Day in Brief Transcript 1/18/19

Just moments ago, President Trump tweeted that he will be making a major announcement from the White House on Saturday afternoon about the government shutdown. He said it would concern the humanitarian crisis on the southern border. Initial speculation is that he is planning to declare a national emergency to build his planned wall.

Democrats are almost praying that a BuzzFeed report is true. It cites two anonymous law enforcement sources who claim Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Suborning perjury is a felony and the report is giving Democrats free rein to talk about impeachment. The not-so-small problem is that no other news organization has been able to confirm the story and, if it’s just Trump’s word versus Cohen’s, it will be much ado about nothing.

However, BuzzFeed’s reporting is extensive, claiming Special Counsel Mueller’s office learned about this through interviews with members of the Trump Organization, internal company emails, texts, and other documents. The report also alleges that Trump and his children were getting status reports about the Moscow project for months after Trump started repeatedly denying he had any business interests in Russia. Trump responded by accusing Cohen of lying to reduce his jail time. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani called the report “categorically false.” Where art thou, Robert Mueller for some clarification?

Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the end of February. The announcement came after Trump met for 90 minutes with a top North Korean official at the White House. Despite the hopes raised by the unprecedented summit last year, North Korea does not seem to have slowed down its nuclear program. It is reportedly still working on missile development and other reports indicate it has increased production of nuclear fuel at various sites.

A massive storm has started dumping snow in the Plains states and Midwest, but it will wallop the Northeast beginning tomorrow. Parts of New England could get more than three feet of snow. Brutally cold weather will follow the storm. It’s already creating a travel nightmare. Hundreds of flights were cancelled today and more than 5,000 were delayed. Hundreds more have been cancelled for tomorrow. Omaha’s airport was closed for hours after a Southwest plane slid off the runway.

The childish spat between Trump and Nancy Pelosi continued, with Pelosi accusing the White House of leaking plans for a congressional delegation to fly commercial to Afghanistan after Trump denied them a military aircraft. The White House called this a “flat-out lie” and asinine. Pelosi says the security risks stopped the delegation from traveling.

Trump struck back, banning the use of all government aircraft for congressional delegations without the approval of the White House chief of staff. The White House canceled the travel of its own delegation to the economic forum in Davos, but the First Lady was allowed to use a government plane to go to Mar-a-Lago for the holiday weekend.

Trump’s careless tweeting struck again today. He quoted an unsubstantiated claim from an anonymous farmer that the general public doesn’t get the terrorist threat on the Mexican border and that “We’ve found prayer rugs out here.” It might be true, but do we want the President of the United States making statements he can’t back up? The Council on American Islamic Relations accused Trump of promoting Islamophobia and said “It dog whistles that anything associated with Islam is somehow connected to terrorism.”

The hyper-partisanship in Washington is leading to an apparent increase in bigoted comments from politicians or, at least, the discovery of prior bigoted comments. Just this week, among others, GOP Representative Steve King was reprimanded and stripped of his committee assignments for defending white supremacy; Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard apologized for past anti-LGBT remarks; and Republican Representative Jason King apologized for telling Democrats to go back to Puerto Rico.

The latest offender is Ilhan Omar, who has been celebrated as one of the freshmen representatives who are bringing diversity to Congress, in her case as the first Somali-American member of Congress. She is under fire from conservatives who say a tweet about Lindsay Graham was homophobic. She is also accused of anti-Semitism, for a tweet from 2012 that said:  “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

A little good news: The Dow jumped more than 300 points, for a four-week winning streak. After a terrible December, stocks are off to their best start since 1987. Optimism that the US and China are reaching a détente in their trade war helped fuel the rally.

In our alternate universes segment, the great divide between conservative and liberal media couldn’t have been wider when it came to the coverage of the BuzzFeed story. It dominated the liberal TV networks, to the exclusion of much else, while Fox tried to avoid it like the plague. On one show this afternoon, it got less than a minute, and it was framed as “the White House is shooting down” the report.

The divide is not that wide when it comes to one of the great issues that faces traditional news organizations. They claim, in most cases deservedly so, that they have an editorial process that distinguishes them from upstart internet sites. The problem is that the pressure to be profitable has led to layoffs that have decimated the number of editors. So mistakes are ever more common, feeding Trump’s “fake news” narrative.

Vogue, historically the “fashion bible,” is the latest victim. It published a picture of journalist and activist Noor Tagouri, who wears a head scarf, but Vogue misidentified her, confusing her for a Pakistani actress. Tagouri, whom I know and like, was devastated, writing that she has “been misrepresented and misidentified multiple times in media publications, to the point of putting my life in danger,” going onto say that it is a constant problem if you are a Muslim in America. Editors are indispensable.