Today’s news starts with the resignation of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman from the military after more than 21 years, citing the “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” led by the president for his decision to leave the public service.
Vindman was a key witness in the House of Representatives impeachment hearing last year. A Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, he had been on the July 25, 2019 call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. After hearing the call, Vindman had reported to John Eisenberg, the top lawyer for the National Security Council, that the call was troubling, with Trump pressing Zelensky to deliver an investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of potential rival Joe Biden, in exchange for promised military aid to Ukraine so it could resist Russian incursions. Eisenberg told Vindman not to tell anyone else about the conversation.
Vindman’s opening statement before Congress recalled the American dream. He explained that his father, who had brought Vindman and his twin brother Eugene from Ukraine when they were three, was afraid to have his son testify against the president. Vindman assured him it would be okay. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth,” Vindman said he told his father, “because this is America, this is the country I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served, and here, right matters.”
After Vindman’s testimony, he was ousted from the National Security Council, and his twin brother Eugene, a senior lawyer and ethics official for the NSC who had not been involved in the impeachment hearings, was also fired, escorted off White House grounds “suddenly and without explanation,” according to Alexander’s lawyer David Pressman. The two men were fired on the same day Trump told reporters that he was “not happy” with Vindman’s testimony.
Vindman’s resignation is a poignant reminder of how much we are losing during this presidency.
The other big news of the day is the administration’s continuing pressure on states to reopen the schools in the fall, even as coronavirus infections climb. The U.S. has now had more than 3 million confirmed cases of coronavirus, and more than 130,000 deaths. Today, the U.S. reported more than 60,000 new cases, which was the biggest increase ever reported by any country in a single day. Florida reported nearly 10,000 new cases; Texas reported more than 9,500, and California reported more than 8,500 new infections.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said that Trump’s campaign rally there in late June “likely contributed” to the recent dramatic surge in coronavirus cases in the state. Observers are already worried about the Sturgis, South Dakota, motorcycle rally in August, which usually draws about a half a million people, and which, as of today, is still going forward.
Just hours after Trump’s attack on the guidelines about school reopenings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today, the CDC announced it would issue new guidelines. “I disagree with [the CDC] n their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools,” Trump tweeted. Vice President Mike Pence later explained: "What the president was saying this morning is, that if there are aspects of the CDC’s recommendations that are prescriptive, or that serve as a barrier to kids getting back to school, we want governors and local officials and education leaders to know that we're here to work with them…. Every American knows that we can safely reopen our schools."
But, in fact, as coronavirus infections spike, most Americans are not convinced we can safely reopen our schools. The University of North Carolina today suspended football training after 37 players and staff tested positive for coronavirus, and today the Ivy League universities announced they will not hold fall sports this year. The latest coronavirus models suggest that the U.S. will have more than 200,000 dead by November.
The administration’s ferocious emphasis on school reopenings is so extreme that it looks increasingly to me like a distraction from something else. Just what that something else might be is unclear. The two top candidates are tomorrow’s decisions from the Supreme Court about whether or not Congress or a state prosecutor can subpoena the president’s financial records, or the Russia bounty scandal.
If I had to bet, I’d say it is the latter from which Trump has been trying to draw attention over the past week. Today, law professor Ryan Goodman of the national security website JustSecurity published evidence that the Trump administration looked the other way when it learned Russia was arming Taliban fighters, and has consistently pressed for more cooperation with Russia without getting anything in return. Goodman's is only the latest in stories linking this administration to Putin.
And for all this news, today was a dull day compared to what we expect tomorrow. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs will be holding a hearing on why the administration hasn’t responded to the story about Russian bounties on U.S. troops. The House Judiciary Committee will hear from ousted U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman behind closed doors, as they ask him about Attorney General Barr’s politicization of the Department of Justice.
And most significant, the Supreme Court will hand down its decision on two cases having to do with whether or not Trump’s finances can be subpoenaed while he is in office. Legal observers believe the cases will not go Trump’s way.
Schiff to Vindman: