Former President Barack Obama slammed his successor Donald Trump on Saturday for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and said the fatal shooting of an unarmed black jogger in Georgia shows America is still unequal.
In an online commencement speech to the class of 2020 which graduated from historically black colleges and universities this year, the 44th President did not mention Trump by name, but there was no mistaking who he meant.
‘More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing,’ Obama told graduates on Saturday.
‘A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge.’
Obama urged the graduating class to take up the mantle of leadership, saying: ‘If the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you.’
Former President Barack Obama delivered an online commencement speech on Saturday to graduates of historically black colleges and universities
The nation’s first black president also alluded to Ahmaud Arbery case, which ignited outrage after video of the unarmed black jogger’s fatal shooting surfaced online and went viral.
Arbery, 25, was accosted by two armed white men while going for a jog in his Georgia neighborhood on February 23.
The two men claimed they suspected Arbery of being linked to recent burglaries in the area and that they were legally permitted to detain him until law enforcement officials arrived.
After a struggle in which Arbery tried to flee, he was shot. Video of the incident shows him collapsing to the ground after he was stopped by the two men.
Public outrage grew as it was learned that local authorities declined to prosecute the men, who were known to be friends with officials in the prosecutor’s office.
It took more than two months for authorities to make an arrest and charge Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son Travis McMichael, 34, with murder.
Obama told HBCU graduates on Saturday that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed a disproportionately large number of African American victims, ‘just spotlights the underlying inequalities and extra burdens that black communities have historically had to deal with in this country.’
Obama also made mention of the February 23 killing of 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery (above), who was fatally shot by two armed white men who accosted him while he was jogging in his neighborhood in Georgia
Gregory McMichael (left) and his son, Travis McMichael (right) are accused of killing Arbery in February
Leaked video of the incident went viral and led to the arrests of Gregory and Travis McMichael
The local authorities initially declined to arrest and prosecute the McMichaels, but state authorities stepped in and arrested the two men after the video leaked online and went viral
The inequalities are visible not just in the realm of public health but also ‘just as we see it when a black man goes for a jog, and some folks feel like they can stop and question and shoot him if he doesn’t submit to their questioning.’
Obama, who has largely been quiet since leaving the White House in January 2017, has vowed to be more involved in trying to help his vice president, Joe Biden, win the presidency this fall.
Last week, the former president hit out at Trump over his handling of the pandemic, calling his administration’s efforts an ‘absolute chaotic disaster.’
Obama also blamed the current occupant of the Oval Office and his allies for exacerbating ‘tribal’ tensions around the country, which he says has hampered the effort to reduce total number of cases nationwide.
Audio of the web call in which Obama spoke was obtained by Yahoo News.
‘What we’re fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy – that has become a stronger impulse in American life,’ the president said.
‘And by the way, we’re seeing that internationally as well.
Trump has come under fire from Democrats for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Pictured, Trump speaks to the press at the White House on Friday
‘It’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty.
‘It would have been bad even with the best of governments.
‘It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset – of “what’s in it for me” and “to heck with everybody else” – when that mindset is operationalized in our government.’
Obama added: ‘That’s why, I, by the way, am going to be spending as much time as necessary and campaigning as hard as I can for Joe Biden.’
Trump has been slammed by Democrats for his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 88,000 Americans and infected nearly 1.5 million others.
The president has denied reports that some of his top aides, including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, warned him as early as January that a pandemic would have devastating consequences for Americans.
Trump has also been faulted for his administration’s failure to put in place a plan to have readily available testing so that Americans can isolate those infected with the coronavirus.
While Trump has largely been portrayed as absent, state governors have taken the lead, imposing lockdowns while urging the public to maintain social distancing guidelines.
Trump has even lashed out at several governors, particularly Democrats like Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, while urging his supporters to ‘liberate’ those states from lockdown even while his own administration’s health experts continued to encourage Americans to maintain social distancing.
The president has also made comments that have prompted mockery and scorn from the public, including his suggestion that cleaning disinfectants could be ingested into the body in order to treat COVID-19.
Trump, for his part, has claimed that his decision to shut down travel from China saved lives, though the administration has allowed flights from China carrying American citizens and legal residents to continue landing in the country.
The current president, meanwhile, tweeted on Saturday: ‘OBAMAGATE!’
Trump, meanwhile, has accused Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden, of wrondoing in the Michael Flynn case. Flynn’s conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. got picked up by US intelligence during the Obama administration, prompting allegations of ‘spying’
Trump and his supporters have alleged that Obama acted improperly in the investigation that resulted in the arrest and prosecution of Michael Flynn.
Flynn, who was fired as Trump’s national security for lying to Vice President Mike Pence over his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
As part of the plea, he had to admit in court, under oath, that he lied to the FBI and violated federal law. It is a crime to lie under oath in court.
WHAT IS UNMASKING?
During routine, legal surveillance of foreign targets, names of Americans occasionally come up in conversations. Foreigners could be talking about a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident by name, or a foreigner could be speaking directly to an American. When an American’s name is swept up in surveillance of foreigners, it is called ‘incidental collection.’ In these cases, the name of the American is masked before the intelligence is distributed to administration officials to avoid invading that person’s privacy.
Unless there is a clear intelligence value to knowing the American´s name, it is not revealed in the reports. The intelligence report would refer to the person only as ‘U.S. Person 1′ or U.S. Person 2.’ If U.S. officials with proper clearance to review the report want to know the identity, they can ask the agency that collected the information – perhaps the FBI, CIA or National Security Agency – to ‘unmask’ the name.
Unmasking requests are common, according to Michael Morell, former CIA deputy director and host of ‘Intelligence Matters’ podcast.
‘Literally hundreds of times a year across multiple administrations. In general, senior officials make the requests when necessary to understand the underlying intelligence. I myself did it several times a month and NSA adjudicates the request. You can’t do your job without it,’ he said.
Morell emphasized that unmasking is not the same as declassification. ‘When a name is unmasked, the underlying intelligence to include the name remains classified so leaking it would be a crime.’
WHEN WOULD AN INTELLIGENCE AGENCY UNMASK A NAME?
The request is not automatically granted. The person asking has to have a good reason. Typically, the reason is that not knowing the name makes it impossible to fully understand the intelligence provided.
The name is released only if the official requesting it has a need to know and the ‘identity is necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or assess its importance,’ according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s latest report, which includes statistics on unmasking. ‘Additional approval by a designated NSA official is also required.’
Former NSA Director Mike Rogers has said that only 20 of his employees could approve an unmasking. The names are shared only with the specific official who asked. They are not released publicly. Leaking a name, or any classified information, is illegal.
HOW OFTEN ARE NAMES UNMASKED?
The number of unmasking requests began being released to the public in response to recommendations in 2014 from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
There were 9,217 unmasking requests in the 12-month period between September 2015 and August 2016, the first period in which numbers are publicly available. The period was during the latter years of the Obama administration.
The number rose during the Trump administration. The 9,529 requests in 2017 grew to 16,721 in 2018 and 10,012 last year.
In January, Flynn filed court papers to withdraw his guilty plea, saying federal prosecutors had acted in ‘bad faith’ and broken their end of the bargain when they sought prison time for him.
Initially, prosecutors said Flynn was entitled to avoid prison time because he had cooperated extensively with the government, but the relationship with the retired Army lieutenant general grew increasingly contentious in the months before he withdrew his plea, particularly after he hired a new set of lawyers who raised misconduct allegations against the government.
But the Justice Department filed a motion last week to dismiss the case, saying that the FBI had insufficient basis to question Flynn in the first place and that statements he made during the interview were not material to the broader counterintelligence investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The judge presiding over Flynn´s criminal case appointed a retired jurist on Wednesday to evaluate whether the former Trump administration national security adviser should be held in criminal contempt over his guilty plea.
Trump this week blasted Biden over revelations that Biden had requested that Flynn’s name be ‘unmasked’ in foreign intelligence reports, a procedure that allowed for warrant-less surveillance of the then incoming national security advisor during the presidential transition.
Biden was identified on Wednesday as being among a group of Obama administration officials who ‘unmasked’ the name of Mike Flynn in U.S. intelligence reports.
A National Security Agency document signed by Director General Paul Nakasone lists Biden as among those who requested and may have received information on Flynn in the final days of the Obama administration or were otherwise involved in his unmasking.
The leaked memo immediately set off a clash in Washington, with President Donald Trump tearing into Biden, his presumed 2020 opponent, for unmasking, which he connected to the prosecution of Flynn, which he termed a disgrace.
‘When I see what is happening to him, it’s disgraceful,’ Trump said of Flynn.
‘And it was all a ruse. And by the way the FBI said he didn’t lie,’ Trump said at the White House on Wednesday.
Trump this week unloaded on Obama over the Flynn prosecution in an interview with Fox Business that aired Thursday morning.
‘It was the greatest political crime in the history of our country,’ Trump said.
‘If I were a Democrat instead of a Republican, I think everybody would have been in jail a long time ago, and I’m talking with 50-year sentences. It is a disgrace what’s happened.’
Trump also tweeted ‘If I were a Senator or Congressman, the first person I would call to testify about the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA, by FAR, is former President Obama. He knew EVERYTHING. Do it @LindseyGrahamSC, just do it. No more Mr. Nice Guy. No more talk!’
But Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, won’t call Obama, saying Thursday the idea wasn’t practical due to ‘executive privilege’ matters.
Biden struck back, saying Trump was trying to distract from mishandling the coronavirus.
‘This is all about diverting attention from the horrible way in which he has acted,’ Biden said.
‘We don’t have coronavirus because of him, but we have the devastating impact of it because of his lack of a policy, because of his lack of action.
‘It’s all about diversion.’