AGENCIES | CNN | Washington DC – US President Donald Trump has spent three years discrediting and sidelining institutional sources of facts, truth and trust that threaten his political and personal goals.
Rarely has that mission combined in a single day to such a grave result as it did this week. The White House rejected new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on safely reopening the country — with US deaths from the coronavirus surpassing 75,000 — and the handpicked officials leading the Justice Department dropped charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Both cases show how Trump disdains government structures meant to dispense independent and fact-based policymaking, science and justice free from corrupting political influences.
The CDC guidance contained detailed advice on safe reopening for child care programs, schools, religious communities, employers with vulnerable workers, restaurants, bars and mass transit systems.
But the White House rejected it as too stringent and too prescriptive, sources told CNN. The move was the latest instance in which Trump has ignored or downplayed CDC advice in his aggressive push to reopen the country, despite warnings from scientists that doing so could cost tens of thousands of lives.
His dismissal of that guidance and White House efforts to lower the profile of his top medical advisers strengthen the impression that he has turned against a comprehensive response to the worst public health threat in 100 years.
They also foment the vacuum in national leadership from a White House that has turned over responsibility for fighting the virus to states, is squarely focused on a full-bore economic rebound and is ignoring its own guidelines on safe state reopening.
News about the rejected CDC advice came on the same day the US death toll from the pandemic passed a new milestone, with more infections reported, and days after Trump wavered on the future of his coronavirus task force. After first saying he was phasing it out — which earned sharp criticism — the President on Wednesday said it would continue “indefinitely.”
But the administration’s sharpest focus appeared to be on the Russia investigation and Trump’s conspiracy theories that he is the victim of a “Deep State” plot to subvert his presidency.Flynn, whose plight has become a rallying issue for conservative media pundits, had twice pleaded guilty in court to lying to the FBI.
He lied about his contacts with Russia and his business lobbying for Turkey while he was working for Trump. He also lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Yet in Attorney General William Barr’s latest controversial intervention to shield the President, the Justice Department said that it had concluded its own case was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation” into Flynn.
The stunning development in the Flynn case raises fresh concerns about the independence of a Justice Department that appears to be acting as private counsel for Trump and his associates. It undercuts the principle that investigations by special counsels can ensure that sensitive investigations are not politically tainted, and suggests wide political impunity for the President and associates.
And along with his attitude toward the CDC, it appears to be yet another instance where Trump is expanding his personal power by discrediting all contrary sources of authority that expose his falsehoods, as he has done previously with the FBI, the judiciary, scientists in his own government, the media and US intelligence agencies.