Throw the GOP's Benghazi playbook at Trump's catastrophic coronavirus response

The United States is under attack. Tens of thousands of Americans are dead, and many thousands more will die in the coming weeks. A staggering recession looms.

As dire as they may be, let’s briefly set these realities aside and take a closer look at another recent attack against Americans.

In late 2012, four U.S. diplomats were killed in a brutal jihadist assault in Benghazi, Libya. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyTrump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Senate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation Pelosi, Democrats press case for mail-in voting amid Trump attacks MORE, the Republican presidential nominee at the time, immediately went on the offensive, labeling the Obama administration’s response “disgraceful.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Romney’s outrage spurred four long years of GOP inquiries into Benghazi. Indeed, Republicans investigated the attacks far longer than congressional probes into September 11, Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination and Watergate.

Considering the gravity of each of those watershed events, that is quite a discrepancy.

And the end result of the GOP’s divisive, colossally expensive investigations into Benghazi? Time and again, Republicans found zero wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees. Moreover, ten separate inquiries debunked a litany of virulent right-wing conspiracy theories.

The GOP’s political fishing expeditions on Benghazi reached their zenith when congressional Republicans hauled the Democratic presidential frontrunner – long exonerated in separate GOP-led inquiries – to testify in the heat of the 2016 campaign. Four years and three months after the Benghazi attacks, Republicans ended their final investigation — just one month after Trump was elected.

The GOP’s unconscionable hijacking of the deaths of four American patriots for political gain – openly admitted by a key Republican – should be beyond obvious to any neutral observer.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fast forward to 2020. For six agonizing weeks, President TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE ignored, downplayed and discredited dire warnings (including from his own appointees) that predicted precisely the public health and economic catastrophe that America confronts today. While classified intelligence briefings scared some Republican senators into panic-selling massive amounts of stock, the government’s experts “just couldn’t get [Trump] to do anything about” the dire warnings that he was receiving.

To make matters worse, the outgoing Obama administration handed Trump’s team detailed pandemic response plans and conducted a disaster response exercise simulating a viral outbreak nearly identical to COVID-19. Trump ignored the plans, fired the key participants in the exercise and disbanded a critical White House pandemic response unit.

Once the novel coronavirus reached American shores, Trump refused to take charge. Absent clear guidance and attention from the top, the administration bungled the mass rollout of testing kits, likely the single deadliest failure of Trump’s disastrous response.

Moreover, the president’s inability to lead caused governors to fight one another for scarce, life-saving medical equipment. U.S. states were forced to compete against each other for masks and ventilators, creating bidding wars beset by profiteering and price gauging — a Trump-induced nightmare scenario in the middle of a national crisis.

Despite pleas from physicians, nurses and hospital staff, Trump has still not fully invoked temporary emergency authorities to produce urgently-needed medical supplies.

ADVERTISEMENT

Ultimately, Trump’s dithering and politically motivated belittling of a grave threat exacted an enormous cost in American lives. Some 4,500 innocent Americans died in a single recent day, far more than perished on September 11, 2001.

This is an attack on America. And Trump knew full well that it was coming, yet did next to nothing to prepare the country. He ignored the experts; too distracted by his own hubris and denial of scientific expertise for the benefit of his own narrow interests.

If Republicans can feign mass outrage for political gain while spending four years (and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars) on painstaking, minute-by-minute, email-by-email reconstructions of the Benghazi attacks, they had better be the very first to line up to investigate – with equal zeal – the Trump administration’s failure to prevent this humanitarian and economic disaster.

But they won’t. Republicans will stonewall and deflect, as they always do. So it is up to Democrats to zealously investigate the Trump administration’s catastrophic response with the fairness and integrity that Republicans did not afford the Obama administration on Benghazi (not to mention a litany of other non-scandals).

Of course, the principal difference between Benghazi and the current crisis is that a tenacious, methodical investigation will uncover the president’s staggering failure to save American lives.

Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.