The Republican National Convention featured an out gay speaker Wednesday night: Richard Grenell, former ambassador to Germany and acting national security adviser, and he used some of his time to make unfounded and misleading accusations against Donald Trump’s predecessor as president and the man who hopes to unseat him.
Grenell said former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, before leaving office, “secretly launched a surveillance operation on the Trump campaign, and silenced the many brave intelligence officials who spoke up against it. … Former vice president Joe Biden asked intelligence officials to uncover the hidden information on President Trump’s incoming national security adviser three weeks before the inauguration.”
“Grenell jumbles together a bunch of unfounded conspiracy theories that Trump has frequently tweeted or claimed in public remarks,” The Washington Post reports. “The FBI investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russian entities was not ordered by President Barack Obama or Vice President Joe Biden.”
Obama and Biden did meet with their national security adviser, Susan Rice, and FBI Director James Comey in January 2017, but it focused on what classified information should be shared with Trump’s incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in light of his contacts with Russia. Obama and Biden did not attempt to influence the FBI investigation, officials have testified under oath, and no one in the meeting recalled Biden saying what Grenell claims.
Among his other questionable statements, Grenell said he had “watched President Trump charm the chancellor of Germany, while insisting that Germany pay its NATO obligations.” The “charm” would likely be news to Chancellor Angela Merkel, “who has privately expressed doubts about Mr. Trump’s leadership and publicly criticized his response to the coronavirus, albeit indirectly,” The New York Times reports.
Grenell also praised Trump for opposing America’s “endless wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan — wars that started under another Republican president, George W. Bush. Grenell was U.S. spokesman at the United Nations during the Bush presidency, and part of his job was defending those wars. And while other speakers at the convention have praised Trump for bringing troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, in reality troop levels have changed little.
Grenell lauded Trump’s policy in both foreign and domestic affairs, saying his “America first” philosophy focuses on “the equality and dignity of every American.” He did not mention Trump’s record on LGBTQ+ equality, although he recently claimed Trump is “the most pro-gay president in American history.” To the contrary — The Advocate has documented Trump’s many anti-LGBTQ+ actions, as have other publications and organizations. The Post gave Grenell’s statement “four Pinocchios” for its level of untruth. He also did not mention being gay, although he was recently named an adviser to the Republican National Committee for outreach to the community.
Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David responded to Grenell’s speech with this statement: “‘Gaslight Grenell’ doesn’t speak for LGBTQ people or our movement. As a gay man, ‘Gaslight Grenell’ couldn’t even say ‘gay’ or ‘LGBTQ,’ which is unsurprising, given that this administration has taken every opportunity to dehumanize LGBTQ people and undermine our basic rights. It’s also unsurprising given we have exposed Trump’s lies and Grenell’s hypocrisy in supporting him. Trump and his campaign are attempting to win our allies’ votes while ignoring our community’s voices and disregarding the dignity of our lives. LGBTQ people won’t fall for it, and neither will voters who value equality.
“From attempting to eliminate access to health care for LGBTQ people, to endorsing businesses putting signs up barring LGBTQ people from service, to refusing to investigate civil rights complaints from LGBTQ youth under attack by their schools and peers, to ignoring the epidemic of violence against the transgender community — particularly among transgender women of color — to advocating for workplaces to be able to fire LGBTQ people solely for who they are or whom they love, this administration has never, as Grenell said tonight, ‘focused on the equality and dignity of every American.’”
GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis released a statement as well: “Leading up to the RNC, Richard Grenell engaged in desperate acts of fanfare to spread lies about the Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ record and tonight he did not utter a mention of LGBTQ people on the main stage. He unequivocally does not speak for the vast majority of LGBTQ Americans and allies who see through the Trump Administration’s lies about its abysmal LGBTQ record. Though Grenell will no doubt continue to misrepresent the Trump administration’s history in an appalling attempt to sway LGBTQ people and our allies, our community will remain vigilant and point to the truth. The facts are the facts and this administration has attacked the LGBTQ community in rhetoric and policy over 170 times, even most recently arguing to the Supreme Court in favor of allowing adoption agencies to turn away LGBTQ couples.” Both HRC and GLAAD have released videos on the administration’s anti-LGBTQ+ record; see below.
Vice President Mike Pence closed the night by accepting renomination in a speech at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Pence made the kind of claims that have been common during the convention, such as saying Biden, as president, would be “a Trojan Horse for the radical left.” He asserted, as some other speakers did, that Biden supported cutting funding to law enforcement, when Biden has actually proposed increasing this funding while directing some monies to social services and making other reforms in the criminal justice system. He painted a picture of lawlessness under Biden and “law and order” under Trump.
Pence, like some other convention speakers, praised Trump’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, although the president has consistently downplayed the pandemic. Pence said (falsely) that no one who needed a ventilator had gone without one, and he said Trump had suspended all travel from China after the virus broke out, when in reality “there were notable exceptions to the ban,” the Times notes, and the virus was also likely brought in from travelers returning from Europe.
Those attending Pence’s speech, by the way, did not appear to be socially distancing or wearing masks, for the most part. And earlier in the evening, his wife, Karen Pence, lauded the opening of schools, including the (anti-LGBTQ+) Christian school where she teaches, even though many health experts have pronounced this dangerous in the time of the pandemic.
The night featured several other attempts to rewrite or co-opt history. Two Black speakers — businessman and former NFL player (and homophobe) Jack Brewer, and veteran civil rights activist Clarence Henderson — praised the Republican Party as a champion of Black civil rights. The party was a champion of African-Americans in the 19th century, when the Democratic Party supported slavery and then segregation. There were a substantial number of Republican civil rights supporters well into the 20th century as well, but since Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson embraced the cause in the 1960s, their party has taken the lead on the issue.
The proceedings also highlighted women, with speakers including Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law; White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany; and Kellyanne Conway, who will soon leave her position as a presidential adviser. They painted Donald Trump as committed to empowering women, and there was a segment on women’s suffrage activists and Trump’s recent posthumous pardon of one of them, Susan B. Anthony, who broke the law against women voting. However, the idea that Trump seeks to empower women is questionable at best, given that he has bragged about grabbing them by the genitals, among other misogynist behavior.
The convention will conclude Thursday.