Letters From an American

What Did He Know and When Did He Know It?

Trump in a mire: Russian bounties, COVID-19, Obamacare and golf

What Did He Know and When Did He Know It?

In his new book, veteran journalist Bob Woodward revealed that Trump’s former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who was the president’s top intelligence official from March 2017 to August 2019, could not overcome his “deep suspicions” that Putin “had something” on Trump. (Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)

June 27, 2020

The Trump administration did not respond until almost 5:00 this evening to last night’s astonishing news that Russian operatives had offered bounties on US soldiers during the Afghanistan peace talks, and that the administration had been briefed on this development back in March and had chosen not to respond. The story was broken last night by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and confirmed today by the Washington Post.

Trump himself did not engage the story at all, although he had plenty to say today on Twitter. Late in the afternoon, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany finally said in a statement that Trump and Vice President Pence had not been briefed on the “alleged Russian bounty intelligence.” Trump’s acting Director of National Intelligence at the time, Richard Grenell, who had no expertise in intelligence before taking the post, today denied knowing anything about the story.

Is it possible that intelligence officials knew that Russia was paying militants to target US and allied troops and they chose not to tell the president, vice president, or acting Director of National Intelligence? According to Ned Price, a national security expert who worked at the CIA for eleven years and who left rather than work for Trump, the answer is no. “That’s virtually inconceivable,” he wrote on Twitter. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham seemed to agree. “Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region,” he tweeted.

That was not the only story the administration denied today. Trump also pushed back on the story that the Department of Justice is asking the Supreme Court to kill the Affordable Care Act. “Now that the very expensive, unpopular and unfair Individual Mandate provision has been terminated by us,” he tweeted, “many States & the US are asking the Supreme Court that Obamacare itself be terminate so that it can be replaced with a FAR BETTER AND MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE ALTERNATIVE…. Obamacare is a joke! Deductible is far too high and the overall cost is ridiculous. My Administration has gone out of its way to manage OC much better than previous, but it is still no good. I will ALWAYS PROTECT PEOPLE WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS.”

But the administration is in court right now trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act, along with its protection for people with pre-existing conditions. And while Trump ran for president in 2016 on the idea that he would replace the Affordable Care Act with something better, the Republican Party has never offered a replacement bill.

There was a lesser story, too, where what the administration said did not square with what actually happened. Yesterday, Trump tweeted “I was going to go to Bedminster, New Jersey, this weekend, but wanted to stay in Washington, D.C to make sure LAW & ORDER is enforced. The arsonists, anarchists, looters and agitators have been largely stopped….”

Today, Trump spent the day at his golf course in Sterling, Virginia.

And then there was a huge story where reality crashed into ideology. Today, the US set another record for coronavirus cases, with 44,782 new infections. This is the fifth daily record in a row. Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Nevada all set new daily highs. Trump has consistently downplayed the severity of the pandemic, urging governors to reopen their states and restart their economies. Governors in Florida and Texas, who had been aggressive about reopening their states, have backtracked to slow the spread of the virus. “If I could go back and redo anything,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) said, “it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars….”

Meanwhile, New York, which had been the epicenter of the virus, has dropped its new infections from almost 10,000 a day to just 673 cases statewide, and is about to enter a new phase of its reopening plan.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN’s Chris Cillizza that Democrats like him had a fact-based theory about how to beat coronavirus infections: keep the state closed until metrics showed the virus was receding. Republicans, in contrast, thought: “We can reopen quickly and we can handle the virus because it will go away, or we will have a vaccine.”

Cuomo pointed out that the coronavirus highlighted the difference between reality and a narrative based in ideology. “A virus has a rate of increase and a number of deaths either goes up or goes down,” he said. “The number of people going to hospitals goes up or goes down. It’s not subject to debate because the hospital bed is either empty or it’s full, we either bury people or we don’t.”

“We tested both theories,” Cuomo told Cillizza. “We have the evidence. It’s numbers. It’s irrefutable. Why don’t we pause and recognize the undeniable reality of the situation?” “There are no Democratic facts and Republican facts,” he said. “There are just facts.”

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.

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