June 30, 2020

Today’s big story was the increasing spread of the coronavirus across America. Yesterday, Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) said in an interview that the virus is spreading too fast and too far for the United States to bring it under control.

Today, when Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified to a Senate committee on the coronavirus and the reopening of schools, he said he was “very concerned.” “We’re going in the wrong direction if you look at the curves of the new cases,” he said, “so we really have got to do something about that and we need to do it quickly.”

The country is now seeing more than 40,000 new infections a day while the European Union, which has more people, is seeing fewer than 6,000. About half the new cases are coming from California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona. Florida’s cases increased by 277 percent in the past two weeks; Texas’s by 184 percent, and Arizona’s by 145 percent. As our national confirmed deaths are approaching 130,000 people, Arizona recently released a new triage scoring system to help healthcare providers decide how to allocate resources if they must make choices about which patients to treat.

Nonetheless, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) did not want to hear Fauci’s evaluation of the crisis. “It’s important to realize that if society meekly submits to an expert and that expert is wrong, a great deal of harm may occur,” he lectured Fauci, who turned away Paul’s jabs with good humor. Paul told Dr. Fauci, “We need more optimism.”

I expected serious pushback today from the White House about the Russia bounty scandal, but their reaction was weirdly subdued. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany first suggested that the president hadn’t been “briefed” on the story, apparently using the word “briefed” to suggest it only means an oral report, rather than a written one. Multiple sources have confirmed that the information was indeed, in the President’s Daily Brief-- the PDB-- the written document of security issues he receives every morning.

Sources today also confirmed that it was a large money transfer from a bank controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to an account associated with the Taliban that alerted intelligence agencies that something was up, and that Trump was briefed on the information. This afternoon, in a press briefing, McEnany changed course, saying that “The president does read and he also consumes intelligence verbally. This president, I’ll tell you, is the most informed person on Planet Earth when it comes to the threats that we face.”

The White House tonight assured us that Trump has now been briefed on the bounty scandal, but while this story has consumed headlines since Friday—four full days ago—he has done and said nothing to condemn Russia’s actions. In a New York Times op-ed today, President Barack Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice points out that instead, Trump has dismissed the evidence as “possibly another fabricated Russia hoax, maybe by the Fake News” that is “wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!” Rice notes that if, indeed, Trump’s senior advisors thought there was no reason to inform Trump of the Russia bounty story, they “are not worthy of service.”

As a former National Security Adviser, she outlined what she would have done in their place after immediately giving the president the information. “If later the president decided, as Mr. Trump did, that he wanted to talk with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at least six times over the next several weeks and invite him to join the Group of 7 summit over the objections of our allies, I would have thrown a red flag: ‘Mr. President, I want to remind you that we believe the Russians are killing American soldiers. This is not the time to hand Putin an olive branch. It’s the time to punish him.’”

Rice called out the elephant in the room: Trump’s “perilous pattern” of deference to Russia.

He urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016, then praised Wikileaks for publishing them. He denied Russian interference in the 2016 election, undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of that interference, and accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s word over that of our intelligence community when Putin denied Russian interference at a conference in Helsinki.

Trump “recklessly” pulled U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria, allowing Russian forces to take over our bases in the region. He has recently invited Putin to rejoin the international organization called the G7—from which Russia was excluded after it invaded Ukraine in 2014—and has suddenly announced that the U.S. will withdraw nearly a third of its troops from Germany, harming NATO and benefitting Russia. And now we know that Trump looked the other way as Russia paid for the slaughter of U.S. troops.

What does all this mean?

Rice doesn’t pull any punches: “At best, our commander in chief is utterly derelict in his duties, presiding over a dangerously dysfunctional national security process that is putting our country and those who wear its uniform at great risk. At worst, the White House is being run by liars and wimps catering to a tyrannical president who is actively advancing our arch adversary’s nefarious interests.”

The president's weakness toward Russia was on the table today in another way, too, as Republicans stripped from a forthcoming defense bill a requirement that campaigns must notify federal authorities if they receive any offer of help from foreign countries. Accepting foreign money or help in any way is already illegal, as Federal Elections Commissioner Ellen Weintraub continually points out. The provision in this bill was a rebuke to the president, who told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos a year ago he would be willing to take such help, and then set out to get it from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. It also put on notice Attorney General William Barr, who in his confirmation hearing hedged his answer to whether he believes a campaign should alert authorities to foreign interference, finally saying he only considers help from foreign governments to be problematic.

For his part, the president continued to try to divert attention from coronavirus and the Russia bounty scandal by stoking a culture war, tweeting threats toward protesters and vandals who have defaced or pulled down statues. “This is a battle to save the Heritage, History, and Greatness of our Country,” he tweeted today. A senior campaign official told Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post, “It’s a great political issue for the president.”

In a Sunday night interview in the Oval Office with Brian Kilmeade of the Fox News Channel, Trump inadvertently revealed just how fully his focus on our “history” is a political gambit. He pushed the issue of statues and history, talking of how vital statues are to understanding American history. Then, when Kilmeade pointed to a famous Frederic Remington statue that sits in the Oval Office and asked if it was of Teddy Roosevelt, Trump said “yes.” It is not. The sculpture is called “The Bronco Buster” and is an unidentified cowboy who looks nothing like Theodore—he hated the nickname “Teddy”-- Roosevelt.

Trump later told Kilmeade, “We have a heritage, we have a history. We should learn from the history. And if you don’t understand your history, you’ll go back to it again. You will go right back to it. You have to learn. Think of it—take away that whole era, and you’ll go back to it sometime—people won’t know about it.”

On that, the president and I agree.

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Notes:                

Coronavirus: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/29/cdc-says-us-has-way-too-much-virus-to-control-pandemic-as-cases-surge-across-country.html

Fauci testimony: https://www.c-span.org/video/?473393-1/drs-anthony-fauci-robert-redfield-stephen-hahn-address-covid-19-reopening-us-economy&live

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/fauci-covid-100k-cases-senate-hearing

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/30/welcome-united-states-idiocracy/

Arizona triage system: https://www.azdhs.gov/documents/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/novel-coronavirus/sdmac/covid-19-addendum.pdf

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trumps-twitter-feed-reads-like-a-local-crime-blotter-as-he-stokes-a-culture-war/2020/06/30/2e1a48c6-baed-11ea-86d5-3b9b3863273b_story.html

https://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/trump-misidentifies-sculpture-in-oval-office-while-sayi-1844200360

Rice: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/30/opinion/trump-russia-afghanistan.html

Trump would accept dirt: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/id-exclusive-interview-trump-listen-foreigners-offered-dirt/story

Barr says yes to dirt, too: https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/441641-barr-hesitates-when-asked-if-campaigns-need-to-report-foreign-government

Briefing: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/06/30/2-things-that-seem-explain-trumps-ignorance-about-russias-bounties/

McEnany:

Money transfer:

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