Could Trump Be Criminally Liable for His Deadly Mishandling of Coronavirus?
By Neil Baron* – Newsweek
As Dr. Anthony Fauci has said, it didn’t have to be this bad in the U.S. The world’s
richest country with the strongest economy and a population of 330 million
people has more coronavirus cases and deaths from COVID-19 than
any other country, including China, whose population is more than four
The U.S would have experienced fewer deaths and less
economic damage had the federal government been better prepared—or simply as
prepared as some other countries, even smaller and poorer ones.
For example, South Korea’s performance put the U.S. to shame. In January, South Korea had only
four cases, but it quickly approved several diagnostic tests. By mid-February,
it had tested one in 170 people, while the U.S. tested one in
1,090. By the end of February, thousands of South Koreans got drive-through
screenings daily. New cases slowed starting March 1. Around then, the U.S.
tested a hundred a day when other countries tested tens of
While China provided thousands of virus-fighting supplies to countries
on three continents, including all 54 African nations, the U.S. was so short it
had to ask other countries for help. Publicly, Trump boasted, “We have so many companies making so many
products” and “We have millions of masks being done. We have
respirators. We have ventilators.” Privately, he called South Korean President Moon Jae-in for supplies,
though the call doesn’t appear in the White House call readout.
U.S. ambassadors were instructed to ask host countries to “ramp up
production of medical equipment” for American use. Germany accused the
U.S. of “piracy” for confiscating a shipment of 200,000 N95
masks at a Thai airport and diverting it from Germany to the U.S. France
complained about the U.S. starting bidding wars for supplies where it wielded the most
Many U.S. deaths—now over 28,000—and
much economic damage could have been avoided if Trump hadn’t crippled U.S.
biodefense capabilities. Obama officials said they presented incoming Trump
officials with a pandemic simulation, but Trump’s team ignored it, “convinced they knew more than the outgoing
Undeterred, Trump’s fiscal year 2019 White House budget
proposal cut funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and a $30 million emergency response fund.
Trump fired Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert, who advocated
strengthening our pandemic defenses. Trump’s National Security Council adviser disbanded our entire pandemic response team and never
replaced it. When the World Health Organization (WHO) urged global testing
and sent test kits to 120 countries, the CDC failed
to request any.
Ventilators and the drugs needed to use them, as well as
nasal swabs for testing, are running out. Protective equipment is so scarce,
health care professionals have to wash and reuse masks. States compete against one another and the Federal Emergency
Management Agency for supplies, bidding up prices, because the federal government
failed to centralize procurement and distribution.
In 2009, H1N1 influenza triggered the largest federal
distribution ever, sending respirators, protective masks, gowns and gloves to
the states. Yet Trump told governors that the federal government is “not a
shipping clerk” and that states should procure their own supplies. That’s
an unconscionable abdication of responsibility. The Defense Production Act authorizes the president to force
production and distribution of materials needed in a crisis precisely because
it’s a federal responsibility.
He failed to learn from President Barack Obama’s success in coordinating
world leaders to stop the Ebola virus at its source. Obama sent
more than 3,000 health officials to West Africa as part of a 10,000 worker
team that provided treatment units, hospital beds, medical equipment, contact tracing, health
care training, burial units and travel restrictions. Cases fell by 80 percent
from peak levels.
The Obama administration also led the fight against Ebola at home. He prepared state hospitals,
treatment centers, health departments and health care workers to combat a
possible outbreak. In total, just 11 cases and two deaths reported in the US.
Having failed to control the massive spread of the COVID-19
pandemic, Trump turned to massive misinformation and scapegoating. He’s attempted to shift blame to Obama, governors, Democrats, the media and,
most bizarrely, the WHO, whose funding he recently suspended.
Such misdirection and false statements have led more
Americans to eschew caution and subject themselves to more infection and death.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said her city would have canceled Mardi Gras if Washington had taken the
outbreak more seriously and sent clearer signals. Orleans Parish now has the highest per capita death rate of any U.S. county.
A letter from 100 professors from Northwestern University, UC
Berkeley and Columbia University complained, “The misinformation that
reaches the Fox News audience is a danger to public health.” Fox is
getting sued for interfering with reasonable efforts to contain the
virus by broadcasting false and deceptive content.
The definition of involuntary or negligent manslaughter
encompasses unintended killing through negligence, as well as knowledge that
one’s actions pose a risk to life. Irresponsible actions or failure to perform
a duty can constitute the crime. Do Trump’s actions and omissions rise to that
level? Ask the families of the 28,000 Americans and counting who have died.
*Neil Baron is an attorney who has represented
many institutions involved in the international markets and advised various
parts of the federal government on economic issues. The views expressed in this
article are the writer’s own.