We begin today’s roundup with a deep dive by Carl Bernstein into Donald Trump’s interactions with world leaders:
In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America’s principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials — including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff — that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations. […]One person familiar with almost all the conversations with the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia and western Europe described the calls cumulatively as ‘abominations’ so grievous to US national security interests that if members of Congress heard from witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts and contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would no longer be able to retain confidence in the President.
On the topic of Russian bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan, Dana Milbank calls out the White House press secretary for her attempted defense of the indefensible:
If things weren’t already bad enough for President Trump — economic collapse, botched pandemic response, mass unrest — U.S. intelligence believes Trump’s “friend” Vladimir Putin paid Taliban fighters bounties to kill U.S. troops.
But the White House is ready with a defense: The president has no earthly idea what’s going on.
Totally in the dark.
Not a clue! […]
In fact, McEnany suggested, Trump still hadn’t been briefed on the Russian bounties by Monday afternoon, even though administration officials were, at that hour, briefing lawmakers.
Through this January and February, as the CIA and military surveillance gathered reports about a cash stockpile in northern Afghanistan and other indicators of a possible Russian operation, U.S. military and intelligence officials became increasingly concerned, several told me. By March, they were pressing for a top-level review by senior Trump administration officials of this still-unconfirmed threat to U.S. soldiers.
Through this agonizing period, Trump kept up a buzz of happy talk about improving relations with Putin, including the possibility of inviting him back into the Group of Seven. Were Trump’s commanders too afraid to warn him off this folly? […]
Trump is an obstacle to good policy. Either people don’t tell him the truth, or he doesn’t want to hear it. Whichever way, he’s defaulting on his most basic responsibility as commander in chief.
the problem is not just a matter of dissembling, according to several sources, it’s a matter of Trump not wanting to know about intelligence outside his comfort zone, and the reluctance of officials to push information on him they know he will resist, especially if their conclusions are less than clear-cut. Those may go into a PDB, but not get mentioned in a face to face briefing.
Meanwhile, on the coronavirus front, Eric Levitz explains how Republicans are prolonging the pandemic by denying aid to the states:
America’s hasty reopening is doubtlessly attributable to a variety of cultural and political factors. But for many U.S. cities, erring on the side of public health — by keeping the economy restricted for a week longer than absolutely necessary — would have meant jeopardizing their capacity to maintain funding for schools and basic social services. Republicans could have empowered state and local officials to make decisions about reopening on the basis of what was best for public health. Instead, they engineered fiscal scarcity that forced states to choose between prudence and solvency. Which may have been the point. The president and his advisers pressured states to reopen quickly, so as to expedite the onset of economic recovery. Instead, our austerity-induced haste has bought us a new wave of outbreaks and a deeper recession.
On a final note, here is The New York Times on yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling striking down Louisiana’s restrictive abortion law:
The Supreme Court upheld abortion rights on Monday, with Chief Justice John Roberts concurring with the liberals on the court to strike down a Louisiana anti-abortion law.
That sentence might surprise a lot of people, given that the chief justice is a staunch conservative, and that the court now has a solid right-wing majority. […]
It would be a mistake to interpret this decision as a sign that the chief justice has had a change of heart about protecting the bodily autonomy of American women. Even in his concurring opinion, Chief Justice Roberts said that he still believes that the Texas case was “wrongly decided” and that he voted to strike down the Louisiana law solely out of respect for precedent. He appears to have decided that the circumstances of this case were not ideal for crippling reproductive rights — but he left the door open to doing so in the future. Monday’s decision, with the plurality opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer, isn’t so much good news for reproductive freedom as it is a temporary reprieve from all the bad.