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Presidential intransigence threatens our health and national security

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In the wake of his reelection loss and failure to accept it, the president is behaving less like a government head and more like a petulant child. Even when warranted, a president cannot be told: “Go to your room until your term expires.”

While he continues in office, Mr. Trump is not only shattering time-tested norms — most prominently, refusing to facilitate the orderly transition of power — he is also acting, and failing to act, in ways that could cause incalculable harm: needless thousands of deaths, and the weakening of our security, particularly our cybersecurity and relations with allies. 

Let’s start with his passive failures. Having blocked his GSA chief from following the law and certifying the transition of the president-elect, President Trump not only deprives the transition of public funding required to operate effectively, he also exposes us to unpreparedness for terrorism.

The 9/11 Commission warned of that.

Then, as COVID-19 cases spike severely, particularly in states that his campaign carried, Trump simply has checked out of addressing the COVID problem that his lack of leadership amplified.

He has refused to allow his administration’s health experts to share with the incoming president’s team plans to distribute the highly promising Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. That will put the new administration months behind.

And, where his administration has spoken at all, it has come when his unqualified task force medical adviser decried the use of protective masks that pandemic experts urge as a base-line necessity.

The cost will be many more hospitalizations — and very possibly deaths.

Those are the passive failures. The active failures begin with the president’s firings of key security officials, leaving less experienced people in place as acting agency heads. Having terminated the Secretary of Defense, the president fired the Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (“CISA”), in apparent retribution for the director’s factual statements concerning his agency’s success in delivering the most secure election in history.

But CISA is not only responsible for election security — it is the agency that leads all our cyber security. We are engaged in the equivalent of cyber war with at least four countries: China, Russia, North Korea and Iran. They are stealing our intellectual property, stoking societal division in the U.S., and weakening our ability to counteract their aggressive behavior throughout the world. One can’t help but imagine the wry smiles on the faces of Messrs. Putin and Xi.

Those smiles undoubtedly widened when the president unilaterally announced troop withdrawals from several world hot spots. Trump utterly ignored the fact that his precipitous action threatens stability in theaters of conflict, encourages enemy forces and jeopardizes the lives and safety of the troops that remain, both ours and our allies.

Foreign policy experts emphasize that our ability to thwart China’s and Russia’s harmful designs depend upon reinvigorating our alliances. The president has degraded them repeatedly. His current action further undermines the trust and cooperation that our national interest requires.

What the president has done — and failed to do — will very likely define his legacy as weakening the nation’s health, fracturing our national unity, and strengthening our adversaries while alienating our allies. It is too late for this president to be held constitutionally accountable for these acts and omissions.  

For now, we can only hope that influential Republicans will put country ahead of party and demand a transition serving all Americans, including those who voted for President Trump.

Stuart M. Gerson is a Member of the Firm Epstein Becker Green and a founder of Checks and Balances, a conservative legal group. He previously served as a military counterintelligence officer, federal prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1993 and then as Acting Attorney General of the United States.

Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor who writes on national affairs.

Tags Biden transition coronavirus pandemic cybersecurity democratic norms Diplomacy Donald Trump information sharing vaccine distribution

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