Donald Trump’s mismanagement and dissembling over the COVID-19 crisis makes a compelling case to charge the ex-president with negligent homicide.
The British medical journal Lancet, presented a damning assessment of Trump’s presidency and its impact on the nation’s coronavirus response.
It concluded that 40 percent of the nearly 500,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. over the past year were avoidable had the president acted swiftly to manage the outbreak and avoid politicizing a response.
Negligent homicide involves the killing of another person through gross negligence or without malice, according to legal references.
It often includes death that is the result of the negligent operation of a motor vehicle. But what about the negligent operation of a nation?
So far, more than 500,000 citizens have died from the virus and more than 27 million have been infected, a rate that far exceeds any other country in the world.
The Lancet commission on public policy and health in the Trump era was made up of 33 commissioners from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Their backgrounds include public health, law, medicine, unions, indigenous communities and other groups. It launched in April 2017 to catalogue Trump health policies.
The commission directly blamed Trump, who “brought misfortune to the USA and the planet” during his four years in office.
The president’s lies and misrepresentations about the virus played into a political climate that Trump and right-wing media poisoned with mistrust of authority and medical science.
Assessing the damage caused directly by the Trump administration, the Lancet study weighted the average death rate in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK – and compared it with the US death rate.
During the Trump administration, “a national horror unfolded, peaking on Jan. 8 with 300,619 new cases reported in just 24 hours,” wrote Laurie Garrett, a former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer.
“This staggering wave, one full year into the pandemic, was completely unnecessary for the world’s richest country. Achieving any sense of closure will require holding Donald Trump accountable for the failure,” she writes in Foreign Policy magazine.
According to a study by Stanford University, Trump held 18 campaign rallies between June 20 and Sept. 22, 2020, that spawned in excess of 30,000 COVID-19 cases, likely leading to more than 700 deaths.
During the same time period, half of Trump’s campaign rallies were followed by COVID-19 surges in the counties where they took place.
Behind the scenes in the fall, the Trump administration lobbied Congress to block the movement of funds to states for vaccine rollout efforts, leaving them unable to efficiently execute mass immunizations, Garrett charges.
“Between the election and the inauguration, the number of infected Americans more than doubled, skyrocketing from 9.4 million cases to 24 million—adding some 15 million cases, on Trump’s watch, when he was fixated on overturning Biden’s victory and AWOL on the pandemic front.”
There is ample precedent to hold the president liable for negligent homicide. Corporations and their executive officers have faced similar charges over the years.
The British Petroleum Company pleaded guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter, two misdemeanors, one felony count of lying to the U.S. Congress, for the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1984, a grand jury indicted the Six Flags Corp. on charges of aggravated manslaughter stemming from the deaths of eight youths killed in a fire while trapped in one of the park’s amusements.
The grand jury also indicted two of the corporation’s executives for manslaughter.
This past June, PG&E Corp. pled guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter — the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history– for sparking the largest wildfire in California history.
In Texas, negligence is defined as, “the failure to do that which a person of ordinary prudence would have done under the same or similar circumstances, or doing that which a person of ordinary prudence would not have done under the same or similar circumstances.”
Under that definition, Trump’s negligence was manifest from the point he first learned about the virus in early 2020.
In the beginning, he publicly denied its severity and repeatedly played down the potential for it to spread. By doing so, he failed to take a rational, science-based approach to developing a vaccine months sooner that he did.
Trump did nothing when he could have easily taken presidential actions that would have accelerated the process of limiting the spread and finding a cure for the virus.
As the coronavirus pandemic grew exponentially around the globe, Trump spun an alternate reality of lies, deceptions and denials that significantly delayed the U.S. response and put tens of thousands of citizens at risk.
Trump declared on Jan. 11 “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”
On Feb 26, 2020, Trump said: “The 15 (cases in the US) within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero… We’re going very substantially down, not up… It is what it is. We’re ready for it. We’re really prepared.”
Robert Gottlieb, who prosecuted homicide cases for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, told The New York Daily News Trump’s actions rose to the level of “reckless” homicide .
Shockingly, Trump literally indicted himself when he privately admitted to journalist Bob Woodward in April that the coronavirus was highly contagious, dangerous and posed a risk to children.
At the same time, Trump was saying in public statements that the virus would just melt away on its own.
The Trump administration pivoted its coronavirus response as early as April in an effort to declare victory over the virus, according to a New York Times report.
“Over a critical period beginning in mid-April, President Trump and his team convinced themselves that the outbreak was fading, that they had given state governments all the resources they needed to contain its remaining ’embers’ and that it was time to ease up on the lockdown,” the report stated.
Beyond that, he disregarded the advice of his Coronavirus Task Force, encouraged people not to wear masks, given out advice contrary to medical science, held rallies with thousands of people who were not wearing masks, threatened to cut back on testing, suggested swallowing disinfectant or using UV light to fight the virus.
Ironically, most legal scholars believe it would be difficult, if not impossible to bring charges against Trump. For one, such charges are usually based in state law.
But there is a federal precedent. Negligent homicide is covered under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 51, dealing with homicide.
The law, in Section 1112, defines manslaughter as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice under two circumstances.
Voluntary after a sudden quarrel or heat of passion, or involuntary
The latter involves the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or in the commission in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection, of a lawful act which might produce death.
A trial would be shocking and unprecedented in U.S. history. No president has ever been held criminally liable for their actions in office.
But no president has engaged in negligent behavior to the degree that Trump has. Nor have the consequences ever been more devastating.