The Morning Dispatch: A Botched Friday Night Massacre

Plus, Trump holds his rally in Tulsa.

Happy Monday! And welcome to all our new Dad readers. Your children have excellent taste in Father’s Day gifts.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Sunday night, 2,279,875 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States (an increase of 25,213 from yesterday) and 119,969 deaths have been attributed to the virus (an increase of 250 from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 5.3 percent (the true mortality rate is likely much lower, between 0.4 percent and 1.4 percent, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 27,084,900 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (518,347 conducted since yesterday), 8.4 percent have come back positive.

  • Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, agreed to step down from his post on Saturday. Attorney General William Barr had announced Berman’s resignation on Friday night, but Berman put out his own statement denying he had resigned and implying that Barr lacked the authority to fire him.

  • U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth rejected the Trump administration’s last-ditch attempt to block the release of John Bolton’s new book, The Room Where it Happened, but concluded that Trump’s former national security adviser “gambled with the national security of the United States.” “While Bolton’s unilateral conduct raises grave national security concerns, the government has not established that an injunction is an appropriate remedy,” Lamberth wrote. The book is set for national release on Tuesday.

  • President Trump is expected to sign an executive order that will suspend—with some exceptions—H-1B, L-1, and other temporary work authorization visas through the end of the year, NPR reports.

  • The RNC and the Trump campaign brought in $74 million last month, lagging behind Biden and the DNC’s $80.8 million May haul. The Biden-aligned Priorities USA super PAC raised $7.5 million over the same time period, compared with $2.4 million for the Trump-aligned America First Action super PAC. The Trump campaign still leads the Biden team in the all-important cash on hand metric, however, $265 million to $122.2 million.

A Botched Friday Night Massacre

Late Friday night, Attorney General Bill Barr issued a press release announcing Geoffrey Berman’s resignation from his post as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY). But just hours later, Berman issued a statement of his own, saying he “learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight” that he was “stepping down,” but adding that he had no intention of resigning. “I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate,” Berman said. “Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption.”

Barr responded to Berman’s statement in a letter the following morning. “I was surprised and quite disappointed by the press statement you released last night,” Barr wrote. “As we discussed, I wanted the opportunity to choose a distinguished New York lawyer, Jay Clayton, to nominate as United States Attorney and was hoping for your cooperation to facilitate a smooth transition. … Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service. Because you have declared that you have no intention of resigning, I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so.”

Trump, however, did not play along, placing the decision to fire Berman squarely at Barr’s feet. “Well, that’s all up to the Attorney General. Attorney General Barr is working on that. That’s his department, not my department,” the president told reporters on Saturday. “I’m not involved.”

Berman eventually relented Saturday evening once it became clear his acting replacement would be his chief deputy Audrey Strauss—not U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Craig Carpenito, an ally of Barr. “It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as this District’s U.S. Attorney,” Berman said, “but I could leave the District in no better hands than Audrey’s.” Strauss played a key role in the investigation and prosecution of Trump’s former personal attorney Michael D. Cohen.

Strauss’ promotion comes with an “acting” label, but comments from Sen. Lindsey Graham over the weekend indicate she could be in the top SDNY job for a while. “It has always been the policy of the Judiciary Committee to receive blue slips from the home state senators before proceeding to the nomination,” Graham said in a statement, making clear he was not told of the decision to fire Berman. “As chairman, I have honored that policy and will continue to do so.”

The “blue-slip” policy dictates that U.S. attorney nominees must be approved by both senators from the district in question’s home state. But there’s very little chance Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand will greenlight Barr’s preferred choice, Jay Clayton, the current chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission who has never been a prosecutor.

Democrats viewed Berman’s abrupt firing with suspicion. Rep. Jerry Nadler issued an “open invitation” for the former SDNY prosecutor to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, which Nadler chairs. Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned the firing in the statement. “Again and again, the President and his cronies have chosen to protect Trump’s personal and political interests over those of the American people by interfering in numerous criminal investigations involving the President and his associates,” she said. “The firing of U.S. Attorney Berman cannot be explained by cause and instead suggests base and improper motives.”

Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr have explained the motivation for Berman’s firing, but the incident is another in recent string of episodes in which White House officials and the attorney general have offered contradictory public spin.

Back on the Campaign Trail in Tulsa

President Trump held his first campaign rally since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, delivering a characteristically freewheeling one-hour and 43-minute address on Saturday to a crowd of about 6,200 attendees in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The president’s speech—which fluctuated between being on- and off-script—ranged in subject matter from denunciations of the media and Democratic politicians to touting the administration’s record on the economy, border security, and the COVID-19 outbreak. Trump devoted more than 14 minutes to a discussion of his walking down a ramp and drinking a glass of water at the West Point graduation ceremony last week, and White House aides had to clean up a claim he made about telling “his people” to “slow the [coronavirus] testing down” because increased testing was revealing a higher number of cases. White House officials later insisted the president was joking.

The race and police issues that have consumed the country in recent weeks received brief mentions, with both the president and the vice president—who served as the opening act for the event—making rhetorical nods to the injustice of George Floyd’s death while also reaffirming their support for law enforcement.

“Republicans are the party of liberty, justice and equality for all,” Trump later said. “We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, and we are the party of law and order.”

At the same time, hundreds of protesters gathered outside of the rally to demonstrate, holding signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” while blocking traffic. The rally had originally been scheduled for Friday, but had been moved due to controversy surrounding the date’s coinciding with Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery in the U.S. 

Much of the media coverage surrounding the rally focused on the relatively small crowd size, in part because Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale had boasted earlier in the week of more than one million ticket requests for the event. The BOK Center seats 19,000 but its upper deck was relatively empty, and the president was originally slated to speak to an overflow crowd outside after the event, but canceled due to the unexpectedly low attendance. A Trump campaign spokesman blamed “radical protesters, coupled with a relentless onslaught from the media” for “attempt[ing] to frighten off the president’s supporters.”

A Troop Drawdown in Germany

President Trump is not backing down on plans to withdraw approximately 9,500 American troops stationed in Germany, making good on his long-standing threat to reduce America’s military presence in the area if the German government did not do more to financially support the NATO military alliance. 

“Germany’s delinquent, they’ve been delinquent for years,” Trump said at a White House press conference soon after announcing the withdrawal. “They owe NATO billions of dollars and they have to pay it.”

The details of the drawdown are still murky, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S. ambassador to NATO, cautioned that “nothing firm has been set” in regards to how exactly the move will play out. But the decision—which was initially reported by the Wall Street Journal on June 5 and confirmed by the administration last week—drew sharp bipartisan criticism. 

Top Democrats in both the House and the Senate quickly moved to block the plan, with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York) introducing a bill that would attempt to bar funding for the withdrawal until the president formally justified his decision to Congress. In a statement, Menendez said: “The administration has made no effort to explain how our country is stronger because of this drawdown decision. Because we’re not. This drawdown weakens America and Europe. And Vladimir Putin understands and appreciates that better than anyone.”

Many Republicans also expressed opposition to the withdrawal, with 22 Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee signing a letter urging the president to reverse course. Penned by Rep. Mac Thornberry—ranking member on the Armed Services Committee—the letter acknowledged that Germany “should do more to contribute to our joint defense efforts,” but stipulated that the troop drawdown “would significantly damage U.S. national security as well as strengthen the position of Russia to our detriment.” 

The Heritage Foundation released a report expressing a similar criticism of the president’s decision. “The commonly held belief that the U.S. forces in Europe are there to protect European allies from a threat that no longer exists is wrong. U.S. troops are in Europe first and foremost for American national security interests,” it argues. “The U.S. should maintain, or even increase, the number of forces it has in Europe. Additionally, Congress should endeavor to block any attempt to remove forces from Europe.”

According to the latest Pentagon workforce report, 34,674 American military personnel were stationed in Germany as of March 31, 2020. Trump’s decision to reduce that number to roughly 25,000 comes at a time when “the U.S.-German relationship is pretty poisonous,” Hal Brands—a resident scholar of defense strategy at the American Enterprise Institute—told The Dispatch

“It’s unfortunate because the U.S.-German relationship is the real ‘special relationship’ in Europe,” Brands says. “It’s what makes NATO go. So what’s worrying is not so much the 9,500 troops. It’s what it says about what has happened to this most important relationship.”

Trump’s defenders have emphasized the president’s criticism of Germany and its inadequate contributions to NATO. “It’s fair to point out that the Germans probably have not done as well on burden sharing issues as they might have,” says Brands. “I think the Germans have taken too lackadaisical an approach to developing a serious military capability of their own, particularly when you look at contingencies in the Baltic region, for instance.”

But bipartisan critics of the withdrawal have argued that the administration’s seemingly impulsive decisions to remove American troops from their deployment on the world stage is a counterproductive approach to dealing with these issues. In the context of the drawdown in Germany, Brands says, the move is tantamount to “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” The Stuttgart base, located in the German state of Baden-Württemburg, acts as a significant center for both logistics and training for America’s operations in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, and plays a key role in the Pentagon’s strategic relationship with other NATO member countries. Many worry that the reduction in personnel will also aid Russia’s regional ambitions to the east, which have long been hindered by America’s military presence on the European continent.

In characteristically haphazard form, the president also failed to alert many of the relevant authorities before announcing the move: The NATO Secretary-General, among others, confirmed that Trump did not notify the alliance before announcing the withdrawal. 

“The problem with the Trump administration is that it has a tendency to pursue reasonable policy objectives in the most self-defeating manner possible,” says Brands. “If you were serious about strengthening NATO, what you would try to do is strengthen the voices of those political leaders in Germany and other European countries who favor an enhanced defense spending and a strengthened German role in the alliance.”

Worth Your Time

  • The New York Times’ Astead Herndon went to Tulsa last week with an eye more toward the city’s Juneteenth celebration than President Trump’s campaign rally. “In a city that has become known as a landmark to black pain, Friday was a day for black joy,” he writes. City residents celebrated emancipation while also reflecting on the 1921 pogrom that killed an estimated 300 black Tulsans. “We’re celebrating the emancipation of slaves, but we’re really celebrating the idea of being black,’ said Jacquelyn Simmons, who has lived in Tulsa for 45 years. ‘We love it and we love us.’”

  • With the film industry continuing to struggle in the coronavirus era, drive-in theaters—long thought to be relics of a previous age—are reemerging. William Sertl has a fun piece in the Wall Street Journal detailing this trend. “This quintessentially American invention—a hybrid of Hollywood, Detroit and Nathan’s Famous … [is] back to reclaim [its] glory, if not [its] maximum capacity.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Has last week’s Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County doomed religious liberty once and for all? In Sunday’s French Press, David argues that many religious liberty activists are exaggerating the extent to which their First Amendment freedoms are under threat. He outlines the vast statutory and jurisprudential protections for religious liberty and explains why these freedoms are likely to be extended in the coming weeks. “The question for America’s religious community, then, is not whether we have liberty—or will have liberty for the foreseeable future—but rather what we do with that liberty,” he concludes.

  • Check out Friday’s extra long G-File, in which Jonah dissects the backlash against John Bolton’s book and debunks myths surrounding the origins of policing. Be sure to listen to his weekly Ruminant podcast expanding upon these themes as well.

  • Former CIA analyst Martin Gurri joined Sarah and Steve on Friday’s Dispatch Podcast to discuss society’s waning trust in authority figures, the role of tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter in the dissemination of information, and how to improve your media diet.

  • “President Trump tweeted a video on Thursday night bearing the CNN logo purporting to show CNN’s misleading coverage of a viral video of two toddlers of different races happily playing together,” Alec Dent wrote in his latest Dispatch Fact Check. It turns out the video itself was manipulated.

  • Nate Hochman dove into the academic theories behind the “defund the police” movement and discussed the divide between those who want to reform the police and those who really want to abolish police forces.

Let Us Know

We’re obviously biased, but the latest Dispatch Podcast with Martin Gurri about information and the media is really great, and it made us think a lot about our news gathering habits—both in our personal and professional capacities.

Our question to you: In addition to The Dispatch, what else is in your media diet? How do you filter through the nonstop bombardment on all sides to determine the truth?

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Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).