alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.

Julia Conley

Barr claims Trump cannot be sued for denying writer's rape accusation: Using DOJ 'to crush a victim'

In Attorney General Bill Barr's latest attempt to help President Donald Trump avoid accountability for an alleged rape he is accused of committing in the 1990s, Barr on Monday argued in court filings that when the president denied columnist E. Jean Carroll's accusation last year, he was acting not on behalf of his own interests but in his capacity as a public servant representing the people of the United States.

"Given the president's position in our constitutional structure, his role in communicating with the public is especially significant," wrote Justice Department lawyers, who last month at Barr's direction replaced Trump's personal legal team to represent the president in the case, in a highly unusual move. "The president's statements fall within the scope of his employment for multiple reasons."

The statements the government lawyers were referring to include Trump's claim that Carroll was "not [his] type," that he had never met her despite photographic evidence to the contrary, and that she was a liar who was trying to sell books by accusing him of raping her in a department store more than two decades ago, long before Trump's political career began.

"There is not a single person in the United States—not the president and not anyone else—whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted," Carroll's attorneys wrote in response to the DOJ's claim on Monday.

Carroll, who sued Trump for defamation in a New York state court following his remarks, tweeted that she and her legal team are planning to argue in court that Trump's denial was "not an official act."


The DOJ lawyers' claim comes a month after Barr intervened in Carroll's case against Trump, both by replacing the president's legal representation and by attempting to transfer the lawsuit from the state court to a federal district court. Both moves suggest the DOJ aims to have the case treated as one that was filed against a government employee who is immune from defamation lawsuits, in order to have Carroll's case dismissed.

Former federal prosecutor and NBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner tweeted that Barr's latest action goes against the department's responsibility to work "on behalf of victims."

"Bill Barr is trying to use the DOJ to crush a victim," Kirschner said.


Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden last week criticized the president for using the DOJ as his "own law firm" to gain the upper hand in his legal troubles.

"'I'm being sued because a woman's accusing me of rape. Represent me. Represent me,'" Mr. Biden said in imitation of the president. "What's that all about?"


Judge strikes down Trump effort to slash food stamps for 700,000 Americans: Victory for 'basic human decency'

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. late Sunday struck down the Trump administration's proposed changes to the SNAP benefits program, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of people from losing badly-needed federal food assistance.

U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell issued a scathing ruling, denouncing President Donald Trump and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who she said have been "icily silent about how many [adults] would have been denied SNAP benefits had the changes sought ... been in effect while the pandemic rapidly spread across the country."

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who was among more than a dozen state attorneys general who joined the District of Columbia in suing the administration over the changes, called Howell's ruling "a major victory for common sense and basic human decency in our nation."


The USDA proposed the changes months before the coronavirus pandemic began. They were initially set to go into effect in April, but Howell issued an injunction in March, as the president declared a state of emergency, ordering the administration to delay the changes. Perdue later appealed Howell's order, potentially allowing the new rules to go into effect despite a pandemic that has left millions unemployed.

Under existing SNAP benefits rules, states are able to waive work requirements for SNAP benefits for areas with unemployment rates as low as 2.5%. Perdue and Trump moved to tighten the criteria for waiving the requirements by raising the minimum rate to 6%.

The change could have left nearly 700,000 people without the benefit, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

Tamar Haspel, a Post food policy columnist, tweeted that the proposal, and the administration's attempt to ensure it could go into effect during the public health and economic crisis, was in the running for Trump's "Vilest Policy Ever."


The pandemic, Howell said in her ruling, exposed how unworkable the administration's proposed changes were, with the number of Americans relying on SNAP benefits growing by 17%, or six million enrollees, and unemployment rates quadrupling.

Perdue and Trump displayed an "utter failure to address the issue" of how millions would be affected by new work requirements during the crisis, Howell said, rendering their changes "arbitrary and capricious."

With the ruling handed down two weeks before Nov. 3, the last day Americans can vote in the presidential election, journalist Matt Taibbi wrote that it may serve as a reminder of the president's priorities.


"Trump: yes to Space Force, no to Food Stamps," Taibbi tweeted.

8 million forced into poverty since McConnell let relief expire: studies

The authors of two separate poverty studies out of three top universities said Thursday that their findings make the unmistakable case for more federal economic aid for families struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic.

Seven months after Congress passed the CARES Act, which included expanded unemployment benefits and one-time direct payments of $1,200 for many adults and $500 per child, the package's positive impact on poverty levels have already been reversed, according to a study by researchers at Columbia University's Center on Poverty and Social Policy and one out of the University of Chicago and Notre Dame.

While the number of people living in poverty fell by about four million after the CARES Act was passed, the Columbia study found that eight million more Americans are now poor than were in May—signaling that the pandemic has plunged more people into poverty than before the crisis.

The University of Chicago and Notre Dame study found that six million people have fallen into poverty in the past three months. Both reports found that the number of children living in poverty is rising, with 2.5 million more poor children since May.

Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein tweeted that the studies represent just one piece of bad news this week for families struggling with joblessness and the threat of Covid-19, as an agreement between the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans "remains out of reach."



House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday about a potential aid package, but the two sides came no closer to reaching a deal. House Democrats want more direct aid for families while Republicans in the Senate proposed a far more meager package last month with payroll assistance. President Donald Trump has shown some support for a means-tested direct payment while the White House has objected to financing a nationwide coronavirus testing strategy as cases surpass 7.9 million.

As Common Dreams has reported, the CARES Act has been recognized as a significant piece of anti-poverty legislation, saving 12 million people from being pushed into poverty when it was passed in March. The Columbia study found that in May, 18 million people were being kept out of poverty thanks to the direct payments and $600 per week enhanced unemployment benefits.

"It wasn't perfect, but hands down it's the most successful thing we've ever done in negating hardship," H. Luke Shaefer, a researcher at the University of Michigan, told the New York Times, which reported that millions of people—including undocumented immigrants and families who don't have large enough incomes to file tax returns—were left out of the package.

A major shortcoming of the CARES Act, Columbia researcher Christopher Wimer told the Times, "was its temporary nature."

The Times also detailed some of the lengths families are going to in order to stretch their dwindling incomes after facing layoffs and being forced to stay home from work to look after their children. A woman in Michigan reported cutting back on her meals in order to keep her children fed, while a mother in California said her family has been eating only cold food like cereal for dinner to save on propane costs and that she attempted to undergo an invasive medical procedure to sell her eggs to a fertility clinic.

The numbers and personal accounts of poverty "are very concerning," Bruce D. Meyer, co-author of the University of Chicago study, told the Times. "It's really important that we reinstate some of the lost benefits."


Secretly-filmed documentary details Trump's colossal COVID-19 failures

Several public health experts who have spent this year watching as President Donald Trump has ignored, refuted, and openly mocked their guidance on the coronavirus pandemic are among those interviewed in a new documentary titled "Totally Under Control"—coming forward to give an insider's account of how the Trump administration's severe mismanagement of the crisis led to more than 216,000 deaths in the United States so far.

Directed by Alex Gibney—whose previous documentary subjects include the energy company Enron, the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and the church of Scientology—the trailer for the film begins with reports of the first confirmed Covid-19 case in the U.S. on January 20 and concludes with the president making the claim that the documentary is named after, telling a reporter that the pandemic is "totally under control."

The experts featured in the trailer and film make clear that while the U.S. had at its disposal every resource it needed to save hundreds of thousands of lives, the federal government refused to prepare healthcare workers and the general public for the crisis, choosing instead to downplay the pandemic.

"We, the scientists, knew what to do for the pandemic response," says Dr. Rick Bright, a vaccine expert who was ousted from his role at the Health and Human Services Department after objecting to Trump's Covid-19 response. "The plan was in front of us but leadership would not do it. It is time to lay our careers on the line and push back."

Watch:


TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL - OFFICIAL TRAILER - IN CINEMAS & ON DIGITAL OCTOBER 23 youtu.be


The film was made in secret, and also includes interviews with former CDC director Tom Frieden, Dr. Taison Bell of University of Virginia, and Michael Bowen, an executive at medical supply company Prestige Ameritech whose offer to produce N95 masks was dismissed by federal officials in January.

"Political leaders caused avoidable death and destruction," Frieden, who served under the Obama administration, says in the trailer.

In the two-hour film, Gibney focuses significantly on a "missing six weeks" in February and March when the federal government failed to implement a widespread testing strategy and the CDC went ahead with the development of a faulty test kit. The administration "squandered the critical window for containing the virus" during that time, wrote Adrian Horton at The Guardian.

Around the same time, Trump spoke with veteran journalist Bob Woodward, who later released audio recordings of the president stating clearly that he understood the virus to be highly deadly and virulent to people of all ages—even as he was publicly saying Covid-19 would likely "disappear" on its own in a matter of weeks or months.

"They knew all this, and yet they refused to act," Gibney told The Guardian.

Reviewers of the film at The Guardian and the Washington Post wrote that "Totally Under Control" will likely be most widely viewed and appreciated by people who are already familiar with and critical of the president's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

But "should open-minded viewers decide to watch 'Totally Under Control,'" wrote Ann Hornaday at the Post, "they're likely to feel snapped awake, as if from a long, horrifying national trance. Let's hope they keep awake, and stay angry."

"Totally Under Control" is available to rent on streaming platforms including YouTube and iTunes, and will be available on Hulu on October 20.

White House cleaning staff sick with COVID-19 told to use 'discretion' as Trump enjoys balcony photo-op

At least two members of the White House residence staff tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, the same day President Donald Trump returned home after a three-day stay at Walter Reed Medical Center following his Covid-19 diagnosis last week—indicating that the White House outbreak has reached far beyond high-profile insiders like press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and adviser Kellyanne Conway.

The two Covid-positive housekeepers were urged to use "discretion" after learning of their diagnosis, while Trump arrived back at the White House to dramatically remove his face covering while posing for photos on the building's South Portico.


"This is what I was worried about," tweeted emergency physician Megan Ranney after the housekeepers' diagnoses were first reported by Forbes. "The behavior of the first family has endangered not only their own health, but that of the staff."

The housekeepers, who are part of a staff of more than 90 residence workers including ushers, butlers, valets, florists, and cooks—did not have direct contact with the first family in recent days, when the president and First Lady Melania Trump both announced they had tested positive.

But the gathering Trump hosted on Sept. 26 to celebrate his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court has been identified as a "super-spreader" event, with at least eight attendees now infected. Many attendees were maskless and did not socially-distance at the gathering, which took place both indoors and outdoors. The president has openly mocked mask-wearing and ordered a White House reporter to remove his face covering at a briefing last month.

According to Forbes, multiple White House staffers who have been in close contact with people who tested positive for Covid-19 after the event have continued to report to work at the executive mansion, flouting CDC guidance—suggesting that several more members of the residence staff may have contracted the disease.

"There's obviously the chance that the residence team is just walking, doing their job and catching the droplets or whatever," Deesha Dyer, who served as White House social secretary during the Obama administration, told the Washington Post on Monday. "It makes me angry because I do care about these people, and they're amazing, and so many of them did not have a choice... And it's just trifling and unnecessary to put them at risk because you can't be bothered to wear a mask."

The members of the White House residence staff are largely Black and Latino. Many are elderly, putting them at greater risk for severe Covid-19 infections.

Critics on social media condemned the president for treating the building staff "recklessly" and endangering them "for his own vanity."



"No one should have to work in this building," tweeted author and historian James Gleick on Tuesday, responding to a video of a White House staffer in a hazmat suit sanitizing the press room. "Not reporters, not housekeepers, not cleaners and cooks."


Other congressional staffers and essential workers have also likely been exposed due to the Barrett event, said Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.



Outside the White House, restaurant workers in Minneapolis have been forced to quarantine for two weeks after catering a fundraiserTrump attended last Wednesday, a day before he revealed his positive Covid-19 test. Despite his exposure to adviser Hope Hicks, whose diagnosis was revealed Wednesday, the president forged ahead with his campaign schedule, hosting a rally in Duluth and meeting with 40 contributors at a private home. Thirteen catering staffers at Murray's Steakhouse are now in isolation and are being tested for Covid-19.

At least two Secret Service members were in close contact with Trump on Sunday evening as they escorted him in a vehicle to greet his supporters outside Walter Reed Medical Center while he had an active coronavirus infection. All three occupants of the vehicle were masked, but some Secret Service members uncharacteristically spoke out about the incident.

"He's not even pretending to care now," one agent said during Trump's appearance, according to the Washington Post.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama expressed concern for White House residence staffers and all the workers and families whose lives have and will be touched by the outbreak.

"My heart goes out to everyone touched by this virus, from those at the White House, especially the Secret Service and residence staff whose service ought never be taken for granted, to all those names and stories most of us will unfortunately never know," Obama tweeted.

Pope calls on global community to confront 'destructive effects of empire of money'

In his third encyclical Sunday morning, Pope Francis denounced free market capitalism and the "magic" theory of trickle-down economics, saying the coronavirus pandemic has once and for all disproven the notion that economic policies that are aimed at benefiting the already-rich will benefit low-income people through job creation and investments.

The 45,000 word document, titled "Fratelli Tutti" meaning "Brothers All" or "Brothers and Sisters All," indicated the pope's belief that the pandemic has shown that a major overhaul of global economic systems is needed, as the crisis has disproportionately affected the poor in countries including the U.S., Brazil, and the U.K.; revealed the divide between low-income workers all over the world who have had limited access to government aid and professionals who are able to work from home; and caused the "most unequal" recession in modern U.S. history.

"Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality," Pope Francis said.

"The fragility of world systems in the face of the pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom," the encyclical continued.

The document implicitly rebuked conservative and neo-liberal views in the U.S. and other wealthy nations. In the U.S., the pandemic has so far eliminated low-paying jobs at eight times the rate of high-wage jobs, and Republican leaders in the Senate have scoffed at Democrats' proposal to continue the $600-per-week unemployment benefit introduced in March, despite evidence that it had a measurable positive impact on poverty levels in the United States for several months this year. Instead, the GOP has prioritized protecting corporations from liability should their employees contract the coronavirus after returning to work.

Previous economic crises, such as the recession in 2008 and 2009, have ultimately "increased freedom for the truly powerful, who always find a way to escape unscathed," Pope Francis remarked. Now, he said, society must confront "the destructive effects of the empire of money."

Those with economic power must "administer it for the good of all" rather than hoarding wealth, he said, suggesting that this applies both to individual countries like the U.S.—where a recent analysis by the People's Policy Project showed that nearly 80% of wealth is currently owned by millionaires and billionaires, who make up just 12% of the population—and to the global community, where leaders of developing countries recently asked if their populations will be "left to die" after the U.S., Russia, and Brazil refused to commit to a global effort to make a Covid-19 vaccine available to all.

Private property cannot be considered a right if a select few in a society live in luxury while others have nothing, the pope added.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, a spiritual writer and leader of the Poor People's Campaign in the U.S., interpreted Pope Francis's words as a call for an "international Poor People's Campaign."

"There seems to be no place for popular movements that unite the unemployed, temporary and informal workers, and many others who do not easily find a place in existing structures," said the Pope.

Rev. Dr. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign, thanked the pope for "calling the church to stand with poor people's movements around the world" in the midst of the pandemic and beyond.

'Privileged' Republicans with COVID-19 are getting 'top-tier' health care while others die

The case for Medicare for All was once again made by the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Ed Markey tweeted on Sunday, after Republican politicians were able to check themselves into hospitals shortly after announcing they had tested positive for Covid-19.

Markey noted that throughout the coronavirus pandemic, in which more than 7.4 million cases have been detected and more than 209,000 people in the U.S. have died, people have attempted to get care at hospitals after testing positive and showing worsening symptoms, only to be turned away and "told only to come back when they could not breathe."

"Now politicians are checking into hospitals as a 'precaution.' Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege," Markey wrote. "We need Medicare for All."

The senator's statement came a day after former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a member of the president's debate prep team this past week, announced he was checking himself into Morristown Medical Center after testing positive on Saturday.

"While I am feeling good and only have mild symptoms, due to my history of asthma we decided this is an important precautionary measure," Christie tweeted.

Christie's announcement angered social media users whose own family members had been denied admission at hospitals even as their symptoms grew more severe earlier this year, as medical centers faced severe shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE)—and as the Trump administration seized shipments of the supplies and claimed the federal government was not responsible for ensuring healthcare workers were equipped to combat the pandemic.

"How many lives of 207,000+ lost could've been saved if hospitals had had the PPE they needed?" wrote one critic. "The surge ventilators they desperately requested? How many parents, children, wives, husbands would still be here if they could've gotten early care 'out of an abundance of caution?'"

Others noted that under the for-profit healthcare system in which insurance companies decide whether a patient's treatments and hospital stays are medically necessary and should be covered or if the person should have to pay out of pocket, the vast majority of Americans are in no position to simply decide to go to the hospital—or often, even to a doctor's office—as a precautionary measure.

"Mystifying that people think this kind of class system in healthcare is worth fighting to preserve," tweeted journalist Steve Lubetkin.

The details of the president's condition, and how far into the illness he is, remained murky on Sunday after a press conference the previous day in which his physician, Dr. Sean Conley, suggested Trump had first been diagnosed with Covid-19 last Wednesday, rather than late Thursday night. After Trump on Sunday released a video of himself at Walter Reed Medical Center, where he's been since late Friday, saying he was feeling "much better," his medical team reported that his oxygen levels had dropped to 93%, below normal range and to the level that doctors generally consider a severe case of Covid-19. The president was reportedly given the steroid dexamethasone on Sunday as well as the experimental drug remdesivir. Dexamethasone has been shown to help patients with severe coronavirus cases.

The time and place where Trump contracted the coronavirus is unknown, but the ceremony he hosted last Saturday at the White House to celebrate his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court has been called a "super-spreader" event, after at least eight people in attendance have tested positive for Covid-19 in recent days. The White House is reportedly overseeing contact tracing of the event, where more than 100 people gathered both indoors and outdoors, social distancing was not observed, and few people wore face coverings.

On Twitter, journalist Anand Giridharadas summarized the last week in Trump's presidency, during which the New York Times also reported on his failure to pay taxes for 10 of the 15 years preceding his term, and that he paid just $750 in 2016 and 2017.

"The moral of the story is, he lied to you for months and encouraged you to live recklessly during a pandemic, and when it got to him he received every top tier treatment and medication to ensure his survival while your friends and family died alone," wrote comedian and writer Travon Free. "Remember that on Nov 3rd."

Tens of millions in PPP loans went to corporate polluters after  companies were fined $52 million: analysis

I remember as a kid watching President Nixon's resignation speech on a black-and-white television. That was a simpler and more innocent time. After burglars were caught red-handed breaking into the DNC headquarters at the Watergate Office Complex, Nixon resigned rather than face almost certain removal by the Senate for covering up the crime. A blatant attempt to cheat in the presidential election, the Watergate scandal shocked the nation, but Watergate today looks positively quaint when compared to the graft and corruption of Trumpgate.

What makes Trumpgate far worse than Watergate is the act of encouraging foreign interference in our sacred democratic elections. First Donald Trump did it with Russia, and when he skated on that, he tried to extort Ukraine. He then even tried to recruit Communist China's help. Americans should be outraged by this treachery.

No less alarming is Donald Trump's fawning fondness for murderous thugs and dictators and his voracious lust for power. Every patriot should be horrified by Trump's unpatriotic attacks on democracy itself; on our elections, on the U.S. Constitution, on the separation of powers, on freedom of the press, and on bedrock values and principles we hold dear as Americans: honesty, integrity, equality, justice and respect for the rule of law. Our nation is being pushed to the breaking point by an endless cascade of calculated assaults on the truth designed to distract, divide and conquer – attacks on reality that threaten not only the freedoms our Founders risked their lives for, but the freedoms countless veterans fought and died for. America only exists today because we defied a king to form a government of, by, and for the people. Freedom is exercising our right to kneel in support of racial justice, not kneeling before a King Donald.

Those who enabled Trumpgate – Donald's inner circle and his spineless sycophants in Congress – will go down in history as those who knowingly chose a would-be tyrant over duty to country.

Slicker than a snake oil salesman, Donald Trump got elected by promising to drain the swamp, only to fill his cabinet with more millionaires and billionaires than any president in history. Because Trump treats everything like a transaction, the swamp is now teeming with scandals. The guy has hutzpah – I'll give him that – but I don't think most Americans are OK with President Trump and his clique of elites personally profiting off of the presidency. Trump & Co. are so arrogant they seem to not even care if they are caught. Maybe this is because people of pampered privilege know how to buy their way out of trouble. Ask yourself why Donald Trump is the only president since Richard Nixon to refuse to release his tax returns. Then ask yourself what kind of bottomless greed makes a president sink to hawking government stays at his golf resorts and hotels just to turn a quick buck. How much mammon is enough? The office of the president is so much greater than any individual who occupies it, yet that institution has been daily defiled by a president who puts his personal interests ahead of the national interest.

I am saddened for him, and horrified for my country, to be witnessing a United States president as the shouting, pouting personification of humanity's worst impulses. He reminds me of the character "Gollum" in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, warped by his all-consuming lust for the ring of power. In my darker moments, I see President Trump refusing to leave office if he loses in November, for he has telegraphed his thinking on this again and again and again.

Trump has made it clear he will do almost anything to maintain his weakening grip on power. Like the tin pot dictator he aspires to become, Trump has refused time and again to say he will accept November's election results. It is not hard to imagine him declaring martial law and refusing to step down. Nor is it hard to imagine him using the fiction of election fraud to have himself declared the victor in defiance of the will of the voters, for he has already suggested illegally delaying the election (darkly described by Public Citizen as "a coup in the making").

Former President Barack Obama, during his stirring eulogy of civil rights icon John Lewis, warned that "those in power are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting – by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the postal service in the run-up to an election that is going to be dependent on mailed-in ballots so people don't get sick." Obama is right to assert with growing alarm that the Trump administration is "more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus." This is not the American way.

All attempts by Trump & Co. to undermine the election – or subvert its results – must be systematically resisted. We the people cannot, and will not, let our beloved democracy die.

Of course, democracy's best defense is a tidal wave of voters that sweeps Donald Trump and his enablers out of office on November 3. If Biden wins, Trump must then exit stage left just like every other defeated president has done before him – in a peaceful transfer of power – because that is how America rolls. We have already had one Civil War. We are not going to have another one because a petulant president living in fear of the long arm of the law has a twitter temper tantrum meltdown for not getting to declare himself dictator-for-life of the USA.

On this much at least, Donald Trump and I agree: "The future of our country and indeed our civilization is at stake on Nov. 3." Trump's relentless attacks on the Constitution make him an existential threat to the Republic. I have been to the Dachau concentration camp. I have heard the horrifying echoes of where all of this could lead. That Lady Liberty is still standing after years of aggravated assaults by the most dangerous president in our history is thanks in no small part to Trump's impulsiveness and his fortunate inability to maintain disciplined focus. But it is thanks even more to the determined resistance of millions of patriots who have courageously refused to be intimidated and silenced. Trumpgate is forcing a national reckoning on whether we want the great American experiment to continue. If "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," defending democracy from despotism requires such unwavering vigilance now.

Lady Liberty is calling all freedom-loving Americans to stand up and speak out in defense of her sacred honor. Will you answer her call?

HHS Secretary Azar says public health protocols don't apply to president's innercCircle

Democratic lawmakers were incredulous after Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Friday testified following President Donald Trump's Covid-19 diagnosis that the Trump family can't be expected to take the precautions that public health experts recommend, while also claiming the spread of the coronavirus to more than 7.3 million Americans is a matter of "individual responsibility."

Testifying before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis as Trump reportedly began developing Covid-19 symptoms, Azar told Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) that the president's family did not wear masks at the first presidential debate last Tuesday because "the first family and the protective aspect around the president is a different situation than the rest of us."

Despite the fact that at least two members of the Trump family are now ill, Azar suggested the family is in "a protective bubble."

"He said this...today?" tweeted MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow.

At the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday, a doctor was reportedly shooed away from the president's adult children when she approached them to ask them to wear face coverings during the debate.

Members of the Trump family were also present at the White House event last Saturday where Republicans celebrated the president's nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, where many attendees were unmasked. The gathering is now thought to have been a "superspreader" event, with at least seven attendees having tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday, including Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) and former Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway.

Testifying before masked Democratic lawmakers and GOP members who declined to wear face coverings even as the number of positive Covid-19 tests on Capitol Hill grew, Azar dodged a question from Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) about Trump's recent rallies, where indoor venues have been packed with unmasked attendees in close proximity and where the president has frequently downplayed the severity of the virus.

"Do you think that the president's rallies that he has gone to where people are not social distancing...or wearing masks, does that contribute to the increase [in cases]?" Waters asked.

While assuring the congresswoman that HHS advises Americans to practice "the three W's" by wearing a mask, washing your hands, and watching your distance, Azar said people should also "evaluate [their] individual circumstances."

Azar's comments came as news spread that the Barrett nomination event may have led to several positive tests. In addition to the Rose Garden celebration at the White House, the event included an indoor gathering where attendees were also unmasked.

New York Times opinion writer Charlie Warzel suggested on Twitter that Azar's statement that different safety standards apply to those in the president's circle unfortunately rang true.

"You're staying at home, not seeing loved ones. Making big sacrifices for the greater good," Warzel wrote on Saturday. "But that's a *you* thing. *They* do what they want always."

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), chairman of the subcommittee, harshly criticized Azar for enabling the president to downplay the pandemic and potentially contribute to the spread of the coronavirus in an effort to appeal to voters.

"Let there be no doubt: the president's response to the coronavirus crisis has been a failure of historic proportions," said Clyburn. "Covid-19 has claimed more American lives than the battles of World War I, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Afghanistan War, and Iraq War combined. As HHS Secretary and the first Chairman of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Mr. Secretary, you should have been at the helm of an ambitious national response. Rather than follow the science, you tried to hide, alter, or ignore the science whenever it contradicted the president's wish to downplay the crisis for perceived political advantage."

Timeline of Trump's illness confounds experts, but it's clear he 'knowingly exposed people' to COVID-19

Journalists and public health experts on Saturday raised questions over the mixed messages coming out of the White House and President Donald Trump's medical team after Dr. Sean Conley, the president's physician, told reporters Trump was "72 hours into the diagnosis" of Covid-19.

Observers quickly noted that this would mean the president first tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, the day after the first presidential debate.








"Did he attend a rally in Minnesota on Wednesday and then a fundraiser in New Jersey on Thursday AFTER his doctor thought he had coronavirus?" asked MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi.

An anonymous White House official told the Washington Post shortly after Conley's briefing that the doctor "misspoke," but even the White House's attempts to correct Conley regarding whether Trump was diagnosed 72 hours before the Saturday press conference led to more confusion, as NBC News reported:

Another doctor treating the president, Dr. Brian Garibaldi, said [Trump] had been treated "48 hours" ago—Thursday morning—with antibodies.

But a White House official later disputed the timeline, saying Trump had been diagnosed Thursday night and that the doctors meant Trump was on "day 3," not a full 72 hours in on his diagnosis.

The official also said that the antibody treatment was given later Thursday night, not a full 48 hours ago.
On Saturday afternoon, Conley issued a statement through the White House saying Trump had been diagnosed on Thursday night, and given the antibody treatment on Friday.

"I incorrectly used the term 'seventy-two hours' instead of 'day three' and 'forty eight hours' instead of 'day two' with regards to his diagnosis and the administration of the polyclonal antibody therapy," Conley said in a statement.
Conley wasn't the doctor who said Trump had been given antibodies 48 hours ago, though; Garibaldi said that.

"The problem is that we should know, we should have a better idea of what the actual status is of the president," Dr. Craig Spencer, an emergency medicine physician at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told the Times. "We need more of a scientific update, as opposed to a political one."

The confusion led some Minnesota residents who attended the president's outdoor rally Wednesday night in Duluth to reconsider the gathering in hindsight, the Times reported—"thinking back on how tightly the crowd was spaced, whom they might have spoken to, and whether the coronavirus precautions that organizers had arranged were sufficient."

Other Trump supporters who were in attendance dismissed safety concerns, taking on the attitude the president has publicly displayed for months—despite the fact that he knew as early as February and March that the coronavirus was deadly and highly contagious through airborne transmission.

"We're not mask wearers," one attendee who was standing directly in front of Trump at the rally told the Times.

Kris Ehresmann, director of the Minnesota Department of Health's Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division, advised anyone who came near the president at the Duluth event to get tested for Covid-19.

"There is a potential risk that transmission occurred at the Duluth rally and other events associated with President Trump's visit," Ehresmann said in a statement.

Trump critics wrote on social media that beyond potentially exposing well-connected Republican members of his circle to the virus by holding a White House event last Saturday in honor of Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in what has been called a "superspreader event," the president and his team apparently this week exposed hundreds in not thousands of other people with far fewer resources to cope with the disease if they become infected.




Regardless of when Trump was diagnosed, some critics said, the president doubtlessly attended a fundraiser in Bedminster, New Jersey on Thursday after being exposed to his advisor Hope Hicks, who tested positive for Covid-19 that day.




"This is a judgment issue, a fitness to lead issue, and Trump failed the test," tweeted former U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance.

Journalist Rebecca Traister tweeted that Trump's approach to the coronavirus crisis as well as a number of other closely-watched political issues during his presidency—with the Washington Post counting more than 20,000 false or misleading statements since he took office, as of July—has led to an inability among public health experts and journalists to take the White House's claims about Trump's condition and prognosis at face value.


"A thing that happens when you lie compulsively for years," tweeted Traister, "is that NO ONE FUCKING BELIEVES YOU."

BRAND NEW STORIES