Last week started ominously, with the news that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was firing the department's inspector general even though he—Zinke—is the subject of multiple investigations, and ended with the news that one of those investigations had found Zinke guilty of violating official policy regarding government travel, costing taxpayers $25,000 in the process. (That inspector, by the way, wasn't fired. It was all, apparently, one big misunderstanding.) But it wasn't just a Zinke week; there were also shouting matches at the White House between the president's chief advisors, Facebook hiring a famously unsuccessful British politician to head up its global affairs unit, President Trump cheering violence against journalists, and Canada legalizing weed and then immediately running out. You guys, it's been a week, and that's not even going anywhere near this:
…Whatever the world is coming to, let's try and piece it together, together. Shall we?
The Truth About What Happened to Jamal Khashoggi
What Happened: As evidence mounted that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered by Saudi authorities, the President of the United States did his best to pretend that had never happened, assisted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
What Really Happened: As the week began, the clamor around the disappearance and suspected killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi had reached such volume that it was impossible for even President Trump to ignore it any longer—as much as he seemingly wanted to, preferring to offer vague comments on the subject, accompanied by more concrete statements about wanting to protect arms deals with Saudi Arabia. Was there some way that he could accept the mounting evidence while still leaving himself some wiggle room to get out of actually blaming anyone? As everyone familiar with Trump's 400-pound hacker theory already knows, the answer is, "Yes, but no one would believe it."
It was a ridiculous and patently unbelievable suggestion, as many people pointed out, including some prominent Democrats.
But if "Sure, rogue killers somehow got into an official consulate and killed a dude without anyone noticing and/or stopping them, and it's just coming out now" didn't stretch credibility enough, don't worry; something even more unlikely was about to emerge.
If nothing else, "Yes, we killed him by accident" is certainly a novel defense, especially when you consider that it does contain an admission that they were interrogating him. Not to mention that whole earlier "We didn't do it" thing.
For those wondering how the president dealt with this new development, considering that it also contradicted his previous speculation about what had happened, he did pretty well, considering.
A fact-finding mission! That certainly sounds productive. How it ended up going?
That doesn't look like a particularly hard-hitting meeting, but diplomacy is a game best played with handshakes and smiles, right?
To make matters worse, it emerged that Saudi Arabia delivered $100 million to the US on the day Pompeo arrived. (It was a payment promised back in August, although the timing was certainly an unfortunate coincidence at best.) Still, surely this was a very thorough, potentially explosive, confrontation.
But… still, a lot could be accomplished in 15 minutes, yes? At least we'd know more when he returned and addressed the American people.
Meanwhile, at the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi disappeared…
Would Trump say anything?
Oh, never mind. Throughout the week, more and more grisly details emerged about Khashoggi's murder, including leaked audio of his death. (Something Pompeo reportedly heard on his trip, although that may not be true.) And yet, it took until Thursday for the president to admit that Khashoggi was dead, and even then, he couched it in uncertainty.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post, which published Khashoggi's work, ran his final column the same day. On Friday, Saudi Arabia confirmed Khashoggi's death and claimed it was the result of a physical altercation at the consulate in Istanbul.
The Takeaway: To call this shameful would be an understatement.
Putting Healthcare Back in the Game
What Happened: When voters aren't getting behind your message, what's to stop you from just pretending your unpopular opinions actually belong to your opponents, and vice versa? Apparently little, if you're the president.
What Really Happened: With the possibility of the Republicans losing the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterms, President Trump has been returning more and more recently to the idea that Democrats are trying to dismantle healthcare (they're not, by the way), and that only Republicans can be trusted by those who worry about their health.
As if last week's USA Today editorial debacle didn't deliver enough of a sign that things weren't going to go smoothly for the president on this one, this week saw his attacks hit their zenith with the following tweet.
The tweet came days after Republican Senate Majority Mitch McConnell gave an interview where he talked about his personal, deep disappointment in not cutting "entitlements," giving people the idea that the Republicans would try to repeal Obamacare again given the chance. Considering that healthcare is an issue that voters care about—and tend to side with the Democrats on, enjoying the Affordable Care Act and the coverage of those with pre-existing conditions—it's easy to see why Republicans feel the need to falsify things on the subject.
All of which is to say, people noticed that Trump was essentially saying the very opposite of what was true.
The question, as always, is this: How many people will believe the president despite the evidence of … you know, the rest of the real world? The answer might depend on how many people have found themselves relying on the Affordable Care Act's coverage for pre-existing conditions and have been affected by the Trump Administration's attempts to take it away.
The Takeaway: Hey, TV's David Simon. You're filled with righteous anger, would you like to take a swing at summarizing this one?
What Happened: Despite his busy week, President Trump still found the time to take a jab at Stormy Daniels.
What Really Happened: Perhaps we're spending too much time on the ways in which the president deals with political matters. Maybe we should spend a little moment or two on how petty he can be instead. Early last week, a federal judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Trump brought by Stormy Daniels. For most people, this would be a relief, and perhaps a sign to rein in the over-the-top rhetoric. Donald J. Trump is not most people, as this tweet from the next morning made particularly clear.
Folks are generally used to this nonsense by now, but really, let's just take a moment to actually think about this.
Of course, the comment prompted all manner of coverage, because, come on. And yet, it's hardly surprising.
Michael Avenatti, who came to—fame? infamy? We're not sure what the correct term should be, really—as Stormy Daniels' lawyer, took to Twitter to release a statement in reply.
And how did Daniels respond?
It would be nice to say that the president learned the error of his ways and apologized afterwards, but instead, he apparently believed he'd done a great job.
The Takeaway: Once again, reality feels like it's significantly outpacing satire, to the point where even The Onion is struggling to keep up.
Elizabeth Warren's DNA
What Happened: Senator Elizabeth Warren released the results of a DNA test. It went impressively poorly.
What Really Happened: As we noted above, the midterms are just a couple of weeks away, so as you can imagine, everyone on both sides of the political aisle is definitely concentrating on the important stuff.
… And yet, here we all are, somehow actually discussing a senator’s DNA test results. Senator Warren, what were you thinking?
Well, surely this had the president and his staff preparing an apology, given how eager they usually are to try to make peace with their political enemies.
Maybe you caught Trump denying that he'd offered $1 million to a charity of Warren's choice if she proved Native American heritage. Looks as though he was lying—or, as some would say in vague defense, being somewhat economical with the truth—as was easily demonstrated on Twitter, for the little good that it did.
But, wait! That was just his first attempt at a response, and it got worse as he kept going.
Well, at least Warren didn't upset anyone else with this seemingly pointless stunt. Oh no, she definitely did.
I think we can chalk this whole thing up to a spectacular own goal on behalf of Warren, despite attempts to redeem the argument at its core. And so, as probably expected (sadly), guess who got the last—and, really, probably only—laugh in this whole sordid affair?
The Takeaway: Oh, wait. We forgot to note that things actually got worse on Thursday, thanks to a tweet from former Chairman of the Oversight Committee and current Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz.
A Tough Spot
What Happened: A new radio spot for a congressional race in Arkansas upset a lot of people.
What Really Happened: But, hey! The midterms are coming, and not everything is about the president. For example, let's look at this ad for a local race in Arkansas…
Yes, that was a real ad. And, yes, people were noticing it outside the state. On Twitter, the response was… Well, you can probably guess, really.
More than a few people wondered who was behind such an ad, and there was an answer to that which was … well, somewhat unexpected.
That's not to say that this makes the organization he represents legitimate, of course. Or, for that matter, what it even pretended to be.
At least Rep. French Hill did the right thing—even if he didn't do it until after the ad had gone viral and been shared across the internet.
The Takeaway: Regardless of one's reaction to the advertisement, it is compelling, even if it's compelling for all the wrong reasons.