Hackety-hack, no talk back
President Donald Trump's aides believe they have talked him down from a threat uttered in his wilder moments to refuse to leave the White House on Inauguration Day, CNN reports. But he seems to have checked out ahead of time in many respects from his job.
As Trump remains obsessed with tweeting false claims of a "stolen" election, the record-shattering surges in coronavirus cases and deaths go unmentioned. There's also growing consternation at his silence over the massive foreign cyberattack on computer systems throughout federal government and the private sector — a coordinated operation suspected of being the work of Russian intelligence. Trump has been reflexively skeptical about misdeeds tied to Russia — so much so that aides sometimes avoid bringing them up.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a warning Thursday, stating the cyberintrusion had compromised federal agencies as well as "critical infrastructure" and posed "a grave risk to the federal government." The agency, which is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security, previously said the perpetrators used network-management software updates from Texas-based SolarWinds to infiltrate the computer networks. CISA's new alert said the attackers may have used other methods, as well. Separately, the Energy Department said Thursday it was one of the entities hacked.
Tom Bossert, who served as Trump's first homeland security adviser, wrote in a New York Times op-ed that "President Trump is on the verge of leaving behind a federal government, and perhaps a large number of major industries, compromised by the Russian government. He must use whatever leverage he can muster to protect the United States and severely punish the Russians."
Sen. Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican, said Thursday: "I think the White House needs to say something aggressive about what happened. This is almost as if you had a Russian bomber flying undetected over the country, including over the nation's capital, and not to respond in a setting like that is really stunning."
Richard A. Clarke, a top cybersecurity adviser under President George W. Bush, told CNN: "They got access to these networks so that in a future crisis, they can … put a knife to our throat." A current U.S. official told The Associated Press: "This is looking like it’s the worst hacking case in the history of America."
President-elect Joe Biden promised a strong response. "My administration will make cybersecurity a top priority at every level of government," Biden said in a statement, "and we will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office."
Native American gets Biden nod
Biden plans to nominate New Mexico's Rep. Deb Haaland as interior secretary, a historic pick that would make her the first Native American to lead the Cabinet department that has managed the federal relationship with the nation’s tribes for generations.
The pick of Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, is being cheered by progressives and would add to what Biden calls his "barrier-breaking" Cabinet, NBC News reported. "I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land," Haaland pledged in a tweet.
Biden also will move to boost Black representation in his Cabinet by naming North Carolina environmental regulator Michael S. Regan to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Biden has promised to make climate change a top priority, meaning the EPA chief will be a key player.
The choice of Haaland also could make Democrats a little nervous. She is third House Democrat selected by Biden for his administration, which at least temporarily means shrinking the party's narrow majority in that chamber. Biden has tapped Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana as director of the White House Office of Public Engagement and Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio for secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Special elections will have to be held to fill the vacancies.
Biden aide tests positive
Rep. Richmond has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Biden transition team said on Thursday.
Richmond, 47, was not in physically close contact with Biden. Richmond, who has developed symptoms, will quarantine for 14 days and get tested twice before returning to in-person work.
Biden was checked with a PCR test on Thursday and COVID-19 was not detected, his spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said.
Green light for approving second vaccine
By a unanimous 20-0 vote, a government advisory panel on Thursday endorsed a second COVID-19 vaccine candidate, paving the way for the shot, a collaboration by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, to be added to the U.S. vaccination campaign.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the recommendation quickly, which would allow Moderna to begin shipping millions of doses. The FDA advisers agreed that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks for those 18 years old and up. The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines each showed protection rates around 94%. (Watch a video explainer on how they compare.)
Several states say they have been told to expect far fewer doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in its second week of distribution, prompting worries about potential delays in shots for health care workers and long-term care residents. Senior Trump administration officials said the states will receive their full allocations, but misunderstandings about supply and changes to the delivery schedule — to make distribution more manageable — may be creating confusion.
"They will get their weekly allocation, it just won’t come to them on one day," one official said.
Relief package crawls toward finish line
A handful of remaining snags on a coronavirus economic relief package worth almost $1 trillion means that weekend sessions in Congress appear virtually certain, and a top lawmaker warned that a government shutdown this weekend can’t be ruled out.
The Associated Press reported that all sides appeared hopeful that the legislation will remain on track. The central elements of a long-sought compromise are more than $300 billion in aid to businesses; a $300-per-week bonus federal jobless benefit and renewal of soon-to-expire state benefits; $600 direct payments to individuals; vaccine-distribution funds; and money for renters, schools, the Postal Service and people needing food aid.
A temporary government funding bill runs out Friday at midnight. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, said that if there isn’t a deal on the relief bill by then, some Republicans might block the funding measure — causing a low-impact partial weekend shutdown — as a means to keep the pressure on.
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's original Atlantic City casino hotel, The Trump Plaza, decayed beyond repair, will be leveled early next year, and the mayor is auctioning for charity a chance to push the button that sets off a controlled implosion. "Some of Atlantic City’s iconic moments happened there, but on his way out, Donald Trump openly mocked Atlantic City, saying he made a lot of money and then got out," Mayor Marty Small told The Associated Press.
- Biden aide Jen O'Malley Dillon walked back her use of an F-word to describe Republicans during a magazine interview, saying she "used some words that I probably could have chosen better." Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sent a tweet of outrage from her personal account. Others took note of the Trump White House's contributions to decorous discourse, such as social media director Dan Scavino's recent posting of a poop emoji on Biden's head.
- Prosecutors in the Netherlands said they have confirmed that Trump’s Twitter account was hacked in October despite denials from Washington and the company, but said the "ethical hacker" would not face charges. The Dutchman, Victor Gevers, 44, disclosed the hack immediately, saying the password he guessed was "maga2020!"
- Biden, in CBS' "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" episode taped for Thursday night, said he is not concerned about accusations against his son Hunter Biden, who is under investigation by federal prosecutors over his taxes, and accused his political enemies of targeting Hunter. "It’s used to get to me. I think it’s kind of foul play," said Joe Biden, declaring: "We have great confidence in our son."
- A tweet from Trump, who both covertly and openly pushed for investigations of the Bidens, said he had nothing to do with it. "I have NOTHING to do with the potential prosecution of Hunter Biden, or the Biden family. … Actually, I find it very sad to watch!" the tweet said.
- Along with pushing unfounded election-fraud allegations on his YouTube channel, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani is now doing ads for cigars and a gold-coin dealer on the platform. "Give them a call, and tell them Rudy sent you," he says.