Janison: The prosecutor Trump likes best
Days after Donald Trump was elected in 2016, his loyal attack dog Rudy Giuliani was angling for Cabinet jobs, including attorney general. "There's probably nobody that knows the Justice Department better than me," the onetime Manhattan U.S. attorney said on CNN. (Yes, CNN. It was a long time ago.)
He never got a big job with the Trump administration. But while keeping Giuliani outside, the president made him the ultimate inside player. Their shared delusional, paranoid mindset has only made the relationship stronger.
Now William Barr, once Trump's favorite attorney general, is on the outs after peddling reality that's at odds with Trump's version of his electoral defeat, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Barr told The Associated Press on Tuesday that "to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election." Giuliani responded, in essence, that Barr just didn't look hard enough if he didn't see "substantial irregularities and evidence of systemic fraud."
It's not the first time that Barr deflated an unfounded conspiracy narrative fomented by Trump and Giuliani. While Barr has tried to boost Trump's interests and help out his friends, the attorney general also has passed on selling Trump's so-called "Spygate," and the GOP's on-and-off Hillary Clinton "lock-her-up" campaign. Barr never exacted legal vengeance on ex-FBI Director James Comey, who enraged Trump. No significant prosecutions materialized from Trump's sloppy assertions.
Giuliani consulted with accused foreign criminals in trying to put the worst possible light on Joe Biden via his son's former job with a Ukrainian energy company. Barr reportedly seethed when a transcript showed that Trump advised Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with both Giuliani and Barr on damaging the Bidens.
While Trump drew no clear distinction in their roles, sources told The Wall Street Journal that Barr did not want to be lumped with Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, in this way. The still-ongoing probe Barr ordered of the Russia investigation's origins now appears far narrower in scope than Trump and Giuliani's lurid suspicions.
When Barr learned after the fact that Giuliani got a meeting with DOJ officials on behalf of clients he was representing in a bribery case, Barr's subordinates put out an unusual public statement: that had they known that Giuliani's associates were the target of an investigation, they would have prevented the officials' meeting. If Trump decides to give Giuliani a preemptive pardon for any potential federal charges, he may not bother to seek a signoff from the attorney general's office.
Giuliani urged Michigan Republican activists on Wednesday to pressure, even threaten, the GOP-controlled Legislature to "step up" and award the state’s 16 electoral votes to Trump despite President-elect Biden’s 154,000-vote victory there.
Giuliani said the U.S. Constitution empowers legislatures to appoint electors directly, even though Michigan long ago enacted a law allotting its electoral votes to the state's popular-vote winner. State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey reiterated Tuesday that the Legislature will not undermine the voters’ will.
Giuliani said at a virtual event held by the state Republican Party: "You have got to get them to remember that their oath to the Constitution sometimes requires being criticized. Sometimes it even requires being threatened." He was referring to state lawmakers, who held a separate election hearing Wednesday in which Giuliani was allowed to question witnesses.
Trump and his allies continue to whip up the president's supporters with baseless allegations of sinister wrongdoing by Republican election officials who won't knuckle under his demands to overturn results in swing states that went to Biden. Threats of violence have cropped up across the country since Election Day, The Washington Post reports.
Clock ticking for Barr?
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who does double duty as a Trump campaign spokeswoman, refused to say Wednesday whether Trump still has confidence in Barr remaining as his attorney general.
"The president, if he has any personnel announcement, you will be the first to know it," McEnany told reporters during a rare news briefing. That answer from Trump press secretaries in the past has sometimes been followed by a termination.
McEnany said she is "not aware if they’ve spoken," despite how Barr "discussed an array of issues" with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows during a "preplanned meeting" Tuesday at the complex.
Hours after Barr's Tuesday interview telling The Associated Press that he's seen no evidence of fraud on a scale to change the election outcome, Axios reported that Trump is actively considering replacing him with somebody more willing to do his bidding.
Biden faces battle over Defense
Biden is facing escalating pressure from competing factions within his own party as he finalizes his choice for secretary of defense, The Associated Press reports.
Black leaders have encouraged the incoming president to select an African American, while others are pushing him to appoint a woman to lead the Defense Department for the first time. At the same time, some progressives oppose the leading female contender, Michèle Flournoy, citing concerns about her private-sector associations and a record they contend too often favored military interventions.
Politico reports that Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo is now a top prospect for the president-elect’s pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, according to two people close to the transition.
Biden defended his nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, during an interview Tuesday night with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Biden suggested that GOP senators' criticism of her record over her tough partisan tweets against them is hypocritical. "That disqualifies almost every Republican senator and 90% of the [Trump] administration," the Democrat said. "But by the way, she’s smart as hell. Yeah, I think they’re going to pick a couple of people just to fight [over] no matter what."
Biden favors pandemic aid compromise
Biden swung behind a bipartisan effort to break a monthlong stalemate over a coronavirus stimulus package on Wednesday as the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate slashed their demands for a $2 trillion-plus measure by more than half.
Biden said the leaner plan "wouldn’t be the answer, but it would be the immediate help for a lot of things." He wants a relief bill to be passed in Congress now, with more COVID-19 aid to come next year.
The bipartisan framework was assembled in recent days through private discussions among a small group of Democratic and Republican senators, as well as members of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that plan "should be used as the basis for immediate bipartisan, bicameral negotiations." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) so far has been unwilling to abandon a $550 million Senate GOP plan that has failed twice this fall.
Pandemic: Worst yet to come
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Wednesday he expects the coronavirus pandemic to take a severe turn for the worse over the next three months and potentially raise the U.S. death toll — now above 272,000 — to as much as 450,000 by the end of February.
"The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times," Redfield said during a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event. "I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation."
It wouldn't have to be as bad, he said, if there were wider compliance with precautions, including mask-wearing.
"The truth is, mitigation works," said Redfield, a virologist. "The challenge with this virus is, it’s not going to work if half of us do what we need to do. It’s not even going to work, probably if three-quarters of us do what we need to do. The virus really is going to require all of us to really be vigilant."
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Trump unleashed a torrent of false election-fraud claims and bonkers conspiracy theories in a 46-minute speech posted on his social media accounts. Along with refusal to accept the election results, he let show his fears over life without presidential immunity to ward off criminal investigations. "I hear the same people who failed to get me in Washington have sent every piece of information to New York so that they can try to get me there," Trump said.
- Fame has endured for Four Seasons Total Landscaping, the improbable scene for Giuliani's bizarre Nov. 7 news conference in Philadelphia. Tourists still come by, and sales of souvenirs such as T-shirts and face masks have grossed $1.3 million, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The company's staff also has been bombarded with messages from conspiracy theorists who accuse them of burning Trump ballots at the crematorium across the street.
- Biden has no plans to remove FBI Director Christopher Wray, assuming Trump doesn't get rid of him first, The New York Times reported. Before Trump fired Wray's predecessor, Comey, who testified that Trump had demanded personal loyalty, FBI directors typically served 10-year terms and remained outside partisan politics.
- McEnany’s husband, free-agent pitcher Sean Gilmartin, appeared without a mask in the White House briefing room on Wednesday and declined to cover his face after being asked to do so by a photographer. Gilmartin threw in relief for the Mets from 2015 to 2017 and most recently for the Rays, who cut him before the postseason.
- Trump threatened in tweets late Tuesday to veto a must-pass annual defense spending bill unless Congress agrees to attach a repeal of a federal law known as Section 230, which provides social media companies a legal shield. Members of Congress who are open to Section 230 changes say tying up the military bill is the wrong approach. "I don’t think the defense bill is the place to litigate that," said Senate Majority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican.
- Sen. Mitt Romney takes a dim view of talk in Trump circles that the president may issue preemptive pardons to members of his family before leaving office. "A pardon would seem to suggest they’ve committed a crime. That’s not something I would want to be associated with my family," said the Utah Republican.