Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain, GOP governor

PHOENIX — Arizona Republicans voted Saturday to censure Cindy McCain and two prominent GOP members who have found themselves crosswise with former President Donald Trump.

The censures of Sen. John McCain’s widow, former Sen. Jeff Flake and Gov. Doug Ducey are merely symbolic. But they show the party’s foot soldiers are focused on enforcing loyalty to Trump, even in the wake of an election that saw Arizona inch away from its staunchly Republican roots.

Party activists also reelected controversial Chairwoman Kelli Ward, who has been one of Trump’s most unflinching supporters and among the most prolific promoters of his baseless allegations of election fraud.

The Arizona GOP’s combative focus has delighted Trump’s staunchest supporters and worried Republican insiders who have watched the party lose ground in the suburbs as the influence of its traditional conservative establishment has faded in favor of Trump. A growing electorate of young Latinos and newcomers bringing their more liberal politics from back home have further hurt the GOP.

“This is a time for choosing for Republicans. Are we going to be the conservative party?” said Kirk Adams, a former state House speaker and chief of staff to Ducey. “Or is this a party … that’s loyal to a single person?”

It’s a question of Republican identity that party officials and activists are facing across the country following Trump’s 2020 loss, and particularly after a mob of his supporters laid siege on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Nowhere is the question more acute than Arizona, where the state GOP’s unflinching loyalty to Trump stands out even in a party that’s been remade everywhere in the image of the former president.

Ward has relentlessly — but unsuccessfully — sued to overturn the election results. The party has used its social media accounts to urge followers to fight and perhaps even to die in support of Trump’s false claims of victory. Two of the state’s four Republican congressmen are accused of playing a role in organizing the Jan. 6 rally that turned violent.

After dominating Arizona politics for decades, Republicans now find themselves on their heels in the state’s highest offices. President Joe Biden narrowly eked out a victory here, becoming just the second Democrat in more than five decades to win the state. Consecutive victories in 2018 and 2020 gave Democrats control of both U.S. Senate seats for the first time in nearly 70 years.

Ward, a physician and former state legislator who lost two Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate, defeated three challengers to win a second term.

In a brief interview, Ward acknowledged “disappointment at the top of the ticket” but said she and many other Republicans still question the results showing victories for Biden and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Judges have rejected eight lawsuits challenging Arizona’s election results.

Ward pointed to GOP successes down the ballot, noting Republicans defied expectations in local races.

Ward said she’s a “Trump Republican” who will “always put America first, who believes in faith, family and freedom.” The way forward for the GOP, she said, is keeping Trump’s 74 million voters engaged.

“Yes, I will be radical about those things because those are the things that keep this country great,” Ward said. “The people who are complaining are the people who actually put us in this spot where we are in Arizona, people who have been mamby pamby, lie down and allow the Democrats to walk all over them.”

The censures target some of Arizona’s most prominent Republicans,

Cindy McCain endorsed Biden and became a powerful surrogate for the Democrat following years of attacks by Trump on her husband. After the vote, she wrote on Twitter that “it is a high honor to be included in a group of Arizonans who have served our state and our nation so well.”

“I’ll wear this as a badge of honor,” she wrote.

Also after the vote, Flake tweeted a photo of him with McCain and Ducey at Biden’s inauguration and wrote: “Good company.”

Flake was one of the few congressional Republicans who was openly critical of Trump for failing to adhere to conservative values. He declined to run for reelection in 2018 and endorsed Biden in last year’s election.

“If condoning the President’s behavior is required to stay in the Party’s good graces, I’m just fine being on the outs,” Flake wrote on Twitter before and after the vote.

Ducey is being targeted for his restrictions on individuals and businesses to contain the spread of COVID-19. While it’s not mentioned in the proposed censure, he had a high-profile break with the president when he signed the certification of Biden’s victory.

“These resolutions are of no consequence whatsoever and the people behind them have lost whatever little

Source: Politico, Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain, GOP governor

One of Trump's final acts will allow former aides to profit from foreign ties

President Donald Trump’s last-minute move to scrap his administration’s own ethics rules will make it easier for his former aides to lobby on behalf of foreign interests — the same line of work behind so many Trump-era scandals.

In the final hours of his presidency, Trump revoked the ethics pledge he’d signed four years earlier, which, among other things, had barred those who’d served in his administration from lobbying for foreign governments and political parties for the rest of their lives.

With those restrictions gone, former Trump administration officials will be free to represent foreign powers — exactly the kind of swamp-like behavior Trump had promised to eradicate in his 2016 campaign.

Michael McKenna, a former lobbyist who worked in Trump’s White House legislative affairs office, said he had no intention of lobbying for foreign governments but thought other former Trump administration officials would jump at the chance.

“I’m pretty confident that a bunch of people would absolutely love to represent Monaco, France, the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Trump’s “lifetime ban” on former officials in his administration representing foreign governments was part of his 2016 campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington. He even criticized President Bill Clinton for revoking his own ethics rules right before leaving office two decades ago, arguing Clinton had “rigged the system on his way out.”

“He is undoing really the only example of policy that was supposed to evidence his commitment to drain the swamp,” said Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, which advocates for tougher ethics rules.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires those who lobby for foreign governments and political parties — along with some other foreign interests — to disclose their work with the Justice Department. Several prominent Trump allies failed to do so, ensnaring them in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and other federal investigations. .

Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chair, was sentenced in 2019 to 7 ½ years in prison for failing to register as a foreign agent, among other crimes.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, admitted to lying to investigators about his role in a lobbying campaign on behalf of Turkish interests, though Flynn wasn’t charged with violating FARA.

And Elliott Broidy, a prominent fundraiser for Trump’s 2016 campaign, pleaded guilty in October to failing to register as a foreign agent even though he knew he should’ve done so.

Trump pardoned all three men before leaving office.

There’s nothing illegal or even unethical about lobbying for foreign governments, but many lobbyists try to avoid representing countries that have tense relationships with Washington or troubled human rights records. Two lobbying firms cut ties with Turkey late last year after Turkey aided Azerbaijan in a controversial conflict with Armenia, and several prominent firms quit lobbying for Saudi Arabia in 2018 after the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

But lobbying for foreign governments is one of the most lucrative niches on K Street, and Trump-connected lobbyists who registered as foreign agents thrived in Washington during his administration, earning millions of dollars lobbying for the governments of countries such as Turkey, Zimbabwe and the Dominican Republic.

Gotham Government Relations & Communications, a New York lobbying firm that once counted Trump as a client, capitalized on the connection after Trump’s 2016 victory, opening a Washington office and signing clients including the Libyan government. Like others on K Street, the firm is now trying to reposition itself for the Biden era.

Earlier this month, the firm sent a memo to several foreign governments and other potential clients highlighting its ties to a different New York politician: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Our Washington D.C. office stands ready to advocate for you with the Senate Majority office of the Honorable Charles Schumer!” the memo reads.

Trump’s ethics rules never barred former administration officials from lobbying entirely. Those who left the administration were allowed to lobby Congress, and loopholes also let them lobby the administration in some cases. At least 84 former Trump administration officials registered as lobbyists while he was in office, according to a POLITICO analysis of disclosure filings.

But the rules did include significant limitations, prohibiting former Trump administration officials from lobbying the agencies in which they served for five years after leaving the government.

Now that Trump has revoked his ethics pledge, they’re mostly free to lobby the executive branch. (Those who’ve left within the past year are still prohibited by law from trying to influence their former agencies.)

Some on K Street have cheered Trump’s decision. “It puts a number of people who were on the sidelines [back] in the game,” said one lobbyist whose firm has hired former Trump administration officials.

But others are skeptical staffers from the previous administration will have much sway.

“I’m not sure the Biden people are going to want to be lobbied by us,” said one former Trump administration official who’s now a lobbyist, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Former Trump administration officials are also now free to lobby Republican lawmakers on behalf of foreign interests — but demand for such work will be softer with Democrats in control of Congress, said Ivan Zapien, who leads Hogan Lovells’ government relations and public affairs practice.

“There’s not many world leaders who are trying to figure out how to deal with Republicans right now,” Zapien said.

Some ethics lawyers said Trump’s lifetime ban on foreign lobbying might have been excessive. (The ethics rules Biden debuted on Wednesday only bar those who serve in his administration from representing foreign governments until Biden leaves office or for two years after they leave government, whichever is later.)

Would the contacts former Trump administration officials made in government still give them a lobbying edge in 20 or 30 years?

“It sounds really good, there’s no doubt about it,” said Tom Spulak, a Washington lawyer who’s advised clients on the Foreign Agents Registration Act and has also lobbied for foreign interests himself. “But is it really serving a purpose?”

But Paul Light, a New York University professor who has criticized lengthy lobbying bans in the past, said he couldn’t support Trump’s last-minute repeal after all the ethics scandals during his administration.

“I don’t think Donald Trump is the right person to undo any ethics rule,” he said.

Source: Politico, One of Trump’s final acts will allow former aides to profit from foreign ties

The political roots of Amanda Gorman’s genius

At the end of a political era defined by half-truths, insults and capped by a failed insurrection, poet Amanda Gorman used her words to heal.

Her inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb” was a poignant recognition of the pain of America’s past — particularly its most immediate past — and the promise of its future. Wearing a bright-yellow coat and standing in front of a Capitol that just two weeks prior was overrun by enraged and radicalized Trump supporters, she offered hope, self-criticism and self-forgiveness to a country:

“And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.

“Somehow, we do it.

“Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed

“A nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.”

It captured the national mood, earning her instant respect and worldwide fame. But Gorman’s poetry, and its activist leanings, don’t spring out of a vacuum. Instead, she’s part of a continuum of writers, particularly performance poets of color, who’ve used poetry to inspire political action, relying on their art and their platforms to call attention to the issues of the day.

“Politics is the official business of trying to live together. And that is a very rich subject for poetry,” said Elizabeth Alexander, a former inaugural poet and president of the Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest supporter of arts and humanities. “Poems envision what is ahead. Poems shed light so that we can see forward.”

Prior inaugural poets have issued similar calls for unity — but never at such a fraught time in American politics. When Maya Angelou read her poem, “On the Pulse of the Morning,” at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, she spoke of America’s colonial history and its disparate impact on Native Americans and African Americans, but urged other ethnic, religious and social groups to “put down roots … by the river,” and work together as one nation.

Activism has always been an integral part of Gorman’s life. In interviews, she’s talked about how her mother raised her and her siblings through a social justice lens. At her predominantly white, private high school, Gorman and her twin sister staged a revolt to protest the lack of diversity in their English class syllabus. As a teen, she was a U.N. delegate, and founded a nonprofit, One Pen, One Page, a platform for “for student storytellers to change the world.

Writing poetry, she told the Harvard Crimson, is an inherently activist act. “The personal is political,” the Harvard graduate said. The fact that you have the luxury as a white male to write all your poems about being lost in the woods, that you don’t have to interrogate race and gender, is a political statement in and of itself.”

Gorman, the youngest poet laureate at 22, is part of a long line of performance poets of color who’ve wielded verse as a weapon in their activism: Gwendolyn Brooks. Nikki Giovanni. Amiri Baraka. Miguel Piñero. Alurista. Miguel Algarín, co-founder of New York’s Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Gil Scott-Heron married politics with poetry, setting everything to a humming beat. His contemporaries, The Last Poets, sprang out of the Black Arts and Black Power movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s, using drums to punctuate fiery, power-to-the-people poems. Along with Scott-Heron, they’re credited as the godfathers of rap. And today, Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar, who incorporates spoken word in his music, is a muse for the Movement for Black Lives.

On Wednesday, Gorman carried that legacy with her. Standing at the podium in her red headband and caged bird ring, Gorman recited lines about the Jan. 6 insurrection that took place on the same steps where she spoke. It was a moment, she said in interviews, that shifted the focus of her poem and inspired her to deliver a message of unity while underlining the clear divisions in the country.

“We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation, rather than share it. Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy,” she recited, referring to the Capitol riots. “And this effort nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.”

Her words reverberated across the inaugural stage and the nation and millions of people seized on her call for unity in a medium free of partisanship or lofty political rhetoric. Praise poured in: Morgan State University offered her a poet-in-residence position. Hillary Clinton endorsed her presidential aspirations. Both of Gorman’s upcoming books, which aren’t due to be released until September, are Amazon’s top selling, sitting at the site’s #1 and #2 slots.

More, the stakes and pressure of her writing a poem for the moment weren’t lost on other poets, including those more seasoned than Gorman. Jericho Brown, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and professor at Emory University, where he also serves as director of its creative writing program, said he and Gorman read at an event a few years ago. Seeing her recite at a younger age, Brown said, he knew her poetry career would flourish. The seamless infusion of politics into her poetry, he said, was both powerful — and par for the course.

“For me, politics is so important that it’s not important,” he said. “I think of politics to my poetry the same way I think of breath to my body. When I’m breathing, I don’t think about it. I do it because it needs to be done.”

Danez Smith, a Black, queer writer, performer and National Book Award finalist, agreed.

“I’m of the school that thinks kinda everything is political if you look at it from the right angle,” they said. “I think about my art in a political sense but also that a lot of what I write responds back to the world, both in my own life and a broader sense.”

The widespread popularity of Gorman’s poetry, as evidenced by the millions of Twitter followers and book pre-orders she’s received, is also a reflection of its influence on mainstream conversation. Andrew Anabi, founder of Pool House, a New York-based poetry collective that posts inspirational poems on its website and social media, said Gorman’s words are emblematic of the role poetry can play in a time of widespread isolation. Poetry has so much value especially now, he explained, because it’s a “direct way to talk about difficult conversations.”

“In a world that is so fast paced, [poetry] can really stop you in your tracks,” Anabi said. “That can get people to pay attention.”

Source: Politico, The political roots of Amanda Gorman’s genius

Will There Be a Trump Presidential Library? Don’t Count On It.

For months, as the end of Donald Trump’s term approached, historians and journalists have been playing a speculation game: What will Donald Trump’s presidential library be like?

“A shrine to his ego,” predicted a historian in the Washington Post. Others imagine a theme park, or a “full MAGA” exercise in rebranding his presidency. One report said he’s trying to raise an astonishing $2 billion to build it.

Here’s another, more likely possibility: There won’t be one.

It’s not because he doesn’t read books (presidential libraries aren’t that kind of library), and not because his presidency ended in a shocking insurrection at the U.S. Capitol fanned by Trump himself, resulting in a second impeachment. Other presidents have stepped down in borderline disgrace—Richard Nixon resigned; Herbert Hoover lost in a landslide, blamed for the Great Depression—and still got their libraries.

President Donald Trump in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Sept. 2020.

Trump likely won’t even manage to build a private library, such as the one Nixon finally created for himself. Or the “center” for which Barack Obama has had great difficulty even breaking ground, which will lack a government presence, a research facility, or archives.

Presidential libraries are complicated. And if you understand how they work—and how Trump himself works—it’s nearly impossible to imagine him actually pulling it off. The consequences of this failure, for Trump and his supporters, will go beyond just a building: Without a library, a center or some kind of institute to shore up his reputation, his legacy as a president and his place in history are likely to fall even further out of his control.

The first and most important reason not to expect a Trump Library is that it’s expensive to build one. The government might pay for lifetime Secret Service protection, but it doesn’t front the money for a library: No federal funds may be used to build or equip a presidential library, and no federal property may be used. To get the ball rolling, former presidents must create a nonprofit to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. While they may do so in unlimited sums, with almost no disclosure, from any source, anywhere in the world, it’s a lot easier to do it while in office.

Most presidents with federal libraries began planning—even fundraising—before their terms ended. Franklin D. Roosevelt opened his library about five months into his third term. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan even broke ground before they left office. And Obama, who initially announced he would do no active fundraising while in office, did passively accept millions as early as 2014. It’s that much harder for a one-term president, given the abrupt and often unexpected nature of their early departure from the White House. Needless to say, if Trump—who still hasn’t admitted he lost—has any such effort underway, he hasn’t made it public.

True, Trump is a wheeler-dealer, but the money requirement is stiffer than it appears: If a president wants to build a library that becomes a federal facility, the usual route is for him to donate all or part of it to the government. And in that case, the law mandates an additional operations and maintenance endowment to the National Archives of 60 percent of the cost of the full project.

Even for presidents who have demonstrated decades of mature perseverance and attention to their top donors, it can be difficult to raise that kind of money. Fundraising gets harder each year a president is out of office. It gets even harder after he dies. It might seem less expensive in the short run to skip donating the library to the government, to avoid that significant endowment. But in the long run, that’s more expensive: The endowment is what legally allows the government to cover future operating costs. Without government funding, personnel and resources, a president’s foundation would need to pay millions of dollars a year to run the facility in perpetuity. When that money ran out, the library would shut down, or at best throw itself at the mercy of Washington. Nixon’s foundation ran his for 16 years before finally giving up, begging the government to welcome the library into the federal fold (it did, in 2007).

Almost all presidents have had trouble with “site selection.” FDR’s mother didn’t want to deed part of the family estate. Harry Truman’s relatives didn’t want him to use the family farm. People in Cambridge, Massachusetts, didn’t want the Kennedy Library bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists to its tiny streets; the foundation got hung up in years of protests and construction delays, finally giving up on John F. Kennedy’s hand-picked site. Nixon resigned before he could finalize his secret scheme to build his library amid 4,000 acres he illegally wrested while president from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.

Top: Former President George W. Bush speaks at the opening of his presidential library in 2013. Bottom left: A display of campaign memorabilia at the library. Bottom right: The bullhorn Bush used wile speaking at Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Where could Trump put his? Sometimes universities help provide homes for local presidents, like the University of Texas, which provided 30 acres on its Austin campus for LBJ. But it’s hard to imagine either of Trump’s colleges, Fordham or Penn, willingly hosting his library. Even less controversial presidents have run into friction with such plans. Duke University rejected Nixon, who got his law degree there. Stanford rejected the Reagan Library. Southern Methodist University faculty and students protested the George W. Bush Library, but the library eventually did open on its University Park campus. While each of these presidents had his controversies, none was as widely reviled by a large and diverse swath of the country.

However opposition forms, it can be hard to persist and overcome, for even the most patient and connected of former presidents. The Obama Center has had its groundbreaking delayed for years by community opposition in Chicago—the city that launched his political career.

Trump also has some challenges that are uniquely his own. As of this writing, we don’t know if he’ll run again in 2024. We don’t know if he’ll launch a competitor to Fox News, OAN and Newsmax. We don’t know if he’ll seek to form a new party, or if his party will seek to break from him (though the latter, currently, seems unlikely). We do know the announcement of a presidential library, center or whatever it may be called, is a sign of the end of a political career. A capstone. In effect, a notice of retirement—at least from office-seeking. And Trump has shown little inclination to step decisively out of the public eye.

Even if he did, Trump would then have to raise, legitimately, and according to the laws of the state in which he creates his foundation, hundreds of millions of dollars to build a traditional presidential library, with a museum, archives and space for public events, his foundation’s offices, and whatever other activities he wishes to attempt within such a limited legal and financial environment.

To say the least, Trump has shown little ability to operate a legitimate nonprofit foundation, never mind build an endowment. He’ll have considerable difficulty doing so in his home state of New York. Under a 2019 court order, after “admitting to personally misusing funds at the Trump Foundation,” Trump agreed to a settlement that—should he succeed in persuading anyone to give him the money at all—puts an extremely short leash on any nonprofit he might launch in that state.

If he does build a library, it’s likely Trump would want the legitimacy and imprimatur of the federal government, as a “seal of approval” for his story, told his way. He might even like to have the National Archives host his exhibits about how “great” he made America (again), and, perhaps, how great was the “theft” of his second term. But to do any of that, the law will require him not only to spend the money on the grounds and building, but to raise hundreds of millions of additional dollars—and give it, almost unthinkably, to the government.

If there’s a model for a rule-breaking outsider like Trump, it might be—ironically—the Obama library. But if anything, Obama’s experience shows just how hard it would be for a character not known for focus or persistence.

Top: Former President Barack Obama points to a drawing of the plans for Chicago’s Obama Presidential Center in 2017. Bottom: Renderings of the complex planned buildings.

Obama is a popular, two-term former president who, until 2020, had won the most votes and raised the most money of any president in history. He left office tied with Dwight Eisenhower for the third-highest approval rating in more than 70 years. Yet Obama decided to skip the traditional presidential library, planning an Obama Center outside the National Archives system of official federal libraries. It will not be a research center, nor house his official records, and will have no role for the federal government. It’s not clear why Obama went this route, though the lack of federal involvement frees him from the endowment requirement, and gives him greater latitude to portray his presidency, and use the facility, however he likes.

After the Obama Foundation announced this break, the National Archives quietly announced it hopes future presidents will follow this new model, perhaps because the agency no longer wishes to be in the propaganda business. (Though the break has added to the storage burden of an agency already running out of space.) Given the Archives’ preference not to receive a donated library, it will be difficult for Donald Trump, and Joe Biden, and those who come after them, to go back to the tradition.

Of course, there’s one other outside possibility: Trump, never one to bow to norms, might forge his own model entirely. He could bypass the fundraising and the legal worries about running a charity and the thorny (and costly) issues with government involvement and not build or even operate a memorial to himself—yet still get one. And such a model would be, in a word, Trumpian.

Trump made his name in real-estate development, but few of the buildings with his name on them are ones he built, or even owns. What he really builds is his brand, licensing his name to others who actually build and operate his towers and hotels. He could, in theory, use the same toolkit for a monument to himself, licensing the Donald Trump name to a for-profit enterprise—maybe a casino, or a golf course, or a ticketed museum with an attached hotel—to operate as a tourist attraction for the MAGAs and the (morbidly) curious.

Given the challenges of the other models, that would likely be the only way he could come close to having the kind of Trumpian shrine most observers have predicted. He could even brand it a “library,” to avoid falling out of the club of former presidents—but that wouldn’t make it one.

While Trump almost certainly won’t have a traditional presidential library, and it’s unlikely he’ll have a private version of one, the pull—especially for someone seeking redemption, or even just acknowledgment—is strong. Nixon made plenty of efforts to rehabilitate his reputation, but it was the building of his library, 16 years after he resigned, that rescued him for history: Two former presidents and three former first ladies enthusiastically helped him and his wife Pat dedicate the private Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. Tens of thousands of supporters attended, and heard George H.W. Bush’s prediction that Nixon would be remembered “for dedicating his life to the greatest cause offered any President—the cause of peace among nations.”

Top: The Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, Calif., in July 2004. Bottom: Current and former presidents and first ladies attend Nixon’s funeral in April 1994. From left–right: President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, former President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan, former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter, and former President Gerald Ford and Betty Ford.

Four years later, 4,000 mourners watched as five living U.S. presidents gathered for the first time, paying Nixon tribute and laying him to rest alongside Pat in the library’s Rose Garden. Bill Clinton famously bade him farewell by exhorting us to judge the man on nothing less than “his entire life and career.”

Could such future ceremonies, and their implicit rehabilitation, be in store for the 45th president?

Not without a presidential library. Which he won’t have.

Source: Politico, Will There Be a Trump Presidential Library? Don’t Count On It.

"I haven't been able to get this moment out of my head"

“It became clear that Scott Pruitt had sought to purchase a used mattress from the Trump hotel. And I thought, ‘This is not what I expected this job would look like.'” At the close of Donald Trump’s presidency, POLITICO’s reporters and editors share their strongest memories of the last four years: Shocking moments they witnessed, conversations they overheard and what will stay with them forever. Plus, new Playbook co-author Tara Palmeri talks to Scott Bland about what she really wants to see in Biden’s first days in office.

Subscribe and rate Nerdcast on Apple Podcasts.

Source: Politico, “I haven’t been able to get this moment out of my head”

Trump forces seek primary revenge on GOP impeachment backers

Former President Donald Trump’s supporters are mobilizing to exact revenge on the 10 House Republicans who supported impeachment last week, thrusting the GOP into a civil war just as party leaders are trying to move on from the Trump era.

Pro-Trump Republicans are racing to launch primary challenges. The former president’s donors are cutting off the Republican incumbents. And Trump’s political lieutenants are plotting how to unseat them.

The unrest shows how Trump is all but certain to cast a shadow over the Republican Party long after he’s left the White House. Trump has split the GOP, pitting his loyalists against those who say he incited the Capitol Hill insurrection and want to expunge him from the party.

Whether the Trump-inspired primary challengers succeed is far from clear. Dislodging an incumbent is notoriously difficult, and Republican leaders are expected to move aggressively to protect their members. But the early activity illustrates the degree to which Trump’s staunch allies are determined to make his critics pay a price.

“The stance taken by Liz was very contentious here in Wyoming,” said Republican Bryan Miller, a retired Air Force officer expected to run against Rep. Liz Cheney, a House GOP leader who vocally supported Trump’s impeachment. “This isn’t going to be a passing thing that just goes away. It’s growing and growing and growing every day across the state. People are unhappy.”

Miller isn’t alone. Cheney has drawn opposition from several other Republicans, including state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who has called Cheney “out of touch” for her criticism of the former president.

Newly elected Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, another impeachment backer, is getting challenged by Afghanistan war veteran Tom Norton, who has appeared on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s podcast to promote his candidacy. Gene Koprowski, a former official at the Heartland Institute think tank, is already running against Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger. In Ohio, former state Rep. Christina Hagan is not ruling out a primary bid against Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.

“I have never seen a greater amount of backlash for any one single vote taken by any one single member of our Republican congressional delegation in Ohio,” said Hagan, who lost a primary to Gonzalez when the seat was open in 2018. “I have heard from Republicans in positions of power, within party leadership and all the way across the spectrum to faithful volunteers and business leaders throughout the region who are expressing serious frustration and distaste.”

Pro-Trump donors are joining the assault. Suzie Burke, a Seattle real estate executive who has contributed to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) in the years before the congresswoman’s impeachment vote, said she would “not be helping people who chose to rush to such placating the other side of the aisle.”

Hossein Khorram, a Washington State-based former Trump finance committee official who gave more than $100,000 to pro-Trump causes during the election, said he was also shutting off the spigot.

“I personally know those Washington State members of Congress who voted to impeach Trump. Our friendship will continue but no more financial support from me. In my view they just retired from Congress,” said Khorram, a real estate developer who has previously given to Rep. Dan Newhouse, another Republican in the state who supported impeachment.

Deep-pocketed outside groups are also engaging. Chris Ekstrom, the chair of the Courageous Conservatives political action committee, said his organization would be focusing on defeating Cheney, Gonzalez, and South Carolina Rep. Tom Rice.

“All of them are vulnerable. Some things stick in politics and I think this outrageous betrayal will,” said Ekstrom. “Examples will be made.”

Ekstrom, a Dallas investor, said he was beginning to reach out to Texas-based Trump donors to raise money for the effort.

People close to Trump say he is particularly fixated on the Republicans who backed impeachment and is determined to take them out. The former president has raised more than $200 million since the election, much of which has been directed into a new committee than could be used to back primary opponents. Trump aides have also been at work creating a political apparatus that can be deployed in the 2022 elections.

Former President Donald Trump waves as he disembarks from his final flight on Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Fla., Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

While Trump is gone from the White House, Republican still face a conundrum: How to mollify his tens of millions of supporters, many of whom remain convinced that the election was stolen and insist that Trump isn’t to blame for the Jan. 6 riot. Party officials concede that they need to keep Trump’s loyalists in the fold and say failure to do so will complicate their political fortunes in 2022 and beyond.

With the Senate impeachment trial looming, attention is shifting to Republican lawmakers in that chamber who must decide whether to vote to convict Trump. Several incumbents face potentially challenging general election contests, and their prospects could be further complicated by primary fights. Trump has already said he wants to oust red-state Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and John Thune (S.D.) for not supporting his drive to subvert the election results.

But some Republicans argue that any political fallout for impeachment supporters will be short-lived. They insist that among GOP voters there’s been widespread revulsion over Trump’s role in the uprising and say that many are in favor of impeachment.

Rice, a five-term South Carolina congressman from the conservative northeastern part of the state, said most of the people he’d heard from had expressed disapproval for his vote. But he said he’d also gotten positive feedback from hundreds of people across the country, including some who offered campaign contributions.

“There are a number of people who have expressed their displeasure obviously and others who are happy with a vote of principle. I didn’t swear an oath to Donald Trump, I didn’t swear an oath to the Republican Party, I swore an oath to defend the Constitution. That’s what I intend to do,” said Rice.

The Trump forces will face high hurdles in defeating any of the pro-impeachment Republicans. Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, raised nearly $3 million during the 2020 election cycle and is certain to have a substantial campaign account in 2022. Cheney is also a well-known commodity in the state: She is the daughter of former vice president and ex-Wyoming congressman Dick Cheney.

The rush to take on Cheney may make it harder to unseat her — a trend that may play out in other districts, too. With multiple candidates in the race, the primary challengers face the prospect of splintering their support and giving the three-term congresswoman an easy path to victory.

Complicating matters further is redistricting, the once-in-a-decade drawing of congressional lines which will determine where House candidates seek election. Hagan said she was waiting for clarity on how Ohio’s map would be reconfigured.

But even at this early stage of the midterm election cycle, the impeachment vote is looming large in the minds of Republicans.

Rice said he did not want to offer advice to senators on how they should vote in Trump’s upcoming trial. But he noted that the Capitol siege had imperiled the lives of lawmakers, including many who had been loyal to the president. The congressman recalled sheltering in a saferoom, not knowing if someone outside had a weapon. All the while, Rice said, Trump was doing nothing to quell the violence.

“If that’s not high crimes and misdemeanors, I don’t know what is,” Rice said. “I don’t know what it would take.”

Source: Politico, Trump forces seek primary revenge on GOP impeachment backers

Cornale tapped for DNC executive director

Sam Cornale is expected to be named executive director of the Democratic National Committee, according to multiple people familiar with the decision.

Cornale, currently the DNC’s deputy CEO, will be tasked with working with expected incoming chair Jaime Harrison to guide the national party through the turbulent 2022 midterms. The first election cycle after a president is elected is frequently brutal for the party that controls the White House.

Cornale previously helped manage the DNC during the 2020 presidential campaign and 2018 midterms.

He also oversaw Tom Perez’s 2017 campaign to chair the DNC, and worked as a deputy chief of staff for him while Perez served as former President Barack Obama’s Labor secretary.

Mary Beth Cahill will step down from her current role as DNC CEO, but stay on as a senior adviser.

“These battle-tested leaders know how to win, build a political operation that is second to none, and I’m excited they will lead the critical work of the DNC,” said Harrison. “Their continued work will help fulfill the mission of the DNC: growing Democrats’ infrastructure in every part of every state, standing up for the principles we believe in, and marshalling the full resources of the Democratic Party in support of the Biden-Harris administration.”

Elevating Cornale is a sign that President Joe Biden looked favorably on the work of the DNC during the presidential election season. Biden’s campaign worked closely with the national party, including daily calls between press shops. Biden is currently fusing his political operation with the DNC and has vowed to invest in the party’s main political apparatus, as well as in state parties.

Biden advisers have said they were satisfied with how the DNC rebuilt itself in the years after 2016, when it was in a weak position after years of neglect.

“President Biden and my friend incoming Chair Harrison are committed to investing in state parties and our grassroots, building a top-notch political infrastructure in every zip code, and making sure our organization reflects the diverse voices of our great Democratic family,” said Cornale. “I look forward to working with Chairman Harrison to build a team reflective of the diversity of our party, and one that will work tirelessly to make these goals a reality and lead Democrats to future success.”

Cornale’s supporters in the DNC said that he will bring continuity to the position after serving alongside Cahill over the last year.

Democrats have kept a close watch on the diversity of Biden’s picks for his Cabinet and other positions, and this job is no different. Some DNC members said they would have preferred a more diverse pick. Cornale is white.

The DNC said in a statement that it “will announce additional senior staff in the weeks ahead — continuing the Committee’s commitment to building a senior leadership team which reflects the Democratic Party and incorporates its top political talent.”

Last week, Biden announced a diverse slate of DNC officers, including Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party leader. The president has also thrown his weight behind a group of high-profile vice chairs: Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and Texas Rep. Filemon Vela Jr.

Biden’s slate is uncontested, according to a DNC source. DNC members have been voting for the positions by electronic ballot since Monday. The DNC will hold its winter meeting Thursday afternoon, when the new officers will be officially elected.

Source: Politico, Cornale tapped for DNC executive director

U.S. intelligence head who warned of foreign election threats steps down

U.S. counterintelligence chief William Evanina stepped down from his position Wednesday, ending a decades-long career in the intelligence community combating leaks and raising the alarm about foreign election interference.

“I am honored and humbled to have been surrounded by amazing, dedicated, and vigilent professionals serving around the nation, and the globe, protecting our great nation. I want to especially thank the women and men of NCSC, and the Intelligence Community, for being the best in the world,” he said in a LinkedIn post announcing his retirement Thursday.

Evanina left his position after six years as director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center and more than two decades at the FBI. Toward the end of his career, in the final year of President Donald Trump’s term, Evanina was charged with overseeing briefings on foreign threats to election security.

It was a politically precarious spot, with Trump and his Republican allies often brushing off Russian election interference and steering attention toward China and Iran. Congressional Democrats in turn expressed discontent with Evanina, portraying him as blanching the Russian election threat in a summary on the issue they said was so vague it was “almost meaningless”.

But Evanina’s decades-long career helped him dodge the partisan frays of the Trump era, and he had been celebrated by colleagues and members of both parties as effective and aggressive. A former senior FBI official who worked closely with Evanina called him the “Dr. Fauci of the counterintelligence community” in a comment to POLITICO last summer.

Evanina was appointed to the top of the NCSC in 2014, where he worked to eradicate and prevent leakers. One of his first projects was handling the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leak of highly classified NSA documents.

Source: Politico, U.S. intelligence head who warned of foreign election threats steps down

Trump-backing California legislator ousted as GOP caucus leader

California Senate Republicans have chosen state Sen. Scott Wilk to lead their caucus, ousting incumbent state Sen. Shannon Grove, according to multiple Capitol sources.

In trading Grove for Wilk, Republicans are opting for a more moderate choice. Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) periodically votes with Democrats, and he has scored rare endorsements from organized labor — the types of connections that could increase his clout in a Capitol dominated by Democrats. He just won back a battleground seat, thanks in part to massive spending by the California Republican Party and interest groups, and he is termed out in 2024.

Dissatisfaction with Grove’s leadership was already mounting after Senate Republicans lost two seats this election even as California Republicans picked up multiple House seats, shriveling the Senate GOP caucus to just nine members. Grove (R-Bakersfield) exacerbated the situation with a tweet blaming the U.S. Capitol riots on antifa.

While Grove deleted and sought to walk back the tweet, sources said it amplified concerns among mainstream Republican allies like business groups that Grove embraces fringe views. She had previously asserted that President Donald Trump won a second term.

Grove’s ouster came on the day President Joe Biden took office, underscoring the larger decisions facing the California Republican Party. She has been a stalwart defender of Trump, but many California Republicans believe the president’s enduring toxicity in California has damaged down-ballot candidates and alienated moderates.

A source within the Republican caucus who requested anonymity cited “the super-tight association with the Trump administration and the not well-timed comments on antifa.”

“That may work in Bakersfield, but it does not work in Sacramento,” the source said. “That firebrand Trumpism has become a significant liability.”

While Grove represented the conservative areas around Bakersfield, the hub of California’s oil industry and an important agricultural center, Wilk’s district mostly encompasses northern Los Angeles exurbs and the high desert that extends east into San Bernardino County.

Source: Politico, Trump-backing California legislator ousted as GOP caucus leader

Trump’s ‘crony pardons’ flabbergast the political world

Donald Trump rode into the White House as a populist. He left with a plutocratic flourish, after an orgy of pardons for politically connected business moguls, real estate barons and disgraced former members of Congress.

There was Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser who provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates and committees. Michael Liberty, a donor from Maine who was convicted of making illegal campaign contributions — and who was once described as “Donald Trump with a Maine accent” — was another beneficiary of Trump’s mercy. So was Drew Brownstein, a former hedge fund manager and son of powerful Colorado lobbyist.

Steve Bannon was the second of Trump’s former campaign chairmen — after Paul Manafort — to be pardoned. Three disgraced former Republican congressmen made the last-minute list as well — in total, the president saw fit to offer clemency to seven convicted former members of Congress in his four-year term.

The annals of presidential pardons have always been fraught with politics, among them Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton’s absolution of Marc Rich. But the long list of Trump’s pardons and commutations — more than 100 in his final 24 hours as president — took the politics surrounding the process to unheard-of levels.

Between the pardons granted earlier in his term and those dispensed on Tuesday night, Trump’s record of clemency will serve for historians as a Who’s Who of Trump’s orbit, beginning with his first impeachment. And it will etch into Trump’s legacy the use of one of the commander-in-chief’s most preeminent powers as a province of the politically subservient, the well-connected and the rich.

“The granting of even more sleazy crony pardons as the clock ran out on his one term,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a nationally recognized elections lawyer who has represented past Republican presidential nominees, “will define the nature of his presidency.”

Even before Tuesday, Trump proved a loyal benefactor to political allies such as Manafort and Trump adviser Roger Stone. Family members were also beneficiaries of his pardon power — most notably, Charles Kushner, father of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. In the hours before leaving office, Trump added to the list Ken Kurson, a confidante of Jared Kushner’s and former New York Observer editor who had been accused of cyberstalking.

In parceling out his mercy, Trump appeared to reward many of his fiercest defenders and big donors.

Former Rep. Robin Hayes of North Carolina — one of three former Congress members granted clemency on Tuesday — drew support for his pardon from his home state Sen. Thom Tillis and members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation. Former Rep. Duke Cunningham’s conditional pardon was supported by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Broidy, a former deputy national finance chair of the Republican National Committee, had the support of Rep. Devin Nunes, a staunch Trump ally, and Bernie Marcus, the Home Depot co-founder and Republican donor. Real estate investor Tom Barrack, Trump’s friend, encouraged the pardon of Robert Zangrillo, the venture capitalist and father who stood accused in the national college admissions cheating scandal.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and Miriam Adelson, the widow of the Republican billionaire megadonor Sheldon Adelson, were among supporters of Trump’s pardon of Aviem Sella.

At least one recipient of a pardon, the former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, appeared to recognize the benefit of having well-placed support, which included, among others, the tech giant Peter Thiel.

“My family and I are grateful for the opportunity to move forward, and thankful to the President and others who supported and advocated on my behalf,” Levandowski, a co-founder of Waymo, wrote on Twitter.

Past presidents, said Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist who worked to defeat Trump last year, “always let off some unseemly guy who was a donor or whatever.” But Trump’s clemency grants, he said, are at “a whole different level.”

“This is pardoning your friends who are doing illegal behavior on your behalf,” Madrid said. “It’s all of his henchmen.”

Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said it isn’t unusual for presidents to pardon people who are politically connected. Wherever Trump’s number of pardons for such people fall on the historic scale, he said, is “a statistic, and that’s about it.”

Most people, Anuzis said, “don’t know, don’t remember or don’t really care that much … Pardons are a minor part of any president’s term.”

In the broadest strokes, that is true. Many of Trump’s pardons were for nonviolent drug offenders serving long sentences. And even Trump’s fiercest critics will likely define his presidency less by his issuance of pardons than by his two impeachments and the deadly riot he helped to incite at the Capitol.

But the degree of Trump’s politicization of the process was staggering nonetheless. Kedric Payne, a former deputy chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics and former deputy general counsel at the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration, said what discourages him most about Trump’s pardons are the large number of government officials absolved by Trump over the course of his term — not just former members of Congress, but also a slate of state and local officials.

“It’s an unprecedented amount of public officials who were committing crimes while in office who are being pardoned,” said Payne, now of the Campaign Legal Center, who put the number of government officials granted clemency during Trump’s term at 15. “That hasn’t happened in modern history, to pardon that many officials who were convicted of criminal activity.”

Payne said, “Other presidents have done it. You’ll find examples of Bill Clinton doing it, even going all the way back to Truman. But it’s typically two or three officials who receive pardons, not 15 … Fifteen, that’s unheard of. It just shows his true legacy of pardoning public corruption. It just shows that you have a president who would excuse, and almost approve of, this type of corrupt activity.”

Ginsberg viewed the spate of last-minute pardons, in concert with Trump’s lifting early Wednesday of his own rule restricting appointees from lobbying, as an ironic coda to a presidency that began with a promise to “drain the swamp” and an inaugural address lament that “for too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government.”

“That Trump’s Tuesday night combined another tranche of sleazy crony pardons with revoking his 2017 revolving door lobbying ban he bragged would drain the swamp will burn in the legacy of his presidency,” Ginsberg said. “And not in a positive way. In his hubris, he apparently didn’t consider, or didn’t care, how this might impact the Senate Republicans who will now be asked to ignore his actions and save ‘his reputation’ in the impeachment trial.”

Source: Politico, Trump’s ‘crony pardons’ flabbergast the political world

Bush to Clyburn: Without Biden endorsement, 'we would not be having this transfer of power'

Former President George W. Bush called Rep. Jim Clyburn “the savior” for supporting now-President Joe Biden in the thick of a Democratic primary in which Biden was struggling to separate himself, Clyburn said in a call with reporters Wednesday.

Clyburn, House Majority Whip and the highest ranking Black member of Congress, endorsed Biden just ahead of the South Carolina Democratic primary, before which Biden was reeling. After that endorsement, Biden won South Carolina resoundingly and went on to win the Democratic nomination. Clyburn is highly influential in South Carolina politics, especially among Black voters.

Clyburn said he talked a lot with Bush at Biden’s inauguration Wednesday and that they have always “joked around with each other.”

“If you had not [endorsed] Joe Biden, we would not be having this transfer of power today…Joe Biden was the only one who could have defeated the incumbent president,” Clyburn said Bush told him before the inauguration.

Clyburn said Bush also told him that the endorsement “saved the party.” Bush didn’t support Trump’s reelection bid in 2020 and voted for “none-of-the-above” in 2016.

Freddy Ford, Bush’s chief of staff, downplayed the comments in a tweet.

“Let’s not make this into more than it is. He was saying Clyburn helped saved Biden’s nomination….nothing Biblical here,” Ford wrote.

Clyburn also said he talked with former President Bill Clinton Wednesday about the endorsement, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Source: Politico, Bush to Clyburn: Without Biden endorsement, ‘we would not be having this transfer of power’

Feds: Evidence shows well-laid plan by some Capitol insurrectionists

Federal investigators have begun piecing together evidence that some of the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were executing well-laid plans, deploying communications systems and issuing marching orders to rioters as they battled police.

A new affidavit filed Tuesday by the FBI described preparations by the right-wing Proud Boys to storm the Capitol, including using earpieces and walkie-talkies to direct movements throughout the building and a discussion about wearing black to dupe people into blaming antifa for any trouble.

A separate criminal filing released Wednesday afternoon — charging Patrick McCaughey III for pinning a police officer with a shield, which led to a now-iconic image of the brutality of the insurrection — described leaders among the rioters issuing marching orders to more effectively fight police.

“Unidentified rioters are heard instructing the front line of rioters to make a ‘shield wall‘ to prevent law enforcement from controlling rioters with oleoresin capsicum spray,“ according to the affidavit from a deputy U.S. marshal.

In a hearing on McCaughey’s case on Wednesday afternoon, prosecutors urged a judge to deny him bail and emphasized the level of coordination in the attack.

“Mob is not the right term, because there’s a level of organization here that bears noting,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Gianforti said. “The rioters are swapping in people here who are fresh. They’re passing weaponry to the front of the scrum to use against officers.”

The new filings were the latest indications that the Jan. 6 riots included cells of organized, militarized insurrectionists, beyond the rabble of disorganized Trump supporters who joined the fray. That evidence includes the conspiracy case filed this week against three so-called Oath Keepers, members of an Ohio-based chapter of the loosely connected paramilitary group, who face charges of seeking to injure police officers, obstruct Congress and damage federal property.

FBI and Justice Department officials have emphasized in recent days that they expect the investigation to lead to grave criminal charges that could include seditious conspiracy. But the early rush of criminal complaints has focused largely on trespassing, disorderly conduct and impeding police — charges that prosecutors say were the fastest and most sure-fire way to bring some of the rioters into custody while more detailed and damning cases are developed.

Then-President Donald Trump was impeached during his final week in office for inciting the violent insurrection. Many participants in the riots openly cited Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen as a basis for their decision to storm the Capitol. Trump urged the crowd to march on the Capitol and later told the rioters “we love you” — asking them to go home peacefully — even as lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence were sheltering amid the violence. Though some pleaded with Trump for pardons, citing his encouragement of the event, Trump left office without moving to shield himself or the participants in the riots from the legal fallout.

The latest round of filings included charges against Joseph Biggs, whom the FBI describes as a Proud Boys “organizer.” According to the affidavit, Biggs encouraged other members of the group to attend the Jan. 6 events in D.C. and echoed Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio’s suggestion that they dress to appear like adherents of antifa, a violent left-wing movement.

Biggs was also on the front lines of the group that first breached the Capitol, according to the FBI, along with Dominic Pezzola, another Proud Boys member who was charged for his role in the assault earlier in the week.

“In one image … Pezzola appears to have what I believe to be an earpiece or communication device in his right ear,” says the unnamed FBI agent who filed the case. “Your affiant also notes that multiple individuals were photographed or depicted on videos with earpieces, including other individuals believed to be associated with the Proud Boys.”

The agent also noted that Biggs and other Proud Boys used walkie-talkies during the siege. Biggs spoke to FBI agents after he was identified in videos and “denied having any knowledge of any pre-planning of storming the Capitol, and had no idea who planned it.”

Prosecutors and investigators described McCaughey’s conduct as exceptionally depraved. Videos of the episode show Officer Daniel Hodges of the D.C. police grimacing and crying out in pain as he is pinned between a door jamb and a mob surging against him.

“The vicious attack on Officer Hodges was abhorrent and quintessentially un-American,” said Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. “McCaughey’s alleged actions were an assault on Officer Hodges, the Capitol and the rule of law itself.”

The head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, Steven M. D’Antuono, called McCaughey’s behavior “violent, barbaric and completely out of control.”

However, aspects of an affidavit that a deputy U.S. Marshal submitted to a federal magistrate judge in Washington to get an arrest warrant for McCaughey hinted at possible defenses in the case.

While surveillance and body-worn camera video appear to leave little doubt that McCaughey was surging against Hodges even as he cried out in agony, the events in the tunnel on the west front of the Capitol were chaotic and at times there appeared to have been a horde of angry rioters surging against the police and the doors.

The marshal, whose name was deleted from the public court record, asserts that in one recording taken near McCaughey someone can be heard saying, “Come on man, you are going to get squished just go home.”

However, McCaughey is not on camera at that moment, and the affidavit acknowledges at another point that he seems to express concern for Hodges, saying, “Hey you, hey you, this guy isn’t doing too well.”

The marshal says that after Hodges was moved behind the police line, McCaughey continued to bash other officers with the shield and by that time the crowd behind McCaughey had thinned out, undermining any defense he might have that he was being jostled by others.

“At the time of the strikes, no other rioters are in contact with McCaughey that could have caused McCaughey to somehow inadvertently move towards uniformed law enforcement officers,” the marshal wrote.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather approved the arrest warrant on Monday, charging McCaughey with assaulting police officers, civil disorder, entering restricted building or grounds and violent entry or disorderly conduct, court records show.

Source: Politico, Feds: Evidence shows well-laid plan by some Capitol insurrectionists

National Archives launches website for Trump Presidential Library

The National Archives and Records Administration launched a website for the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library on Wednesday, shortly after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

The new site features a compilation of archived White House websites and social media accounts used by Trump administration officials, such as the @POTUS and @FLOTUS Twitter handles. It also has information on how to access Trump administration records.

In a statement, the National Archives said that presidential libraries “promote understanding of the Presidency and the American experience. They preserve and provide access to historical materials, support research, and create interactive programs and exhibits that educate and inspire.”

The first presidential library, established by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, opened in 1941, with the purpose of preserving presidential records, such as photos, memorabilia, speeches and letters, for public access and research use. Since then, every president has established an accompanying museum open to the public and administered by the National Archives, with the exception of Barack Obama, who has opted for a different approach.

During his presidency, Trump was a prolific tweeter at all times of the day. However, his tweets were largely from his personal account, @realdonaldtrump, which was permanently suspended by Twitter as a consequence of his role in the Capitol riots on Jan. 6. Although personal accounts have not been archived, the National Archives is working to make such accounts of administration officials, including the former president, “publicly available as soon as possible,” according to the website.

Trump has not made any public announcements about a physical space, but a top fundraiser on Trump’s campaign told The Washington Post on Saturday that Trump has been floating the idea of raising $2 billion for a presidential library, likely in Florida. In contrast, the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago is estimated to cost $500 million.

Source: Politico, National Archives launches website for Trump Presidential Library

Full text: Joe Biden inauguration speech transcript

Chief Justice Roberts, Vice President Harris, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Leader McConnell, Vice President Pence, distinguished guests, and my fellow Americans.

This is America’s day.

This is democracy’s day.

A day of history and hope.

Of renewal and resolve.

Through a crucible for the ages America has been tested anew and America has risen to the challenge.

Today, we celebrate the triumph not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy.

The will of the people has been heard and the will of the people has been heeded.

We have learned again that democracy is precious.

Democracy is fragile.

And at this hour, my friends, democracy has prevailed.

So now, on this hallowed ground where just days ago violence sought to shake this Capitol’s very foundation, we come together as one nation, under God, indivisible, to carry out the peaceful transfer of power as we have for more than two centuries.

We look ahead in our uniquely American way — restless, bold, optimistic — and set our sights on the nation we know we can be and we must be.

I thank my predecessors of both parties for their presence here.

I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

You know the resilience of our Constitution and the strength of our nation.

As does President Carter, who I spoke to last night but who cannot be with us today, but whom we salute for his lifetime of service.

I have just taken the sacred oath each of these patriots took — an oath first sworn by George Washington.

But the American story depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us.

On “We the People” who seek a more perfect Union.

This is a great nation and we are a good people.

Over the centuries through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we have come so far. But we still have far to go.

We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility.

Much to repair.

Much to restore.

Much to heal.

Much to build.

And much to gain.

Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now.

A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country.

It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War II.

Millions of jobs have been lost.

Hundreds of thousands of businesses closed.

A cry for racial justice some 400 years in the making moves us. The dream of justice for all will be deferred no longer.

A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.

And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.

To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words.

It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy:



In another January in Washington, on New Year’s Day 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

When he put pen to paper, the President said, “If my name ever goes down into history it will be for this act and my whole soul is in it.”

My whole soul is in it.

Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this:

Bringing America together.

Uniting our people.

And uniting our nation.

I ask every American to join me in this cause.

Uniting to fight the common foes we face:

Anger, resentment, hatred.

Extremism, lawlessness, violence.

Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.

With unity we can do great things. Important things.

We can right wrongs.

We can put people to work in good jobs.

We can teach our children in safe schools.

We can overcome this deadly virus.

We can reward work, rebuild the middle class, and make health care
secure for all.

We can deliver racial justice.

We can make America, once again, the leading force for good in the world.

I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy.

I know the forces that divide us are deep and they are real.

But I also know they are not new.

Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh, ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart.

The battle is perennial.

Victory is never assured.

Through the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War, 9/11, through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our “better angels” have always prevailed.

In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward.

And, we can do so now.

History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity.

We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors.

We can treat each other with dignity and respect.

We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature.

For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.

No progress, only exhausting outrage.

No nation, only a state of chaos.

This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward.

And, we must meet this moment as the United States of America.

If we do that, I guarantee you, we will not fail.

We have never, ever, ever failed in America when we have acted together.

And so today, at this time and in this place, let us start afresh.

All of us.

Let us listen to one another.

Hear one another.
See one another.

Show respect to one another.

Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.

Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.

And, we must reject a culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.

My fellow Americans, we have to be different than this.

America has to be better than this.

And, I believe America is better than this.

Just look around.

Here we stand, in the shadow of a Capitol dome that was completed amid the Civil War, when the Union itself hung in the balance.

Yet we endured and we prevailed.

Here we stand looking out to the great Mall where Dr. King spoke of his dream.

Here we stand, where 108 years ago at another inaugural, thousands of protestors tried to block brave women from marching for the right to vote.

Today, we mark the swearing-in of the first woman in American history elected to national office – Vice President Kamala Harris.

Don’t tell me things can’t change.

Here we stand across the Potomac from Arlington National Cemetery, where heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion rest in eternal peace.

And here we stand, just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, and to drive us from this sacred ground.

That did not happen.

It will never happen.

Not today.

Not tomorrow.

Not ever.

To all those who supported our campaign I am humbled by the faith you have placed in us.

To all those who did not support us, let me say this: Hear me out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart.

And if you still disagree, so be it.

That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably, within the guardrails of our Republic, is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength.

Yet hear me clearly: Disagreement must not lead to disunion.

And I pledge this to you: I will be a President for all Americans.

I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.

Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine, a saint of my church, wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.

What are the common objects we love that define us as Americans?

I think I know.







And, yes, the truth.

Recent weeks and months have taught us a painful lesson.

There is truth and there are lies.

Lies told for power and for profit.

And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders – leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation — to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.

I understand that many Americans view the future with some fear and trepidation.

I understand they worry about their jobs, about taking care of their families, about what comes next.

I get it.

But the answer is not to turn inward, to retreat into competing factions, distrusting those who don’t look like you do, or worship the way you do, or don’t get their news from the same sources you do.

We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal.

We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.

If we show a little tolerance and humility.

If we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes just for a moment.
Because here is the thing about life: There is no accounting for what fate will deal you.

There are some days when we need a hand.

There are other days when we’re called on to lend one.

That is how we must be with one another.

And, if we are this way, our country will be stronger, more prosperous, more ready for the future.

My fellow Americans, in the work ahead of us, we will need each other.

We will need all our strength to persevere through this dark winter.

We are entering what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus.

We must set aside the politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.

I promise you this: as the Bible says weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning.

We will get through this, together

The world is watching today.

So here is my message to those beyond our borders: America has been tested and we have come out stronger for it.

We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.

Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s.

We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.

We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security.

We have been through so much in this nation.

And, in my first act as President, I would like to ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer to remember all those we lost this past year to the pandemic.

To those 400,000 fellow Americans – mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

We will honor them by becoming the people and nation we know we can and should be.

Let us say a silent prayer for those who lost their lives, for those they left behind, and for our country.


This is a time of testing.

We face an attack on democracy and on truth.

A raging virus.

Growing inequity.

The sting of systemic racism.

A climate in crisis.

America’s role in the world.

Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways.

But the fact is we face them all at once, presenting this nation with the gravest of responsibilities.

Now we must step up.

All of us.

It is a time for boldness, for there is so much to do.

And, this is certain.

We will be judged, you and I, for how we resolve the cascading crises of our era.

Will we rise to the occasion?

Will we master this rare and difficult hour?

Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world for our children?

I believe we must and I believe we will.

And when we do, we will write the next chapter in the American story.

It’s a story that might sound something like a song that means a lot to me.

It’s called “American Anthem” and there is one verse stands out for me:

“The work and prayers
of centuries have brought us to this day
What shall be our legacy?
What will our children say?…
Let me know in my heart
When my days are through
I gave my best to you.”

Let us add our own work and prayers to the unfolding story of our nation.

If we do this then when our days are through our children and our children’s children will say of us they gave their best.

They did their duty.

They healed a broken land.
My fellow Americans, I close today where I began, with a sacred oath.

Before God and all of you I give you my word.

I will always level with you.

I will defend the Constitution.

I will defend our democracy.

I will defend America.

I will give my all in your service thinking not of power, but of possibilities.

Not of personal interest, but of the public good.

And together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear.

Of unity, not division.

Of light, not darkness.

An American story of decency and dignity.

Of love and of healing.

Of greatness and of goodness.

May this be the story that guides us.

The story that inspires us.

The story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history.

We met the moment.

That democracy and hope, truth and justice, did not die on our watch but thrived.

That our America secured liberty at home and stood once again as a beacon to the world.

That is what we owe our forebearers, one another, and generations to follow.

So, with purpose and resolve we turn to the tasks of our time.

Sustained by faith.

Driven by conviction.

And, devoted to one another and to this country we love with all our hearts.

May God bless America and may God protect our troops.

Thank you, America.

Source: Politico, Full text: Joe Biden inauguration speech transcript

Klobuchar: Biden’s inauguration is the day ‘our democracy picks itself up’

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the top Democrat on the Senate Rules Committee, said Wednesday’s inauguration was the day “our democracy picks itself up.”

In a speech ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing in, Klobuchar said the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection “awakened” Americans to their responsibilities.

“This ceremony is the culmination of 244 years of a democracy,” the Minnesota Democrat and former presidential contender said. “It is the moment when leaders brought to this stage by the will of the people promise to be faithful to our Constitution, to cherish it and defend it.”

In addition to honoring Biden, Klobuchar marked the historical inauguration of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants.

“When she takes the oath of office little girls and boys across the world will know that anything and everything is possible,” Klobuchar said.

Source: Politico, Klobuchar: Biden’s inauguration is the day ‘our democracy picks itself up’

Capitol Police officer who diverted mob from Senate escorts Harris

The Capitol Police officer who diverted a mob from breaching the Senate chambers during the attack on the Capitol escorted Vice President-elect Kamala Harris into the Capitol Wednesday ahead of the inauguration.

Eugene Goodman has been praised for luring a group of rioters away from the chamber while Senators were still inside, and several lawmakers are pushing legislation to award him the Congressional Gold Medal.

Goodman was tapped to be acting deputy Senate sergeant-at-arms for Inauguration Day.

Source: Politico, Capitol Police officer who diverted mob from Senate escorts Harris

'This is your time': Obama congratulates Biden before his inauguration

Former President Barack Obama congratulated President-elect Joe Biden ahead of the latter’s inauguration on Wednesday, telling his former vice president that “this is your time.”

As Biden was attending a church service alongside Congressional leadership ahead of his inauguration Wednesday, Obama sent his well wishes in a tweet.

“Congratulations to my friend, President @JoeBiden! This is your time,” Obama wrote online, accompanied by a photo of the two men together.

Biden served as Obama’s vice president from 2009 to 2017. The two have enjoyed a friendship — albeit a complicated one at times — over the years. In 2019, Biden tweeted a photo of a friendship bracelet with “Barack” and “Joe” on it.

During the presidential campaign, Biden frequently tied himself to Obama, who did not endorse a candidate in the 2020 Democratic primary campaign, waiting until April to endorse Biden.

In the weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential election, though, Obama campaigned hard for Biden, holding drive-in rallies in support of Biden across multiple swing states.

Source: Politico, ‘This is your time’: Obama congratulates Biden before his inauguration

'Are you QAnon?': One Trump official's brush with an internet cult gone horribly wrong

The deadly insurrection in the nation’s capital this month brought intense public scrutiny to the online conspiracy theory QAnon and shock about its pervasiveness, but one prominent Trump administration official said he’s been battling the movement for years — pleading with his government colleagues and figures in the tech industry to recognize the real-world danger posed by the internet-based fantasy.

Since 2018, many members of the cult-like group have been convinced that its shadowy leader and founder is actually Ezra Cohen-Watnick, an intelligence specialist who worked in various Defense Department jobs before accepting a senior post on the National Security Council staff soon after President Donald Trump came into office in 2017. Cohen-Watnick, who was brought in under former national security adviser Michael Flynn, became a figure of controversy when his run-ins with other intelligence officials spilled out into the press.

Cohen’s resulting notoriety led many adherents of QAnon to regard him as “Q,” who according to the conspiracy theory’s lore is a Trump administration official working on the inside to expose a deep-state cabal of pedophiles and Satan-worshippers bent on undermining Trump. Q’s cryptic messages, posted in the form of “Q drops” in online forums, have also fueled an obsession with a coming “Storm” — an apocalyptic event that would expose the evildoers, bring the cabal to justice and cement Trump’s hold on power.

“It’s clear that the QAnon conspiracy was a core of what was going on at the Capitol and I want to do everything I can to delegitimize this conspiracy,” Cohen, 34, told POLITICO in an interview. “The country deserved better on Jan. 6 — what transpired was appalling and completely at odds with our democratic principles.”

Many of those who stormed the Capitol openly espoused QAnon beliefs and appear to have become convinced that Trump’s drive to overturn his loss in the 2020 election would culminate in some kind of military-led intervention, ousting evil Democrats and ushering in a righteous new era.

Trump fueled the Capitol attack not only with his inflammatory words but through months of public flirtation with the bizarre online obsession—particularly when it seemed to bolster his re-election bid or advance his post-election campaign to challenge the election results.

Asked about the violence at the Capitol, as well as the role that Trump played in stoking it through his speech that day and the conspiracy talk he fomented in the weeks after the election, Cohen said: “The administration should have crushed this QAnon stuff as soon as it materialized.”

In his first public comments on his ordeal, Cohen detailed a nightmarish, two-year-long fight to extricate himself from the QAnon saga. He said he’s speaking out now because he is again a private citizen, wrapping up his service as a Trump appointee at the Pentagon, and because he is outraged over the tragic events of Jan. 6.

Cohen described being caught in a kind of ideological tag team as early speculation by right-wing QAnon followers that that he was Q evolved into left-wing obsession with proving that he was the fraudster behind the postings, in order to demonstrate the moral bankruptcy of a top Trump administration official.

The rumors eventually began to seep into Cohen’s real-life world. He recalls being approached at a pre-Covid cocktail party in D.C. “Someone came up to me and said, whispering, ‘Are you QAnon?’” he said, calling the incident disturbing.

Online, Cohen faced a slew of social media accounts falsely purporting to be him, tweeting out cryptic messages to QAnon followers. He said Twitter was slow to address the problem.

“Twitter did a horrible job of responding to this,” Cohen said. “Twitter is getting very aggressive about the QAnon stuff now. But for a very long time they allowed this to fester. And it’s not like they didn’t know about it—we reported it to them.”

Cohen became so concerned about the proliferation of accounts suggesting links to him that he hired Washington-based lawyer Mark Zaid to investigate and push social media sites to shut them down.

While the first accounts explicitly impersonated Cohen, the next wave were more subtle, set up under vague names like @YourFriendlyE. While those accounts never directly claimed to be Cohen, they would quickly be identified, falsely, as Cohen by other QAnon-focused accounts.

“It was a cat-and-mouse game,” he recalled. “Every time we had an account get shut down, they would re-form and re-gain up to 20,000 followers and even higher within hours. And there would be this chorus of people online saying, ‘This is the new account.’”

The accounts would then send cryptic, ominous messages that allegedly came from Cohen. “It is only at the precipice that true and lasting change will occur,” one tweet said. “In order to fully expose the ‘Invisible Enemy,’ we had to bait them into a very contentious, bright light.”

Cohen said those running the account seemed to have a sophisticated understanding of Twitter’s policies and were skilled at evading them for some time.

“It was very clear that they basically knew exactly what the Twitter impersonation rules were,” he said. “They never came out and actually used my name or put my picture as the profile picture. They knew exactly where the line was, to get taken down as an impersonator account.”

Some of the online activity began to bleed over into Cohen’s physical world in troubling ways. One Twitter account involved posted a close-up photo of his home.

“It wasn’t just from Google Streetview. It was as if somebody had been outside my house, and literally took a picture, looking in through my window,” he said. “I took it as a threat.”

Cohen also discovered that someone hacked into an old Hotmail account he no longer used and sought to use it verify other accounts. The intruder then used it to set up a meeting for Cohen with former National Security Agency employee Bill Binney, who has claimed that the hack of the Democratic National Committee in 2016 was an inside job and was not orchestrated by Russia as the intelligence community concluded.

One unusual aspect of the planned coffee-shop meeting was that despite the purported “invite” to Binney, Cohen knew nothing about it.

“The funny thing is, at the time, I wasn’t even living in D.C. And I got a call from somebody saying, ‘Hey, you stood up Bill Binney.’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’” Cohen recalled. “You can imagine getting your email hacked into and having somebody lure people into coming to meet with you is very alarming.”

Cohen left the NSC in August 2017 and worked at Oracle for a time before returning to the Defense Department last May as a political appointee overseeing special operations. Even after that move, the internet posts continued, with some QAnon followers causing concern for Pentagon security officials by coming by to try to pay him a visit.

A spokesperson for Twitter defended the social media firm’s handling of the QAnon onslaught Cohen faced.

“We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm, and we will permanently suspend accounts that are solely dedicated to sharing QAnon content,” Twitter spokesperson Trenton Kennedy said. “We recently permanently suspended more than 70,000 Twitter accounts engaging in this behavior, including many of the accounts you referenced. We will remain vigilant in our approach of detecting and fighting this behavior, including in reference to this specific individual.”

However, Twitter did acknowledge that it stepped up its approach to QAnon-related accounts after the Capitol riot and found many instances of multiple accounts being run by a single person. The offending tweets Cohen shared with POLITICO are from accounts Twitter has permanently suspended, the firm said, while conceding that it won’t unmask pseudonymous accounts.

Of course, QAnon did not rise to prominence solely based on social media activity, but also won followers by being promoted by high-profile figures in Trump circles.

One person who has emerged as a hero of sorts to the QAnon faithful is Flynn, whose tenure as national security adviser lasted a mere 25 days. QAnon backers rallied behind Flynn during his epic battle with prosecutors over false statements he initially admitted making to investigators, and the retired lieutenant general has returned the favor to the group, tweeting out QAnon memes as well as the QAnon slogan: Where we go one, we go all, or the hashtag #WWG1WGA.

Flynn effectively hired Cohen for the Trump White House in 2017. Cohen tried to reach out to Flynn through intermediaries to urge him to stop tweeting and retweeting QAnon content, a source familiar with the situation said. It didn’t work, and Flynn returned to Trump’s orbit in recent weeks as the president sought to overturn his election defeat.

Trump also gave QAnon oxygen — or at least did nothing to snuff it out.

At a televised town hall meeting on NBC in October, host Savannah Guthrie asked Trump to denounce the conspiracy theory. His muddled response was taken by many QAnon backers as an endorsement.

“I know nothing about it. I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard, but I
know nothing about it,” Trump said.

Behind the scenes, Trump reportedly dismissed the notion that QAnon posed any danger and seemed willing to continue his public dalliance with the group.

“You know, people say they’re into all kinds of bad things and say all kinds of terrible things about them,” Trump said at a July meeting with top aides and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to Axios. “But, you know, my understanding is they basically are just people who want good government.”

Trump and aides also embraced fringe Republican candidates who spouted #QAnon theories, such as just-elected Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. While some GOP leaders denounced Greene, in August, Trump tweeted out a tribute to her, calling her “a future Republican star.” And just weeks before the election, he gave her a shout-out from the stage at a Georgia rally.

Asked about Trump’s role, Cohen responded in general terms, saying that many in the administration treated the conspiracy theory as amusing long after it passed that point.

Cohen, who specializes in countering influence of foreign adversaries like Russia and China, says the persistence and sophistication of some of those involved in QAnon have convinced him of a foreign presence in the movement.

“In my professional opinion, being in the intelligence world, it really appeared to be a foreign state actor or a very organized operation,” he said. “I just don’t see that level of sophistication as just an amateur thing.”

Cohen recently got a verified Twitter account, which he said he didn’t really want, simply in order to make it easier to swat down fake accounts. He knows that some of the fevered QAnon traffic about him has moved to Parler and other forums, but he said he won’t be setting up camp there just to try to drive
others away.

“I absolutely refuse to go on these other platforms,” he said. “I mean, I’m just not going to do it.”

Cohen cleared out of his Pentagon office on Friday and says he’s now planning to take some time off. But his attorney noted that — despite Twitter’s crackdown — messages keep appearing on the platform suggesting that Cohen is hard at work pursuing Q goals and is perhaps even behind a coup that will take place on Inauguration Day.

“The two years we have spent trying to successfully disentangle Ezra from the sticky webs of QAnon conspiracists has required incredible efforts both behind the scenes and publicly,” said Zaid, who has sometimes represented POLITICO reporters in Freedom of Information suits. “This is a movement and ideology that needs to be directly confronted by our government and citizenry.”

Source: Politico, ‘Are you QAnon?’: One Trump official’s brush with an internet cult gone horribly wrong

I Wrote President Obama’s Ethics Plan—Biden’s Is Better

I had the privilege of implementing President Barack Obama’s demanding ethics vision for his administration, including its centerpiece, his “Day One” executive order setting tough new rules on conflicts of interest. It may seem like a very long time ago after four years of President Donald Trump, but Obama had arguably the most scandal-free presidency in memory owing to those clear ethics rules, backed by strong transparency about their application.

But Biden’s new executive order on ethics does us one better. It restores the fundamentals of the Obama plan, closing loopholes Trump opened—but going further, including new crackdowns on special interest influence. If implemented rigorously (always a big if) Biden’s plan promises to go further to “drain the swamp” than either of his predecessors.

Let’s start with what an ethics plan is. Federal law establishes the basic rules for government officials to avoid conflicts of interest and other behavior that is corrupt or appears corrupt by benefiting themselves, their families or associates. Obama went further, ordering each of his appointees to sign a pledge committing to additional safeguards on their behavior. Trump greatly watered down the standards with scandalous results. Biden has done the opposite, restoring the Obama rules and expanding them.

For example, take one of the centerpieces of the Obama plan: “Reverse” revolving door restrictions. Most ethics plans focus on officials leaving government, but in the Obama administration, we also imposed limits on those coming into government, with even tougher restrictions on ex-lobbyists. Trump’s executive order loosened those lobbying rules, lifting our limitation on lobbyists serving at an agency they lobbied. It is little wonder a flood of lobbyists inundated Trump’s administration—more than four times the number in just one Trump term than served under Obama in twice that time.

The Biden plan puts that core Obama restriction for lobbyists back in place, barring them from jobs in agencies they previously sought to influence. That makes sense: letting the fox into the henhouse he just stalked is simply too dangerous, as proved by the numerous controversies involving Trump officials who led agencies they once lobbied.

The new Biden plan not only fixes what Trump got wrong, it does the same for Obama’s ethics regime. For example, the Biden executive order adds a restriction on so-called golden parachutes—cash bonuses granted to executives as they leave a business to join the government. These windfalls create the perception that an ex-employee may favor her benefactor, and it is about time they ended. The Biden plan does that, restricting exit bonuses and requiring entering officials to certify that they have not accepted other benefits (such as deferred ones) in lieu of such packages. It goes well beyond existing law and is a strong step forward.

The new plan also builds on Obama’s in closing the revolving door on the other side of government employment: when employees leave. Federal law imposes a one-year limit on a departing senior official communicating on behalf of clients with the agency where the official worked. In the Obama administration, we extended that to two years, on the theory that an employer might pay an ex-official to do nothing for 12 months, but 24 months is a long time for cold storage. Trump eliminated the Obama extension, farcically declaring that his officials must follow the applicable statute—which they already had to do.

Here too, Biden not only restores the Obama restriction of two years, he goes further. Now not only are officials restricted from representing clients to their former agencies, they are also cordoned off from their peers in the White House itself. This recognizes the reality that senior agency officials engage with the White House constantly and have ties there too, not just at their former agency. This rule will restrict them from using the special access and influence that follows, and they should not be allowed to use it for private gain.

A number of other post-employment restrictions are added as well, including materially assisting others in making communications or appearances that ex-officials are prohibited from undertaking themselves under the pledge. Here the Biden plan again improves on the Obama ethics rules by closing a loophole for “shadow lobbying”— when former officials who might not themselves be able to meet with an agency prepare and strategize with their colleagues to do so instead. There is no reason that a former official should be able to do indirectly what they cannot do directly. The Biden plan also carries over one of the few good aspects of the otherwise spurious Trump plan: restricting former officials from working as an agent for a foreign country after leaving government. But Biden also goes farther, not allowing any former lobbyists for foreign countries from entering his administration.

The Obama plan gets another upgrade when it comes to one of its most controversial aspects: waivers. These are written authorizations that make an exception to the rules when doing so is in the public interest. While working for Obama, I learned from the controversy that erupted when I started authorizing waivers that they need to be tightly regulated and highly transparent. That’s why I’m glad to see the waiver provision of the Obama plan improved. That includes a new provision that waivers be made public within 10 days and imposing much more detailed rules guiding when waivers are appropriate. Above all, the new policy makes explicit that service as a public interest lobbyist may be taken into account in deciding whether a waiver shall be issued; there is no reason that someone who advocates on behalf of charitable causes should be on the same footing as a corporate lobbyist.

Not in Biden’s executive order but critically important to its success is another recently announced step: restoring the Obama-era policy of releasing White House visitor records that Trump ended. When everyone knows who is visiting the White House, its employees don’t schedule meetings they shouldn’t, and are too busy to sneak off campus for them (much). So the tough Biden ethics rules will be reinforced by the restored visitor records policy. While the specifics have not yet been released, arrangements should be made to reveal both in-person meetings and details of formal video conferences that would otherwise have been in person.

Is the new Biden plan perfect? Of course not. Even more restrictions could have been loaded on prior relationships coming into government and even longer exclusions onto officials leaving the administration. Corporate lobbyists could have been barred altogether, and public interest ones automatically waived in. But all of those strictures would have come at a cost of finding the right people to do the urgent work of government in a time of pandemic, economic crisis, domestic unrest and continued foreign war.

Biden’s ethics plan is the strongest, most ambitious swamp-draining plan ever. All of us will be watching to make sure it is scrupulously followed. If it is, cleaner government lies ahead—finally.

Source: Politico, I Wrote President Obama’s Ethics Plan—Biden’s Is Better

Biden picks transgender doctor as assistant health secretary

President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated Pennsylvania health secretary Rachel Levine for assistant secretary of health at HHS, making her the first openly transgender federal official to be up for Senate confirmation.

A Harvard and Tulane-educated pediatrician, Levine emerged as the public face of her state’s pandemic response while also serving as president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. She was appointed to her current post by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in 2017 and has written on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders and LGBTQ medicine.

“Dr. Rachel Levine will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability — and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond,” Biden said in a statement.

Biden is rounding out his health team, with nominations yet to come to head the FDA and CMS.

Levine would serve under HHS Secretary-designate Xavier Becerra, a former Los Angeles-area congressman now serving as California attorney general. The assistant health secretary post is now held by Adm. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration’s coronavirus testing czar, who also is responsible for developing public health policy recommendations and overseeing some HHS core public health offices.

Source: Politico, Biden picks transgender doctor as assistant health secretary

Poll: 66 percent approve of Biden's handling of transition

As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office on Wednesday, a new survey reports that a healthy majority of Americans approve of the way he has handled the tumultuous transition period — which has been marred by baseless voter fraud claims, a still-raging pandemic and mob violence inside the Capitol.

Roughly two-thirds of respondents in a CNN poll conducted this month said they approve of Biden’s performance during the presidential transition. The vast majority of those surveyed, 70 percent, disapprove of President Donald Trump’s handling of the post-election period.

Additionally, Biden’s personal favorability rating has improved by 7 percentage points since October and now rests at 59 percent. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ favorability is 51 percent, its highest ever in CNN polling.

By contrast, Trump’s latest favorability rating is 33 percent, and his job approval rating is 34 percent — both lower than at any other point in his presidency, according to CNN polling.

Respondents appeared mostly optimistic about Biden accomplishing his key policy goals as president, the survey showed, although more than half of those polled (53 percent) said it is unlikely the incoming president will be able to cool down the country’s political divisions.

Majorities of respondents said it is at least somewhat likely Biden will sign new coronavirus relief legislation (83 percent), restore relationships with U.S. allies (74 percent), administer 100 million coronavirus vaccines in 100 days (70 percent) and create a public health care option (64 percent).

Most of those polled (61 percent) said Biden will do a good job as president — compared to the 48 percent who said the same about Trump in 2017 and the 79 percent who had high expectations for Barack Obama in 2008. The same percentage of Americans, 61 percent, think the country will be better off after four years of Biden’s presidency.

The CNN poll was conducted by SSRS from Jan. 9-14, surveying 1,003 adults with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Among the respondents, 33 percent identified as Democrats, 26 percent identified as Republicans and 41 percent identified as independents or members of another party.

Source: Politico, Poll: 66 percent approve of Biden’s handling of transition

Poll: Republican support for convicting Trump in Senate growing

Republican support for convicting President Donald Trump in his Senate impeachment trial has grown in his final days in office, according to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released Tuesday.

About 20 percent of Republicans said they “strongly” or “somewhat” approved of convicting in the latest poll, conducted Jan. 15-17. That’s an increase from the previous poll, conducted Jan. 8-11, in which 14 percent of Republicans said the same.

Approval of a conviction remained heavily partisan, with about 86 percent of Democrats saying they “strongly” or “somewhat” approved of a Senate conviction, a slight decrease from the previous poll. About 50 percent of independent respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” approved of a Senate conviction, up slightly from 47 percent in the Jan. 8-11 poll.

The House impeached Trump last week, charging him with “incitement of insurrection” after he gave a speech to supporters on Jan. 6 in front of the White House before they stormed the U.S. Capitol. He told them to “be strong.”

Trump has defended his speech as “totally appropriate.” Just 27 percent of respondents in the poll said Trump acted “appropriately” and that the Senate should not remove him from office.

The poll released Tuesday had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points and surveyed 1,993 registered voters.

Among respondents overall, about 55 percent said they either “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of the Senate convicting Trump. About 37 percent of respondents said they “strongly” or “somewhat” disapprove of a potential conviction and removal from office, with about 7 percent saying they didn’t know or had no opinion.

Overall support for a conviction has ticked up since Trump was impeached last week. The Jan. 8-11 poll — conducted before his impeachment — found about 54 percent of respondents said they would “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of a Senate conviction if the House impeached Trump.

Trump’s trial in the Senate — his second in office — won’t begin until after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Wednesday. Ten House Republicans voted to impeach Trump last week. Now, all eyes have been on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has signaled he is open to a conviction.

About 27 percent of respondents in the poll released Tuesday said they “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of McConnell’s handling of impeachment. About 52 percent said they either “strongly” or “somewhat” disapprove, with nearly a quarter saying they didn’t know or had no opinion.

Trump’s approval rating rebounded a bit from an all-time low for his presidency, when it was at 34 percent as of the poll released last week. Now, it’s up to 39 percent, according to the poll released Tuesday.

After the House impeached Trump last week, about 44 percent of respondents said they “strongly” or “somewhat” approve of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s handling of the proceedings.

About 30 percent of respondents said they “strongly” or “somewhat” approved of congressional Republicans’ handling of impeachment, as compared to 51 percent of respondents who said the same of Democrats in Congress.

Source: Politico, Poll: Republican support for convicting Trump in Senate growing

Weary migrants wait at Guatemala roadblock as caravan stalls

VADO HONDO, Guatemala — Guatemalan police and soldiers on Monday broke up a group of hundreds of migrants who had spent two nights stuck at a roadblock on a rural highway.

Some migrants threw rocks while authorities launched tear gas and pushed the migrants with their riot shields back down the highway. Migrants with children were more gently prodded back the way they had come.

The year’s first migrant caravan had largely stalled two days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Biden has promised to take a different approach to immigration and even though immediate changes at the U.S. border are not expected, it has created some hope in Central America.

A steep mountain and tall wall flanking the rural highway have allowed Guatemalan authorities to bottle up the group that had numbered about 2,000 when it pushed into Guatemala Friday night.

Their ranks have reduced through attrition as some migrants have agreed to be bused back to the Honduran border. A Guatemalan official repeated that offer Monday morning, telling the migrants they had buses at the ready for those who wanted to return to Honduras. A smaller number have been forcefully sent back after scuffling with authorities who held their line with baton strikes and tear gas.

The primary of objective of the authorities’ midday push was to reopen the highway. Police and soldiers banged their riot shields intimidatingly as an official told the migrants to clear the highway. The migrants scattered, but remained in the general area.

Guatemala’s immigration authorities said Monday that another group of about 800 migrants had been located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) farther north along the highway near Rio Hondo. They are also blocked from advancing there, but authorities said they successfully negotiated opening one lane of traffic so vehicles could pass.

Pedro Brolo Vila, Guatemala‘s foreign affairs secretary, criticized Honduras’ government Monday for not doing more to dissuade the caravan. He said Guatemala had been preparing since December for this caravan, including meetings with their counterparts in Honduras, Mexico and the United States.

Guatemala was “totally surprised” by Honduras’ lack of cooperation, Brolo said. He said Honduras had promised to put out a large contingent of security forces to dissuade the migrants from reaching Guatemala’s border. Instead, Honduran security forces accompanied the migrants “toward our borders where regrettably we saw how they entered violently, violating Guatemala’s territorial sovereignty.”

He also said Guatemalan authorities had detected fake Covid-19 test results among the migrants who stopped to register their entrance to Guatemala.

In total, some 8,000 to 9,000 Honduran migrants were believed to have entered Guatemala in the year’s first caravan after departing from San Pedro Sula, Honduras early Friday. Honduras has been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic and two major hurricanes that struck in November, leaving thousands homeless. That’s on top of the existing lack of economic opportunity and persistent gang violence.

In Vado Hondo Monday, site of the roadblock outside Chiquimula, migrants leaned against the wall or sat up after a fitful night’s sleep in the brush along the road or on the pavement. Some migrants had drifted back to the town in search of food or shade to wait out the stalemate.

Traffic, especially semi-trailers, were backed up for miles. Locals picked their way among the migrants and were allowed to pass the lines of police and soldiers.

On Sunday, Guatemala’s Health Ministry reported that 21 of the migrants who sought medical attention at health centers had tested positive for the coronavirus. The department said the 12 men and nine women would not be returned to Honduras until they undergo quarantine at centers in Guatemala.

Even if the migrants manage to find their way to the Mexican border, that government has made a show of force with thousands of National Guard members and immigration agents waiting there.

Mexico has said it would enforce its immigration laws and require an orderly crossing. One year ago, Mexican guardsmen broke up a large caravan in southern Mexico after the migrants forded the river that divides it from Guatemala.

“We are proposing that they seek a dialogue with the migrants, in Honduras, Guatemala,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday. “They should attend to them so that they don’t enter any country by force.”

The president said he also hopes to hear Biden address immigration in his inauguration speech Wednesday.

“I believe that the time has come to follow through on the commitment to carry out immigration reform,” López Obrador said.

Source: Politico, Weary migrants wait at Guatemala roadblock as caravan stalls

Fortress D.C.

A Marine stands guard at the door to the West Wing of the White House indicating the presence of the president in that area. Photo by David Butow/Redux

Late on a drizzly Friday night, just over a week after domestic insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol, I returned to the scene to see the security blockades being set for Joe Biden’s inauguration. Days before, I’d photographed thousands of National Guard troops bivouacked in the complex and was able to work unimpeded. Clearly, the authorities want to send a message of formidable deterrence.

With stunning efficiency, roadblocks have been established about a half-mile away to all routes leading to the Capitol, Pennsylvania Avenue, the National Mall and the White House. Practically everything that a tourist would come to see in D.C. is now behind cement barricades and high fences, and you have to park your car and walk quite a ways to get to a series of perimeters.

The Secret Service is the lead agency, and it oversees each access point, at which you are also likely to encounter D.C. Metropoitan Police, Capitol Police and the National Guard. I was able to get onto the grounds only by showing my Senate press pass.

The Capitol is surrounded by multiple layers of fencing, some topped with concertina wire, as you’d see at a military installation. The scene continues west along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, the same route used for inaugural parades. This part of Washington is normally pretty quiet at night, but on this midnight, there was almost no one to be seen for blocks, and cars were almost nonexistent.

People have compared Washington right now to the Green Zone in Baghdad, and having been there a few times I can tell you the comparison is apt. But I’m reminded not of how the Green Zone felt months after it had been established, but rather in the first weeks after the invasion. There was an eerie desolation, the shock of transition and violence was still raw, and the future was unknowable.

A desolate view of Independence Ave. near the Capitol. Most parts of downtown Washington were closed to traffic on the Friday night five days before the inauguration of Joe Biden. A riot at the Capitol on January 6 sparked fears of further civil unrest and tens of thousands of National Guard troops have deployed to the city and fencing surrounds the Capitol and other areas of the city. Photo by David Butow/ReduxA crew installs cement barricades on a road near the Capitol building. Photo by David Butow/ReduxNational Guardsman stand watch on the Capitol grounds. Photo by David Butow/ReduxThe National Gallery of Art is now inside a security perimeter. Photo by David Butow/ReduxA National Guardsman stands watch on the north side of the Capitol grounds.  Photo by David Butow/ReduxFlowers were placed on the fence on the west side of the Capitol grounds to commemorate the lives last there on January 6. Photo by David Butow/ReduxA group of National Guardsman stand watch on the northwest side of downtown Washington.  Photo by David Butow/ReduxThe Trump International Hotel is surrounded by fencing. Most parts of downtown Washington were closed to traffic on the Friday night five days before the inauguration of Joe Biden. Photo by David Butow/ReduxA National Guardsman stands watch on Independence Ave. last at night on January 15.  Photo by David Butow/Redux

Source: Politico, Fortress D.C.

Kremlin critic Navalny arrested after landing in Moscow

MOSCOW — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport after returning from Germany on Sunday, the prison service said.

The prison service said he was detained for multiple violations of parole and terms of a suspended prison sentence and would be held in custody until a court makes a decision in his case.

Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent and determined foe, had spent the previous five months in Germany recovering from a nerve agent attack that he blamed on the Kremlin. Navalny decided to leave Berlin of his own free will and wasn’t under any apparent pressure to leave from Germany.

The prison service made the announcement after the flight carrying Navalny landed in the Russian capital, though at a different airport than had been scheduled. It was a possible attempt to outwit journalists and supporters who wanted to witness Navalny’s return.

Russia’s prison service last week issued a warrant for his arrest, saying he had violated the terms of suspended sentence he received on a 2014 conviction for embezzlement. The prison service has asked a Moscow court to turn Navalny’s 3 1/2-year suspended sentence into a real one.

After boarding the Moscow flight in Berlin on Sunday, Navalny said of the prospect of arrest: “It’s impossible; I’m an innocent man.”

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied a role in the opposition leader’s poisoning.

Navalny supporters and journalists had come to Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport, where the plane was scheduled to land, but it ended up touching down at Sheremetyevo airport, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) away. There was no immediate explanation for the flight diversion.

The OVD-Info group, which monitors political arrests, said at least 37 people were arrested at Vnukovo Airport, although their affiliations weren’t immediately clear.

Vnukovo banned journalists from working inside the terminal, saying in a statement last week that the move was due to epidemiological concerns. The airport also blocked off access to the international arrivals area.

Police prisoner-detention vehicles stood outside the terminal on Sunday.

The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and opposition social media reported Sunday that several Navalny supporters in St. Petersburg had been removed from Moscow-bound trains or been prevented from boarding flights late Saturday and early Sunday, including the coordinator of his staff for the region of Russia’s second-largest city.

Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later.

Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning. They refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.

Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.

Source: Politico, Kremlin critic Navalny arrested after landing in Moscow