Obama says US lacks leadership on pandemic

Barack Obama offered a rare public rebuke of Donald Trump’s administration on Saturday, telling graduating college seniors that a lot of leaders in Washington “aren’t even pretending to be in charge” during the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking in a virtual commencement address to new graduates of America’s historically black colleges and universities, the former US president said the Covid-19 pandemic had “fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they are doing”.

“A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge,” Mr Obama added.

The critical comments marked a rare intervention from the former president, who has led a relatively quiet life since leaving the White House in January 2017. 

However, Mr Obama has been more open in his objections to the Trump administration recently, formally endorsing Joe Biden’s presidential bid and reportedly telling former members of his administration on a conference call earlier this month that the current White House’s handling of the coronavirus crisis had been an “absolute chaotic disaster”.

At the same time, Mr Trump has stepped up his attacks on his predecessor, claiming the Obama administration unfairly targeted Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser. The president has promoted a conspiracy theory, dubbed “Obamagate”, that alleges the previous administration set out to frame Mr Trump for alleged collusion with Russia when it became clear he would win the Republican nomination to contest the last election.

Soon after Mr Obama’s speech was reported on Saturday, Mr Trump tweeted: “Obamagate!”

Mr Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia’s then-ambassador to the US, and then later sought to withdraw his plea. He was still awaiting sentencing last week when US prosecutors filed a motion with the federal court in Washington to dismiss the charges.

But Emmet Sullivan, the federal judge overseeing the case, has not agreed to immediately scrap the charges against the retired three-star general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Instead, he has appointed a retired federal judge to argue against the US justice department’s efforts to drop the case.

Richard Grenell, a staunch Trump loyalist who serves as acting director of national intelligence, on Wednesday declassified a list of Obama-era officials who requested to “unmask”, or identify, Mr Flynn in intelligence documents. The list of officials included Mr Biden and James Comey, the former FBI director.

Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina who chairs the Senate judiciary committee, has said the committee will hold “multiple, in-depth congressional hearings” to consider the matter.

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