Trump Lashes Out at His Cabinet With Calls to Indict Political Rivals

The pressure on his top administration officials to take action came as President Trump bristled at the restraints of his illness.

A Marine stood guard outside the Oval Office on Thursday as President Trump was inside.
A Marine stood guard outside the Oval Office on Thursday as President Trump was inside.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump berated his own cabinet officers on Thursday for not prosecuting or implicating his political enemies, lashing out even as he announced that he hoped to return to the campaign trail on Saturday just nine days after he tested positive for the coronavirus.

In his first extended public comments since learning he had the virus last week, Mr. Trump went on the offensive not only against his challenger, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., but the Democratic running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, whom he called “a monster” and a “communist.” He balked at participating in his debate next Thursday with Mr. Biden if held remotely as the organizers decided to do out of health concerns.

But Mr. Trump secured a statement from the White House physician clearing him to return to public activities on Saturday and then promptly said he would try to hold a campaign rally in Florida that day, two days earlier than the doctor had originally said was needed to determine whether he was truly out of danger. The president again dismissed the virus, saying, “when you catch it, you get better,.

In his statement on Thursday night, the physician, Dr. Sean P. Conley, reported that Mr. Trump “has responded extremely well to treatment” and that by Saturday, “I fully expect the president’s return to public engagement.” Dr. Conley, who has previously acknowledged providing the public with a rosy view of the president’s condition to satisfy his patient, contradicted his own timeline offered upon Mr. Trump’s release from the hospital, when he said doctors wanted to “get through to Monday.”

The president has not been seen in person since returning to the White House this Monday, but he sought to reassert himself on the public stage with a pair of telephone interviews with Fox News and Fox Business as well as a video and a series of Twitter messages. Even for him, they were scattershot performances, ones that advisers said reflected increasing frustration over his political fortunes only 26 days before an election with surveys that show him trailing Mr. Biden by double digits.

The president castigated his own team, declaring that Attorney General William P. Barr would go down in history “as a very sad, sad situation” if he did not indict Democrats like Mr. Biden and former President Barack Obama. He complained that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had not released Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying, “I’m not happy about him for that reason.” And he targeted Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director. “He’s been disappointing,” Mr. Trump said.

“Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re going to get little satisfaction unless I win and we’ll just have to go, because I won’t forget it,” Mr. Trump said, referring to the investigation into his 2016 campaign ties with Russia. “But these people should be indicted. This was the greatest political crime in the history of our country, and that includes Obama and it includes Biden.”

Mr. Trump has often argued that his political antagonists should be prosecuted, but in this case, he went further by indicating that he had directly pressured Mr. Barr to indict without waiting for more evidence. “He’s got all the information he needs,” the president said. “They want to get more, more, more, they keep getting more. I said, ‘You don’t need any more.’”

The president was all over the map in his two Fox phone calls, throwing out unsubstantiated or discredited accusations, explaining that he wanted to bring home troops from Afghanistan to be ready to fight China or Russia if necessary and calling Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan “the lockup queen” even as his own Justice Department was announcing the existence of an anti-government group’s plot to kidnap her.

As for his opponents, he said on Fox Business that Mr. Biden “wouldn’t be president for two months” because “he’s not mentally capable,” leaving Ms. Harris to then take over the presidency. “She’s a communist,” he said. “We’re going to have a communist.” A few hours later, Mr. Trump reposted Twitter messages claiming that Speaker Nancy Pelosi might be orchestrating “a coup” against him.

Mr. Trump retweeted suggestions on Thursday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi might be orchestrating “a coup” against him.
Mr. Trump retweeted suggestions on Thursday that Speaker Nancy Pelosi might be orchestrating “a coup” against him.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Mr. Trump told his Fox interviewers that he felt well despite his hospitalization, although during his evening phone call with Sean Hannity, his voice at times sounded raspy and twice he had to clear his throat. During his hourlong morning call with Maria Bartiromo, he seemed to suggest he may have been infected by the Gold Star parents of soldiers killed in battle at an event honoring them last month at the White House, although a spokeswoman later denied he meant that.

Fellow Republicans exhibited increasing frustration with the president’s casual approach to the virus   that has now infected not just himself and the first lady but two dozen other high-ranking officials, campaign aides, advisers and Republican senators who attended White House events. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, even indicated that he was boycotting the White House because of its lax handling of the virus.

“I haven’t actually been to the White House since August the 6th because my impression was that their approach to how to handle this is different from mine and what I suggested that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing,” Mr. McConnell told reporters.

After being rebuffed by the White House, the Washington city government’s health department released an open letter to the staff members and guests who attended a Sept. 26 ceremony in the Rose Garden that has been blamed for the outbreak, imploring them to get tested for the virus. Crede Bailey, the head of the White House security office, has been hospitalized and a fourth White House journalist tested positive on Thursday.

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