Government & Communications

Attempts by governmental bodies to improve or impede communications with or between the citizenry.

President Trump: Obama didn't 'choke,' he 'colluded or obstructed'

President Donald Trump on June 26 said former President Barack Obama took no action against Russia for its actions in the 2016 election because he expected Hillary Clinton to win. President Trump concluded that Obama had not "choked" in taking no action against Russia. Instead, President Trump said Obama had "colluded" or "obstructed." "The reason that President Obama did NOTHING about Russia after being notified by the CIA of meddling is that he expected Clinton would win.....and did not want to 'rock the boat,' " President Trump tweeted. "He didn't 'choke,' he colluded or obstructed, and it did the Dems and Crooked Hillary no good." “The real story is that President Obama did NOTHING after being informed in August about Russian meddling. With 4 months looking at Russia ... under a magnifying glass, they have zero ‘tapes’ of T people colluding. There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!” he added.

RNC Chair Doubles Down on 'Fake News’

Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel put her signature to the latest e-mail that uses attacks on the media to try and raise money for the party and its candidates. Taking a page out of President Donald Trump's divide to conquer strategy of trying to delegitimize negative stories, the e-mail cites a "fake news" headline from arguably the president's favorite target—CNN—to illustrate what the party claims is "fake news" that is "far more powerful than the Democratic Party." "[T]hey have the power to trick American voters into believing they're unbiased—all the while they peddle hateful and deceitful rhetoric about our President," she said. She makes it clear that CNN and the New York Times are two of those "they," saying: "They call themselves 'The Most Trusted Name in News.' They claim to cover 'All the News That’s Fit to Print…" Curiously, she suggested, after calling mainstream media outlets hateful and deceitful, that Trump supporters win when "we rise above their attacks" and deliver a positive message.

Why the Case for Transparency Must Be Made Anew

[Commentary] The Trump Administration’s penchant for secrecy is not a media issue; it is a democracy issue. And that makes it the weak spot in President Donald Trump’s otherwise successful jihad against American journalism. The bottom line, particularly on the Right is this: They hate you. They really hate you. Trump’s strategy in declaring the media “enemies of the people” is clear: He delegitimizes an independent source of criticism and exposure, while providing his base with red meat. His approach is aped by his allies in the conservative media, including Fox News’s Sean Hannity, who has taken to using clumsy formulations like the “Destroy Trump Media.”

Journalists may regard the case for transparency in government as self-evident, but the case can and should be made anew. The Trump era provides an opportunity to go back to first principles and remind the public why the freedom of the press is enshrined in the First Amendment. Don’t take it for granted that the public has connected all of those dots.

[Charlie Sykes is a political commentator who hosted the conservative radio talk show "Midday with Charlie Sykes" on WTMJ in Mlwaukee from 1993 to 2016.]

FCC Chairman Pai is getting too cozy with the White House, critics say

Much of the media coverage surrounding President Donald Trump's meetings with tech industry executives this week has focused on the companies in the room — Apple, Microsoft, Verizon and so on. But separate meetings organized around the same event have also included a smattering of government officials, including on June 22 the head of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai.

On one level, Chairman Pai's attendance makes sense: The day's meetings focused on the future of wireless technology, an area where the FCC has a lot of expertise and jurisdiction. On another level, though, Chairman Pai's presence was unusual: As the head of an agency that's supposed to keep its distance from the White House, Pai has shown no qualms about appearing on the same agenda with President Trump. And that is now raising questions among some about his overall independence from the Trump administration.

Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the public, in a declassified report, what officials had learned from Brennan in August — that Russian President Vladimir Putin was working to elect Donald Trump.

Over that five-month interval, the Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could “crater” the Russian economy. But in the end, in late December, President Obama approved a modest package combining measures that had been drawn up to punish Russia for other issues — expulsions of 35 diplomats and the closure of two Russian compounds — with economic sanctions so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic. President Obama also approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia’s infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project, which President Obama approved in a covert-action finding, was still in its planning stages when he left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability.

President Trump is struggling to stay calm on Russia, one morning call at a time

President Donald Trump has a new morning ritual. Around 6:30 am on many days — before all the network news shows have come on the air — he gets on the phone with a member of his outside legal team to chew over all things Russia. The calls — detailed by three senior White House officials — are part strategy consultation and part presidential venting session, during which President Trump’s lawyers and public-relations gurus take turns reviewing the latest headlines with him. They also devise their plan for battling his avowed enemies: the special counsel leading the Russia investigation; the “fake news” media chronicling it; and, in some instances, the president’s own Justice Department overseeing the probe.

His advisers have encouraged the calls — which the early-to-rise President Trump takes from his private quarters in the White House residence — in hopes that he can compartmentalize the widening Russia investigation. By the time the president arrives for work in the Oval Office, the thinking goes, he will no longer be consumed by the Russia probe that he complains hangs over his presidency like a darkening cloud. Senior officials have also been devising an overhaul of the White House communications operation to better meet the offensive and defensive demands of the president they serve, as well as the 24-hour cycle of tweet-size news.

President Trump congratulates himself for influencing Comey’s testimony with White House tapes ruse

President Donald Trump gave his first interview in more than a month on June 22, and the result — airing June 23 on Fox News — included President Trump congratulating himself for his suggestion that there might be tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James B. Comey. What's interesting here is that this isn't the official White House position. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders denied June 22 that President Trump's six-week-old tweet about possible tapes was meant to threaten or influence Director Comey. But then President Trump just went out and basically said it himself.

White House Correspondents' Association: We are not satisfied with off-camera briefings

White House Correspondents' Association President Jeff Mason said they are "not satisfied" with the White House putting a halt on their daily, on-camera briefings. In an e-mail to members of the association, Mason said he met with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to discuss the issues of the briefings.

"The WHCA’s position on this issue is clear: we believe strongly that Americans should be able to watch and listen to senior government officials face questions from an independent news media, in keeping with the principles of the First Amendment and the need for transparency at the highest levels of government," Mason wrote.

DHS Working with Google to Improve Screening Techniques at Airpots

The Department of Homeland Security is turning to data scientists to improve screening techniques at airports. On June 22, the department, working with Google, will introduce a $1.5 million contest to build computer algorithms that can automatically identify concealed items in images captured by checkpoint body scanners. The government is putting up the money, and the six-month contest will be run by Kaggle, a site that hosts more than a million data scientists that was recently acquired by Google. Although data scientists can apply any technique in building these algorithms, the contest is a way of capitalizing on the progress in a technology called deep neural networks, said the Kaggle founder and chief executive, Anthony Goldbloom. Neural networks are complex mathematical systems that can learn specific tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data.

President Trump bashes the press but seeks advice from media figures

As he considers limiting White House news briefings to one per week and requiring journalists to submit written questions, President Donald Trump is listening to advisers outside his administration. Ironically, a couple of those advisers are members of the media — Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a Fox News contributor.

Consulting people without formal roles in his administration is not unusual for Trump, and several of these people are media figures. I have compiled a list of unofficial advisers (and possible advisers) from the media, along with what we know about their relationships with the president.