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Washington braces for violence as Trumpers swarm for election showdown

Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, on

Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys, on Dec. 12. Credit: Getty Images / Stephanie Keith

Will there be blood?

For weeks, President Donald Trump has been egging on supporters to pour into Washington for protests on Wednesday, when Congress is due to meet to accept President-elect Joe Biden's election victory. "Be there, will be wild!" Trump said in one tweet. That's what local officials and Capitol Hill security forces are worried about.

"We have received some information that there are individuals intent on bringing firearms into our city and that just will not be tolerated," acting D.C. police Chief Robert Contee said at a news conference Monday. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the District of Columbia has mobilized the National Guard to back up the police force, which will have every officer on duty Tuesday and Wednesday. The Washington Post said the Guard deployment will be smaller than those called in during Black Lives Matter protests in June and the units will not carry guns.

Bowser has asked D.C. residents to stay away from downtown Washington on both days and "not to engage with demonstrators who come to our city seeking confrontation" while members of far-right groups, including the Proud Boys, swarm the streets. "We will not allow people to incite violence, intimidate our residents or cause destruction in our city," she said.

Trump plans to appear at a rally near the White House, ABC News reported. A previous day of pro-Trump events in December ended in violence as hundreds of Trump supporters wearing the Proud Boys' black-and-yellow colors picked fights with local activists and attacked random passersby. A U.S. Army specialist, Christopher Langley, told The Washington Post he was punched in the head, knocked to the ground by at least four Proud Boys, even though "I didn’t do anything to provoke them … I wasn’t wearing anything they disagreed with."

The Proud Boys leader, Enrique Tarrio, said the group this time won't wear its colors — that they're going "incognito" and will spread around downtown in smaller groups, making them harder to spot. But Tarrio was spotted riding into town Monday from the airport. Police arrested him on charges of vandalizing a Black church during last month's unrest, and Monday's possession of two high-capacity firearms magazines.

Some extremists on online forums have talked about breaking into federal buildings or committing violence against law enforcement officers who try to stop them from storming Congress, the Daily Beast reported.

On Capitol Hill, a security memo from congressional officials will encourage lawmakers to stay inside the Capitol complex and use underground tunnels to travel between its buildings, Fox News reported.

Investigations sought of Trump call

Trump's taped phone call badgering Georgia's top election official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, to "find" votes for him and have the state's results "recalculated" to flip Biden's victory have prompted calls for both federal and state investigations.

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), a former Nassau district attorney, wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Monday, calling for a criminal investigation, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. She was joined by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a former military prosecutor.

"We believe Donald Trump engaged in solicitation of, or conspiracy to commit, a number of election crimes" in violation of laws "aimed at preventing election fraud," Rice and Lieu wrote in the letter.

Raffensperger said Monday that it was unlikely his office would open an investigation into the Saturday phone call, but he suggested a criminal probe could still be launched by an Atlanta-area district attorney. Fulton County DA Fani Willis said in a statement that her office will look into it if it gets a referral from Raffensperger. Willis said she found Trump’s conversation with the secretary of state "disturbing." Lawyers told The New York Times a prosecution would be difficult unless it could be proved Trump knew he was soliciting fraud.

Janison: Another 'perfect' call

History has repeated itself. The summer of 2019, writes Newsday's Dan Janison, brought one of the more ridiculous moments of Trump's presidency, when he wasted the clout of his lofty perch to push a needy foreign ally to announce an investigation aimed at smearing select U.S. citizens.

Months later, after he was found out, Trump described the recorded conversation that led to his impeachment "a perfect phone call." Perfectly corrupt, said the House's Democratic majority — which soon impeached Trump for abuse of power before his Republican adherents in the Senate let him off the hook.

Now, Trump has prodded and threatened GOP officials in Georgia to retroactively rig election results in his favor even after recounts and probes amply showed that he lost.

In several ways, the latest explosive phone call echoes the same high-pressure, poorly articulated and truthless sales pitch as his famous 2019 exchange with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump neither negotiates nor changes minds; he and his target talk past each other and reach no agreement.

One similarity lies in the U.S. president's profligate use of fabrications. Again, Trump was pushing tales of convenience that he wanted others to believe so he could intimidate someone of lesser power. The question is how long the GOP rank and file will stand for this once he leaves office. That depends on whether Republicans revert to being a political party, rather than the cult of a delusional demagogue.

Visit to the debunker

Gabriel Sterling, a top Georgia election official, offered a painstaking, detailed, item-by-item refutation on Monday of the false fraud claims that Trump repeated on his weekend call with Raffensperger.

"It's whack-a-mole again," said Sterling, the state’s voting-system implementation manager and, like Raffensperger, a Republican. "This is all easily, provably, false. Yet the president persists."

"There is no shredding of ballots going on. That’s not real. That’s not happening," Sterling said. "No one is changing parts or pieces out of Dominion voting machines," he said at another point. "I don’t even know what that means. It’s not a real thing … I don’t even know how exactly to explain that."

Watch the full news conference here, which opens with a preview of Georgia's U.S. Senate runoff vote. Sterling openly worried that Trump's constant falsehoods will mean diminished turnout on Tuesday if many Republicans truly believe the November election was stolen from them.

NBC News writes that Trump, on the call, rounded up fragments of baseless theories that were pushed primarily by followers of the QAnon conspiracy cult over the last two months. The president denounced one low-level election worker as a "professional vote scammer" and a "hustler," based on "rumors" that are "trending on the internet." Trump was undeterred when told the rumors were false.

Dissenting Republicans: Challenges will backfire

There are Republicans who have assailed the election-certification challenges planned Wednesday by Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and a likely majority of House Republicans as a dangerous assault on American democracy and an affront to the will of the voters. Then there are those who won't go along with the challenges because it could create a practical problem for GOP presidential candidates in the future.

"From a purely partisan perspective, Republican presidential candidates have won the national popular vote only once in the last 32 years," said a statement from seven conservative House Republicans. "They have therefore depended on the electoral college for nearly all presidential victories in the last generation.

"If we perpetuate the notion that Congress may disregard certified electoral votes — based solely on its own assessment that one or more states mishandled the presidential election — we will be delegitimizing the very system that led Donald Trump to victory in 2016, and that could provide the only path to victory in 2024," the statement said.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who has been a staunch Trump supporter, wrote about the precedent that would be set by overturning the Electoral College results.

"Congress would take away the power to choose the president from the people, which would essentially end presidential elections and place that power in the hands of whichever party controls Congress," said Cotton. Then, "Democrats could achieve their longstanding goal of eliminating the Electoral College in effect by refusing to count electoral votes in the future for a Republican president-elect."

Cotton did not win over Trump with his logic. The president tweeted that Cotton, a potential 2024 presidential hopeful, will pay a price. "@SenTomCotton Republicans have pluses & minuses, but one thing is sure, THEY NEVER FORGET!" Trump's tweet said. His scorched-earth strategy extending to Republican turf, he called Republicans who won't stand with him the "Surrender Caucus."

No pressure, Mike

Trump hasn't abandoned the far-fetched notion that Vice President Mike Pence can pull a rabbit out of his hat and steer the result in his favor when Pence, as president of the Senate, presides over the final election certification on Wednesday.

"I have to tell you, I hope that our great vice president, our great vice president, comes through for us," Trump told a rally in Georgia on Monday night for Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who face runoff elections Tuesday. "He’s a great guy. Because if he doesn’t come through, I won’t like him quite as much. No, Mike is a great guy...."

Pence does not have unilateral power to affect the outcome. But The New York Times reported that Pence has carefully tried to look like he is loyally following the president’s lead even as he goes through a process that is expected to end with him reading out a declaration that Biden is the president-elect. Pence has told Trump he has no power to thwart Biden’s Electoral College win, and aides say the vice president plans to stick to his perfunctory role in the proceedings, The Washington Post reported.

Along with reciting his false fraud claims, Trump at the Georgia rally seemed to acknowledge between the lines he may soon be gone from the White House. He noted he hasn't gotten around yet to making Mexico pay for the border wall, his signature 2016 promise. "That's right, Mexico is paying for the wall. Or if I were here, they would be. Because we were going to charge them a nice fee right at the entry points," he told the mostly maskless crowd. Trump also predicted Biden won't get along as well as he did with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Fauci's hope: April shower of vaccines

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert, told Newsday in an exclusive interview that the general public could have access to COVID-19 vaccines as soon as April, if the rollout speeds up in the coming weeks.

"We hope that by the time we get to the end of March, the beginning of April, that we'll be at the point where the priority groups have already been vaccinated and it's what I would call open season," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Newsday anchor Faith Jessie and editorial board member Randi Marshall.

"I think by the time we get to April, we will be at that point where a normal man or woman who has no underlying condition and no reason to be at a high risk, can get vaccinated if they want to," he said.

Read more from Fauci's interview in Newsday's story by Lisa L. Colangelo and David Reich-Hale. It includes a link for a video excerpt.

At noon on Tuesday, Fauci will be the guest at a Newsday virtual event to discuss what Long Islanders want to know about the safety and protections of the COVID-19 vaccines. To watch, go to newsday.com/fauci.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Biden flew to Georgia to headline a rally Monday for Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The president-elect blasted Trump for "whining and complaining" about the election outcome and urged voters in Georgia to deliver a Senate majority to Democrats.
  • Long Island's Republican Reps. Lee Zeldin and Andrew Garbarino have not declared yet if they will heed Trump’s pleas to try to upend Biden’s victory by objecting to the election certification Wednesday, reports Newsday's Tom Brune and Figueroa. Long Island's Democrats — Rice, Thomas Suozzi and Gregory Meeks — have denounced the effort to challenge the certification.
  • In another Trump courtroom defeat, a federal judge in Washington on Monday rejected a lawsuit seeking to undo election results brought by two Wisconsin Republicans and others, writing that it "rests on a fundamental and obvious misreading of the Constitution," was riddled with errors and brought in bad faith. Judge James Boasberg said he was considering referring the lawyer who brought the case for disciplinary action.
  • Almost 200 of the country’s top business leaders urged Congress to certify the Electoral College results for Biden, arguing that "attempts to thwart or delay this process run counter to the essential tenets of our democracy." The signatories of their letter included several from New York, including real estate figures Rob Speyer and William Rudin, The Washington Post reported.
  • The Trump-Raffensperger call brought attention to one participant, Cleta Mitchell, a rare Trump election lawyer from an upper-tier law firm. A statement from the firm, Foley & Lardner, said Monday it was "aware of, and are concerned by, Ms. Mitchell’s participation in the January 2 conference call and are working to understand her involvement more thoroughly." The firm's policy, it said, was for its attorneys not to represent "any parties seeking to contest the results of the presidential election."
  • Even as Trump remains convinced he won the election, thanks in large part to advisers indulging his fantasy, he's not totally blind to the likelihood he can't overturn it, The Washington Post reported. Trump has asked several advisers in recent weeks for advice on what he should do instead of attending Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

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