Government & Communications

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

Sean Spicer Holds Uncharacteristically Short Press Briefings

For two days in a row, since returning from President Trump's trip abroad, the White House press secretary has held uncharacteristically short press briefings in which he claimed not to know the answer to questions, outsourced questions to other officials or dismissed the premise of questions entirely. Both briefings included less than 20 minutes for questions -- far less than most prior briefings -- and ended with Spicer abruptly exiting the room to the consternation of reporters. At May 31's briefing, which was off-camera, one reporter could be heard shouting after the departing press secretary, "How short are these gonna be!?"

White House IT Director Gets Lobbying Waiver

Christopher Liddell, the White House director of strategic initiatives, was granted a 90-day waiver to conduct White House business while his trust divested assets that were deemed to be in conflict with his new position. Liddell, previously a CFO for Microsoft, has been a go-to on tech policy matters and helps run the newly formed Office of American Innovation. Also granted an ethics waiver is Charles Herndon, the White House information technology director. Prior to joining the administration, Herndon worked for IT contractor CSRA. The waiver will allow Herndon to provide technology services to the White House, though he is barred from participating in work related to a Defense Information Systems Agency contract in which he "participated personally and substantially while an employee of CSRA."

During the campaign and the early months of his presidency, the concern over Trump’s Twitter use was political. Now the worry is increasingly legal.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when President Donald Trump refrained from flamethrowing messages on Twitter. That time is over. Never mind that his aides have asked him to stop. Never mind that now the lawyers have told him to stop. Even though his White House has been warned that tweets could be used as evidence against him, President Trump has made clear in the days after returning from a largely Twitter-free overseas trip that he fully intends to stick to his favorite means of communication. Throughout 2016’s campaign and into the early months of his presidency, the concern among Trump’s advisers was mainly political. Every time the president let loose with one of his 140-character blasts, it distracted from his agenda and touched off a media frenzy that could last for days. But now the worry has turned increasingly legal. With multiple investigations looking at whether the president’s associates collaborated with Russia to influence the election, any random, unfiltered tweet could become part of a legal case.

Why Is Access To Public Records Still So Frustratingly Complicated?

The Freedom of Information Act, often known as FOIA, has been used by journalists, activists, and private citizens to get access to federal government records since it went into effect in 1967. And every state has passed similar laws that allow the public to get access to state and local records, generally with exemptions for files like records of ongoing investigations or personal medical records. (Florida’s are called the Sunshine Law.) The trouble, say transparency advocates and people who rely on open records laws for their day-to-day work, is that in an era when files can be searched, copied, and transmitted in minutes at minimal cost, many agencies still respond to requests with excessive delays, claims of high processing costs, and files produced in difficult-to-handle formats like scans of printed versions of digital documents.

President Trump's use of private cellphone raises security concerns

President Donald Trump has been handing out his cellphone number to world leaders and urging them to call him directly, an unusual invitation that breaks diplomatic protocol and is raising concerns about the security and secrecy of the US commander in chief’s communications. President Trump has urged leaders of Canada and Mexico to reach him on his cellphone, apparently. Of the two, only Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken advantage of the offer so far, the officials said. President Trump also exchanged numbers with French President Emmanuel Macron when the two spoke immediately following Macron’s victory earlier in May.

The notion of world leaders calling each other up via cellphone may seem unremarkable in the modern, mobile world. But in the diplomatic arena, where leader-to-leader calls are highly orchestrated affairs, it is another notable breach of protocol for a president who has expressed distrust of official channels. The formalities and discipline of diplomacy have been a rough fit for President Trump — who, before taking office, was long easily accessible by cellphone and viewed himself as freewheeling, impulsive dealmaker.

Fight for the Future Cites More 'Fake' FCC Comments

Fight for the Future sees dead people. At least it says a few have somehow filed anti-Title II comments to the Federal Communications Commission according to reports from the deceased's friends.

The group has also found another dozen or so people—twice the original number—who say anti-Title II comments were filed in the FCC docket under their names that they did not submit. In addition, the group said it has been hearing from people saying that a comment was filed under the name and address of a deceased family member. The group claims that over 450,000 fake comments have been submitted and that the FCC "is still refusing to remove fake comments, even when victims call the FCC directly and demand that their name and personal information be removed from a public docket endorsing political messages they don’t agree with." Fight for the Future also said it had received three reports from friends of recently deceased individuals whose names were on comments, saying the comments would have had to be posted posthumously.

Michael Dubke Resigns as White House Communications Director

Michael Dubke, the White House communications director, announced that he was resigning, as President Donald Trump weighs a broader shake-up of his staff in the face of multiple investigations.

Dubke, a veteran Republican strategist who served three months in the role, said that he offered his resignation on May 18 and agreed to stay on until President Trump completed his first overseas trip, which ended over the weekend. Other staff changes could come by the end of the week, White House officials said.

The resignation came as President Trump and his team pushed back against reports that Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser, explored the possibility of setting up a secret communications channel to Moscow during the transition between the election and inauguration. President Trump posted a link on Twitter to a “Fox & Friends” article reporting that the Russians, not Kushner, suggested the secret channel and that it was meant as a one-time vehicle to talk about the civil war in Syria. Trump’s tweet came shortly after his counselor, Kellyanne Conway, went on the same program to call the talk of collusion with Russia “just a rush to judgment” and to repeat the president’s support for his son-in-law.

‘Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment,’ Oregon mayor says. He’s wrong.

As his city mourns two men who were killed after confronting a man screaming anti-Muslim slurs, Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) is calling on federal officials to block what he called “alt-right demonstrations” from happening in downtown Portland (OR). His concern is that the two rallies, both scheduled in June, will escalate an already volatile situation in Portland by peddling “a message of hatred and of bigotry.” Although the organizers of the rallies have a constitutional right to speak, “hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment,” said Mayor Wheeler. But history and precedent are not on Wheeler's side. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that hate speech, no matter how bigoted or offensive, is free speech.

President Trump Returns to Crisis Over Kushner as White House Tries to Contain It

President Donald Trump returned home on Saturday to confront a growing political and legal threat, as his top aides tried to contain the fallout from reports that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is a focus of investigations into possible collusion between Russia and the president’s campaign and transition teams. The White House canceled a presidential trip to Iowa and was putting together a damage-control plan to expand the president’s legal team, reorganize his communications staff and wall off a scandal that has jeopardized his agenda and now threatens to engulf his family.

Behind the scenes, Trump’s advisers were working to create a crisis-control communications operation within the White House to separate the Russia investigations and related scandals from the administration’s day-to-day themes and the work of governing. The goal is to give President Trump more outlets for communicating his message in an unvarnished way, while curbing opportunities for aides to be confronted publicly with damaging developments or unflattering story lines. Under the evolving scenario, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, would take a diminished public role, with daily on-camera briefings replaced by more limited interactions with journalists, while President Trump would seize more opportunities to communicate directly with his core supporters through campaign rallies, social media appearances such as Facebook Live videos, and interviews with friendly news organizations.

The nation’s top tech companies are asking Congress to reform a key NSA surveillance program

Facebook, Google, Microsoft and a host of tech companies asked Congress to reform a government surveillance program that allows the National Security Agency to collect emails and other digital communications of foreigners outside the United States.

The requests came in the form of a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who is overseeing the debate in the House of Representatives to reauthorize a program, known as Section 702, which will expire at the end of the year without action by Capitol Hill. In their note, the tech companies asked lawmakers for a number of changes to the law particularly to ensure that Americans’ data isn’t swept up in the fray. Meanwhile, they endorsed the need for new transparency measures, including the ability to share with their customers more information about the government surveillance requests they receive. Signing the note are companies like Airbnb, Amazon, Cisco, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Lyft, Microsoft and Uber. Absent, however, is Apple.