March 8, 2021
On Friday, March5, former President Donald Trump, as well as his eldest son and a couple of his allies were hit with a suit brought by Representative Eric Swalwell (D-California) over their roles in the run-up to the January 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, The Hill reports.
The 65-page complaint—filed in federal court in Washington, D.C.—accuses Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., Representative Mo Brooks (R-Alabama),and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani of inciting the riot and violating a number of federal and D.C. laws.
According to The Hill, each defendant was among the speakers at a pro-Trump rally that immediately preceded the deadly Capitol breach. The lawsuit depicts the incendiary rally speeches as a tipping point that culminated a months-long disinformation campaign to push the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump.
“The horrific events of January 6 were a direct and foreseeable consequence of the Defendants’ unlawful actions,” the complaint states. “As such, the Defendants are responsible for the injury and destruction that followed.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified money damages and asks for a court order requiring Trump and his allies to provide at least a week’s notice before holding any future rally in D.C. related to an election.
Among the allegations contained in the nine-count complaint is that defendants conspired to prevent lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence from certifying President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’s election win, in violation of a federal civil rights law.
Attempts by the Hill to reach Trump, Brooks and Giuliani for comment were not successful.
The lawsuit is the latest instance of potential legal exposure for the former president. Trump also faces a criminal probe in Georgia for pressuring officials to overturn President Joe Biden’s electoral win; and is under investigation in New York for possible financial crimes and civil violations related to his businesses.
The Biden Administration’s Justice Department also faces pressure from progressives and Trump critics to pursue criminal charges against the former president.
Swalwell’s lawsuit comes less than a month after Trump was acquitted in a Senate impeachment trial over his role in the Jan. 6 attack. Swalwell, a former county prosecutor in California, served as one of the House impeachment managers in the Senate trial.
Research contact: @thehill
March 5, 2021
“I think it’s a big mistake. I hope everyone has realized right now these masks make a difference,” Biden said of the decision to lift mask mandates and other COVID mitigation measures. “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we are able to get vaccines in people’s arms.”
According to a report by Politico, the president’s remark came after both Texas and Mississippi issued executive orders on Tuesday—flying in the face of health officials who have urged continued COVID restrictions. Biden has signed an executive order requiring mask-wearing on federal property but has little authority to overrule governors and other state and local officials.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R) laid into Biden after his remarks on Wednesday. “President Biden said allowing Mississippians to decide how to protect themselves is ‘neanderthal thinking.’ Mississippians don’t need handlers,” Reeves wrote in a tweet. “As numbers drop, they can assess their choices and listen to experts. I guess I just think we should trust Americans, not insult them.”
Later in the evening, the governor criticized Biden as being out of touch with people who live outside the Beltway.
“Today I feel the same way as I did the day that Hillary Clinton called all of us in Middle America ‘deplorables,’” he said on Fox News, referencing a comment the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee had made about supporters of Donald Trump. “When President Biden said that we were all Neanderthals, it struck me as someone who needs to get outside of Washington, D.C., and actually travel to Middle America.”
In a statement to Politico, Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said Abbott was “clear in telling Texans that COVID hasn’t ended, and that all Texans should follow medical advice and safe practices to continue containing COVID.”
“The fact is, Texas now has the tools and knowledge to combat COVID while also allowing Texans and small businesses to make their own decisions,” Eze said. “It is clear from the recoveries, the vaccinations, the reduced hospitalizations, and the safe practices that Texans are using, that state mandates are no longer needed. We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans.”
On Wednesday evening, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top health adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called these actions “ill advised.“ Although coronavirus numbers have declined since January highs, they have seemingly plateaued at levels that have concerned health officials.
“It‘s just inexplicable why you would want to pull back now,“ Fauci said on CNN. “I understand the need to want to get back to normality, but you‘re only going to set yourself back if you just completely push aside the public health guidelines, particularly when we‘re dealing with anywhere from 55,000 to 75,000 infections per day in the United States. That‘s a very, very high baseline.“
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki earlier on Wednesday called on Americans to continue wearing masks and practice other pandemic mitigation measures even as governors in some states lift COVID restrictions, Politico notes.
“This entire country has paid the price for political leaders who ignored the science when it comes to the pandemic,” Psaki said. “People are starting to feel a little bit better in some cases. You go to the grocery store and there’s Clorox wipes available. A year into this, that feels better, but there’s still more that needs to be done. We need to remain vigilant.”
“We’re not asking people just to listen to the president,” she also said. “Of course, we recommend that, but we ask people to listen to health experts, medical experts, the CDC, to Dr. Fauci, to others who are basing their recommendations on how to save people’s lives.”
Research contact: @politico
March 4, 2021
QAnon followers believe that former President Donald Trump will return to power on Thursday, March 4—and U.S. Capitol Police officials said Wednesday that they have “obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on [on that date],” ABC News reports.
“We have already made significant security upgrades to include establishing a physical structure and increasing manpower to ensure the protection of Congress, the public and our police officers, the statement said, adding, “Our Department is working with our local, state, and federal partners to stop any threats to the Capitol. We are taking the intelligence seriously. Due to the sensitive nature of this information, we cannot provide additional details at this time.”
The statement issued Wednesday morning follows another Tuesday night in which officials said they had beefed up security, ABC News notes.
“The Department is aware of concerning information and intelligence pertaining to March 4th and continues to work with all of our law enforcement partners,” the federal law enforcement agency said in that statement. “Based on the intelligence that we have, the Department has taken immediate steps to enhance our security posture and staffing for a number of days, to include March 4th. The Department has communicated our enhanced posture as well as the available intelligence for the entire workforce.”
The threats appear to stem from QAnon, the umbrella term for a set of disproven and discredited internet conspiracy theories that allege the world is run by a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping cannibalistic pedophiles. Followers of the fringe movement believe that the 2020 U.S. presidential election was stolen from Trump, who has pushed baseless claims of voter fraud along with his allies.
QAnon followers also believed that Trump would not actually leave office on Inauguration Day—but rather would declare martial law, announce mass arrests of Democrats, and stop Joe Biden from becoming president. When that didn’t happen, the date was moved from January 20 to March 4—the original inauguration day for all U.S. presidents prior to 1933.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation first labeled QAnon and its fluid online community of supporters as a “dangerous extremist group” in August 2019. A number of individuals believed to be QAnon followers have been charged for their alleged involvement in the deadly insurrection on January 6, when pro-Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.
On Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis issued a confidential assessment to law enforcement agencies, which was obtained by ABC News, saying that the threat of domestic violent extremism in 2020—largely driven by “violent anti-government or anti-authority narratives, periods of prolonged civil unrest and conspiracy theories”—is a trend that will likely continue in 2021 and “could escalate to include targeting of critical infrastructure.”
Research contact: @abcnews
March 3, 2021
Families separated at the border during former President Donald Trump’s time in office will be allowed to reunite and settle in the United States, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced on March 1.
He added, “We hope to be in a position to give them the [option] and, if, in fact, they seek to reunite here in the U.S., we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States—and to address the family needs, so we are acting as restoratively as possible.”
According to Politico, This represents “a significant step for the Biden Administration; as it seeks to undo the damage done by Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy, which allowed U.S. officials to forcibly separate children from their parents at the border.”
So far, the task force has made headway in reuniting those families. Mayorkas said approximately 105 families have been recently reunited.
ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero was quick to welcome Mayorkas’ announcement, but cautioned that “the devil is in the details and Secretary Mayorkas has to shed all the caveats and qualifications around his announcement and follow through with everything that’s necessary to right the wrong.”
“These separated families suffered unfathomably because of what our government did, and we owe them restitution. This includes a permanent pathway to citizenship, care, and resources to help them,” Romero said.
The task force involves a coordinated effort between the U.S., governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, as well as various non-governmental organizations, immigration attorneys and community groups. Michelle Brané, formerly with the Women’s Refugee Commission, has been selected to serve as executive director of the task force, Mayorkas said.
“This is not only an all-of-government but an all-of-society effort to do what is right,” Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas also used his turn at the White House briefing to outline why it will take time for the Biden Administration to create a new system for handling migrant arrivals at the border. Currently, the vast majority of migrants arriving at the border are being immediately expelled under a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule.
“We are not saying: ‘Don’t come.’ We are saying: ‘Don’t come now,’ because we will be able to deliver a safe and orderly process as quickly as possible,” Mayorkas said, adding that “we are working around the clock seven days a week.”
Research contact: @politico
March 2, 2021
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said on February 26 that he would draft a “Plan B” to boost the federal minimum wage through the tax code since language intended to do the same that was included in a pandemic relief package has been given a thumbs-down by the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian.
According to a report by Roll Call, the Oregon Democrat issued a statement saying his proposal would impose a 5% penalty on the payroll of “big corporations” if any of their workers “earn less than a certain amount.” The penalty would increase over time and also apply in cases where companies replace those workers with contractors, he said.
For small businesses, Wyden said he would offer an income tax credit equal to 25% of wages—up to $10,000 per employee—if those businesses “pay their workers higher wages.” Details of the proposal were not immediately available.
The move came in response to guidance from the Senate parliamentarian Thursday evening, February 25, that a proposal to raise the hourly federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 by 2025 would violate rules under the budget reconciliation process, which Democrats are using to avoid a Republican filibuster. The so-called Byrd Rule prohibits including measures in a reconciliation bill if their budgetary impact is “merely incidental” to their underlying policy objective.
Wyden said he was offering an alternative plan to raise wages through the tax code in an effort to avoid a procedural objection. “We couldn’t get in the front door or the back door, so we will try to go through the window,” he said in his statement.
President Joe Biden had proposed the minimum wage boost as part of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. But he said earlier this month he did not expect the wage measure to survive in the package under Senate rules.
“While conversations are continuing, I believe this ‘Plan ‘” provides us a path to move forward and get this done through the reconciliation process,” Wyden said. “We can’t continue to have millions of workers—workers who are disproportionately people of color, women and essential workers like fast food workers and home health aides — earning starvation wages.”
According to Roll Call, the Retail Industry Leaders Association—which represents big-box store chains like Best Buy, Target, and Home Depot, quickly denounced Wyden’s proposal as an assault on business.
“Threatening businesses with a whopping payroll tax increase … should be a non-starter for anyone who cares about economic recovery and getting furloughed workers back on private sector payrolls,” said Austen Jensen, the trade group’s SVP for Government Affairs. “This shouldn’t be brought up under a 50-vote scenario or a 60-vote scenario; it’s a terrible idea.”
The House, which passed the aid package on Friday, has included the minimum wage provision despite the adverse ruling from the Senate’s parliamentarian. However, RollCall points out, the wage measure will have to be stripped out when the bill reaches the Senate unless Democrats decide to overrule the parliamentarian. The White House issued a statement Thursday night saying Biden would respect the parliamentarian’s guidance.
Research contact: @rollcall
March 1, 2021
The cost of repairing damages caused by rioters during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol—paired with investments to harden security there right afterward—already has spiraled to a number in excess of $30 million and will keep rising, Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton told lawmakers last week, NPR reports.
The events of January 6, he said, were “difficult for the American people and extremely hard for all of us on campus to witness.”
Blanton said that, to date, congressional appropriations committees have approved a transfer request of $30 million to pay for expenses and extend a temporary perimeter fencing contract through March 31.
But more money will be needed, he added: “History teaches us that project costs for replacements and repairs beyond in-kind improvements across campus will be considerable and beyond the scope of the current budgetary environment.”
In his prepared testimony, Blanton described how his employees tried to minimize the threat to the Capitol and lawmakers on January 6, when thousands of former President Donald Trump’s supporters breached security perimeters at the Capitol grounds.
“[Architect of the Capitol] employees sheltered congressional staff in their shops to protect them from the roving mob,” Blanton said, adding, “Other members of our team raced to the roof to reverse the airflows within the building to help clear the air of chemical irritants, like bear repellents and pepper spray, while more team members rushed bottles of water and eyewash stations to Capitol Police officers in need of assistance.”
When the mob thronged the Capitol, the Architect of the Capitol’s painters and artisans were laboring to complete the massive task of readying the campus to host a presidential inauguration. “Over the course of a couple of hours, the hard work of our team was destroyed,” Blanton said.
“The [inauguration] platform was wrecked. There was broken glass and other debris. Sound systems and photography equipment was damaged beyond repair or stolen. Two historic Olmsted lanterns were ripped from the ground, and the wet blue paint was tracked all over the historic stone balustrades and Capitol building hallways.”
In the Capitol building complex, historical statues, murals and furniture were damaged, mainly from pepper spray accretions and residue from chemical irritants and fire extinguishers, requiring expert cleaning and conservation. Work crews covered gaping holes with plywood and cleared “a small mountain of debris left behind on the west and east fronts,” Blanton said.
Blanton also said many lawmakers have asked his office about preserving mementos from the unprecedented violence wrought by U.S. citizens on their own Capitol. While most damaged items had to be removed because of safety concerns, he said his staff preserved the panels of the historical Columbus Doors on the east front “for a potential presentation or display.”
According to NPR, Blanton also addressed the security failures that contributed to the U.S. Capitol being occupied by an angry mob that sought to block the certification of then-President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.
“The events of January 6 were stark reminders that institutional biases, priorities and actions taken out of sync with actionable data resulted in poor decisions,” he said. “If we do not learn from these mistakes, the campus will continue to remain vulnerable to unknown and unexpected threats.”
Blanton also asked the committee for help in securing additional funds for a campuswide security assessment to prevent similar events in the future and to protect the Capitol and the people who work there.
Research contact: @NPR
February 26, 2021
Former President Donald Trump has been forced to put his money where his mouth is. After years of braggadocio about his billions, his real estate deals, and his penchant for “winning,” the “former guy” now has handed over years of tax and business records to the Manhattan district attorney, CNN reports.
Prosecutors obtained the records—which Trump tried to keep secret for years—on Monday, just hours after the US Supreme Court denied Trump’s last-ditch effort to keep the records private, a spokesperson for District Attorney Cy Vance told the cable news network.
The millions of pages of documents, sources say, contain Trump’s tax returns spanning from January 2011 to August 2019; as well as financial statements, engagement agreements, documents relating to the preparation and review of tax returns, and work papers and communications related to the tax returns.
Although the documents handed off from Trump’s long-time accounting firm Mazar’s won’t be released to the public because they’re subject to grand jury secrecy rules, their delivery caps off an extraordinary 17-month quest by the former President and his lawyers to block investigators from obtaining the records.
New York District Attorney Cy Vance is investigating whether Trump and the Trump Organization engaged in tax fraud, insurance fraud and other schemes to defraud, including potentially providing false information to financial institutions or banks about the value of certain buildings and assets.
With the records now in hand, Vance and his fellow prosecutors will be able to dig deeper into investigative theories, pursue interviews with key witnesses, and determine whether they believe any state laws have been violated CNN notes.
In addition to the records from Mazars, Vance’s office has been seeking a slew of other documents. They subpoenaed records and interviewed employees at Deutsche Bank, one of Trump’s creditors, about loans given to him, and insurance broker Aon, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation. Deutsche Bank has loaned Trump more than $300 million.
Prosecutors have also subpoenaed Ladder Capital, which has loaned the Trump Organization over $100 million, and the Trump Organization for records relating to fees paid to consultants, including Ivanka Trump, these people said.
Mazars’ spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Research contact: @CNN
February 25, 2021
He gave him the cold shoulder in 2016, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said Tuesday that he would back the nomination of Merrick Garland to be the next U.S. attorney general, the HuffPost reports.
Politico asked the Kentucky Republican if he supported Garland’s nomination, even after he refused to allow a hearing on his nomination to the Supreme Court five years ago.
“I do,” McConnell told the publication. He declined to elaborate.
President Joe Biden tapped Garland—a former federal prosecutor who led the investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing—to be his attorney general shortly after his inauguration last month. He has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1997.
McConnell refused to consider Garland’s nomination by then-President Barack Obama in 2016 following the February 13 death of Justice Antonin Scalia—arguing that a vacancy in an election year should be decided by the American people. Donald Trump won that election and nominated Justice Neil Gorsuch to the bench in 2017.
When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last year—just months before the election that saw Biden elevated to the presidency, the HuffPost notes—Republicans quickly moved to fill her seat with Amy Coney Barrett before Election Day.
At his confirmation hearing this week, Garland vowed to restore independence to the Justice Department and tackle growing domestic issues. He said the ongoing investigation into the deadly riot at the Capitol will be a priority, as will the growth of domestic extremism.
“I do not plan to be interfered with by anyone,” Garland told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. He added that the “attorney general represents the public interest,” a subtle jab at his predecessors who have been criticized for politicizing the role.
Other top Republicans have already announced their support for Garland, including Senators. Lindsey Graham (South Carolina) and Thom Tillis (North Carolina). McConnell’s backing could lead to other GOPers voting in favor of Garland’s nomination.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on his nomination on March 1, and his final confirmation vote in the full chamber could take place sometime in the next week.
Research contact: @HuffPost
Febraury 24, 2021
Although President Joe Biden wants to vaccinate teachers in order to speed school reopenings, more than half the states are not making either of those actions a priority—highlighting the limited powers of the federal government, even during a devastating pandemic.
“I can’t set nationally who gets in line, when, and first—that’s a decision the states make,” Biden said while touring a Pfizer plant in Michigan on Friday, February 19, reports NBC News. “I can recommend.”
Under the U.S. Constitution, the powers of the federal government are far-reaching, but not all-encompassing. States historically have retained control over public health and safety—from policing crimes to controlling infectious diseases; including distribution of coronavirus vaccines that Washington helped create.
Now, as the United States leads the world in COVID deaths, criticism of the federalist system that has allowed the states to do as they please is spiking.
“There’s a pretty strong argument that the confusion we’ve created has, in fact, cost human lives,” Donald Kettl, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas told NBC News, adding, “We pay a pretty high price sometimes for letting states go their own way.”
The federal courts—not the federal government—have been able to exert their will over the states on issues from school desegregation to abortion to voting rights. But schools, abortion clinics and elections are still run or regulated by the states.
The federal government has spent the past two centuries trying to come up with creative ways to push its agenda on the states, sometimes by dangling the promise of federal funding as a carrot—and the threat to withhold it as a stick.
For instance, to build the Interstate highway system, the feds promised to foot 90% of the bill if states put up just 10%. The catch was that the roads had to abide by regulations that started small—bridges needed to be tall enough to allow tanks to pass under, to cite one requirement—but quickly grew to encompass the nationally uniform system of roads we take for granted today.
Washington pulled a similar move in 1984, NBC notes, when it forced states to raise the drinking age to 21 if they wanted highway money.
But just as often, the courts have pushed back against what they view as Washington overreach.
“When you boil it down, the delivery of public health interventions resides, really, at the state and local level,” Josh Michaud, associate director for Global Health Policy at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, told the news outlet. “That’s been the model since very early on in our republic.”
So, for example, today, states can institute mask mandates, but many have questioned the constitutionality of Biden’s proposed national mandate. He ended up, instead, issuing mask mandates for federal property and interstate travel, like planes and buses, over which the courts have long ruled that the feds have authority.
“They are actually quite limited in what they can do,” Gordon said. “The federalist separation of national versus local public health authority in the United States has, repeatedly, hamstrung rapid and effective pandemic response.”
The CDC has called for vaccinating all essential workers, including teachers, before moving on to those under 75. But several states have chosen to vaccinate people over 65 and those with pre-existing conditions first.
“We are going to rely on the CDC definition of an essential worker. But that’s a lot of people, including teachers,” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont told the Hartford Courant‘s editorial board. “I’m not sure you move grandma to the back of the line so you can move [teachers] forward.”
Jon Valant, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies education policy, said Biden’s most effective tool to push states to vaccinate teachers might be the bully pulpit.
“What the federal government can do is mostly a combination of guidance, cover and pressure,” he said. “Teachers unions can be a lightning rod, and if you’re prioritizing teachers because the CDC or the federal government says to, it helps to protect you from critiques.”
Research contact: @NBCNews
February 23, 2021
The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a last-ditch bid by former President Donald Trump to keep his financial records—including years of his tax returns—out of the hands of the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., CNBC reports.
The decision—the second time the nation’s highest court has refused to block a grand jury subpoena for those confidential records—was announced in an order with no noted dissents. The news further imperils the ex-president, who is facing investigations in New York and elsewhere.
The legal battle over Trump’s financial records, including personal and business documents dating back to 2011, comes in connection with an investigation by Vance’s office into potential tax violations involving the Trump Organization.
Vance’s probe originally appeared to have been focused on hush money payments made on Trump’s behalf to two women who have said they had affairs with him. Trump has denied their claims. But, CNBC reports, court records and news reports suggest prosecutors are now examining more serious allegations.
A court filing last summer by Vance indicated that the probe could be eyeing possible “insurance and bank fraud by the Trump Organization and its officers.” In another filing, a month later, prosecutor suggested they might be investigating Trump for potential tax crimes.
Vance’s filings appeared to reference Cohen’s testimony. One filing by prosecutors cited a New York Times report Trump engaged in “dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud.”
In a statement, Cohen said: “The Supreme Court has now proclaimed that no one is above the law. Trump will, for the first time, have to take responsibility for his
In a statement posted to Twitter, Vance wrote: “The work continues.”
Research contact: @CNBC