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Trump took to Twitter to encourage protestors in three states with Democratic governors, urging them to defy authority. Is he violating his oath of office?
Trump tweets call to “LIBERATE” states where people are protesting virus restrictions.
President Trump on Friday began openly fomenting right-wing protests of social distancing restrictions in states where groups of his conservative supporters have been violating stay-at-home orders, less than a day after announcing guidelines for how governors could decide on an orderly reopening of their communities.
In a series of all-caps tweets, Mr. Trump declared “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” — two states whose Democratic governors have imposed social distancing restrictions that have shut down businesses and schools and forced people to remain at home. He also tweeted “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”
Mr. Trump’s tweets were a remarkable example of a president egging on demonstrators. Earlier this week, more than 1,000 protesters organized by conservative groups created a traffic jam on the streets around the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., to complain that the restrictions were bad for small businesses. Other protesters, not in vehicles, waved banners in support of Mr. Trump and protested Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has been a target of his ire, by chanting, “Lock her up.”
In St. Paul, Minn., a group calling itself “Liberate Minnesota” held a protest Friday in violation of stay-at-home orders in front of the home of Gov. Tim Walz. Hundreds showed up, according to news reports. The group’s Facebook page says that “now is the time to demand Governor Walz and our state legislators end this lock down!”
Mr. Walz was asked about the tweet at a news conference Friday. “I just don’t have time to figure out why something like that would happen,” he said, adding that he had tried calling both the president and the vice president and had yet to hear back.
”I just have to lead,” said Mr. Walz. “If they’re not going to do it, we’re going to do it, and I don’t mean that critically.”
As he spoke, protesters gathered outside his mansion.
Mr. Trump’s tweets began just moments after a Fox News report by Mike Tobin, a reporter for the network, about protests in Minnesota and elsewhere. The report featured a protester from Virginia saying “those of us who are healthy and want to get out of our house and do business, we need to get this going again. It’s time.”
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State, where there was an early outbreak, said the president’s tweets could lead to violence and an increase in infections. “The president is fomenting domestic rebellion and spreading lies even while his own administration says the virus is real and is deadly, and that we have a long way to go before restrictions can be lifted,” Mr. Inslee, a Democrat, said in a statement.
At a news conference on Friday afternoon, Ms. Whitmer said she hoped the president’s comments would not incite more protests. “There is a lot of anxiety,” she said. “The most important thing that anyone with a platform can do is try to use that platform to tell people, ‘We are going to get through this.’”
“There is no one more eager to start re-engaging sectors of our economy than I am,” she added. “We are going to do this safely so we don’t have a second wave.”
And when Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia was asked about the president’s comment at a virus news briefing Friday, he said: “I do not have time to involve myself in Twitter wars.”
On a phone call between Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Democrats, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia asked why Mr. Trump was trying incite division in the middle of pandemic, in reference to Mr. Trump’s “LIBERATE” tweets, according to a person familiar with the call. When Mr. Pence said that the administration was working respectfully with governors, Mr. Kaine noted that the tweets in question were not respectful.