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Team Trump, under fire, doubles down on false claims of foul plots against POTUS

President Donald Trump at his White House coronavirus

President Donald Trump at his White House coronavirus briefing Tuesday. Credit: Pool / EPA / Oliver Contreras

By any schemes necessary

Attorney General William Barr's office released an opening statement prior to his widely watched testimony Tuesday before a congressional committee. In it, Barr alluded to “the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal" probe — which resulted in actual convictions of campaign aides whose punishment he sought to soften.

Of course, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) made dark and sweeping allegations of his own. Among them, Nadler said the administration “twisted the Department of Justice into a shadow of its former self,” by serving the powerful before average Americans.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a Trump loyalist, opened his remarks by shouting: “Spying! That one word, that’s why they’re after you, Mr. Attorney General." Then he recited familiar Trump tropes, alleging without proof that ex-President Barack Obama illegally surveilled the GOP 2016 campaign.

The day's alienations were far from confined to Capitol Hill for either party. Twitter on Tuesday penalized the president's son Donald Trump Jr. for posting misinformation hyping hydroxychloroquine, under the social media giant's crackdown on factually false statements.

One day after touting U.S. efforts to develop an actual virus vaccine, President Donald Trump returned to endorsing that antimalarial drug for COVID-19 on Twitter and in Tuesday's coronavirus briefing. He also retweeted false conspiratorial assertions against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top epidemiologist, that he has been misleading people. (Those were later deleted.) "The overwhelming prevailing clinical trials that have looked at the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine have indicated that it is not effective in coronavirus disease,” Fauci responded on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I have not been misleading the American public under any circumstances.” 

The president's repeated mail-in vote-fraud canard made an appearance too, during the House hearing. Asked directly whether he believed the November election will be "rigged" — as Trump has repeatedly insisted when citing the use of mail ballots amid the coronavirus pandemic — Barr said, "I have no reason to think it will be."

Still, Barr loyally reinforced Trump's concern about a "high risk" of fraud when there's a mail-in vote, while offering no evidence. 

Democratic drama

Following the cautious positioning of presumptive nominee Joe Biden, a key Democratic Party committee on Monday approved a 2020 platform that deliberately omits policies endorsed by the party's most vocal progressives.

The document, approved by the platform committee on a voice vote, now goes to more than 4,000 Democratic delegates who will vote on it by mail ahead of next month's convention. This final draft endorses universal health care coverage, but it calls first for a “public option” plan to compete in private insurance markets. Delegates who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders in the primaries are expected to say the platform doesn't go far enough.

Meanwhile, at least four Wisconsin police departments have withdrawn from agreements to send their personnel to the Democratic convention in Milwaukee. Protests are anticipated despite a mostly virtual convention. The unusual withdrawal has to do with a directive against any use of tear gas and pepper spray, which those departments say is needed in certain circumstances to protect the public and themselves.

In a campaign speech Tuesday, Biden promised his economic agenda would combat long-standing racial inequalities. Later, he said he will choose a running mate for vice president next week.

Days of rage

Despite the widely touted movement of federal agents into several cities, the protests that began after George Floyd's death are continuing — and producing compelling video evidence of violence and arrests. Before the House committee, Barr declared that “violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests to wreak senseless havoc and destruction” in places like Portland, Oregon. 

Nadler took him to task. “Understandably, Americans are very suspicious of your motives here. There are those who believe you are sending federal law enforcement into these cities not to combat violent crime, but to help with the president’s reelection efforts,” Nadler told Barr. “The president wants footage for his campaign ads, and you appear to be serving it up to him as ordered."

POTUS self-dealing on aid bill?

Several Senate Republicans say they cannot explain why the GOP proposal for the next coronavirus aid package includes $1.75 billion that Trump pushed for a new FBI headquarters in Washington. This provision is raising new self-dealing and corruption questions.

Democrats say the effort is aimed at protecting the president's financial interests. In 2017, the administration scrapped an effort to build a large campus for the bureau in Washington's suburbs. It opted instead for a new headquarters on the site of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, a block from Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. That could protect the hotel's value by keeping the current FBI site, also on Pennsylvania Avenue, unavailable to a possible competitor.

"They managed to have enough money for $2 billion for the FBI headquarters that benefits Trump hotel, and they say they have no money for food assistance?" said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) "What the heck is going on?"

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled that he won't push for the new building. "When we get to the end of the process, I would hope all of the non-COVID-related measures are out," he said Tuesday. "No matter what bills they were in at the start."

Trump: No 'Dreamers' need apply

Early in his administration, Trump ordered an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but said he supported favorable action for those affected by what was then a Republican majority in both houses of Congress. But it became another deal Trump never negotiated. 

Last month the Supreme Court ruled that the administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously in ending the program for young immigrants brought here illegally as children. Now the administration has made clear it will reject new applications for DACA, while letting currently enrolled so-called "Dreamers" renew those protections. 

'Nobody likes me'

Much as he calls his low poll numbers "fake," Trump blurted out an unusual complaint at the briefing on Tuesday — that he's unpopular.

Trump said Fauci, who works in the administration, is popular, as is Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. "But nobody likes me. It can only be my personality, that's all," the president said with a smirk. 

The uniqueness of his controversial conduct happened to be on display at just that moment. Even though Trump only hours earlier retweeted nasty messages claiming Fauci misled the public, the president insisted: "I get along with him very well and I agree with a lot of what he's said." It might have been the most self-pitying statement since last week, when Fox News' Chris Wallace asked him how he will regard his years as president. “I think I was very unfairly treated,” Trump responded.

More coronavirus news

Travelers from 34 states plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia must now quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. 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:

  • One year ago this week, the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund was enshrined in federal law. Now advocates who pushed to make the fund permanent strive to ensure that survivors enroll, Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez reports.
  • Despite all the efforts to show action on the coronavirus, the pandemic in many ways remains a scientific mystery.
  • The president falsely claimed in the Tuesday briefing that "large portions of our country" are "corona-free."
  • Partisan differences over the planned new coronavirus aid package remain vast.
  • Two out of three Americans say they support the racial-justice demonstrations, according to a Gallup Poll.
  • Russia is spreading fake news on the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. intelligence agencies report.
  • The administration’s $765 million loan to the Eastman Kodak Co. for its launch of a business making pharmaceutical ingredients sent shares soaring.

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