If Donald Trump is not criminally prosecuted for his intentional misleading of Americans about the deadly risks of COVID-19, plus now holding rallies where he intentionally violates state mandates designed to protect people from contracting a virus that has taken more than 195,000 lives, then America is truly lawless. There’s no other way to look at. Why even have laws on the books if Trump can openly violate them with zero consequences?!
The undisputed facts are that Trump knew how deadly and easily transmittable the virus was on Feb. 7—as we learned from the recently released audio recording of his discussion with Bob Woodward. In this conversation, Trump shared how the virus could be spread through the air and was five times more deadly than even “your strenuous flus.”
Yet just three weeks later, on Feb. 26—with the American public hungry for facts to keep themselves and their family’s safe from this virus which was then ravaging parts of Europe and China—he stood up in the White House and lied, stating: “I mean, view this the same as the flu.” Trump repeated that lie various times over the next few months.
Trump has defended his lie by claiming he was trying to keep America “calm.” In reality, Trump deprived Americans of the facts needed to keep themselves safe, thus, leading thousands of Americans to their death like lambs to the slaughter.
And now, Trump's apparent new idea of keeping people "calm" during the pandemic is to hold massive rallies with neither masks nor social distancing in violation of state mandates. For example, last Tuesday, Trump held a rally in North Carolina that violated the state’s mandate that outdoor gatherings be limited to 50 people and that all people wear a mask.
And over the weekend, Trump held two rallies in Nevada, one indoors, again violating the state’s rules on social distancing and mask wearing. Trump ironically speaks of “law and order” while encouraging his supporters to break the law and potentially infect people with a life-threatening virus.
After Sunday night’s rally in Henderson, Nevada, that packed thousands into an indoor venue, Nevada’s Governor Steve Sisolak slammed Trump for violating the “state emergency directives” with his “reckless and selfish actions that are putting countless lives in danger here in Nevada.” The governor added, “As usual, he doesn’t believe the rules apply to him.”
Keep in mind that Nevada is struggling with a 11.5 percent COVID positivity rate—that’s well above the 5 percent the World Health Organization recommends as the maximum for when states should re-open. But Trump doesn’t care. First, as he told The Las Vegas Review-Journal before Sunday night’s rally, he’s not concerned with getting the virus since, “I’m on a stage, and it’s very far away.” Second, Trump has no problem sacrificing his supporters’ health and even lives if it helps get the optics of large crowds he believes helps him in this election.
Even before Trump’s admission in the Woodward tape and recent rallies, a case could’ve been made for manslaughter against Trump, according to former 24-year federal prosecutor and current MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner. Kirschner summed up the crux of the crime in July as, “Trump had a duty to act as President and violated that by knowingly failing to warn the public about the known threats of the virus.”
But now Kirschner, who served as head of the homicide section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., sees Trump’s conduct as even worse: “What Donald Trump has just done by virtue of the tapes that Bob Woodward released, is he has upped his own criminal ante to second-degree murder.” Pointing to the fact Trump knew the virus was five times more lethal than the flu in early February but lied about it, Kirschner told me this fulfills the intent element required for second-degree murder in that Trump “consciously disregarded” the “extreme risk he was creating to other human beings and was aware by doing so Americans would suffer death or serious bodily injury.”
Kirschner added that Trump’s lies together with his failure to provide Americans with personal protective equipment, including masks, to hospitals and those in need despite knowing in early February it was an airborne virus, further bolsters the potential criminal charges against Trump.
The exact number of people killed by Trump’s misconduct is difficult to fix. An often-cited study from Columbia University epidemiologists released in May found that if the lockdown in the United States occurred one week earlier than March 15, about 40 percent of the fatalities, or 36,000 deaths at that time, could’ve been prevented. And if the lockdown in United States had begun on March 1, over 54,000 lives could’ve been saved.
But what was Trump doing on Feb. 28 instead of planning for a lockdown? He was at a rally calling the risks posed by COVID-19 the Democrats’ “new hoax.” What were Democrats saying at the time that caused Trump to attack them? Democratic leaders from Chuck Schumer to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), chair of the House Appropriations Committee, were slamming Trump for not being prepared for the threat posed by the virus and not having a plan to protect Americans from it.
Putting the nuances of criminal law aside, there’s clearly a sense that Trump should and must be held responsible for his misleading Americans about COVID, and now for his rallies where he’s encouraging his supporters to violate social distancing measures despite our country averaging 850 dead Americans a day since early September. CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner said Monday that Trump was guilty of “negligent homicide” for holding indoor rallies. While on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, made the case that Trump should be civilly liable for anyone contracting the virus at his rallies that violate social distancing mandates.
The bottom line is the same. Trump must be held accountable for intentionally misleading good Americans to their deaths and for now encouraging others to violate social distancing mandates. Anything less means Trump has succeeded at making himself the above-the-law king he dreams of being.