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Defendant Barr’s Flip-Flops Finally Attract Press Attention

Bill Barr’s sloppy lying may finally be catching up to him.

The press should have stopped treating the Attorney General as credible after he obviously lied about the contents of the Mueller Report. But he continued to be accorded the courtesy of the office, through changing DOJ stories about his involvement in Trump’s effort to coerce a quid pro quo in Ukraine (and the impeachment that followed) and his cover stories to explain unprecedented interference in the prosecution of Trump flunkies.

But over the course of the last week, the press has gone from reporting anonymous DOJ scoops, to noting how later DOJ claims conflicted with that scoop, to outright debunking of Barr (even if they’re not yet treating him as the consistent liar they recognize Trump to be).

On Tuesday, WaPo had a scoop citing an anonymous DOJ official stating that Barr personally ordered the attack on protestors, perhaps an effort to shift the focus from Trump.

Attorney General William P. Barr personally ordered law enforcement officials to clear the streets around Lafayette Square just before President Trump spoke Monday, a Justice Department official said, a directive that prompted a show of aggression against a crowd of largely peaceful protesters, drawing widespread condemnation.

The claim took the heat off of President Trump.

In a presser on Thursday, Barr offered a more elaborate explanation. He claimed he made the decision to move the perimeter around the White House on Trump’s orders — to protect the White House from protestors — before the arrival of protestors on Monday.

On Monday, the president asked me to coordinate the various federal law enforcement agencies, not only the multiple department of justice agencies, but also other agencies such as those in the Department of Homeland Security. So we had a coordinated response and worked with the National Guard and also with the DC police. That morning, we decided that we needed more of a buffer to protect the White House and to protect our agents and secret service personnel who could be reached by projectiles from H Street. I made the decision that we would try to move our perimeter northward by a block to provide this additional protection. And later at 2:00 on Monday, I met with all the various law enforcement agencies and we set our tactical plan. And that plan involve moving our perimeter a block North to I Street. It was our hope to be able to do that relatively quickly before many demonstrators appeared that day.

Unfortunately, because of the difficulty in getting appropriate units into place, by the time they were able to move our perimeter up to I street, a large number of protestors had assembled on H Street. There were projectiles being thrown and the group was becoming increasingly unruly. And the operation to what… They were asked to three times if they would move back one block, they refused. And we proceeded to move our perimeter out to I Street.

In the same presser, he claimed that he saw “instigators” before the move to push them back, thereby claiming both advance planning but also an imminent threat.

I think one of the difficulties is that while there are peaceful demonstrators and participants in these protests, the instigators, those committed to violence, basically shield themselves by going among them and carrying out acts of violence. I saw the projectiles on Monday when I went to Lafayette Park to look at the situation. And as one of the officials said, he pointed out various knots of people where the projectiles were coming from and we could see… and it was a lot of demonstrators. And it’s hard to know exactly where they’re coming from. Frequently, these things are thrown from the rear of the demonstration, but we could not continue to protect the federal property involved and protect the safety of our agents with such a tight perimeter. And so our object was to move it out by one block. Next question, please.

On Friday, however, Barr started backing away from responsibility. That day, the AP reported that Barr had not given the tactical move to attack the protestors. Instead, some unnamed person who could not be directly tied to a Barr (and therefore a Trump) command did that.

On Friday, Barr told the AP that both he and U.S. Park Police were in agreement on the need to push back the security perimeter. He said he attended a meeting around 2 p.m. Monday with several other law enforcement officials, including Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, where they looked at a map and decided on a dividing line. Under the plan, the protesters would be moved away from Lafayette Park and federal law enforcement officials and members of the National Guard would maintain the perimeter line, Barr said.

[snip]

Barr said it was a Park Police tactical commander — an official he never spoke to — who gave the order for the law enforcement agencies to move in and clear the protesters.

“I’m not involved in giving tactical commands like that,” he said. “I was frustrated and I was also worried that as the crowd grew, it was going to be harder and harder to do. So my attitude was get it done, but I didn’t say, ‘Go do it.’”

Barr insisted there was no connection between the heavy-handed crackdown on the protesters and Trump’s walk soon after to St. John’s Church.

Finally, on Sunday, Margaret Brennan interviewed Barr on Face the Nation, one of the first times during this tenure as AG Barr has sat for an interview with someone who was neither (like Pete Williams or Pierre Thomas) someone he knew from the Poppy days, nor (like Catherine Herridge) a right wing stenographer. Brennan challenged a lot of these inconsistencies, leading to Barr to make a comment — that pepper balls are not tear gas — that has been widely mocked since.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of the events of the week. On Monday, Lafayette Park was cleared of protesters. You’ve spoken about this. The federal agents who were there report up to you. Did you think it was appropriate for them to use smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper balls, projectiles at what appeared to be peaceful protesters?

BARR: They were not peaceful protesters. And that’s one of the big lies that the- the media is- seems to be perpetuating at this point.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Three of my CBS colleagues were there. We talked to them.

BARR: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: They did not hear warnings. They did not see protesters–

BARR: There were three warnings.

MARGARET BRENNAN:–throwing anything.

BARR: There were three warnings given. But let’s get back to why we took that action. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, OK, there were violent riots in- at Lafayette Park where the park police were under constant attack at the- behind their bike rack fences. On Sunday, things reached a crescendo. The officers were pummeled with bricks. Crowbars were used to pry up the pavers at the park and they were hurled at police. There were fires set in not only St. John’s Church, but a historic building at Lafayette was burned down.

MARGARET BRENNAN: These were things that looters did.

BARR: Not looters, these were- these were the- the violent rioters who were- dominated Lafayette Park.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what I’m asking about–

BARR: They broke into the Treasury Department,–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –on Monday when it was a peaceful protest.

BARR: I’m going to- let me get to this, because this has been totally obscured by the media. They broke into the Treasury Department, and they were injuring police. That night,–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sunday night?

BARR: Sunday night, the park police prepared a plan to clear H Street and put a- a larger perimeter around the White House so they could build a more permanent fence on Lafayette.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is something you approved on Sunday night?

BARR: No. The park police on their own on- on Sunday night determined this was the proper approach. When I came in Monday, it was clear to me that we did have to increase the perimeter on that side of Lafayette Park and push it out one block. That decision was made by me in the morning. It was communicated to all the police agencies, including the Metropolitan Police at 2:00 p.m. that day. The effort was to move the perimeter one block, and it had to be done when we had enough people in place to achieve that. And that decision, as I say, was communicated to the police at 2:00 p.m.. The operation was run by the park police. The park police was facing what they considered to be a very rowdy and non-compliant crowd. And there were projectiles being hurled at the police. And at that point, it was not to respond–

MARGARET BRENNAN: On Monday, you’re saying there were projectiles–

BARR: On Monday, yes there were.

MARGARET BRENNAN: As I’m saying, three of my colleagues were there.

BARR: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: They did not see projectiles being thrown–

BARR: I was there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: –when that happened.

BARR: I was there. They were thrown. I saw them thrown.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you believe that what the police did using tear gas and projectiles was appropriate?

BARR: Here’s- here’s what the media is missing. This was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd. It was an operation to move the perimeter one block.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the methods they used you think were appropriate, is that what you’re saying?

BARR: When they met resistance, yes. They announced three times. They didn’t move. By the way, there was no tear gas used. The tear gas was used Sunday when they had to clear H Street to allow the fire department to come in to save St. John’s Church. That’s when tear gas was used.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There were chemical irritants the park police has said–

BARR: No, there were not chemical irritants. Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant.

It’s not chemical.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Pepper spray, you’re saying is what was used–

BARR: Pepper balls. Pepper balls.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, and you believe that was appropriate. What I want to show you is what a lot of people at home who were watching this on television saw and their perception of events. So while the president says that he appreciates peaceful protest, around the same time, this crowd–

BARR: Well, six minutes- six minutes difference–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, around same time the area is being cleared of what appear to be peaceful protesters using some force. And after the speech is finished, the president walks out of the White House to the same area where the protesters had been and stands for photo op in front of the church where the protesters had been. These events look very connected to people at home. In an environment where the broader debate is about heavy handed use of force in law enforcement, was that the right message for Americans to be receiving?

Along the way, however, Barr’s explanation got more and more inconsistent.

What started out as an apparent effort to shield the President from direct responsibility for attacking protestors to clear way for his photo op became, by the end of the week, an effort to create a legal justification — protestors throwing things — while still distancing the time of the order from the photo op.

That’s a conflict Phil Bump highlighted in a particularly good job of shredding Barr’s statements, relying on an earlier detailed timeline he did. In addition to mocking Barr’s claim that pepper balls are not tear gas because they’re naturally occurring, Bump shows how Barr’s statements yesterday conflict with the justification for using tear gas.

“Here’s what the media is missing,” Barr said to Brennan on Sunday. “This was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd. It was an operation to move the perimeter one block.”

The problem with that framing is twofold.

First, it contradicts that same statement from the Park Police that serves as the backbone of the tear-gas defense. In that statement, the Park Police claim that protesters “began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids” at 6:33 p.m. This prompted the effort to clear the square to “curtail the violence that was underway.” There’s nothing about this being a planned operation.

What’s more, Barr himself made the claim to Brennan that the protesters were being violent at the time that the effort to remove them began.

“Three of my colleagues were there,” Brennan told him. “They did not see projectiles being thrown.”

“I was there,” Barr replied. “They were thrown. I saw them thrown.”

The timing of Barr’s visit is important, and we’ll get to it in a bit. But suffice it to say that video evidence from the period not only doesn’t back up the Park Police claim, it also doesn’t show Barr reacting to any such events.

It has been rare, possibly unprecedented, for the press to track Barr’s obvious lies this closely, even in the case of legal cases (like the Flynn prosecution) where Barr’s flip-flops are docketed.

I think a lot of things explain the unusual attention to Barr’s flip-flops. The assault on protestors and Trump’s tone-deaf photo op was so pathetic, the White House went into damage control. And because there were so many journalists at Lafayette Park, there were a slew of witnesses attesting to inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the official version of the story (starting with the Park Police’s flip-flops on the tear gas). Now, Barr is in a position of accusing three CBS reporters and at least one WaPo reporter, whose versions of this story differ dramatically from his own, of lying: His word against the reports of outside observers who have film to backup those reports.

But Barr’s changing excuses may also be partly explained by one other thing.

As noted, Barr’s first instinct seemed to be to distance the President from the order targeting peaceful protestors, and as he has repeatedly done, he took responsibilty (and Kayleigh McEnany happily gave him responsibility). But that created new problems: including why the Attorney General was ordering cops, many of them not within his chain of command, but more importantly, why Trump —  through orders given to Barr who executed those orders by issuing orders of his own — had responded to First Amendment protected activities with a violent assault.

The stakes of the answers to that question may have gone up with the filing of a lawsuit captioned, “Black Lives Matter v. Donald Trump:” Bill Barr is a named defendant.

Defendant William Barr is the Attorney General of the United States. He is sued in his individual and official capacity. He personally issued the order that resulted in the unlawful actions complained of in this lawsuit.

[snip]

At approximately 6:08 pm, Defendant Barr entered Lafayette Square.

At 6:10 pm, Defendant Barr was behind the law enforcement officials in Lafayette Square pointing north towards St. John’s Church. The Department of Justice subsequently acknowledged that Defendant Barr personally ordered that Lafayette Square be cleared.

Let me be clear: because this suit focuses on Bivens complaints about the violation of Constitutional rights, it probably won’t succeed in terms of the damages requested. Recent proceedings have largely gutted Bivens.

But what the suit does do is trace a link between Barr’s actions and the complaints of the plaintiffs (who include a 9-year old boy, a Navy veteran, and a former Eagle Scout). It does so through some of the same details that Barr is now trying to obfuscate.

And what the lawsuit may do is force a way to make the events that Barr is trying to cover up public.

Barr’s lies are consistent with all his other lies. He makes broad claims to power — not authority — and then he keeps changing the story as needed to try to give his claims retroactive legal cover.

This time, he may be forced to do so in court.

Update: WaPo did an unbelievably detailed piece showing no evidence for Park Police claims of dangerous projectiles, and making evident how the clearance of the Square led to the photo op.

Lysol and UV Rays: Running a Pandemic Like a Reality TV Show

After news outlets wrote their both-sides stories about the President’s musings about ingesting Lysol, and after they mapped out the four different excuses Trump offered on Friday — he told you to check with a doctor (Kayleigh McEnany); he was just joking (Trump himself); Trump was just thinking out loud (Dr. Birx); it’s the briefer’s fault (anonymous officials), several outlets set out to figure out how it came to be that the President of the most powerful country in the world went on live TV and suggested it might be a good idea to ingest cleaning supplies.

The NYT discovered that some of Trump’s advisors claim (anonymously in the NYT version, but named as Mark Meadows and Kayleigh McEnany by CNN) to have realized that allowing acting DHS Undersecretary for Science at William Bryan was going to be a mistake even before it happened. But Mike Pence liked the pretty pictures and good news he offered, so it went into the briefing.

Others inside the administration raised questions about why Mr. Bryan, whose background is not in health or science, had been invited to deliver a presentation. Mr. Bryan, whose expertise is in energy infrastructure and security, is serving in an acting capacity as the head of the department’s science and technology directorate.

Mr. Bryan served 17 years in the Army, followed by yearslong stints as a civil servant at the Defense and Energy Departments. The latter role led to a whistle-blower complaint accusing him, in part, of manipulating government policy to further his personal financial interests, and then lying to Congress about those interests.

The United States Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates whistle-blower complaints, asked the Energy Department last year to investigate the accusations against Mr. Bryan. In January, the Senate returned his nomination to the White House.

Mr. Bryan was invited by the vice president’s office to coronavirus task force meetings on Wednesday and Thursday to talk about a study that his department had done relating to heat and the conditions in which the coronavirus can thrive or be dampened. On Thursday, Mr. Bryan presented a graphic to the room, according to four people briefed on the events.

Mr. Pence’s advisers wanted Mr. Bryan to brief the news media on his findings, but several West Wing staff members objected, partly because they were concerned the information had not been verified.

Before Mr. Bryan took the lectern in the White House Briefing Room, Dr. Birx and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a member of the coronavirus task force, made a few revisions to his presentation, officials said.

As he listened to Mr. Bryan, the president became increasingly excited, and also felt the need to demonstrate his own understanding of science, according to three of the advisers. So Mr. Trump went ahead with his theories about the chemicals.

CNN described how Trump didn’t attend either of the task force meetings where Bryan presented his findings, but nevertheless ad-libbed a response after Bryan delivered his presentation.

President Donald Trump was absent from the Situation Room on Wednesday when William Bryan, the acting head of science at the Department of Homeland Security, presented the findings of a new study to the White House coronavirus task force.

[snip]

When Bryan arrived Thursday with a camera-ready presentation, Trump again wasn’t at the 3 p.m. ET coronavirus task force meeting, the sources said. But in the minutes before Trump’s planned early evening news conference, Bryan quickly explained his findings to the President in the Oval Office.

Moments later, Bryan was standing at the White House podium explaining how sunlight, ultraviolet rays and disinfectants — such as bleach and alcohol — could shorten the half-life of coronavirus.

But when Bryan’s explanation ended, things went sideways. As his health advisers looked on expressionless, the President started lobbing questions about whether light or disinfectants could be used inside the human body to cure coronavirus.

Trump and the White House spent the next 24 hours trying to rationalize the comments while health departments reminded Americans that ingesting bleach is lethal.

The really important detail from the CNN article, however, is that Trump doesn’t actually attend many of the Task Force meetings, which are held in the Situation Room. He attends maybe one a week, and doesn’t always warn members he’s going to drop in.

While he almost always attends the daily press briefings, Trump rarely attends the coronavirus task force meetings that precede them. The task force doesn’t seem to mind.

According to one person close to the task force, the meetings become more prolonged if Trump attends and often go off script. When Pence is at the helm, aides say, they usually tick through the agenda rapidly. Trump comes to roughly one briefing a week. At times, 10 days or more have passed without him attending.

[snip]

Trump often turns up when he’s not expected. His presence often throws the meeting well off its assigned agenda and frequently centers on how his performance is being viewed in the media or in polling.

That means Trump has been spending upwards of 10 hours a week emceeing briefings, without doing any of the homework to learn about the pandemic.

All the attempts to understand what happened have reminded me of the New Yorker article that described how Mark Barnett made a “skeezy hustler” like Donald Trump into a titan by repackaging the unprepared, impulsive things Trump said after the fact.

He wouldn’t read a script—he stumbled over the words and got the enunciation all wrong. But off the cuff he delivered the kind of zesty banter that is the lifeblood of reality television. He barked at one contestant, “Sam, you’re sort of a disaster. Don’t take offense, but everyone hates you.”

[snip]

“The Apprentice” was built around a weekly series of business challenges. At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be “fired.” But, as Braun explained, Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to “reverse engineer” the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense.

As with the Apprentice, Thursday’s fiasco ended with reaction shot, this time of Dr. Birx realizing in real time what Trump had done.

Burnett has often boasted that, for each televised hour of “The Apprentice,” his crews shot as many as three hundred hours of footage. The real alchemy of reality television is the editing—sifting through a compost heap of clips and piecing together an absorbing story. Jonathon Braun, an editor who started working with Burnett on “Survivor” and then worked on the first six seasons of “The Apprentice,” told me, “You don’t make anything up. But you accentuate things that you see as themes.” He readily conceded how distorting this process can be. Much of reality TV consists of reaction shots: one participant says something outrageous, and the camera cuts away to another participant rolling her eyes. Often, Braun said, editors lift an eye roll from an entirely different part of the conversation.

Of course, this time it’s real. And no one gets to go back and edit Trump’s dangerous comments to make them look like leadership after the fact. By then, people were already drinking Lysol.

On Thursday, after Trump made his comments and had Dr. Birx comment on it, Philip Rucker asked him why he was spreading rumors. For me, it was the most remarkable part of an unbelievable briefing. Trump responded, first, by stating, “I’m the President and you’re fake news,” the kind of comment that might be a ratings hit if it wasn’t getting people killed.

THE PRESIDENT: Deborah, have you ever heard of that? The heat and the light, relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?

DR. BIRX: Not as a treatment. I mean, certainly fever —

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah.

DR. BIRX: — is a good thing. When you have a fever, it helps your body respond. But not as — I’ve not seen heat or (inaudible).

THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s a great thing to look at. I mean, you know. Okay?

Q But respectfully, sir, you’re the President. And people tuning into these briefings, they want to get information and guidance and want to know what to do.

THE PRESIDENT: Hey — hey, Phil.

Q They’re not looking for a rumor.

THE PRESIDENT: Hey, Phil. I’m the President and you’re fake news. And you know what I’ll say to you? I’ll say it very nicely. I know you well.

Q Why do you say that?

THE PRESIDENT: I know you well.

Because I know the guy; I see what he writes. He’s a total faker.

Q He’s a good reporter.

THE PRESIDENT: So, are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? It’s just a suggestion from a brilliant lab by a very, very smart, perhaps brilliant, man. He’s talking about sun. He’s talking about heat. And you see the numbers. So that’s it; that’s all I have. I’m just here to present talent.

Trump ended, however, the most powerful man in the world rendered helpless by an actual crisis with actual consequences, by claiming, “I’m just here to present talent.”

Update: WaPo catalogued what has been going on in Trump’s COVID rallies, both since March 16 and since April 6. The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a taste of what they found.

The president has spoken for more than 28 hours in the 35 briefings held since March 16, eating up 60 percent of the time that officials spoke, according to a Washington Post analysis of annotated transcripts from Factba.se, a data analytics company.

Over the past three weeks, the tally comes to more than 13 hours of Trump — including two hours spent on attacks and 45 minutes praising himself and his administration, but just 4½ minutes expressing condolences for coronavirus victims. He spent twice as much time promoting an unproven antimalarial drug that was the object of a Food and Drug Administration warning Friday. Trump also said something false or misleading in nearly a quarter of his prepared comments or answers to questions, the analysis shows.

If my math is correct, there have been almost 47 hours of briefings since March 16, and they’ve been an average of an hour and twenty minutes (the average for the later range is shorter, no doubt skewed by the 22 minute briefing Friday). So for the briefings Trump attends, he can spend over 9 hours a week mouthing off about stuff he knows nothing about.

 

Trump’s New Spokesperson Brags They’re Just 700K Short of Delivering on Tests Promised a Month Ago

Trump’s new spox, Kayleigh McEnany, got hired because she’s willing to say any thing, regardless of how stupid.

Consider her claim that Trump is doing a great job because the US has now conducted 3.3 million coronavirus tests.

Ignore for a second what would be the appropriate amount of testing for a country of 320 million people that didn’t catch the outbreak before it spread widely (per person, we’ve done half of what Germany has done).

Back on March 6, which was over a month ago, Alex Azar said that the government would roll out 4 million tests by the following week (which would be March 13, which is also over a month ago). By my math, a month later, they’re still 700K tests off their promise, 17.5%.

In other words, McEnany is bragging that the Trump Administration still hasn’t met the promises they made a month ago.

Update: According to NBC, 41 days after making a promise on testing they still haven’t delivered, Trump is “close” to announcing a plan to do what should have been the priority two months ago.

A senior administration official said the White House is “close” to making an announcement on a plan.

But that plan still doesn’t include the single most thing Trump could do to restart the economy.

Another idea that’s been discussed would use the Defense Production Act to rapidly scale up testing, according to one person familiar with the discussions, though officials played down the idea given that Trump has been resistant to more consistently deploying that presidential power since he would rather use the law as leverage to get companies to take such steps.

Mark Meadows and the Potemkin Shut-Downs: Welcome to the April’s Fool White House

I know the White House has been running on Trump’s fumes for so long we’ve forgotten that Chiefs of Staff can exercise real power.

I’d like to suggest two things we’ve seen in the last week may reflect the hand of Mark Meadows.

The first is Monday’s campaign video played in the middle of Trump’s briefing, something Trump said Dan Scavino made inside the White House — a violation of the Hatch Act.

In a mash up of clips and audio that amounted to campaign ad, Trump lashed out at critics and returned to his favorite past time of going after reporters. The video began with a white screen saying “the media minimized the risk from the start.” At one point, it showed news clips of different governors giving kind remarks about the president’s response to the pandemic.

[snip]

When a reporter pressed him about the video resembling a campaign ad, Trump said it was done in the office. “We’re getting fake news and I’d like to have it corrected,” he declared.

The president also claimed that White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino created the video, prompting reporters to question the fact that he had government employees put together what was essentially a campaign advertisement.

There’s nothing that suggests Meadows determined the content of it, but several of the decisions made in the almost two weeks since Meadows has been in place involve merging the White House and the campaign — most notably, the replacement of Stephanie Grisham with his campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

But I also suspect Meadows is behind a far more important strategy on shut-downs, in which Trump allies carry out a Potemkin shut-down, only to reopen quickly, probably in the context of graft as payoff. For this one, there’s explicit evidence in the Bloomberg coverage of his first week: Meadows convinced a number of hold-outs to enact stay-at-home orders.

Meadows has also gotten involved in the administration’s coronavirus response, calling Republican governors who have held out against issuing stay-at-home orders in their states to ask them to implement the policies immediately, according to two people familiar with the calls. The president has said such decisions are up to state leaders and has not publicly criticized those who decline, who are all Republicans.

[snip]

Meadows has also tried to persuade a group of holdout Republican governors that they should issue shelter-in-place orders to help curb the coronavirus outbreak. It isn’t clear if the new chief of staff has Trump’s blessing for the calls. The president has publicly said it is up to governors and local leaders to decide whether stay-at-home orders are appropriate and has declined to criticize the holdouts, all of whom are his political allies.

The governor of one of the holdout states, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, tweeted Wednesday that she’d spoken with Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is a top medical adviser to the president. “Thankfully, he AGREES that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the answer in our state,” Noem wrote.

The tweet, according to one person familiar with the matter, was read by some as a signal to Meadows.

The week that Meadows started, a bunch of Trump flunkies issued stay-at-home orders: Arizona’s Doug Ducey (which was issued before Meadows officially started on April 1 and which extends through April 30), Florida’s Ron DeSantis (issued on April 1 and effective through April 30), Georgia’s Brian Kemp (which he has already extended through April 30), Mississippi’s Tate Reeves (imposed April 1, effective April 3, effective through April 20), Missouri’s Mike Parsons (imposed April 3, effective April 6, effective through April 24), South Carolina’s Governor Henry McMaster (imposed April 6, effective April 7, effective until rescinded). On March 31, Texas’ Governor Gregg Abbott issued an order that has been taken as a stay at home order which stops short of that; it remains in effect through April 30.

At least some of these governors, given the timing and the Bloomberg report, were cajoled by incoming Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to do so.

Last Thursday, days after his stay-at-home order, Ron DeSantis started talking about reopening schools in May (to be clear: this shut-down is having the greatest impact on children, especially those who don’t have WiFi at home and rely on schools for other services, like hot lunches). Yesterday, Gregg Abbott told Hannity most states don’t need to wait until May 1 to reopen (even though his own order goes through May 1). And of course, Mississippi and Missouri’s shutdowns don’t even last that long (indeed, they were never long enough to do any good).

So it seems likely that the same governors whom Meadows convinced to impose stay-at-home orders will shortly rescind them, giving Trump the story that he wants, that some of the nation’s biggest states have come through the COVID crisis. In Texas and Florida, in particular, a governor’s recision of a stay-at-home order might supersede those in badly affected cities (and both states are artificially limiting the number of official positive cases, in Texas by not testing likely cases in Houston, and in Florida by playing games with snowbirds.

I also suspect that one reason Mitch McConnell is refusing to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi over the other things she’d like to include in the next COVID relief package — which would include, among other things, $150 billion for state and local governments. McConnell wants to deal with such aid in a fourth aid bill and simply expand the funds available for the Paycheck Protection Program relief for small businesses, which is predictably already running out of money. The obvious reason to do that would be to withhold something that Trump can use as leverage over states and cities to do what he wants, rather than to give funds to them now without strings attached.

Trump believes, the Constitution notwithstanding, that he has either the authority or power to make states reopen. And given that Meadows was involved in getting a handful of states to impose what will amount to shut-downs that don’t appear to be good faith efforts to achieve the goal of shut-downs (though Kemp may have realized he has a bigger problem on his hands than he originally claimed), my suspicion is that those shut-downs were part of a plan to achieve some kind of leverage over reopening the economy.