By Robert A. Vella
What we are witnessing today in America is truly astonishing. The United States, for 70 years since World War II, had been the preeminent nation on Earth in many respects. But now, the U.S. is in the throes of the worst public health crisis of any country impacted by the deadly coronavirus pandemic, and it is simultaneously suffering from its most destabilizing political upheaval since the Civil War. President Donald Trump, the megalomaniacal would-be fascist dictator who revels in sowing cultural divisions, is both singularly responsible for America’s downfall and is paying the heaviest political price for it.
As COVID-19 surges back to its April peak causing widespread alarm and a renewal of social restrictions, plus a stunning list of current and former administration officials testify and otherwise publicly condemn Trump and his henchmen as an existential threat to our constitutional republic, the President’s standing among the American people along with his reelection prospects continue to fall rather precipitously. Because Trump is adamantly unwilling to obey the will of the people or even to serve the interests of all Americans, he has only one remaining path towards victory – to forcibly impose his autocratic rule by destroying the nation’s democratic and republican (i.e. rule of law) institutions. Trump’s actions are clearly putting the Republican Party on the hot-seat. How far are they willing to go in support of this madman?
Curiously, the congressional testimonies detailed in this post were either not opposed by Trump or were unsuccessfully opposed.
Also today, we’ll cover yesterday’s primary elections and news relating to the ongoing racial injustice protests.
The COVID-19 contagion has gotten so bad in the South, Southwest, and West that the European Union is strongly considering the implementation of travel bans against Americans, and states in the previously hard hit Northeast have ordered quarantines against those newly impacted regions. Meanwhile, public health officials from the CDC, FDA, and NIH testified before a House committee yesterday and their statements about the Trump Administration’s pandemic response stand in stark contrast with the President’s rhetoric and actions.
President Donald Trump’s top health advisers say that the coronavirus pandemic has driven America to its knees amid a disturbing surge in cases. But Trump is ignoring the new danger, instead using the worst domestic crisis in decades as a racist punchline.
Political mismanagement of the situation, the glaring lack of a national strategy and the nation’s exhausting, inconclusive struggle with the coronavirus was reflected Tuesday in three key developments. Fully half of US states are now seeing rising cases of the disease with the situation especially acute in Texas, Florida and Arizona, which embraced aggressive reopening programs. The European Union, which has been more successful than the US in suppressing Covid-19, warned it might bar visitors from America in what would be a major embarrassment for Trump. And the President persisted with his counter-logical argument that the US is only seeing more cases of the virus because it is doing more testing, leaving the implication that it would be better if rising cases, infections and ultimately deaths were simply ignored.
Trump spent the day in Arizona and held a rally in Phoenix, a city where mask wearing is mandatory in public. But he refused to don a face covering, along with many supporters who attended his indoor event. And he delighted his fans by reciting a racist name for the virus referencing its origin in China.
Officials testify against Trump and Barr
A prosecutor who withdrew from the Roger Stone case after Justice Department leaders intervened to recommend a lighter sentence intends to testify before Congress that he and his colleagues were repeatedly pressured to cut Stone “a break,” and were told that it was because of his relationship with President Donald Trump.
“What I heard – repeatedly – was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the President,” Aaron Zelinsky, one of four prosecutors who quit the case, plans to tell the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, according to his prepared testimony. “I was also told that the acting U.S. Attorney was giving Stone such unprecedentedly favorable treatment because he was ‘afraid of the President.'”
Zelinsky’s testimony is a stunning — and stunningly rare — public rebuke of Justice Department leadership by a sitting official. And it comes as Barr is facing intensifying scrutiny over actions that Justice Department veterans and Democrats have described as dangerous breaches of the Justice Department’s independence from politics. The Justice Department did not respond to an immediate request for comment.
Zelinksy was one of four attorneys who resigned from the Justice Department’s prosecution of Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone after Barr took the extraordinary and controversial step of intervening in the sentencing process.
In testimony released on Tuesday, Zelinsky will say that the acting U.S. attorney for D.C. at the time, Timothy Shea, said he was “afraid of the president” and that’s why Stone was getting favorable treatment. Shea has since left the office and is currently acting Drug Enforcement Agency administrator.
Zelinsky, one of the prosecutors on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, said in his opening statement that the Justice Department’s leadership from the highest levels pressured prosecutors to recommend a lenient sentence for Stone for political reasons – a move that a supervisor acknowledged was “unethical and wrong.” He said he and the other prosecutors on the case repeatedly raised concerns about “such political favoritism,” but their objections “were not heeded.”
In his opening statement, [John] Elias said the head of the Antitrust Division acknowledged during a staff meeting that the investigations were launched because the cannabis industry was unpopular “on the fifth floor,” a reference to Barr’s office in the Justice Department’s headquarters.
“Personal dislike of the industry is not a proper basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation,” said Elias, who joined the Justice Department in 2006.
Elias will also testify about the Justice Department’s decision to investigate whether four major automakers violated antitrust laws by striking a deal with California to reduce emissions. The companies agreed to adopt environmental standards that were stricter than the rules the Trump administration preferred, causing a series of furious tweets from the president.
Law professors and faculty from George Washington University Law School, Attorney General William Barr’s alma mater, said in a letter Tuesday he has “failed to fulfill his oath of office to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States.’ ”
The rebuke comes after continued fallout over the departure of Geoffrey Berman, the federal prosecutor ousted over the weekend by the Trump administration, and adds to a chorus of criticism over Barr’s actions as attorney general. Barr received his Juris Doctor degree from the law school in 1977, and while serving as attorney general under then-President George H.W. Bush he received an honorary degree from the university in 1992.
In a statement signed by 65 faculty and professors from the law school, the group wrote that Barr’s actions as attorney general “have undermined the rule of law, breached constitutional norms, and damaged the integrity and traditional independence of his office and of the Department of Justice.”
Also on Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association said in a letter sent to House and Senate leaders that Barr is unfit for the “high position he occupies in our federal government” and should step aside.
Trump falls further in the polls
Joseph R. Biden Jr. has taken a commanding lead over President Trump in the 2020 race, building a wide advantage among women and nonwhite voters and making deep inroads with some traditionally Republican-leaning groups that have shifted away from Mr. Trump following his ineffective response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new national poll of registered voters by The New York Times and Siena College.
Mr. Biden is currently ahead of Mr. Trump by 14 percentage points, garnering 50 percent of the vote compared with 36 percent for Mr. Trump. That is among the most dismal showings of Mr. Trump’s presidency, and a sign that he is the clear underdog right now in his fight for a second term.
Mr. Trump has been an unpopular president for virtually his entire time in office. He has made few efforts since his election in 2016 to broaden his support beyond the right-wing base that vaulted him into office with only 46 percent of the popular vote and a modest victory in the Electoral College.
Yesterday’s primary elections
Of special note here is that incumbent New York Democratic congressman Eliot Engel appears to have been defeated by challenger Jamaal Bowman, and Trump-backed Republican congressional candidates have lost their races including Lynda Bennett who was vying to replace Mark Meadows in North Carolina.
They’re going to have to wait at least a few more days to find out if they succeeded — but even though Tuesday night ended without final calls in many of the biggest primaries, the results clearly showed some incumbents in serious trouble and major trends shaking both parties right now.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez looks set to get some new progressive backup in New York’s congressional delegation next year. President Donald Trump’s iron-fisted grip over the Republican Party appears to be slipping. And Senate hopefuls Charles Booker and Amy McGrath are locked in a tight battle for that Kentucky Senate nomination that belies McGrath’s huge cash advantage and support from Washington powerbrokers.
Coronavirus drove a huge number of voters to cast absentee ballots, which won’t be tallied in either Kentucky or New York until next week. But here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s still-to-be-determined primary results: