The Note: 'Testing' line haunts Trump more than crowd size

The claim that he was joking doesn't answer why anyone would think it funny.

The TAKE with Rick Klein

President Donald Trump is focused on optics -- and on grievances. The realities of rally attendance sting inside a campaign focused on making the candidate proud.

But Trump's heralded return to the campaign trail could be remembered for something the president said rather than how many people showed up. Trump said Saturday night in Tulsa that he has done a "phenomenal job" controlling COVID-19 -- which he at one point called by the racist term "Kung Flu" -- and complained that testing was making him look bad.

"When you do testing to that extent, you're gonna find more people, you're gonna find more cases," the president said. "So I said to my people, 'slow the testing down, please.'"

The White House claim that the president was joking doesn't answer why anyone would think this element of the pandemic -- a crisis that has killed more than 120,000 Americans, and where testing promises have not consistently lived up to realities -- would be funny.

The line was quickly cut into an ad by a leading Democratic super PAC, American Bridge, and Democratic congressional campaign arms are readying similar attacks.

Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign bookmarked it as "an outrageous moment that will be remembered long after tonight's debacle of a rally."

The line was part of an emerging Trump theme: that he and his supporters are under attack. In his telling, Democrats want to "demolish our heritage"; "sick" people in the media want to mock the way he walks down a ramp; and "very bad people outside" kept him from filling the arena and an outdoor overflow space in Tulsa.

With sagging polls, a fresh controversy inside his Justice Department, and his longest-serving national security adviser declaring him "unfit" for office, the blame from inside Trump World can and will be spread wide in the coming days.

Yet as Trump himself has acknowledged, his presidency is being defined by big moments. Grievances may motivate the base, but they may sound hollow to a healing and grieving nation.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said he thought former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman would soon testify in front of House members about his forced departure, which stunned Democrats and legal experts over the weekend. Berman, who was removed as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, had been investigating the president's personal lawyer before being abruptly fired.

President Trump tried to wash his hands of the move, saying he does not "get involved" in the ins and outs of Justice Department and instead allows his attorney general to run his own department. But the optics were damning and the president did in fact have to give the final sign-off.

Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina told ABC's Jonathan Karl he was not concerned, saying, "I think President Trump actually hired Mr. Berman and he fired Mr. Berman. Everyone at the DOJ works at the pleasure of the president, number one. Number two, there's no indication whatever that whatever is being investigated will not continue to move on."

Recent accusations from former national security adviser John Bolton alleging the president made remarks in 2018 about possibly intervening in a Southern District of New York case involving a Turkish bank made Berman's firing seem even more brazen.

Nadler told CNN Sunday that he had a "number of whistleblowers" from the Justice Department ready to tell their stories this week. There would be some some irony there, of course, if other whistleblowers appear this week while Bolton is instead selling his book, having not taken the stand during the president's impeachment trial.

The TIP with Benjamin Siegel

Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former speaker of the New York City Council and one of a dozen candidates in the Democratic primary in New York's 15th Congressional District, isn't expecting any results in her race on Tuesday night.

"I don't think it would be the most responsible thing to do, to try in any way to talk about any sort of results," she told ABC News.

She's not alone: Candidates and election officials preparing for Tuesday's contests expect to wait days, if not weeks, for the final primary results, in the latest example of the nation's elections systems scrambling in real time to adjust long-held practices to the new reality of voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

In New York and Kentucky, all registered voters have the option to receive an absentee ballot in the mail. But tens of thousands of New York City voters have yet to receive their ballots -- and absentee results can't be counted until roughly a week after election day, under state law.

Together with changes to physical polling places to adjust to new safety procedures -- including fewer in-person locations and volunteers -- the delays in reporting are expected to vary from county to county, and district to district.

Any potential uncertainty and confusion to the end of several high-profile Democratic primaries -- from the hard-fought House races in the New York City area to the Kentucky Senate race between Amy McGrath and Charles Booker -- will likely serve as a cautionary tale for the fall presidential contest, especially for the states that don't implement or extend new coronavirus voting procedures.

ONE MORE THING

President Donald Trump's longest-serving national security adviser, John Bolton, condemned his presidency as dangerously damaging to the United States and argued the 2020 election is the last "guardrail" to protect the country from him, in an exclusive interview with ABC News. Bolton offered a brutal indictment of his former boss, saying, "I hope (history) will remember him as a one-term president who didn't plunge the country irretrievably into a downward spiral we can't recall from. We can get over one term -- I have absolute confidence, even if it's not the miracle of a conservative Republican being elected in November. Two terms, I'm more troubled about."

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Monday morning's episode features ABC News' Rachel Scott in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she tells us about President Donald Trump's return to the rally stage and why many supporters stayed away. Then, ABC News Senior Investigative Reporter Aaron Katersky explains why the lead attorney for the Southern District of New York was suddenly fired on Friday. And, ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz gives us all the details about her exclusive interview with former national security adviser John Bolton. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast. In this edition of Model Talk, Nate Silver and Galen Druke discuss FiveThirtyEight's newly published presidential election polling averages. https://53eig.ht/2N3pH1r

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • Former national security adviser John Bolton appears on ABC's "Good Morning America."
  • The Supreme Court releases opinions beginning at 10 a.m.
  • President Trump has lunch with Vice President Pence at 1 p.m.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden attends a virtual finance event.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back tomorrow for the latest.