Thursday, June 3, 2021

Last Call For Meathead Matt's #MeToo Moment, Con't

Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz is already facing a federal investigation into sexual abuse of a minor, now the other shoe has fallen as Gaetz is now reportedly under investigation for obstruction of the investigation itself through witness tampering.
Federal prosecutors are examining whether Rep. Matt Gaetz obstructed justice during a phone call he had with a witness in the sex-crimes investigation of the Florida congressman, according to two sources familiar with the case.

The witness in question was one of a handful of women who entered Gaetz’s orbit via his one-time “wingman,” former Seminole County, Fla., tax collector Joel Greenberg, who pleaded guilty last month to a host of crimes, including sex-trafficking a 17-year-old in 2017.

The obstruction inquiry stems from a phone call the witness had with Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend. At some point during the conversation, the ex-girlfriend patched Gaetz into the call, sources said. While it’s unknown exactly what was said, the discussion on that call is central to whether prosecutors can charge Gaetz with obstructing justice, which makes it illegal to suggest that a witness in a criminal case lie or give misleading testimony.

The witness later spoke with prosecutors, the sources said.

Gaetz has denied all wrongdoing, including obstructing justice or having sex with the trafficked 17-year-old, who was a friend of both Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend and the witness prosecutors interviewed.

The obstruction probe is the latest development in the ongoing federal investigation into Gaetz, a top ally of former President Donald Trump who has come under increasing scrutiny due to his relationship with Greenberg — now a cooperating witness. The obstruction inquiry signals how wide a net federal prosecutors are casting to possibly ensnare the congressman.

A spokesman for Gaetz provided a written statement that stated the congressman — who is an attorney — broke no laws and characterized the federal government’s investigation as a politically motivated fishing expedition.

“Congressman Gaetz pursues justice, he doesn’t obstruct it,” the statement said. “The anonymous allegations have thus far amounted to lies, wrapped in leaks, rooted in an extortion plot by a former DOJ official. After two months, there is still not a single on-record accusation of misconduct, and now the 'story' is changing yet again.”

Gaetz’s statement also said his lawyers are simultaneously investigating an alleged shakedown scheme that was purportedly organized by a former federal prosecutor in reaction to the case.

Brian Tannebaum, a veteran federal defense attorney briefed by POLITICO on the investigation, said that obstruction of justice is “widely used by prosecutors in various forms” and can even ensnare witnesses who lie on the stand at trial. He said that, if authorities recorded the call involving Gaetz, prosecutors will listen for signs that he’s trying to get the woman to “get her story straight” by shading the truth.

“If there’s any indication he was trying to influence her testimony, that can be obstruction,” Tannebaum said. “If it’s determined that what he said obstructed the investigation — ‘did what he tell you have any influence on your testimony before the grand jury?’ — it can be real problem.”
Gaetz had better hope his lawyers are better at actual criminal law then they are press statements, because the guy is facing multiple witnesses cooperating with the feds, and odds are an indictment is coming soon. And this time, there's no Trump to save him.

Finally Some Good News On COVID

With the majority of US adults now being vaccinated and the weekly number of new COVID-19 cases having dropped into the thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands, America has finally turned the corner on the virus, thanks to the vaccine rollout by the Biden administration.

The U.S. has brought new coronavirus infections down to the lowest level since March 2020, when the pandemic began.

The big picture: Nearly every week for the past 56 weeks, Axios has tracked the change — more often than not, the increase — in new COVID-19 infections. Those case counts are now so low, the virus is so well contained, that this will be our final weekly map.

By the numbers: The U.S. averaged roughly 16,500 new cases per day over the past week, a 30% improvement over the week before. New cases declined in 43 states and held steady in the other seven. The official case counts haven’t been this low since Americans went into lockdown in March last year — when the pandemic was still new, no one knew how long this would go on, and inadequate testing meant that cases were undercounted.

Overall, roughly 33 million Americans — about 10% of the population — have tested positive for COVID-19. About 595,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S., making it deadlier for Americans than the past 80 years of wars and other armed military conflicts combined, including World War II.

The U.S. largely failed to contain the virus until the vaccines arrived. Cities and businesses began shutting down last March. From there, the virus rolled into a second wave last summer, when cases climbed to over 65,000 per day, on average, and hospitals in many parts of the country said they were overwhelmed. That failure was then eclipsed in the winter, when hundreds of thousands of people per day were contracting the virus and deaths climbed over 3,000 per day for about a month.

But now, the virus really is under control, nationwide and in every state, thanks almost entirely to the vaccines. Just over half of American adults are now fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
But that still leaves 100 million US adults unvaccinated and at risk, and the globe is suffering from another major outbreak of the disease as vaccine rollouts have not gone anywhere nearly as smoothly as in the US.
We've turned the corner, but the road out of the woods is still long and dangerous.

The Great Debate Debate, Con't

GOP chair Ronna Romney McDaniel is already laying down the rules of any 2024 presidential debates, instead of just working the refs like Republicans do, McDaniel is all but demanding they be replaced by Trump campaign officials.

Writing to the CPD “on behalf of the Republican Party and 74 million Americans who voted for” Trump, McDaniel warned the nonpartisan organization that the “RNC will have no choice but to advise its future nominees against participating in CPD-hosted debates” unless the commission enact certain changes “to restore the faith and legitimacy it has lost” through “repeated missteps” during last year’s race. Such missteps, according to McDaniel, include a “surprising and awkward” reflection problem that the CPD almost caused by erecting acrylic glass shields, an “amateur” and “unforced error” that “nearly derailed the debate itself” but that Trump, “thanks to his background in television,” was able to prevent.

McDaniel’s gripes, which Axios notes are largely an extension of perceived slights Trump voiced last year, included the CPD’s selected moderators, adoption of a virtual format for the would-be second debate in light of Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis (an event eventually scrapped due to Trump’s refusal to attend), and decision to mute candidates’ microphones during the final debate following an interruption-filled premiere. She specifically took issue with the selection of C-SPAN’s Steve Scully as a 2020 moderator because the veteran Washington journalist interned in Joe Biden's Senate office for about six weeks in 1978.

Before the first face-off last September, Tom Kludt reported for Vanity Fair on concerns about Trump’s willingness to cooperate with the CPD, how the commission was contending with the pandemic, and what one could expect from an incumbent who in 2016 baselessly accused his opponent of “trying to rig the debates.” The Trump campaign proposed mainstream news anchors as moderators, such as ABC News’s David Muir and CBS News’s Norah O’Donnell, as well as pro-Trump voices like Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo and conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Now McDaniel appears to be working the refs ahead of 2024, putting pressure on the CPD to make concessions in the interest of her party—and perhaps Trump, himself, if he’s again the nominee. Her request for changes, which she has asked the CPD to respond to by July 31, include holding at least one debate before early voting begins, barring members from publicly commenting on candidates and punishing them if they do, and restricting who is eligible to be a moderator. McDaniel also suggested the CPD impose term limits on its ten-member Board of Directors, six of which “have gone on record making disparaging comments about President Trump while serving,” she wrote, claiming the forum’s “tolerance of this behavior undermines any legitimacy it claims as a nonpartisan organization,” despite the fact that half the Trump-critical members she listed are also Republicans. Yet the GOP represented on the CPD’s board—establishment types Trump would likely dub “RINOs”—no longer represents today’s GOP, as evidenced by McDaniel’s complaints and demands
Of course there's a 100% chance the commission folds and gives in to the GOP's demands here, which will make it all the more fun when the GOP makes more demands in another few months or so. By the time the actually 2024 debates are supposed to begin, they'll either be moderated by Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon or Sebastian Gorka.
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