plots to undermine him, inclined to give fringe ideas as much weight as carefully researched reports, and spurred by what he sees on TV to tweet out policy pronouncements, worrying his advisers over picking unnecessary fights and drifting off message, The New York Times writes.
All in less than a week.
But he’s settling in
Trump was apprehensive about living in the White House, but he told the Times in an interview that there’s a lot to like.
“It’s a beautiful residence, it’s very elegant,” Trump told reporter Maggie Haberman.
Other pluses: “These are the most beautiful phones I’ve ever used in my life.”
Speaking of phones, he is still using his old, unsecured Android smartphone, against the advice of some aides.
Trump's Thursday tweets
The president issued a strange attack on "traitor" Chelsea Manning that seemed to criticize the pardoned military document leaker for criticizing Obama the same way Trump did. But it does not mention Trump's apparent campaign-time ally Julian Assange of WikiLeaks.
What else is happening
- Try to figure this one out: There's a report from a Russian news outlet that a senior official in the nation's cyber-intelligence department was arrested on treason charges. U.S. officials say that department oversaw election-time hacking.
- Whatever the size of the crowd, voters who watched Trump’s inauguration speech gave it positive reviews by 49% to 39%, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll.
- Voting-rights advocates worry the Trump-ordered investigation will spur voter suppression efforts to drive down minority turnout, The Washington Post reports.
- Congressional Republicans who wanted to get down to business on health insurance and taxes found Trump causing distractions instead.
- One vote-fraud anecdote Trump told congressional leaders was a mangled misremembrance: a story he claimed to have heard about golfer Bernhard Langer seeing people of Latin American origin that he didn’t think were legitimate voters at a Florida polling line, The New York Times reported. One problem among many: Langer can’t vote. He’s a German citizen.
- The Secret Service said it will take “appropriate action” with a veteran agent in Denver who suggested in October Facebook posts that she would not “take a bullet” for Trump.
- Trump hailed as “Great!” the Dow Jones’ average close above 20,000 in a tweet from his @POTUS account. Also going up: the initiation fee for membership in his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, from $100,000 to $200,000, CNBC reports.
- Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said he wants to see a copy of the lease for Trump’s Washington hotel, Politico reported.
- Ever swallow your gum by accident? With White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, it’s no accident. He chews, and swallows, at least 35 pieces of gum a day. He told The Washington Post last year his doctor saw no problem with that.