“I think that at some point, that it’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.” That’s what President Donald Trump said about the coronavirus — not months ago, although he of course did say something similar back in February, but just this Wednesday.
Of course, the virus won’t “disappear” anytime soon, especially so long as the Trump administration continues its mix of wishful thinking and inadequate actions. Cases are surging across the country, particularly in states with leaders eager to toe the Trump line, and Dr. Anthony Fauci testified before Congress on Tuesday that the rate of infection could double from this week’s record to 100,000 new cases a day, putting “the entire country at risk.” Europe has decided to exclude U.S. travelers from its list of permitted visitors as it reopens its borders.
The Trump administration, however, continues to signal that it is not taking the pandemic seriously. This week, American Oversight obtained records from the Tulsa, Okla., health department showing that health officials had initially estimated that two to nine people would die as a direct result of Trump holding a campaign rally there two weeks ago. The “moderate” estimates were based on a projected crowd size of 19,000 — indoors, with few wearing masks — and while the attendance numbers were far lower (much to the president’s fury), it is startling to know the event took place despite such stark predictions from health officials.
While it is not yet known if anyone has died as a result of the rally, news reports indicated that eight Trump campaign staffers involved in the Tulsa event tested positive for Covid-19, and the campaign has canceled a number of in-person rallies. But Trump continues to not wear a mask in public, and his administration is preparing for various Fourth of July celebrations — including one at Mount Rushmore, over objections from tribal leaders — in which social distancing and mask-wearing will not be enforced.
American Oversight has filed hundreds of public records requests to learn more about the Trump administration’s efforts and about how different states have responded to the pandemic in the absence of decisive federal leadership. And this week, we sued the Treasury Department for records related to the coronavirus relief package, to learn whether administration officials are taking more seriously the influence of lobbyists, banks, or private interests than they are the recommendations of health officials or the safety of the American people.
Here’s what else has been going on this week:
Russian Bounties and Trump’s Politicization of U.S. Intelligence: As outrage mounts over the revelations that Trump, despite White House denials, was in fact briefed last year on Russian bounties paid to the Taliban for the killing of Americans, the White House has indicated that it is not planning an immediate response because the president did not believe the reports.
Questioning intelligence reports — whether they’re about Russian bounties or election interference — has been an ongoing aspect of Trump’s attempts to politicize the intelligence community. So have his politically motivated firings and appointments, notably the early April firing of Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson in retaliation for Atkinson having done his job and transmitted to Congress the famous whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry.
On Thursday, we sued the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for records that could shed light on how ODNI resources may have been commandeered for political purposes. We’re also seeking the communications and calendars of high-ranking officials, including emails concerning Atkinson sent by Ric Grenell, a Trump loyalist with no intelligence experience who had been installed as acting director in February.
Emails and Resume of Trump’s Pick to Head Government Personnel Office: The president’s authoritarian purges of officials perceived to be disloyal to him aren’t just confined to the intelligence community, of course. The White House’s efforts to rid the administration of such officials went into full gear following Trump’s acquittal of impeachment charges in the Senate.
This week, Axios reported that Trump plans to place a loyalist at the head of the Office of Personnel Management, which basically functions as the federal workforce’s HR department. The former director of OPM, Dale Cabaniss, had resigned in March after reported poor treatment from John McEntee, the head of the Presidential Personnel Office who has spearheaded Trump’s post-impeachment purge campaign.
Trump’s pick for the new OPM director is John Gibbs, a senior appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a former conservative commentator who spread conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign chair having partaken in Satanic rituals. American Oversight obtained his resume and a number of his emails, which include frequent contacts with the far-right anti-LGBTQ organization Focus on the Family. His resume highlights his previous writings for the Federalist, including criticism of racial justice movements and promotion of unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud.
You can read more about our investigation into Trump’s post-impeachment purges here.
Part of Investigation: