Republican National Convention 2020: Day 2

By Rebekah Metzler, Jessica Estepa, Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 12:49 p.m. ET, August 26, 2020
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10:34 p.m. ET, August 25, 2020

Trump blatantly uses his presidential powers to advance a political message

Analysis from CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Trump oversees a naturalization ceremony for five new US citizens.
President Trump oversees a naturalization ceremony for five new US citizens. Republican National Convention

President Donald Trump’s two “surprise” appearances during Tuesday’s convention blatantly used his presidential powers to advance a political message — advancing the impression that Republicans are exploiting his office to support his reelection.

In pre-taped videos, Trump issued a pardon for a man who robbed a bank in Nevada and later founded an organization for former inmates; the President also presided over a naturalization ceremony for new American citizen. The two acts flex the powers of the incumbency during the highest-profile political event of the calendar.

All presidents, in some way, use the powers of their office when it comes time for reelection. That includes highlighting executive orders that benefit key voting blocs or touting foreign policy achievements only available to the sitting commander-in-chief. 

But never have those moves been so blatantly staged for political gain — as they appeared to be Tuesday, with highly-produced videos meant for debut at a political convention.

Trump had already been accused of violating ethics norms by utilizing the White House for his convention speech on Thursday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whose speech Tuesday is unprecedented for the country’s top diplomat, is now being investigated by House Democrats for the convention speech he taped from a hotel rooftop during an official trip to Israel.

But the two appearances Trump was planning Tuesday were the most direct use of his office for political gain. Pardon power is one of the most sweeping prerogatives a president enjoys, spelled out in the Constitution. Trump has previously deployed it for political allies or people with high-profile cases.

On Tuesday, the White House released a video clip on YouTube of Trump issuing a full pardon for Jon Ponder, a former bank robber and the founder and CEO of HOPE for Prisoners, a ministry in Las Vegas that helps those who are incarcerated reintegrate back into the community.

They also posted a video of Trump overseeing a naturalization ceremony for five new US citizens. He emphasized the achievements of each of the citizens, and congratulated them on coming to the country legally.

“You followed the rules, you obeyed the laws, you learned your history, embraced our values, and proved yourselves to be men and women of the highest integrity,” the President told the participants. 

Both events occurred at the White House. Administration officials have said previously that Trump’s use of the building doesn’t violate any laws, and that staffers are permitted to participate on their own time as long as his appearances occur in the residence portion and not the West Wing.

10:26 p.m. ET, August 25, 2020

Police officer who adopted baby of heroin addict praises Trump at RNC for combating opioid epidemic

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Police officer Ryan Holets.
Police officer Ryan Holets. Republican National Convention

Police officer Ryan Holets, who adopted a baby born to a homeless woman addicted to heroin in 2017, praised President Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention for his leadership combating the opioid epidemic. 

“I hold a special place in my heart for those facing opioid addiction, and that’s why I’m enormously grateful to the President for his leadership in fighting this deadly enemy. Through his efforts, we are turning the tide on the crisis of addiction,” Holets said. 

Holets was first lady Melania Trump's guest at the State of the Union address in 2018. He said his daughter, Hope, is now a “thriving two-year-old,” and that her mother is approaching three years of recovery.

“We are fortunate, America, to have a President who cares deeply for the downtrodden, and who works tirelessly to find solutions. A President who doesn’t just talk about problems, but stops and helps,” Holets said. 

He said, “President Trump is the leader we’ve needed the last four years, and he is the leader we need for the next four years. You see, Donald Trump is the right President at the right time.”


10:07 p.m. ET, August 25, 2020

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds touts Trump's "leadership" in storm's aftermath

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Republican National Convention

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds made her case for President Donald Trump on a national stage Tuesday, touting the President’s leadership after a devastating storm brought hurricane-force winds her state. But her endorsement of the administration’s “actions and outcomes” doesn’t reflect the situation for Iowans desperate for relief after this month’s derecho.

A derecho covered an area nearly 800 miles wide in the Midwest with hurricane-force winds topping 100 miles per hour. It lasted 14 hours from August 11 to 12, destroying or severely damaging thousands of homes, schools and businesses while damaging millions of acres of crops and uprooting countless trees that had stood for over a century, helping take power lines down with them. 

“It was the worst storm in our state’s history. And Iowans did what you expect Iowans to do: They helped each other, they took care of each other, and they still are. But someone else also had our back: Our president,” Reynolds said in her remarks Tuesday. 

Reynolds submitted a 23-page disaster declaration request to the federal government seeking just under $4 billion in relief, including agriculture, public assistance, private utilities, and homes with major damage, for 27 of Iowa’s 99 counties on August 16. 

Trump tweeted he approved “the FULL Emergency Declaration for the Great State of Iowa.” 

But, as of Tuesday, the Des Moines Register reports that only one county, Linn County, “has received approval for federal individual assistance from the Trump administration.” 

Reynolds conceded during a Tuesday press conference, per the Register, that some counties wouldn’t qualify for federal individual assistance and they are “continuing to run the numbers” for other “more impacted areas.”

CNN affiliate KGAN reported last week that the individual assistance petition, which covers repairs to damaged homes and medical, child care, and vehicle expenses, is "'under review’ by FEMA and not yet approved.” 

Trump traveled to Iowa for a disaster recovery briefing last week. And in the days immediately following the storm, Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Des Moines for multiple campaign events, including a fundraiser and a coalition event billed as “Farmers and Ranchers for Trump.” He met with Reynolds and a small group of farmers before that event “to hear firsthand about the damage to their farms and property,” per a handout from his office. There was no press coverage of Pence’s meeting.

“When the winds had finished raging and the cleanup had only begun, he showed up… The President cut through the bureaucracy to do what needed to be done, and to do it quickly,” Reynolds said in her RNC remarks.

Reynolds has maintained a close relationship and has been a loyal ally to the Trump administration, carefully sidestepping opportunities to criticize the President and complimenting him during her numerous trips to the White House.

Her Tuesday evening remarks, which clocked in under four minutes, also praised Trump’s trade deals but neglected to mention the coronavirus pandemic. Iowa has seen more than 57,296 confirmed cases and more than 1,052 deaths as of Tuesday. 


10:14 p.m. ET, August 25, 2020

Pence made unannounced trip to Indiana last week to produce 9-minute RNC video

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Vice President Mike Pence appeared in a nine-minute video at Tuesday’s Republican National Convention showcasing his and the administration’s accomplishments through the stories of six supporters. The video was taped during a tightly-guarded, unannounced trip to Indiana last week that was not listed on Pence’s public schedule.  

“The vice president held a kind of a Covid-era, very small, town-hall style event with a few voters in Indiana at the site of Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home,” a convention organizer previewed to CNN Tuesday afternoon. 

Jordan McLinn, who was diagnosed with Duchene Muscular Dystrophy when he was just 3 years old, is one of the participants. He first met Pence when the then-governor signed Indiana’s Right to Try bill. McLinn traveled to the White House when the President signed namesake legislation, the “Trickett Wendler, Frank Mongiello, Jordan Mclinn and Matthew Bellina Right to Try Act of 2017” in 2018. McLinn, then 8, warmed hearts when he hugged Trump during the signing. McLinn only became able to walk recently, and showed the Vice President how far he had come during their visit. 

The video also will highlight Geno DiFabio, who owns a business that relied heavily on General Motors in Lordstown, Ohio. Lordstown, which manufactured the Cruze sedan, closed in March 2019, leaving 1,600 people without jobs. GM sold the plant to Lordstown Motors, a new company that plans to start building electric trucks there. GM also plans to build a $2.3 billion battery plant nearby as part of a joint venture with LG Chem. And it has made investments at other plants in the state.

Another CNN affiliate, WFIE, reported that Pence also stopped by the home of his friend Tom Gabe, who passed away Sunday, to privately pay his respects to the family during his time in Indiana, per a source close to the situation.

Pence spent four to five hours filming the video, according to a park employee, which was conversation-style, drawing on his talk radio roots, with the participants, who traveled from Oklahoma, Missouri, and Indiana, and battleground states Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. A small handful of aides accompanied Pence to the filming, which took place at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana, where the Pence family has visited for years. Pence also fashions himself a “Lincoln historian,” and the site has a “special meaning” to him, per a source familiar with the Indiana trip. 

Each of the participants was tested for coronavirus within 24 hours of the taping, the source said, and the entire taping took place outside, despite the August heat. Participants did not wear masks.

The campaign paid for the trip, the source said. 

“These are all people who in some way have interacted with the Vice President, whether it be his time as governor, or while he served as vice president. We have a few people who have reached out to the vice president, asking for help or thanking him for something he and the president have done. One of the stories is someone he helped when he was governor who subsequently interacted with the President,” communications director Katie Miller said. 


9:58 p.m. ET, August 25, 2020

Pam Bondi attacks Hunter Biden in speech filled with debunked conspiracies

From CNN's Eric Bradner

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. Republican National Convention

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi attacked Joe Biden's son's overseas business ties in an RNC speech rife with debunked conspiracies Tuesday night.

"For Joe Biden, it's been the land of opportunism, not opportunity," Bondi said.

She said Biden "has been writing the textbook on abuse of power for 40 years." She lambasted Hunter Biden's former position on the board of Ukrainian company Burisma, saying that he had "only had one qualification that mattered: He was the son of a man in charge of distributing US aid to Ukraine."

Bondi also made misleading claims about Biden's push to oust Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin, making the unfounded accusation that Biden sought to have Shokin removed to halt an investigation into Burisma. Ukrainian activists and European and American diplomats had sought Shokin's ouster before Biden intervened.

Trump and his allies have repeatedly made unfounded and false claims to allege that the former vice president and his son acted corruptly in Ukraine. Bondi made no mention of the reality that Trump was impeached by the House for attempting to pressure Ukraine's president to investigate the Bidens over Hunter Biden's role on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

Hunter Biden was only briefly featured at the Democratic National Convention last week, in a video along with his sister Ashley Biden introducing their father ahead of his Thursday night speech.

Hunter Biden in October 2019 said he used "poor judgment" in serving on the board of a Ukrainian gas company because it has become a political liability for his father. But there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either Biden, and no evidence Joe Biden has profited from his son's business dealings abroad.

Bondi's speech accusing Biden of nepotism was followed by a video that featured Trump's daughter Ivanka and daughter-in-law Lara, and then a speech from Trump's daughter Tiffany. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are also part of the RNC's speaking lineup this week — Trump Jr. spoke on Monday night, while Eric Trump will speak later Tuesday night.

The two are high-level executives in the Trump Organization, which has benefitted financially from Trump's presidency.


9:57 p.m. ET, August 25, 2020

Tiffany Trump appeals to young voters: "Make your judgment based on results and not rhetoric"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Tiffany Trump.
Tiffany Trump. Susan Walsh/AP

President Donald Trump’s youngest daughter, Tiffany Trump, spoke Tuesday evening, making an appeal to young Americans to “transcend political boundaries” as they cast their ballots in the November election.

“I urge you to make your judgment based on results and not rhetoric,” she said during her taped remarks at Mellon Auditorium, citing criminal justice reform and health care.

Like half-brother Donald Trump Jr.’s remarks to the convention on Monday, she declined to share personal stories about her father in her remarks, instead opting to speak to his efforts to “challenge the establishment” and briefly referencing his faith and “uncompromising heart.” Trump, 26, is the daughter of the President and Marla Maples.

Her parents divorced in 1999, and Trump was raised by her mother in California. She currently resides in Washington, DC.

And like her father, she went after the media and “tech giants” for what she described as “bias” and “manipulation,” at times questioning the veracity of the media.

But she also cast a more bipartisan tone than many of the convention’s speakers: “Our nation suffers by inhibiting our diversity of thought and inclusion of ideas. Working together outside of our political comfort zones will accomplish so much more.” 

Trump also represented the many Americans who graduated last spring and are facing a tough job market. A 2020 Georgetown Law School graduate, she nodded to those challenges.

“Our generation is unified in facing the future in uncertain times — and many of us are considering what kind of country we want to live in. As a recent graduate, I can relate to so many of you who might be looking for a job. My father built a thriving economy once, and believe me, he will do it again,” she said. 


9:45 p.m. ET, August 25, 2020

Fact check: Is Trump the first US President to speak about religious freedom at UN?

From CNN's Daniel Dale

Cissie Graham Lynch — a member of the Trump campaign’s evangelical advisory board and the granddaughter of famed evangelist Billy Graham — said, “President Trump became the first president to talk about the importance of religious freedom at the United Nations.” 

Facts First: This is not true. Previous presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, have all spoken about the importance of religious freedom in speeches to the UN General Assembly. Trump himself has previously made a narrower claim than Graham Lynch did – saying that he is the first president to host a UN meeting specifically devoted to the topic of religious freedom. (We haven’t yet looked into that Trump claim.)

In Obama’s 2015 address to the UN General Assembly, he argued that freedom of “peaceful worship” is a self-evident universal truth that is not dependent on an individual country’s culture. In 2016, he called for equal treatment for “a religious minority in Myanmar.” In his 2014 address, Obama denounced the terrorist group ISIS for starving “religious minorities.” 

George W. Bush made appeals for religious freedom in various speeches to the UN General Assembly. He said in 2005 that he has an “agenda for a freer world, where people can live and worship and raise their children as they choose.” In a 2007 address, Bush too denounced the government of Myanmar (also known as Burma) for restricting freedom of worship, and later said of the world in general, “With the commitment and courage of this chamber, we can build a world where people are free to speak, assemble, and worship as they wish.” In his 2008 address, he also called on nations to allow people to “worship as they choose.” 

In George H.W. Bush’s 1991 address, he spoke of the need to defend “inalienable human rights” such as religious freedom, saying that “government has failed” if citizens “can’t practice their religion freely.”

In Reagan’s 1986 address, he castigated the Soviet Union for persecuting religious leaders. 

9:37 p.m. ET, August 25, 2020

Fact check: Rand Paul's claims on Trump's position on the Iraq War are misleading

From CNN's Tara Subramaniam

Sen. Rand Paul.
Sen. Rand Paul. Republican National Convention

Sen. Rand Paul said he’s supporting President Donald Trump because he seeks to end wars and not start them, citing Trump’s position on the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq. 

Paul said, “Joe Biden voted for the Iraq War, which President Trump has long called the worst geopolitical mistake of our generation.”

Facts FirstPaul’s comments about Trump’s stance on the war are misleading. It’s true that Biden voted for the war in 2002, though he did acknowledge a few years later that his vote was a mistake.

Though Trump himself has repeatedly claimed to have opposed the war before it began, he only became an explicit opponent of the war more than a year after it began. He even expressed tentative support for the invasion in late 2002 and in his 2000 book, "The America We Deserve," Trump argued that a military strike on Iraq might be necessary.

You can read more about Trump’s past comments about the war in Iraq here.

9:38 p.m. ET, August 25, 2020

Minnesota mayor: "The Iron Range's economic future and survival is at stake"

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich.
Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich. Republican National Convention

Eveleth, Minnesota, Mayor Robert Vlaisavljevich, who says he has been a lifelong Democrat, praised President Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention and said this election, the “Iron Range’s economic future and survival is at stake.”

My father and grandfather earned their livings mining the raw materials that made the steel that built America,” Vlaisavljevich said. “This election is a make or break for workers who are carrying on the legacy of men like them.”

Vlaisavljevich said “for far too long … both parties allowed our country to be ripped off by our trading partners, especially by China.”

But he said four years after Trump was elected, “the Iron Range is roaring back to life, and we have one man to thank: President Donald Trump.” Vlaisavljevich said Trump has fulfilled his campaign promises by lowering taxes and rolling back regulations. 

He said this election, “the Iron Range’s economic future and survival is at stake, and so is America’s. We know we can count on President Trump to fight for us and win.” 

The Iron Range refers to several iron-ore mining districts around Lake Superior in the United States and Canada.