Posts tagged with "The Hill"

A shot in the dark? Drug companies issue rare joint pledge on vaccine safety

September 9, 2020

On September 7, nine pharmaceutical companies issued a rare joint pledge—intended to reassure the American public about the safety and efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines that currently are under development.

The statement from the top drug companies working on COVID-19 vaccines—including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna—comes amid fears that President Donald Trump will continue to place pressure on the industry to speed up the vaccine approval process without proper oversight, and doubts among the public about taking a vaccine, The Hill reports.

The joint pledge states that the companies will not seek Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for their vaccines until a rigorous phase 3 clinical trial shows that it is safe and that it works. 

The companies pledged they would “only submit for approval or emergency use authorization after demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study that is designed and conducted to meet requirements of expert regulatory authorities such as FDA.”

The companies said they would “always make the safety and well-being of vaccinated individuals our top priority.”

Highlighting the fears of political interference, Trump on Monday floated the idea of having a vaccine before Election Day on November 3. “We’re going to have a vaccine very soon. Maybe even before a very special date. You know what date I’m talking about,” he said at a news conference.

Trump has put pressure on the FDA before, saying that the “deep state” at the agency was throwing up roadblocks before the agency issued an emergency authorization for a coronavirus treatment known as convalescent plasma.

According to The Hill, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn also has offered reassurances that his agency will base vaccine decisions only on science and not on politics.

But the statement from the pharmaceutical companies is an illustration of how deep the fears are about politicization of the process and the need for companies to try make their own reassurance about science guiding the process.

An NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll last month found that a significant portion of the public (35%) did not intend to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

Research contact: @thehill

Trump campaign aide paid $20,000 a month by Bannon’s shifty We Build the Wall organization

September 2, 2020

Senior Trump campaign official Jason Miller appears to have been paid about $20,000 a month for work done for We Build the Wall, the supposed nonprofit organization co-founded by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, according to public court filings obtained by Salon.

Bannon was arrested along with three others—and charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors who contributed to the fundraising campaign for the “ private border wall”—the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced on August 20, according to a report by The Hill.

The We Built the Wall nonprofit — now reportedly under investigation in connection with the federal charges against Bannonstarted paying Miller the same month that Bannon’s associates learned they were under federal investigation, court documents and public reports show.

The Trump campaign has not disclosed any payments to Miller since news of his hiring broke in June, Salon notes—nor has the campaign disclosed any salary payments to campaign manager Bill Stepien, according to mandatory federal filings. Publicly available court documents obtained by Salon together with Federal Election Commission (FEC) records suggest that the campaign is paying Miller $35,000 a month, apparently through non-public indirect transactions.

Although prosecutors do not explicitly name Bannon’s nonprofit in the indictment, the document describes “Non-Profit-1” as predating the crowdfunding campaign and being dedicated to promoting “economic nationalism and American sovereignty.” This would appear to describe the Bannon-founded nonprofit called Citizens of the American Republic (COAR), which first filed a tax return in 2017. Its website says the group “seeks to advance the ideals of Economic Nationalism and American Sovereignty.”

Miller co-hosted a podcast with Bannon for COAR, reportedly beginning in October 2019.

In an August 23 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Miller told host Chuck Todd that although he had worked for COAR, he had not been interviewed by government investigators. “I have not, and from public reports it looks like this investigation was going long before the podcast even started, the podcast and the radio show that I co-hosted with Steve,” Miller said.

While the exact timeline of the federal investigation is not a matter of public record, the Florida Agriculture Commissioner reportedly opened a probe into We Build the Wall in May 2019, but had not been contacted by SDNY investigators despite referring elements of the case to the FBI.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have charged Bannon, along with co-defendants Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, with running a multimillion-dollar fraud and money laundering scheme, in which they secretly siphoned millions of dollars in payments from their We Build the Wall crowdfunding campaign through a shell company as well as an unnamed nonprofit.

The group disguised the allegedly unlawful transactions with fake invoices to hide their own personal takes, according to the indictment.

Bannon denies the charges.

Research contact: @Salon

Steve Bannon charged with defrauding donors of ‘We Build the Wall’ campaign

August 21, 2020

Steve Bannon—the architect of the Trump campaign’s 2016 win and #45’s former chief strategist in the White House—has been arrested along with three others and charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors who contributed to a fundraising campaign for a private border wall, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced on August 20, according to a report by The Hill.

Bannon, Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea allegedly defrauded donors to the online crowdfunding campaign known as We Build the Wall, which raised more than $25 million. The four defendants were expected to appear in court Thursday afternoon.

Bannon is just the latest member of the president’s inner circle to face criminal charges:

  • Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about his communications with a Russian diplomat. He has since backed out of a plea agreement, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking to withdraw its case against him.
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is serving more than seven years in prison on an array of bank and tax fraud charges.
  • And Trump commuted the three-year-and-four-months prison sentence of his former adviser Roger Stonein July, just days before Stone was scheduled to report to a federal corrections facility.

In a formal press release from the SDNY, Acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “[Starting in approximately December 2018] …as alleged, the defendants defrauded hundreds of thousands of donors, capitalizing on their interest in funding a border wall to raise millions of dollars, under the false pretense that all of that money would be spent on construction. 

She added, “While repeatedly assuring donors that Brian Kolfage, the founder and public face of We Build the Wall, would not be paid a cent, the defendants secretly schemed to pass hundreds of thousands of dollars to Kolfage, which he used to fund his lavish lifestyle.  We thank the USPIS for their partnership in investigating this case, and we remain dedicated to rooting out and prosecuting fraud wherever we find it.”

According to The Hill’s report, the four men are facing charges including one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

The indictment suggests that federal prosecutors in New York were investigating the organization as early as last October, while Geoffrey Berman was the office’s U.S. attorney. The Trump administration forced Berman out of his position in June in a high-profile spat during which the prosecutor initially refused to resign.

When asked for comment by a pool reporter on Thursday, a White House spokesperson said, “I refer you to DOJ; this is not a White House matter.”

We Build the Wall did not immediately respond to a message from The Hill seeking comment.

Kolfage launched We Build the Wall on GoFundMe in late 2018—quickly raising more than $20 million, before the site threatened to remove his page unless he identified a valid recipient of the funds.

Based on the indictment, Kolfage, Bannon and Badolato then formed a nonprofit called “We Build the Wall, Inc.” to receive the GoFundMe money.

Despite Kolfage’s promises that he wouldn’t be taking a salary, federal prosecutors alleged that the group of defendants schemed to pass along hundreds of thousands of dollars to him to help “fund his lavish lifestyle.”

Kolfage allegedly took a total of $350,000 from the organization, passed through a series of bank accounts, nonprofits and bank accounts between January and October of 2019.

One nonprofit controlled by Bannon received more than a million dollars,  The Hill says—some of which he passed on to Kolfage, while taking a “substantial portion” for personal gain.

In October, prosecutors allege, the defendants realized they might be under criminal investigation, halted their secret payment scheme and amended the organization’s website to note that Kolfage would be paid a salary beginning this January.

Research contact: @thehill

Behind the scenes: How Biden chose Harris

August 13, 2020

When former Vice President Joe Biden began thinking about potential running mates this spring, one of the first people to come to mind, insiders told The Hill this week, was Senator Kamala Harris (D-California). 

Harris, a first-generation American who is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica—and who previously had served as the district attorney for the City and County of San Francisco, as well as the very first female, Black attorney general of her home state—was both an historical and logical choice for VP.

According to The Hill, “She was a friend to [Biden’s] late son Beau Biden, a former top prosecutor for the state of California and the kind of fighter needed in a campaign against President [Donald] Trump. On top of all that, she already had been through the slugfest of a presidential primary campaign, which included several direct confrontations with Biden, himself.

And she is the second Black woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate, where she currently is serving her first term.

Over the weekend, upon making his final decision, Biden finished where he began.

“She was always in the narrative from the beginning,” one source who is close to Biden told The Hill. “And even after that, it was always Kamala and this person and Kamala and that person. She was never ever out of the picture. She was always in the mix.”

Another confidant characterized Biden’s final decision as “classic Joe.”

“He did what he always does,” the source said. “Whenever there’s a discussion about policy or the issues of the day, he would come in with what he thought; but he will and does entertain everyone’s opinions.”

“At certain points, it seems like he may change his mind, but typically he ends up where he starts,” the confidant added.

After pledging to pick a woman as his running mate, Biden brought in various Democrats, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, former national security adviser Susan Rice, and Representatives Karen Bass (California) and Val Demings (Florida).

“I think he wanted to consider every qualified woman out there,” the confidant said. “Whitmer definitely was having a moment with COVID, Keisha Lance Bottoms also caught his attention, Val Demings also looked good for a while there; he liked Elizabeth Warren’s ideas. He basically wanted to try all of that on for size and see how it added up.”

“But I think he felt like [Harris] was not only the best person for the campaign, but the best partner to govern the country,” the confidant added.

Biden talked at length about nominating someone he is close with—a partner that he said would be “simpatico” with him personally and professionally. He also wanted assurance that Harris, who had been adversarial during the debates, would “have his back”—both during the campaign and, if they won, in the White House.

But in the end, it was the emotional tug of his son Beau Biden that may have tipped the scales, The Hill contends. Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46. Biden was devastated by his son’s death and declined to run for president in 2016 as he mourned.

Now, as the presumptive Democratic nominee, Biden cast his selection of Harris in part as a tribute to his late son, remembering how Beau introduced him to her. At the time, Harris was attorney general of California and Beau was attorney general of Delaware.

“[Beau] had enormous respect for her and her work,” Biden said. “I thought a lot about that as I made this decision. There is no one’s opinion I valued more than Beau’s and I’m proud to have Kamala standing with me on this campaign.”

There were, of course, political considerations for Biden as well.

Democrats say it was imperative he choose a woman of color following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd that provoked a national conversation about race.

During the selection process, a group of influential Black women pressed Biden to choose a Black running mate. A source close to the campaign said Biden’s conversations with renowned Democratic advisers Minyon Moore, Donna Brazile, Leah Daughtry and Karen Finney “stuck with the VP” during an important moment in the country’s history.

A white vice presidential pick, many Democrats said, would have risked low turnout among Black voters on Election Day, one of the reasons why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.

 “Had he not picked a person of color, it would have been a slap in the face to the entire community on top of just being a terrible political move,” one Democrat who has raised money for Biden advised The Hill.

Still, those who know Harris well say the senator grew increasingly nervous about her standing in the final weeks of the process, particularly as Bass started to make headlines for receiving key endorsements.

“I think in some respects, she thought, ‘I’m a national figure. I’ve run a national campaign, I’ve been vetted.’ And here she is, a senator from California in a race against a congresswoman from California,” said one Harris ally.

Throughout the process, Harris was also seen as the “safe” pick among those on Biden’s shortlist.

“Internal polling showed she was risk-averse,” said one Biden ally. “She was the least polarizing choice. Of course she has baggage, but who doesn’t?”

Indeed, while Harris has some clear drawbacks—she said she believed women who accused Biden of unwanted touching, has been criticized on the left for prosecuting racial minorities for low-level drug offenses; and embraced single-payer healthcare during the primaries — Biden insiders view those as manageable.

And Biden World seems content with Harris.

“He’s running a campaign of low risk, and she was the best choice,” said one Biden ally. “And the fact of the matter is, she’s the best complement to him of all the contenders. So that’s how she won the race.”

Research contact: @thehill

Swalwell: Barr has taken Michael Cohen’s former job as Trump’s fixer

July 29, 2020

On Monday, July 27—one day before Attorney General Bill Barr was scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary CommitteeRepresentative Eric Swalwell (D-15th District-California), a member of that panel, said that ever since President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen has been sentenced to prison (and then, home confinement), Barr “has taken the job.”

“Unfortunately, Bill Barr already had a job—as Attorney General of the United States, our nation’s top law enforcement official,” Swalwell wrote in a Newsweek op-ed published Monday. “And we must not let him do both jobs at once.”

Tuesday is the first time Barr will appear before the committee—where Democrats seek to press him on the alleged politicization of the Department of Justice (DOJ), The Hill reported.

Swalwell maintained that Cohen’s actions to shield the president from ridicule—as in the hush money payout of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016—are similar to actions Barr has taken in public office.

“It was reprehensible, but Cohen has taken responsibility for his actions and now is paying the price,” Swalwell wrote. “Meanwhile, Barr seems to be carrying out similar order—but deploying weapons more powerful than Cohen could’ve dreamed of: the power and authority of the U.S. Justice Department.”

The congressman listed examples in his op-ed that are likely topics during the House hearing, such as the administration’s decision to commute Roger Stone’s sentence and its dismissal Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who was leading several investigations into Trump’s associates, including his other personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Swalwell said that during the hearing Barr “will be expected to explain in detail why he has put President Trump’s personal and political needs above the interests of the American people and our justice system.

“Unless he can provide us with valid rationales for his actions—beyond the self-serving excuses he has provided publicly so far—we must assume the Attorney General has been reduced to the role of an underworld fixer for Donald Trump, which has terrible implications for the health of our democracy and for Americans’ faith in government,” Swalwell wrote.

Research contact: @thehill

Trump moves to manipulate COVID-19 case data; tells hospitals to bypass CDC and report to HHS

July 16, 2020

The Trump Administration—which has been anything but happy about the rising COVID-19 case numbers nationwide—now is positioning itself to manipulate the data on cases, recoveries, and deaths by having hospitals send it to a third party instead of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Hospitals will begin sending coronavirus-related information directly to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—not the CDC—under new instructions from Trump. The move will take effect on Wednesday, July 15, according to a new guidance and FAQ document for hospitals and clinical labs quietly posted on the HHS website, according to a report by The Hill.

Previously, hospitals reported to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network, which the agency describes as the nation’s most widely used health care-associated infection tracking system. 

In addition to the number of COVID-19 cases, the CDC tracked such vital information as how many hospital ICU beds are open and the number of ventilators available.

According to HHS, the goal is to streamline data collection, which will be used to inform decisions at the federal level such as allocation of supplies, treatments and other resources, The Hill says.

But the move comes amid concerns that the White House has been sidelining the CDC and after Trump administration officials attacked Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

Research contact: @thehill

Judge strikes down Trump Administration rule denying asylum to most migrants at southern border

July 2, 2020

A federal judge has nullified a Trump Administration rule that, since July 2019, has banned most migrants from receiving asylum at America’s southern border with Mexico, The Hill reports.

The rule in question made all applicants at the southern border ineligible for asylum unless they had previously applied from another country or had been the victims of sex trafficking.

Late on Tuesday night, June 30, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly of the District of Columbia ruled that the Trump Administration had failed to follow the procedural law governing how regulations can be implemented—which requires advance notice and a period for the public to comment on the proposal.

“These procedures are not a mere formality,” Kelly, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said in his opinion.

The ruling—one of several that have disappointed the POTUS in recent weeks—will likely have little immediate impact amid the president’s strict border restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic.

Hardy Vieux, an attorney at Human Rights First, one of the plaintiffs in the case, hailed the decision.

“Judge Kelly’s ruling is proof that the administration cannot do an end-run around the law,” Vieux said in a statement. “In the United States of America, we follow the rule of law, even when it benefits asylum-seekers demonized by this administration. We do not follow the rule of one capricious man, who treats the law as something on which to trample, on his way to a photo op.”

The Capital Area Immigrants Rights Coalition, another plaintiff, added that the decision would remove a barrier for those seeking safety from persecution.

“By striking down this rule, Judge Kelly reaffirmed two fundamental principles,” said Claudia Cubas, the group’s litigation director. “The protection of asylum seekers fleeing for safety is intertwined with our national values and that the United States is a country where the rule of law cannot be tossed aside for political whims.”

Still, the decision could be appealed. A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

Research contact: @thehill

Top Democrats say Trump is ‘sitting on nearly $14B’ for COVID-19 testing and tracing

June 23, 2020

After admitting at his Tulsa rally that he had asked staff “to slow down COVID-19 testing” to make it look like America had fewer cases, President Donald Trump on June 22 refused to comment on that revelation—backtracking on his off-the-cuff remark, The Hill reported.

What’s more, on Monday, there was more embarrassing and scandalous news for the Trump Administration—which NBC News noted, “… has been sitting on nearly $14 billion in funding that Congress passed for coronavirus testing and contact tracing, according to Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Patty Murray of Washington.”

The top Democrats said in a June 21 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that the Trump administration has “still failed” to distribute more than $8 billion out of $25 billion appropriated by Congress to expand testing and contact tracing. The letter indicated that Congress passed these funds as part of a coronavirus relief bill in April.05:02

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also hasn’t awarded nearly $4 billion for surveillance and contact tracing at the state and local levels and tribal territories, they said, and little of $2 billion set aside for free testing for uninsured people has been disbursed.

“While it has been months since these funds were first appropriated, the Administration has failed to disburse significant amounts of this funding, leaving communities without the resources they need to address the significant challenges presented by the virus,” they wrote.

Schumer and Murray, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said that the Trump administration will “put our country at grave risk if it tries to declare an early victory” and leaves resources untouched.

“We call on you to immediately disburse the remainder of the $25 billion in funds to ramp up testing and contact tracing capacity, as well as to make sure providers are aware of and able to easily access the $2 billion that Congress appropriated to provide testing for the uninsured,” they said.

For the $8 billion in unused funds for ramping up testing and contact tracing, the senators said that it’s critical that the administration immediately release the funds and focus the money on contact tracing and collecting data on racial and ethnic disparities in connection to COVID-19.

Late Sunday, Trump again suggested that more testing makes the U.S. look bad compared to other countries, NBC News reported..

“Our Coronavirus testing is so much greater (25 million tests) and so much more advanced, that it makes us look like we have more cases, especially proportionally, than other countries. My message on that is very clear!” he tweeted.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Gallup: 66% of Americans still are ‘worried’ about COVID-19 exposure; 29% are ‘very worried’

June 18, 2020

While about one-third of Americans believe, if you can’t see it, you can’t catch it; the rest of us still are relying on face masks and hand sanitizer. In fact, about two-thirds of Americans continue to say they “are  worried” about being exposed to the coronavirus, as multiple states see a new spike in cases, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday reveals, according to a report by The Hill.

Gallup found that 29% of respondents are “very worried” about exposure to the coronavirus, and 66% are either “somewhat” or “very” worried.

The proportion who are concerned about the coronavirus has risen since Gallup began asking the question in February, The Hill notes. That month, 36% of Americans said they were either somewhat or very worried about exposure—a figure that more than doubled in March; and has plateaued at somewhere between 63% and 67% since then.

Specifically, 37% of black respondents and 50% of Hispanics said they were “very” worried, compared to only 25% of white respondents. A number of studies have indicated that COVID-19 is impacting people of color at disproportionate rates across the country. 

And The Hill says, there are also partisan divides over how concerned Americans are, with 85% of Democrats saying they are at least somewhat worried that they or their family will come into contact with the virus, compared with 47% of Republicans and 66% of Independents.

There have been over 2.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide, and nearly 117,000 people have died.

The poll comes as several states across the country are seeing new spikes in coronavirus cases, throwing reopening plans into question. California, Texas, Arizona and Florida are among the states reporting the highest daily increases in case counts. In Texas, health authorities on Tuesday registered the state’s highest number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The Trump Administration has sought to blame the rise in cases on the increasing number of tests, but experts say there has also been a rise in the percentage of tests that are coming back positive.

The Gallup poll surveyed 1,034 adults from May 28 to June 4.

Research contact: @thehill

Senate panel votes to require Pentagon to assign new names to bases dubbed for Confederates

June 12, 2020

The Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee has approved an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that would require the Pentagon to rename bases and other assets that are named after Confederate military leaders, a source confirmed to The Hill.

The move comes as Americans have hit the streets for 16 nights straight to protest the murder in Minnesota of George Floyd on May 25—and to assert that Black Lives Matter.

The amendment, offered by committee member Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), was approved by voice vote on Wednesday, June 10, during the committee’s closed-door markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the source familiar with the situation told The Hill.

The amendment would give the Pentagon three years to remove the Confederate names.

The news, which was first reported by Roll Call, comes after President Donald Trump said he would “not even consider” renaming the Army bases, insisting on his Twitter feed:

It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc. These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.

Just two days before Trump’s tweets, an Army spokesperson said Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Defense Secretary Mark Esper were “open” to renaming the 10 bases that are named after Confederate military officers.

Specifically, the bases, which are in Southern states, are Fort Lee, Fort Hood, Fort Benning, Fort Gordon, Fort Bragg, Fort Polk, Fort Pickett, Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Rucker and Camp Beauregard.

During a briefing Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany also said Trump would veto the NDAA if the massive policy bill mandated changing the names of the bases.

The inclusion of the amendment to force the Pentagon to change the base names, coupled with McEnany’s veto threat, potentially puts the White House on a collision course with Congress over what’s generally considered a must-pass bill. Republicans disinclined to confront the president still have opportunities to strip the amendment if they want, such as when the bill hits the Senate floor as soon as next week.

Research contact: @thehill