We are back once again with “Damnit Donald”, chronicling the absurdities and scrapes which have characterised every day of Donald Trump’s presidency.
A devastating shooting at a Florida high school on February 14 killed seventeen people, reviving the heated discussion regarding gun control in the United States. Suspect Nikolas Cruz, age 19, has appeared in court for charges of premeditated murder.
Deputy Scott Peterson is the school’s resource officer; after investigation, it was determined that Peterson was on school premises, but stood outside the building during the attack. He has resigned, and it is unclear whether he will face charges. Speaking to reporters outside the White House later that week, President Trump called the officer a “coward”.
Florida’s governor is calling for law enforcement officers to be placed in every public school in the state.
Trump had a better idea: with characteristic logic, he suggested arming teachers as an alternative to gun control.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby has long endorsed this as a solution, although it is a divisive topic (with good reason). According to a 2013 poll by the National Education Association, only 22% of teachers approved of this idea, while 68% were opposed. Furthermore, 72% said that they would not carry a gun even if the law allowed it.
In response to the criticism which inevitably followed this proposition, Trump took to Twitter, calling out “Fake News” outlets CNN and NBC, and qualifying his comments: “What I said was to look at the possibility of giving concealed guns to gun-adept teachers with military or special training experience… Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this.”
On Wednesday the 21st, Trump held a White House event with forty students, teachers, and families of the victims to hear their ideas for gun reform. He also promised to look “very strongly” at the calls to arm teachers.
In other gun-related news, Trump signed an order on Tuesday the 20th to ban gun bump stock devices. These accessories render a semi-automatic rifle as efficient as a machine gun, capable of shooting hundreds of rounds per minute. They can be purchased for as little as $100, without requiring a criminal record check. They were used in the Las Vegas concert shooting last October.
The White House is willing to discuss the age limit for purchasing a gun, which is currently eighteen, according to spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
Another topic of discussion is requiring more stringent background checks on potential buyers. Republican Senator John Cornyn and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy introduced a bipartisan bill after the Texas church shooting as a fix to the “nationwide, systematic problem”, which would increase the responsibility of federal agencies to thoroughly report background information on buyers and offer incentives for states to do the same. This bill was never passed onto Congress, but Trump is now willing to discuss it.
Despite Trump’s multitude of gun control reform claims, he was still touting the Second Amendment last Friday, exclaiming his love for gun rights which mark him as a true Conservative.
The US is imposing new sanctions on North Korea, bringing the apparent Winter Olympics truce to an end. The sanctions target “56 vessels, shipping companies, and trade businesses that are assisting North Korea in evading sanctions.” The majority of these are based in North Korea, although there are some in China, Taiwan, and other countries.
North Korea is already under sanctions from the US and other countries over its development of nuclear technology, which has not deterred them from testing missiles. Last year, they tested a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching Washington, although it is unclear whether their nuclear weapons can be miniaturized to fit on a warhead.
Trump is calling these new sanctions the “largest ever”. In a news conference on Friday the 23rd, he threatened, “If the sanctions don’t work we’ll have to go to phase two—and phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very, very unfortunate for the world.” He did not, however, expand on what “phase two” may entail.
Most recently, the US imposed sanctions last November on North Korean shipping operations and Chinese companies which trade with them. The UN introduced measures to cut North Korean petroleum imports by up to 90%.
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was held on Friday the 23rd in Maryland. Trump’s address was characteristically Trump.
He quickly decided to go off script, ignoring the teleprompter because the prepared message was “a little boring”, and delivered a speech reminiscent of the campaign days.
The inevitable mention of Hillary Clinton drew chants from the crowd of “lock her up”.
He bragged that his administration “has had the most successful first year in the history of the presidency”, touting tax cuts and decreased US participation in the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal.
He engaged in some self-deprecating humour, catching a glimpse of himself in the screen and admitting, “I try like hell to hide that bald spot folks, I work hard at it.”
He pushed his newest gun reform idea, saying that an armed teacher would have “shot the hell” out of the attacker at the Florida high school.
He promised to protect gun ownership rights, despite the pledges he had made during the week, warning that the Democrats will “take away your Second Amendment, which we will never allow to happen.”
He also called the Democrats “totally unresponsive” for failing to reach an agreement over the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) policy. He also mentioned The Wall, expressing the dangers of letting outsiders into the country via a metaphor. “The Snake” is a song about a woman who takes in a sick snake, giving it milk, honey, and a silk blanket, only to be killed by its poisonous bite. “You have to think of this in terms of immigration,” Trump urged as he pulled the lyrics from his pocket.
He adamantly called himself a Conservative: “Remember when I first started running…and people said you sure he’s a Conservative? I think now we can say I’m a Conservative. We have put more great Conservative ideas into use than perhaps ever before in American history.”
The North Korea sanctions were supposed to be a large focus of the speech. However, he did not mention them until the tail end of his 75-minute speech, when he decided to briefly return to the prepared comments.
If anyone felt the lack of Trumpisms in their life, this address definitely filled that void.
Mueller’s Special Counsel
Robert Mueller’s special counsel is investigating alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Nineteen people have been indicted so far, four of whom are former Trump advisers.
On Friday the 23rd, Rick Gates, former campaign aide, became the third person to take a plea deal in Mueller’s investigation, joining Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos. He pled guilty to conspiracy against the US and making false statements, admitting to lying to the FBI about discussing Ukraine in a March 2013 meeting in Washington. He had previously been indicted on more serious offences, including bank fraud and money laundering. He is accused of hiding more than $3M of income and using it for “personal expenses, including his mortgage, children’s tuition,” and redecorating his Virginia home.
Gates says he will cooperate in “any and all matters” with the US special counsel inquiry. Mueller could petition the court for Gates’s sentence to be reduced in return for his full cooperation.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s ex-campaign manager, and Gates were indicted on multiple counts of tax and bank fraud. As Trump pointed out, neither of these were in relation to collusion with Russia, but that hardly improves the situation. The charges were concealment of more than $30M of income from US tax officials; this money flowed through a $75M offshore account. They are also charged with filing incorrect tax returns from 2010-2014.
The pair was first indicted in October for conspiracy to launder $75M through an offshore account and illegally lobbying for Ukraine without first registering with the US government. At the time, both pled not guilty. Manafort continues to maintain his innocence, saying in a statement, “I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence.”
Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign manager in August 2016, after questions arose regarding his business dealings with pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, although he maintains his innocence. Mueller hit him with a third indictment on Thursday the 22nd for secretly hiring former senior European politicians to lobby in the US for positions favourable to Ukraine. Earlier that day, the court denied Manafort’s request to modify the terms of his house arrest.