Trump mess on 'my doorstep'
It was one of President-elect Joe Biden's sharpest attacks since the election on his soon-to-be-predecessor. Biden said of the massive cyberattack recently discovered on U.S. government and private-sector systems: "This assault happened on Donald Trump’s watch when he wasn’t watching."
Trump "failed to prioritize cybersecurity" during his nearly four years in power, and that "failure will land on my doorstep" starting next month, Biden said Tuesday at a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware. "Even if he doesn’t take it seriously, I will," Biden said.
But until then, Biden said, "It’s still his responsibility as president to defend American interests for the next four weeks." Even as top Trump administration officials have said all signs point to Russia as having carried out the hacking, Biden said, "This president hasn’t even identified who is responsible yet." Besides suggesting Russia may not be the perpetrator, Trump has minimized the seriousness of the cyberattack — an "irrational downplaying" is how Biden put it.
In part, hackers breached third-party software contractor SolarWinds and made their way into some government networks, including those of the Treasury and Commerce departments.
Given Trump’s reluctance to publicly blame Russia, it appears likely that any formal U.S. retaliation for the hacking will fall to Biden. The president-elect said he would work with U.S. allies to set up international rules to hold nation-states accountable for cyberattacks and vowed that his administration would make cybersecurity a top priority.
The president-elect noted with frustration that "the Defense Department won’t even brief us," having called off some transition meetings.
"There’s still so much we don’t know," Biden said. "But we know this much: This attack constitutes a grave risk to our national security. It was carefully planned and carefully orchestrated."
Early Trump pals get pardons
When Trump entered the 2016 race for president, the first two Republican House members to endorse him were Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California. Later on, the two lawmakers were busted and pleaded guilty to corruption charges — insider trading by Collins; and the use of campaign funds by Hunter as a personal piggy bank, including to support extramarital affairs.
On Tuesday, Trump rewarded both with pardons. That will send Collins home before his 26-month sentence is up. Hunter won't serve any time. Trump also commuted the 10-year sentence of a former Republican congressman from Texas, Steve Stockman, who was convicted in 2018 on charges of fraud and money laundering.
Also on Trump's latest pardon list were two people who pleaded guilty to making false statements in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation: 2016 campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and lawyer Alex van der Zwaan. Both served short sentences. A White House statement said the Papadopoulos pardon "helps correct the wrong that Mueller’s team inflicted on so many people." Trump previously pardoned Russia investigation figures Michael Flynn and Roger Stone.
Pardons also were granted to four former U.S. service members who were convicted in the 2007 massacre of 17 Iraqi civilians while working as contractors in Baghdad for Blackwater Worldwide. Blackwater's founder, Erik Prince, is the brother of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and a forceful ally of the Trump administration.
Despite speculation, not on the list were members of Trump’s own family, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and the president himself, The Associated Press noted. But Trump has four weeks left in his term.
Trump hits COVID relief bill
Trump on Tuesday night assailed the coronavirus relief package overwhelmingly passed Monday by Congress, demanding a rewrite to increase the $600 direct payments to Americans to $2,000 and to get rid of the "wasteful" items. He didn't outright threaten to veto it but implied he might.
Representatives from the Trump administration worked with congressional leaders during protracted negotiations to get a bill the president was willing to sign, ABC News reported. Trump announced his objections in a video tweeted Tuesday night. Republicans insisted on the lower payment figures. Earlier, Trump's treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, tweeted, "I am pleased that Congress has passed on an overwhelming bipartisan basis additional critical economic relief for American workers, families and businesses."
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saw a 13th-hour opportunity from Trump's video, responding that they've wanted $2,000 checks all along. "Maybe Trump can finally make himself useful and get Republicans not to block it again," Schumer tweeted.
Unsurprisingly, the president's flailing effort to overturn his election defeat also was part of his message. He said Congress must send him "a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package, and maybe that administration will be me."
Janison: Garbage time
Drawing the final breaths of elected power, the Trump administration's top personnel seem to be taking little real action, other than dealing with the fictions, whims and vanity of their defeated boss, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. A lack of public purpose has been clear from the start of the administration, but now the randomness and futility of the whole troubled enterprise come into full view.
Attorney General William Barr may have strung Trump along into believing he'd carry out fierce inquisitions against the leadership of the Democratic Party. But like predecessor Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from what became the Mueller probe, Barr never delivered the desired goods — probably because there were no goods to deliver.
Giuliani failed in less subtle ways. Still a sycophant, the former New York City mayor helped gin up Trump's fantasies that he really won the election. Giuliani's efforts to overturn the voters' verdict with false assertions of fraud proved almost as ridiculous as his earlier efforts to destroy Biden with mystery laptops and Kremlin-friendly affidavits.
Most of the news from the Oval Office is about unlikely schemes, plots, tensions and chaos, such as Flynn's crazy talk about getting the military to seize voting machines and rerun the election in swing states.
Loyal-to-a-fault Vice President Mike Pence — who for all we know, he may have proved more competent than Trump in the top job — has become an object of the unhappy lame-duck president's irritation, according to Axios. Trump recently was triggered by an ad from the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump PAC, that said Pence was "backing away" from him, the news site reported.
Those Russian cyberattacks he shrugs off? Trump might have explained long ago why he always takes such a blithe tack in the face of American intelligence information.
Sidney, Trump hardly knew ye
Far-right conspiracy loon lawyer Sidney Powell made three visits to the White House in recent days as Trump entertained the idea of naming her a special counsel to investigate election-fraud claims that fall apart under scrutiny. On Tuesday, the Daily Beast reported that Trump on Monday told her no thanks. That's a win for whatever that's worth, for Giuliani, who told the Daily Beast: "She is no longer part of [our] team. She is on her own."
Not that Powell is ready to fade away quietly. In a statement to Fox News, Powell said she has been barred from interacting with Trump, and she suggested a conspiracy was afoot. Powell claimed she was "blocked by the White House counsel and others from seeing or speaking to the president" after raising "evidence of foreign interference from Iran and China."
But Fox's John Roberts, who read the statement, said Powell "still has the ability to call the president" and is not "on a do-not-admit list."
Biden's choice for Education
Biden announced Tuesday night he will nominate Miguel Cardona, Connecticut’s education chief and a lifelong champion of public schools, to serve as his education secretary.
The choice of Cardona, 45, a former elementary school teacher and principal, aims to fulfill Biden's promise to nominate someone with experience working in public education and make a sharp break from the direction taken by Trump's education secretary, billionaire Betsy DeVos.
Unlike DeVos, a "school choice" advocate who Biden criticized as an opponent of public schools, Cardona is a product of them. Born in Connecticut to Puerto Rican parents and raised in a housing project, he entered kindergarten unable to speak English.
Tweeting from zero
Twitter has told Biden’s team that Trump’s followers will not carry over to the official Twitter accounts assigned to the new president and White House in January. That's a reversal from the last transition and means the Biden administration will have to build the following from scratch for @POTUS and @WhiteHouse.
"In 2016, the Trump admin absorbed all of President Obama's Twitter followers on @POTUS and @WhiteHouse -- at Team 44's urging," Biden digital director Rob Flaherty tweeted. "In 2020, Twitter has informed us that as of right now the Biden administration will have to start from zero." A spokesperson for the company said it is continuing to work out issues related to the account exchange with Biden’s camp. Trump largely disregarded the @POTUS handle during the past four years to continue tweeting from the personal account.
The Biden team said the new plan is for @Transition46 to become @WhiteHouse. Followers of @JoeBiden and @WhiteHouse will be encouraged to follow the new account with a one-time front-page notification, but they will not be migrated over automatically, Bloomberg News reported.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- California Gov. Gavin Newsom named a successor for the Senate seat soon to be vacated by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. It's California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a son of Mexican immigrants.
- The U.S. government is close to a deal to acquire tens of millions of additional doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine in exchange for helping the pharmaceutical giant gain better access to manufacturing supplies, according to The Associated Press. Advisers are exploring whether Biden should invoke the Defense Production Act to boost vaccine production, NBC News reported.
- Biden said Tuesday it will take months to roll back some of Trump’s actions on immigration, offering a slower timeline than he promised on the campaign trail. "The last thing we need," said Biden, would be to immediately reverse Trump's asylum restrictions "and then end up with 2 million people on our border."
- Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, said Tuesday she plans to retire but is willing to first help Biden’s team as needed. She recently faced questions over a post-Thanksgiving gathering at a vacation house with family members who live in different homes.
- The coronavirus relief package passed by Congress on Monday night did away with mandatory paid sick leave for workers infected with COVID-19, which was part of the March aid bill, BuzzFeed reports. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the extension. Businesses that want to offer the leave can still get tax credits.
- Senior advisers to Trump are preparing to launch a nonprofit group to promote his policies once he leaves office, creating a landing spot for former Trump officials after the White House changes hands, Politico reported.