Lost in the Sauce: 5,000+ covid deaths a week with no end in sight

Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis.

I may do another protest/police-focused post this week, since it could not be included here.

Housekeeping:

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Nominees and appointees

Fired-State Department Inspector General (IG) Steve Linick testified to Congress that he informed at least three top Pompeo aides that he was reviewing Pompeo and his wife’s use of government resources. Linick’s testimony undercuts Pompeo’s defense that he couldn’t have fired Linick in retaliation because he was unaware of what investigations the IG was pursuing.

  • Linick also told Congress that before he was fired, he had also submitted a formal document request for records related to Pompeo’s and his wife’s use of resources. Congressional committees have requested voluntary testimony from the three Pompeo aides. “There’s more information we need,” one of the lawmakers said. “If we are unable to obtain it voluntarily, it should be subpoenaed.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley said he will block two of Trump’s nominees from confirmation until the administration explains watchdog firings… However, these two nominees – director of the National Counterterrorism Center and an undersecretary at the State Dept. – are relatively unimportant to Trump and are unlikely to spur action from the White House.

Trump’s appointee to the United States’ foreign aid agency has denounced liberal democracy and “our homo-empire.” The appointee, Merritt Corrigan, also wrote that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is “the shining champion of Western civilization.”

The Senate confirmed Trump’s nominee Michael Pack to lead the agency that oversees Voice of America despite the fact that Pack’s nonprofit organization is being investigated for possible tax violations. The vote was 53-38, with eight Democratic caucus members not present and Sen. Manchin (D-WV) voting in Pack’s favor.


What is Congress up to?

The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a measure that would require presidential campaigns to report offers of foreign election influence to federal authorities… The committee adopted the measure behind closed doors in a classified setting, adding it to the Intelligence Authorization Act, a bill setting policy for the intelligence community. Senate Republicans, however, are preparing to remove the provision from the bill when it heads to the Senate floor.

  • Sen. Warner has repeatedly tried to pass the bill in the Senate, but it’s been blocked by Republicans, including Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. After she blocked the bill in June 2019, calling it a “blatant political stunt,” Trump tweeted his appreciation for her efforts.

Senate Foreign Relations Cmte. Chairman Jim Risch (R-ID) has abandoned efforts to get Pompeo to testify in a routine annual budget hearing… Risch has tried for months to persuade Pompeo to testify but has given up so as to preserve “political capital,” he reportedly said.

The House Judiciary Committee has lined up whistleblowers to testify about alleged political interference inside the Justice Department as AG Barr continues to rebuff efforts by the panel to reschedule testimony he committed to in March. The whistleblower hearing has yet to be formally scheduled.

House Judiciary Cmte. Chairman Jerry Nadler has introduced legislation to cut $50 million from the DOJ’s General Administration account, which funds the Attorney General’s personal office… Nadler says the bill, which is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, is a response to “continued defiance of Congress and improper politicization of the Department of Justice.”

  • Nadler: “The American people deserve answers from Mr. Barr about actions the Department has taken to harass states during the coronavirus epidemic, his improper interference in cases against President Trump’s political allies, and much more. Because the Attorney General refuses to appear before Congress to provide those answers, we must now use our budgeting authority to compel answers and to reign in his deplorable behavior.”

Senate Republicans authorized Homeland Security Cmte. Chairman Ron Johnson to issue a wide range of subpoenas as part of an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe and allegations of wrongdoing by top Obama administration officials. The Senate Judiciary Cmte. is scheduled to authorize Chairman Lindsey Graham to similarly issue dozens of subpoenas this week.

  • Graham’s subpoena authorization covers 53 officials, while Johnson’s names 35 individuals. Of those, there’s an overlap of two-dozen names including John Brennan, James Clapper, James Comey, Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, and Susan Rice.

The GOP continue to push a Biden-Ukraine conspiracy, but last week Ukrainian prosecutors announced they found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Hunter Biden.

Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified before the Senate Judiciary Cmte. last week about the origins of the Russia probe… The hearing was not newsworthy, with Rosenstein refusing to be pinned down on anything. “He both meekly defended the investigation and meekly defended the president’s conduct with respect to the investigation—and, in order to do the latter, he, like Barr, overread the degree to which the investigation exonerated the president.”


The courts

D.C. Circuit sets a hearing on Michael Flynn’s petition to force the district judge on his case to grant DOJ’s motion to dismiss the prosecution for June 12.

  • The Justice Department is pressing forward with its criminal case against a former business partner of Michael Flynn, Bijan Rafiekian. The filing makes several mentions of Flynn’s integral role in the work that led to the two foreign-agent-related felony charges against Rafiekian and maintains the government’s position that Flynn was a co-conspirator in his business partner’s crimes — a curious stance as the government seeks to drop the criminal case it brought against Flynn more than two years ago.

The D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed that the White House unlawfully suspended the press credentials of Playboy Magazine reporter Brian Karem… The three-judge panel ruled that the suspension violated Karem’s constitutional rights because the White House had no written rules or advance notice about what would constitute unprofessional behavior that could temporarily cost him his press pass.

The DOJ has formally asked the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision granting House Democrats access to redacted grand jury materials from Mueller’s investigation…

The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to make it legal to ban same-sex couples from adopting… The DOJ argued that adoption agencies should be allowed to turn away same-sex couples “because it adheres to the belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman”. Throughout the brief, the department argues that religious freedom must be protected above all else.

A former staffer on Trump’s 2016 campaign has filed a new challenge against Trump’s use of nondisclosure agreementsasking a New York court to rule in a lawsuit that the agreements drawn up by the campaign are “null, void and unenforceable.”

Judge in Jeffrey Epstein grand jury case has ties to those with a stake in outcome… Krista Marx, the Palm Beach chief judge who also heads a panel that polices judicial conduct, has potential conflicts of interest involving three prominent players embroiled in the Epstein sex-trafficking saga: a state attorney, a sheriff, and a former state attorney.


Voting and elections

Both Trump and his press secretary committed voter fraud using residential addresses on their registrations that were not their residences. Kayleigh McEnany cast Florida ballots in 2018 using her parents’ address in Tampa, even though she lived in Washington, D.C., and held a New Jersey driver’s license. Trump cast a Florida ballot this year using a business address in Palm Beach, where he had promised the town government he would not live.

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis ex-cop accused of killing George Floyd, allegedly voted illegally in two Florida elections. “While living in Minnesota, working there, paying taxes there, Derek Chauvin cannot claim residency in Orange County,” a Florida candidate for election supervisor writes.

Texas appeals court blocked a lower court ruling that would have allowed people to mail in their ballots to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus. This won’t be the last word in the matter – the courts have been going back and forth on the matter for the past two months.

A judge ruled that Tennessee must give all of its registered voters the option to cast ballots by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling is likely to be appealed.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will try to decide whether to remove 129,000 voters from the rolls… The justices declined last Monday to immediately take voters off the rolls and may not rule on the case before the election.

Good read: Stacey Abrams op-ed: I Know Voting Feels Inadequate Right Now. “Voting will not save us from harm, but silence will surely damn us all.”


Coronavirus

America is still experiencing a minimum of 5,000 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus per week, with many states experiencing spikes in cases over the past few days. Charts,

  • For example, Florida has had the most new cases in the last 4 days of any 4 days in the whole outbreak (and that’s not taking into account that the state is undercounting). Texas has seen the most new cases of any 5 days during the outbreak, as has Arizona. Utah, California, Arkansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee also have increasing cases. NYT and JHU.

ICUs across the country are pretty full. In 12 states, plus DC, more than 70% of beds in ICUs are occupied. CDCRising ICU bed use “a big red flag.”

Amid a shortage of swabs for COVID tests, the factory Trump visited in Maine will have to throw out all swabs produced during the president’s visit, likely due to Trump and associates refusing to wear face masks. Nearly a third of Maine nursing homes reported last month they had no nasal swabs to collect specimens.

Local health officials relied on the CDC to track Americans returning from China in February, but the data was flawed. “Just let them go,” CDC told local officials frustrated by the inability to track potential early spreaders.

The US has failed to spend more than 75 percent of the American humanitarian aid that Congress provided three months ago to help overseas victims of the virus. “Little to no humanitarian assistance has reached those on the front lines of this crisis in the world’s most fragile context,” executives at 27 relief organizations wrote to the aid agency’s acting administrator, John Barsa, in a letter dated Thursday.

How a St. Petersburg company with no history in medical supplies won a $10 million coronavirus contract. The Trump administration handed out large contracts without much vetting. As a result, a Florida-based company was granted a contract in the first week of its existence.

A section of the House’s coronavirus relief bill championed by Virginia Dem Gerry Connolly contains billions for defense contractors. The provision would cover executive compensation and other perks for defense and intel contractors. The legislation’s wording mirrors what an industry group proposed.

Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has booked his first lobbying client, a company promising a COVID-19 cure and led by a California businessman who’s been collaborating with Rudy Giuliani on a documentary on Joe Biden and Ukraine.


Miscellaneous

Trump ordered nearly 10,000 US troops to leave Germany. The move is the latest twist in relations between Berlin and Washington, which have often been strained during Trump’s presidency.

In another move that is sure to make Putin happy, Trump pressed to invite Russia to this year’s G7 summit. Trump and Putin spoke by phone last Monday and reportedly discussed the meeting. Other members of G7 have spoken out against the idea.

  • Reminder: Last month, Trump announced the US is withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty, another move that allows Russia more freedom to operate as a rogue power.

A federal judge ruled against the Interior Dept. in its attempt to disestablish the reservation land of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe… “The DC District Court righted what would have been a terrible and historic injustice by finding that the Department of the Interior broke the law in attempting to take our land out of trust,” said Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Chairman, Cedric Cromwell.

A Twitter Account That Copies Trump’s Tweets Word For Word Got Suspended Within 3 Days. Does Twitter have special rules for President Trump? Yes, and this account just proved it.

Civil rights leaders say they’re ‘disappointed and stunned’ after call with Facebook’s Zuckerberg and Sandberg… Zuckerberg gave “incomprehensible explanations” for not taking action against President Trump’s “looting … shooting” post.

Environmental news:

  • Trump rule changes will allow Alaskan hunters to kill bear cubs, wolf pups in their dens.
  • The Trump administration moved forward Friday with plans to scale back a century-old law protecting most American wild bird species despite warnings that billions of birds could die as a result.
  • President Trump vowed Friday to open the nation’s only national monument in the Atlantic Ocean to commercial fishing. He signed a proclamation declaring the opening after attending a roundtable discussion with commercial fishermen in Bangor, Maine.
  • Trump signed an executive order instructing agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws to speed up federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines and other projects given the current economic “emergency.” Critics say the move will disproportionately impact communities of color.

Immigration news:

  • Report finds ICE detention centre is using a disinfectant over 50 times a day that causes bleeding and pain
  • Homeland Security’s Inspector General Is Opening A Review Of The Department’s Treatment Of Pregnant Detainees. The announcement comes following BuzzFeed News’ report of a woman giving birth in a detention center near San Diego.
  • ICE special agents detain Floyd protester in NYC. “The fact that he’s a man of Puerto Rican descent is really concerning because it raises questions about racial profiling,” said Terry Lawson, of the Immigrant Defense Project.
  • The Trump Administration Said It Didn’t Change Policy To Deny Housing Loans To DACA Recipients. Emails Show Otherwise. New documents show that the Trump administration moved to block young undocumented immigrants from federal housing loans in 2018.
  • People are sawing through and climbing over Trump’s border wall. Now contractors are being asked for ideas to make it less vulnerable.
  • Supreme Court rules immigrants who fear torture can appeal deportations in court
  • Dozens Of Immigrant Families Who Were Separated At The Border Likely Shouldn’t Have Been, An Internal Report Found
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