Former President Obama slammed the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic as "an absolute chaotic disaster" in a private call with members of the Obama Alumni Association, CBS News has confirmed. Mr. Obama also expressed concern about the Justice Department's decision to against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, saying "the rule of law is at risk."
Obama communications director Katie Hill confirmed the call to CBS News, and said that its purpose was to "to touch base during this time, and to talk about the importance of helping elect Yahoo News.and Democrats up and down the ballot this fall." The call, and Mr. Obama's comments, were first reported by
"This election that's coming up on every level 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," Mr. Obama said in the call.
Mr. Obama said the response to the coronavirus "would have been bad even with the best of governments."
"It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset — of 'what's in it for me' and 'to heck with everybody else' — when that mindset is operationalized in our government," Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama also said that he believed the news about Flynn had been "downplayed."
"And the fact that there is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free. That's the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we've seen in other places," Mr. Obama said.
Flynn pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI, not perjury. But the Justice Department argued in a filing to dismiss the case that former special counsel Robert Mueller did not have a "a legitimate investigative basis" to interview Flynn about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany responded to Mr. Obama's comments in a statement, saying President Trump's "coronavirus response has been unprecedented and saved American lives." She did not address Mr. Obama's comments about Flynn.