Dog whistle loud and clear
The phrase “Release the kraken,” a reference to a mythical sea monster, became an improbable rallying cry for lawyers trying to overturn the election for President Donald Trump and who promised blockbuster revelations.
Jenna Ellis tweeted that the kraken had already been unleashed in a bizarre Nov. 19 news conference, which was better remembered for fellow Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s hair-dye meltdown. In the three weeks since, pro-Trump election challenges have been blown out of court after court for want of evidence. The kraken remains a no-show.
So, Giuliani, on a Zoom call Thursday into a hearing with Georgia legislators, went back to a core argument of the Trump election-fraud claims: that the ballot counts in urban areas where Black voters went decisively for President-elect Joe Biden can’t be trusted. Giuliani spiced it up by playing on ugly racial stereotypes.
Referring to surveillance video footage to replay thoroughly debunked claims of fraud in an Atlanta counting room, Giuliani called out by name several Black election workers who he said “look like they’re passing out dope, not just ballots.” He said they were “passing around USB ports like they were vials of heroin or cocaine.” (Watch the video of Giuliani.)
Giuliani, who Trump early in his term named as a cybersecurity adviser, evidently meant USB drives.
The former New York City mayor went on to lament that Georgia authorities had not raided the homes and workplaces of the workers he targeted with those baseless claims. Georgia election officials and staff have faced threats and harassment from extreme Trump supporters.
If Giuliani wants to contend his use of the slurs about narcotics had no racist intent, here’s a long-shot alibi he can try. In early 2019, then-national security adviser John Bolton decried the Giuliani-led effort to get dirt on Biden from Ukraine as a “drug deal.”
Path for a pardon?
If the Supreme Court turns down the Texas lawsuit seeking to strip Biden of the presidency by invalidating votes from four battleground states that voted for the Democrat, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) suspects it could still be a win, though not for Trump.
“From the brief, it looks like a fella begging for a pardon filed a PR stunt rather than a lawsuit,” Sasse told the Washington Examiner, noting “all of its assertions have already been rejected by federal courts and Texas’ own solicitor general isn’t signing on.”
The lawsuit is the handiwork of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who could be a candidate for pardon by a president who likes to reward his allies. The Associated Press reported in November that Paxton is under investigation by the FBI over allegations that he abused his office in an effort to benefit a wealthy donor. FBI agents delivered a subpoena to Paxton’s office Wednesday, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
The Texas politician has been dogged by legal challenges for the better part of his tenure in office. Paxton pleaded not guilty in 2015 to three felony counts related to allegations that he misled investors in his private investment dealings — a case that has languished in state court ever since. Paxton has spent most of his tenure in office maintaining his innocence.
Republicans see safe space beside Trump
A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday finds that 60% of registered voters regard Biden’s win legitimate, including 98% of Democrats, but 70% of Republicans do not. For GOP officeholders siding with Trump, there’s the incentive of safety in those numbers.
A group of 106 Republican House members, more than half of the GOP caucus in the chamber, signed an amicus brief in support of the Texas attorney general’s lawsuit — which is based on false, disproved and unsubstantiated accusations — a day after Trump asked a House ally to round up signatures. Among Long Island’s Republicans, Rep. Lee Zeldin signed on while Rep. Peter King, who is retiring, did not.
There’s less enthusiasm in the GOP-run Senate. “I just don’t know why a state like Texas, which never wants anybody telling them what to do, now wants to tell a bunch of other states how to run their elections,” said Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota.
GOP attorneys general of 17 states also backed the suit. The degree of support for the last-gasp legal challenge in the face of criticism they are trying to subvert democracy shows the expectation that Trump’s political power will outlast his term, The Associated Press wrote. A reply from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose state is one of the four targeted, called the lawsuit a “seditious abuse of the judicial process” that rests on a “surreal alternate reality.”
Some of the attorneys general urging the Supreme Court to hear the case have acknowledged that the effort is a long shot. North Dakota’s Wayne Stenehjem said he doesn’t endorse the allegations of fraud, but “it’s worth it for the Supreme Court to weigh in and settle it once and for all.”
Janison: Old is new again
Biden’s Cabinet picks show that in looking past the bad blood of the Trump years, the next president plans to transfuse some of the old blood of the Barack Obama years, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
Biden reportedly tapped Obama’s former national security adviser Susan Rice to run the White House Domestic Policy Council. Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, once a top aide to Biden in the Senate, was an Obama official. Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick for budget director, was a political operative for former Obama Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It’s no youth movement, and progressives who backed Biden as the only way to oust Trump are showing irritation here and there. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) told the Financial Times this week: “The progressives aren’t objecting, but they’re also not jumping up and down saying ‘yay.’ “
In the meantime, the dysfunction of the Trump administration is running its course. This week, Moncef Slaoui, chief scientist of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, couldn’t explain Trump’s new executive order to prioritize shipment of the coronavirus vaccine to Americans over other countries.
“We have plans,” Slaoui said. “We feel that we can deliver the vaccines as needed. So I don’t know exactly what this order is about.”
Biden’s Hunter headache
A federal investigation into the finances of Biden’s son Hunter threatens to embolden congressional Republicans, who have already shown little willingness to work with the incoming president or even acknowledge his clear election victory, The Associated Press reports.
It is sure to complicate Senate confirmation hearings for Biden’s yet-to-be-named attorney general, who potentially could have oversight of the investigation into the new president’s son. Republicans, particularly those eyeing presidential runs in 2024 if Trump stands down, are making clear they will press Joe Biden on the issue.
“If there were ever circumstances that created a conflict of interest and called for a special counsel, I think those circumstances are present here,” said Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
There is no perfect outcome for Biden. A protracted criminal investigation of his son that results in an indictment would be a major distraction and then some. But if the Justice Department decides against bringing charges, officials will feel pressure to explain they acted fairly.
COVID: Really good and very awful news
A U.S. government advisory panel on Thursday endorsed wide use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, and if the Food and Drug Administration signs off as expected, the country can launch a mass vaccination campaign against the disease that has killed close to 300,000 Americans.
In a 17-4 vote with one abstention, the government advisers concluded that the vaccine candidate from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech appears safe and effective for emergency use in adults and teenagers 16 and over. While there are a number of remaining unknowns about the shot, in an emergency, “the question is whether you know enough” to press ahead, said a panel member, Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He concluded that the potential benefits outweigh the risks.
But the rollout for Pfizer’s vaccine and others in the pipeline will still take months. In the meantime, the coronavirus numbers are worse than ever: over 3,000 American deaths in a single day.
“We are in the time frame now that probably for the next 60 to 90 days, we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had at 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.
“The reality is the vaccine approval this week’s not going to really impact that, I think, to any degree for the next 60 days,” Redfield said.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday’s reporting staff, written by Bart Jones and Scott Eidler. For a full list of Newsday’s coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is signaling that Republicans are unlikely to accept a $908 billion coronavirus relief package being negotiated by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from House and Senate, dealing a blow to hopes of a pre-Christmas deal, Roll Call reports.
- Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump’s White House coronavirus response coordinator, wants to stick around in some capacity to help the Biden administration boost public acceptance for vaccines. But while she has served under every president since Ronald Reagan, her nonpolitical reputation has been frayed as critics complained she was meek in response to Trump’s misinformation.
- Trump announced that Morocco and Israel agreed Thursday to establish diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by the United States. As part of the package, the U.S. agreed to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, the only Western nation to do so as separatists in that region have been seeking independence from the kingdom.
- The CDC’s Redfield instructed staff to delete an email from a Trump political appointee seeking control over the agency’s scientific reports on the pandemic, a senior agency official told congressional investigators. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) raised concern the episode may be among “deliberate efforts by the Trump administration to conceal and destroy evidence” of political meddling.
- Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ husband, lawyer Doug Emhoff, will teach at Georgetown University’s law school in Washington next semester. First lady-to-be Jill Biden plans to teach English at a northern Virginia community college. Outgoing second lady Karen Pence has been teaching art at a private Christian school in Virginia.
- Lin Wood, a far-right Trump-allied lawyer who has filed suits on his behalf, urged Georgia Republicans to boycott the Senate runoff races next month. He told The New Yorker that “patriots” are “not going back to the polls to vote on a machine owned by China and on paper ballots likely falsified on Chinese paper produced in China.” Vice President Mike Pence went to Georgia on Thursday to urge voter support for GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
- Time magazine named Biden and Harris as its 2020 Person of the Year.