The Full Belmonte, 1/18/21
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In the lead-up to Inauguration Day, more troops have been installed in Washington, D.C., than are in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria combined. State capitols have also ramped up their law-enforcement presence. THE HILL
The FBI is screening all 25,000 National Guard troops heading to D.C. as fears mount among defense officials that those responsible for security at the inauguration could participate in an insider attack, The Associated Press reported Sunday. Read more at The Hill
Half a million Americans are expected to have died from COVID-19 by mid-February, said the incoming CDC director. The assessment comes as health experts warn new variants of the coronavirus could speed up its spread. CNN
Known U.S. cases: 23,936,775 (1 in 14 Americans)
Known U.S. deaths: 397,600 (1.66% of U.S. cases ↓ — 1 in 832 Americans)
Known worldwide deaths: 2,031,052
U.S. percentage of known worldwide deaths: 19.58% ↑
U.S. percentage of world's population: 4.28% (Census.gov)
US Vaccine: West Virginia has emerged as an unlikely success in the nation’s otherwise chaotic vaccine rollout. It's largely a result of the state’s decision to enlist mom-and-pop pharmacies to give the shots, rather than agreeing to a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens. Now more shots have gone into people’s arms per capita across West Virginia than in any other state. Data shows that at least 7.5% of the population has received the first of two shots. The vaccine effort is being trumpeted by the governor as running counter to preconceived notions about the state being backward, Cuneyt Dil reports. Read more at AP
A heavy-metal guitarist, the alleged leader of a Colorado paramilitary training group and two ex-military militia members from Ohio have been charged with allegedly taking part in the riot at the Capitol last week, as the FBI ratchets up its investigation into the role extremist groups played in storming the building.
Jon Schaffer, an Indiana musician, turned himself in to the FBI on Sunday afternoon, officials said. On Jan. 6, Schaffer was photographed inside the Capitol, wearing a hat that said “Oath Keepers Lifetime Member.” Schaffer founded Iced Earth, a heavy-metal band, and music fans quickly recognized him as the FBI circulated wanted posters with his face on them.
Schaffer was charged with six counts, including engaging in an act of physical violence. Authorities said Schaffer was among the rioters who targeted U.S. Capitol Police with bear spray.
Also charged in a court filing made public Sunday was Robert Gieswein, 24, of Cripple Creek, Colo. Court papers say that Gieswein is affiliated with an Oath Keepers-related extremist group called the Three Percenters, and that he assaulted federal officers outside the Capitol with bear spray and a baseball bat; “encouraged other rioters as they broke a window of the Capitol building; entered … and then charged through the Capitol building.”
Gieswein runs a private paramilitary training group called the Woodland Wild Dogs, and a patch for that group was visible on a tactical vest he wore during the attack on Congress, an FBI affidavit said.
Gieswein gave a media interview in which he echoed anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, the affidavit said, and said his message to Congress was “that they need to get the corrupt politicians out of office. Pelosi, the Clintons … every single one of them, Biden, Kamala.”
Also arrested Sunday were Donovan Crowl, 50, a former U.S. Marine, and Army veteran Jessica Watkins, 38. A bartender, Watkins recently told the Ohio Capital Journal that she formed the “Ohio State Regular Militia” in 2019 — a unit of the Oath Keepers, the FBI said — and that the group has appeared at a dozen protests to “protect people.” Read more at Washington Post
Rally Organizers: An AP review of records finds that veterans of Donald Trump’s failed campaign were key players in the rally that spawned a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol. The findings undercut claims that the event was the brainchild of Trump's grassroots supporters. A pro-Trump nonprofit group called Women for America First hosted the “Save America Rally.” Paperwork filed to get an event permit from the National Park Service lists more than half a dozen people who just weeks earlier had been paid thousands of dollars by Trump’s campaign. Since the siege, several of them have scrambled to distance themselves from the rally, Richard Lardner and Michelle R. Smith report. Read more at AP
Donald Trump is expected to issue more than 100 presidential pardons on Tuesday, during his final hours in the White House, but may not pardon himself or his immediate family, it was reported on Monday.
White House officials say Trump has privately debated with aides whether he should take the extraordinary step of issuing a pardon for himself. Some administration insiders have reportedly warned against a self-pardon, arguing that it would make Trump look guilty.
Some scholars believe a self-pardon would go against the US constitution, since it violates the basic principle that nobody should be able to judge their own case. But the issue has never been tested.
It is not clear whether Trump will act to pardon members of his inner circle. They include Steve Bannon, who has been charged with defrauding individuals who donated to a wall project on the US-Mexico border. Another possible name is Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, who led attempts to overturn the result of November’s election. Trump and Giuliani are said to have recently fallen out over unpaid legal bills.
CNN reported on Monday that the final batch of clemency actions was expected to feature criminal justice reform-minded pardons as well as more controversial ones for political allies and friends. Dr Salomon Melgen, a prominent eye doctor from Palm Beach who is in prison after being convicted on dozens of counts of healthcare fraud, is expected to be on the clemency list, CNN said.
Trump has already given pardons to 94 people, most to prominent figures caught up in the investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into conspiracy with Russia. They include Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, longtime crony Roger Stone and ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn, who admitted lying to the FBI. Read more at The Guardian
On Monday, Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris will resign from the Senate, trading in her seat for a higher role : When she's inaugurated with President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday, she will also take over as president of the Senate. California's secretary of state, Alex Padilla, will be appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to serve the remainder of Harris' term, which was set to end in 2022. As a senator, Harris served on several Senate committees, including Budget, Judiciary, Intelligence and Homeland Security. On Wednesday, she will be sworn in as vice president by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — the nation's first Latina justice. According to a source, Harris chose Sotomayor to administer the oath because both of them represent "firsts." Harris will not only be the first female vice president, but also the first Black and South Asian woman to hold the job. Read more at USA Today
WASHINGTON — As President Trump prepares to leave office in days, a lucrative market for pardons is coming to a head, with some of his allies collecting fees from wealthy felons or their associates to push the White House for clemency, according to documents and interviews with more than three dozen lobbyists and lawyers.
The brisk market for pardons reflects the access peddling that has defined Mr. Trump’s presidency as well as his unorthodox approach to exercising unchecked presidential clemency powers. Pardons and commutations are intended to show mercy to deserving recipients, but Mr. Trump has used many of them to reward personal or political allies. Read more at New York Times
The website for the social media platform Parler reappeared on Sunday after Amazon last week suspended the site from its web hosting service.
The website shared a new message from Parler CEO John Matze asking “Hello world, is this thing on?”
“Now seems like the right time to remind you all — both lovers and haters — why we started this platform,” a post on the website below Matze’s statement said. “We believe privacy is paramount and free speech essential, especially on social media. Our aim has always been to provide a nonpartisan public square where individuals can enjoy and exercise their rights to both.”
Twitter has temporarily suspended the account of the Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green, who has gained a large following on social media, in part by posting incendiary videos and comments.
Greene, a Republican businesswoman, is the first candidate who expressed support for the baseless, far-right QAnon conspiracy theory to win a US House seat. Greene in November won the race for Georgia’s 14th congressional district after her Democratic opponent had dropped out.
On Sunday, she posted a clip from an interview with a local news outlet in which she condemned Georgia election officials and expressed support for debunked theories claiming that voting machines, absentee ballots and other issues led to widespread fraud in the state during the presidential election.
Twitter responded to the tweet, and others, with a message that called the election fraud claim “disputed”, and saying it posed “a risk of violence”.
A statement from Greene’s team on Sunday included screenshots from Twitter that appeared to show the company informing the congresswoman she had violated its rules and would be prohibited from interacting with content on the site for 12 hours. Read more at The Guardian
Keystone oil project pledges zero carbon emissions. The controversial pipeline’s builder has pledged to use union labor and cut emissions in a bid to keep the project alive under the Biden administration. Read more at Wall Street Journal
The House could take up a waiver for Lloyd Austin to serve as Joe Biden’s Defense secretary as early as this week, according to Democratic insiders. Leadership has not set the schedule yet, but the Austin waiver may reach the floor before the House leaves town after what will be a tension-filled inauguration week.
Austin, a retired four-star Army general, needs a waiver from Congress to lead the Pentagon because there is a federal law that prohibits recent active-duty officers from serving as Defense secretary. Austin, who retired from the military in 2016, would be the first Black man to hold the Cabinet post. James Mattis, an ex-Marine general, needed a similar waiver in 2017, and some lawmakers were initially concerned about continuing the trend with Austin. Read more at Punchbowl
In what is widely expected to be Drew Brees’ career finale, the 13-time Pro Bowl Saints quarterback threw three interceptions.
An opportunistic Tampa Bay defense totaled four takeaways Sunday night as the Buccaneers outlasted New Orleans 30-20 at the Superdome in an NFL divisional playoff game. The turnovers overshadowed what was expected to be a display of passer acumen between future Hall of Famers Brees and Tom Brady. Read more at USA Today
The University of Maryland has reached a $3.5 million settlement agreement with the family of a football player who collapsed from heatstroke during a practice in May 2018 and died two weeks later.
The details of the settlement were reported by ESPN and appeared in an agenda item for a meeting of the Maryland Board of Public Works, which will vote on it on Jan. 27. The settlement was reached more than two years after the death of the football player, Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman. Read more at New York Times
Samsung’s de facto leader returns to prison. Lee Jae-yong returned to prison after an appeals court handed down a 30-month sentence following a retrial of his 2017 conviction on charges of bribing South Korea’s former president. His absence leaves the technology giant rudderless for the second time in four years as it struggles to chart a path out of the pandemic. Read at Wall Street Journal
Thousands of migrants from Honduras have entered Guatemala and plan to continue north to the United States, potentially posing an early test of the immigration policies of President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to ease the Trump administration’s restrictions on asylum.
After a few hundred people were able to push past the border police Friday, thousands more followed into Guatemala on Saturday. Officials have said that between 7,000 and 9,000 people entered the country, many bypassing coronavirus checks. Read more at Boston Globe
President-elect Joe Biden picked two Obama-era regulators to oversee key financial agencies: Gary Gensler to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Rohit Chopra as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Read more at New York Times
leksei Navalny — Russia’s most prominent opposition leader — returned to the country five months after a near-fatal poisoning. The police arrested him at the airport. Read more at New York Times
Lives Lived: Phil Spector was a pioneering producer who shaped the sound of pop music in the 1960s but who spent the end of his life in prison after murdering Lana Clarkson at his home in 2003. He has died, from complications from Covid-19, at 81. Read more at New York Times
Rebekah Jones, the founder of Florida’s coronavirus database who has clashed publicly with Governor Ron DeSantis in a dispute over data manipulation, said she would surrender on Sunday after a warrant was issued for her arrest.
The state department of law enforcement said it would not reveal details of the allegations against the 31-year-old data analyst until she was in custody. The agency had been investigating allegations Jones illegally accessed a state messaging system and staged an armed raid at her Tallahassee home last month.
Jones, who was fired by the Florida department of health in May for insubordination after claiming she was ordered to censor and manipulate information on the database she founded and managed, said she was told the charge was unrelated to that investigation, and accused DeSantis of retaliation.
“The governor will not win his war on science and free speech,” she said in tweets that also confirmed her intention to turn herself in to police on Sunday night. “He will not silence those who speak out.” Read more at The Guardian
Britain says it plans to offer a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to every adult by September as the nation’s health service battles the worst crisis in its 72-year-history.
The government says it is continuing to open new vaccination sites and will soon begin trialing around-the-clock injections at some locations to help increase the pace of delivery with the target September. The ambitious vaccination program comes amid crushing pressures on the National Health Service, Danica Kirka reports.
Already beleaguered hospitals are admitting another virus patient every 30 seconds, putting the service in its most precarious situation ever. Read more at AP
Eastern Europe Doubts: Across the Balkans and other nations in southeastern Europe, a vaccination campaign is being overshadowed by heated political debates or conspiracy theories that threaten to thwart the process. In countries like the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania and Bulgaria, vaccine skeptics have ranged from former presidents to top athletes and doctors. Nations that once routinely went through mass inoculations under Communist leaders are deeply split over whether to take the vaccines at all, Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec report from Belgrade. Read more at AP
Nestlé Prepared Foods has recalled more than 700,000 pounds of frozen pepperoni Hot Pockets that may contain pieces of glass and hard plastic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said on Friday. Read more at New York Times
After more than quadrupling in value to more than $40 billion during the coronavirus pandemic, Peloton is now experiencing some serious growing pains. Some customers who ordered bikes as far back as October in expectation of having them for the holidays or in time to begin New Year’s resolutions find themselves still waiting for deliveries. Read more at New York Times
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