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Obama vs Trump: Battle for the soul of America heats up as both throw jabs at each other in run up to 2020

While Obama has taken Trump to task over his response to the coronavirus crisis, the president has floated the specter of 'Obamagate'
UPDATED MAY 18, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Former President Barack Obama has been on the news a lot lately. He doesn't seem to be too pleased with the way his successor, Donald Trump, is doing his job, and thereby feels compelled to make his opinions heard. The question is, however, is it the right move for the erstwhile US leader to jump into the fray instead of enjoying his presidential retirement? 

Despite facing widespread criticism over his handling of the coronavirus crisis, Trump has somehow managed to deflect the public's attention to the alleged crimes of his predecessor and his administration. Meanwhile, the efficacy of Obama's thinly-veiled retorts is up for debate.

The former president first raised eyebrows with his remarks on the Department of Justice's decision to withdraw its prosecution of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. “There is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free,” Obama recently said during a virtual commencement speech for graduating high school students. “That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of the rule of law is at risk.”

But Flynn was not charged with perjury. He, in fact, pleaded guilty to a single count of lying to the FBI after prosecutors threatened to drag down his son if he didn't cooperate with them, Geoff Caldwell wrote for The Joplin Globe. "What father, under those circumstances, would not sacrifice for his son?" Caldwell asked, before saying Obama's memory had "failed him on the precedent as well."
"In January 2017, Gen. James Cartwright did get off scot-free," he noted. "His crime? Lying to the FBI. Recommended sentence? Two years. Result? An Obama presidential pardon before the judge could even contemplate sentencing."

Nonetheless, Obama warned that the upcoming November election “is so important because what we're going to be battling is not just a particular individual or a political party. What we're fighting against is these long-term trends in which being selfish, being tribal, being divided, and seeing others as an enemy — that has become a stronger impulse in American life."

Trump, on the other hand, has demanded that both the former president and vice president face jail time for their alleged involvement in the Flynn case.

"It was the greatest political crime in the history of our country," Trump said of Obama and Biden in a tweet on Sunday. "If I were a Democrat instead of a Republican, I think everybody would have been in jail a long time ago, and I'm talking with 50-year sentences," the president later continued in an interview with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo. "It is a disgrace what's happened this is the greatest political scam, hoax in the history of our country. And people should be going to jail for this stuff and hopefully, a lot of people are going to have to pay."

Both Biden and Obama reportedly knew about the FBI seeking a probe into the incoming National Security Adviser, and their administration knowingly requested to "unmask" the identity of Flynn.

Trump lauded the DOJ's decision to drop their case against the 3-star general and called him a "hero" for dealing with the charges. "This was all Obama. This was all Biden. These people were corrupt – the whole thing was corrupt, and we caught them," Trump said. 

This came after Obama issued veiled disapproval of the president during a speech to high school graduates of 74 historically black colleges and universities across the United States, after having remained largely silent in the past. The 44th POTUS told students in the hour-long televised special how "so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs" did "what feels good, what's convenient, what's easy."

"That's how little kids think, which is why things are so screwed up," Obama continued, referring to Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

"More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing," Obama told college and university graduates on Saturday. "A lot of them aren't even pretending to be in charge," he added.

The deadly contagion has ravaged the United States, which so far recorded more than 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 with nearly 90,000 fatalities. 

However, Trump responded by called his predecessor "grossly incompetent." "Look, he was an incompetent president That's all I can say. Grossly incompetent," he told reporters when asked for comment at the White House South Lawn. That said, it is true that there was no criminal investigation into Lt. Gen. Flynn when former vice president Biden personally unmasked his identity, per declassified reports.

But James Clapper, the director of national intelligence at the time, defended the unmasking as “perfectly legitimate." He told CNN it was his duty to investigate the “numerous engagements by representatives of the Trump camp with Russians.”  "In other words, it’s OK to eavesdrop on your political opponents if you’re curious about their conversations with foreigners," the Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial titled 'Team Obama’s Unmasking Dodge.'

"We doubt that justification would have played well had the George W. Bush Administration spied on Barack Obama’s incoming team. Officials of incoming administrations routinely talk with officials of foreign governments," it added.

According to the newspaper, the said exchanges do not justify the widespread unmasking of the general, neither do they justify the leaking of conversations Flynn and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

"The 2016 and 2017 spying on Trump officials and then leaking to promote a false narrative of collusion is one of the dirtiest tricks in the history of American politics," according to WSJ.

If this is true, it would only make sense for the former president to refrain from routinely going on the offensive against the current administration. However, on the other hand, his voice is undeniably indispensable to bring together the overtly divided republic of Trump's America.