Former President Barack Obama is rallying the troops by warning that some basic tenets of American democracy are being put to the test during President Donald Trump’s administration. In a conversation with former staffers, Obama said that the “rule of law is at risk” after the Justice Department decided to suddenly drop its case against former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn. And the former president seemed somewhat frustrated that people don’t seem to be paying that much attention to the issue. Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff obtained a tape of the conversation the former president held with members of the Obama Alumni Association in which he also harshly criticized the response to the coronavirus crisis, characterizing it as “an absolute chaotic disaster.”
“The news over the last 24 hours I think has been somewhat downplayed—about the Justice Department dropping charges against Michael Flynn,” Obama said. “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.” Obama went on to say that “as we’ve seen in other places” once governments start going down that route, “it can accelerate pretty quickly.”
Obama wasn’t quite accurate in how he described the charges against Flynn. The former national security adviser wasn’t actually charged with perjury but rather pleaded guilty twice to lying to FBI agents. Regardless, Obama used the Flynn case to emphasize why it was so important to do everything possible to make sure former Vice President Joe Biden wins the election in November. “So I am hoping that all of you feel the same sense of urgency that I do,” he said. “Whenever I campaign, I’ve always said, ‘Ah, this is the most important election.’ Especially obviously when I was on the ballot, that always feels like it’s the most important election.” But this time even though the former president isn’t on the ballot, he’s still “pretty darn invested.”
Trump has repeatedly blamed Obama for the investigation into Russia’s efforts to meddle in the U.S. election. “He was an innocent man. He is a great gentleman. He was targeted by the Obama administration and he was targeted in order to try and take down a president,” Trump said of Flynn in the Oval Office on Thursday when he was asked about the decision to drop the case. Flynn had worked in the Obama administration as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency but was eventually forced out. Obama had warned Trump not to hire Flynn.
The leaked conversation suggests Obama is getting ready to take a starring role in the presidential campaign which he says “is so important” because it won’t just be about beating Trump or the Republicans. “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” not just in the United States but also around the world. “It’s part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty,” Obama said. “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.”