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Tensions, threats, disarray in run-up to Biden inauguration

National Guard members outside the U.S. Capitol on

National Guard members outside the U.S. Capitol on Monday as security is increased in the region ahead of the inauguration. Credit: Bloomberg / Sarah Silbiger

Waiting to exhale

Law enforcement officials in the nation's capital made a tragic mistake last week of underestimating the menace posed by extremists whipped into deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol by President Donald Trump's delusional rants about a "stolen" election. Fingers are tightly crossed that authorities will be ready for the next time.

The FBI is warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 states' capitols and in Washington in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, stoking fears of more insurrectionist bloodshed.

The Pentagon has authorized up to 15,000 National Guardsmen from across the country to deploy to the nation's capital to support law enforcement before and during the inauguration, defense officials announced. How they will be armed will be worked out in discussions with the FBI, police and other agencies, said Army Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

There are worries about voids in leadership in the federal security apparatus, where turmoil worsened by Trump purges has reigned since the election. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf abruptly resigned Monday, hours after announcing that special security precautions for the inauguration will begin Wednesday, instead of Jan. 19, "in light of events of the past week and the evolving security landscape."

Wolf attributed his decision for leaving to "recent events" and court rulings that have challenged the legality of his appointment. The Secret Service, a DHS entity, typically plays the lead security role at presidential inaugurations, and the U.S. Capitol siege has put the agency's planners and federal partners in feverish reassessment mode to consider all of the ways they can mitigate threats of a repeat, The Washington Post reported.

None of the top federal law enforcement agencies has held a news briefing since last Wednesday's Capitol assault, an unusual nonresponse after the world-shaking spasm of domestic terrorism. From the hollowed-out Trump White House, it's been crickets.

Still, inauguration plans move forward. Biden said Monday that he was "not afraid" to take the oath of office as planned, outside the Capitol at noon on Jan. 20. It was announced that his first post-inaugural event will be a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He will be joined by the incoming first lady, Jill Biden; Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff; former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama; former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush; and former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.

Impeachment ripening rapidly

The House speeded ahead Monday with plans to impeach Trump for a second time, warning he is a threat to democracy. Trump faces a single charge — "incitement of insurrection" — after the deadly Capitol riot in an impeachment resolution that the House will begin debating Wednesday, if Trump refuses to resign and Vice President Mike Pence doesn't initiate other procedures to remove him.

"President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government," reads the four-page impeachment bill. "He will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office."

With no sign that Pence will go along, the next step if the House, as expected, passes the resolution will be up to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated a trial likely won’t start until the upper chamber returns on Jan. 19, the day before Biden's inauguration.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer is looking at reconvening the chamber under emergency powers granted to Senate leaders in 2004, as a way to move immediately to an impeachment trial. But McConnell is unlikely to go along.

Amid concern about what the Biden administration needs from the Senate to get up and running, the president-elect told reporters Monday afternoon he has spoken to members in both chambers about a potential plan to "bifurcate" the Senate proceedings, with senators potentially holding the trial in the mornings and working to confirm his Cabinet nominees in the afternoons.

Charging up

The District of Columbia’s attorney general, Karl Racine, said Monday he is looking at whether to charge Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) with inciting the violent invasion of the Capitol. Racine also left the door open to prosecuting Trump once he leaves office. All four gave inflammatory speeches at a rally last week before the mob moved to the Capitol.

Criminal charges may not be Trump's only worry. His advisers have warned him he could face civil liability too, ABC News reported. "Think O.J.," an adviser explained it to the president. It was a reference to O.J. Simpson, who was found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife and a friend but later faced stiff civil damages after being sued by his ex-wife's family.

What about a self-pardon? Trump has been warned by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and former Attorney General Bill Barr that it's doubtful that would stand up, according to CNN.

Janison: Didn't have to be this way

As things turned out, Trump got to stay in office long enough to subvert a federal pandemic response, lose a national election for his party and incite a seditious riot. For all that, and for other damage too, you can blame the politics-as-usual of the Republican Senate majority, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Refusing to measure the long-term menace that Trump presented when it had the opportunity during last year's impeachment trial, McConnell's band of regular pols, anglers, grovelers and shape-shifters extended the demagogue's tenure on the chance that Trump's acquittal would keep them in power.

If Trump could get away with pressuring Ukraine to do his dirty work against rival Americans, you had to wonder back then whether the best — as his cult followers would see it — was yet to come.

Left to linger are the what-ifs. What if the GOP caucus had the foresight to decide it was time for Pence, with his more controlled demeanor, political seasoning, relative rectitude and authentic right-wing credentials, to take over? Had Trump been removed in favor of Pence before the coronavirus pandemic exploded, it is hard to believe the vice president would not have done at least a better job. He might even have beaten Biden, and even if not, it is almost impossible to believe that Pence would ever whip up violence over fraudulent claims of a rigged election.

Capitol cop collaborators?

Two Capitol Police officers were suspended, and up to 15 more are under investigation for their behavior during last week's assault, in which one of their brother officers was fatally attacked by the Trump mob and others were savagely beaten.

One of the suspended officers took a selfie with someone who was part of the mob that overtook the Capitol, and the other wore a "Make America Great Again" hat and started directing rioters around the building, according to Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat. "Capitol Police are looking at everybody involved that could have potentially facilitated at a big level or small level in any way," Ryan said.

Other officers are struggling to cope with the trauma of last Wednesday's events. One officer who was at the scene committed suicide over the weekend. CBS News reports the department has had to respond to "a couple of incidents" in which officers threatened to harm themselves. In one case, a female officer turned in her own weapon out of fear for what might happen.

Acting D.C. police Chief Robert Contee, whose forces suffered 56 injuries after rushing in to aid the beleaguered Capitol Police, said, "I have talked to officers who have done two tours in Iraq and say that this was scarier to them than their time in combat."

Federal agents also will look at whether current and former law enforcement officers played a role in the Capitol riot.

Look who's talking

Trump and Pence met at the White House on Monday. It was the first time they have spoken to each other since the president drew a target on his vice president's back for the "Hang Mike Pence" MAGA mob he unleashed on the Capitol, enraged that Trump's loyal No. 2 would not overreach his powers and overturn the electoral vote count.

Neither man made a statement afterward, but a senior administration official indicated Pence wasn't going to try to take over by invoking the 25th Amendment before Trump's term ends on Jan. 20. The official said they had a good conversation and discussed the week ahead while "reflecting on the last four years of the administration's work and accomplishments."

"They reiterated that those who broke the law and stormed the Capitol last week do not represent the America First movement backed by 75 million Americans, and pledged to continue the work on behalf of the country for the remainder of their term," the senior official said. Trump had 74.2 million popular votes to Biden's 81.3 million, and Trump last Wednesday sent his "love" to those who laid siege to the Capitol.

Trump's treatment of Pence has played badly in the White House, The Washington Post reported. One senior administration official described it as "unconscionable, even for the president."

"We’re very lucky that Mike Pence is a decent guy and rational and levelheaded," said Joe Grogan, the former head of the Domestic Policy Council under Trump. "If he had been replaced by someone as nuts as the people who have been surrounding the president as the primary advice givers for the last few months, we could have had even more of a bloodbath. Imagine what would have happened if Pence was devious and vile and didn’t stand up for the Constitution."

L.I. fallout; Zeldin faces backlash

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a stalwart Trump ally and one of 121 House Republicans who after the Capitol siege voted to challenge the affirmation of Biden's Electoral College win, faces a growing backlash and calls among critics to step down, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Local progressive Democrats started an online petition calling for Zeldin’s ouster that has collected more than 1,700 signatures, and dozens of protesters gathered outside his Patchogue office Monday, demanding his expulsion from Congress. The Long Island Federation of Labor, one of the region’s largest union groups, called for Zeldin’s resignation in an open letter. Suffolk GOP Chairman Jesse Garcia defended Zeldin, saying the calls for his resignation are "nothing more than partisan, far-left progressive wrangling."

John Feal of Nesconset, a prominent advocate for 9/11 first responders, announced he is considering a run against Zeldin should he seek reelection in 2022. "Lee Zeldin is not loyal to the people in the first [congressional] district; he’s loyal only to Donald Trump, who is a con man," Feal said.

Zeldin may have to get busy on fundraising. A rapidly growing roster of businesses has vowed cut off campaign contributions to those members of Congress who voted last week to challenge Biden’s victory. The companies include Amazon, General Electric, Dow, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon Communications, American Express, Airbnb, Cisco Systems, Best Buy and MasterCard.

Meanwhile, authorities across Long Island and New York State are boosting security, sharing intelligence and coordinating resources to prevent political violence in this region before Biden’s inauguration next week, reports Newsday's Michael O'Keeffe.

Biden sweating vaccination details

Biden has grown frustrated with the team in charge of plotting his coronavirus response, amid rising concerns that his administration will fall short of its promise of 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days, Politico reported, citing people familiar with the conversations.

Biden has expressed criticism on multiple occasions to groups of transition officials — including one confrontation where Biden conveyed to coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients and his deputy, Natalie Quillian, that their team was underperforming, the report said.

"They're inheriting a mess," said Andy Slavitt, a former acting Medicare and Medicaid chief under Obama. "I think they're uncovering how bad it is."

In a statement, Biden transition spokesman T.J. Ducklo defended the team’s work. The president-elect received his second shot of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.

18 holes in his heart

Facing impeachment for inciting the Capitol insurrection, his government melting down, his beloved Twitter account silenced, what's eating Trump more than anything? It's the PGA of America's decision to take away the 2022 PGA Championship from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, reports New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman.

" ‘He's gutted’ by the PGA move, a person close to the White House says," Haberman tweeted. "He’s angry about impeachment, people who have spoken to him say. But the reaction to the PGA decision was different order of magnitude."

Other trouble signs: Deutsche Bank, his largest lender, and Signature Bank are seeking distance from him and his business, The New York Times reported. Signature — which helped Trump finance a Florida golf course — issued a statement calling on him to resign as president "in the best interests of our nation and the American people." The bank also began closing Trump’s two personal accounts, which had about $5.3 million.

Belichick won't be Trump's Patriot

If Trump wasn't deflated enough, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday that he will not go to the White House to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom that Trump planned to present to him on Thursday.

"The tragic events of last week occurred and the decision has been made not to move forward with the award," the six-time Super Bowl-winning coach said in a statement.

"Above all, I am an American citizen with great reverence for our nation's values, freedom and democracy," said Belichick, who has been a Trump supporter. His statement continued, signaling solidarity with players denounced by the president for their protests against racial injustice: "One of the most rewarding things in my professional career took place in 2020 when, through the great leadership within our team, conversations about social justice, equality and human rights moved to the forefront and became actions.

"Continuing those efforts while remaining true to the people, team and country I love outweigh the benefits of any individual award," Belichick said.

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:

  • The New York State Bar Association said Monday it will consider expelling Giuliani as a member for his role stirring up Trump supporters before the Capitol riot, reports Newsday's Yancey Roy. "Giuliani’s words quite clearly were intended to encourage Trump supporters unhappy with the election’s outcome to take matters into their own hands," the lawyers' group said. State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) said he would file a formal complaint against Giuliani with the state's court system, which has the power to revoke a law license, for "inflaming a violent coup attempt."
  • A Fox News anchor asked White House spokesman Hogan Gidley if Trump feels "emasculated" by losing his social media platforms. "The most masculine person I think ever to hold the White House is the president of the United States," Gidley replied.
  • The NYPD is looking into reports that one of its officers may have been involved in the Capitol riot, Commissioner Dermot Shea told cable news station NY1 on Monday morning. See the story by Newsday's Anthony M. DeStefano and O'Keeffe.
  • Cumulus, a talk-radio network, told the numerous right-wing hosts it employs to stop amplifying misinformation about election fraud — or be fired. Its prominent conspiracy-spreaders include Mark Levin and Dan Bongino, both frequently plugged in Trump tweets. "We need to help induce national calm NOW," Brian Philips, executive vice president of content, wrote in a memo.
  • New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan condemned Trump for instigating the Capitol violence. In a video tweeted Sunday, Dolan said "the man who should be a voice of reason and encouraging us to law and order and civility and unity, namely the president, seemed to be the one who was stoking these flames."
  • The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Monday against seven Ukrainians — including two who worked with Giuliani — for being part of what it called "a Russia-linked foreign influence network" that spread "fraudulent and unsubstantiated allegations" about Biden during the 2020 campaign, The New York Times reported.
  • Jacob Cansley — the Capitol marauder and QAnon figure memorably clad in a horned, furry headdress and red, white and blue face paint — has refused to eat since he was jailed Saturday in Phoenix because the detention facility won't serve him organic food, his mom said. He remains held on federal charges.

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