September 2, 2020
As I wade through the flood of news today, all of it trying to tilt the playing field toward Trump in the upcoming election, it strikes me there is an elephant in the room that we really need to identify: why is Trump so hell-bent on reelection? He has made it clear he doesn’t particularly like the job. He has no real goals for a second term. He feels victimized by the media and his opponents. He prefers Florida to Washington, D.C., and he really likes to golf. He claims to be wealthy enough to do whatever he wants. So why on earth is he apparently determined to bend our democracy to the point of breaking in order to win reelection to a job he doesn’t seem to want to do?
According to today’s news, Trump’s acting Director of the Department of Homeland Security, Chad Wolf, recently buried the release of a bulletin from the Intelligence Community warning that Russians were trying to undermine Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by saying he is deteriorating mentally. The bulletin was produced for federal, state, and local law enforcement, but DHS Chief of Staff John Gountanis stopped the distribution of the bulletin and referred it to Wolf. It disappeared. Congress will not be able to ask about what happened because on Saturday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced it would no longer brief Congress in person on election security.
A DHS spokesperson said the bulletin had been pulled because it had not met the agency’s standards, but analysts who produced it said they had determined with “high confidence” that the disinformation effort was taking place. Trump, of course, has tried repeatedly to establish the idea that Biden, who stutters, is slipping mentally.
Although the administration tried to bury this intelligence committee report about actual Russian interference in the election, today Attorney General William Barr told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer a fake story. He said that hostile foreign powers could send thousands of mail-in ballots to this year’s election, creating massive voter fraud. When pressed, Barr admitted there was no evidence for such a claim. The US Intelligence Community has no evidence that foreign countries are trying to manipulate mail-in ballots.
Trump is also continuing his attacks on mail-in votes, insisting they will usher in voter fraud despite their widespread previous use that showed no evidence of fraud, and despite the fact that the president himself votes by mail. Today, in North Carolina, he urged people to vote twice in the November election, once by mail and once in person, to test the validity of the election. Voting twice is illegal under federal law. Under North Carolina state law, it is also illegal to induce someone to vote twice.
On Monday, we learned that Barr has recently replaced the head of the Office of Law and Policy, a Justice Department office that oversees the FBI’s intelligence-gathering activities. Barr has removed Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brad Wiegmann, a 23-year career public servant, and replaced him with 36-year-old Kellen Dwyer, a prosecutor who made headlines two years ago when he accidentally revealed that the US government had indicted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The timing of this replacement, just before the election, might reflect Barr’s planned release of a report of his own on the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Barr has dispatched his own investigator to counter the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Senate established that the investigation was legitimate, and that Russia did, in fact, intervene in the 2016 election to bolster Trump.
Remember, that while world leaders are condemning Russia for the recent poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Trump has still not commented on it. Neither has he addressed the story that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to kill US and allied soldiers in Afghanistan, nor the growing Russian aggression toward US troops in Syria.
There is yet another possible attempt to skew the election on the horizon. Led by Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), federal health officials have told states to get ready to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by November. Vaccine-makers say this timing is impossible, and that they will not know by then if their vaccines, which are currently in development, are safe and effective. The chief of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Stephen Hahn, insists that the agency won’t approve a vaccine simply to help Trump get reelected, but the FDA’s recent authorization of emergency use of convalescent plasma despite concerns about its effectiveness has worried public health experts. In any case, Redfield’s letter suggests the CDC might authorize a vaccine itself through its emergency powers.
Trump is also pushing hard on the idea that Democrats have created a crisis of violence in the country and he is the one advocating “Law & Order,” as he keeps tweeting.
On CNN today, White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley blamed Democrats for the shooting a week ago in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that took two lives and wounded a third person. Seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse allegedly crossed state lines with an AR-15-style gun that was illegally in his possession and, after scuffling with some people, opened fire. Gidley insisted that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. He blamed Democrats for restraining the police, leading citizens to have to step in. “If you don’t allow police to do their job then the American people have to defend themselves in some way.” While Gidley said he was not defending vigilantes, it sure sounded like he was inciting violence. He noted that “we have a Second Amendment in this country” and warned that Democrats were stripping “cops” of their ability to protect us, leaving American families “in grave danger.”
If any prior administration had openly condoned (if not incited) this kind of homicidal violence, it would’ve been an enormous scandal.
In the Trump Administration, it’s Wednesday. https://t.co/LHjn7gE00p
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) September 2, 2020
Of course, protests against police have been driven not by a general disregard for law enforcement, but rather by such horrors as the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who casually knelt on Floyd’s neck until he died; the murder of Breonna Taylor of Louisville, Kentucky, shot in her bed by police looking for her ex-boyfriend; and, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, by the shooting of Jacob Blake seven times in the back as he reached for his car door. Leading Democrats, including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, have called not for getting rid of police departments, but rather for addressing what appears to be deadly racism within some of them. Biden has actually called for increasing funding to help law enforcement officers handle functions outside the normal expectations of a police force.
The suggestion that Democrats are responsible for a young man’s deadly decision to carry a friend’s weapon to a city in another state is a campaign ploy, and today the president made another such ploy when he signed a memo that sets out to restrict federal money from going to what the White House calls “anarchist jurisdictions.” It orders the Office of Management and Budget to examine what federal funding goes to cities where Trump insists—despite their adamant denials—that Democrats want to “defund” police. The memo leaves Trump loyalist Attorney General William Barr in charge of determining which cities fall into this category according to “any… factors the Attorney General deems appropriate.” The memo does spell out certain parameters. A so-called “anarchist jurisdiction” is defined as one that “disempowers or defunds police departments” or one that “unreasonably refuses to accept offers of law enforcement assistance from the Federal Government.” The memo specifically lists Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; and New York City as “anarchist jurisdictions.”
The memo says: “My Administration will not allow Federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones…. It is imperative that the Federal Government review the use of Federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America’s cities.” “This is a campaign document coming out of the White House,” said Sam Berger, a former OMB official. “Any actual restriction on funding in court will immediately be sued and almost certainly struck down.”
Trump’s effort to convince Americans that he is defending law and order does not appear to be working. In Politico, JR Ross, an expert on Wisconsin Politics, noted that Trump’s fearmongering isn’t working because “after such a tense, violent summer, the protesters might look bad, but Trump, and his law-and-order supporters, don’t look much better.”
According to pollster Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, when asked which candidate would “make you feel more safe or less safe,” 35% of those polled said Trump made them feel more safe, while 50% said less safe. Forty-two percent said Biden made them feel more safe while 40% said he made them feel less safe.
Once again, because the same thing happened in June, pundits’ gut feeling that pivoting to LAW AND ORDER would help Trump is not really being borne out in the data. https://t.co/9drRYH1K2B
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) September 2, 2020