December 21, 2020 (Monday)
In the past two days, stories in major papers have focused on the president’s deteriorating mental state. The Atlantic ran a story by Peter Wehner titled “Trump is Losing His Mind.” It describes “Trump’s descent into madness.” Politico ran Michael Kruse’s story titled “Is Trump Cracking Under the Weight of Losing?””[T]he actual fact of the matter,” it said, is that “Trump is a loser.” Kruse points to Trump’s uncharacteristic absence from the public eye to wonder if he is breaking down mentally.
“His fragile ego has never been tested to this extent,” Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen told Kruse. “While he’s creating a false pretense of strength and fortitude, internally he is angry, depressed and manic. As each day ends, Trump knows he’s one day closer to legal and financial troubles. Accordingly, we will all see his behavior deteriorate until it progresses into a full mental breakdown.”
CNN reported that senior White House officials are worried about what Trump might do in the next month as he spends more and more time with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is under active investigation by federal prosecutors; conspiracy lawyer Sidney Powell; disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn; Steve Bannon, who has recently been indicted for fraud; Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade adviser; and now Patrick Byrne, the founder of the Overstock retail website.
Trump is turning to this group of misfits rather than advisers like his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, or White House counsel Pat Cipollone. The new advisers are encouraging him to declare martial law or to seize state voting machines to examine them for fraud or to appoint a special counsel to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter. Trump has floated the idea of naming Powell as a special counsel inside the White House Counsel’s office to investigate the election. Meadows and Cipollone argue, correctly, that this is crazy.
Nonetheless, far right House lawmakers met with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Monday to strategize challenging Congress’s certification of the states’ electoral votes on January 6. While several House Republicans are on board with the scheme, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is trying to stop senators from signing on, since challenges in both the House and the Senate would force Republicans to vote against Trump, publicly. The challenges do not have the votes to stop to certification of Biden’s ballots.
Previous loyalists are opening up water between themselves and the president. Evangelical leader Pat Robertson, who famously said Trump was part of God’s plan for America, made the news today with his declaration that, for all the good he claims Trump has done, the president “lives in an alternate reality,” and has been “very erratic.” Robertson says it is time to recognize that Biden is the president-elect and it is time for Trump “to move on.”
Attorney General William Barr also broke with Trump today, saying that he saw no need to appoint a special counsel to investigate voter fraud or to investigate Hunter Biden, and that there was no evidence of voter fraud that would have changed the outcome of the 2020 election. Barr also confirmed that it was Russia, rather than any other country, that hacked the United States government and prominent companies over the course of the past year. Barr will leave office on Wednesday.
Yesterday, Erica Newland, a former lawyer for the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice, published an op-ed in the New York Times saying she is “Haunted by What I Did as a Lawyer in the Trump Justice Department.” Lawyers like her, she said, hoped they were limiting the damage Trump could do but were instead, she concluded, finding ways to make his demands legal. Represented by the caliber of lawyers who are currently at his side—Giuliani and Powell, for example—Newland argues, he could never have made anything stick. Newland resigned from her post in 2018 and now says, “No matter our intentions, we were complicit.” They helped enable Trump’s assault on our democracy, and on reality. She offered her apology to the nation.
Meanwhile, right-wing media outlets Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and One America News are also concerned with the law. They are madly backpedaling as they face the consequences of their baseless accusations against election software company Smartmatic. Although that company was involved in the 2020 election only in Los Angeles County, right-wing media personalities have accused it of altering votes in several states in the 2020 presidential contest. The lawyer for the company’s founder, Antonio Mugica, has sent letters to the FNC, Newsmax, and OAN demanding that they retract their stories and warning them to keep documents for a forthcoming defamation suit. Voting machine manufacturer Dominion Voting Systems, also included in the news stories, has also hired legal counsel.
The threat of lawsuits has prompted the FNC and Newsmax to “clarify” at some length that they had no evidence of any of the improprieties they alleged. On Newsmax, John Tabacco also had to clarify that there was no relationship between Dominion Voting Systems and Dianne Feinstein, the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, George Soros, Hugo Chavez, or the government of Venezuela.
As he descends into the fever swamps, Trump has largely given up any pretense of governing. His public schedule remains empty, and his private meetings appear to focus on how he can stay in office. Today we learned that Russian hackers broke into the email system used by the leadership of the Treasury Department, but the cyberattack from Russia has gone unaddressed except to the extent the president tried to blame the attack on China (although he has made no move to retaliate against China for the attack). He has made little attempt to shepherd any sort of an economic relief bill through Congress. And, most crucially, he is silent about the epidemic that is killing us. As of this evening, more than 18 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus, and at least 319,000 have died.
The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis that is investigating the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic today released documents showing that Trump appointees in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tried to “alter or block” at least 13 of the reports written by CDC scientists. Appointees messed around with the CDC’s traditional “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports” and edited reports on the use of masks, the dangers of Covid-19 in children, and the spread of the disease. They also tried to delete emails revealing political interference in scientific assessments. Some of the emails from science adviser Paul Alexander calling for the administration to speed the spread of coronavirus in order to achieve herd immunity have sparked outrage.
Chaired by Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the select subcommittee today issued subpoenas to Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar and Director of the CDC Dr. Robert Redfield for all documents “relating to efforts by political appointees… to interfere with scientific work conducted by career officials.” It had requested the documents earlier this month, but HHS and the CDC declined either to cooperate or to permit Redfield to testify about political censorship to the committee.
Meanwhile President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris are preparing to take office in the midst of a pandemic, a sweeping computer systems hack, and a recession, while the outgoing president tries to undermine them by ordering his own officials not to tell them anything that could be used against him and by insisting that they were not legitimately elected.
Biden was inoculated with the coronavirus vaccine today on national television to illustrate that the shot is safe; incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden also got the shot today. Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, will be vaccinated next week.