'Just wants to move on'
President-elect Joe Biden has privately told advisers that he doesn't want his presidency to be consumed by investigations of soon-to-be-ex-President Donald Trump, NBC News reported, citing five people familiar with the discussions. One adviser said Biden has made it clear that he "just wants to move on."
Biden has raised concerns that investigations would inflame Trump's supporters and further divide a country he is trying to unite, as well as risk making every day of his presidency about Trump. Biden specifically has told advisers that he is wary of federal tax investigations of Trump or of challenging any orders that Trump may issue granting immunity to members of his own staff before leaving office, according to the report.
At the same time, Biden wants his Justice Department to function independently from the White House, aides also said, and he won't tell federal law enforcement officials who or what should or shouldn't be investigated. "He can set a tone about what he thinks should be done," a Biden adviser said, but "he's not going to be a President who directs the Justice Department one way or the other."
Biden's preference to not look back could trigger complaints from some Democrats clamoring for a wholesale settling of accounts over the excesses of the Trump presidency. "There's also a strong school of thought that believes the law's the law," a Biden adviser told NBC, describing the internal debate.
The dilemma facing Biden is similar to one that former President Barack Obama faced when he took office in 2009, the NBC report recalled. Democrats were demanding the prosecution of officials from President George W. Bush's administration who were involved in policies that allowed enhanced interrogations, or torture, of terrorism suspects. Obama released memos about the controversial program but publicly said he didn't support charging people from Bush's team.
New York Times' White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, who is second to none on insight into the outgoing president, tweeted about NBC's report: "If Trump is looking for a smoke signal on at least one avenue of investigations after leaving office, this might be it."
Any decisions by Biden's Justice Department would have no bearing on ongoing investigations by officials at the state and local levels, including Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has fought to obtain Trump's tax returns.
Trump fires official who found election clean
Trump on Tuesday night fired a top official at the Department of Homeland Security who debunked theories from both the president and his allies that the election was rigged in Biden's favor.
Trump's tweet announcing the firing of Chris Krebs recited a list of the false fraud stories the president continues to promote. Krebs was director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. A joint statement on Nov. 12 from Krebs and an assortment of agencies and groups that monitor elections had declared: "The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history."
CISA's Rumor Control blog rebutted false claims of election fraud, hacking and conspiracies as they emerged. A tweet earlier Tuesday from Krebs said that 59 election security experts all agree that "in every case of which we are aware, these claims either have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent."
A former policy director at Microsoft, Krebs was appointed by Trump in 2017.
Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, tweeted: "Chris Krebs is a dedicated public servant who has helped build up new cyber capabilities in the face of swiftly-evolving dangers. By firing him for doing his job, President Trump is harming all Americans — who rely on CISA’s defenses, even if they don’t know it." Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, said in a statement: "Chris Krebs did a really good job — as state election officials all across the nation will tell you — and he obviously should not be fired."
Janison: A Trumpload of toadies
The targets of Trump's purges, like Krebs, come out with their reputations intact. Newsday's Dan Janison writes that Trump can still rely on people who once held important positions in government who keep plunging down the rabbit hole of senseless conspiracy stories and empty allegations, all in the service of Trump’s emotional needs.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich immediately signed on to the notion that Biden could have won only through fraud after it became clear the president would lose reelection.
Lawyer Rudy Giuliani signed up early for a front-and-center role as a Trump toady, living in a perpetual audition for his client. Giuliani's hollow and undisciplined attacks on former special counsel Robert Mueller, Biden's son Hunter and states' electoral systems based on wisps of data and debunked charges leave him looking fevered and ridiculous. The former New York mayor never seems to succeed in proving anything useful to his client or party.
Sycophancy seems to require swallowing all intellectual pride. Ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee asserted last year that after reelection, Trump would be entitled to a third term. This from a man who said of candidate Trump in 2015: "The dumbest thing people can do is give him more attention."
For Trump, the preciousness of his "victory" fantasy seems to grow as it becomes more unreal. On Monday, the popular-vote advantage for Biden approached 6 million as GOP election lawsuits continued to collapse into a source of national ridicule.
Michigan replay goes against Trump
First this happened: The two Republican members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers in Michigan voted against certifying the county's November election results. The county, which includes Detroit, gave Biden 323,000 more votes than Trump. The president-elect's lead in the state was about 148,000.
Trump celebrated on Twitter — "Having courage is a beautiful thing" — but the reprieve was even more temporary than it initially looked.
Rusty Rudy goes to court
Giuliani — arguing his first case in a federal court since 1992 — appeared before a judge in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday to accuse Democrats in control of big cities of hatching a nationwide conspiracy to steal the election, even though no such evidence has emerged in the two weeks since Election Day.
The court case is over the Trump campaign’s federal lawsuit seeking to prevent Pennsylvania officials from certifying the vote results that show Biden won the state. Biden's current lead margin there is more than 81,000 votes. Lawyers defending the Democratic secretary of state, Philadelphia and several counties said the Trump campaign’s arguments lack any constitutional basis or were rendered irrelevant by a state Supreme Court decision Tuesday, which rejected complaints that GOP poll watchers were kept too far away from vote counters.
Giuliani said he wanted 680,000 votes from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh thrown out. Affidavits filed by Trump’s lawyers do not assert widespread fraud, just a potential for something fishy to have occurred.
After listening to the arguments, Judge Matthew Brann scrubbed an evidentiary hearing that had been scheduled and sent off Giuliani and the other out-of-town lawyers with Williamsport restaurant recommendations.
Giuliani has worked for Trump for free — while selling his Trump ties to other clients — in defending him from Mueller's investigation and impeachment, but perhaps not this time. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal reported that he asked the Trump campaign to pay him $20,000 a day. The campaign said no. Giuliani denied the reports and said, "The arrangement is, we’ll work it out at the end."
Trump gets his troop cuts
At Trump's direction, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller said Tuesday the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan by mid-January.
Miller asserted the decision fulfills Trump’s pledge to bring forces home from America's long wars even as some Republicans and U.S. allies warn of the dangers of withdrawing before conditions are right, The Associated Press reported.
By Jan. 15 — five days before Biden takes office — the U.S. will reduce troop levels in Afghanistan from more than 4,500 to 2,500, and in Iraq from about 3,000 to 2,500.
Miller notably did not say the drawdown plan had been recommended or endorsed by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or by other senior military officers. He said only that military commanders had agreed to execute the order.
Twitter CEO: Trump to lose rules pass
Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, reiterated Tuesday the company would no longer make policy exceptions for Trump if he violates the social media platform's rules after he leaves office in January.
As a world leader, Twitter has allowed Trump to post content that violated its rules, though it began adding labels to some of the tweets starting in May to indicate that the posts were disputed or glorified violence.
"If an account suddenly is not a world leader anymore, that particular policy goes away," Dorsey said during testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, at which Republicans accused him of censoring conservatives while Democrats complained too little was done to block misinformation.
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg said his company would not change the way it moderates Trump’s posts when he leaves office.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Robert Brodsky. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Trump has canceled his plans to travel to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving and will stay at the White House instead. "It feels like bunker mentality," a White House official told CNN before the decision was circulated.
- Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said that when he called Trump to support his effort to contest the election results, the president told him: "If this doesn’t work out, I’ll just run again in four years." As long as Trump keeps that option open, other GOP 2024 hopefuls may find themselves frozen in place lest they upset his supporters, Politico writes.
- Allies of Vice President Mike Pence are questioning whether there should be a limit to his fealty to Trump, Politico reports. He is facing pressure from allies to put country and party first — even if they collide with the inclinations of his boss. "At some point, he will have to prioritize his own interests," said a Republican close to Pence.
- Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state catching flak from fellow Republicans for standing by the vote count, said Trump would have won the state if he hadn't railed against mail-in voting. "He would have won by 10,000 votes — he actually suppressed, depressed his own voting base," Raffensperger told Atlanta's WSB-TV.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell failed to move forward Trump's nomination of Judy Shelton to the Federal Reserve Board after three Republicans opposed her and two more missed the vote because of coronavirus quarantine. Iowa's Sen. Chuck Grassley, 87, later disclosed he has COVID-19. The vice president-elect, Sen. Kamala Harris, returned to Washington to fortify Democratic opposition to Shelton's confirmation.
- Pence is going to Georgia on Friday to campaign for Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both who face runoffs against Democratic challengers in January that will determine control of the Senate.
- A cellphone app used by Trump's campaign allowed staff to monitor the movements of his millions of supporters and offered intimate access to their social networks and contacts, The Associated Press reported. The digital details the app collected can be put to multiple other uses, including fundraising for the president’s future political ventures or building an audience for a new media empire.
- Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) declared victory on Tuesday, saying his Republican opponent, George Santos, called to concede the race for the 3rd Congressional District in Nassau County, reports Newsday's Michael Gormley and Yancey Roy.