Wednesday’s mob attack on the U.S. Capitol was a frightening and astounding display of violence instigated by none other than the president himself.
It was frightening for what it revealed about the dangers of efforts by President Donald Trump and his allies to undermine a democratic election. And the security failure was astounding not because no one could have seen it coming, but because of precisely the opposite: The invasion of the building was openly planned and discussed for weeks in advance, with the president providing the most vocal support for such insurrectionist behavior through his incessant lies about voter fraud and his fomenting of unrest.
The attack took place as Congress was meeting to certify electoral college votes and as multiple Republican lawmakers complicit in the president’s anti-democratic endeavor offered baseless objections to the vote count. Residents of Washington, DC, all without congressional representation, were notified repeatedly to stay home and were subject to a 6 p.m. curfew, while scenes from the Capitol were shared on the news and through social media.
Some images and videos showed officers severely outnumbered, others appeared to show them even taking selfies with rioters. All were in marked contrast to last summer’s authoritarian display of federal police forces in cities across the county, especially the capital, during racial justice protests over police killings of Black Americans.
Serious questions have been raised over the security failure, from why Capitol Police (separate from the city’s Metropolitan Police Department) were so wholly unprepared for the violence, to how federal agencies like the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security responded to the riot and how Trump might have interfered in that response, even through inaction. These questions will be the subject of investigations — including by American Oversight — for weeks and months to come.
But while the American public awaits answers, one thing remains clear: Every moment President Trump remains in power is a threat to our democracy and our nation. He must be removed from office immediately. Congress can once again impeach him for the high crimes he engaged in on Wednesday, and the cabinet can remove him by invoking the 25th Amendment. Those who participated in the vandalism and looting and violence that left a reported five people dead, including one police officer, and scores of other officers injured must be investigated and prosecuted under the law — and the president cannot escape accountability, even as he reportedly flirts with the idea of pardoning himself before his term ends on Jan. 20.
It’s hard to believe that it was less than a week ago that the president was roundly condemned for having asked Georgia’s secretary of state to “find 11,780 votes” that could flip the state’s electoral count from President-elect Joe Biden to Trump. His exhortations, potentially illegal and definitely an abuse of power, provided a signal of just how low Trump is willing to go to cling to power. We submitted records requests with the offices of the governor and secretary of state for any communications with individuals associated with Trump’s authoritarian efforts to overturn the election, or about the Jan. 2 call with Secretary Brad Raffensperger.
And while Tuesday’s Senate runoff election in Georgia is over, with Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff having defeated incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, we’re still investigating the efforts of voting-restriction activist groups to disenfranchise voters in Georgia and across the country. In late December, we sued Muscogee County, Ga., for failing to respond to records requests related to the attempt by one of those groups, True the Vote, to purge hundreds of thousands of names from voter rolls in advance of Tuesday’s election.
As maskless rioters stormed the Capitol on Wednesday, and as dozens of lawmakers crowded together in a secure location refused to wear masks, the United States saw 3,800 people die from Covid-19 — a record daily high. On Thursday, the U.S. surpassed 4,000 deaths for the first time.The distribution of vaccines has been hampered by a lack of federal leadership, and several states have reported cases of a new, more contagious Covid-19 strain.
On Thursday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao became the first member of Trump’s cabinet to resign following the attack on the Capitol (though with just two weeks left in Trump’s term). Late on Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced her departure as well.
Chao’s tenure was marked by significant ethics concerns and favoritism, with her having boosted her family’s shipping company and her office providing special treatment for Kentucky-specific requests (the home state of her and her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell). Here’s a Twitter thread highlighting some of what we’ve uncovered through public records about Chao’s conduct in office.
HHS Pandemic Relief Contracts with UnitedHealth
We obtained records that include versions of the contracts signed in the spring of 2020 for UnitedHealth Group to distribute billions in CARES Act funds to health care providers across the country — a decision that drew scrutiny because HHS already had mechanisms to distribute payments. The records we obtained also include communications that raise questions about the involvement of former White House economic adviser Stephen Parente. Read more here.
Confusion over CDC’s Initial Vaccine Instructions
In early September, the federal government instructed states to be ready to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by Nov. 1, 2020. We recently published records from the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services from the late summer and fall that show confusion and uncertainty in state officials’ reactions to these vaccine plans. “Can you help me understand what will be expected of Nevada?” a state official asked a CDC employee, saying that CDC Director Robert Redfield’s instructions to states had caused “a lot of confusion.”
New Stephen Miller Documents
In late December, we received another set of records in response to our FOIA litigation for White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller’s communications, showing more direct contact between Miller and senior Justice Department officials in 2017 and 2018. In the emails, they discuss immigration policies, including family separation, and in some cases Miller appeared to encourage or request a Justice Department public affairs official to promote anti-immigrant messages in then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ public appearances.
CDC Airborne Transmission Guidance
On Sept. 18, the CDC posted guidance acknowledging that Covid-19 is airborne, before removing the guidance three days later. (In early October, it posted updated guidelines, saying that the earlier publication had been in error.) We published CDC emails from that time that show top political officials tracking CDC communications materials, and World Health Organization officials asking to discuss the abrupt guidance change.
Communications About Border Wall Construction
In 2018, we sued the Trump administration for communications DHS officials had with Congress, the White House, and others regarding the construction of the border wall. The latest set of records include emails with Rep. Steve King and others.
Trump auctions drilling rights to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Wednesday (Washington Post)
How Trump tried, but largely failed, to derail America’s top climate report (New York Times)
Trump announced he withdrew the nomination of Chad Wolf to run DHS after he’d criticized the Capitol riot (Buzzfeed News)
Analysis of Trump’s judicial appointments finds that nearly 40% of confirmed appellate judges have shown anti-LGBTQ bias (NY Daily News)
USPS delays are threatening small-town newspapers. So is a postage price increase. (Washington Post)
Rep. Clark: House could vote on impeachment by ‘mid-next week’ (Politico)
Census Bureau to miss deadline, jeopardizing Trump plan (Associated Press)
Biden introduces attorney general pick Merrick Garland as he promises DOJ independence (CNBC)
Citing the pandemic, CBP has expelled newborn U.S. citizens with their migrant mothers (Intercept)
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