A circular knifing squad
It would seem to be a good time for the dwindling band of Donald Trump true believers to pull together, but they've been busy ripping each other to shreds. "Unfortunately for him, he's surrounded by spineless self serving disloyalists," groused a tweet from Bernard Kerik, the corrupt former NYPD commissioner who received a pardon from the president.
Both Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell traffic in outlandish conspiracy theories and fraud claims, but the former New York mayor wants Powell — and everyone else — to know her place. "She does not speak for the president," Giuliani said on Sean Spicer's Newsmax show on Monday. (See a video clip.) Powell's arguments go beyond "the bounds of rationality, common sense, and the law," said Giuliani, who recognizes few bounds himself. But Powell has Trump's ear, Axios reports.
Powell and her cohorts pushing ideas like martial law and having the military run election do-overs are at war with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who disfavored such notions.
Powell's associate, all-in-with-QAnon lawyer Lin Wood, tweeted threats at Meadows to muddy him up: "I have heard there are some serious skeletons. … Support @realDonaldTrump or you will be deemed a traitor to We The People." Wood has been a geyser of crazed and fictional allegations, including a global election-rigging plot against Trump by China, Serbia, Canada, Venezuela, Cuba, the CIA, George Soros, the Clinton Foundation, state and local officials from both parties and thousands of Americans.
Also chiming in against Trump's top staff as "mendacious mediocrities" is a new addition to the cast, Patrick Byrne, who was a participant at the Friday night White House shoutfest that included Trump, Powell and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Who is Byrne? He was CEO of Overstock.com before revelations last year that he had an affair with a confessed Russian agent, Maria Butina.
Byrne took aim at White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who also warned Trump against listening to Powell and Flynn's extreme ideas to subvert the election. "Scheming worm worrying about his next job and what socialite parties he might get invited to," Byrne said of Cipollone in one tweet. Another tweet: "For the first time in my life I feel sorry for Donald Trump. He is standing up to his waist in snakes. Trust Rudy and Sidney only."
Except Giuliani and Powell don't seem to trust each other. There's no "Kumbaya" in the dead-enders' songbook.
Barr calls bunk on Trump
Attorney General William Barr is a short-timer: His last scheduled day on the job is Wednesday — unless Trump gets so mad, he tries to pull the trap door earlier. But having become a disappointment to the president in his final months, why stop now? Barr bluntly contradicted Trump on multiple fronts Monday.
There is no need for a special counsel to investigate election-fraud allegations, Barr told reporters at an unrelated news conference. "If I thought a special counsel was appropriate, I would name one, and I haven't," he explained. "I said there was not enough fraud to affect the election and I stand by that."
There is "no basis" for the federal government to seize states' voting machines either, Barr said. (Giuliani, on Trump's behalf, asked the Department of Homeland Security to do so; he was told the DHS had no authority to take the machines.)
What about Trump's doubts that Russia is behind the massive cyberattack of U.S. government and private-sector computer systems revealed last week? "I agree with Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo's assessment. It certainly appears to be the Russians," Barr said.
And Barr also said he doesn't intend to appoint a special counsel to investigate President-elect Joe Biden's son Hunter, as the president and others have suggested.
Another Trumpy network eats crow
Truth makes a strong defense against a defamation claim, but lawyers for Newsmax evidently didn't see that as an option after the right-wing network got called out for spreading Trump's phony election fraud stories.
Newsmax, which has sought with Trump's endorsement to build an audience among the MAGA crowd, followed in Fox's retreating footsteps after the upstart outlet was threatened legal action by Smartmatic and Dominion, two companies in the voting machine industry.
"Newsmax would like to clarify its news coverage and note it has not reported as true certain claims made about these companies," the outlet said in a statement posted online and read on air Monday by host John Tabacco. Such as? Newsmax has "no evidence" that "Dominion or Smartmatic used software or reprogrammed software that manipulated votes in the 2020 election," Tabacco said. Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy told HuffPost that the statement was to be aired on all of the network's shows.
A statement from Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica said the smears — widely circulated by Giuliani, Powell and other Trumpworld fabulists — are "an attack on election systems and election workers in an effort to depress confidence in future elections and potentially counter the will of the voters, not just here, but in democracies around the world."
Pro-Trump media outfits like Newsmax, along with some Republican state lawmakers, have given the president and his conspiracy-spewing team a hefty assist in promoting a litany of lies, The Washington Post writes.
Janison: Power vs. star power
No matter how things may appear, social-media stardom and internet videos cannot defy the low-tech laws of political gravity and elected power, writes Newsday's Dan Janison, who points to examples from the Democrats' left-most ranks and the Republican extreme-right fringe.
As a freshman two years ago, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens) vaulted to national prominence, a fresh face in politics with a mastery of platforms like Twitter and Instagram. But despite her brand name — or perhaps because it makes her a target, and moderate Democrats' fear for potential collateral damage — she lost her bid last week for a spot on the key House Energy and Commerce Committee to Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City).
In Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene was elected last month as a new Republican member of the House. She's a full subscriber to the QAnon cult, which poses wild conspiracy tales about pedophilic "deep staters." With the GOP in the minority in the House, there is the open question what Taylor Greene could accomplish tangibly for her district.
No president has been as internet-famous or devoted to Twitter as Trump. Still, he managed the rare feat of losing reelection due to what he did and did not do in office.
What's in COVID relief bill's 5,593 pages?
New York State is poised to receive $54 billion in coronavirus relief funding as part of the more than $900 billion package passed by the House and Senate on Monday night, said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Included in that sum, he said, is $9 billion for direct payments to eligible New Yorkers, similar to stimulus checks that were part of the federal CARES Act, which passed in March. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he expected direct payments could be issued "at the beginning of next week."
Aside from the direct payments, the money allocated for New York State includes funding for schools, the Long Island Rail Road, hospitals and small businesses. For more details, see a story by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Laura Figueroa Hernandez. For a closer look at the measure's aid provisions for small businesses and nonprofits, see the story by Newsday's James T. Madore.
Not in the bill is direct aid to state and local governments. But it could give municipalities like Nassau and Suffolk counties access to a federal lending program in 2021 after a similar one is set to expire, reports Newsday's Rachelle Blidner.
Biden takes his shot
Joe Biden on Monday received his first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on live television, in support of efforts to convince the American public the inoculations are safe.
"I’m ready," said Biden, who was administered the dose at a hospital in Newark, Delaware. (See it on video.) "I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared — when it’s available — to take the vaccine. There’s nothing to worry about."
The president-elect praised the health care workers and said Trump’s administration "deserves some credit getting this off the ground" through Operation Warp Speed, which accelerated vaccine development. Biden also cautioned Americans that vigilance is still necessary in the coming months to curb the virus's spread.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert who also will be Biden’s chief medical adviser, is set to get vaccinated at 10 a.m. on Tuesday with the second approved vaccine, made by Moderna.
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 and Jesse Coburn. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have discussed making a legal request for Giuliani's electronic communications, a sign that the investigation into Trump's personal attorney remains active and may soon be ramping up, NBC News reported, citing two sources. The scope of the current investigation is unclear, but in October 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that SDNY prosecutors were reviewing Giuliani's bank records as part of an investigation into his dealings in Ukraine, NBC noted.
- Though Trump never got an infrastructure plan off the ground, he wants an airport named for him after he leaves office and has told aides he wants it to be one with a good reputation, the Daily Beast reports. He'd also like to see his name on a Navy aircraft carrier.
- Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told radio host Hugh Hewitt he wouldn't rule out running for president in 2024, even if Trump is in the race. Christie flamed out against Trump in the 2016 GOP primaries, then became an ardent supporter of the president. However, he opposes Trump's attempts to overturn Biden's election.
- Trump signed an executive order on Monday making classical architecture the preferred style for federal buildings in Washington, and that they must be "beautiful," Bloomberg News reported. A White House official described the order as a rejection of architectural elites who offer modernist ideas.
- Televangelist Pat Robertson predicted Trump would win reelection, but don't count him among the dead-enders. He told viewers that Biden will be president and that Trump "lives in an alternate reality," "is very erratic," and should not run again in 2024. "You've had your day and it's time to move on," Robertson said.
- Silicon Valley is working behind the scenes to try to secure senior roles for tech allies in lesser-known but still vital parts of Biden’s administration, even as the pushback against Big Tech from progressive groups and regulators grows, Reuters reports.
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told a conservative columnist that Biden's Cabinet nominees "aren’t all going to pass on a voice vote, and they aren’t all going to make it, but I will put them on the floor." That presupposes McConnell is still majority leader after the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia.
- A group of hard-right House Republicans held meetings Monday at the White House with Trump and Giuliani on plans to challenge the formal certification of Biden's Electoral College victory on Jan. 6. The effort is doomed to fail, but it would create a spectacle that Senate GOP leaders who have accepted Biden as president-elect want to avoid, CNN reported.