Letters From an American

The World of the White House Falls to Pieces

The World of the White House Falls to Pieces

January 15, 2021

Two stories jump out at me tonight.

The first is the question of why Trump seems so desperate to stay in a job he clearly has no interest in doing. Today, reporters caught sight of Michael J. Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow, going into the White House. Lindell has been strong advocate of the idea that the 2020 election, which Democrat Joe Biden won by more than 7 million votes and by a vote of 306 to 232 in the Electoral College, was fraudulent. Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford snapped an image of the papers Lindell was carrying with him, and the words on it seem to offer a plan for Trump to invoke martial law through the Insurrection Act.

Lindell later told reporters his meeting with Trump had been brief and unproductive, but the very fact he got a hearing testifies to Trump’s desperation.

That desperation suggests that Trump knows he is facing something bad the minute he is out of the presidency. It is reasonable to assume that trouble will come from the fact his immunity from prosecution under the 1973 Department of Justice memo saying that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted will end at noon on January 20, 2021. It also seems likely that the American people are going to learn that some of the actions of the Trump administration cannot bear scrutiny.

Signs that there might be damaging information about the January 6 attack on the Capitol showed today. Stories of the fighting inside the building continued to emerge today, and the stories reveal armed insurgents who attacked with the belief that they were doing Trump’s bidding. Officers were badly outnumbered, and beaten with their own batons, American flags, and the “thin blue line” flag that those who fly it have insisted represents support for the police. Officer Christina Laury told NBC’s Jackie Bensen, ““I remember people swinging metal poles at us,” she said. “They were pushing and shoving. They were spraying us with bear mace and pepper spray.”

The assistant director of the FBI Washington Field Office, Steven M. D’Antuono, today told reporters that the department, working together with the Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney’s Office, has identified more than 270 suspects involved in criminal activity around the Capitol on January 6, and law enforcement officers have more than 100 of them in custody. He noted that the FBI had received more than 140,000 photos and videos from the public, and warned perpetrators: “To those of you who took part in the violence, here’s something you should know: Every FBI field office in the country is looking for you.” He told reporters that the investigation was still in its earliest stages.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced today that she has asked retired Lieutenant Russel Honore to lead a review of the security arrangements for last week, and warned that if lawmakers are found to have aided the insurgents, they will face consequences in Congress and also in court. While several agencies are investigating what led to last week’s crisis and why the Capitol Police were left unsupported for hours, Pelosi’s public statement was the first to acknowledge the swirling rumors that the insurgents might have had inside help.

News broke today that prosecutors in Georgia appear to be considering a criminal investigation against Trump for his efforts to bully election officials in the state into changing the results of the election. Michael J. Moore, the former United States attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, told New York Times reporters Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim: “If you took the fact out that he is the president of the United States and look at the conduct of the call, it tracks the communication you might see in any drug case or organized crime case. It’s full of threatening undertone and strong-arm tactics.”

We also learned today that New York prosecutors met yesterday with Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen to ask about Trump’s finances, especially his relationship with Deutsche Bank, which continued to lend to him even after other sources of financing dried up.

And yet another story emerged today that reflects badly on the administration. Its vaccination rollout is far behind where officials had promised it would be by now, and three days ago, on January 12, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced the government would no longer hold back second doses of the vaccine, expecting that pharmaceutical companies could keep pace and produce enough vaccines for the second dose as it was needed. The popular understanding was that they had held back half the available doses for that second necessary shot.

But today we learned that when Azar made that announcement, there was no reserve; the available vaccines had already been distributed. State health officials are outraged that vaccines they had counted on are not available, another sign of just how chaotic the vaccine rollout has been. Chicago Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady told Washington Post reporters Isaac Stanley-Becker and Lena H. Sun, “I have stopped paying a whole lot of attention to what is being said verbally at the federal level right now.”

Tonight, Azar handed his resignation to Trump, effective at noon on January 20, the minute Trump leaves office. His resignation letter touts the administration’s “remarkable response to the pandemic” and insists that “our early, aggressive, and comprehensive efforts saved hundreds of thousands or even millions of American lives.” It goes on to list what he considers the many triumphs of the administration in health care. Azar appears to suggest that he is resigning because of “the actions and rhetoric following the election,” although he never identifies Trump as being behind those actions and rhetoric.

In light of all that has happened in the past two weeks, it seems noteworthy that Trump’s appointees in the Pentagon stopped sharing information with Biden’s team in mid-December. Trump appointees also refused to share information with Biden’s people about their plan for the coronavirus vaccine. When they finally did, Biden expressed concern at what seemed to him a lack of a detailed plan. Azar dismissed Biden’s concerns as “nonsense.”

If Trump’s eagerness to cling to the presidency and cover up his actions is one of today’s stories, the other is that President-Elect Joe Biden is stepping into the space the current president has abandoned. He is taking on the coronavirus crisis with the seriousness it deserves. The pandemic has reached appalling levels, with well over 3000 deaths and more than 200,000 infections every day. Almost 390,000 of us have died of Covid-19 to date, and a far more contagious version of the disease is spreading.

In a speech today, Biden announced he will use the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Guard to build clinics to distribute the coronavirus vaccine, and that he will make sure doses are available at local pharmacies. He promised to invoke the Defense Production Act—a law that lets the government tell a company what to make and then guarantees a market for all of that item it produces– to guarantee there are enough supplies of vials, syringes, needles, and so on, to move the vaccine and get it into people’s arms.

“This will be one of the most challenging operation efforts ever undertaken by our country, but you have my word,” Biden said. “We will manage the hell out of this operation.”

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