Donald Trump’s White House is plunging the United States into a full-blown constitutional crisis a little more than a week into his administration. One of the prime culprits seems to be his controversial chief strategist: Steve Bannon, whom Nancy Pelosi called a white nationalist.
Massive protests sprouted up around the country on Saturday following Trump’s unconstitutional executive order banning all refugees and all travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries – including those with valid visas. But somewhat lost in that news was Bannon’s central role in the controversy and move to consolidate even more power within the government. On Saturday, Trump installed him on the influential National Security Council (NSC) as part of a radical re-shuffling of the influential White House board of advisers that usually is composed of intelligence and military officials who provide the White House with guidance.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence were removed from the NSC. As journalist Sarah Jeong put it on Twitter, national security “is such an emergency you have to ban Muslims. But also let’s replace chairman of joint chiefs with some guy with a garbage website.”
Meanwhile, chaos reigned on Saturday as dozens of immigrants were detained after the executive order was put into force immediately. As CNN reported Saturday night, the mayhem seems to be Bannon’s doing.
CNN reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the agency which oversees Customs and Border Protection, did not even know about the executive order until it was being released to the public. Nor did its lawyers, who did not do a legal analysis of it until after it was in effect. DHS lawyers reportedly determined that it did not apply to green card holders and permanent residents, but the White House – led by Steve Bannon – overruled that objection and kept the restrictions on green card holders in place, allowing exemptions on a case by case basis.
Thankfully, several judges put an immediate stay on deporting legitimate green card holders stuck in airports on Saturday night and ordered those still detained get access to lawyers. But the situation got even more bizarre and Orwellian on Sunday: CBP officials at some airports – in direct violation of the court orders – were reportedly still refusing lawyer access and apparently not responding to congressional representatives who were trying to figure out what was going on.
While some immigrants were released from detention, others weren’t even allowed to see volunteer lawyers who had showed up at airports around the country to provide free representation. Democratic congressman Don Beyer tweeted on Sunday afternoon: “We have a constitutional crisis today. Four Members of Congress asked CBP officials to enforce a federal court order and were turned away.”
As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes wrote: “$64,000 question is: are they being told to violate the court order by the White House?” If the White House is, in fact, directing DHS and CBP to violate a crystal clear court order, the rule of law has completely broken down and we are in a truly unprecedented situation here.
In the face of the massive protests, on Sunday night, new DHS secretary John Kelly released a statement saying all permanent residents will be let in the country, yet there was still no word from lawyers on the ground whether it is actually being obeyed.
The White House, meanwhile, is still pretending that its executive order is not technically a “Muslim ban”. Beyond the obvious fact that Trump campaigned on such a ban, his crony Rudy Giuliani laid those questions to rest on Fox News late Saturday night, claiming Trump asked him to figure out how to make his Muslim ban campaign promise “legal” – confirming it’s a Muslim ban in all but name.
No matter your political views, the fact that the White House is attempting to circumvent legal advice, install dubious appointees to incredible powerful national security positions and violate court orders is outrageous and despicable, so let’s be clear: Congress needs to quickly move towards impeachment if this is true.