White House senior adviser Jared Kushner is headed to Saudi Arabia and Qatar this week for talks in a region simmering with tension after the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist.
A senior administration official said on Sunday that Kushner is to meet the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in the Saudi city of Neom, and the emir of Qatar in that country in the coming days. Kushner will be joined by Middle East envoys Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook and Adam Boehler, chief executive of the US International Development Finance Corporation.
The visits would focus on resolving a dispute between Qatar and a Saudi-led alliance, the Wall Street Journal reported, but a number of issues could be on the agenda.
Kushner and his team helped negotiate normalization deals between Israel and Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan since August. The official said they would like to advance more such agreements before Donald Trump hands power to president-elect Joe Biden on 20 January.
US officials believe enticing Saudi Arabia into a deal with Israel would prompt other Arab nations to follow suit. But the Saudis do not appear to be on the brink of reaching such a landmark deal and officials in recent weeks have been focusing on other countries, with concern about Iran’s regional influence a uniting factor.
Kushner’s trip comes after the killing on Friday of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran by unidentified assailants. Western and Israeli governments believe Fakhrizadeh was the architect of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Days before the killing, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, travelled to Saudi Arabia and met with Prince Mohammed, an Israeli official said, in what was the first publicly confirmed visit by an Israeli leader. Israeli media said they were joined by the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.
Monday, November 30, 2020
Despite having finally assented to allowing his administration to cooperate with the transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden, President Trump on Sunday continued to spout baseless voter fraud claims in his first interview since Election Day, including suggesting that the FBI and Department of Justice were involved in rigging the election against him.
“This is total fraud,” Trump told host Maria Bartiromo during the interview on Fox Business’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” adding: “And how the FBI and Department of Justice—I don’t know—maybe they’re involved, but how people are getting away with this stuff—it’s unbelievable.”
The president offered no evidence to back up this claim, and then went on to complain at length about how the two agencies had been “missing in action” in investigating his voter fraud claims.
The DOJ and FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Forbes.
The heads of both the FBI and DOJ were picked by President Trump. FBI Director Christopher Wray was appointed by the president in 2017, while Attorney General William Barr was nominated in late 2018. Barr has been criticized for actions that have been perceived as overly partisan toward the president, including recently clearing the DOJ to investigate voting irregularities before the results are certified, a reversal of longstanding guidance to avoid the appearance of federal intervention in elections that prompted the head of the department’s Election Crimes Branch Richard Pilger to step down from his position in protest.
Almost all of the dozens of lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign in battleground states have been dismissed by judges—including GOP appointees. However, on Sunday morning, Trump claimed: “We’re trying to put the evidence in and the judges won’t allow us to do it.”
“Where is the DOJ and the FBI in all of this, Mr. President?” Bartiromo asked of Trump’s claims of voter fraud. “You have laid out some serious charges here. Shouldn’t this be something that the FBI is investigating? Are they? Is the DOJ investigating?”
“Missing in action. Missing in action. Can’t tell you where they are. I ask, ‘Are they looking at it?’ Everyone says, ‘Yes, they’re looking at it.’ Look, where are they with Comey, McCabe, and all these other people? You know, I said I’ll stay out of it. I wish I didn’t make that statement. There’s no reason, really, why I have to,” Trump said. “But where are they with Comey, with McCabe, with Brennan, with all these people. They lied to Congress. They lied, they leaked, they spied on our campaign. I see Carter Page is bringing a lawsuit, that’s good news. Where are they with all of this stuff? And, you know, what happened to Durham? Where’s Durham?”
Former Trump campaign associate Carter Page filed a lawsuit on Friday against Comey, McCabe, the FBI, the Justice Department, and others seeking $75 million in damages related to the “unjustified and illegal actions” and “unlawful spying” against him.
“Before we leave the subject of Durham, I feel like something happened in September. I don’t know what happened, but we were all expecting Durham to come out and A.G. Barr to be aggressive,” Bartiromo said, adding, “Will you appoint a special counsel to investigate and to continue the investigating into what took place in the 2016 election? You mentioned Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe not facing accountability — will you appoint a special counsel?”
“By the way, Comey, McCabe — that’s the least of it. You talk about the Logan Act, they used the Logan Act on General Flynn, who I was very proud to pardon. But they wanted to use and they did use the Logan Act on General Flynn, and you know where that started. Look, this whole thing is a terrible situation. This should’ve never been allowed to happen,” Trump claimed.
He added, “And yeah, I would consider a special prosecutor. Because you know this is not a ‘counsel’ — it sounds so nice. I went through three years of a special counsel prosecutor — I call it ‘prosecutor’ because it’s a much more accurate term. They spent $48 million, Weissmann and all Trump haters, they spent $48 million. That was the Mueller investigation. They went through taxes, they went through everything — for $48 million you look at everything, and they found no collusion, no nothing.”
Greg Sargent: Why did these losses happen?
David Wasserman: Republicans did a complete 180 on recruitment. This year all 12 Republicans who picked up Democratic seats so far were women or minorities. Republicans nominated candidates who looked like their districts, and didn’t necessarily sound like [President] Trump.
Sargent: Wasn’t it in some respects inevitable that turnout would be higher on the Republican side, relative to 2018? In 2018 Democratic turnout was lopsidedly high. And in 2020 it wasn’t, because Republicans also turned out. Right?
Wasserman: That’s true. Trump helped Republicans down-ballot in two ways. He drove out millions of low-propensity conservatives who would never vote for their average Republican Joe in a midterm. But he also allowed Republican candidates to pick up voters who could not stomach Trump.
In 2018, when he wasn’t on the ballot, the only opportunity for independent voters, especially suburban women, to vent their anger at Trump was by voting against a Republican congressional candidate. This time around, those voters could do so directly, but vote for a more conventional Republican down-ballot.
Sargent: The big story that everybody missed was the amount of low-propensity Trump base turnout that Trump would inspire, and how that would impact House races?
Wasserman: Right — even in highly college-educated suburbs.
Sargent: The whole explanation then becomes a lot more structural. The big story is that incredibly juiced-up Trump-base turnout allowed down-ballot Republicans to get lifted by that tide, and pocket all those votes, and then just add Republican-leaning swing voters who voted against Trump but for their Republican congressional candidate.
Wasserman: I couldn’t have said it better.
Sargent: Another narrative is that Democratic down-ballot losses reflect the idea that the non-college White vote spread got even worse for Democrats, as David Shor said to Eric Levitz.
I have trouble squaring that with some data we’re seeing. The New York Times county-by-county analysis showed that Biden added 11 percent to 2016 totals in counties with a lot of non-college Whites, while Trump added 15 percent in those counties relative to 2016. The story I take from that is Biden added blue-collar Whites to the Democratic column, but Trump added some more.
It’s not simply Democrats losing more ground with them; it’s Democrats gaining ground but not as much Trump did. Your thoughts?
Wasserman: I’m in the camp that it’s amazing Biden held the line in those places and didn’t lose vote share relative to Hillary Clinton. Democrats’ trajectory has been downward in these places for quite a while now. The fact that Biden held on to what remains of support for Democrats is a testament to his biography, and the comfort level those voters have with him.
Sargent: It’s not just bio, right? Biden tried to articulate a somewhat more populist line than one would have expected from someone with his centrist past, talking about reshoring jobs and industrial policy, and even moving toward Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren populism in some respects. That had to have played some role.
Wasserman: Definitely. Instead of running a campaign entirely about Trump and his temperament, Biden ran a campaign focused on populist themes. That is marginally more effective in blue-collar America.
Sargent: How does this translate back to the down-ballot losses? The voters we’re talking about that cost Democrats House seats — slightly Republican-leaning, couldn’t stomach Trump, wanted to vote for a conventional Republican down-ballot — those are likely not in the main blue-collar Whites, are they?
Wasserman: I think they’re predominantly suburban. Remember when Trump settled on the message that Biden is a Trojan Horse for the radical left? In retrospect, the message those voters might have taken away was that Biden doesn’t sound that bad, but congressional Democrats are about to drive the country off a socialist cliff.
It’s possible that voters priced that into their choice for Congress.
It could have been that they weren’t hearing enough from Democratic candidates on why they weren’t radical leftists.
A lot of voters have no idea where Democratic candidates stand on police funding. Because Democrats never mentioned it in their ads.
Both Biden and Democratic congressional candidates failed to highlight support from law enforcement.
Sargent: It sounds like the key distinction here is between blaming the losses on the existence of the left and “defund the police” on the one hand, and not rebutting Republican attacks on the other. The first is less of an explanation, and the second is more of one.
Wasserman: This is not a situation where “the Squad” bears responsibility. It’s that Democrats in swing districts didn’t do enough to communicate where they actually stood. And I would put Biden in that category.
- Suburban Republicans, particularly college-educated white suburban women, felt much better about splitting their ticket by voting for Biden and then voting for Republican candidates that were not white men.
- Record turnout helped Joe Biden, but it helped congressional Republicans too.
- The college/non-college split is real, especially with white voters overall, and Democrats better figure out how to fix it in a way that doesn't give Republicans an immediate opening to attack on.
- Trump's racist messages attacking Black Lives Matter and "rioters" and running on "law and order" didn't save him, but the Congressional Republican message that "We're the only thing between you and Biden's Socialism!" absolutely worked.
- It worked because Dems didn't want to attack cops and especially police unions.
- We'll see if all this holds true in Georgia's Senate runoffs in six weeks.
Back into the fray, my friends. Time and history wait for no Zandar.
- President-elect Joe Biden was taken to the doctor's office Sunday afternoon for a twisted ankle he suffered while playing with his dog Major, out of an "abundance of caution".
- San Francisco joins Los Angeles in locking down the city and county as COVID-19 cases continue to spike in California and the nation.
- The US Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Monday on counting undocumented immigrants as part of the Census, the Trump regime is trying to block the count in order to hurt immigrants.
- The Biden team is expected to name former Obama adviser Neera Tanden as Office of Management and Budget chief, with economist Celia Rouse as head of the WH Economic Council.
- The original actor for Darth Vader, British bodybuilder David Prowse, has died from illness at age 85.
Sunday, November 29, 2020
After five years spent bullying the Republican Party into submission, President Donald Trump finally met his match in Aaron Van Langevelde.
That’s right. In the end, it wasn’t a senator or a judge or a general who stood up to the leader of the free world. There was no dramatic, made-for-Hollywood collision of cosmic egos. Rather, the death knell of Trump’s presidency was sounded by a baby-faced lawyer, looking over his glasses on a grainy Zoom feed on a gloomy Monday afternoon, reading from a statement that reflected a courage and moral clarity that has gone AWOL from his party, pleading with the tens of thousands of people watching online to understand that some lines can never be uncrossed.
“We must not attempt to exercise power we simply don’t have,” declared Van Langevelde, a member of Michigan’s board of state canvassers, the ministerial body with sole authority to make official Joe Biden’s victory over Trump. “As John Adams once said, 'We are a government of laws, not men.' This board needs to adhere to that principle here today. This board must do its part to uphold the rule of law and comply with our legal duty to certify this election.”
Van Langevelde is a Republican. He works for Republicans in the Statehouse. He gives legal guidance to advance Republican causes and win Republican campaigns. As a Republican, his mandate for Monday’s hearing—handed down from the state party chair, the national party chair and the president himself—was straightforward. They wanted Michigan’s board of canvassers to delay certification of Biden’s victory. Never mind that Trump lost by more than 154,000 votes, or that results were already certified in all 83 counties. The plan was to drag things out, to further muddy the election waters and delegitimize the process, to force the courts to take unprecedented actions that would forever taint Michigan’s process of certifying elections. Not because it was going to help Trump win but because it was going to help Trump cope with a loss. The president was not accepting defeat. That meant no Republican with career ambitions could accept it, either.
Which made Van Langevelde’s vote for certification all the more remarkable. With the other Republican on the four-person board, Norman Shinkle, abstaining on the final vote—a cowardly abdication of duty—the 40-year-old Van Langevelde delivered the verdict on his own. At a low point in his party’s existence, with much of the GOP’s leadership class pre-writing their own political epitaphs by empowering Trump to lay waste to the country’s foundational democratic norms, an obscure lawyer from west Michigan stood on principle. It proved to be the nail in Trump’s coffin: Shortly after Michigan’s vote to certify, the General Services Administration finally commenced the official transition of power and Trump tweeted out a statement affirming the move “in the best interest of our Country.”
Still, the drama in Lansing raised deeper questions about the health of our political system and the sturdiness of American democracy. Why were Republicans who privately admitted Trump’s legitimate defeat publicly alleging massive fraud? Why did it fall to a little-known figure like Van Langevelde to buffer the country from an unprecedented layer of turmoil? Why did the battleground state that dealt Trump his most decisive defeat—by a wide margin—become the epicenter of America’s electoral crisis?
In conversations with more than two dozen Michigan insiders—elected officials, party elders, consultants, activists—it became apparent how the state’s conditions were ripe for this sort of slow-motion disaster. Michigan is home to Detroit, an overwhelmingly majority Black city, that has always been a favorite punching bag of white Republicans. The state had viral episodes of conflict and human error that were easily manipulated and deliberately misconstrued. It drew special attention from the highest levels of the party, and for the president, it had the potential to settle an important score with his adversary, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Perhaps most important, Trump’s allies in Michigan proved to be more career-obsessed, and therefore more servile to his whims, than GOP officials in any other state he has cultivated during his presidency, willing to indulge his conspiratorial fantasies in ways other Republicans weren’t.
This, Republicans and Democrats here agreed, was the essential difference between Michigan and other states. However sloppy Trump’s team was in contesting the results in places like Georgia and Wisconsin, where the margins were fractional, there was at least some plausible justification of a legal challenge. The same could never be said for Michigan. Strangely liberated by his deficit of 154,000 votes, the president’s efforts here were aimed not at overturning the results, but rather at testing voters’ faith in the ballot box and Republicans’ loyalty to him.
“We have to see this for what it is. It’s a PR strategy to erode public confidence in a very well-run election to achieve political ends,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said in an interview last week. “This was not any type of valid legal strategy that had any chance at ultimately succeeding.”
“Anybody can sue anybody for any reason. But winning is a whole different matter. And Trump didn’t have a realistic pathway here,” Brian Calley, the former GOP lieutenant governor, told me prior to the certification vote. “I’m not too worried about the end result in Michigan. I understand the drama. … I know the system looks clunky. But I actually think we’ll look back on this and say, you know, we’ve actually got a very strong system that can stand up to a lot of scrutiny.”
Benson and Calley were right that Trump was never going to succeed at altering the outcome in Michigan—or in any of the other contested states, or in the Electoral College itself. The 45th president’s time in office is drawing to a close. No amount of @realdonaldtrump tweets or wild-eyed allegations from his lawyers or unhinged segments on One America News can change that.
But what they can change—where he can ultimately succeed—is in convincing unprecedented numbers of Americans that their votes didn’t count. Last month, Gallup reported that the public’s confidence in our elections being accurate dropped 11 points since the 2018 midterms, which included a 34-point decrease among Republicans. That was before a daily deluge of dishonest allegations and out-of-context insinuations; before the conservative media’s wall-to-wall coverage of exotic conspiracy theories; before the GOP’s most influential figures winked and nodded at the president of the United States alleging the greatest fraud in U.S. history.
Trump failed to win Michigan. But he succeeded in convincing America that a loss, no matter how conclusive, may never again be conclusive enough.
Saturday, November 28, 2020
As the ravages of the novel coronavirus forced millions of people out of work, shuttered businesses and shrank the value of retirement accounts, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged to a three-year low.
But for Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican, the crisis last March signaled something else: a stock buying opportunity.
And for the second time in less than two months, Perdue’s timing was impeccable. He avoided a sharp loss and reaped a stunning gain by selling and then buying the same stock: Cardlytics, an Atlanta-based financial technology company on whose board of directors he once served.
On Jan. 23, as word spread through Congress that the coronavirus posed a major economic and public health threat, Perdue sold off $1 million to $5 million in Cardlytics stock at $86 a share before it plunged, according to congressional disclosures.
Weeks later, in March, after the company’s stock plunged further following an unexpected leadership shakeup and lower-than-forecast earnings, Perdue bought the stock back for $30 a share, investing between $200,000 and $500,000.
Those shares have now quadrupled in value, closing at $121 a share on Tuesday.
The Cardlytics transactions were just a slice of a large number of investment decisions made in the early days of the pandemic by Perdue and other senators. They stirred public outrage after it became clear that some members of Congress had been briefed on the economic and health threat the virus posed. The transactions were mentioned briefly in a story published by the Intercept in May.
Now that Perdue is locked in a pitched battle for reelection in a Jan. 5 runoff, his trades during a public health and economic crisis have become an issue in what already has become a negative, expensive campaign that will determine which party controls the Senate.
There is no evidence that Perdue, who is among the wealthier members of the Senate, acted on information gained as a member of Congress or through his long-standing relationship with company officials. It’s illegal to use nonpublic information gained as a company insider or member of Congress to make investment decisions.
But legal experts say the timing of his sale, the fact that he quickly bought Cardlytics stock back when it had lost two-thirds of its market value and his close ties to company officials all warrant scrutiny.
During the campaign, Mr. Perdue disclosed in a televised ad that a “full review of his stock trades” by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission had “cleared him completely,” but made no mention of Cardlytics or the extent of the federal scrutiny.
Mr. Grimes and Mr. Perdue had known each other since at least 2010, when Mr. Perdue joined the board of Cardlytics, then a small and privately held Atlanta start-up. Mr. Perdue resigned his directorship in 2014 after his election to the Senate, but struck an unusual financial arrangement on his way out that paved the way for him to benefit from holding a stake in the company when it went public four years later.
As a senator, Mr. Perdue continued to hold shares of Cardlytics, where executives said he had made valuable contributions to the company, along with scores of other stocks that he traded. In 2019, Mr. Grimes made the maximum donation of $5,600 to Mr. Perdue’s re-election efforts, in what appeared to be his only political contribution of the election cycle.
The email correspondence between the two men began on Jan. 21 and took place just before Mr. Perdue placed the well-timed trades.
“David, I know you are about to do a call with David Evans,” Mr. Grimes wrote from his iPad, according to a copy of the exchange reviewed by The New York Times. “As an FYI, I have not told him about the upcoming changes. Thanks, Scott.”
Mr. Evans, then the chief financial officer of Cardlytics, stepped down from that role six weeks after Mr. Grimes sent the email, at the same time that Mr. Grimes announced plans to assume a new role as executive chairman. Mr. Evans said in July that he was leaving the company.
Mr. Perdue responded to Mr. Grimes’s email by saying he would check with his Senate scheduler but “I don’t know about a call with David or the changes you mentioned.”
Mr. Grimes wrote back the next morning to apologize.
“David, Sorry. That email was not meant for you. Wrong David!” he wrote.
Mr. Perdue then contacted his wealth manager at Goldman Sachs, Robert Hutchinson, and instructed him to sell a little more than $1 million worth of Cardlytics shares, or about 20 percent of his position, three of the people said. One person familiar with the inquiry into Mr. Perdue’s trades said that the conversation was memorialized in an internal Goldman Sachs record later obtained by the F.B.I.
Friday, November 27, 2020
Why yes, Facebook has developed the tools to stop the viral spread of Trump cultist hate porn and election misinformation, but they refused to use those tools because it would actually affect Trump cultists.
Several employees said they were frustrated that to tackle thorny issues like misinformation, they often had to demonstrate that their proposed solutions wouldn’t anger powerful partisans or come at the expense of Facebook’s growth.
The trade-offs came into focus this month, when Facebook engineers and data scientists posted the results of a series of experiments called “P(Bad for the World).”
The company had surveyed users about whether certain posts they had seen were “good for the world” or “bad for the world.” They found that high-reach posts — posts seen by many users — were more likely to be considered “bad for the world,” a finding that some employees said alarmed them.
So the team trained a machine-learning algorithm to predict posts that users would consider “bad for the world” and demote them in news feeds. In early tests, the new algorithm successfully reduced the visibility of objectionable content. But it also lowered the number of times users opened Facebook, an internal metric known as “sessions” that executives monitor closely.
“The results were good except that it led to a decrease in sessions, which motivated us to try a different approach,” according to a summary of the results, which was posted to Facebook’s internal network and reviewed by The Times.
The team then ran a second experiment, tweaking the algorithm so that a larger set of “bad for the world” content would be demoted less strongly. While that left more objectionable posts in users’ feeds, it did not reduce their sessions or time spent.
That change was ultimately approved. But other features employees developed before the election never were.
One, called “correct the record,” would have retroactively notified users that they had shared false news and directed them to an independent fact-check. Facebook employees proposed expanding the product, which is currently used to notify people who have shared Covid-19 misinformation, to apply to other types of misinformation.
But that was vetoed by policy executives who feared it would disproportionately show notifications to people who shared false news from right-wing websites, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
Another product, an algorithm to classify and demote “hate bait” — posts that don’t strictly violate Facebook’s hate speech rules, but that provoke a flood of hateful comments — was limited to being used only on groups, rather than pages, after the policy team determined that it would primarily affect right-wing publishers if it were applied more broadly, said two people with knowledge of the conversations.
Mr. Rosen, the Facebook integrity executive, disputed those characterizations in an interview, which was held on the condition that he not be quoted directly.
He said that the “correct the record” tool wasn’t as effective as hoped, and that the company had decided to focus on other ways of curbing misinformation. He also said applying the “hate bait” detector to Facebook pages could unfairly punish publishers for hateful comments left by their followers, or make it possible for bad actors to hurt a page’s reach by spamming it with toxic comments. Neither project was shelved because of political concerns or because it reduced Facebook usage, he said.
“No News Feed product change is ever solely made because of its impact on time spent,” said Mr. Osborne, the Facebook spokesman. He added that the people talking to The Times had no decision-making authority.
Thursday, November 26, 2020
The Supreme Court late Wednesday night barred restrictions on religious services in New York that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had imposed to combat the coronavirus.
The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the court’s three liberal members in dissent. The order was the first in which the court’s newest member, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, played a decisive role.
The court’s ruling was at odds with earlier ones concerning churches in California and Nevada. In those cases, decided in May and July, the court allowed the states’ governors to restrict attendance at religious services.
The Supreme Court’s membership has changed since then, with Justice Barrett succeeding Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September. The vote in the earlier cases was also 5 to 4, but in the opposite direction, with Chief Justice Roberts joining Justice Ginsburg and the other three members of what was then the court’s four-member liberal wing.
In an unsigned opinion, the majority said Mr. Cuomo’s restrictions violated the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said Mr. Cuomo had treated secular activities more favorably than religious ones.
“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues and mosques,” Justice Gorsuch wrote.
The court’s order addressed two applications: one filed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, the other by two synagogues, an Orthodox Jewish organization and two individuals. The applications both said Mr. Cuomo’s restrictions violated constitutional protections for the free exercise of religion, and the one from the synagogues added that Mr. Cuomo had “singled out a particular religion for blame and retribution for an uptick in a societywide pandemic.”
The restrictions are strict. In shifting “red zones,” where the coronavirus risk is highest, no more than 10 people may attend religious services. In slightly less dangerous “orange zones,” which are also fluid, attendance is capped at 25. This applies even to churches that can seat more than 1,000 people.
President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he has "granted a Full Pardon" to former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
"It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon. Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!" Trump tweeted.
Flynn, who was Trump's first national security adviser, pleaded guilty twice to lying to the FBI during its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign about his conversations with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition. Trump said in March that he was "strongly considering" pardoning Flynn and had told aides in recent days that he planned to pardon him before leaving office.
While the President has continued to falsely insist publicly that he won the presidential election rather than Joe Biden, the pardon of Flynn is a sign Trump understands his time in office is coming to a close. He's expected to issue a string of additional pardons before leaving the White House, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussion.
Flynn's tenure at the White House lasted only a few weeks and he resigned after being caught lying about his Russian contacts. At the time, Trump tweeted that he fired Flynn because he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence. Sources familiar with what happened also said Flynn lied to Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, two top Trump officials at the time.
Flynn pleaded guilty in late 2017 to lying to the FBI about those contacts, but later disavowed his plea and tried to get the case thrown out. In a shocking twist this spring, the Justice Department abandoned the case, which is still tied up in legal limbo.
Behind the scenes: Sources with direct knowledge of the discussions said Flynn will be part of a series of pardons that Trump issues between now and when he leaves office.
The big picture: Flynn's pardon would be the culmination of a four-year political and legal saga that began with the FBI's investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government in the 2016 election. The retired lieutenant general is viewed by many Trump supporters as a victim of political retaliation by the Obama administration. Flynn's lawyers and members of conservative media have accused the FBI of entrapping him and cited his case as part of a broader campaign to discredit the Russia probe. Earlier this year, Trump commuted the sentence of Roger Stone, another associate charged in the Mueller investigation who the president complained had been unfairly targeted in a political witch hunt.
The backdrop: Flynn's legal troubles began during the 2016 presidential transition, when he urged former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in a phone call not to escalate in response to the Obama administration imposing sanctions on Russia for election interference. Flynn then lied about not discussing sanctions, to Vice President Mike Pence who repeated that denial to the media — causing alarm among Justice Department officials who feared the lies made Flynn susceptible to Russian blackmail. In January 2017, Flynn was interviewed without a lawyer present by FBI agents as part of a counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference. He later admitted to lying to the FBI as part of a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.
Flash forward: In January 2020, after two years of sentencing delays due to his cooperation with the Mueller investigation, Flynn and his new legal team sought to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging prosecutorial misconduct. A federal prosecutor appointed to review the case by Attorney General Bill Barr recommended that the charges be dropped, finding that the FBI interview in which Flynn lied was "conducted without any legitimate investigative basis."
District Judge Emmet Sullivan did not immediately agree to drop the charges, and asked for outside legal experts to weigh in on the unusual case. Flynn's lawyers filed an emergency appeal to force the judge to comply with the DOJ motion. That resulted in a protracted legal fight, which ended in August with an appeals court siding with Sullivan.
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Beshear on Wednesday announced a set of new executive orders meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Kentucky, which last week saw another stretch of record-setting days for new positive cases.
One order requires the state's private and public K-12 schools to hold only virtual classes until Jan. 4.
Elementary schools not in "red" counties, which average 25 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents, can resume in-person classes Dec. 7 as long as they follow the state's "Healthy At School" guidance, according to Beshear's order.
Beshear also unveiled new restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms, indoor gatherings, weddings, funerals and other activities. Those orders and capacity limits took effect at 5 p.m. Friday and run through Dec. 13.
Specifically, Wiest said he is representing various parents and their children who seek to overturn the indoor gathering limit on no more than eight people from two households.
Danville Christian Academy and Cameron, a Republican who is the state's chief law enforcement officer, argue in their suit that Beshear's order violates the constitutional rights of religious schools and Kentucky's Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In response to the lawsuit, Beshear spokesperson Crystal Staley noted the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously upheld earlier this month the governor's authority to issue executive orders in a public health emergency.
The Supreme Court ruling was a defeat for Cameron, who had joined challengers in arguing Beshear overstepped his authority and bypassed the state General Assembly when issuing orders this year in response to the pandemic.
Going to have a reduced posting schedule for the rest of the week, but there's enough going on that I will try to post daily. But hey, after everything that's gone on this month, I think we all need a break from this particular orange turkey.
Also it's been a rough year, so if you enjoy ZVTS, drop a buck or three in the Paypal bucket if you can. If you can't, take care of yourself. We all need one another.
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
The General Services Administration has informed President-elect Joe Biden that the Trump administration is ready to begin the formal transition process, according to a letter from Administrator Emily Murphy sent Monday afternoon and obtained by CNN.
The letter is the first step the administration has taken to acknowledge President Donald Trump's defeat, more than two weeks after Biden was declared the winner in the election.
Murphy said she had not been pressured by the White House to delay the formal transition and did not make a decision "out of fear or favoritism."
"Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts," Murphy wrote. "I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official -- including those who work at the White House or GSA -- with regard to the substance or timing of my decision. To be clear, I did not receive any direction to delay my determination."
The letter marks Murphy's formal sign off on Biden's victory, a normally perfunctory process known as ascertainment. The move will allow the transition to officially begin, permitting current administration agency officials to coordinate with the incoming Biden team, and providing millions in government funding for the transition.
The Biden team has not waited for the formal transition process to begin preparing for the presidency, as Biden announced several Cabinet picks on Monday. But the delay in ascertainment meant that Biden's team was locked out from government data and could not make contact with federal agencies, nor could it spend $6.3 million in government funding now available for the transition. A Biden official said the most urgent need was for the transition to be given access to Covid-19 data and the vaccine distribution plans.
The Biden team will now have access to additional office space inside the agencies and the ability to use federal resources for background checks on Biden's White House staff appointments and Cabinet picks.
Yohannes Abraham, executive director of Biden's transition, said the start of the transition was a "needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track."
"This final decision is a definitive administrative action to formally begin the transition process with federal agencies," Abraham said. "In the days ahead, transition officials will begin meeting with federal officials to discuss the pandemic response, have a full accounting of our national security interests and gain complete understanding of the Trump administration's efforts to hollow out government agencies."
The ascertainment letter was sent Monday after Michigan formally certified its election results earlier in the day and more Trump lawsuits were dismissed. Georgia certified its razor-thin presidential results on Friday, and Pennsylvania is nearing certification of its election results, too.
Monday, November 23, 2020
Antony J. Blinken, a defender of global alliances and President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s closest foreign policy adviser, is expected to be nominated for secretary of state, a job in which he will try to coalesce skeptical international partners into a new competition with China, according to people close to the process.
Mr. Blinken, 58, a former deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama, began his career at the State Department during the Clinton administration. His extensive foreign policy credentials are expected to help calm American diplomats and global leaders alike after four years of the Trump administration’s ricocheting strategies and nationalist swaggering.
Mr. Biden is also expected to name another close aide, Jake Sullivan, as national security adviser, according to a person familiar with the process. Mr. Sullivan, 43, succeeded Mr. Blinken as Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, and served as the head of policy planning at the State Department under Hillary Clinton, becoming her closest strategic adviser.
Together, Mr. Blinken and Mr. Sullivan, good friends with a common worldview, have become Mr. Biden’s brain trust and often his voice on foreign policy matters. And they led the attack on President Trump’s use of “America First” as a guiding principle, saying it only isolated the United States and created opportunities and vacuums for its adversaries.
Mr. Biden plans to announce their selections even as Mr. Trump continues his ineffectual push to overturn the election. A growing number of Republicans are calling on Mr. Trump to concede and begin the official transition process.
Mr. Biden is also expected to name Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year veteran of the Foreign Service who has served in diplomatic posts around the world, as his ambassador to the United Nations, according to two people with knowledge of the process. Mr. Biden will also restore the post to cabinet-level status after Mr. Trump downgraded it, giving Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, who is Black, a seat on his National Security Council. The selections of Mr. Blinken and Mr. Sullivan were reported earlier by Bloomberg News, and Ms. Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination was reported by Axios.
Mr. Blinken has been at Mr. Biden’s side for nearly 20 years, including as his top aide on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later as his national security adviser when he was vice president. In that role, Mr. Blinken helped develop the American response to political upheaval and instability across the Middle East, with mixed results in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Libya.
But chief among his new priorities will be to re-establish the United States as a trusted ally that is ready to rejoin global agreements and institutions — including the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and the World Health Organization — that were jettisoned by Mr. Trump.
“Simply put, the big problems that we face as a country and as a planet, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s a pandemic, whether it’s the spread of bad weapons — to state the obvious, none of these have unilateral solutions,” Mr. Blinken said at a forum at the Hudson Institute in July. “Even a country as powerful as the United States can’t handle them alone.”
President Donald Trump is considering an executive action to target birthright citizenship in his final weeks in office, according to two sources who spoke with The Hill in a report published on Friday.
Birthright citizenship is the policy whereby anyone who is born in the US is immediately granted citizenship, regardless of whether their parents have citizenship or not.
It's guaranteed under the 14th Amendment, which states in part that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." More than 30 countries — mostly in the Western Hemisphere — have birthright citizenship.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is an example of someone who received their US citizenship in this way. Harris's Indian mother and Jamaican father were not yet US citizens when she was born in California in 1964, but she became a US citizen.
Trump has been speaking out against birthright citizenship since his 2016 run for the White House, which was infused with anti-immigrant rhetoric. He brought the issue up again in a 2018 interview with Axios, in which he stated that he could issue an executive order to end the practice.
However, The Intercept reported in 2018 that this is "an idea rejected by an overwhelming consensus of conservative and liberal law scholars." A law written into the Constitution can only be ended through a new amendment.
Counter-arguments to birthright citizenship over the years say that the 14th Amendment has been misinterpreted.
"The Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment was clearly intended to guarantee that emancipated slaves would properly be recognized as U.S. citizens," RJ Hauman, government relations director at Federation for American Immigration Reform, told The Hill. Hauman's group is an anti-immigration non-profit.
"It is a fundamental misapplication of this clause that U.S.-born children of illegal aliens are granted automatic citizenship, much less the offspring of people who come here to simply give birth on American soil."
If the president finally issues a long-awaited executive order limiting birthright citizenship, it will be up to the Supreme Court to resolve this issue once and for all," Hauman said.
I suspect that the press is gearing up to just keep covering Trump -- in fact, the Times published a story titled "Win or Lose, Trump Will Remain a Powerful and Disruptive Force" the day after the polls closed. In the comments to that story, one reader wrote:
Mr. Trump's disruptive voice, if he loses, will remain prominent if the members of the various media choose to give him the high platform given him for four years. They can give him a platform to be as prominent or more so than Mr. Biden. Certainly, Trump will be more attractive to readers and viewers than Biden. He's the showman. Biden is not. He can bolster newspaper circulation and TV ratings in a way that Biden cannot. The more Trump prominence, the more interference in the healing needed by the country. Media leaders will determine that ratio. Millions of Americans hope that they will choose healing over popularity of their products.
I certainly hope the media will dump Trump. I don't expect it to happen, but if it does, I'll be delighted.
- The US has completed dropping out of the Open Skies Treaty, citing repeated Russian violations by military surveillance flights in both Alaska and Europe.
- Senate Republicans are already promising to block multiple Biden Cabinet picks, with the Biden administration expected to announce a number of choices on Tuesday.
- Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed has given Tigrayan regional forces 72 hours to surrender before the country's military retaked the city of Mekelle.
- Vladimir Putin says Russia is "not ready" to recognize Joe Biden's win as US President, saying Biden lacks "the confidence of the American people".
- The UK is bailing out bankrupt Indian global satellite internet provider OneWeb, setting up a UK competitor to Elon Musk and Facebook for global satellite internet services.
Sunday, November 22, 2020
It's never a good sign for your bullshit legal theory that the election was stolen when the guy insisting it was stolen disavows the person supposedly providing evidence for the supposed theft.
President Donald Trump appears to have cut ties with Sidney Powell, a key member of his legal team who also represents former national security adviser Michael Flynn in his long-running attempt to unravel a guilty plea for lying about his 2016 contacts with Russia.
The abrupt shake-up came in a terse Sunday-evening statement from the Trump campaign that offered no explanation for Powell’s removal.
“Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own,” Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis said in the statement. “She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.”
Powell had made headlines in recent weeks for her increasingly outrageous and unsupported claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, repeatedly vowing to “release the kraken” of evidence, only to refuse to produce it when asked by reporters.
She has accused election officials in multiple states of committing crimes, and in recent days turned on Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who on Friday helped certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Her attack on Kemp, which also included the threat of a “biblical” lawsuit, appeared to unsettle some of Trump’s allies.
“Sidney Powell accusing Governor Brian Kemp of a crime on television yet being unwilling to go on TV and defend and lay out the evidence that she supposedly has, this is outrageous conduct,” former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Sunday.
Trump announced Powell as a centerpiece of his legal team in a recent tweet, declaring that she, Giuliani and others would form a team that would later dub itself an “elite strike force.”
But the team has so far failed to produce any meaningful legal wins, and in fact has been repeatedly rebuffed by federal judges who have excoriated the Trump lawyers for demanding draconian measures — like throwing out millions of lawful ballots — without presenting evidence to justify it.
In recent days, Republicans aligned with the national party began to express increasing reservations about Powell’s rhetoric, including the claim that Trump had “won by a landslide,” even though Biden is millions ahead in the popular vote and won states equating to 306 electoral votes, compared with Trump’s 232.
The national GOP on Thursday posted a video clip of Powell making the claim, and Ellis, the Trump campaign’s attorney, celebrated Powell’s remarks at last week’s press conference.
A slew of expiring emergency programs are setting up an economic “COVID cliff” come 2021, which could see millions of people lose unemployment insurance and get evictions, while a growing wave of small businesses close shop.
March's CARES Act set up myriad programs to give people economic relief in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which are set to expire on Dec. 31.
Unless a divided Congress can reach a deal to extend the programs, the country's economic suffering could skyrocket.
“It’s a lot of risk to be putting on the economy at a time when so many other pressures are already underway,” said Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The prospects of a deal are dim.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is pushing for a $2.2 trillion package, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who endorses a more limited $500 billion approach, have yet to hold a meeting on the subject. Their staffs have not discussed the matter either.
“The situation could not be more dire, the need for action could not be more urgent, real meaningful relief is desperately needed,” Pelosi said Friday, accusing Republicans of refusing to accept meaningful levels of stimulus and a plan to defeat the novel coronavirus.
Republicans are quick to point the finger back at Pelosi, noting that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin offered $1.8 trillion before the election, though Senate Republicans opposed that level of aid.
On Friday, McConnell said that Congress should repurpose $455 billion of funds Mnuchin sought to withdraw from emergency lending facilities at the Federal Reserve, a move that itself was controversial.
“Congress should repurpose this money toward the kinds of urgent, important, and targeted relief measures that Republicans have been trying to pass for months, but which Democrats have repeatedly blocked with all-or-nothing demands," McConnell said.
If Congress allows the variety of ropes that weave the emergency safety net to snap, struggling Americans are sure to fall through, starting with the millions of people who have lost their jobs and rely on expanded unemployment programs to stay afloat.
“The unemployment insurance is certainly at the top of the list, because that’s going to mean that millions of people who are out of work and relying on a fairly modest unemployment income are going to be entirely without income, and that’s going to be a devastating hit,” said Akabas.
Three nights before Christmas 2016, I was standing in my bathroom when a gallop broke out across my chest. It was ventricular tachycardia, a dangerous kind of arrhythmia where only one side of the heart pumps and does so at high speed, denying blood from moving through it. At the age of 23, I’d had arrhythmias all my life, but had never felt anything like this. Twenty minutes later, with the arrhythmia still going, I was in the back of a parked ambulance. Alone with the EMTs, I braced for the shock of a defibrillator.
The pain was overwhelming, like being grilled alive. It ran out from a center point in my chest and flowed into every organ, every limb, into my fingers and toes. Later, waiting in the trauma section of the Mount Sinai emergency room, doctors shocked me again.
Months of testing followed. I started taking drugs that would help reduce my arrhythmias, but in addition, my doctors suggested they replace my pacemaker with something called an ICD. The ICD would be a fail-safe, a tiny defibrillator inside my body that could go everywhere that I went.
When I came across an FDA safety notice warning that some ICDs, namely those made by a company called St. Jude, could be hacked, I was only days away from surgery. Once hacked, the devices could allow an external actor to gain control of the ICD, reprogram its functions, and inflict all kinds of damage—even trigger death.
The week before surgery, I texted my nurse practitioner about the FDA warning. She responded quickly, “Don’t worry. We’re using a different brand,” as if the issue was settled. In the blur of acute disease, I ignored the instinct to dig further into what exactly these cybersecurity concerns might mean or what other concerns might be hiding just below the surface.
When they first came to market in the 1980s, ICDs (implanted cardioverter-defibrillators) were implanted rarely, mostly in patients who had already experienced a life-threatening episode of ventricular tachycardia or even cardiac arrest. They were often called “secondary prevention” tools — meaning a patient has already experienced a life-threatening event and the device had the potential to stop a second event. In the 40 years since, clinical guidelines have changed dramatically, and the use case for ICDs has broadened. The United States has become the biggest market in the world for ICDs, with new ICD implantations increasing almost ninefold from 1993 to 2006. Doctors now implant at least 10,000 new devices each month in the United States. Many of these devices are now used for “primary prevention,” meaning a patient hasn’t yet experienced an event that could be stopped by an ICD, but they might be at risk for one.
In the past 13 years, these devices have also been fully integrated into the so-called Internet of Things—millions of everyday consumer items being programmed for and connected to the internet. Once connected to the internet, the devices ease the work of physicians and hospitals, who can now manage the device and monitor the patient’s condition remotely. Patients are typically charged each time their device sends data to the hospital. Think of it as a subscription—for your heart.
ICDs are just one increasingly popular medical gadget in a rising sea of clinical and commercial wireless health devices. Whether it is the growing suite of cardiac-monitoring devices available at home and on the go or an Apple Watch outfitted with diagnostic software, we are outsourcing more and more of our health to internet-enabled machines.
Having now lived with an ICD for more than three years and a pacemaker for the preceding 14, I understand intimately the consequences of being a body paired to the grid. If your smart fridge loses connectivity, maybe your food goes bad a few days early. But if a wireless ICD experiences a failure, the result could be lethal. I am stalked by the fear of the device misfiring and have wondered endlessly whether the documented security risks posed by these devices could end up harming me.
Saturday, November 21, 2020
Michigan’s attorney general is exploring whether officials there risk committing crimes if they bend to President Trump’s wishes in seeking to block the certification of Joe Biden’s victory in their state, according to two people familiar with the review.
The move by Dana Nessel, a Democrat, reflected a growing sense of unease among many in her party and some Republicans that the president was continuing his unprecedented efforts to reach personally into the state’s electoral process as he seeks to prevent Michigan from formally declaring a winner there.
On Wednesday, two Republican officials in Wayne County sought to rescind their vote to certify the election results in their county, where Detroit is located, after Trump called them Tuesday night.
On Friday afternoon, four leaders of Michigan’s Republican-controlled state legislature met with Trump in the White House at his invitation.
Tensions surrounding the White House encounter seemed to ease somewhat late Friday when there were signs the lawmakers would not side with Trump.
No details of the meeting were available late Friday. But the lawmakers issued a statement saying that they “have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election.”
A spokesperson for Nessel declined to comment for this article.
The attorney general is conferring with election law experts on whether officials may have violated any state laws prohibiting them from engaging in bribery, perjury and conspiracy, according to people familiar with the deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
New York's attorney general has sent a subpoena to the Trump Organization for records related to consulting fees paid to Ivanka Trump as part of a broad civil investigation into the president's business dealings, a law enforcement official said Thursday.
The New York Times, citing anonymous sources, reported that a similar subpoena was sent to President Donald Trump's company by the Manhattan district attorney, which is conducting a parallel criminal probe. Ivanka Trump alleged in a Thursday night tweet that the probe constituted "harassment."
"This 'inquiry' by NYC democrats is 100% motivated by politics, publicity and rage. They know very well that there's nothing here and that there was no tax benefit whatsoever. These politicians are simply ruthless," she claimed.
The Associated Press could not immediately independently confirm the district attorney's subpoena but the one sent by Attorney General Letitia James was described by an official briefed on the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The records requests followed recent reporting in The Times, based partly on two decades' worth of Trump's tax filings, that the president had reduced his company's income tax liability over several years by deducting $26 million in consulting fees as a business expense.
Records strongly suggested, The Times reported, that $747,622 of those fees had been paid to Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, through a company she owned at a time when she was also a Trump Organization executive.
If true, that wouldn't necessarily pose a problem for Ivanka Trump herself, as long as she paid income tax on the consulting payments, which she reported publicly.
It could, however, raise questions about whether the Trump Organization's related tax deductions were allowable. The Internal Revenue Service has, in the past, pursued civil penalties over large consulting fee write-offs it found were made to dodge tax liability.
The Times wrote that there was no indication Ivanka Trump is a target of either the state's or the city's investigation.
The Trump Organization's lawyer, Alan Garten, and its media relations office didn't immediately return messages Thursday.