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Trump's Covid lies were a tragedy. Were they also a crime?

Trump’s lies about Covid very likely killed Americans. Where's the accountability?
Image of US President Donald Trump takes off his facemask as he arrives at the White House with a red overlay
Former President Donald Trump takes off his mask as he arrives at the White House upon his return from Walter Reed Medical Center on Oct. 5, 2020.Nicholas Kamm / Getty Images; MSNBC

Holding former President Donald Trump accountable must go beyond an impeachment for inciting the Capitol riot. It must also include a full investigation into potential crimes he may have committed, such as manslaughter (wait for my explanation on this one), in connection with the over 400,000 Americans who died from Covid-19 on his watch.

Trump knew Americans were relying on him to provide information to keep themselves and their families safe from the deadly virus.

Trump knew Americans were relying on him to provide information to keep themselves and their families safe from the deadly virus. But still, he knowingly lied to the public about the risk of Covid-19. The most glaring example was one we learned about in September when the journalist Bob Woodward released audio tapes of his conversation last Feb. 7 with Trump. In that call, Trump told Woodward point blank that Covid-19 “is deadly stuff,” adding that it’s five times “more deadly” than “even your strenuous flus.”

Yet, weeks later, on Feb. 26 — with a nation desperate for information on this quickly spreading virus — Trump stood up in the White House, looked into the camera and lied to the public, saying, “I mean, view this the same as the flu.” This was days before the first American death from the virus was reported.

From there, Trump served up a buffet of lies about the risks of Covid-19, from repeatedly comparing it to the flu to a jaw-dropping one during his July 4 address to the nation in which he misled Americans with the false claim that “99 percent” of the cases were “totally harmless.”

How many of the over 400,000 Americans who died on Trump’s watch would still be alive if Trump had not intentionally misled the public about the deadly virus — likely because he believed it helped him politically?

Now, we’ve learned more from Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who both served on the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Their statements provide additional evidence that Trump’s lies about the coronavirus very likely killed Americans — and signal that others in the White House may have committed similar offenses.

How many of the over 400,000 Americans who died on Trump’s watch would still be alive if he hadn’t intentionally misled the public about the deadly virus?

One of the most damning comments comes from Fauci, who appeared on CNN on Jan. 22, when he was asked whether Trump’s lack of “candor” about the virus cost lives. In response, the infectious disease specialist responded, "You know, it very likely did."

MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner, who served for 24 years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and rose to the position of chief of homicide, believes Trump’s deliberate lies about the level of risk posed by Covid-19, together with Fauci connecting that to Americans dying, could very well constitute the crime of manslaughter — and even possibly murder in the second degree.

While each state’s laws vary, in essence manslaughter is when a person “consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk” that results in the death of another. As Kirschner noted, Trump’s lies are evidence that he “acted in a grossly negligent way” that could result in the deaths of others — potentially justifying a manslaughter charge.

Murder in the second degree, which carries a more serious penalty than manslaughter, requires the additional showing that a person acted with "depraved indifference to human life." In other words, the person knew full well that his or her actions could result in the death of another but still intentionally took the action “with an utter disregard for the value of human life.”

Trump’s Covid-19 lies, in my view, are the very definition of “depraved indifference.” By his own admission, he knew how dangerous Covid-19 is, but still intentionally misled Americans about the risk, which led to Americans dying. That was the very point made by Kristin Urquiza, whose Trump-loving father died from Covid-19 because, as she put it, “His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump — and for that he paid with his life.”

Trump’s Covid-19 lies, in my view, are the very definition of “depraved indifference.”

Birx’s comments Sunday on CBS's “Face the Nation” raise alarm bells that others may have been part of a conspiracy to mislead Americans about the virus. Birx, a world-renowned global health official, shared that “someone out there or someone inside was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president,” adding that the result was “the president presenting graphs that I never made.”

Indeed, when Birx was asked, “Do you think the administration was suppressing vital information to win the election?” she responded, “I don't know what their motivation was.” Cleary, Birx is confirming the Trump administration suppressed “vital information” about the virus. (She also confirmed the White House blocked her from appearing in the national press to correct Trump’s misinformation.)

We must know the who and why. The more than 400,000 people who died from Covid-19 — including my childhood friend who left behind two teenage sons without a father — must not be viewed as statistics but each as someone’s loved one. Their families deserve answers.

The mechanism for an investigation into Trump and those involved could be via the appointment of a special counsel by President Joe Biden’s attorney general. State attorneys general or U.S. attorneys from across the nation could commence their own investigations since they would have jurisdiction, given that Americans died in every state from Covid-19. Or, as Kirschner suggested, the formation of a “Trump crimes commission” would have the power to impanel a grand jury and prosecute those charged.

Of course, another layer of the Covid-19 tragedy is that Trump’s alleged crimes and offenses are so egregious that we won’t see these acts of deadly negligence prosecuted. But we also cannot afford to not look closely at what a president of the United States has wrought, and how deeply it damaged and continues to destroy the lives of the people he pledged to serve.

Trump — along with any other person who conspired with him to intentionally mislead Americans about the pandemic — should be held fully accountable. Anything less is not only an insult to the memory of all those lost to Covid-19, but it also potentially gives future presidents a green light to intentionally lie to the American public about deadly risks in the future. We, as a nation, cannot allow that to ever happen again.