Nominations & Appointments

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  • Trump's Baseless Smear Of Susan Rice Follows Two Days Of Right-Wing Speculation

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump pushed a claim hyped by right-wing media that former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime and could face legal jeopardy for “unmasking” Trump associates caught in surveillance.

    On April 2, “alt-right” leader Mike Cernovich originally wrote that the White House Counsel’s office had “identified Rice as the person responsible for the unmasking [of Trump transition officials incidentally captured in legal surveillance] after examining Rice’s document log requests.” Cernovich’s post, which cited no other source for the claim other than the White House, noted that Rice would have been “authorized” to request that the names be unmasked, and did not claim she broke any laws. Cernovich’s post was amplified by fringe “alt-right” outlets, conservative media, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr.

    But some right-wing media figures, including Rush Limbaugh, have taken the still unconfirmed claim a step further, suggesting that Rice’s actions were illegal. However, that claim has been debunked by numerous national security experts who explained that nothing reported so far indicates that Rice violated the law, and that if she did unmask these officials, she would have been carrying out her duty as national security advisor. Former National Security Director Michael Hayden said it was “absolutely lawful. Even somewhat routine,” and, “There are very plausible, legitimate reasons why she would request such information.” Former CIA Acting Director John McLaughlin also defended Rice, saying, “she was doing her job. That’s what national security advisors are expected to do.”

    But Trump has now parroted the claim that Rice may have acted illegally, commenting on the issue in an April 5 interview with The New York Times. The president said “‘I think’” Rice had committed a crime "by seeking the identities of Trump associates who were mentioned on intercepted communications," adding that “‘it’s going to be the biggest story’” for “our country and the world.’” From the article:

    President Trump said on Wednesday that he thought that the former national security adviser Susan E. Rice may have committed a crime by seeking the identities of Trump associates who were mentioned on intercepted communications and that other Obama administration officials may also have been involved.

    “I think it’s going to be the biggest story,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office, declining repeated requests for evidence for his allegations or the names of other Obama administration officials. “It’s such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.”

    He declined to say if he had personally reviewed new intelligence to bolster his claim but pledged to explain himself “at the right time.”

    When asked if Ms. Rice, who has denied leaking the names of Trump associates under surveillance by United States intelligence agencies, had committed a crime, the president said, “Do I think? Yes, I think.”

  • Republicans Threaten To Use Nuclear Option On Gorsuch, Media Blame Democrats

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Media figures, many of them conservative, are pushing the false talking point that Senate Democrats are to blame for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to change the rules and allow Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority vote. In fact, past Senate rule changes effectuated by Democrats have not applied to Supreme Court nominees, and they were made in response to historic GOP obstruction of noncontroversial Obama nominees. Gorsuch, on the other hand, is considered to be a highly ideological nominee who falls to the right of Antonin Scalia.

  • Sunday Shows Whitewash Republicans' History Of Obstructionism

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    NBC’s Chuck Todd and Fox’s Chris Wallace failed to explain Republican senators’ unprecedented obstructionism of former President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees when discussing a 2013 rule change made by Senate Democrats to forbid the filibustering of judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared on the April 2 editions of NBC’s Meet the Press and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday and declared that President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, will be confirmed to the court. The hosts questioned McConnell on whether he would invoke the nuclear option -- a rule change that would eliminate the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees -- if the Democrats filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. Additionally, the hosts pointed out McConnell’s opposition to the rule change in 2013, which he now appears poised to use on behalf of Gorsuch:

    CHUCK TODD (HOST): Do you have the votes to change the rules among Republicans? Do you have all 52 Republicans ready to stand behind you, that if the Democrats filibuster Neil Gorsuch, you have the votes to change the rules?

    [...]

    TODD: You're somebody, though, that was very concerned when this rule was changed by Harry Reid for judges below Supreme Court. If you regret what Harry Reid did, why continue down this slippery slope?

    CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): You say that he’ll be confirmed one way or the other, so does that mean if you can’t stop a filibuster that you will go to the nuclear option and change the Senate rules so that you can cut off debate with 51 votes and confirm him?

    [...]

    WALLACE: Back in 2013, the Democrats invoked the nuclear option to allow a simple majority, 51 votes, on confirmation of lower court judges. At that time, you said that was a big mistake.

    Both Todd and Wallace failed to explain why Democrats changed the rule in 2013. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer explained later on Meet the Press, Senate Republicans “had been holding back on just about all of so many lower court judges, including the very important D.C. Circuit,” by refusing to allow votes on the nominees, so Democrats changed the rules to address the emergency and fill vacant seats. However, the Democrats left the filibuster intact for Supreme Court nominees.

    Republicans’ refusal to hold a vote on Obama’s nominees was unprecedented. In 2013, political science professor, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, calculated the level of Republican obstruction of Obama’s circuit court nominees and declared it “the highest that’s ever been recorded,” adding, “it approached total obstruction or delay.”

    Republicans continued their obstruction of Obama’s judicial nominees after they took control of the Senate following the 2014 elections. As Mother Jones reported in May 2016:

    Since taking control of the Senate in early 2015, Republicans have confirmed only 17 federal judges, a historically low number. The Senate confirmed just 11 judges in 2015, the fewest since 1960. There have been only two appellate court judges approved since Republicans took control, with seven appeals court nominations left pending. If the Senate doesn't confirm any appellate judges this year, it will have confirmed the fewest since the 1897-98 session, when there were just 25 circuit court judges nationwide, compared with 179 now. "Historically, we're in nearly unprecedented ground here," says Kyle Barry, director of justice programs at the liberal Alliance for Justice. "What's happening with Judge Garland is really part and parcel with how the Senate has been treating judicial nominees generally. The pace has been so historically bad, we've been seeing what amounts to outright obstruction."

    Senate Republicans obstructed until the very end of the Obama presidency. After the Mother Jones article was published, Republicans allowed the confirmation of only three district court judges. In total, the GOP Senate allowed just 20 confirmations -- two appellate judges and 18 district court judges -- during the 114th Congress. By comparison, during the 110th Congress -- the last session of Congress during the George W. Bush presidency -- a Democratic majority confirmed 68 nominations -- 10 appellate judges and 58 district court judges. And Republicans completely blocked Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, from having any public hearings or votes for 293 days.

    Todd and Wallace whitewashed history by not presenting the proper context for the debate over Gorsuch’s nomination and the possible implementation of the nuclear option.

  • Report: Breitbart Editor-Turned-Trump Official Is A "Sworn Member" Of "Nazi-Allied" Hungarian Group

    Sebastian Gorka Has Denied The Report

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Jewish news publication The Forward reported that Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka is a “formal member” of the Vitézi Rend, a far-right nationalist Hungarian group that, according to the State Department, operated under the direction of Nazi Germany during World War II. Gorka, a top counterterrorism adviser to President Donald Trump and former national security editor for “alt right” website Breitbart.com, denied that he was a member of the group when contacted by another publication.

    The Forward spoke to two leaders of the Vitézi Rend, Gyula Soltész and Kornél Pintér, who said Gorka is a sworn member of their organization. From the March 16 article:

    Gorka, who pledged his loyalty to the United States when he took American citizenship in 2012, is himself a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend, according to both Gyula Soltész -- a high-ranking member of the Vitézi Rend’s central apparatus -- and Kornél Pintér -- a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended Gorka’s father through their activities in the Vitézi Rend.

    Soltész, who holds a national-level leadership position at the Vitézi Rend, confirmed to the Forward in a phone conversation that Gorka is a full member of the organization.

    “Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

    The Forward explained that the Vitézi Rend “is listed by the State Department as one of many groups in Germany and the countries it occupied as collaborationist ‘criminal organizations’ with the Nazis as determined by the post-war International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.” Soltész also told BuzzFeed that Gorka is a current member of the Vitézi Rend. Gorka denied these ties to Tablet magazine, telling a reporter, “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend. Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.” (Foward’s article described how Gorka has signed testimony submitted to Congress and other documents with a “v.,” which “is an initial used by members of the Vitézi Rend” after they have taken a sworn oath.)

    Tablet added that Gorka’s father was “a dedicated member of the anti-Communist underground, and had risked his life to organize the Hungarian resistance and deliver vital information about the Soviets to western intelligence agencies, including the MI6. He was eventually arrested, badly tortured, spent two years in solitary confinement and some more in forced labor in the coal mines before eventually escaping to England.”

    Back in February, foreign policy blog LobeLog confirmed with an expert that a medal Gorka had worn to an inaugural ball was from the Vitézi Rend. Breitbart.com editor Joel Pollak defended Gorka in a February 14 article, calling claims about his connections to the Vitézi Rend a “smear” and defending the group by calling it “anti-communist.”

    USA Today reported that following Forward’s report, Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said in a statement that “Sebastian Gorka must resign -- and President Trump must make it happen,” and that the National Jewish Democratic Council also urged Trump to fire Gorka. BuzzFeed quoted Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calling the reports “deeply disturbing” and saying: “It’s shocking that with these revelations he’s not already fired by the president.” Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslim Advocates, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Southern Poverty Law Center also told BuzzFeed that Gorka should resign or that Trump should fire him if the reports about his membership are further substantiated.

    A reporter for Talking Points Memo later tweeted a statement from the Anti-Defamation League, which stated "If true, [Gorka] needs to renounce his membership immediately and disavow their exclusionary message of hate. At a time of rising anti-Semitism around the world, it is essential for Mr. Gorka to make clear that he rejects the policies of far-right and nativist organizations such as Vitézi Rend and Jobbik, which have a long history of stoking anti-Semitism and intolerance in Hungary."

    Before he was hired by the Trump administration, Gorka worked for Breitbart.com as a national security editor and was a paid adviser to the Trump campaign. In the past he has used anti-Muslim rhetoric and backed conspiracy theories. For example, after the Washington National Cathedral hosted an event with two Muslim groups in 2014, Gorka wrote an article for Breitbart.com with the headline “Muslim Brotherhood Overruns National Cathedral In DC," arguing that “if a place of worship is used by Muslims for their prayers, that territory subsequently becomes part of Dar al Islam, sacred muslim (sic) land. Forever.” Gorka also defended Trump’s false campaign claim that former President Barack Obama was the “founder of ISIS,” saying he “is absolutely right” if he meant the Obama administration “facilitated the growth of ISIS.”

  • US Attorney Preet Bharara Was Investigating Fox News When Trump Fired Him

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    President Donald Trump’s decision to fire U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara happened as Bharara’s office was reportedly probing Fox News over its alleged failure to inform shareholders about repeated settlements for allegations of sexual harassment and assault by former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and other executives against female employees. Reports indicate Trump may pick one of Ailes’ former lawyers to replace Bharara.

  • Report: Trump Chooses To Retain Former Fox Analyst Rather Than Hire Decorated Navy Veteran

    Retired Vice Adm. Harward Turned Down The Position After Being Informed Former Fox Analyst McFarland Could Not Be Fired

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Donald Trump’s top choice to replace ousted aide Michael Flynn as the next national security adviser, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, has turned down the president’s offer reportedly because of “a dispute over staffing the security council.” According to CBS News’ Major Garrett, Harward declined the offer after Trump insisted that the current deputy national security adviser, former Fox News analyst KT McFarland, be retained.

    While Harward is a 38-year member of the Navy, formerly served as the deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, commanded a SEAL team, led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and worked on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, McFarland most recently worked as a national security analyst at Fox News. Throughout her tenure as a Fox News analyst she repeatedly praised Russian president Vladimir Putin, advocated for war with Iran, misled about the Iranian nuclear program, expressed support for torture, and made bizarre and incendiary statements about international terrorism, including blaming “political correctness” for the 2015 attack on France’s Charlie Hebdo.

    According to a report from CBS News, Harward “demanded his own team” to staff the National Security Council, which became a point of contention after Trump told “McFarland that she could retain her post.” Harward reportedly “refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.” From the February 16 CBS News report:

    Vice Admiral Robert Harward has rejected President Trump’s offer to be the new national security adviser, CBS News’ Major Garrett reports.

    Sources close to the situation told Garrett Harward and the administration had a dispute over staffing the security council.

    Two sources close to the situation confirm Harward Harward [sic] demanded his own team, and the White House resisted.

    Specifically, Mr. Trump told Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland that she could retain her post, even after the ouster of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Harward refused to keep McFarland as his deputy, and after a day of negotiations over this and other staffing matters, Harward declined to serve as Flynn’s replacement.

  • “Great News!”: White Nationalists See Sessions’ Attorney General Confirmation As Major Step Toward Achieving Their Racist Goals

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    White nationalists cheered the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, claiming that “we are one step closer to solidifying Trump’s authoritarian dictatorship,” and “we finally have an AG who will defend decent American people - rather than thugs,” and predicting that Sessions “will truly make our country great” and target “domestic terrorist groups” like Black Lives Matter.

  • Conservative Media Figures Backing Trump's Supreme Court Nominee Are Whitewashing 293 Days Of GOP Obstruction

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Conservative media figures celebrated President Donald Trump’s nomination of federal appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and suggested the Senate should confirm him. This view is hypocritical in light of the historic Senate GOP obstruction used to kill former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, who was a far less ideological choice than Gorsuch.