The past seven days have brought another Democrat looking to be president, another Trump associate being called to testify before Congress, another potential escalation—and then de-escalation—in the tension between India and Pakistan, another sign that California is struggling more than many states with climate change, and another album from Solange. (It also brought another Oscars, but whether it’s upset over Green Book‘s wins or gossip about Gaga, that already feels like a lifetime ago.) It’s not all been re-runs, though; there have also been big developments in ongoing stories that people have been discussing for some time. What have people been talking about online this last week? We’re glad you asked.
What Not to Say in Your Outside Voice
What Happened: You’d think that an attorney would know better than to attempt to intimidate a witness via social media, considering how much trouble it could get everyone in. You’d think.
What Really Happened: It was the (now deleted) tweet that got everyone’s attention. Ahead of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress last week, Florida Republican representative Matt Gaetz tweeted the following message: “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”
Well, that’s certainly a thing. And one that got a lot of people’s attention, not least of all the media, because of course.
Some had some theories about where this tweet actually came from.
We’ll come back to that later. For now, let’s be thankful that Gaetz seemed to appreciate see the gaffe here. Just kidding.
The tweet remained up until the Speaker of the House sent out a particularly pointed subtweet of her own.
That, in turn, prompted Gaetz to finally apologize.
Turns out, an apology wasn’t enough to handle the fallout of the tweet. Not from Michael Cohen, who had more important things on his mind—we’ll come back to that soon enough, too—but from the Florida Bar, which launched an investigation into Gaetz over whether or not he violated professional conduct rules with the tweet. It may not be the only investigation he faces; a Democratic lawmaker has asked for an House Ethics Committee investigation, too.
Oh, and remember the question about whether or not the president was involved with the tweet in the first place?
For his part, Gaetz denies this. But, really, what is true anymore?
The Takeaway: For those who thought that this entire story seemed too cliché to be true, you’re not alone, apparently.
The Michael Cohen Hearing
What Happened: For those hoping for epic political theater, last week’s public testimony from former personal attorney (and infamous “fixer,” although, says who?) Michael Cohen proved to be not only worth the price of admission, but everything anyone could have hoped for.
What Really Happened: So, how did that whole Michael Cohen testimony on Wednesday go, anyway? The answer, as might have been expected, was “particularly explosively.” So much so that things started exploding as soon as his opening statement leaked to the press hours before the hearing itself.
The statement, which really should be read in full for the appropriate effect, is available in many places but this Washington Post annotated piece is perhaps the best primer. It was, to be blunt, pretty damning stuff, although of course there were those who simply brushed it off as the ravings of an admitted liar. The hearing itself, however, proved to be just as amazing. Some brief highlights:
Heady stuff, and enough to give the media a lot to pick over and analyze for days to come. (And not just how poorly the Republicans fared.) The president, who was out of the country at the time of the hearing—stay tuned, we’re about to get to why—let his spokesperson do the talking for him, for once.
Well, OK; he waited a day before commenting directly, at least.
All other kinds of interested parties had a lot to say about Cohen’s testimony, as well.
Still, at least the Republican Party had a plan to make sure that people didn’t pay too much attention to everything that Cohen was saying.
Yes, that’s right. We should all stay focused on the president’s historic meeting with North Korea. There’s no way that could go wrong, right?
The Takeaway: For those wondering just how bad this was for the president, you might want to read this Twitter thread. But, suffice to say: This was a historic event when it came to demonstrating just how bad things have become.
The North Korea Summit Goes South
What Happened: If the Trump administration had hoped to drown out any and all bad news last week with a successful summit with North Korea, reality took a very different turn. Really, it wasn’t a good week for the president.
What Really Happened: Getting back to why President Trump was out of the country during the Cohen testimony: He was in Vietnam for the second US/North Korea summit, a prospect that worried some, not least because of concerns over how far the president would go to get a deal he could boast about. Despite attempts to silence the press, initially, hopes were high.
Late Wednesday, however, it suddenly became obvious that things weren’t going according to plan.
The hastily-rescheduled press conference confirmed what people were suspecting: The talks had fallen apart.
There’s something odd about this sticking point, however; while Trump said that he was willing to ease some sanctions but North Korea was asking for all sanctions to be lifted, that’s not what North Korea is saying they asked for.
Some after-the-fact positioning so North Korea could save face, or a case of the president lying? It’s genuinely difficult to tell. On social media, some were arguing against those calling the summit a failure for Trump, as the hashtag #TrumpFail started to trend.
Funny story about giving legitimacy to a dictator; even though the summit fell apart, that didn’t mean that the president wasn’t willing to find some way to bow to North Korean interests in a truly dangerous, damaging way.
It didn’t escape anyone’s notice, either.
All told, this trip really didn’t go so well for the president. But there’s always next time, right?
The Takeaway: You know the traditional thing where Donald Trump says something today, and there’s usually a tweet from the past where he completely contradicts himself? This time, it’s not a tweet; it’s far longer.
Takers and Fakers and Talkers Won’t Tell You
What Happened: Oh, don’t worry; as bad a week as it had been for Trump before Thursday, things actually got worse when news emerged that he’d overruled experts to help his son-in-law.
What Really Happened: As last Thursday afternoon rolled around, Trump was surely glad to get back to the United States, where everything was calm and … You know where this is going, don’t you?
As reported by The New York Times, President Trump ordered then-Chief of Staff John Kelly to grant top-secret security clearance to son-in-law Jared Kushner last year, despite concerns by intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer. Kelly was so disturbed by the order that he quit in protest—no, sorry, he “wrote a memo about how it wasn’t his fault.” Potato, tomato. You know how it is.
The report was quickly picked up by other outlets. It’s almost as if people care about who gets security clearances that they probably shouldn’t have.
The fact that the president had overruled his own intelligence people was, unsurprisingly, very much at odds with the way in which the issue had been addressed by administration officials in the past.
But that’s not to say they didn’t know what was going on wasn’t a problem, apparently.
The timing of this would appear to be an issue for the administration.
Meanwhile, it’s the substance that’s an issue for … well, everyone else in the United States, really?
For those wondering why this is such an issue, here’s one explanation:
Here’s another, arguably more speculative, definitely more serious, one:
Maybe we’re all overreacting, though! Perhaps there was a really good reason for it.
The Takeaway: If only there was some sign that the man who advised Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman shouldn’t be given top secret security clearances. If only.
Meanwhile, in Another Hipster Coffee Shop
What Happened: Let’s wrap up this week with something lighter, of sorts. If you have ever thought to yourself, “Hey! Twitter doesn’t seem to do anything about all the ideologues on the platform, what would it take to get one thrown off?” Congratulations; You got an answer this week, and it was perfect.
What Really Happened: Maybe you remember Jacob Wohl. He’s a far-right activist, who you may recall tried unsuccessfully to create a sexual assault conspiracy against Robert Mueller. He is, shall we say, someone that is going places, as long as it’s understood that those places may include being a punchline.
His journey towards that destination went farther last week when he gave an interview to USA Today in what seemed to be an attempt to tout his genius and strength in the surreal electoral playing field that is 2019.
In said story, Wohl boasted that he planned to create fake Facebook and Twitter accounts to, quote, “steer the left-wing votes in the primaries to what we feel are weaker candidates compared with Trump.” Funny thing about announcing your intent to essentially duplicate the Russian troll operation during the 2016 election in a national newspaper: People notice.
Yes, a man famous for using Twitter to report on how hipsters in hipster coffee shops were repeating right-wing talking points ended up being banned from the platform after declaring his intent to weaponize it. There’s no small irony here, and as should only be expected, a lot of people couldn’t pass up the chance to use a favorite Wohlian construct to talk about his banishment.
It wasn’t all jokes about Wohl’s former meme-worthy status, however. There were some other things to consider about his removal. Well, kind of.
Wohl responded to the news with an amazing YouTube video in which he declared that the ban was actually good news, really, because look how viral he’d become before heading to the conservative conference CPAC to push a new conspiracy theory about Democratic lawmaker Ilhan Omar. Guess how that went?
Once again: This man got a profile in USA Today where he claimed to be an important figure in national politics. Just in case you’re wondering how 2019 is going.
The Takeaway: It’s worth considering this when it comes to Wohl getting banned from Twitter.