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Critics Say Trump’s ‘It’s a Two Way Street’ Message to Governors in Time of Crisis Is Yet Another Quid Pro Quo


President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggested that states suffering from shortages of emergency medical equipment and overcrowding in hospitals due to the novel COVID-19 coronavirus will be assisted by the federal government, so long as those states treat his administration well.

Only months removed from his impeachment on charges of abuse of power, legal analysts commented that by conditioning emergency federal aid to states on his perception of how a particular state or its leaders treat him, Trump appeared to be misusing the power of his office yet again.

“Usually we’ll have 50 governors that will call it the same time. I think we are doing very well. But it’s a two-way street. They have to treat us well, also,” Trump said during a Fox News town hall Tuesday. “They can’t say, ‘Oh, gee, we should get this, we should get that.’ We’re doing a great job. Like in New York where we’re building, as I said, four hospitals, four medical centers. We’re literally building hospitals and medical centers. And then I hear that there’s a problem with ventilators. Well we sent them ventilators. And they could have had 15,000 or 16,000 – all they had to do was order them two years ago. But they decided not to do it. They can’t blame us for that.”

Trump’s words were likely directed at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who has harshly criticized the Trump administration for downplaying the severity of the virus in its early stages and failing to utilize the full power of the federal government (Defense Production Act) to procure and allocate necessary resources (e.g., ventilators) in the weeks since the WHO declared a global pandemic. The state has been ravaged by the virus, and is home to more than half of the confirmed coronavirus cases in the nation as of Wednesday.

A senior Trump administration official seemed to confirm that the president was explicitly concerned with public criticism from state leaders.

“If you’re good and respectful to [Trump], he will treat you the same—it’s that simple,” a senior White House official told the Daily Beast. “The president has always said that he fights back when he needs to, and the situation with [Cuomo] is no different. If you keep that in mind, their sort of seesaw relationship during [coronavirus] doesn’t come as a surprise.”

A seesaw relationship, indeed.

University of Denver law professor Nancy Leong on Wednesday noted the three states that have formally declared disasters due to the coronavirus, all of which have Democratic governors, have yet to receive the federal unemployment assistance that is expected to follow such a designation.

She also quoted Stanford law professor Pam Karlan, who in Dec. 2019 testified as an expert witness in the House impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Karlan, when arguing that President Trump had committed an impeachable abuse of power, said: imagine Trump telling the governor of a state, “I would like you to do us a favor”– in exchange for disaster aid.

Karlan’s example:

Imagine living in a part of Louisiana or Texas that’s prone to devastating hurricanes and flooding. What would you think if you lived there and your governor asked for a meeting with the president to discuss getting disaster aid that Congress has provided for? What would you think if that president said, “I would like you to do us a favor? I’ll meet with you, and send the disaster relief, once you brand my opponent a criminal.”

Wouldn’t you know in your gut that such a president has abused his office? That he’d betrayed the national interest, and that he was trying to corrupt the electoral process? I believe the evidentiary record shows wrongful acts on those scale here.

And the video:

Former House Intelligence Committee lead counsel Daniel Goldman, recovering from his own bout with COVID-19, similarly questioned Trump’s motives for withholding federal aid from blue states.

CNN analyst, attorney and former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa also called back to Trump’s impeachment, quoting directly from the memo of Trump’s “perfect call” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

[image via BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI_AFP via Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.