Today in OpenGov: New threats to press freedom


Good morning! In today’s edition, we decry the latest threat to press freedom by the president of the United States, check in on the state of Trumplandia, take a look at the state of affordable housing in DC, start to get excited for Global Legislative Openness Week, and much more.


In a series of statements made on Twitter and in the Oval Office yesterday, President Donald J. Trump went beyond his long-running criticism of American journalism by suggesting that network news stations should have their licenses revoked over “fake news” and partisanship.

“It’s, frankly, disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it,” said the President of the United States.

The president’s remarks were prompted by NBC News reporting, citing three sources present, that Trump had told senior military leaders that he wanted to increase the United States’ nuclear arsenal ten-fold, a statement that apparently prompted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call the president a “moron.” (Bloomberg | POLITICO)

When asked by a reporter at the White House whether he thinks there should be limits on what the press should write, however, President Trump said “no, the press should speak more honestly.”

I mean, I’ve seen tremendously dishonest press. It’s not even a question of distortion, like the question that was just asked before about ten times the nuclear capability. I know the capability that we have, believe me, and it is awesome. It is massive. And so when they make up stories like that, that’s just made up. And the generals will tell you that. And then they have their sources that don’t exist. In my opinion, they don’t exist. They make up the sources. There are no sources.

The legal authority the president has to actually carry out this threat is limited, which suggests the president may misunderstand how US broadcast networks work, similar to the relationship of the stock market to the national debt.

As FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted, that’s “not how it works,” linking to a manual that notes the FCC licenses “only individual broadcast stations,” not TV or radio networks. According to FCC chairman Ajit Pai, other people often ask him to revoke the licenses of news networks, but “these demands are fundamentally at odds with America’s cultural & legal traditions.” (Ars Technica)

This latest addition to the record of Trump on transparency and democracy speaks for itself: the President of the United States is proposing shutting down an American news organization that is producing coverage that he dislikes. As Philip Bump reports, “President Trump on Wednesday made a comment that sounds like one that might have been uttered by an autocratic leader of a nation without a constitutionally protected press.”

If we heard this rhetoric from an unidentified world leader, we would attribute it to an authoritarian, not a president of the United States, who we expect to respect the free press as we do any other public servant who swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

The day when the U.S. government silences media outlets that publish or broadcast journalism critical of the president is the moment when our democracy begins to die in darkness. Attacks on individual journalists and public proposals for censorship of networks demonstrates a profound, shameful disrespect for the First Amendment by this president that should not continue to be enabled by silence in Congress.

elsewhere in trumpland

  • We joined a coalition of open government groups calling for release of Trump’s tax returns. In a letter sent to the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation as well as IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, the coalition argued that “The release of these records is necessary to determine the extent of Russian interference with the 2016 Presidential election and to ensure that the U.S. government takes necessary steps to safeguard political institutions against future attack. Under federal law, the Joint Committee on Taxation and the IRS Commissioner have the authority to release these records…” Read the full letter via EPIC.
  • Former Obama lawyers move to block “voter fraud” commission data collection. “A group of former Obama Administration lawyers on Wednesday moved for a temporary injunction against President Donald Trump’s voting fraud commission, saying the committee caused an ‘immediate blow to the proper functioning of our democracy’ when it requested voter data from all 50 states without following legally mandated procedures.” (McClatchy DC)
  • Treasury IG launches second probe into Mnuchin travel. “Treasury’s inspector general counsel, Rich Delmar, told CNNMoney the oversight agency will be requesting additional travel records from Treasury. Delmar said the agency learned Treasury had not provided an accurate portrayal of a trip Mnuchin took to Trump Tower in New York on August 15.” (CNN Money)
  • Controversial lobbying group to hold emolumental annual gala at Trump hotel in DC. Lee Fang and Nick Surgey report that “The American Legislative Exchange Council, a controversial group that brings corporate lobbyists together with state legislators to formulate business- and Republican-friendly policies, will host its 45th anniversary gala at the Trump International Hotel next year.” (The Intercept)



 A beautiful new tool made with love from open data and open source code by Code for DC gives the District’s government, residents and advocates a powerful way to understand affordable housing in our nation’s capitol. (Greater Greater Washington)

washington watch

Image via Free Pictures of Money on Flickr
  • Former Stockman staffer pleads guilty to fraud, money laundering. “A longtime aide to former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) pleaded guilty on Wednesday to fraud and money laundering charges in a scheme to funnel charitable donations into the political campaigns at the congressman’s direction.” Stockman, who was indicted on similar charges earlier this year, continues to maintain his innocence. (The Hill)
  • Senate candidate Roy Moore took lucrative, undisclosed salary from charity he founded. Shawn Boburg and Robert O’Harrow Jr. report that Moore, a former Judge and current GOP candidate for a U.S. Senate Seat in Alabama, “had arranged to receive a salary of $180,000 a year for part-time work at the Foundation for Moral Law, internal charity documents show. He collected more than $1 million as president from 2007 to 2012, compensation that far surpassed what the group disclosed in its public tax filings most of those years.” Moore has publicly stated that he did not take a regular salary from the charity. (Washington Post)
  • Bill would boost oversight of programs the funnel military equipment to local police. “A bipartisan group of Senators recently introduced legislation to bring important controls and accountability to a government program that puts surplus military gear into the hands of law enforcement agencies. The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act (S. 1856), sponsored by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), requires improved accountability and transparency in the Defense Department’s 1033 Program.” (Project on Government Oversight)

around the world

Global Legislative Openness Week is coming up next month, but it’s not too early to think about getting involved.
  • Russian graft trial may have big implications at the Kremlin. “The case against former Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev, who’s accused of taking a bribe from Igor Sechin, the powerful head of state-run oil giant Rosneft Oil Co., is keeping rival camps off balance as Putin prepares for what will likely be his final election in March.” (Bloomberg)
  • Philippines becomes first country to meet Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative benchmarks. “An international multi-stakeholder group has cited the Philippines as the first country to meet all the requirements in the governance standards for the extractive sector – the oil, gas and mining industries. Following a series of validations, the board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) reported that the Philippines made satisfactory progress in implementing the EITI standard, which requires countries and companies to disclose information on the key steps in the governance of oil, gas and mining revenues.” (PhilStar Global)
  • Celebrate Global Legislative Openness Week by building out political data with Wikidata. To celebrate GLOW, coming up at the end of November, mySociety is running a challenge “to get as many Wikidata workshops focusing on political data to happen during GLOW as possible.” It’s all part of their broader effort “to improve political data in Wikidata, so that it can be used more easily for projects, research or investigations that hold politicians to account.” (mySociety)


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