Trump is running amok with pardon, veto threats and COVID denial

Washington (CNN) – Donald Trump’s presidency is making history in a way that embodies its corrupt excesses, pardoning cronies and war crimes, attacks on democracy, new COVID-19 denial and impunity for Russia.

And in a signature bombshell that surprised attendees, Trump also issued a sudden demand for Christmas on Tuesday for changes to a much-needed $ 900 billion pandemic relief bill that ran the risk of breaking a fragile bipartisan compromise he hadn’t tried to shape. to give. His action could free-fall global markets and prolong the hardship of millions of Americans who are starving or lost their jobs.

The outgoing president’s antics over the past few hours have weighed even more on the yet-to-be presidency of his successor, Joe Biden, who has already seen the most challenging debut of any American leader since Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.

“I think it’s a nightmare that everyone is going through, and everyone says it must end,” Biden said on Tuesday when asked if he was expecting “a honeymoon” of early political will to bring the nation out. . of the pandemic and its consequences.

The sordid last days of Trump’s White House later hit new lows as the president exercised his untouchable leniency, substituting political payments for justice in another morally questionable use of executive power.

As Covid’s daily death toll skyrocketed past 2,900, Trump focused on acquitting two acolytes who had lied to investigators in the Russia investigation and two former Republican congressmen who unconditionally supported him and were convicted of financial crimes. .

He also rescued the guards of the private security company Blackwater, founded by a political supporter, Erik Prince. Guards had fired sniper, machine gun, and shellfire at innocent men, women and children in Iraq in 2007.

Vice President Mike Pence, a day after getting a coronavirus vaccine available to only a small fraction of Americans, appeared before a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd mocking the social distance protocols he should be promoting as head of the group. government work on coronavirus. The event included the constant priority of political expediency over public health that underpinned the White House’s disastrous mismanagement of COVID-19.

Trump remained incarcerated in the White House until his last and most loyal conspirators devised new ways to break Biden’s legitimacy in his baseless quest to undo his apparent electoral defeat.

“We see a petulant kid who doesn’t get his way and gets into 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 must “move on” and overcome electoral defeat

A bomb from Washington

In a fresh effort to maximize his fading influence, Trump released a video on Tuesday expressing his disapproval of the covid bailout bill for not including larger one-off stimulus payments and leaving open the question of whether he will sign the bill. Of the law.

The president is not alone in trying to increase meager $ 600 payments to working-class Americans and points to funding for pet projects that have been included in the bill by lawmakers. But many of Trump’s own Republican allies were against higher payouts. And their intervention is an act of political destruction that threatens to turn a fragile deal upside down through painstaking negotiations and cause millions of Americans and small businesses to lose access to much-needed aid.

Trump’s apparent threat to veto the package just passed by Congress could further deepen the dire economic conditions in the country.

The president’s new demand for payments of $ 2,000 per American will strike a chord with many who viewed the bill’s stimulus checks as paltry.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Trump’s measure announced in the White House, which he will be leaving in 28 days, could ruin Christmas for Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who broke with the president last week by acknowledging Biden’s election victory.

And the president combined his tactic, a classic of Trumpian disruption, with a Machiavellian play that revealed his hopes of disrupting Biden’s presidency and made an unsubstantiated claim that he could still win a second term.

While attacking millions of dollars in the art project, foreign aid and other issues, Trump did not say his White House had imposed a tax break on him for business lunches at a time when many Americans are starving.

It is not uncommon for the dying feelings of a tired and scandalous president to be in stark contrast to the energy and sense of mission of the following: it is a natural state of the constitutionally ordered transfer of power.

But the comparison is especially sharp in 2020 at a time of national extremis, amid a pandemic lasting a century, a resulting economic disaster, and an outgoing president maximizing the tools of his power for selfish ends, while keeping the outcome of an election. only that he lost.

Biden tries to fill the leadership vacuum

Biden made a fresh effort on Tuesday to provide the kind of national leadership that has been the hallmark of both the Democratic and Republican presidencies for decades and has long been absent from Trump’s. This void is especially evident in the pandemic and a Russian attack on the US government.

Biden warned that innovative vaccines were scarce and that, despite the hype from the Trump team, it would be “many months” before most Americans were available. And in the kind of stimulating message Trump never took, he warned tens of thousands more Americans will die.

I’m going to tell you the truth. And here’s the simple truth: Our darkest days fighting Covid are just around the corner, not behind us, ”said the president-elect in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden also issued an unusually strong condemnation of a president-elect against an outgoing president for Trump’s acquittal of Russia for a massive cyber-attack on U.S. federal servers that his administration has blamed on the Kremlin.

“This attack was supervised by Donald Trump, while he was not looking,” Biden said of a presidential response that 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, even if he doesn’t take it seriously, I do.

LEE: Biden says the “darkest” days in the fight against Covid-19 are “ahead.”

The beginning of a parranda of grace

The wave of grace announced by the president on Tuesday was perfectly within his constitutional powers. And many other presidents have offered leniency in a way that has provided release cards to supporters mired in scandals. But no modern president has used privileges so defiantly for political ends or shorted the Justice Department’s presidential pardon procedures. And the pardons announced Tuesday are likely just a down payment for more controversial moves in the coming days.

Trump forgave former campaign advisor 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 imminent attempt by Trump to unravel the damning results of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which provided evidence that he may have obstructed justice and the many questionable contacts between Trump’s acolytes and Russia during an election. in the one the Kremlin intervened to help Trump.

The president also pardoned two border guards who were convicted in 2006 of shooting and wounding an unarmed undocumented immigrant and then him.

Also pardoned was former Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who was sentenced to 11 months in prison and three years of supervised release earlier this year in connection with the misuse of more than $ 200,000 in campaign funds for personal expenses. .

Another outspoken Trump supporter, former Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican from New York, will be released from prison, where he has just started serving a 26-month term after admitting to conspiring 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 accused the men of illegally releasing “powerful sniper, machine-gun and grenade-launcher shots at innocent men, women and children.”

Blackwater said the convoy had been attacked and defense attorneys said in court that the witness statements were fabricated. But witnesses said the contractors opened fire without provocation.

The White House said his pardon was supported by several members of Congress, along with Pete Hegseth, the conservative Fox News anchor who is an ally of the president.