By Robert A. Vella
In the last months of World War II, fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was besieged from three sides. The Soviet Union’s massive Red Army was an unstoppable force advancing from the east. Equally strong Anglo-American armies were converging on the Axis Powers from the west and south. Even worse, the Italian people had turned against him for the folly of his naked ambitions which had completely ruined the country. Il Duce, as he was commonly referred to, had only one route of escape – to the north into Germany where his ally Adolf Hitler still held power. Unfortunately, der Führer wasn’t in much better shape. After devastating defeats on the eastern front and the Allies’ powerful D-Day invasion of Normandy, Hitler’s own generals nearly succeeded in assassinating him. Still, the Nazi leader continued to support Mussolini until the end and managed to rescue him on at least one occasion. However, the gig was up. In a last-ditch effort, Mussolini tried to make it to Switzerland where he hoped to get transport to fascist Spain; but, he was captured by partisans and executed in the northern Italian town of Mezzegra. The next day, his body and the body of his mistress were hung from the roof of a gas station in Milan. The following day, Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker.
That was a real war, but it is analogous to the culture war being waged by President Donald Trump and his Republican Party today in the United States. Naked ambition and the lust for power have collided with a deadly viral pandemic to wreak havoc upon the nation. An out of control public health crisis along with a devastated economy and heightened racial tensions are triggering a historic backlash against the would-be dictator who callously disregards the American people for his own selfish interests. With the pivotal 2020 elections just four months away, Trump is finding himself increasingly surrounded by a staggering array of hostile forces. Liberals and progressives are charging hard from the left, independents and moderates are opposing him from the center, and growing factions of conservatives are rebelling against him from the right. As his circle of supporters steadily shrinks or otherwise becomes incapacitated, Trump will undoubtedly seek assistance from his main ideological ally – Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. However, unlike the personal bond between Hitler and Mussolini, Putin sees Trump not as a friend but as a malleable asset or tool. His support of Trump is conditional, and he is advancing his own agenda no matter what the consequences to Trump might be.
Yesterday, it was reported that U.S. intelligence services discovered that the Russian military offered financial bounties to Taliban-linked militants in exchange for killing American troops in Afghanistan and that some of those deals were fulfilled. Trump was informed of this as early as March of this year and was given a list of options on how to respond; but, instead, he took no such action whatsoever. Conversely, he did the opposite by enabling Putin’s moves in Syria, by undermining NATO strength in Europe, and by helping Russia to get reinstated into the G-7 (formerly the G-8). Obviously, Trump’s behavior is not consistent with U.S foreign policy, is not indicative of American patriotism, and surely appears traitorous to most observers.
For several weeks now, Trump’s polling numbers have cratered to the point where his reelection prospects look dim at best. But, political analysts keep expecting that this fall in public opinion will bottom-out soon. It is widely assumed that Trump’s loyal base will keep his support at a minimum of 40%. However, his numbers are continuing to slide. This morning, FiveThirtyEight‘s aggregate approval rating hit another low at 40.6% (56.1% disapprove).
Here’s today’s news which includes pandemic updates, more on the political backlash against Trump and Republicans, a illuminating report on Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to explain why President Trump wasn’t criminally prosecuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, several important court rulings, and some international news:
WASHINGTON — American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.
The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.
Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.
The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.
As the news broke it triggered a fierce response from top Democrats, especially those who have long pointed to what they say is Trump’s overly close relationship to Russia’s autocratic leader, Vladimir Putin.
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, said: “Trump was cozying up to Putin and inviting him to the G7 all while his administration reportedly knew Russia was trying to kill US troops in Afghanistan and derail peace talks with the Taliban.”
Michael McFaul, a former ambassador to Russia and a professor of political science at Stanford University, said: “I hope the American people will be as outraged as I am over Trump’s complacency. After he knew about these Putin-ordered contracts to kill US soldiers, Trump invited Putin to the G7.”
John Weaver, a Republican political consultant who helped found the anti-Trump Lincoln Project group, also expressed outrage.
WASHINGTON — In the past week, President Trump hosted an indoor campaign rally for thousands of cheering, unmasked supporters even as a deadly virus spread throughout the country. He began easing up on restrictions that had been in place at the White House since Washington instituted a stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus in March, and he invited the president of Poland to a day of meetings. Then, on Thursday, he flew to Wisconsin to brag about an economic recovery that he said was just around the corner.
But by Friday, it was impossible to fully ignore the fact that the pandemic the White House has for weeks insisted was winding down has done just the opposite.
In a reflection of a growing sense of anxiety over the new numbers, Vice President Mike Pence and members of the coronavirus task force held a public briefing for the first time in two months. But ever loyal to Mr. Trump’s desire for good news, Mr. Pence tried to tiptoe around the statistics that Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the task force coordinator, pointed to, showing surging cases and hospitalizations in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board in a Thursday night op-ed slammed President Trump for not articulating a clear vision for a second term, with the 130-year-old publication warning the incumbent of defeat in November and taking the Republican majority in the Senate with him.
“President Trump may soon need a new nickname for ‘Sleepy Joe’ Biden. How does President-elect sound?” the board wrote. “On present trend that’s exactly what Mr. Biden will be on Nov. 4, as Mr. Trump heads for what could be an historic repudiation that would take the Republican Senate down with him.”
“Mr. Trump refuses to acknowledge what every poll now says is true: His approval rating has fallen to the 40 percent or below that is George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter territory,” it continues.
The board specifically broached two key issues that have emerged in the past four months that have resulted in falling numbers for the president: the coronavirus pandemic and the police killing of George Floyd that has resulted in nationwide protests and unrest in the country.
The Department of Justice confirmed the existence of a legal memorandum penned by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) outlining the department’s rationale for declining to charge President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice based on the Mueller Report. However, the DOJ is refusing to provide the legal justification OLC relied upon in reaching the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge Trump, only releasing a heavily redacted version of the memo after protracted litigation.
The memo’s existence was revealed in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). The group had initially filed a FOIA request for records “pertaining to the views OLC provided Attorney General William Barr on whether the evidence developed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
In a report detailing the newly obtained documents, CREW said that the DOJ had gone to “considerable lengths” to conceal the existence of the memo from the public, suggesting that Barr and Trump may not truly be as confident in the underlying legal reasoning as they’ve led the American people to believe.
“One possible answer is that the memorandum would not withstand scrutiny from legal experts, including those who worked on the Special Counsel investigation,” the group said, noting that the former Special Counsel had previously criticized Barr’s 4-page “summary” of the Mueller report.
“Another possibility is that the memorandum contributes to a body of evidence suggesting that Barr was hand-picked by Trump to discredit and undermine the eventual findings of the Special Counsel—especially with respect to the obstruction case against the president,” the group suggested.