May 13, 2020 – President Trump has made clear that he accepts, in his words, no “responsibility at all” for the devastating coronavirus toll. That’s why, rather than focus nearly singularly on solving this unprecedented crisis, Trump has instead attempted to take advantage of an understandably distracted public and media to accelerate his authoritarian, divisive, and dangerous agenda. From assaulting the rule of law and our immigration system to taking a sledgehammer to environmental regulations and human rights, Trump has made one thing painfully clear: Even in the midst of a generational crisis, he will put his own agenda and interests over the national interest.
True to his form as an aspiring autocrat, Trump has mounted an all-out assault on our democratic institutions and has continued to purge officials with the courage or even just the platform to speak truth to power:
In another gross abuse of power, Attorney General Barr — seemingly at the President’s encouragement — steered the Justice Department to drop charges against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
He fired Glenn Fine, the Pentagon watchdog responsible for leading the oversight board overseeing the $2.2 trillion stimulus package.
He fired Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson solely because Atkinson had the temerity to follow the law and forward the Intelligence Community whistleblower complaint to Congress.
He threatened to fire Nancy Messonier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, for announcing in February that the CDC was preparing for a potential pandemic.
He removed Richard Bright, the director of HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, for pushing back against unproven coronavirus remedies frequently touted by Trump. According to Bright’s whistleblower complaint, “It was obvious that Dr. Bright’s persistent demands for urgent action to respond to the pandemic had caused a ‘shit storm’ and a ‘commotion’ and were unwelcome in the office of the HHS Secretary.”
He moved to replace Christi Grimm, HHS’ principal deputy inspector general, after a report from her office noted widespread supply shortages and testing delays.
All the while, Trump has attempted to distract by launching baseless attacks with undefined allegations against his predecessor, even as he appears to have no idea what his own “Obamagate” moniker refers to — beyond a hashtag in search of a scandal.
At the same time, Trump has rushed to fill the ranks of his administration with partisan loyalists:
Trump again tapped Rep. John Ratcliffe to be Director of National Intelligence. Ratcliffe has no intelligence experience aside from his short tenure on the House Intelligence Committee, where he developed “a reputation for absenteeism and lackluster interest in complicated intelligence issues.” Ratcliffe was tapped for the same position last year but withdrawn due to his lack of experience, partisanship, and embellishment of his scant relevant experience.
After ousting John Rood, who warned against freezing security assistance to Ukraine, from his role of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Trump replaced him with Anthony Tata, a former Fox News commentator who staunchly defended Trump’s intervention in the Gallagher case and his deployment of troops to the Southern border.
Trump has assigned Michael Cutrone, a loyalist and top advisor to Vice President Pence, to a key role in the Department of Defense, where he is expected to vet Department officials for loyalty to the president.
Trump also has used the virus as an opportunity to push his extreme immigration agenda:
Trump signed an Executive Order temporarily restricting immigration to the United States, specifically targeting some green card applicants and the family of legal permanent residents and citizens.
He threatened to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities during the outbreak. When asked to clarify Trump’s stance days later, White House advisor Larry Kudlow refused to rule out the possibility of doing so.
Trump announced that he would invoke sweeping emergency powers to bypass asylum laws and expel migrants en masse. The results have been devastating: the number of unaccompanied migrant minors allowed to enter as refugees plummeted from nearly 2,000 in March to just 58 in April.
As he works to restrict immigration, Trump also continues to corruptly pursue his expensive and ineffective border wall by waiving federal regulations to accelerate construction during the pandemic and transferring billions more from the Pentagon, including insisting on spending $500 million to paint it black.
Trump’s war on science, including when it comes to climate change, has continued unabated, despite having landed us in the midst of a pandemic:
Citing the outbreak, Trump’s EPA announced that it would stop enforcing environmental regulations as long as companies linked their violations to the pandemic. Days later, Trump rolled back Obama-era regulations that required greater fuel efficiency in new cars.
On April 14, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced that the administration would not strengthen a regulation on industrial soot emissions, despite the recommendation of EPA scientists. Later that week, the EPA announced that it would loosen regulations on the emission of mercury and other toxic metals from power plants.
At a time of suffering around the world, Trump’s reckless foreign policy has only compounded grave humanitarian conditions:
The Trump administration canceled tens of millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance to Yemen, jeopardizing 31 of 41 programs in the country, according to UN officials. Moreover, the decision to withhold funding to the World Health Organization could also jeopardize the health and safety of Yemenis, who rely significantly on the WHO’s assistance.
In Afghanistan, as negotiations remain on life-support, Secretary Pompeo announced a $1 billion dollar reduction in humanitarian aid in late March and is preparing to cut another $1 billion in assistance in 2021.
In Iran, Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy is doing little but causing suffering and exacerbating an already devastating coronavirus outbreak. All the while, needless provocations have continued to raise the risk of escalation without any sign of the promised “better deal” in sight.
Despite UN Secretary General Guterres’ call for an international cease-fire, the Trump administration has conducted more airstrikes in Somalia this this year alone than during all eight years of the Obama administration.
To obscure the growing toll of Trump’s escalating airstrikes, the Pentagon announced that it will no longer provide regular updates on the number of strikes in key theaters, another instance of the Trump administration’s repeated efforts to decrease battlefield transparency.
We are former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders who have seen first-hand how the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world when we stand strong with our allies, pursue principled diplomacy, and stay true to the values that have long defined America at home and abroad. www.nationalsecurityaction.org