Washington (CNN) — Donald Trump’s presidency is making history in a way that embodies its corrupt excesses, with pardons for cronies and war crimes, attacks on democracy, fresh denial of COVID-19 and impunity for Russia.
And in a trademark bombshell that surprised attendees, Trump also issued a sudden pre-Christmas demand Tuesday for changes to a desperately needed $ 900 billion pandemic aid bill that ran the risk of breaking a fragile bipartisan compromise that he had made no effort to shape. His move could send global markets into free fall and prolong the deprivation of millions of Americans who are starving or have lost their jobs.
The antics of the outgoing president in the last hours put further weight on the yet-to-begin presidency of his successor, Joe Biden, who has already faced the most challenging debut by any American leader since Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.
“I think it’s a nightmare that everyone is going through, and everyone says it has to end,” Biden said Tuesday when asked if he expected “a honeymoon” of early political goodwill to help lift the nation. of the pandemic and its consequences.
The sordid final days of Trump’s White House later reached new lows as the president exercised his unassailable clemency power, substituting political payments for justice in another morally questionable use of executive authority.
As the daily death toll from covid soared past 2,900, Trump focused on acquitting two acolytes who had lied to investigators in the Russia investigation and two former Republican congressmen who supported him unconditionally and convicted of financial crimes .
He also saved the guards from the private security company Blackwater, founded by a political supporter, Erik Prince. Guards had unleashed sniper, machine gun and grenade fire at innocent men, women and children in Iraq in 2007.
Vice President Mike Pence, a day after receiving a coronavirus vaccine available to only a small fraction of Americans, appeared before a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd mocking the social distancing protocols he is supposed to promote as head of the group. government work on coronavirus. The event encapsulated the constant prioritization of political expediency over public health that has been at the root of the disastrous mismanagement of COVID-19 by the White House.
Trump remained cloistered in the White House, until his last and most loyal conspirators, hatching new ways to break Biden’s legitimacy in his unfounded quest to reverse his clear electoral defeat.
“We’re seeing a petulant kid who doesn’t get his way and throws a tantrum,” a senior Republican close to the president told CNN’s Jeremy Diamond.
LEE: Telepreacher Pat Robertson Says Trump Lives in “Alternate Reality” and Should “Move On” and Overcome Electoral Defeat
A Washington bomb
In a further attempt to maximize his fading influence, Trump released a video Tuesday expressing his disapproval of the covid bailout bill for not including larger one-time stimulus payments and leaving open the question of whether he will sign the bill. Of law.
The president is not alone in seeking to increase the paltry $ 600 payments to working-class Americans and points to funding for pet projects included in the bill by lawmakers. But many of Trump’s own Republican allies opposed higher payouts. And their intervention is an act of political destruction, threatening to turn a fragile deal upside down through tortuous negotiations and could result in millions of Americans and small businesses losing access to desperately needed help.
Trump’s apparent threat to veto the package just approved by Congress could further deepen the dire economic circumstances in the country.
The president’s new demand for payments of $ 2,000 per American will strike a chord among many who saw the stimulus checks included on the bill as petty.
It may not be a coincidence that Trump’s measure, announced at the White House, which he is due to leave in 28 days, could ruin Christmas for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who last week broke with the president by acknowledge Biden’s election victory.
And the president combined his tactic, a classic of Trumpian disruption, with a Machiavellian play that revealed his hope to disrupt Biden’s presidency and included an unsubstantiated claim that he could still win a second term.
While attacking millions of dollars in the arts project, foreign aid and other issues, Trump did not mention that his White House had loaded him with a tax break for business lunches at a time when many Americans are starving.
It is not unusual for the dying throes of a tired and scandal-tinged presidency to stand in stark contrast to the energy and sense of mission of the next: it is a natural condition of the constitutionally ordered transfer of power.
But the comparison is especially sharp in 2020 at a time of national extremis, amid a pandemic only in a century, a consequent economic disaster, and an outgoing president maximizing the tools of his power for selfish ends while denying the outcome of an election. just that he lost.
Biden tries to fill the leadership vacuum
Biden on Tuesday made a fresh attempt to provide the kind of national leadership that has been the hallmark of both Democratic and Republican presidencies for decades and long absent from Trump’s. That void is especially evident in the pandemic and a Russian attack on the United States government.
Biden warned that innovative vaccines were in short supply and, despite the hype from Trump’s team, it would take “many more months” to be available to most Americans. And in the kind of invigorating message Trump never adopted, he warned that tens of thousands more Americans will die.
I’m going to tell you the truth. And here’s the simple truth: our darkest days in the battle against covid are ahead, not behind us, “said the president-elect in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden also issued an unusually strong condemnation from a president-elect to an outgoing president for Trump’s acquittal of Russia for a massive cyberattack on US federal servers that his administration has blamed on the Kremlin.
“This assault happened under the surveillance of Donald Trump, when he was not looking,” Biden said of a presidential response that has only deepened the mystery about Trump’s strange deference to President Vladimir Putin.
“It remains your responsibility as President to defend American interests for the next four weeks. Rest assured that even if he doesn’t take it seriously, I do.
LEE: Biden says “darkest” days in the fight against covid-19 are “ahead”
The start of a parranda of pardons
The wave of pardons announced by the president on Tuesday was perfectly within his constitutional powers. And many other presidents have offered clemency in a way that has provided release cards to supporters caught up in scandals. But no modern president has so defiantly used privilege for political ends or short-circuited the Justice Department’s presidential pardon procedures. And the pardons announced Tuesday are likely just a down payment for more controversial moves in the days ahead.
Trump pardoned former campaign aide George Papadopoulos and Dutch lawyer Alex Van der Zwaan, who had pleaded guilty to lying to investigators during the Russia investigation. The pardons likely indicate an upcoming effort by Trump to unravel the damning results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which presented evidence that he had potentially obstructed justice and detailed the many questionable contacts between Trump’s acolytes and Russia during an election in the one the Kremlin stepped in to help Trump.
The president also pardoned two Border Patrol agents convicted in 2006 of shooting and wounding an unarmed undocumented immigrant and then covering up for him.
Also pardoned was former Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who was sentenced earlier this year to 11 months in prison and three years of supervised release in connection with the misuse of more than $ 200,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses. .
Another vocal Trump supporter, former Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican from New York, will be released from jail, where he has just begun serving a 26-month term after admitting to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and making a false statement.
All four Blackwater guards – Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard – were convicted by a federal jury in 2014. Prosecutors charged the men with unlawfully unleashing “powerful sniper, machine gun and grenade launcher shots at innocent men, women and kids”.
Blackwater said its convoy had been attacked and defense attorneys said in court that the witness accounts were fabricated. But witnesses stated that the contractors had opened fire without provocation.
The White House said its pardons were supported by several members of Congress along with Pete Hegseth, the conservative Fox News anchor who is an ally of the president.
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