Who Is Donald Trump?
Donald Trump was the 45th President of the United States; he took office on January 20, 2017. Previously, he was a real estate mogul and a former reality TV star. In 1980, he opened the Grand Hyatt New York, which made him the city's best-known developer. In 2004, Trump began starring in the hit NBC reality series The Apprentice. Trump turned his attention to politics, and in 2015 he announced his candidacy for president of the United States on the Republican ticket. Trump became the official Republican candidate for president on July 19, 2016, and upset Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on November 8, 2016, to become the 45th president of the United States. Four years later, Trump lost his bid for reelection to former vice president Joe Biden.
Early Life and Education
Donald John Trump was born on June 14, 1946, in Queens, New York. He was an energetic, assertive child. In the 1950s, the Trumps’ wealth increased with the postwar real estate boom. Trump was raised Presbyterian by his mother, and he identifies as a mainline Protestant.
At age 13, Trump’s parents sent him to the New York Military Academy, hoping the discipline of the school would channel his energy in a positive manner. He did well at the academy, both socially and academically, rising to become a star athlete and student leader by the time he graduated in 1964.
During his years at college, Trump worked at his father’s real estate business during the summer. He also secured education deferments for the draft for the Vietnam War and ultimately a 1-Y medical deferment after he graduated.
Parents and Siblings
Trump’s father, Frederick Trump, was a builder and real estate developer who specialized in constructing and operating middle-income apartments in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn.
Trump’s mother, Mary MacLeod, immigrated from Tong, Scotland, in 1929 at the age of 17. She and Fred Trump married in 1936. The couple settled in Jamaica, Queens, a neighborhood that was, at the time, filled with Western European immigrants. As the family’s wealth increased, Mary became a New York socialite and philanthropist.
Fred died in 1999, and Mary passed away the following year.
Trump is the fourth of five children.
- Maryanne Trump Barry was a senior judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, but took an inactive stats soon after her brother became president.
- Fred Trump Jr. worked briefly with his father and then became a pilot. He struggled with alcohol and died in 1981 at the age of 43, prompting Donald to announce that he never drinks alcohol or take drugs. "He had a profound impact on my life, because you never know where you're going to end up," Trump said.
- Elizabeth Trump Grau is a retired banker who is married to film producer James Grau.
- Robert Trump was Donald’s younger brother who spent much of his career working for the family company. He died in 2020, aged 71.
Trump is currently married to former Slovenian model Melania Trump (née Knauss), who is more than 23 years his junior. In January 2005, the couple married in a highly-publicized and lavish wedding. Among the many celebrity guests at the wedding were Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton.
In 1977, Trump married his first wife Ivana Trump, (née Zelnickova Winklmayr), a New York fashion model who had been an alternate on the 1972 Czech Olympic Ski Team. She was named vice president in charge of design in the Trump Organization and played a major role in supervising the renovation of the Commodore and the Plaza Hotel.
The couple had three children together: Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka and Eric. They went through a highly publicized divorce that was finalized in 1992.
In 1993 Trump married his second wife, Marla Maples, an actress with whom he had been involved for some time and already had a daughter, Tiffany.
Trump would ultimately file for a highly publicized divorce from Maples in 1997, which became final in June 1999. A prenuptial agreement allotted $2 million to Maples.
Trump has five children. He and his first wife, Ivana Trump, had three children together: Donald Trump Jr., born in 1977; Ivanka Trump, born in 1981, and Eric Trump, born in 1984. Trump and his second wife, Marla Maples, had daughter Tiffany Trump in 1993. And current wife Melania Trump gave birth to Trump’s youngest child, Barron William Trump, in March 2006.
Trump's sons — Donald Jr. and Eric— work as executive vice presidents for The Trump Organization. They took over the family business while their father serves as president.
Trump's daughter Ivanka was also an executive vice president of The Trump Organization. She left the business and her own fashion label to join her father's administration and become an unpaid assistant to the president. Her husband, Jared Kushner, is also a senior adviser to President Trump.
Trump’s Real Estate and Businesses
Trump followed his father into a career in real estate development, bringing his grander ambitions to the family business. Trump’s business ventures include The Trump Organization, Trump Tower, casinos in Atlantic City and television franchises like The Apprentice and Miss Universe. Trump has business deals with the Javits Center and the Grand Hyatt New York, as well as other real estate ventures in New York City, Florida and Los Angeles.
Federal income disclosure forms Trump filed in 2017 list Trump's golf courses, including Trump National Doral and Mar-a-Lago in Florida, as earning about half of his income. Other financial ventures include aircraft, merchandise and royalties from his two books, The Art of the Deal and Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again.
The Art of the Deal
In 1987, Trump published the book The Art of the Deal, co-authored with Tony Schwartz. In the book, Trump describes how he successfully makes business deals.
“I DON’T do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it. Deals are my art form,” Trump wrote.
The book made the New York Times best-seller list, although the number of copies sold has been debated; sales have been estimated at between 1 to 4 million copies to-date. Schwartz later became an outspoken critic of the book and of Trump, saying he felt remorseful for helping make the president “more appealing than he is.”
Over the years, Trump’s net worth have been a subject of public debate. Because Trump has not publicly released his tax returns, it’s not possible to definitively determine his wealth in the past or today. However, Trump valued his businesses at least $1.37 billion on his 2017 federal financial disclosure form, published by the Office of Government Ethics. Trump’s 2018 disclosure form put his revenue for the year at a minimum of $434 million from all sources.
In 1990, Trump asserted his own net worth in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion. At the time, the real estate market was in decline, reducing the value of and income from Trump's empire. The Trump Organization required a massive infusion of loans to keep it from collapsing, a situation that raised questions as to whether the corporation could survive bankruptcy. Some observers saw Trump's decline as symbolic of many of the business, economic and social excesses that had arisen in the 1980s.
A May 2019 investigation by The New York Times of 10 years of Trump’s tax information found that between 1985 and 1994, his businesses lost money every year. The newspaper calculated that Trump’s businesses suffered $1.17 billion in losses over the decade.
Trump later defended himself on Twitter, calling the Times’ report “a highly inaccurate Fake News hit job!” He tweeted that he reported “losses for tax purposes,” and that doing so was a “sport” among real estate developers.
Trump’s net worth was questioned over the course of his 2016 presidential run, and he courted controversy after repeatedly refusing to release his tax returns while they were being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. He did not release his tax returns during the election, and he has not to date. It was the first time a major party candidate had not released such information to the public before a presidential election since Richard Nixon in 1972.
After Democrats regained control of the House with the 2018 elections, Trump again faced calls to release his tax returns. In April 2019, Congressman Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, requested six years' worth of the president's personal and business tax returns from the IRS. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin rejected the request, as well as Neal's follow-up subpoena for the documents.
In May the New York State Assembly passed legislation that authorized tax officials to release the president's state returns to the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation for any "specified and legitimate legislative purpose." With New York City serving as the home base for the Trump Organization, it was believed that the state returns would contain much of the same information as the president's federal returns.
In September 2019, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. subpoenaed the accounting firm Mazars USA for Trump's personal and corporate tax returns dating back to 2011, prompting a challenge from the president's lawyers. A Manhattan federal district judge dismissed Trump's lawsuit in October, though the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit agreed to temporarily delay enforcement of the subpoena while considering arguments in the case. A few days later, that same appeals court rejected Trump's bid to block another subpoena issued to Mazars USA, this one from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
After the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments over whether the president could block the disclosure of his financial information to congressional committees and the Manhattan district attorney in December 2019, the cases were presented to the Court the following May.
In September 2020, The New York Times reported that Trump paid just $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, and paid nothing in income taxes in 10 of the previous 15 years. A lawyer for the Trump Organization replied that "most, if not all, of the facts appear to be inaccurate" in the Times report.
Lawsuits and Investigations
Fair Housing Act Discrimination Trial
In 1973, the federal government filed a complaint against Trump, his father and their company alleging that they had discriminated against tenants and potential tenants based on their race, a violation of the Fair Housing Act, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
After a lengthy legal battle, the case was settled in 1975. As part of the agreement, the Trump company had to train employees about the Fair Housing Act and inform the community about its fair housing practices.
Trump wrote about the resolution of the case in his 1987 memoir Art of the Deal: "In the end, the government couldn’t prove its case, and we ended up taking a minor settlement without admitting any guilt."
In 2005, Trump launched his for-profit Trump University, offering classes in real estate and acquiring and managing wealth. The venture had been under scrutiny almost since its inception and at the time of his 2015 presidential bid, it remained the subject of multiple lawsuits.
In the cases, claimants accused Trump of fraud, false advertising and breach of contract. Controversy about the suits made headlines when Trump suggested that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not be impartial in overseeing two class action cases because of his Mexican heritage.
On November 18, 2016, Trump, who had previously vowed to take the matter to trial, settled three of the lawsuits for $25 million without admission of liability. In a statement from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, he called the settlement, “a stunning reversal by Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university.”
Donald J. Trump Foundation
Later, in a separate incident related to Trump University, it was reported that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi decided not to join the existing New York fraud lawsuit. This came just days after she had received a sizable campaign donation from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was founded in 1988 as a private charity organization designed to make donations to nonprofit groups. In November 2016, it was reported that Bondi's name was on Trump's list as a possible U.S. Attorney General contender.
As a result of the improper donation to Bondi's campaign, Trump was required to pay the IRS a penalty and his foundation came under scrutiny about the use of its funds for non-charitable activities. According to tax records, The Trump Foundation itself was found to have received no charitable gifts from Trump since 2008, and that all donations since that time had come from outside contributors.
In fall 2019, after Trump admitted to misusing money raised by his foundation to promote his presidential campaign and settle debts, he was ordered to pay $2 million in damages, and the foundation was forced to shutter its doors.
Trump is currently registered as a Republican. He has switched parties several times in the past three decades.
In 1987, Trump registered as a Republican; two years later, in 1989, he registered as an Independent. In 2000, Trump ran for president for the first time on the Reform platform. In 2001, he registered as a Democrat.
By 2009, Trump had switched back to the Republican party, although he registered as an Independent in 2011 to allow for a potential run in the following year’s presidential election. He finally returned to the Republican party to endorse Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run and has remained a Republican since.
2016 Presidential Campaign vs. Clinton
Trump became the official Republican nominee for president in the 2016 presidential election against Democrat Clinton. Defying polls and media projections, he won the majority of electoral college votes in a stunning victory on November 8, 2016. Despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by almost 2.9 million votes, Trump's electoral win — 306 electoral college votes to Clinton's 232 — clinched his victory as the 45th president of the United States.
After one of the most contentious presidential races in U.S. history, Trump's rise to the office of president was considered a resounding rejection of establishment politics by blue-collar and working-class Americans.
In his victory speech, Trump said: “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans." About his supporters, he said: "As I’ve said from the beginning, ours was not a campaign, but rather an incredible and great movement made up of millions of hard-working men and women who love their country and want a better, brighter future for themselves and for their families.”
On July 21, 2016, Trump accepted the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. In his speech, he outlined the issues he would tackle as president, including violence in America, the economy, immigration, trade, terrorism, and the appointment of Supreme Court justices.
On immigration, he said: “We are going to build a great border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities.”
He also promised supporters that he would renegotiate trade deals, reduce taxes and government regulations, repeal the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare), defend Second Amendment gun rights, and “rebuild our depleted military,” asking the countries the U.S. is protecting "to pay their fair share."
On January 20, 2017, Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts. Trump took the oath of office placing his hand on the Bible that was used at Abraham Lincoln's inauguration and his own family Bible, which was presented to him by his mother in 1955 when he graduated from Sunday school at his family's Presbyterian church.
In his inaugural speech on January 20th, Trump sent a populist message that he would put the American people above politics. “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people,” he said. “January 20, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”
He went on to paint a bleak picture of an America that had failed many of its citizens, describing families trapped in poverty, an ineffective education system, and crime, drugs and gangs. “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now," he said.
The day after Trump's inauguration, millions of protesters demonstrated across the United States and around the world. The Women's March on Washington drew over half a million people to protest Trump's stance on a variety of issues ranging from immigration to environmental protection.
First 100 Days
The first 100 days of Trump’s presidency lasted from January 20, 2017, until April 29, 2017. In the first days of his presidency, Trump issued a number of back-to-back executive orders to make good on some of his campaign promises, as well as several orders aimed at rolling back policies and regulations that were put into place during the Obama administration.
Several of Trump’s key policies that got rolling during Trump’s first 100 days in office included his first Supreme Court nomination; steps toward building a wall on the Mexico border; a travel ban for several predominantly Muslim countries; the first moves to dismantle the Affordable Care Act; and the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.
In addition, Trump signed orders to implement a federal hiring freeze, withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and reinstate the Mexico City policy that bans federal funding of nongovernmental organizations abroad that promote or perform abortions.
He signed an order to scale back financial regulation under the Dodd-Frank Act, created by the Obama administration and passed by Congress after the financial crisis of 2008. And he called for a lifetime foreign-lobbying ban for members of his administration and a five-year ban for all other lobbyings.
On March 16, 2017, the president released his proposed budget. The budget outlined his plans for increased spending for the military, veterans affairs and national security, including building a wall on the border with Mexico.
It also made drastic cuts to many government agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, as well as the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Community Development Block Grant program which supports Meals on Wheels. These cuts proved controversial, however, and much of this funding was restored.
Trump's Supreme Court Nominations
On January 31, 2017, Trump nominated Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. The 49-year-old conservative judge was appointed by President George W. Bush to the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver.
Judge Gorsuch was educated at Columbia, Harvard and Oxford and clerked for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. The nomination came after Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia, was denied a confirmation hearing by Senate Republicans.
As Gorsuch's legal philosophy was considered to be similar to Scalia's, the choice drew strong praise from the conservative side of the aisle. "Millions of voters said this was the single most important issue for them when they voted for me for president," Trump said. "I am a man of my word. Today I am keeping another promise to the American people by nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court."
After Gorsuch gave three days of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in March, the Senate convened on April 6 to advance his nomination. Democrats mostly held firm to deny the 60 votes necessary to proceed, resulting in the first successful partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee.
But Republicans quickly countered with another historic move, invoking the "nuclear option" to lower the threshold for advancing Supreme Court nominations from 60 votes to a simple majority of 50. On April 7, Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate to become the 113th justice of the Supreme Court.
On July 9, 2018, Trump nominated Kavanaugh following the retirement of Justice Kennedy. A textualist and originalist in the mold of Scalia, the nomination continued the rightward push of the Supreme Court.
Democrats vowed to fight the nomination, and Kavanaugh was nearly derailed by accusations of sexual assault. He earned confirmation in a close vote that October.
Amy Coney Barrett
Following the death of liberal favorite Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump nominated conservative Judge Barrett, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, on September 26, 2020.
During the 2016 presidential election, Trump called climate change a “hoax.” He later recanted, saying, "I don't think it's a hoax, I think there's probably a difference."
However, in an October 2018 interview on Fox News, Trump accused climate scientists of having a “political agenda” and said that he was unconvinced that humans were responsible for rising temperatures.
In November 2018, The Fourth National Climate Assessment, compiled by 13 federal agencies including the EPA and Department of Energy, found that, left unchecked, climate change would be catastrophic for the U.S. economy. Trump told reporters, "I don't believe it."
In June 2019, Trump met with Prince Charles and reportedly discussed climate change at length. In an interview with British TV host Piers Morgan, Trump said "I believe that there is a change in weather and I think it changes both ways...It used to be called global warming, that wasn't working, then it was called climate change and now actually it is called extreme weather."
Trump later told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that he pushed back Prince Charles’ suggestions that the United States do more to combat climate change, saying that the U.S. “now has among the cleanest climates there are based on all statistics.”
Paris Climate Agreement
On June 1, 2017, Trump withdrew from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which President Obama had joined along with the leaders of 195 other countries. The accord requires all participating nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to curb climate change over the ensuing century and also to allocate resources for the research and development of alternative energy sources.
With Trump’s decision, the United States joined Syria and Nicaragua as the only three countries to reject the accord. However, Nicaragua eventually joined the Paris Climate Agreement months later.
Soon after taking office, Trump revived the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines to transfer oil extracted in Canada and North Dakota. The pipelines had been halted by President Obama following protests from environmental and Native American groups.
Trump owned shares of Energy Transfer Partners, the company in charge of construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, but sold his stake in the company in December 2016. Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren also contributed to Trump’s presidential campaign, raising concerns over conflict of interest.
On March 28, 2017, the president, surrounded by American coal miners, signed the "Energy Independence" executive order, calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back Obama's Clean Power Plan, curb climate and carbon emissions regulations and to rescind a moratorium on coal mining on U.S. federal lands.
Endangered Species Act
In August 2019, the Trump administration announced it was overhauling the Endangered Species Act. This included changes to legislation that gave the government increased discretion over matters of climate change and economic cost when determining whether a species should be protected.
One of Trump’s first executive orders in office was calling on federal agencies to "waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay" aspects of the Affordable Care Act to minimize financial burden on states, insurers and individuals.
On March 7, 2017, House Republicans, led by Speaker Paul Ryan, introduced the American Health Care Act, a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, the controversial bill ultimately didn't have enough Republican votes and was withdrawn a few weeks later, representing a major legislative setback for Speaker Ryan and Trump.
After intense negotiations among party factions, a new Republican health care plan was brought to a vote in the House of Representatives on May 4, 2017, and passed by a slim margin of 217 to 213. That passed the buck to the Senate.
Almost immediately after a draft was unveiled on June 22, conservative senators such as Ted Cruz declared they could not support the bill's failure to significantly lower premiums, while moderates like Susan Collins voiced concerns over its steep cuts to Medicaid. On June 27, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell elected to delay his planned vote for the bill. When the third, so-called “skinny repeal,” bill finally went to a vote on in the Senate July 28, it failed by three votes.
In September, a new bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act was put forth by Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. However, on September 26, Senate Republicans announced they would not move forward with the current plan, as they were short of the required votes. “We are disappointed in certain so-called Republicans,” Trump responded.
On October 12, 2017 Trump signed an executive order in a move that could dismantle the ACA without Congress’s approval, expanding health insurance products — mostly less comprehensive plans through associations of small employers and more short-term medical coverage.
He also announced that he would get rid of health insurance subsidies. Known as cost-sharing reduction payments, which lower the cost of deductibles for low-income Americans, they were expected to cost $9 billion in 2018 and $100 billion over the next decade.
Birth Control Mandate
On October 6, 2017, the Trump administration announced a rollback of the birth control mandate put in place by the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, which required insurers to cover birth control at no cost without copayments as a preventive service. For years, the mandate was threatened by lawsuits from conservative and religious groups.
The Trump administration said the new exemption applied to any employer that objects to covering contraception services on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The change is in line with Trump’s promises as a candidate to ensure that religious groups “are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs.”
Opponents of the measure said that it could potentially affect hundreds of thousands of women and that access to affordable contraception in the mandate provided prevents unintended pregnancies and saves women’s lives.
As president, Trump has said that he is “strongly pro-life” and wants to ban all abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is in danger. He has supported bans on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and has cited his appointments of conservative Supreme Court judges Gorsuch and Kavanaugh as helping to make abortion laws in some states more restrictive.
Trump changed his beliefs on abortion from pro-choice to anti-abortion in 1999. In 2016, he said that he supported “some form of punishment” for women who undergo abortions; he later released a statement saying he only thought practitioners should be punished for performing abortions, not women for having them.
In January 2020, after his administration threatened to cut federal funds to California over a mandate that the state's health insurance plans cover abortion, Trump became the first sitting president to address the annual March for Life rally in Washington, D.C.
On April 26, 2017, Trump announced his tax plan in a one-page outline that would dramatically change tax codes. The plan called for streamlining seven income tax brackets to three — 10, 25 and 35 percent.
The initial outline did not specify which income ranges would fall under those brackets. The plan also proposed to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 15 percent, eliminate the alternative minimum tax and estate tax, and simplify the process for filing tax returns. The proposal did not address how the tax cuts might reduce federal revenue and increase debt.
On December 2, 2017, Trump achieved the first major legislative victory of his administration when the Senate passed a sweeping tax reform bill. Approved along party lines by a 51-49 vote, the bill drew criticism for extensive last-minute rewrites, with frustrated Democrats posting photos of pages filled with crossed-out text and handwriting crammed into the margins.
Among other measures, the Senate bill called for the slashing of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, doubling personal deductions and ending the Obamacare mandate. It also included a controversial provision that allowed for "unborn children" to be named as beneficiaries of college savings accounts, which critics called an attempt to support the pro-life movement. Despite estimates by the Congressional Budget Office that the bill would cost $1.5 trillion over a decade, GOP senators insisted that charges would be offset by a growing economy.
After the bill's passage, Trump tweeted: “Biggest Tax Bill and Tax Cuts in history just passed in the Senate. Now, these great Republicans will be going for final passage. Thank you to House and Senate Republicans for your hard work and commitment!” On December 20, the final tax bill formally passed both chambers of Congress.
Following partisan battles over a spending bill in early 2018, which resulted in a brief government shutdown and stopgap measures, Trump threatened to torpedo a $1.3 trillion spending bill with a last-minute veto. Reportedly angry that the bill did not fully fund his long-promised Mexican border wall, he nevertheless signed the bill into law on March 23, hours before another government shutdown would have gone into effect.
On February 22, 2017, the Trump administration rolled back federal protection for transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity, allowing states and school districts to interpret federal anti-discrimination law.
On March 27, 2017, Trump signed several measures under the Congressional Review Act to reverse regulations related to education, land use and a "blacklisting rule" requiring federal contractors to disclose violations of federal labor, wage and workplace safety laws.
Later that year, the president tweeted that he would enact a ban on transgender people from serving in the military. The official policy went into effect the following March with the statement that "transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances."
Following a legal challenge, the Supreme Court allowed the ban to go into effect in January 2019, while allowing lower courts to hear additional arguments.
Trump has vowed to defend the Second Amendment and gun ownership since taking office. He spoke at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in 2019, and he promised to veto a measure passed in February 2019 by House Democrats to strengthen background checks. However, Trump has also at times said he would be willing to consider a range of measures to restrict gun access. His administration also banned bump stocks in October 2017 after a mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival left 58 people dead.
The Valentine's Day 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left a total of 17 students and faculty dead, sparked a strong response from Trump.
He ordered the Justice Department to issue regulations banning bump stocks and suggested he was willing to consider a range of measures, from strengthening background checks to raising the minimum age for buying rifles. He also backed an NRA-fueled proposal for arming teachers, which drew backlash from many in the profession.
The president remained invested in the issue even as the usual cycle of outrage began diminishing: In a televised February 28 meeting with lawmakers, he called for gun control legislation that would expand background checks to gun shows and internet transactions, secure schools and restrict sales for some young adults.
At one point he called out Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey for being "afraid of the NRA," and at another, he suggested that authorities should seize guns from mentally ill or other potentially dangerous people without first going to court. "I like taking the guns early," he said. "Take the guns first, go through due process second."
His stances seemingly stunned the Republican lawmakers at the meeting, as well as the NRA, which previously considered the president as a strong supporter. Within a few days, Trump was walking back his proposal to raise the age limit and mainly pushing for arming select teachers.
In June 2019, Trump said he would “think about” a ban on gun silencers following the deaths of a dozen people, who were killed by a gunman at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. Two months later, after back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, the president suggested tying expanded background checks to immigration reform legislation.
Trump and Mexico
Trump issued an executive order to build a wall at the United States’ border with Mexico. In his first televised interview as president, Trump said the initial construction of the wall would be funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars, but that Mexico would reimburse the U.S. “100 percent” in a plan to be negotiated and might include a suggested import tax on Mexican goods.
In response to the new administration's stance on a border wall, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto canceled a planned visit to meet with Trump. "Mexico does not believe in walls," the Mexican president said in a video statement. "I've said time again; Mexico will not pay for any wall."
After funding for the wall failed to materialize, from either Mexico or Congress, Trump in April 2018 announced that he would reinforce security along the U.S. border with Mexico by using American troops because of the "horrible, unsafe laws" that left the country vulnerable. The following day, the president signed a proclamation that directed National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Department of Homeland Security said that the deployment would be in coordination with governors, that the troops would "support federal law enforcement personnel, including [Customs and Border Protection]," and that federal immigration authorities would "direct enforcement efforts."
In December 2018, shortly before a newly elected Democratic majority was set to take control of the House, Trump announced he would not sign a bill to fund the government unless Congress allocated $5.7 billion toward building his long-promised border wall. With Democrats refusing to give in to his demand, a partial government shutdown ensued for a record 35 days, until all sides agreed to another attempt at striking a compromise.
On February 14, 2019, one day before the deadline, Congress passed a $333 billion spending package that allocated $1.375 billion for 55 miles of steel-post fencing. After indicating that he would sign the bill, the President made good on his threat to declare a national emergency the following day, enabling him to funnel $3.6 billion slated for military construction projects toward building the wall.
In response, a coalition of 16 states filed a lawsuit that challenged Trump's power to circumvent Congress on this issue.
"Contrary to the will of Congress, the president has used the pretext of a manufactured 'crisis' of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border," the lawsuit said.
After the House voted for a resolution to overturn the national emergency declaration in late February, the Senate followed suit on March 14 when 12 Republican senators joined a united Democratic side to vote for the resolution. Trump promptly issued the first veto of his presidency the following day, calling the resolution a "vote against reality."
In late July 2019, the Supreme Court overturned an appellate decision and ruled that the Trump administration could begin using Pentagon money for construction during the ongoing litigation over the issue.
Border Separation Policy
As part of attempts to seal the U.S. border with Mexico, the Trump administration in 2018 began following through on a "zero-tolerance" policy to prosecute anybody found to have crossed the border illegally. As children were legally not allowed to be detained with their parents, this meant that they were to be held separately as family cases wound through immigration courts.
A furor ensued after reports surfaced that nearly 2,000 children had been separated from their parents over a six-week period that ended in May 2018, compounded by photos of toddlers crying in cages. Trump initially deflected blame for the situation, insisting it resulted from the efforts of predecessors and political opponents. "The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda," he tweeted.
The president ultimately caved to pressure from the bad PR, and on June 20 he signed an executive order that directed the Department of Homeland Security to keep families together.
"I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated," he said, adding that it remained important to have "zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally" and for Congress to find a permanent solution to the problem. In the meantime, the DHS essentially revived the "catch-and-release" system that the zero-tolerance policy was meant to eradicate while dealing with the logistics of reuniting families.
President Trump signed one of his most controversial executive orders on January 27, 2017, calling for "extreme vetting" to "keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America." The president's executive order was put into effect immediately, and refugees and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries traveling to the U.S. were detained at U.S. airports.
The order called for a ban on immigrants from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen for at least 90 days, temporarily suspended the entry of refugees for 120 days and barred Syrian refugees indefinitely. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump also said he would give priority to Christian refugees trying to gain entry into the United States.
After facing multiple legal hurdles, Trump signed a revised executive order on March 6, 2017, calling for a 90-day ban on travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries including Sudan, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Iraq, which was included in the original executive order, was removed from the list.
Travelers from the six listed countries, who hold green cards or have valid visas as of the signing of the order, will not be affected. Religious minorities would not get special preference, as was outlined in the original order, and an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees was reduced to 120 days.
On March 15, just hours before the revised ban was going to be put into effect, Derrick Watson, a federal judge in Hawaii, issued a temporary nationwide restraining order in a ruling that stated the executive order did not prove that a ban would protect the country from terrorism and that it was “issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously neutral purpose.” At a rally in Nashville, Trump responded to the ruling, saying: "This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach.”
Judge Theodore D. Chuang of Maryland also blocked the ban the following day, and in subsequent months, the ban was impeded in decisions handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals once again.
However, on June 26, 2017, Trump won a partial victory when the Supreme Court announced it was allowing the controversial ban to go into effect for foreign nationals who lacked a "bona fide relationship with any person or entity in the United States." The court agreed to hear oral arguments for the case in October, but with the 90-to-120-day timeline in place for the administration to conduct its reviews, it was believed the case would be rendered moot by that point.
On September 24, 2017, Trump issued a new presidential proclamation, which permanently bans travel to the United States for most citizens from seven countries. Most were on the original list, including Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, while the new order included Chad, North Korea and some citizens of Venezuela (certain government officials and their families). The tweak did little to pacify critics, who argued that the order was still heavily biased toward Islam.
“The fact that Trump has added North Korea — with few visitors to the U.S. — and a few government officials from Venezuela doesn’t obfuscate the real fact that the administration’s order is still a Muslim ban,” said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
On October 10, the Supreme Court canceled a planned hearing on an appeal of the original travel ban. On October 17, the day before the order was to take effect, Judge Watson of Hawaii issued a nationwide order freezing the Trump administration’s new travel ban, writing that the order was a “poor fit for the issues regarding the sharing of ‘public-safety and terrorism-related information that the president identifies.”
On December 4, 2017, the Supreme Court allowed the third version of the Trump administration’s travel ban to go into effect despite the ongoing legal challenges. The court’s orders urged appeals courts to determine as quickly as possible whether the ban was lawful.
Under the ruling, the administration could fully enforce its new restrictions on travel from eight nations, six of them predominantly Muslim. Citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea, along with some groups of people from Venezuela, would be unable to emigrate to the United States permanently, with many barred from also working, studying or vacationing in the country.
On June 26, 2018, the Supreme Court upheld the president's travel ban by a 5-4 vote. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that Trump had the executive authority to make national security judgments in the realm of immigration, regardless of his previous statements about Islam. In a sharply worded dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that the outcome was equivalent to that of Korematsu v. United States, which permitted the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
'Public Charge' Rule
In August 2019, the Trump administration unveiled a new regulation designed to weed out immigrants who would potentially require government assistance. Known as the "public charge" rule, for people who are dependent on Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits, the policy tightened requirements for legal immigrants seeking to become permanent residents by focusing on factors like education, assets, resources and financial status.
Trump and North Korea
Nuclear Weapons and Economic Sanctions
In early August 2017, intelligence experts confirmed that North Korea successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that fits inside its missiles, putting it one step closer to becoming a nuclear power. Around the same time, the North Korean state news agency said they were "examining the operational plan" to strike areas around the U.S. territory of Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic missiles.
U.S. experts estimated North Korea’s nuclear warheads at 60 and that the country could soon have an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States. Trump responded that North Korea would be met with “fire and fury” if the threats continued and that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded.”
On August 15, Korean leader Kim Jong-un said he’d "watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees," which Trump tweeted was “a very wise and well reasoned decision.” However on August 20, North Korea warned that the U.S. was risking an "uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war" by following through with military drills with South Korea.
On August 28, North Korea launched a missile over Japan. The following day, Trump said “all options were on the table.” At the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, Trump pejoratively called Kim Jong-un “Rocketman” and said he would “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the United States or its allies, hours after the group voted to enact additional sanctions against the country.
Two days later, Trump widened American economic sanctions; three days later North Korea threatened to shoot down American airplanes even if they were not in its airspace, calling Trump’s comments “a declaration of war.” A week later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. and North Korea were in “direct communication” and looking for a non-militarized path forward.
On October 20, CIA Director Mike Pompeo warned that North Korea was in the "final step" of being able to strike mainland America with nuclear warheads and the U.S. should react accordingly. Some foreign policy experts were concerned that war between the U.S. and North Korea was increasingly possible.
Summits With Kim Jong-un
Following the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, during which North Korea made a show of unity with the host country, its officials also relayed interest in opening up communications with Washington. Trump leaped at the opportunity, announcing that he was willing to sit down with Kim.
On June 12, 2018, Trump and Kim met at the secluded Capella resort in Singapore, marking the first such encounter between a sitting U.S. president and North Korean leader. The two held private talks with their interpreters, before expanding the meeting to include such top staffers as Pompeo (now U.S. secretary of state), National Security Adviser John Bolton and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Afterward, in a televised ceremony, the leaders signed a joint statement in which Trump "committed to provide security guarantees" to North Korea and Kim "reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." Although their talks marked an early step in a diplomatic process that some predicted could take years to complete, the president said he believed denuclearization on the peninsula would begin "very quickly."
"We're very proud of what took place today," Trump said. "I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has in the past."
On February 27, 2019, the two men met for a second summit, at the Metropole hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam, to discuss the next steps in denuclearization. Said Trump to his counterpart: "I think you will have a tremendous future with your country — a great leader. And I look forward to watching it happen and helping it to happen."
However, negotiations abruptly ended the second day, after North Korea reportedly asked for sanctions to be lifted in exchange for dismantling its main nuclear facility but not all elements of its weapons program. "Sometimes you have to walk," the president said, before adding that things concluded on good terms.
On June 30, 2019, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea when he met with Kim for informal discussions at the Demilitarized Zone between the two countries on the Korean peninsula. Trump later said that he and Kim had agreed to designate negotiators to resume denuclearization talks in the coming weeks.
Trump and Russia
Russian Hacking in the 2016 Election
Throughout the 2016 presidential election, Trump vehemently denied allegations he had a relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and was tied to the hacking of the DNC emails.
In January 2017, a U.S. intelligence report prepared by the CIA, FBI and NSA concluded that Putin had ordered a campaign to influence the U.S. election. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report said.
Prior to the release of the report, President-elect Trump had cast doubt on Russian interference and the intelligence community’s assessment. Trump received an intelligence briefing on the matter, and in his first press conference as president-elect on January 11, he acknowledged Russia’s interference.
However, in subsequent comments he again refused to condemn Russia for such activity, notably saying on multiple occasions that he believed Putin's denials.
In March 2018, the Trump administration formally acknowledged the charges by issuing sanctions on 19 Russians for interference in the 2016 presidential election and alleged cyberattacks. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin delivered the announcement, with the president remaining silent on the matter.
In July, days before Trump was to meet with Putin in Finland, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced additional charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
Meeting With Putin
The White House announced that Trump would hold his first formal discussions with Russian President Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018.
The two men met on the heels of Trump's heavily scrutinized summit with NATO leaders, and shortly after the Justice Department announced the indictment of 12 Russian operatives for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Prompted to address the issue of election hacking in a joint news conference for the two leaders, Trump refused to point a finger at his counterpart. "I think we've all been foolish. I think we're all to blame," he said, adding that "President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."
The comments drew a harsh response stateside, with several notable Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues to question why the president was siding with Putin over his intelligence agencies. Senator McCain called it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory," and even Trump ally Newt Gingrich weighed in with strong words, tweeting, "It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected — immediately."
Trump sought to quiet the furor after returning to the White House, insisting that he had misspoken when saying he didn't see why Russia should be blamed and reminding that he has "on numerous occasions noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our elections," though he again suggested that other parties could be responsible.
Around that time, it was revealed that Trump had instructed Bolton, his national security adviser, to invite Putin to the White House that autumn, news that caught Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats off guard. Bolton soon disclosed that he would postpone the invitation until the conclusion of the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Despite Trump's overtures to Putin, his administration in February 2019 announced the suspension of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, due to the Eastern power's repeated violations of the agreement. The announcement gave Russia 180 days to comply with terms before U.S. withdrawal from the treaty would be completed.
On April 6, 2017, Trump ordered a military strike, to which he had tweeted opposition to when Obama was in office, on a Syrian government airfield. The strike was in response to a chemical attack by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on Syrian civilians that had led to the horrific deaths of dozens of men, women and children.
Navy destroyers fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat airfield, from where the attack was launched. It was the first direct military action by the United States against Syrian military forces during the country's ongoing civil war.
One year later, evidence surfaced of another chemical attack on Syrians, with dozens reported dead in the rebel-held city of Douma. Although Syria and its ally, Russia, referred to the situation as a "hoax" perpetrated by terrorists, Trump wasn't having it: "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming," he tweeted, adding, "You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"
The U.S. subsequently joined forces with Britain and France for coordinated strikes on Syria early in the morning of April 14, 2018. Larger than the previous year's operation, this one hit two chemical weapons facilities and a scientific research center. Afterward, the president took to Twitter to thank his military allies for their efforts, declaring, "Mission Accomplished!"
In December 2018, Trump announced that U.S. military troops would be pulled from Syria, before changing his mind when that decision was denounced as one that would primarily benefit Assad and his government's main ally, Russia. However, the president reversed course again the following October by ordering U.S. troops withdrawn from northeast Syria to clear the way for a Turkish military operation, one that could threaten American-backed Kurdish insurgents in the area.
Again drawing a sharp response from critics, the president made his case on Twitter by arguing it was time to get out of Syria and let other nations in the region "figure the situation out," adding that he would respond forcefully if Turkey did anything "off limits." Shortly afterward, he announced he was imposing sanctions on Turkey for a military offensive that was "endangering civilians and threatening peace, security, and stability in the region."
Death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
In late October 2019, Trump announced that the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was dead following a daring American commando raid in Syria. According to the president, the militant leader was chased to the end of an underground tunnel, "whimpering and crying and screaming all the way," before detonating a suicide vest. The announcement came amid the controversy over the withdrawal of troops from the region, with critics pointing to the American military presence and intelligence contributions from Kurdish allies as factors that led to the success of the mission.
On March 1, 2018, after the conclusion of a Commerce Department investigation, Trump announced that he was imposing tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum. He ultimately granted temporary exemptions as he sought to renegotiate deals.
His actions resulted in new agreements with South Korea and multiple South American countries to restrain their metal exports. Talks with China, the E.U. and the border countries stalled. In late May, the administration announced that it was moving forward with all tariffs.
The move drew a harsh response from the E.U., Canada and Mexico, which announced retaliatory measures. With Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemning Trump's "unacceptable actions" and French President Emmanuel Macron threatening to isolate the U.S. from the Group of 7, the president faced a frosty reception at the G-7 summit in Quebec in June.
He ultimately left the summit early, making headlines on the way out by announcing he would not sign a communique between the seven nations and taking shots at Trudeau on Twitter. In July, Trump again had harsh words for allies at the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, including accusations that Germany was "captive" to Russia for its dependence on Russian natural gas, and followed with criticism of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May for her handling of Brexit.
Back home, the president attempted to head off the political fallout of a potentially costly trade war with the announcement that the administration would provide up to $12 billion in emergency relief funds for U.S. farmers. The following summer, the administration revealed details for a new, $16 billion aid package for struggling farmers.
In April 2018, the Trump administration announced it was adding a 25 percent tariff on more than 1,000 Chinese products to penalize the country for its trade practices. He granted temporary exemptions to negotiate a deal. In late May, he moved forward with a tax on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods that went into effect in July.
The trade war with China escalated in May 2019, when the president gave the go-ahead to raise tariffs to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. The increase came as the two countries were attempting to hammer out terms for a new trade deal.
The following month, after Trump used the threat of tariffs to obtain expanded border-security measures from Mexico, the president turned his attention back to China with the suggestion that another $300 billion in Chinese goods would be taxed should trade talks continue to stall. He announced a 5 percent hike in late August and threatened another 5 percent increase by October, before agreeing to delay the latter as he continued to push for an all-encompassing trade deal.
In October, the president gushed about the "very substantial phase one deal" reached with China, saying a final agreement on matters related to intellectual property, financial services and agriculture would take three to five weeks to put in place. Signed in mid-January 2020, the deal included commitments from China to purchase an additional $200 billion of U.S. products over the next two years and to refrain from currency manipulation and intellectual property theft.
In June 2019, Trump announced that the U.S. would be selling more than $2 billion in tanks and military equipment to Taiwan, one of its largest sales in recent years. The move added tension to China’s relationship with the U.S. The U.S. is the largest supplier of arms to Taiwan, which could help stave off an eventual invasion of Taiwan by the Chinese military.
The U.S. does not officially recognize Taiwan, a de facto independent island that the communist Chinese government plans to bring back under its control, with force if necessary. However, U.S. officials see Taiwan as an important counterweight to China in the region and have expressed concern about China’s actions toward Taiwan. In 2018, to the ire of Chinese officials, the Pentagon began ordering naval ships to sail through the Taiwan Strait as a show of military power.
Israel and the Recognition of Jerusalem
On December 6, 2017, Trump announced that the U.S. was formally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and would move the American embassy there from its current location in Tel Aviv. The declaration broke decades of precedent, in which the U.S. refused to take sides in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over territorial rights to the city.
Fulfilling one of his campaign pledges, Trump referred to the move as "a long overdue step to advance the peace process," noting it "would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result." He also stressed that the move would not interfere with any proposals for a two-state solution.
The announcement was praised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but not as warmly received by American allies France, Britain and Germany, which called it disruptive to the peace process. Leaders of the predominantly Muslim countries Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon all condemned the move, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the U.S. could no longer be considered a mediator in the region.
On December 21, the U.N. General Assembly voted 128 to 9 to demand that the U.S. rescind its formal recognition of Jerusalem. Britain, France, Germany and Japan all voted for the resolution, though others, like Australia and Canada, abstained from the symbolic vote.
After dispatching Vice President Mike Pence to help smooth things over with Arab leaders in the Middle East, Trump sought to reestablish ties with American allies at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2018. He praised U.K. Prime Minister May and enjoyed a friendly meeting with Netanyahu, though he also took a shot at the Palestinian Authority for refusing to meet with Pence.
Continuing with a recalibrated approach to relations with its Middle Eastern ally, the Trump administration announced in November 2019 that it no longer considered Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal under international law.
A few weeks later, the president sought to bolster support among American Jews by signing an executive order aimed at cracking down on anti-Semitism at college campuses. The order effectively allowed the government to recognize Judaism as both a race or nationality and religion, empowering the Education Department to withhold funding from college or educational programs accused of discriminatory actions against Jews.
In January 2020, Trump revealed his "deal of the century" proposal for a two-state solution. His plan envisioned Jerusalem remaining the capital of Israel, with Palestinians getting their own capital in the eastern part of the city, and the authority for Israel to move forward with annexing its West Bank settlements. The proposal was quickly rejected by Palestinians, with Abbas dismissing it as the "slap of the century." In September 2020, Trump presided over the signing of accords between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, in which the two Arab countries normalized relations with Israel.
In May 2018, over the objections of European allies, Trump announced that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal enacted by his predecessor and reimposing sanctions on the Middle Eastern country.
The announcement initially drew a tepid response from Iran, but President Hassan Rouhani had stronger words on the issue while addressing diplomats in July, noting that "war with Iran is the mother of all wars" and warning his American counterpart to "not play with the lion's tail, because you will regret it eternally."
That seemingly enraged Trump, who fired off an all-caps tweet addressed to Rouhani: "Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before," he wrote. "We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death. Be cautious!"
Tensions mounted again by April 2019, when the Trump administration announced it would no longer grant economic exemptions to the five countries — China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey — which had been permitted to buy oil from Iran. Several oil tankers were subsequently attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, with the U.S. holding Iran responsible for the brazen actions.
In June 2019, the Iranian military shot down an American drone over contested airspace. Trump said he was minutes away from ordering a strike in retaliation, before electing to impose new sanctions instead.
In late December, after an American civilian contractor was killed in a rocket attack on an Iraqi base, the U.S. carried out military strikes against an Iranian-backed militia deemed responsible for the attack. After protesters responded by breaching the outer wall of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, the animosity escalated with the death of General Qassem Soleimani, Iran's top security and intelligence commander, in a drone strike authorized by President Trump.
Cuba and Travel Restrictions
To pressure Cuba’s communist government to reform and end its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Trump tightened travel restrictions to Cuba in April 2019.
In June 2019, Trump announced that the State Department would no longer allow private or public ships and aircraft to visit Cuba. The U.S. will also no longer allow “people-to-people” educational travel, which previously proved to be a popular travel exemption. Tourist groups may still be able to get around the ban by applying one of the other 11 travel exemptions that are still allowed. In September 2020, Trump announced new sanctions aimed at curtailing U.S. travel to Cuba.
President Obama loosened travel restrictions to Cuba following decades of detente between the countries, initiating a short-lived travel boom to the area.
On August 12, 2017, a group of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virgina, gathered for a “Unite the Right” rally to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. People in favor of removing the statue felt that it was a symbol implicitly endorsing white supremacy, while the protesters believed removing it was an attempt at erasing history.
The rally attracted Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, including former KKK leader David Duke, who told reporters that the protesters were “going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” to “take our country back.”
When counter-protesters arrived, the demonstration turned violent with racial slurs, pushing and brawling. Then a car, driven by a man who appeared to show marching earlier that day alongside Neo-Nazis in a CNN photo plowed into the crowd, killing a 32-year-old counter-protester and injuring at least 19 others.
In comments that day, Trump did not specifically criticize the white nationalists and blamed “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” Two days later, following criticism about his refusal to denounce hate groups, Trump delivered a speech at the White House. “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” he said.
However, the same day, Kevin Plank, the head of Under Armour, and Kenneth C. Frazier, the African American head of Merck Pharmaceuticals, announced they were resigning from the president’s American Manufacturing Council in reaction to the events. Trump tweeted: “Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” The next day, Trump reaffirmed his initial comments, telling reporters: “I think there is blame on both sides.”
On September 15, Trump re-defended his comments after meeting with Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina: "I think especially in light of the advent of antifa, if you look at what's going on there, you know, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also. And essentially that's what I said." (Antifa is an anti-fascist protest movement that sometimes uses violent tactics to defend against neo-Nazis and white supremacists.)
Trump and Obama
Beginning in early 2011, Trump expressed doubts about the validity of Obama’s birth country to media outlets. To quell the staunch outcry from birtherists, Obama eventually released his birth certificate in April 2011, verifying that he was born in the United States. Regardless, Trump continued to be a vocal critic of President Obama—not only regarding his place of birth, but also on a variety of his policies.
In 2013, Trump tweeted that a Hawaiian State Health Director, who died of cardiac arrhythmia following a plane crash, was somehow connected to a cover-up of President Obama's birth certificate. In 2016, as he began to clinch his own nomination as the GOP candidate for president, Trump toned down his stance, telling CNN, “I have my own theory on Obama. Someday I will write a book.”
Later that fall, feeling pressure from his campaign advisors to put the conspiracy theory to rest as part of a strategy to appeal to minority voters, Trump issued a statement: "President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period.” At the same time, he also blamed his presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, and her campaign for starting the birther controversy.
On March 4, 2017, without citing specific evidence, Trump released a series of tweets accusing former President Obama of wiretapping the campaign headquarters at Trump Tower before the election.
FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to issue a statement refuting Trump’s allegation, while the White House called for a congressional investigation into Trump’s claims.
On March 16, 2017, bipartisan leaders from the Senate Intelligence Committee said there was no evidence to support the president’s claim that Trump Tower had been wiretapped. On March 20, 2017, Comey addressed the wiretapping allegations, saying that he had “no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”
Comey also confirmed that the FBI was investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including links and coordination between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government as well as whether any crimes were committed.
Comey and Trump
On May 9, 2017, Trump abruptly fired Comey, who was in the midst of leading the investigation into whether any Trump advisers colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the presidential election.
The president said he based his decision on recommendations from Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who asserted that Comey should be dismissed over his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
The announcement sent shockwaves throughout the government, with critics comparing Comey's dismissal to the 1973 "Saturday Night Massacre" when President Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal which eventually led to Nixon's resignation.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer told reporters at a press conference that “every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire Director Comey was part of a cover-up.”
Trump later told reporters at the White House that he had fired Comey “because he wasn’t doing a good job,” and he told Lester Holt in an NBC News interview that his decision was not solely based on recommendations from Sessions and Rosenstein. "Regardless of the recommendation, I was going to fire Comey," the president told Holt in the televised interview.
There was more fallout a week after Comey's firing when the New York Times reported that Trump had asked Comey to shut down the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
According to the New York Times, Comey wrote in a memo that the president told him in a meeting a day after Flynn resigned: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." The White House denied this claim in a statement.
On June 8, Comey made a highly anticipated appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He accused Trump of lying to the public about the nature of his tenure and dismissal, noting that he believed he was fired to affect the FBI probe into Russia's influence in the 2016 election.
Mueller Investigation of Donald Trump
On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein selected Robert Mueller, former federal prosecutor and FBI director, to serve as a special counsel to lead the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
On March 24, 2019, two days after Mueller closed his investigation by submitting a report to Attorney General Barr, the AG summarized the report's content in a letter to congressional leaders. He wrote that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents, but noted the special counsel's wording about whether the president obstructed justice: "while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." Nonetheless, Trump declared complete exoneration, disparaging the 22-month investigation as an "illegal takedown that failed."
On October 30, 2018, Mueller announced the first indictments of his investigation, ensnaring former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates on charges of tax fraud, money laundering and foreign lobbying violations. On December 1, Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI and said he was cooperating with Mueller's team.
In January 2018, news surfaced that Mueller was seeking an interview with Trump to inquire about his dismissal of Comey and Flynn, among other topics. The president publicly welcomed that idea, saying he was "looking forward to it." Days later the New York Times reported that Trump had sought to fire Mueller the previous June, before backing off when the White House counsel protested.
In early February, the president gave the go-ahead for House Republicans to release a controversial memo that summarized the FBI's attempts to obtain a warrant to wiretap former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. According to the memo, the FBI and DOJ had relied on information from an infamous dossier, whose author was commissioned by the Democratic Party to dig up dirt on Trump. House Democrats countered that the memo left out important information to make it seem that the FBI was biased against Trump, thereby discrediting the bureau's involvement in the Mueller probe.
In April, The Times obtained and published a list of four dozen questions that Mueller hoped to ask Trump, ranging from the president's contacts with Manafort to his understanding of the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower conducted by his oldest son, to the intentions behind some of his tweets as related to possible obstruction of justice. Ultimately, the president never sat down for face-to-face questioning by Mueller, instead of submitting written responses.
Mueller’s report was released in March 2019, finding no evidence of collusion but offering obtuse language on whether the president obstructed justice. The furor over the report didn't die down, particularly since the redacted version that was released raised more questions about obstruction and whether Barr was attempting to shield the president from congressional scrutiny.
In May 2019, after Trump exerted executive privilege to block the release of the unredacted report. The House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend that the House hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress.
Trump and Stormy Daniels
Adult-film star Stephanie Clifford, known by her stage name of Stormy Daniels, reportedly signed a nondisclosure agreement just before the 2016 election to remain silent on her affair with Trump.
After the Wall Street Journal reported on the situation in early 2018, the Daniels saga became part of the news cycle, leading to a much-publicized appearance on Jimmy Kimmel's late-night show in which she played coy on the issue.
In February 2018, Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, admitted to paying Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket, though he did not say what the payment was for. In March, Daniels broke her silence on the subject, insisting that the nondisclosure agreement was invalid because Trump had never signed it.
Late March brought a 60 Minutes interview with Daniels, in which she described her alleged tryst with Trump, as well as a parking lot encounter with an unknown man who warned her to stop discussing the affair in public. The piece aired shortly after a televised interview with another alleged Trump mistress, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had fallen in love with Trump during their time together.
The president delivered his first public remarks on the issue aboard Air Force One in early April, saying he knew nothing about the payment to Daniels. When asked why Cohen felt compelled to shell out $130,000 for what the White House was calling false allegations, Trump responded, "Michael's my attorney, and you'll have to ask Michael."
Later in the month, McDougal reached a settlement with American Media Inc (AMI) that allowed her to speak freely about her alleged affair with Trump. The model had signed $150,000 deal in 2016 that gave AMI's The National Enquirer exclusive story rights, though the tabloid never reported on the matter. Under terms of the new contract, McDougal was allowed to keep the $150,000, though she would have to share the profits if she sold or licensed the story to a new party.
Shortly afterward, Daniels filed a defamation lawsuit against the president, after he dismissed a composite sketch of a man who allegedly confronted her in a parking lot as a "con job." The suit claimed that Trump had recklessly accused her of being a liar and breaking the law, resulting in more than $75,000 in damages.
Michael Cohen Investigation
In July 2018, Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen found himself under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. He released a two-year-old secret recording of a conversation with Trump about payments to AMI for the McDougal story, indicating that the president was aware of the situation dating back to his days as a candidate.
The issue magnified in August, when Cohen accepted a deal to plead guilty to eight criminal charges, two of which, he said, came at the president's instigation to violate campaign laws and issue hush payments. Trump's former personal lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison that December.
The following February, Cohen appeared before the House Oversight Committee in a televised hearing to testify to an array of Trump's infractions. Along with insisting that his ex-boss knew ahead of time about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians and the WikiLeaks dump of DNC emails, both of which came in mid-2016, he supplied checks as evidence of the president's reimbursement of his payment to Stormy Daniels.
In February 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York issued a subpoena to Trump’s inaugural committee, seeking a collection of documents that included bank accounts of committee members and names of donors, vendors and contractors.
The committee grew out of investigations into Michael Cohen. It was believed that prosecutors were investigating crimes related to conspiracy to defraud the United States, false statements and money laundering.
Sexual Assault and Rape Accusations
As of June 2019, a total of 16 women have accused Trump of sexual assault. He has denied all accusations.
E. Jean Carroll Sexual Assault Accusations
In June 2019, New York journalist E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in 1996 at the upscale Manhattan department store Bergdorf Goodman. Carroll says Trump approached her as she was leaving the building and asked for her help buying a gift for a female friend. He led her upstairs to the lingerie department, and, after a bit of banter, pinned her in the dressing room, pulled down her tights and sexually assaulted her, according to Carroll’s account.
When the alleged assault was over, Carroll called her friend, author Lisa Birnbach, to describe the encounter. Birnbach told journalists at The New York Times that she told Carroll that she was raped and should call the police. A couple of days later, Carroll told her friend Carol Martin, a TV host, who advised her to remain silent. Ultimately, Carroll says she blamed herself for going into the dressing room with Trump.
Carroll never publicly discussed her story until more than two decades later, when she described the alleged rape in her 2019 memoir, What Do We Need Men For? An excerpt was published in advance of the release date in a New York Magazine article.