U.S. probing potential bribery, lobbying scheme for presidential pardon

The Justice Department is investigating whether there was a secret scheme to lobby White House officials for a pardon as well as a related plot to offer a hefty political contribution in exchange for clemency, according to a court document unsealed Tuesday.

Most of the information in the 18-page court order is redacted, including the identity of the people whom prosecutors are investigating and whom the proposed pardon might be intended for.

But the document from August does reveal that certain individuals are suspected of having acted to secretly lobby White House officials to secure a pardon or sentence commutation and that, in a related scheme, a substantial political contribution was floated in exchange for a pardon or “reprieve of sentence.”

A Justice Department official said Tuesday night that no government official was or is a subject or target of the investigation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The existence of the investigation, first reported by CNN, was revealed in a court order from U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge of Washington’s federal court. In it, she granted investigators access to certain email communications connected to the alleged schemes that she said was not protected by attorney-client privilege. The investigative team will be able to use that material to confront any subject or target of the investigation, the judge wrote.

The order was dated Aug. 28, and prosecutors had sought to keep it private because they said it identifies people not charged by a grand jury. But on Tuesday, Howell unsealed select portions of that document while redacting from view any personally identifiable information.

As part of the investigation, more than 50 devices, including laptops and iPads, have been seized, according to the document.

Pardons are common at the end of a president’s tenure and are occasionally politically fraught affairs as some convicted felons look to leverage connections inside the White House to secure clemency. Last week, President Donald Trump announced that he had pardoned his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, even as a federal judge was weighing a Justice Department request to dismiss the case.

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Finnish MPs observed the American Presidential Elections; express mixed hopes for future administration

In addition to human rights experts from ODIHR, more than 70 election monitors were sent to the USA by the OSCE.

Election observers were sent to seven states plus Washington, D.C. Leading up to Election Day, the ODIHR had been observing a broader scope of the election process as part of a long-term observation mission, including campaign financing, freedom of the press, and early voting operations.

Junnila, who is the chairman of the Finnish delegation to the OSCE PA, felt it was his mission to participate. He has observed elections in many countries, including those with fledgling democracies.

Junnila visited a dozen polling sites in Wisconsin, one of the battleground states that Trump won in 2016 against former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, but that Joe Biden flipped in 2020. Trump has asked for a recount of population centres that had a high percentage of Biden votes in Wisconsin to dispute Biden’s victory. “My group concentrated on Kenosha, Milwaukee and Racine,” Junnila explains, “but of course we also met with a wide variety of different officials, researchers, and party officials.”

Junnila explained why he was particularly drawn to those sites: “The OSCE PA hand-picked the locations based on input from long-term observers, but I was able to influence our secretariat to consider Kenosha and Racine counties in Wisconsin. My group was the only one going there. Kenosha became known for the riots after the death of Jacob Blake and Racine is known as a bellwether county. They have voted for the president in every election except in 1988, well, until now.”

Junnila describes some of the rare individual problems that occur in the U.S. electoral process. “Dead people voted. Ballot-harvesting. People voted twice. People voted in a state they no longer lived. Party observers were not allowed inside some locations. There were errors in counting. Filling of missing addresses to some of the ballots after the polling station had closed,” he describes but concludes that these instances were not widespread enough to alter the outcome of the election. That is because it is not unusual to find individual instances of voting impropriety, however, these are not significant enough to change the outcome of elections wherein the margins are so large. “Problems and abuses were not detected on a scale that the campaigns suggest,” stated Junnila in a press release from the OSCE PA, “Voting on election day and the counting of advance votes has generally proceeded properly.”

Kauma visited three polling places in Washington, D.C, and six polling sites just outside of the city in Arlington, Virginia, and described that she had been in the nation of Georgia observing their parliamentary elections until 31 October 2020, which influenced why she ended up observing election offices there. “I decided to stay there in order to avoid too much heavy traveling. And I had been there also in the 2012 and 2014 elections as an observer. It felt like a good idea to make a comparison.”

When election observers from the OSCE PA arrive, she explained, they are briefed on a comprehensive report from the ODIHR, as well as members of the Republican and Democratic Parties, on their findings of what has occurred leading up to the election, as well as what they should pay special attention to when visiting polling sites.

Kauma has a keen interest in supporting democracies by serving as an election observer. “I think that the most important thing regarding elections that we do as politicians in Finland is to look outside our borders. Going to another country to observe their elections and learn about their political system gives you both an idea of what is happening in those countries, as well as food for thought about your own country.”

Biden won both the national popular vote and the majority of electoral college votes. The final electoral college tally was for President-elect Biden at 306-232, flipping Republican President Trump’s 2016 result against Clinton. Trump has refused to concede the election accusing election officials of vast voter fraud, claiming that he was the rightful winner of the election. Kauma disagrees, “I think it is wrong for Trump to challenge the results. In countries like the U.S., where the system relies on the rule of law, you have to bring proof if you claim fraud.” 

Although the election was called by most news sources the Saturday following the election, after Democratic President-elect Joe Biden secured the electoral votes necessary to win the election, there is still a period of “canvassing,” which involves counting every ballot, verifying that each ballot is valid, and auditing the results of the election before the results are certified by each state.

Kauma explained that the exceptionally high number of absentee and mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 altered the attendance at polling sites she visited. “Normally, there would be a lot of people at the polling stations on Election Day,” she said, “but this time there were only a handful of people there because most people had already voted. That is perhaps why it is taking so long to count the ballots.”

Junnila described the stark difference between polling places in urban centres versus rural locations. “In the cities [polling sites] were orderly with not too many people in the queue, but in the countryside, it was very busy,” he said. “Of course, this was expected, since most of the Democratic voters voted absentee and the Republicans were expected to turn out to vote on Election Day.”

On the night of the election, Trump prematurely claimed victory in a speech fraught with lies and accusations. Strangely enough, he demanded that the counting of ballots be stopped in Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Biden’s lead slowly overtook Trump’s as mail-in ballots began to be processed and counted, but he asked that Arizona “count every vote,” where the remaining ballots were expected to be predominately voters registered to the Republican Party.

In stark contrast to Trump’s speech, Joe Biden refused to claim victory on the night of the election, instead calling for patience to allow that every vote be counted. This was a message echoed by Michael Georg Link, special coordinator and leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission: “Nobody – no politician, no elected official – should limit the people’s right to vote. Coming after such a highly dynamic campaign, making sure that every vote is counted is a fundamental obligation for all branches of government.”

8 December 2020 is the deadline for resolving election disputes at the state level, including all recounts and court contests, where Trump is currently hoping to change the outcome of the election. After that, electors in each state will cast their ballots in the Electoral College according to the winner of the popular vote in each state (with the exception of Nebraska and Maine, where a different approach is used with split electoral votes based on a “congressional district method”). This curious distinction resulted in Trump’s victory in 2016 despite losing the national popular vote to Clinton.

The U.S. does not have a national election standard—it varies from state to state and within each state, county to county, with election boards and commissions granted autonomy to determine their own voting standards. 

Junnila spelled out how this might complicate the election process. “The biggest problem with their system is the decentralisation, but I am not sure there is enough political will from the main parties to make any drastic measure to improve it from that point of view. But I hope they do make small improvements to it, because the biggest problem is their lack of trust in the system. I would recommend that they pass a federal law about the registration of voters and improve their census system as well.”

The unique manner in which elections are conducted in the U.S. was acknowledged by Kauma but did not complicate her mission while observing the election process. “The process in the U.S. is very different than in other countries that I’ve visited,” Kauma explained. “If you talk to observers who visited Michigan or California, I’m sure they probably have a different impression based on the rules there. However, when you visit a polling place, it is your job to observe how the election workers are operating under the rules of their state.”

“In the U.S. you talk about elections in a plural sense—there are many elections happening at the same time, for example, for Congress, local elections, laws, school measures,” said Kauma. “When an American voter goes into a polling place to vote they have to take a stance on many things at once. In Finland, we only have to take a stance on one issue at a time.”

In an unprecedented move, Trump withheld millions of dollars in federal funds to Biden meant to aid the peaceful transition from one administration to the next, forcing Biden’s transition committee to seek private donations for their work. After elections officials in Michigan certified Biden’s victory in that state, Trump agreed to release the transition funds and to begin the process of a peaceful transition to the Biden administration, although Trump has expressed a goal of still reversing the election results in the courts.

Junnila does not believe that Trump’s initial refusal to work with the transition team amount to breaking the law. “There is no strict rule that the Trump campaign is actually breaking here. Of course, this is with the expectation of him respecting the firm deadline in December and the deadline given for inauguration.”

Further, Junnila explained that many recounts have yet to be completed. “States like Georgia are just now finishing and confirming their results, so it remains to be seen if [Trump] will make further statewide challenges. But it will be difficult to prove any widespread fraud, because it doesn’t seem to be there—at least not anything major.”

Trump has challenged the results in several states in a variety of lawsuits, attempting to reverse the outcome of the election in his favour, but no court challenge has of yet gained any ground. This has prompted President Trump to adopt a number of different accusations of fraud for each state. 

In Pennsylvania, he has asked his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to represent him in federal court to halt Biden’s certification as the winner of the state. In question in that lawsuit are a number of ballots in a number of Pennsylvania counties that allowed voters to “cure,” or correct, technicalities on their mail-in ballots such as forgetting their middle initial on their signature. Despite being fully legal under Pennsylvania elections law, their argument there is that the same option is not offered in counties that favoured Trump. Giuliani’s case was dismissed by the judge, and Pennsylvania certified its election results 24 November 2020.

In Georgia, officials finished a hand recount of 5 million votes and announced confirmation of Biden’s victory on 20 November 2020. The results were certified by election officials in the state.

In a bizarre turn of events in Wayne County, Michigan, which includes Detroit, which is traditionally a perfunctory vote by the local canvassing board to certify election results, two Republican members refused to certify the election in a move meant to support Trump. After backlash pointing out that they had singled out precincts with predominately Black voters, the two members reversed their votes and voted to certify the election. Later, they tried to rescind their votes to certify the results, claiming they felt bullied (their vote is still binding, however, and those results have been certified). One of those voters later admitted that Trump called her to thank her for her efforts to help him, which is a highly unusual point of contact intended to influence an election board member’s decisions. Trump invited Republican leaders of Michigan’s state legislature to the White House to discuss reversing the state’s popular vote, although they certified their results on 23 November 2020.

Many expected Trump to reject the results of the election after he stated that the election would be fraudulent if he lost beginning with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. As states began to change voting requirements to allow social distancing by voting by mail, Trump began to inaccurately characterise mail-in voting as inherently fraudulent, despite the fact that he himself votes by mail in Florida. This was because mail-in voting tends to favour Democratic candidates over Republicans.

Junnila acknowledges some of the worries but ultimately doesn’t feel they had a significant impact on the results. “Voting by mail in the United States is somewhat troublesome because states have different legislation and deadlines,” he explained, “and considering the registration and verification of voters’ eligibility is challenging. The United States does not have a proper federal identification process, nor do they have a reliable way to verify a voter’s address and so forth. So, yes, I do understand the concerns and this is something they need to address in the future. However, neither we nor the election officials or the party observers noticed anything wide scale that would affect the results of this election.”

Trump’s allegations of fraud leading up to the election did influence the mission of the election observers. “We knew that our task would be even more important because the President was claiming that there would be fraud,” Kauma explains. Kauma describes how eager election workers were to demonstrate the fairness and accuracy of voting when she visited their sites because of Trump’s inflammatory accusations. “We were welcomed at polling stations, said Kauma, explaining that their presence there brought them a sense of security, “The polling station workers welcomed us also in the sense that they felt it was a good idea to have an ‘outside organization’ to make sure that everything goes as planned and report if there is something wrong.”

Junnila did describe a bad experience at a polling site in Racine, Wisconsin. “There was a polling station that was run very strictly, and we were limited in terms of observation. We were also treated very badly and told not to ask any questions. While we still did, some of them turned to another observer from the Democratic Party for answers. It seemed very odd and we underlined it in our internal report.”

The election observers had specific things that they were looking for when visiting polling sites. One of the claims that Trump made was that people could vote twice with a mail-in ballot (he even encouraged his supporters to attempt to do this in North Carolina, which is a felony under US law). “When we visited a site, we would go to the chief election worker at each site and asked them to demonstrate to us how they would know if a voter had already voted,” Kauma describes. “In polling places, they would show us their voter registration list—in some places, it was a physical book, and in others, it was an electronic device like a tablet.” When a voter had voted, that would be indicated on that voter’s registration file. Kauma concludes, “I believe this is a fairly reliable system.”

Trump admitted that it was his goal to slow the delivery of mail-in ballots in an interview with Fox Business Network in August. Referencing two funding sources held by Republican lawmakers in Congress, he said, “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump told host Maria Bartiromo. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.”

In addition to this, Trump used an ally that he appointed as Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service (USPS), Louis DeJoy, to slow the delivery of mail-in ballots. DeJoy made several moves that slowed mail delivery rates, including the removal of mail-sorting machines, ostensibly as a cost-saving measure. However, the backlash over the move was so great that DeJoy was asked to testify before Congress and eventually conceded that he would reverse the cost-cutting measures entirely.

Despite Trump’s efforts to undermine the results in the election, the groups are confident that the election went smoothly.

On a broader note, Kauma said, “No, democracy is not in jeopardy in the U.S. It was important that they didn’t try to postpone the elections. It is a good sign that they kept to their regular election schedule, and I would encourage other countries to find a way to have their elections safely in spite of coronavirus. If they don’t, democracy is at risk. Democracy requires that elections happen on schedule to survive. Those in power will have a tendency to abuse their power if they have the opportunity to.”

Regarding what happens next to the U.S., Junnila is not optimistic. “The Republicans are questioning the viability of the election process and the Democrats think Trump undermines democracy, so you can just feel how the political divide is ever deepening and there is not much either Trump or Biden could do about it—well, except add fuel to the fire,” Junnila said. “There won’t be unity.”

Kauma, however, has hope for Americans, “I don’t see the future as gloomy as Junnila. I think it greatly depends on the new president and his team as a whole, what will happen. Will the political divide grows even deeper or will people find their unity as Americans, not just as Republicans or as Democrats? I think it is possible for the new leader to unify the nation, but it probably will not happen overnight. It will happen gradually, as the world will find its way to recover from the global pandemic.”

Overall, based on the reports of more than 70 observers; the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), the conclusion was that there were no problems on a large scale and that President Donald Trump’s allegations of widespread electoral fraud were unfounded.

President-elect Biden is expected to be sworn into office on Inauguration Day, 20 January 2021.

For a full list of election results certification deadlines in the United States, click here.


Tristan Reid – HT


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Pennsylvania certifies Joe Biden as winner of presidential vote

Harrisburg: Democrat Joe Biden has been certified as the winner of the presidential election in Pennsylvania, culminating three weeks of vote counting and a string of failed legal challenges by President Donald Trump.

The Pennsylvania State Department “certified the results of the November 3 election in Pennsylvania for president and vice-president of the United States,” Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, tweeted.

US President-elect Joe Biden was certified as the winner of Pennsylvania.

US President-elect Joe Biden was certified as the winner of Pennsylvania.Credit:AP

“As required by federal law, I’ve signed the Certificate of Ascertainment for the slate of electors for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” Wolf wrote.

The State Department said Wolf’s “certificate of ascertainment” has been sent to the national archivist in Washington. Pennsylvania’s electors, a mix of elected Democrats, party activists and other staunch Biden backers, will meet in the state Capitol on December 14.

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More GOP lawmakers call on Trump to begin presidential transition: ‘It is time’

A small but growing group of Republican lawmakers are calling on President Trump to begin the transition of power to President-elect Joe Biden, even as the incumbent refuses to concede and forges ahead with a series of legal challenges trying to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election.  

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, became the latest GOP senator late Sunday night to issue a statement pushing for the Trump administration to start the presidential transition process.

“President Trump has had the opportunity to litigate his claims, and the courts have thus far found them without merit,” she said. “A pressure campaign on state legislators to influence the electoral outcome is not only unprecedented but inconsistent with our democratic process. It is time to begin the full and formal transition process.” 

Her comments came shortly after several of her Senate colleagues said it was time to start the transition process while acknowledging Biden as the likely victor of the presidential election. 

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it’s “past time to start a transition, to at least cooperate with a transition. I’d rather have a president who has more than one day to prepare.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, tweeted Sunday that Biden should start receiving intelligence briefings. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., said Trump has “exhausted all plausible legal options” in Pennsylvania and urged him to concede. 


“To ensure that he is remembered for these outstanding accomplishments, and to help unify our country, President Trump should accept the outcome of the election and facilitate the presidential transition process,” Toomey said in a statement after a “longtime conservative Republican” judge, Matthew Brann, threw out the latest Trump campaign lawsuit that challenged the Pennsylvania vote.

Trump berated the Pennsylvania Republican on Twitter, saying that “Senator Pat ‘No Tariffs’ Toomey” was “no friend of mine.”

Toomey is retiring rather than running for re-election in 2022.

Rep. Liz Cheney, chair of the House Republican Conference, also said it was time for Trump to respect the “sanctity of our electoral process” if he cannot provide “genuine evidence” of criminality and widespread fraud in the voting process. 

“If the President cannot prove these claims or demonstrate that they would change the election result, he should fulfill his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States by respecting the sanctity of our electoral process,” the Wyoming Republican said in a statement to Politico. 

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said during an interview on CNN that “the voters have spoken” and there has been no evidence of fraud or abuse in the election. 


“All 83 counties have certified their own election results,” Upton said of Michigan, a key battleground state where Trump is trying to invalidate voting results. “Those will be officially tabulated or should be tomorrow. We expect that that process move forward and let the voters, not the politicians speak.” 

Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results also sparked criticism from his longtime ally and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who called the president’s legal team “outrageous” and a “national embarrassment.” 

“I’ve been a supporter of the president’s. I voted for him twice, but elections have consequences, and we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn’t happen,” he said on ABC. 

Other Republicans who have publicly congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, or who have called on the transition process to begin, include Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine. 


Romney issued one of the most scathing statements, accusing him of trying to “subvert the will of the people and overturn the election.” 

“It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President,” Romney said last week. 

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Thanksgiving, Coronavirus, Presidential Transition: Your Weekend Briefing

(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)

Here are the week’s top stories, and a look ahead.

1. The U.S. is heading into a make-or-break holiday week.

The country passed 12 million cases, adding one million new cases in the past week alone. New daily cases are approaching 200,000: On Friday, the country recorded more than 198,500, a record.

At least 255,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus, and hospitalizations rose beyond 82,000. Above, a memorial in Miami for virus victims.

3. The next three weeks are a moment of truth for the Republican Party.

As election officials in contested states certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, verifying that the vote count is accurate and complete, G.O.P. officials from state capitols to Congress will be forced to choose between the will of voters and the will of one man: President Trump.

4. The Trump administration is using its last weeks to lock in many of the president’s policies and interfere with President-elect Joe Biden’s agenda.

Top officials are racing against the clock to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, secure oil drilling leases in Alaska, punish China, carry out executions and thwart any plans that Mr. Biden may have to reestablish the Iran nuclear deal. In some cases, Mr. Trump’s government plans to act just days — or even hours — before Mr. Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

But even as Mr. Trump refuses to accept the reality of his loss, the rest of the world — and Mr. Biden — is moving on. Everyone from world leaders to business executives have called the president-elect to congratulate him.

5. Fighting the pandemic and its global economic impact dominated the Group of 20 summit, which began on Saturday and continues today.

Heads of state of the world’s richest countries and the European Union spoke about the battle against the coronavirus and potential debt relief for poor countries hit hard by the pandemic.

President Trump briefly participated in the summit from the White House, but skipped the event on pandemic preparedness and instead headed to his Virginia country club for a round of golf.

The virus reduced the annual summit to a giant webinar, transforming an event that was supposed to allow Saudi Arabia to play host to the world’s great powers and depriving Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, of reviving his international reputation.

6. Do these people look real?

They may look familiar, but they don’t exist. We built an A.I. system to create fake faces like the ones used to fool people on Facebook, Amazon and even Tinder.

The technology that makes them is improving at a startling pace thanks to a new type of artificial intelligence called a generative adversarial network. In essence, you feed a computer program a bunch of photos of real people. It studies them and tries to comes up with its own photos, while another part of the system tries to detect which of them are fake.

But just like humans, the programs can be deeply flawed. See for yourself.

7. An apology 52 years in the making.

Lynn Conway was one of IBM’s most promising young computer engineers, but after confiding to supervisors in 1968 that she was transgender, they fired her. Last month, Ms. Conway, pictured in 2018, was called into a virtual meeting with IBM employees.

Diane Gherson, IBM’s senior vice president of human resources, told Ms. Conway that although the company now offered help and support to “transitioning employees,” no amount of progress could make up for the treatment she had received decades ago.

Ms. Conway, 82, was then given a lifetime achievement award for her “pioneering work” in computers. “It was so unexpected,” Ms. Conway said. “It was stunning.”

8. Thanksgiving: Ready, set, don’t go (but do cook).

With coronavirus cases raging across the U.S., the safest choice this Thanksgiving is to spend it with the people you live with. Here are ideas from across The Times for how to keep it small, safe and fun:

In this year like no other, we want to know what makes you grateful. Tell us in six words.

9. Music to get us through.

At the fearful height of the pandemic in April, Simon Gronowski, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, began playing jazz tunes on his piano from his apartment window in Brussels, bringing relief to his besieged neighbors throughout the lockdown that lasted into late May.

“Music is a means of communication, of connection,” said Mr. Gronowski, who taught himself how to play the piano as a teenager after escaping the Nazis. Piano was a way for him to connect with his sister who had died in Auschwitz.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, live jazz has become a near-constant presence across New York City. The makeshift outdoor shows have been therapeutic for musicians and fans alike.

10. And finally, take in these stories at your leisure.

Rethinking the Thanksgiving myth. The fashion of Princess Diana. The cutthroat market for N95 masks. These stories and more await in The Weekender.

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Joe Biden’s presidential inheritance

Joe Biden’s presidency will begin with trying to eradicate a significant health crisis his predecessor was incapable of handling effectively, writes George Grundy.

U.S. PRESIDENT Donald Trump has lost. Joe Biden has won. America’s democracy appears to have narrowly dodged a bullet, but although few elections in U.S. history have caused such an outpouring of joy, in the cold light of day, Americans will have to face up to what remains a disturbingly bleak picture.

Politically, the nation remains gravely divided. More than 73 million Americans took stock of the last four years, saw the racism, corruption, nepotism and extraordinary incompetence and still cast their ballot for Donald Trump. Although the likely Electoral College margin of 306-232 looks substantial, Joe Biden’s win came courtesy of just five “flipped” states, four of which were won by a margin of one per cent or less.

Yet the Election, declared one of the most secure in American history, has not caused the incumbent President to concede. Indeed, Trump remains prone to late-night Twitter outbursts, declaring ‘I won the Election’ to his near-89 million followers, a substantial portion of whom appears unable to distinguish truth from falsity. This unprecedented petulance is magnified by the continued unwillingness of Republicans to call it out. All 53 sitting Republican senators declined public comment over the weekend, and America’s courts still buzz with frivolous lawsuits trying to find a way to overturn the result.

For the first time in America’s long history, it remains to be seen if the Election loser will allow a peaceful transition of power. Trump’s psychology appears to suggest he can never concede a loss and his fear of bankruptcy or prosecution once out of office may cause the President, when cornered, to do something truly rash. Trump has already decapitated the civilian leadership of the Pentagon and there is talk that the head of the CIA may be next. On the evidence we have so far, should Trump cause a constitutional crisis, few of his Republican colleagues will have the courage to choose country over party.

This will not be the usually uneventful “sitting duck” period we are used to.

Outside the halls of Washington, the country is in an unholy mess. Trump has racked up $7 trillion more national debt during his four years of mostly favourable financial conditions. The 2020 Budget deficit of over $3 trillion is more than double the previous record, yet there is precious little to show for this spending spree. Unemployment is the highest it’s been since the Great Depression. Food lines stretch for miles. Millions are in abject poverty.

And hanging over this remains the pandemic. With two months to go until Joe Biden takes over, the COVID-19 crisis is rapidly spinning out of control. In the middle of October, the seven-day average of new cases in the U.S. was around 50,000 a day. A month later, it’s 150,000 — a tripling in just 30 days. The frightening power of a virus able to grow exponentially is being demonstrated in real time.

A similar average of daily mortality has risen less steeply, from 700 to over 1,100 a day, but although those numbers by themselves are terrible, deaths are a lag indicator. People get the virus, some get sick, some go to hospital, some end up in ICU and some eventually die. Absent a vaccine or new therapeutic treatment, America’s daily death toll is likely to increase dramatically in the next few weeks.

Why the U.S. is number one for COVID-19-related deaths

And that’s a problem, because America continues to set daily records for COVID-19 hospitalisations and the massive increase in cases is yet to translate into the inevitable deluge of further sickness and death. In El Paso, Texas, they are already operating ten temporary morgues to deal with the bodies. Prison inmates in full PPE, earning just $2 an hour, are being used to transport the bodies from hospital wards to the freezer rooms. In North Dakota, medical staff are so stretched that nurses actively infected with COVID-19 are being allowed to keep working.

Nine months into this pandemic, the Trump Administration is yet to form any coherent national strategy. Governors are left to enact piecemeal and often toothless local mandates to try to slow the spread of infection. The Defense Production Act, which allows the Government to commandeer civilian resources during a crisis, is yet to be invoked (Biden says he’ll do so on day one). PPE and other protective equipment remain worryingly scarce and in many states, there are barely any ventilators now not in operation. America’s health system is on its knees, scandalously exposed to the deluge that will inevitably arrive over the next few weeks.

Yet Trump is unmoved, motivated only to cling to a job he so clearly doesn’t wish to actually do. With winter closing in and a President who refuses to act, America’s COVID-19 tragedy is poised to become a catastrophe that will dwarf anything suffered since the Civil War.

When Barack Obama became President in 2008, he was bequeathed a nation on the brink of total financial collapse. The Republican Administration of George W. Bush allowed banks such an unfettered lending environment that world capitalism itself almost imploded. Twelve years on, Joe Biden may be handed an even worse hospital pass. America, once that shining city upon a hill, faces profound and existential danger in the long period before someone competent takes over.

George Grundy is an English-Australian author, media professional and businessman. He currently maintains the political blog americanprimerweekly.com, providing informative and entertaining commentary on major events in politics and sport.

Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.


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This US county has correctly picked every presidential winner since 1980

CLALLAM COUNTY, WA — Clallam County is about as far from Washington, D.C., as you can get, but for the last 40 years, the county has picked every presidential winner.

Also impressive is the fact that the secluded northwest corner of Washington state has only voted for the losing candidate twice in the last century: in 1968 and 1976.

The phenomenon is largely a mystery, but part of the answer lies in the county’s demographic, which is a healthy mix of Republicans, Democrats and swing voters, like restaurant owner Young Johnson. Johnson’s voting record matches part of her county’s. In 2004, she voted for George Bush, then Barack Obama, twice, then Trump, and most recently, Biden.

“Typically I vote with my heart, and the state of the county at that time,” Johnson told ABC News. “The person I voted for probably is the person I thought would best fit that situation.”

Her county’s representatives also perfectly represent the region’s political range. The three commissioners include a Democrat, a Republican and and Independent.

The commissioners attribute the county’s ability to sway the direction of the country to its semi-location, which perhaps forces a greater tolerance of different ideas.

“We are so remote and so relatively isolated, our county has a real history of independence and creativity,” Clallam County Democratic Commissioner Mark Ozias said.

“We’ve got a spectrum, and what’s missing is people that just have to have it their way and not any other way,” Clallam County Republican Commissioner Bill Peach said.

Much like the way their leaders come together, the commissioners say residents with differing opinions also co-exist.

“Even though someone may have a Trump sign up on one side and someone may have a Biden sign up the next … people all come together to work for the community and what the needs are,” Clallam County Independent Commissioner Randy Johnson said.

The community is going through the same struggles as many others across the country. Crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy is teetering at the edge.

“There are so many businesses just barely hanging on right now,” Johnson said.

Separated by a short drive and ferry ride to hard-hit Seattle, Clallam’s port is now mostly cut off from neighboring Canada. An entire summer of tourism has now been lost.

“I am concerned that without any significant federal relief, we’ll see a lot of small businesses disappear,” Peach said.

But the economy wasn’t the only driving factor at this year’s polls.

Veteran local newspaper reporter Paul Gottlieb said Trump himself also became a top issue for the county.

“They were upset with President Trump and they were not gonna vote for him this time, so I think that … as national indications have shown … the election was largely about President Trump, and that’s another way that we reflected the national mood,” Gottlieb said.

With COVID-19 cases surging, the most pressing problem in the area has become even more clear: getting out of this pandemic.

The coronavirus hit so close to home for Johnson, she decided it wasn’t worth keeping her restaurant open. She wanted to give Trump a chance and her vote, but when the virus hit her family, it was the final straw for her.

“He came out and said it was nothing… and at that point, I thought, you know, you have no empathy. America is dying. America is struggling,” she said.

Now, the independent-minded community hopes new leadership in Washington might make life just a little easier, but many of them still have doubts about voting for Biden in 2024.

“That depends on what he does in the four years that he has,” Johnson said of Biden. “But you know, anything I do is not just for myself but it’s for the country. We’re all Americans, so we need to unite again.”

ABC’s Lindsey Griswold contributed to this report

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Ariz. GOP chair says the presidential election is far from over

Dr. Kelli Ward, left, Chair of the Arizona Republican Party, talks with a supporter of President Donald Trump as they join the crowd at a rally outside the Arizona state capitol Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)


OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 12:38 PM PT – Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The chairwoman of the Republican Party of Arizona, Dr. Kelli Ward, shared an update on election results in her state and is encouraging supporters of President Trump to stay on course. She noted the fight for the presidency is far from over.

“Arizona, I personally and my team are working with the Trump campaign hand-in-hand to ensure that elections in Arizona have integrity,” said Dr. Ward.

In a statement Monday, the chairwoman spoke about the GOP’s latest fight to counter election fraud. She said there are plenty of questions that still need to be answered.

“We’re going into the canvassing phase of this election,” explained Dr. Ward. “That means we’re assuring that the votes cast are cast as the voter intended and counted appropriately, questions that have to be answered.”

Towards the end of her remarks, she told viewers to not lose heart and said Republicans will make sure elections in the Grand Canyon State have integrity.

Her assurances came after Arizona Republicans filed a lawsuit last week to challenge Maricopa County’s election results. The suit argues the county must enforce a hand count by precinct, not voting center, as outlined in the state law.

Multiple lawmakers, including Rep. Andy Biggs (R), are leading the push for the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to review all ballots cast in the county.

Biggs said issues have been raised about the integrity of some of our election systems. He argued that Americans and Arizonans must have full confidence in our election processes and systems.

RELATED: Protesters gather outside Arizona election office


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Biden wins 2020 presidential election: Live coverage

Pfizer Inc. said on Monday that its experimental COVID-19 vaccine was more than 90 percent effective and the company will seek an emergency use authorization, providing hope that a coronavirus vaccine could soon be on the horizon.

President-elect Joe Biden, who is preparing to announce a coronavirus advisory board later Monday, issued a statement saying his public health advisors were briefed on the development Sunday night.

Statement by President-elect Joe Biden on Pfizer’s Vaccine Progress

Last night, my public health advisors were informed of this excellent news. I congratulate the brilliant women and men who helped produce this breakthrough and to give us such cause for hope.

At the same time, it is also important to understand that the end of the battle against COVID-19 is still months away. This news follows a previously announced timeline by industry officials that forecast vaccine approval by late November. Even if that is achieved, and some Americans are vaccinated later this year, it will be many more months before there is widespread vaccination in this country.

This is why the head of the CDC warned this fall that for the foreseeable future, a mask remains a more potent weapon against the virus than the vaccine. Today’s news does not change this urgent reality. Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year. Today’s news is great news, but it doesn’t change that fact.

America is still losing over 1,000 people a day from COVID-19, and that number is rising — and will continue to get worse unless we make progress on masking and other immediate actions. That is the reality for now, and for the next few months. Today’s announcement promises the chance to change that next year, but the tasks before us now remain the same.

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World leaders react to Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 US presidential election

Democrat Joe Biden is set to become the 46th president of the United States, with networks projecting he will defeat Donald Trump after a long and tight election race.

As a true global superpower, the US has allies in many parts of the world and global leaders watching its every move.

Under President Trump, US relations have been strengthened in some countries and significantly weakened in others.

With all eyes now on how Biden’s America will operate, here’s how international leaders from across the world reacted to the news of his victory.

Warmth from Asia and the pacific

Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape welcomed the new leadership, congratulating Mr Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris, who will be the first woman and Black and Asian-American person to serve as vice-president.

In a statement, he thanked Mr Trump for his support and acknowledgement of Papua New Guinea during his term, especially sending Vice-President Mike Pence to APEC 2018 in Port Moresby and signing a billion-dollar deal with Australia, New Zealand and Japan to improve access to electricity and the internet in PNG.


Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen congratulated Mr Biden on Twitter, as did Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

“Warm congratulations to @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. I look forward to working with you to further strengthen the Japan-US Alliance and ensure peace, freedom and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond,” Mr Suga wrote.

China has still not officially made a statement, but Chinese state media has reported that Mr Biden is projected to be the winner.

However, on Chinese social media platform Weibo there have been over 11 billion views under the trending hashtag “US election” and over 1.8 million comments.

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama got in a little early, congratulating Mr Biden on Twitter a day before the official call was made by US news agencies.


India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave his congratulations with a special shout-out to Ms Harris, drawing attention to her Indian heritage.

“Congratulations @JoeBiden on your spectacular victory! As the VP, your contribution to strengthening Indo-US relations was critical and invaluable. I look forward to working closely together once again to take India-US relations to greater heights,” Mr Modi said.

“Heartiest congratulations @KamalaHarris! Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis, but also for all Indian-Americans.

“I am confident that the vibrant India-US ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership.”

Chittis is the Tamil word for “aunts” that Ms Harris used in her speech while accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for vice-president.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison also congratulated Mr Biden while thanking Mr Trump for his work in the past four years.

“I join with other nations’ leaders around the world in congratulating president-elect Joe Biden and Dr Jill Biden, together with vice-president-elect Kamala Harris and her partner Douglas Emhoff for their election at this recent US election,” he said.

“I want to thank President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary Mike Pompeo … and the many other members of his cabinet with whom we have had a very good relationship over the years of the Trump Administration and of course that will continue through the transition period.”

Trudeau positive, but notable silence elsewhere

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has had a tumultuous relationship with Mr Trump, tweeted to say he looked forward to working with Mr Biden and Mr Harris.

“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I congratulate Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their election as the next president and vice-president of the United States of America. Canada and the United States enjoy an extraordinary relationship.”

“I look forward to working with president-elect Biden, vice-president-elect Harris, their administration, and the United States Congress as we tackle the world’s greatest challenges together,” he said.

But several North and South American leaders were conspicuous in their reluctance to congratulate the president-elect.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would not congratulate Mr Biden until “all legal issues are resolved”, saying he and his country “don’t want to be reckless”.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, whose relationship with Mr Trump was positive, is yet to speak about Mr Biden’s election, but earlier in the week distanced himself from Mr Trump by saying he is “not the most important person in the world”.

Iran celebrates, Netanyahu welcomes ‘great friend of Israel’

Though Biden describes himself as a friend to nine Israeli prime ministers, points of difference on Middle East issues may arise.(AP: Ariel Schalit)

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said in a statement he looks forward to working with Mr Biden on “strengthening the strategic ties that bind Iraq and the United States, building on common values between our nations to overcome challenges together”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated Mr Biden and said he looked forward to “working together with the new administration and strengthening the two countries’ alliance”.

Though Mr Biden describes himself as a friend of Israel, points of difference on Middle East issues may prove difficult.

“Congratulations @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris. Joe, we’ve had a long and warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel,” Mr Netanyahu said.

“I look forward to working with both of you to further strengthen the special alliance between the US and Israel.”

Relations between Iran and the United States have taken a turn for the worse since 2018, when Mr Trump pulled out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed crippling sanctions.


Hesameddin Ashena, an adviser to Iran’s President, tweeted that “Iranians stood their ground bravely until that coward left”.

Mr Biden’s appointment could create an opportunity for new negotiations in Iran as he has pledged to re-join the nuclear deal that was arranged under Barack Obama if Iran returns to compliance with it.

Iran’s First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri said he hoped for a change in “destructive US policies” after Mr Biden’s win.

He also added that the era of Mr Trump and his “adventurous and belligerent” administration was over.

“I hope we will see a change in the destructive policies of the United States … finally … the era of Trump and his adventurous and belligerent team is over,” Mr Jahangiri tweeted.

Marcon, Merkel ready to ‘work together’ with Biden

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement she “looked forward to future cooperation with President Biden”.

“Our transatlantic friendship is irreplaceable if we are to master the great challenges of our time.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulated Mr Biden and Ms Harris, acknowledging the US as an important ally.

“Congratulations to Joe Biden on his election as President of the United States and to Kamala Harris on her historic achievement.

French President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter to give his congratulations. He also said: “We have a lot to do to overcome today’s challenges. Let’s work together!”

European Union Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen “warmly” congratulated Mr Biden and said she looked forward to meeting him “at the earliest possible opportunity”.

“The European Union and the United States are friends and allies, our citizens share the deepest of links … As the world continues to change and new challenges and opportunities appear, our renewed partnership will be of particular importance.”


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President-elect Joe Biden delivers his victory speech from Delaware.

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