Since leaving the presidency, Barack Obama has refused to publicly say the name “Donald Trump.” That changed Friday, when he took square aim at the president in an hour-long speech.
“The claim that everything will turn out okay because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren't following the president's orders, that is not a check. I'm being serious here. That's not how our democracy is supposed to work. These people aren’t elected,” he said of the anonymous Times op-ed authored by a senior Trump official. “They’re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that’s coming out of this White House, and saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’re preventing the other 10 percent.’”
The former president had been notoriously restrained in his public criticisms of Trump, but on Friday, speaking before a group of students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he delivered a series of harsh rebukes against the man who replaced him in the Oval Office. If it was a preview of his campaign messaging for the midterms, it made clear he no longer considers directly criticizing Trump as off-limits.
"We're supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we're sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?" Obama said of Trump’s response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.
Obama also criticized the president’s frequent attacks on both the press and his own cabinet members.
“It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like,” Obama said. “I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people.”
And he called out Trump’s attacks on his own people, noting the president has repeatedly tried to use the government as a weapon against his opponents.
"It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the Attorney General or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents,” Obama said. “Or to explicitly call on the Attorney General to protect members of our own party from prosecution because an election happens to be coming up. I’m not making that up, that’s not a hypothetical!"
Around the same time as Obama’s speech, Trump told a group of reporters he intends to have Jeff Sessions investigate the New York Times op-ed piece, according to the pool report.
Cover image: Former President Barack Obama speaks to students at the University of Illinois where he accepted the Paul H. Douglas Award for Ethics in Government on September 7, 2018 in Urbana, Illinois. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.