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The old man and the Trump conspiracy tweet

Martin Gugino was hospitalized in serious condition after,

Martin Gugino was hospitalized in serious condition after, video footage showed, he was pushed by Buffalo police last week and fell backward, hitting his head on the pavement. Credit: WBFO via AP / Mike Desmond

From guy who brought you birtherism

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has tried to be measured in his commentary about Donald Trump, given the state's ongoing needs for the president's cooperation, especially those arising from the coronavirus pandemic. So what possessed Cuomo to say this about a Trump tweet?

"How reckless, how irresponsible, how mean, how crude. I mean, if there was ever a reprehensible, dumb comment, and from the president of the United States … if he ever feels a moment of decency, he should apologize for that tweet, because it is wholly unacceptable." 

The Trump tweet on Tuesday concerned Martin Gugino, who remained hospitalized in serious condition after shoves from Buffalo police officers responding to protests last Thursday sent him tumbling backward, his head landing hard on the pavement, causing blood to instantly stream from his ear. Two officers are charged with felony assault. Trump, after watching a clip on the OAN network — a hotbed of far-right fever-swamp fantasy (and fervently pro-Trump) — decided there was another back story. The president's tweet:

"Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?"

Trump contends, based on nothing, that Gugino's mobile phone is likely a communications-sabotage device, that he deliberately took a dive so hard that it landed him in intensive care and that the elderly man — roughly 3 to 4 times the age of the typical antifa streetfighter — is in some kind of senior league for the self-styled anti-fascist groups. Gugino's friends and lawyer say he is a longtime peaceful activist for various causes and associated with the pacifist Catholic Worker movement founded in 1933.

The OAN segment was reported by Kristian Rouz, a Russian journalist. According to the Daily Beast, Rouz came to the U.S. in 2017 and has worked for the Russian state propaganda channel Sputnik. Last month, a similarly preposterous Rouz piece for OAN on disputes over coronavirus treatment drugs said remdesivir was being promoted as a "population control" plot by George Soros, William Gates, the Clintons and Dr. Anthony Fauci, among others, to "force the American people into total submission and control."

The Gugino-is-antifa theory apparently first appeared as an anonymous fringe blog website and hoax incubator called the Conservative Treehouse. Neither Rouz not the blogger offered anything by way of actual evidence. There was no White House briefing Tuesday for reporters to seek an explanation of Trump's tweet. Chief of staff Mark Meadows, who was on Capitol Hill, told reporters: "I learned a long time ago not to comment on tweets and I'm not going to break that right now." 

The view inside: unhelpful

Trump's tweet won no endorsements from Republican senators on Capitol Hill, and the response of some was to avert their eyes — literally. 

Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) said they hadn't read it. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told CNN he hadn't seen the tweet, but he also didn't want it read to him. "I would rather not hear it," he said. Marco Rubio of Florida said, "I don't read Twitter, I only write on it."

Mitt Romney of Utah, the least shy about criticizing Trump, said, "I saw the tweet. It was a shocking thing to say and I won't dignify it with any further comment." Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota said Trump made "a serious accusation, which should only be made with facts and evidence, and I haven't seen any yet." Lisa Murkowski of Alaska looked at a printout of the tweet and gasped: "Oh, Lord, ugh.”

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) hit the GOP for its overall reticence. "Republicans have been ducking and dodging about this," he said. "When a 75-year-old man is pushed to the floor and he's bleeding and Donald Trump blames the victim and comes up with a conspiracy theory probably put out by the Russians about who this man is — that's a disgrace." Schumer also tweeted that Trump "should go back to hiding in the bunker instead of tweeting baseless conspiracies about peaceful protesters and further dividing America.”

White House officials largely viewed the president's tweet as an unhelpful distraction, and one outside adviser described it as “dumb” and “beyond stupid,” The Washington Post reported.

When Trump won't lead

While Trump has spoken constantly about "law and order" since protests over the death of George Floyd erupted, he has said little about addressing racism, writes The Associated Press. There's been no decision announced on whether he will at some point give a speech to the nation.

Meadows said Trump wants to overhaul police laws "sooner rather than later." But for now, the president has chosen to take a back seat to Senate Republicans who are crafting police legislation to counter a House Democratic package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tasked Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate's only African American Republican, to head the effort. Meadows, senior adviser Jared Kushner and Ja'Ron Smith, assistant to the president, met with Scott on Tuesday. 

Trump “isn’t going to lead on it right now," said GOP Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. "But he could get behind it.” The evolving GOP plan was less sweeping than the Democrats' — they won't, for example, seek an outright ban on chokeholds, end no-knock warrants or scale back police immunity protections.

McConnell was more forthright than Trump in acknowledging the seriousness of the nation's racism troubles, both currently — "the obvious racial discrimination that we’ve seen on full display on our television screens over the last two weeks” — and historically. "None of us have had the experience of being an African American in this country and dealing with this discrimination, which persists here some 50 years after the 1964 civil rights bill and the 1965 civil rights bill,” McConnell said as his leadership team stood with him. “We’re still wrestling with America’s original sin."

Biden: 'Time for racial justice'

Joe Biden offered condolences to the grieving family of Floyd during a taped address played at the slain man's funeral service on Tuesday, urging the country to use his death as a moment for action to address systemic racism.

"Now is the time for racial justice. That’s the answer we must give to our children when they ask why. Because when there is justice for George Floyd, we will truly be on our way to racial justice in America," an emotional Biden said in the video. (Here's a clip.)

The former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee addressed part of his remarks to Floyd's 6-year-old daughter, Gianna. 

“Daddy is looking down at you, and he is so proud of you. I know you miss that bear hug that only he could give, the pure joy of riding on his shoulders so you could touch the sky,” Biden said.

“And I know you have a lot of questions that no child should have to ask, questions that too many black children have had to ask for generations,” Biden continued. “Why? Why is Daddy gone? In looking through your eyes, we should all be asking ourselves why the answer is often too cruel and painful.” 

Biden was once a police favorite

Throughout his Senate career and for the early part of Barack Obama's presidency, Biden had a close relationship with police groups, The Washington Post writes.

The president then of the National Association of Police Organizations, Tom Scotto, helped him write the 1994 crime bill, which became a focus of progressive opposition during the Democratic primary campaign as having led to "mass incarceration."

Biden's ties with several of the groups frayed in Obama's second term after the administration’s investigation of several killings of black people by white officers. Biden also has come to voice regret for some of the crime bill's consequences. “It worked in some areas,” Biden told the NAACP last year. “But it failed in others … I will accept responsibility for where it went right. But I will also accept responsibility for what went wrong.”

So far, no national police union has endorsed him in 2020.

Extended jobless benefit opposed

The Trump administration opposes a Democratic proposal to extend a $600-per-week federal unemployment benefit approved to supplement regular jobless payments in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said Tuesday.

Scalia said the extra money is no longer needed because the economy is beginning to recover. The payments are set to expire July 31, and Democrats have pushed a plan that would extend the enhanced benefit through January.

"The circumstances that originally called for the $600-plus-up will have changed," Scalia told the Senate Finance Committee. "Policy will need to change as well."

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said the enhanced payments should be tied to economic conditions, so the funds can continue as long as unemployment remains high.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Former presidential contender Bernie Sanders isn't all in with progressives who call for defunding or abolishing police departments. In an interview with The New Yorker, the Vermont senator said, "I think we want to redefine what police departments do, give them the support they need to make their jobs better defined. So I do believe that we need well-trained, well-educated, and well-paid professionals in police departments. Anyone who thinks that we should abolish all police departments in America, I don’t agree."
  • Trump was close to firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week for publicly disagreeing with the president's threat to sic the military against protesters, and Esper was about to prepare a resignation letter, The Wall Street Journal reported. Trump backed away from ousting Esper after his advisers said it was a bad idea.
  • Donald Trump Jr. cost taxpayers more than $75,000 for Secret Service protection when he took a trip with his son Donald III to Mongolia last August to kill an endangered argali sheep, according to Freedom of Information Act documents obtained by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
  • Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan during his career, has joined calls to remove the names of Confederate "traitors" from Army installations. "The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention," he wrote in The Atlantic. It also is "peculiar," he said, "for an organization designed to win wars to train for them at installations named for those who led a losing force."
  • The Navy is following the Marine Corps in banning the display of Confederate symbols on its installations, including aboard warships and aircraft, the service announced on Tuesday.
  • House Democrats are reviving a push to expel Confederate statues from the halls of Congress, ABC News reported. Similar efforts fizzled after the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre in 2015 and the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Republicans controlled both houses then. 
  • Trump tweeted, without context: "THE REAWAKENING OF AMERICA!" Was he trying out a new campaign slogan? It would be a bit tougher on a ball cap than "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" He tweeted that one again too.

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