In April, we posted a blog about whether President Donald Trump’s actions or inactions in handling the COVID pandemic amounts to criminal negligence in a purely legal sense. Our blog was inspired by a podcast interview earlier this year. MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirscher made the case that the President could face criminal liability after leaving office because of his negligence in handling the COVID crisis — negligence that has led to over 200,000 deaths. That tragic number is expected to continue growing and will probably exceed 500,000 by next summer.
As reported in the April 2, 2020 edition of The Intercept, Kirscher believes that a prosecution for involuntary manslaughter could be brought against Trump for his official response to the COVID pandemic. The former federal prosecutor laid out the three elements that constitute an involuntary manslaughter offense:
“… elements is just a fancy word for facts that we have to prove in order to hold somebody accountable for involuntary manslaughter. One, that a person acted in a grossly negligent way or, importantly for our purposes, failed to act and that failure was a product of gross negligence, and I’ll talk about those two things in a minute. But number one, somebody acted in a grossly negligent way. Number two, their conduct was reasonably likely serious bodily injury or death to another as a product of that grossly negligent act or failure to act. And three, that they thereby caused the death of another.”
Both the public and private records clearly show that President Trump acted, and continues to act, in a criminally negligent manner in handling the Covid pandemic. Longtime political journalist Bob Woodward’s recently released book “Rage” underscores this criminal negligence with recordings unequivocally showing the President lied to the American people about the pandemic’s danger from its outset. ABC News, Associated Press, and other media outlets have put together timelines of Trump’s handling of the pandemic—all of which reveal the President’s criminal negligence.
The question is whether the President’s actions or failure to act constitutes criminal negligence. A timeline of those actions and failures to act include but is not limited to:
- December 31, 2019 – China announced to the world that it was investigating a “respiratory illness” in its city of Wuhan. The respiratory illness was called an “outbreak.”
- January 1-5, 2020 – U.S. intelligence agencies warned of the threat posed by the coronavirus. Trump took no action, nor did he instruct anyone in his administration to take remedial action.
- January 6-8, 2020 – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued “travel warnings” to Americans planning trips to China. The CDC said it was “monitoring” the China “outbreak.”
- January 16, 2020 – CDC announced it would “screen” individuals arriving in America from Wuhan, China. The President was thus on notice that a severe medical crisis was developing.
- January 18, 2020 – Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar briefed Trump at the President’s Mar-a-Lago resort about the threat posed by the coronavirus spreading across the globe.
- January 21, 2020 – The first confirmed case of the COVID virus was found in Washington state in a traveler who had recently returned from a visit to China.
- January 22, 2020 – Trump informed the nation during a press conference that the U.S. had the virus “totally under control” and that the country would be “just fine.”
- January 24, 2020 – Trump tweeted: “China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
- January 27, 2020 – White House aides urged Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, to take the threat of the COVID virus more seriously, as should the President.
- January 29, 2020 – Independent of the President, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar established a COVID virus task force to address the approaching threat.
- January 29, 2020 – Trump’s economic adviser Peter Navarro sent a memo to Trump’s National Security Council warning that COVID-19 could kill 500,000 Americans. It must be presumed that the NSC informed the President about the memo.
- January 30, 2020 – Secretary Azar warned Trump a second time about the threat posed by the Covid virus. However, Trump said this at a Michigan trade event: “Hopefully it won’t be as bad as some people think it could be. But we’re working very closely with them and with a lot of other people and a lot of other countries. And we think we have it very well under control.”
- January 31, 2020 – Trump bans entry of anyone into U.S. who had visited China within the previous 14 days. Exemptions in the travel ban would allow 40,000 people to enter U.S. from China after the ban was put in place.
- January 31, 2020 – HHS Secretary Azar declared the coronavirus a “public health emergency.
- February 5, 2020 – U.S. senators urged the Trump administration to take the coronavirus more seriously. Trump failed to heed those warnings.
- February 7, 2020 – Trump told Woodward this in a recorded telephone conversation: “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
- February 10, 2020 – Trump told a New Hampshire political rally: “I think the virus is going to be — it’s going to be fine.”
- February 14, 2020 – National Security Council prepared a memo that the COVID virus required “targeted quarantine and isolation measures.” The President took no action on the memo.
- February 23, 2020 – Peter Navarro sent a second memo warning the President that many as 2 million people could lose their lives to the virus.
- February 24, 2020 – Trump declared that the COVID virus was “very much under control.” That was a calculated lie.
- February 25, 2020 – National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Director Nancy Messonnier issued a strong warning about the COVID virus threat, only to be angrily rebuffed by Trump.
- February 26, 2020 – The first documented case of “community spread” of the novel coronavirus was reported in the U.S. when a California man became infected.
- February 26, 2020 – Vice President Mike Pence was named to head a White House task force to deal with the COVID virus as Trump downplayed the crisis. The President misinformed the nation by claiming his administration was “really prepared” to deal with the public health emergency. Trump also told the nation from the White House coronavirus task force briefing: “The 15 (case count in the U.S.) within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero…This is a flu. This is like a flu.”
- February 28, 2020 – Trump called the COVID virus a Democratic “hoax” at a South Carolina political rally.
- February 29, 2020 – Trump falsely stated that the U.S. was leading the world in testing for the virus even though the nation had only conducted a few thousand tests by the end of the day on February 28.
- March 4, 2020 – Trump falsely blamed the Obama administration for its handling of the “swine flu”.
- March 6, 2020 – Trump said this during a visit to Atlanta headquarter at Centers for Disease Control: “You have to be calm. It’ll go away.”
- March 9, 2020 – Trump tweeted the flu is worse than the coronavirus, writing: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common flu…Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”
- March 9, 2020 – On Twitter, Trump accused Democrats and the media of trying to make the outbreak appear worse than it was, writing “The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant.”
- March 11, 2020 – World Health Organization declared the COVID virus a “pandemic.” The U.S. death toll stood at 37 at the time.
- March 11, 2020 – Trump banned travel from European countries, except for Ireland and the United Kingdom, into the U.S. Thousands of people returning from these countries were crammed into small spaces in the 13 designated airports as they awaited a limited screening process. Public health experts feared many carried the virus and were spreading it among non-infected passengers. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot accused the Trump administration of creating a serious risk of illness and death. Some passengers said there was no screening at all.
- March 13, 2020 – Trump declared a “national emergency” to deal with the COVID pandemic, telling the nation from the White Rose Garden: “We’ve done a great job because we acted quickly. We acted early. And there’s nothing we could have done that was better than closing our borders to highly infected areas.” The virus had killed 41 people at the time. He said it was “totally unnecessary” to test people not showing symptoms of the virus infection.
- March 16, 2020 – Trump said this during a White House briefing: “I’ve spoken actually with my son. He says, ‘How bad is this?’ It’s bad. It’s bad. But we’re going to — we’re going to be, hopefully, a best case, not a worst case. And that’s what we’re working for.”
- March 17, 2020 – Trump issued a “stay at home” suggestion to the nation’s workforce. Trump stated that he knew the COVID virus was a “pandemic” long before it was a pandemic, thus establishing his negligent actions and failure to take remedial measures.
- March 19, 2020 – Trump tells Bob Woodward during a recorded interview: “To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” He also told Woodward: “Now it’s turning out it’s not just old people, Bob. Just today and yesterday some startling facts came out. It’s not just old — it’s plenty of young people,” he said.
- March 24, 2020 – Trump stated he wanted the nation’s economy re-opened by April 12.
- March 25, 2020 – Trump falsely stated his administration had “inherited a broken test” for the COVID 19 virus, even though his administration was not provided with a DNA sequence of the virus from China until January 7, 2020—three years into his administration.
- March 30, 2020 – Trump told Woodward in another recorded interview: “I want to keep the country calm. I don’t want panic in the country. I could cause panic much better than even you.”
- April 3, 2020 – Trump stated that people should wear a non-medical cloth mask when going into the public arena.
- April 4 & 5, 2020 – Trump pushed an unproven anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, to treat COVID-19. The President has a financial interest in the drug.
- April 24, 2020 – Trump suggested during a coronavirus press brief that the injection of disinfectants such as bleach and Lysol could beat the virus by cleaning the lungs.
- May 6, 2020 – Pushing to re-open the nation’s school system, Trump falsely said, “We realize how strong children are, right? Their immune system is maybe a little bit different. Maybe it’s just a little bit stronger, or maybe it’s a lot stronger.”
- August 5, 2020 –– Although the CDC had reported that more than 240,000 children had been infected with the virus, Trump said during an interview, “If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely — but almost immune from this disease.” He added, “They don’t have a problem. They just don’t have a problem.”
- September 9, 2020 – Responding to Woodward’s book revelations, Trump told reporters that “I love our country and I don’t want people to be frightened. I don’t want to create panic, as you say. Certainly, I’m not going to drive this country or the world into a frenzy. We want to show confidence. We want to show strength.” He described Woodward’s book as a “political hit job.”
- September 15, 2020 – Trump made 24 untrue claims about the coronavirus crisis during an ABC News-sponsored town hall meeting, most notably the claim that he actually “up-played” the virus to the benefit of the nation.
Based on this chronology of actions and failures to act, a reasonable prosecution could be taken against Trump, particularly under Texas law, if he were not shielded by claims of unlimited Presidential immunity.
As the criticism of the President’s handling of COVID-19 has intensified in recent months, his public behavior has become more “unhinged” and “dangerous” –so much that the country’s national security was jeopardized.
So the question of whether the President of the United States is a criminal increasingly demands legal scrutiny.
This scrutiny became even more critical given the President’s actions and behavior during the week of September 26 and October 1, 2020, when he contracted the Covid-19 virus.
- Not only permitting but encouraging roughly 150 attendees at a White House ceremony announcing the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett not to wear masks or socially distance during the event; and
- Traveling to a fundraising event at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey after learning that one of his top aides, with whom the President and most of the other members of his entourage had contact, tested positive for the COVID virus. The President thereby deliberately and personally exposed hundreds of attendees to the extraordinary contagious viral infection.
We believe the President is personally responsible for the Covid-19 infections of at least a dozen or so of his political advisors and aides. Coupled with the recent Bob Woodward revelations, the President’s inaction and lies demonstrate that he has engaged in criminal behavior throughout the White House’s response to the pandemic, which has led to millions infected, and nearly a quarter of a million people killed.