Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Urge To Intimidate

"Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see," argued Trump senior policy director Stephen Miller," as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

A cynic might suggest there is only one word to describe a president as Miller has. That word would be "despot."  However, "autocrat" also would do quite nicely.

Steve Miller should have stuck with music, but is not alone in his regard for presidential authority. The Washington Post reported Monday that Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison Omarosa Manigault

got into a heated argument with a White House reporter just steps from the Oval Office last week, according to witnesses. The reporter, April Ryan, said Manigault “physically intimidated” her in a manner that could have warranted intervention by the Secret Service.

Ryan also said Manigault made verbal threats, including the assertion that Ryan was among several journalists on whom Trump officials had collected “dossiers” of negative information.

Manigault, a onetime friend of Ryan’s, declined to address Ryan’s accusations on the record, offering only this emailed statement: “My comment: Fake news!” She did not specify what she considered false.

The incident occurred

outside White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s West Wing office late Wednesday. Among the witnesses were White House press office staffers and a Washington Post reporter, Abby Phillip.

Phillip said she didn’t hear every word of the women’s exchange but said Ryan told her afterward that she felt Manigault’s behavior was so threatening that it was “Secret Serviceable,” meaning that it rose to the level of law enforcement intervention.

Ryan, a veteran White House correspondent for the American Urban Radio Networks, used the same phrase repeatedly in an interview. “She stood right in my face like she was going to hit me,” Ryan said. “I said, ‘You better back up.’ . . . She thought I would be bullied. I won’t be.”

This did not spring up out of nowhere.  Rather (not Dan)

The argument apparently stemmed from emails that Manigault sent to Ryan during the presidential campaign.

In October, Manigault sent Ryan an email raising questions about whether Ryan was being paid by Hillary Clinton’s campaign — a claim Ryan vigorously denies. Manigault included a link to an article from the Intercept, which covers national security issues.

The article detailed the Clinton campaign’s effort to secure favorable media coverage by “manipulating” reporters; it included a list compiled by Clinton staffers of TV surrogates who were part of the campaign. It published a separate list of journalists, including Ryan, whom the campaign hoped to influence but were not paid by the Clintons.

“This story suggests that as a reporter, you are (or were) a paid Clinton surrogate,” Manigault wrote in the email. “I pray this is not true! This could be hurtful to your legacy and the integrity of your work.”

The article did not imply Ryan was a paid Clinton surrogate, but facts are elusive things to the crowd now polluting Washington, D.C.  Not content with confusing surrogacy with uh, er, objectivity

Manigault sent a second email to Ryan a few minutes later. It read, “Protect your legacy!! You have worked too hard to have people question your ethics as a journalist. People talking trash about the reporters on that list having NO integrity. It’s hurtful to hear people say those things about you.”

Ryan said she was devastated by any intimation that she was unethical. “It’s just ugly,” she said. “She’s trying to harm my integrity and my career. I’ve been [covering the White House] for 20 years. I plan to be here for the next 20 years. You don’t mess with someone’s livelihood.”

During their altercation, Ryan said Manigault told her that she was among several African American journalists who were the subject of White House “dossiers.” Manigault has previously said that Trump is keeping “a list” of opponents, though at the time she was referring to Republicans who voted against Trump.

Ryan laughed off the claim of dossiers and Manigault, a friend of Trump from "The Apprentice" days, may have been making it up. However, keeping dossiers on reporters is a staple of police states, as is claiming the immunity from criticism Miller does for President Trump.

In his recent piece "How Donald Trump Could Build an Autocracy in the U.S.," David Frum explains

The rulers of backsliding democracies resent an independent press, but cannot extinguish it. They may curb the media’s appetite for critical coverage by intimidating unfriendly journalists, as President Jacob Zuma and members of his party have done in South Africa. Mostly, however, modern strongmen seek merely to discredit journalism as an institution, by denying that such a thing as independent judgment can exist.

It doesn't have to be the ruler himself trying to intimidate unfriendly journalists. He has Manigault to do it individually. Smearing the press generally may be left to Miller or to Kellyanne Conway, who has accused the press of being "the Opposition Party. Not the Democratic Party. You're the Opposition Party."

With the explosion of the Flynn story, there was insufficient note taken of the Trump regime's response to criticism of Stephen Miller.  In a normal Administration, there would have been an effort to allay fears with a statement of regret, a claim that the comment was misintepreted, or at least an assurance that the statement applied only to the issue of the day, in this case refugee policy.

But nothing ensued, nothing to clarify, re-word, tone down, or assuage anyone's concerns. Not coincidentally, there is only (Dear Leader) "will not be questioned."  Frum observes

A president who plausibly owes his office at least in part to a clandestine intervention by a hostile foreign intelligence service? Who uses the bully pulpit to target individual critics? Who creates blind trusts that are not blind, invites his children to commingle private and public business, and somehow gets the unhappy members of his own political party either to endorse his choices or shrug them off? If this were happening in Honduras, we’d know what to call it.

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