with Brent D. Griffiths
Good morning. The U.S. topped 10 million coronavirus cases yesterday – “the fifth consecutive day with a six-figure increase in infections” – and at least 238,000 people have died here from the coronavirus. Tips, comments, recipes? Reach out and sign up. Thanks for waking up with us.
NO HOLDS BARRED: Outgoing President Trump has yet to produce any evidence of widespread voter fraud. But that hasn’t stopped him from throwing the presidential transition into turmoil with the help of top Republican officials, including within his own administration.
On Monday, Attorney General William P. Barr reversed long-standing Justice Department policy to stay out of voter fraud or related investigations until after election results are in and certified to ensure the federal government does not influence the process.
Barr gave federal prosecutors a thumbs up in a two-page memo to “pursue allegations of ‘vote tabulation irregularities’ in certain cases before results are certified and indicated he had already done so ‘in specific instances,’” our colleagues Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report.
It’s unlikely the move will substantially affect an election in which state officials, including Republicans, deny evidence of significant voter fraud. It may only be a headline for Trump and his allies to retweet as part of the public relations campaign designed to cushion the president’s loss, but it could work to undermine public confidence in the election results.
- “Bob Bauer, a Biden campaign attorney, said in a statement partially quoting Barr’s memo that it was ‘deeply unfortunate’ that Barr ‘chose to issue a memorandum that will only fuel the ‘specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims’ he professes to guard against,'” Matt and Devlin report.
- “The best-case scenario is that Barr did this to appease Trump and add credibility to his allegations of voter fraud,” Matthew Miller, a former DOJ spokesman during the Obama administration, told them. “The worst-case scenario is that DOJ is planning to intervene in some way and try to throw the election to the president. Neither one is good, but one is much, much worse than the other.”
- “It’s not merely about showing evidence of fraud but that the malfeasance would actually affect the outcome in several states,” Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist told the New York Times‘s Katie Benner and Michael Schmidt. “You’re talking about changing hundreds of thousands of votes.”
- Law firms, like Jones Day and Porter Wright Morris & Arthur, are even questioning whether they should continue to represent Trump as he tries to undermine the integrity of the election, the Times’s Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Rachel Abrams, and David Enrich report.
- Read this useful thread from CNN’s Marshall Cohen on Barr’s long history of false claims regarding “voter fraud.”
Benner and Schmidt first broke the news that the DOJ official “who oversees investigations of voter fraud, Richard Pilger, to step down from the Post within hours, according to an email Mr. Pilger sent to colleagues that was obtained by the New York Times.”
- “Mr. Pilger, a career prosecutor in the department’s Public Integrity Section who oversaw voting-fraud-related investigations, told colleagues he would move to a nonsupervisory role working on corruption prosecutions,” Benner and Schmidt report.
- “Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications,” he wrote, “I must regretfully resign from my role as director of the Election Crimes Branch. ”
Barr’s bandwagon: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also yesterrday threw his weight behind Trump’s legal challenges. Shortly after meeting with Barr on Capitol Hill, McConnell delivered remarks on the Senate floor, saying Trump is “100 percent within his rights” to pursue recounts and litigation, our colleague Felicia Sonmez reports.
- “This process will reach its resolution. Our system will resolve any recounts or litigation. In January, the winner of this election will place his hand on a Bible, just like it’s happened every four years since 1793,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.
- “McConnell, later pressed by reporters, declined to answer when asked to produce evidence of fraud that would overturn the election results,” per Felicia. “McConnell argued that ‘a few legal inquiries’ from Trump ‘do not exactly spell the end of the republic’ and that the president should not ‘immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results.’”
- Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to McConnell shortly afterward, calling on him to take a cue from former president George W. Bush who congratulated Biden for his victory: “As in any campaign, the president has a right to bring legal challenges or request recounts where state law allows,” Schumer said. “However, there is no legal right to file frivolous claims. Lawsuits must have basis in facts and evidence. And make no mistake: There has been no evidence of any significant or widespread voter fraud. Joe Biden won this election fair and square.”
‘Unlikely’: In Georgia, Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue piled on to Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and called for his resignation after “alleging mismanagement and lack of transparency, without providing any evidence to support their claims,” our colleague Michelle Lee reports. Raffensperger rejected their claims and issued a statement defending the voting process — he also encouraged Loeffler and Perdue to “start focusing” on their respective Jan. 5 runoffs.
- “Let me start by saying that is not going to happen,” he wrote in the statement. “I know emotions are running high. Politics are involved in everything right now. If I was Sen. Perdue, I’d be irritated I was in a runoff. And both Senators and I are all unhappy with the potential outcome for our President.”
- “Was there illegal voting? I am sure there was. And my office is investigating all of it. Does it rise to the numbers or margin necessary to change the outcome to where President Trump is given Georgia’s electoral votes? That is unlikely,” he wrote.
- Georgia’s Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, also a top Republican in the state, said they had not seen any “credible examples” of voter fraud or disenfranchisement on CNN.
Meanwhile, the Trump White House continued to push senior government leaders to “block cooperation with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, escalating a standoff that threatens to impede the transfer of power and prompting the Biden team to consider legal action,” our colleagues Lisa Rein, Matt Viser, Greg Miller and Josh Dawsey report. At a time when 238,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus that is also severely straining the economy, the Trump administration’s refusal to cooperate in the transition process could have serious ramifications.
- “Officials at agencies across the government who had prepared briefing books and carved out office space for the incoming Biden team to use as soon as this week were told instead that the transition would not be recognized until the Democrat’s election was confirmed by the General Services Administration, the low-profile agency that officially starts the transition.”
- “We have been told: Ignore the media, wait for it to be official from the government,” said a senior administration official.
- “The GSA, the government’s real estate arm, remained for a third day the proxy in the battle. Administrator Emily Murphy, a Trump political appointee who has lasted a full term in an administration where turnover has been the norm, is refusing to sign paperwork that releases Biden’s $6.3 million share of nearly $10 million in transition resources and gives his team access to agency officials and information,” per Lisa, Matt, Greg and Josh.
- The Biden team is now considering legal options challenging Murphy’s authority, arguing the Trump administration’s actions could have serious national security implications:
About those national security implications, Biden “has yet to receive a presidential daily briefing, and it was unclear whether his team would have access to classified information, the most important pipeline for them to learn about the threats facing the United States,” the Times’s Michael Schmidt, Julian Barnes, and Zolan Kanno-Youngs report.
- There’s also the issue of Biden’s personal security: “Like previous presidents-elect, Mr. Biden is receiving Secret Service protection, and a no-fly zone has been established over his home in Delaware. But if Mr. Trump’s administration continues its refusal to recognize Mr. Biden as the winner, it could complicate his security until his inauguration.”
- Bipartisan cooperation is possible: “In the aftermath of the contested 2000 election, while votes in Florida were being recounted, President Bill Clinton authorized George W. Bush to receive the President’s Daily Brief. As vice president, Al Gore already had access to the intelligence.”
The president, who again has no public events on his schedule today, is meanwhile planning to form “a so-called leadership political action committee, a federal fund-raising vehicle that will potentially let him retain his hold on the Republican Party even when he is out of office,” the New York Times’s Maggie Haberman reports.
- “Such committees can accept donations of up to $5,000 per donor per year — far less than the donation limits for the committees formed by Mr. Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee — but a leadership PAC could accept donations from an unlimited number of people. It could also accept donations from other political action committees….A leadership PAC could spend an unlimited amount in so-called independent expenditures to benefit other candidates, as well as fund travel, polling and consultants. Mostly, it would almost certainly be a vehicle by which Mr. Trump could retain influence in a party that has been remade largely in his image over the past four years.”
ON TODAY’S SCHEDULE: Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris will speak to the press after the Supreme Court hears oral arguments about whether to invalidate all of the Affordable Care Act in a Trump-administration backed challenge to Obamacare.
WHAT BIDEN DID ON HIS FIRST WORK DAY: “He began taking calls from foreign leaders, speaking with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He also was weighing whom to appoint to top White House positions, with several of his longtime advisers expected to take senior roles,” Annie Linskey and Sean Sullivan report from Wilmington.
He turned his attention to the pandemic: “He named 13 top physicians and public health experts to a coronavirus advisory committee as his first official act as president-elect, a move meant to demonstrate his commitment to a science-based approach to containing the outbreak,” our colleagues write.
- A senior aide will brief Hill Democrats later today: “Physician Vivek H. Murthy, a co-chair of Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, was invited by Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer to brief Senate Democrats at their caucus lunch.”
Annie and Sean also have the tea on some of the potential staffing decisions that could be made this week:
- “Several longtime aides on the campaign are widely expected to be headed to the White House as influential advisers,” they report. “Two of those most frequently mentioned are Mike Donilon and Steve Ricchetti, veteran Biden advisers who are well positioned to land influential positions inside the White House, according to people with knowledge of the internal dynamics. Those people spoke on the condition of anonymity to recount private conversations. Both men played significant roles in Biden’s campaign, helping direct strategy, operations and major decisions, and are considered two of his closest confidants….Another oft-mentioned name is Ron Klain, who is seen by many in the Biden orbit as a potential White House chief of staff.”
- “The people with internal knowledge said it was possible that Rufus Gifford might chair the inaugural committee, though they were not aware of any final decisions. Gifford served as deputy campaign manager and has been a longtime Democratic fundraiser whom President Barack Obama tapped as ambassador to Denmark,” per Annie and Sean.
From the courts
OBAMACARE RETURNS TO SCOTUS: “The latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act comes before a reconstituted Supreme Court, during a pandemic, in a rapidly changing political environment,” Robert Barnes reports.
- Obama’s signature achievement faces a far more conservative court: “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in the majority during both previous cases, has been replaced by Trump’s nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Scalia protege who criticized those decisions when she was a law professor,” our colleague writes of two previously unsuccessful challenges to the law.
Opponents of the law say this is the weakest case so far: “I was heavily involved in the (2012) challenge to Obamacare’s constitutionality, arguing that the entire law had to be invalidated,” Ilya Shapiro of the libertarian Cato Institute told our colleague. “California v. Texas is a different case, however.”
- A key data point: “Unlike previous Supreme Court challenges, not a single Republican senator filed an amicus brief supporting the red states or the Trump administration.”
The key questions at play: “Lower courts have answered the first two questions yes, but the third — the most important — has not been resolved,” our colleague writes.
- Do the challengers — two individuals and 18 states led by Texas — have legal standing to bring the case?
- Did changes made by Congress in 2017 render unconstitutional the ACA’s requirement for individuals to buy insurance?
- And if so, can the rest of the law be separated out, or must it fall in its entirety?
At the Pentagon
TRUMP FIRES ESPER: “Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper’s firing plunges the Pentagon into a new period of leadership upheaval as it tries to manage an unusual transition period fraught with political tensions and potential security risks. Democrats and independents criticized the decision, saying the abrupt change could endanger American security at an already vulnerable moment,” Missy Ryan, Dan Lamothe, Paul Sonne and Josh Dawsey report.
- Trump never forgave Esper for refusing to deploy active-duty troops in Washington amid racial justice protests over the summer: “While aides talked Trump out of firing Esper that week, the president regularly raised the issue throughout the campaign season, believing the defense chief was trying to embarrass him and damage his reelection prospects, the officials said. In recent months, Esper has rarely seen the president.”
His resignation letter:
Esper warned of what may come: “At the end of the day, it’s as I said — you’ve got to pick your fights,” he told the Military Times in a preemptive exit interview published on Monday but conducted last week. “I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that — why? Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”
- His replacement has a thin resume for the job: “Christopher Miller, Trump’s new acting defense secretary, comes to the job with deep experience in special operations, including the hunt for Osama bin Laden, but has never served in the Pentagon’s most senior ranks and only recently became the director of the National Counterterrorism Center,” Dan Lamothe, Ellen Nakashima and Alex Horton report.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon general named Michael Ellis, a White House official and former GOP political operative, as head of the National Security Agency per Ellen.
In the agencies
BEN CARSON HAS COVID: “The secretary of Housing and Urban Development told The Post that he’s ‘feeling terrific’ after testing positive for the coronavirus,” Ben Terris, Tracy Jan and Seung Min Kim report.
- It’s unclear where he contracted the virus: Carson said it was “probably somewhere, out there in the universe.” “I was on a bus tour last week. I was at the White House on election night, so there are multiple possibilities,” he added.
One possibility is an election eve party at the White House: White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was there and has tested positive, our colleagues write. Trump campaign adviser David Bossie, who is overseeing legal challenges, to the election also tested positive and attended the party, Bloomberg News’s Jennifer Jacobs and Jordan Fabian report.
A VACCINE COULD BE CLEARED SOON: “The news that Pfizer’s experimental coronavirus vaccine is more than 90 percent effective sharply increased prospects that federal regulators will authorize the vaccine on an emergency basis as early as mid-December, and that the first shots will be administered before the end of the year or early next year,” Laurie McGinley, Lena H. Sun and Carolyn Y. Johnson report.
- But this doesn’t mean a quick return to normalcy: “Even after a vaccine is approved, they said, people will need to wear masks and social distance for some time — in part because the vaccine doses will be limited, and it will take time to immunize enough of the population to stop the virus from spreading.”
Stocks soared on the news: “The Dow spiked more than 1,600 points before giving back nearly half those gains. It ended the session up 834.57 points, or nearly 3 percent, at 29,157.97. The S&P 500 advanced 41.06 points, or 1.2 percent to close at 3,550.50,” Taylor Telford and Hamza Shaban report.
In the media
ON THE OUTS WITH FOX: “As he faces expulsion from the White House, Trump has vowed revenge on the network that propelled his political career, according to close White House aides — perhaps by publicly attacking Fox or undermining its business model by endorsing a competitor,” Sarah Ellison and Josh Dawsey report.
The network’s decision to call Arizona for Biden enraged the White House:
Former officials have complained about just how much sway various hosts have: “While he was White House chief of staff, John Kelly regularly complained to aides that the show hosted by conspiracy-minded immigration opponent Lou Dobbs on Fox Business Network had far too much sway over the president,” our colleagues write.
- Trump thought his loyalty should be returned with favors: “His reelection campaign at one point asked for a bulk discount advertising deal. Fox said no, noting that everyone has to pay the same rates.” Trump was left very unhappy and took any perceived slight from the network personally viewing Fox as “my network,” our colleagues write. “I give Fox these mega-ratings. It’s all me,” Trump has told advisers.
BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO: “Fox News cut away from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s remarks at a news conference because she claimed without evidence that Democrats were inviting fraud and illegal voting,” Elahe and Sarah report.
- What happened: “From the Fox News studio, anchor Neil Cavuto cut in to end Fox’s broadcast of the video feed from the Republican National Committee headquarters. ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ he said. ‘I just think we have to be very clear that she’s charging the other side as welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal voting. Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.’”
Pandemic joys = getting a new Zoom background: