David Corn Interview: "Trump’s Paying More Attention to Confederate Statues Than He Is to Coronavirus Deaths"
Image attributed to Hachette Book Group
David Corn is a veteran political journalist, author, analyst for MSNBC and the chief of the Washington bureau for Mother Jones. He won the 2012 George Polk award for a story that perhaps cost Mitt Romney the presidential election, securing a full recording of Romney at a $50,000-a-plate Florida fundraiser declaring that 47 percent of Americans – those who back President Obama – are “victims” who are “dependent upon government” and “pay no income tax.”
Corn’s bestselling books include Showdown: The Inside Story of How Barack Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (with Michael Isikoff) and The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. His most recent book released in hardcover in 2018, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump (also with Michael Isikoff), is now available in paperback.
"It’s very sad that they’re living in a Trump cult-like bubble and that they are unreachable. A lot are ignorant. Many of them, as we’ve seen in the past couple of months, are racist and don’t mind following the lead of a racist. I think these people are lost to us."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: David, how are you doing during these strange times?
David Corn: Well, I’m working from home, and I’ve got 20 people I manage via Skype and Zoom and phone calls like everybody else. I’m kind of overwhelmed but also bored at the same time. It’s a weird time for everybody. One of my college-aged daughters is home with us, and that’s good, but she’s not that happy.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I understand that. It's really weird to be cooped up for so long. When we last spoke in March of 2018, your book, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, had just been released. Now the paperback has come out. Does it include any new information?
David Corn: Yes, it does. What we did was take some of the stuff that came out of the Mueller investigation and incorporated it with material we had published in the first edition. But we also followed in quite detail the Ukraine and the impeachment story, and really, I think, showed people one key point that was often overlooked. That is, a lot of the Ukraine impeachment scandal was related to Russia.
You think back to the phone call that triggered it, the conversation between Donald Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine. People tend to think that Trump pressed him to have an investigation into Joe Biden in return for getting military assistance from the United States. And that’s true. But the first thing Trump actually asked him to do before he raised the Biden issue was to do an investigation of what he called the servers, which was a reference to a very, very bizarre conspiracy theory that holds that Russia did not hack the 2016 election, did not penetrate the Democratic Party computers and that somehow this was done involving players in Ukraine, was done to basically set up the Trump campaign to look bad, and the evidence of this was in the Democratic Party servers that had been carried away covertly to Ukraine and were being guarded there in some fashion.
None of that makes sense. But it came out of the fever swamps of far right websites. And here’s the president of the United States basically saying, “I believe this cockamamie conspiracy theory that Russia did not attack the election in 2016. It wasn’t Putin. It was Ukraine, and now Ukraine is sitting on the DNC servers.” Russia did attack. There are no DNC servers in the Ukraine.But here Trump was wanting the Ukraine president to find some information that would support this batty idea. Why is Trump doing this? One reason he’s doing this is because he’s so intent on removing the Russian stain from his presidency, which is justified because the Russians did attack, and that is how they helped Trump become president. It wasn’t the only thing to help Trump become president, but it was one of the things.
So here Trump is trying to block that out and come up with another crazy narrative to tell people there was no Russian involvement in the election. That was also, of course, getting protection to the man he wants to be his best friend, Vladimir Putin, by saying Putin was not involved in this. So it was really the strong desire on Trump’s part to remove the tarnish of the Russian involvement in his election victory and to protect and to provide cover to Vladimir Putin that led Trump into this quid quo pro and abuse of power that led to his impeachment.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Even as the White House provided briefings this week to Congress that Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill US troops, Trump said the reports were “made up” and a “hoax” designed to “slander” him. How does the president of the United States continue to get by with saying that the actual story of Russian bounties is a hoax when he has not even attempted to call for an investigation?
David Corn: That’s the question we’ve had the past three years. How does he get away with it? How does he get away with it? The Washington Post has now chronicled over 19,000 statements Trump has made as president that they say are false or are misleading. How does he get away with any of this stuff? How does he get away with not once telling Americans to wear masks, the one thing that could get the most mileage in terms of slowing down this surging pandemic? Wear a mask and social distance. Whether you’re opening up or not, it’s just fundamental. Take these very simple steps that could, no doubt, save the lives and the deaths of thousands, if not tens of thousands of Americans, and he won’t do it.
Right before you and I began talking, he had a press conference and said, “Wash your hands.” He wouldn’t say, “Wear a mask.” So how does he get away saying the story was made up that Russia offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan to kill American soldiers? To kill American soldiers for money. We know from members of Congress, including Republican members, that the intelligence did exist, yet Trump says this story’s a hoax. No! Reports are real. Now whether they were verified and confirmed, we don’t know, but the report is pretty solid that it was presented to Trump in written material, and it seems he did nothing.
Even when the story broke, for days he never said, “Hey, I’m going to get to the bottom of this. I didn’t know about this before, but now that it’s come out publicly, I want to know what happened, and believe you me, if Russia’s doing anything like this, I’m going to take immediate action.” He didn’t do anything like that. Of course, taking a stand against Vladimir Putin can get in the way of the friendship Trump’s been trying to develop since years before his entry into the presidential race.
He doesn’t act like a guy who cares. How does he get away with it? Well, in some ways, it’s because Republicans refuse to criticize him. Even those that say the reports are troubling will not say that the president has abdicated his primary responsibility, which is protecting American troops as well as protecting Americans overall. With no one calling him out other than Democrats and the media, he seems to get away with things.
Now in November, we’ll see if he really and truly gets away with this or not, if he will truly get away with abusing the office of the presidency. Maybe he won’t get away with all this. But right now, you have a Republican Party that’s more like a cult than a party, and whatever Trump says, whatever he does, they more or less abide by. But now, they’re like little mice sneaking out in the middle of the night beginning to peep, “Maybe we should wear a mask.” For months, they didn’t say anything to criticize Trump on this front, and they have just decided that whatever he says goes, and you have tens of millions of Americans who follow his lead and refuse to believe anything other than what they see on Fox News.
It’s very sad that they’re living in a Trump cult-like bubble and that they are unreachable. A lot are ignorant. Many of them, as we’ve seen in the past couple of months, are racist and don’t mind following the lead of a racist. I think these people are lost to us.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Trump supporters do follow his lead and seem to never question him. Perhaps they would wear masks emblazoned with the words, “It’s Obama’s fault,” because Donald Trump has blamed Barack Obama for the slow coronavirus testing issues.
David Corn: Yeah. All Trump would have to say is, “Obama doesn’t want you to wear a mask.” Then they’d put it on. It’s amazing the way Trump supporters are meeting him at rallies waving confederate flags even in places like Maine. Why would you be waving a confederate flag in Maine? What is Maine’s heritage in the Civil War? It was actually to secede the confederacy. So if you’re waving the flag there, you’re doing it for only one reason, and that is because you are supporting Trump’s racist impulses. Trump’s made wearing masks a political statement, and that is killing thousands of Americans.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Donald Trump did say that when he wore that black mask, it reminded him of the Lone Ranger.
David Corn: I would like to see Trump try to jump onto a horse (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Can Donald Trump be impeached again, if it’s found that he willingly ignored intelligence and put American troops in harms way?
David Corn: In a different world, one could certainly raise the question that, if he was told about this and did nothing about it, that is a complete dereliction of duty. I don’t care what Alan Dershowitz has to say. You have a person in the office of the presidency who is not meeting his fundamental obligations to protect Americans and American soldiers, so impeachment is the only recourse.
It seems to me that whether it violates part of the federal code or not, turning your back on American soldiers and not protecting them from Russian-paid assassins, is a high crime. It’s a high crime for a commander-in-chief. It’s betrayal. It’s treason, whatever you want to call it.
I do think technically there’s grounds for impeachment there. I think what he’s done on the pandemic, too, one can make the case that here’s a fellow that did not start with the testing regimen, did not immediately do anything rigorous to prevent the spread here and is not taking steps now. Trump’s paying more attention to confederate statues than he is to coronavirus deaths. Has he mentioned a single American by name who died? Has he done anything to show that he mourns these Americans? Has he taken the full advice of medical teams that even he himself assembled?
In fact, he’s done the opposite. He’s not set an example, and he’s insisted on holding rallies that put Americans at risk and actually Americans beyond these rallies because these people that came to see him at the arena in Tulsa or the megachurch in Phoenix could be spreading the virus. They all go out back into their communities, back to their homes, workplaces and schools or wherever they may be headed.
Right before you and I connected today, we got the news that Herman Cain, the former businessman who ran for president a few years ago who’s now a big Trump supporter and part of Black Voices for Trump, was at the Tulsa event, and he has been hospitalized for COVID. Of course, on his Instagram feed and Twitter feed, you see pictures of him in Tulsa shoulder to shoulder, seat to seat with other Trump supporters with not a single one wearing a mask. In fact, he was tweeting the other day that when Trump goes to a July 4thevent in South Dakota, he said, “We’re not wearing masks,” like that’s a point of pride. No one wants to have a laugh at Cain’s expense here if he’s really in serious trouble, but he was told. He was told not by the president but by other people at the White House podium. He was told. All Americans have been told.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Back in March, Sean Hannity (Fox News) claimed he’d “never called the virus a hoax” just nine days after actually saying it was the Democrats’ “new hoax.” Should the media be accountable in this life and death situation for lying to the public, especially in the beginning of the pandemic?
David Corn: Yeah. Well, I think most of the media jumped on this pretty quickly and started challenging Trump’s absurdist positions except for Fox News where indeed they echoed Trump when he said it was a hoax. They pooh-poohed the wearing of masks. They promoted Trump’s claims that a certain drug would work when it didn’t. In fact, it may have led to some more deaths. They’re completely reckless and irresponsible.
What they’re doing is basically advising their own viewers on how to get sick and maybe die. Fox viewers tend to be older. Older people tend to be more vulnerable. Only in the last couple of days have you seen people on Fox saying, “Oh, I guess we should wear masks.” I’m not sure they’re legally liable, but they’re certainly morally liable for the country being in a gigantic jam with tens of thousands of Americans dying whose deaths could have been prevented.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: If John Bolton had shared his disturbing information (before releasing his book) about Donald Trump, the Ukraine and China with the House impeachment investigators, and he could’ve testified at the impeachment trial, do you think Republicans would’ve still been able to defend Trump?
David Corn: I think the cult of Trump would’ve held firm, and you would not have gotten the two-thirds vote. You would’ve gotten 20 or so Republican senators to vote to kick Trump out. I do think if John Bolton had testified and said that there was no question that Trump withheld military assistance in order to get bogus investigations in order to help him politically, and that he’d asked China to buy stuff to help him in the election, and he’d given a green light to China’s mass incarceration at concentration camps to decrease the Muslim population, he might’ve had a couple of other Republican senators who would’ve voted to remove him.
I think it would’ve been a different story at least somewhat for history’s sake. You need two-thirds to get him out, but still, if the majority of the Senate had voted against Trump on this, that would’ve been such a black mark on his presidency, and it would’ve at least established for the country and future historians that the majority of America did not accept this type of president.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: A few Republican operatives have started the rumor that Donald Trump will drop out of the presidential race due to low poll numbers. What do you think?
David Corn: I find it very hard to believe that Trump would bow out. I think that would just brand him a loser, and I think what drives him the most is his revenge against his real or perceived enemies, and he would not want to give them the satisfaction. I think there is a much better chance of him trying to delegitimize the election and call into question any results that show him not winning.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Will Russia be as heavily involved in the upcoming presidential election as they were in 2016 when they interfered and helped Donald Trump win?
David Corn: We already know from the FBI Director Christopher Wray and the Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe that Russia is intervening into the election, but they won’t say how. I’m not sure that’s through social media operations. It may just be amplifying divisive messages that already exist on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and elsewhere. But they certainly were told that they are already messing.
Trump refuses to acknowledge this, and he refuses to say anything about trying to counter another Russian effort to influence the election for his benefit. So I know now they’re out there doing something already. They’re planning other strikes. Whether they get bold enough to mess with actual voting or voter registration databases, we don’t know. We know it’s possible. The important thing now would be to be preparing for that. There’s few signs in the federal government that Trump, the White House and the administration are taking this threat seriously.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: David, isn’t it time for you to write another book?
David Corn: Oh, yeah. Maybe. We’ll see. They come every couple of years. We’ll see what’s next. I think right now, the next four months are about figuring out where the soul of America is, and whether Trump is an aberration or something even deeper that will take longer to remedy.
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