The past nine months have seen their share of difficult, frustrating, and even infuriating news. But the past week has aptly captured the administration’s failure to control the pandemic, and the tragic results of that failure, as few previous weeks have.
As the United States rapidly approaches 300,000 deaths from Covid-19, each day has brought with it horrifying daily tallies. On Wednesday, 3,054 died, a new single-day record. Americans desperate for aid are struggling as the end of the year looms. U.S. hospitals are overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and his loyal supporters continue their efforts to overturn the results of the election. Of course, Trump did find time to participate in a self-congratulatory “vaccine summit” at the White House — even before the leading contender, Pfizer’s vaccine, has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (that’s expected in the coming days), and even after the New York Times reported that his administration turned down Pfizer’s offers to secure more doses than the 100 million it had agreed to purchase in July.
Since the vaccine requires two doses, that means only 50 million Americans will receive it in the near months, as Pfizer said it cannot guarantee more than that before the summer. Scott Gottlieb, a member of Pfizer’s board, confirmed to CNBC on Tuesday that the administration had passed on the offers even after positive interim data had become available. During Tuesday’s White House event, Trump also said that the fact that so many people had contracted the deadly disease was “terrific,” erroneously suggesting that meant the nation was close to herd immunity.
The irresponsibility of state and federal leaders has also been on full display. Multiple officials have contracted the virus, including those who reportedly eschew mask-wearing while at work. Trump announced over the weekend that Rudy Giuliani had tested positive — dozens of state lawmakers have now also tested positive after their possible exposure during meetings in various states in which Giuliani pushed election-related conspiracy theories. His ally in his dangerous legal efforts, Jenna Ellis, also announced she had tested positive, after having attended an ill-advised White House holiday party.
But it’s not just the White House that has (again) held indoor gatherings in defiance of public health warnings. Pennsylvania legislators recently held a hearing about baseless election fraud claims in which social-distancing and mask-wearing guidelines were largely ignored. The State Department hosted about 200 people at a party at the presidential guesthouse on Tuesday, and Secretary Mike Pompeo is planning to host two receptions next week, one with a reported guest list of more than 900 people. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was also criticized this week after invitations went out for a holiday reception at the governor’s mansion. (More headlines about DeSantis’ failed handling of the pandemic in his state below.)
Finally, Politico reported on Thursday that a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told congressional investigators that CDC Director Robert Redfield had instructed staff to delete an email from a Trump political appointee who was attempting to interfere in the agency’s scientific reports. That instruction sounds alarm bells not just because of ongoing concerns over the Trump administration’s political meddling at scientific agencies, but because of the importance of ensuring that the administration complies with document-preservation laws during its final weeks in office. We’ve been investigating both those concerns — be sure to check our website and the Covid-19 Oversight Hub for updates.
Meat-Processing Industry’s Involvement in Federal Food Assistance Program
American Oversight obtained documents that provide further insight into the origins of the Department of Agriculture’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, suggesting that meat industry groups may have pitched the program to USDA to avoid incurring costs associated with repackaging and relabeling products intended for food service. This was one of several instances this year in which meatpacking companies and their lobbyists cited the pandemic as justification for seeking special treatment from the federal government — read our related previous reporting.
New Details Regarding Controversial 2018 Pardon of Scooter Libby
More reports continue to emerge about Trump’s troubling use of pardon powers, from the sweeping reprieve given to Michael Flynn and the potential White House bribery scheme to the president’s reported consideration of handing pardons out en masse to friends and family. This week, we published records that shed more light on the controversial and irregular 2018 pardon of former Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby, who was convicted in 2007 for obstruction of justice. The documents show some of the aftermath of Libby’s pardon among Justice Department officials in the Pardon Attorney’s office, which had been left out of the process.
VA Secretary Wilkie Comes Under Scrutiny for Possible Criminal Conduct
The Washington Post reported this week that the inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs — who had been investigating whether Secretary Robert Wilkie had worked to discredit a congressional aide — had told federal prosecutors about possible criminal conduct by Wilkie in relation to those allegations. The congressional staffer, Andrea Goldstein, had said she was sexually assaulted in a VA medical center, and the Post had previously reported that Wilkie had inquired with officials about Goldstein’s military record.
According to the Post, Wilkie attempted to disprove Goldstein’s case by pulling surveillance tape from the lobby where the incident occurred — we uncovered an email, reported on by the Post, in which an assistant undersecretary at the VA inquired about the footage and said that Wilkie’s office was “waiting for an answer.”
Headlines You Might Have Missed
17 Republican attorneys general back Trump in far-fetched election lawsuit (New York Times)
Pompeo to speak in Georgia as Senate run-offs loom (Associated Press)
Trump administration set to approve handing sacred Native American land to giant mining corporations (Independent)
Trump’s drug-card plan smacks into another roadblock (Politico)
Report points to microwave ‘attack’ as likely source of mystery illnesses that hit diplomats and spies (New York Times)
Trump Pentagon nominee spreads debunked conspiracies and tweets suggesting Trump declare martial law (CNN)
Ryan Zinke’s phones: ‘A comedy of errors’ (E&E News)
Voice of America director forced aside in drive to embed Trump loyalists before Biden era (NPR)
Trump mulls preemptive pardons for up to 20 allies, even as Republicans balk (Politico)
Trump associates said to have been scrutinized in suspected pardon scheme (New York Times)
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