Amy Goodman

From Charlottesville to the Capitol: Trump fueled right-wing violence -- and it may soon get even worse

As security is ramped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S., the FBI is warning of more potential violence in the lead-up to Joe Biden's inauguration on January 20. Federal authorities have arrested over 100 people who took part in last week's deadly insurrection at the Capitol, and The Washington Post reports that dozens of people on a terrorist watch list — including many white supremacists — were in Washington on the day of the insurrection. "This was something that had been coming for a long time," ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson, who covers right-wing extremism, says of the January 6 riot. "If you looked at the rhetoric online … it was all about revolution, it was all about death to tyrants, it was all about civil war."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

Security is being ramped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the United States as the FBI is warning of more "potential armed protests" in the lead-up to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's inauguration, following last week's deadly insurrection at the Capitol. By Wednesday, 21,000 National Guard troops are expected to be in Washington, D.C. FBI Director Christopher Wray spoke publicly for the first time, more than a week after the insurrection, Thursday.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY: We're concerned about the potential for violence at multiple protests and rallies planned here in D.C. and at state capitol buildings around the country in the days to come, that could bring armed individuals within close proximity to government buildings and officials.

AMY GOODMAN: Federal authorities have arrested over a hundred people who took part in last week's deadly insurrection at the Capitol that left five — actually, six [sic] people — dead. Police and federal agents continued to round up rioters Thursday. That's five people dead. Among the latest arrests, Kevin Seefried, who was photographed carrying a Confederate battle flag through the Capitol; former U.S. Olympic medalist Klete Keller, who wore his Olympic swim team jacket to the riots; Robert Sanford, a retired firefighter who was filmed throwing a fire extinguisher at Capitol Police officers, striking three of them in the head; and Peter Stager, an Arkansas man filmed beating a police officer at the Capitol with an American flag.

In Arizona, prosecutors say they've uncovered evidence that the intent of some of the rioters was to, quote, "capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government." Prosecutors revealed the QAnon conspiracy theorist Jacob Chansley, who is also known as Jake Angeli, left a note for Mike Pence in the Senate, warning, quote, "It's only a matter of time, justice is coming." Chansley faces charges of violent entry and disorderly conduct, after he was filmed posing shirtless, wearing buffalo horns and holding a spear on the Senate dais.

And in Texas, a federal prosecutor has revealed more details about its case against retired Air Force officer Larry Brock, who was seen inside the Capitol dressed in military gear, holding zip ties. Prosecutors claim that Brock was prepared to take hostages and, quote, "perhaps execute members of the U.S. government."

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports dozens of people on a terrorist watch list — mostly white supremacists — were in Washington on the day of the insurrection.

We go now to A.C. Thompson, staff reporter with ProPublica, who has covered the rise of the right-wing extremist and white supremacist groups for years, his latest piece headlined "Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Riot." He's joining us from Lansing, Michigan.

A.C., thanks so much for coming back to Democracy Now! Can you start off by responding to what happened last week in Washington, D.C.? Did it surprise you, this mass insurrection, after President Trump had for weeks been calling for this protest and addressed them before they marched to the Capitol? And who was behind it?

A.C. THOMPSON: One of our contacts in the far-right movement said to us, "Hey, I think this is going to go in a very extreme direction. And, in fact, I'm not going to mobilize my people to participate, because I think it's going to be very violent." And that was a signal to us that this was going to be quite extreme.

We had seen this building over the past year, though. If you go back to January 2020, in Richmond, Virginia, 20,000 armed people showed up at the state House there. In the spring, there were protests that were armed in Michigan at the state House, including one in which people stormed the building and intimidated legislators with weapons, with AR-15 assault rifles. We saw the Idaho state House get stormed. We saw the Oregon state House get stormed. We saw, in Olympia, Washington, by the Capitol there, there were shootings in the street two weeks in a row. Two people were shot, one each week. And so, this had been building for a long time.

I personally was at an armed rally at the Virginia state House a couple months ago, where about 50 men with weapons showed up and basically dared the police to arrest them, because they were in violation of the law. So, this was something that had been coming for a long time. And if you looked at the rhetoric online and you looked at what had been said by members of these groups for a long time, it was all about revolution, it was all about death to tyrants, it was all about civil war, for a long time.

On the day of the event, we saw militia groups like the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, who were playing a big role. We saw the conspiracy theorists, like the QAnon people, who were there. We saw, I think, a significant role played by the Proud Boys, who you could call an ultranationalist street-fighting gang or group. And I think we saw a lot of military vets and some current military there. And there were also people who belong to straight-up white supremacist or white nationalist groups.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned Virginia. We reported earlier this week that two of the rioters were off-duty Virginia police. And this goes to the issue of police and military from all over the country. You know, people were saying, "Where were the police?" Well, they were part of the riot, the insurrection, a number of them. You have police from Seattle, apparently New York, Philadelphia transit officers, a number of them, two Virginia officers. Now, this is just people who were identified. Can you talk about the — a PSYOPS guy, a military psychological operations. Can you talk about the significance of this?

A.C. THOMPSON: You know, I think there is a big concern that what we've seen in recent years is a lot of members of police departments, or at least some members of police departments, being radicalized in this right-wing direction. And in part, I think, what that's been a product of is they've seen the rise of the racial justice movements and police accountability movements, and they say, "I feel under attack. The person who's sticking up for us is Donald Trump, who's super law and order, and so I'm going to get deep into the Donald Trump world." And I think that's part of what's happened.

What's happening now, though, is different. And what's happening now is, when I was in D.C. at "Stop the Steal" protests and other protests in recent months, you would see the right-wing protesters did not want to fight with the police. They would say, "We're the law-and-order people. We're the pro-police people. We're not going to fight with the police. We want to fight with the police, but we're going to back off." That has changed. That has pivoted. And now what you're seeing in the chatter amongst the right-wing groups is, "We are at war with the police. The police are in bed with the reds. The police are a tool of this socialist takeover, which we believe magically is happening, without any facts. We believe that the police are subverting democracy. And we are now going after the police." And that's what you saw at the Capitol.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's talk about the lack of preparation at the Capitol. You see these police officers, the Capitol Police, some help by the Metropolitan Police, fending for themselves. And we got the reports this week of the level of threat assessment reports that would come before each Black Lives Matter protest. Nothing like that was issued now, and yet you have this coming together of all of these people from — and if you can explain what the terrorist watch list is? It's not a no-fly list. And for many progressives, they may be very concerned about who makes up this list, but the fact is, scores of people on the FBI's own list had gathered, and yet the FBI issued no reports, and there was so little preparation. We saw African American Capitol police essentially running for their lives, saying they didn't have the support from the top, and they were being chased by the mob.

A.C. THOMPSON: Right. So, there's a few things that I want to touch on here. And a few years ago, you and I were talking about Charlottesville. And what we had seen there was an intelligence breakdown, where, really, the intelligence analysts and the law enforcement personnel, who should have really been monitoring the online channels and the chatter, missed what was going on and what was going to develop. And then you saw multiple law enforcement agencies who were supposed to be there coordinating, working together, who really didn't have a plan, and cooperation totally broke down. And when violence and rioting broke out, the people with the tactical gear, with the shields, with the helmets, with the riot gear, were nowhere near the violence.

You saw a lot of that happen at the Capitol, a lot of the same things happening over again, years later, with basically some of the same people showing up at both events. This is what's baffling to me. The FBI has gotten very good in recent years at tracking and arresting and building cases against right-wing extremists, white supremacist extremists, anti-government extremists. In the run-up to the election, they built a lot of very complicated, important cases against people who were bent on violence against public officials, the kidnapping plot against Gretchen Whitmer, the governor in Michigan. They were very, very busy. And what I don't understand is how that knowledge from the field agents out in the field doesn't seem to have translated, as far as we can tell at this point, into intelligence products that would have gone out and been disseminated more broadly to other law enforcement agencies. That's a thing.

Another thing is just simply the lack of personnel and the lack of preparation by the Capitol Police on the day of the event. I've been watching the D.C. Metropolitan Police for months now, and I think that they've been very professional, very sophisticated, in allowing protesters at these right-wing events in D.C. to express themselves, but not to harm people and not for violence to break out. That is clearly not the case with the Capitol Police. They did not evince that level of professionalism and sophistication.

AMY GOODMAN: The Washington Post reported earlier this week the FBI explicitly warned of violence and "war" at the U.S. Capitol in an internal report issued one day before last Wednesday's deadly invasion. The report cited online posts, including one which said, quote, "Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers being spilled. Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our President or we die."

So, A.C. Thompson, I mean, how much more explicit can you get? And, I mean, we're not only talking about let's do a postmortem on last week's event — and "postmortem" is the right word. I mean, you're talking about a number of people dead: two police officers — the Capitol Hill police officer, Sicknick, who died, and then one who took his own life — and then you have three people who died in medical emergencies, apparently. But we're not only talking about the past; we're talking about whether this is prologue to this weekend. I mean, Monday is Dr. Martin Luther King's federal birthday, which is official — his birthday was today. But for years, white supremacists marched on state capitols to prevent it from being recognized as a national holiday. And then, of course, Wednesday, the inauguration.

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah, I think I don't want to be alarmist, and I don't want to be the person who says the sky is falling, but I do think we have to be vigilant. I think we have to be looking forward. I think we have to be very, very careful in the months ahead. And this is why.

We were out on the campaign trail filming for Frontline at Trump rallies and at Trump speeches. And when we'd meet people, they would all say, "The only way the president is going to lose the election is if there's massive fraud, and it'll be probably massive fraud orchestrated by those nefarious globalists." There are millions of people who believe, because of Trump's incessant false messaging, that the election was fraudulent, that the election was stolen from him. And if you have just a very small percentage of those millions of people who are inclined to take violent action because they believe that we are on the cusp of a massively undemocratic transition of power, built around fraud, of course some of those people are likely to take very violent action to save, in their mind — you know, in their minds, to save this republic.

And that is the thing we must be concerned about. In America, it does not take very much money and very much skill to create a mass casualty event with a bomb or a gun. And that is something we're going to have to be very vigilant about, while at the same time ensuring that people have a right to protest, that people have a right to express themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: I'm wondering if you can talk about the alliances between all of these groups and current sitting members of Congress. You've got Utah Republican Congressmember John Curtis, who showed reporters a death threat left on his door on Thursday, a poster with skulls and crossbones pasted over his eyes, and the caption, "Wanted for treason! For resisting the true electoral victor Trump." Now, here is a congressman who, of course, was voicing concern about the fact that Republicans were not accepting the election of Joe Biden, but you've got other ones who led the charge about doing this. Can you talk about whether — the congressmembers and what should happen to them now? Even in President Trump's latest video, he will not acknowledge this election of Joe Biden. And does it actually encourage the violence, the fact that he's not showing up for the inauguration? Many may be deeply relieved that Trump won't be there, but does that send a message it's OK to target?

A.C. THOMPSON: I think there's a couple things going on here. And the first thing is that we have not acknowledged the scale of threats, intimidation and violence against public leaders that's occurred over the past year. We have so many public health officials in this country, at county and state levels, who have been threatened — at federal levels, as well — been threatened, who have been terrorized, who have had to get extra security, who have been doing their jobs and are in fear for their lives. And we, basically, as a society, have not grappled with that.

Now we've got elections officials, Republican and Democrat, who are dealing with that. We've got members of Congress who are dealing with that. We've got law enforcement leaders who are dealing with that. You know, in California, we had two law enforcement officials who were shot by an extremist group, allegedly, during the spring. Somebody is now facing federal charges for that. So I think there's been a —

AMY GOODMAN: Boogaloo bois.

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah, the boogaloo bois, exactly. So I think there's been a level of violence and aggression towards public officials and government leaders that we have not seen in decades. And I don't think we've reckoned with that at all. It's a scary time to be a public leader.

Now, when you're talking about Congress, this is a thing that we're going to have to understand deeply, and we're going to need serious, serious investigations about what was the role of sympathetic members of Congress in possibly fomenting or even enabling this insurrection, because I don't think we've gotten to the bottom of that. We've heard names thrown out as potential members of Congress, from Arizona and Alabama, who may have aided and abetted these groups, but we don't know yet. I think that's a very concerning thing, as well. We also —

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, you have Mikie Sherrill — right? — the New Jersey congressmember, who said she — they called the sergeant-of-arms the day before, saying, "What are all these tour groups?" they now recognize were the people who were part of this insurrection being taken around. I mean, COVID times, they're not doing tours there, so they could only get in through a congressmember or their staff.

A.C. THOMPSON: Exactly. And that is a big concern. I'll tell you, from interviewing members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, they said to us — you know, we had a Democratic congressman say to us, "I'm worried that we have empathizers and sympathizers within the ranks of the Capitol Police." That was Rep. Andre Carson from the Indianapolis area. We had a GOP congresswoman, Nancy Mace, who said, "Look, I could tell, days before this happened, that it was going to be ugly, because I was getting relentless threats online and through all different channels. And I'm a Trump supporter, but I had said I'm not going to try to overturn this election. And so then I was the one targeted." And it doesn't sound like she got a lot of help with that. She sent her children home to South Carolina because she was scared for their lives. We have not even begun to grapple with how serious this problem is.

AMY GOODMAN: If you could very quickly — we only have a minute to go, but you detail in your pieces, and you just talked about, the Three Percenters, the Oath Keepers, boogaloo bois, Proud Boys. Tell us who some of these people are. Many people haven't even heard of these groups before.

A.C. THOMPSON: Right. So, the boogaloo bois are an anti-government group who joined the Capitol insurrection, who have been tied to murders, kidnapping plots and the rest. The Proud Boys are an ultranationalist street gang or street-fighting group that have been at many of these events and seem to have been a key player here. The Oath Keepers and the Three Percenters are militia groups that sort of are traditional, longtime anti-government groups. And QAnon is the conspiracy theory followers who believe that there's a vast cabal of globalists and satanists who are trying to take over America.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, you have Ali Alexander, and this from The Washington Post, who organized the so-called Stop the Steal movement, who said he hatched the plan for this insurrection with the support of the three Republican lawmakers — you alluded to them, but — Congressmembers Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Paul Gosar of Arizona, all hard-line Trump supporters.

A.C. THOMPSON: Yeah. And that's the thing. That's going to be a really key investigative point there. And honestly, like, looking at Mr. Alexander and how he raised money and what his role in all this was, as well, is going to be a key thing to look at.

AMY GOODMAN: A.C. Thompson, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Keep up your great investigation. Staff reporter with ProPublica who's covered the rise of right-wing extremist and white supremacist groups for years. We'll link to your latest piece, "Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Riot."

Next up, as the U.S. death toll for COVID-19 approaches 400,000, we'll speak with Dr. Peter Salk. His father, Dr. Jonas Salk, he first developed the first polio vaccine. Stay with us.

How centuries of inequality in the America laid the groundwork for 2020 devastation

As the United States sets new records for COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations, we speak with one of the world's leading experts on infectious diseases, Dr. Paul Farmer, who says the devastating death toll in the U.S. reflects decades of underinvestment in public health and centuries of social inequality. "All the social pathologies of our nation come to the fore during epidemics," says Dr. Farmer, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, chair of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School, and co-founder and chief strategist of Partners in Health.

Warnings of close links between Biden Cabinet picks and corporate power as incoming administration takes form

President-elect Joe Biden declared "America is back" this week as he revealed some of the people who will staff his administration in key national security posts, vowing to roll back Donald Trump's "America First" foreign policy and embrace multilateralism. Among his picks are longtime adviser Tony Blinken for secretary of state, diplomatic veteran Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations, and former Secretary of State John Kerry for a new Cabinet post as climate czar. Historian, author and activist Barbara Ransby says Biden's picks so far mostly come from the centrist establishment of the Democratic Party and lack progressive voices. "We need people who have compassion, who have accountability to the most vulnerable, who pledge to defend the planet, people who have a clear understanding and commitment to fighting white supremacy and police violence," says Ransby. We also speak with investigative journalist David Sirota, who says Biden's picks represent "an attempt to restore the old Washington." Sirota served as an adviser and speechwriter for Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We turn now to look at how progressive movements are responding to the Cabinet that President-elect Joe Biden is assembling, as he names a number of establishment figures to key posts. Biden named longtime adviser Tony Blinken as incoming secretary of state. Blinken previously served as deputy secretary of state for President Obama. He spoke Tuesday after his nomination was announced on the stage in Wilmington, Delaware, socially distanced from each of the other nominees, telling the story of how his stepfather was the only one of 900 children at his school in Bialystok, Poland, to survive the Holocaust at the end of the war.

ANTONY BLINKEN: At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the woods in Bavaria. From his hiding place, he heard a deep rumbling sound. It was a tank. But instead of the Iron Cross, he saw painted on its side a five-pointed white star. He ran to the tank. The hatch opened. An African American GI looked down at him. He got down on his knees and said the only three words that he knew in English, that his mother taught him before the war: "God bless America."

AMY GOODMAN: Tony Blinken grew up both in New York and in Paris with his mother and stepfather. He speaks fluent French. That was Biden's pick for secretary of state.

The president-elect has also named Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a 35-year veteran of the Foreign Service, as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Thomas-Greenfield was an ambassador to Liberia and assistant secretary of state for African affairs under Obama. She was fired days into the Trump administration. Linda Thomas-Greenfield's last job was with Albright Stonebridge Group, which was co-founded by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. This is Thomas-Greenfield speaking Tuesday.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: On this day, I'm thinking about the American people, my fellow career diplomats and public servants around the world. I want to say to you: America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back. Mr. President-elect, I've often heard you say how all politics is personal, and that's how you build relationships of trust and bridge disagreements and find common ground. And in my 35 years in the Foreign Service across four continents, I put a Cajun spin on it: I called it "gumbo diplomacy." Wherever I was posted around the world, I'd invite people of different backgrounds and beliefs to help me make a roux and chop onions for the Holy Trinity and make homemade gumbo. It was my way of breaking down barriers, connecting with people and starting to see each other on a human level.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President-elect Biden's pick to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She was born in Louisiana, as she talked about "gumbo" rather than "gunboat" diplomacy.

Former secretary of state and presidential candidate John Kerry will serve as Biden's special climate envoy. He also spoke in Delaware yesterday.

JOHN KERRY: Mr. President-elect, you've put forward a bold, transformative climate plan, but you've also underscored that no country alone can solve this challenge. Even the United States, for all of our industrial strength, is responsible for only 13% of global emissions. To end this crisis, the whole world must come together. You're right to rejoin Paris on day one. And you're right to recognize that Paris alone is not enough.

AMY GOODMAN: John Kerry would serve on the National Security Council as the newly created position of climate envoy.

For more on President-elect Biden's new team, we're joined by two guests. Professor Barbara Ransby, historian, author and activist adviser to the Movement for Black Lives, professor of African American studies, gender and women's studies and history at the University of Illinois, Chicago, she is joining us from Chicago. And in Denver, Colorado, David Sirota is with us, an investigative journalist, founder of the news website The Daily Poster. He served as an adviser and speechwriter for Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Professor Ransby, let's begin with you. So, you had that scene yesterday in Wilmington, Delaware. All of the nominees came out on the stage with President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. All were masked. All stood six feet from each other. And after each person spoke, someone came out and wiped down the podium. But, Barbara Ransby, the substance of who has been chosen, the beginning of the Cabinet, particularly on national security and foreign policy, your thoughts?

BARBARA RANSBY: Well, thank you again for having me, Amy, and for the good work that you do every day.

So, yeah, I saw that press conference, too, and I'm certainly glad that they're following the CDC protocols for social distancing. But, as you say, it's the substance of those appointments that really should concern us. And I think, listening to Medea Benjamin a few minutes ago talk about this WestExec Advisors that Blinken and Haines are a part of, or were a part of, you know, to look at the absence of some prominent progressives who could have filled some of these positions, people like, say, a Sara Nelson from the flight attendants' union, strong advocate for labor and working people. People who have been international solidarity activists certainly could have filled the position of ambassador to the United Nations. So, it is of concern.

I think it's an extension of what we've been hearing from some of this centrist Democrats about the left as being divisive, the need to reach across the aisle. Look, progressives, Black people helped to put Joe Biden in office. It certainly wasn't his, you know, stellar record as a candidate or his eloquence or anything else. So that has to be taken into consideration. And, look, we need people who have competence, but we need people who have compassion, who have accountability to the most vulnerable, who pledge to defend the planet, people who have a clear understanding and commitment to fighting white supremacy and police violence and war. And so, I don't see that in this group, and it concerns me.

And I'll say this: What concerns me also is the presentation of this as a Cabinet of firsts. Jake Sullivan is the youngest. Avril Haines is the first woman in the position she's appointed to, etc. You know, I don't necessarily just want people that look like me. I want people who are really going to make a difference and who are accountable to the communities that I'm committed to, that I come from, that progressive organizers have been working to empower. So, you know, we've seen diversity. And diversity is fine. It's necessary. I certainly don't want to see an all-white-male Cabinet. But it is woefully insufficient. We see that time and again. We see it with Barack Obama's administration. This kind of looks like Obama 2.0 in some respects. And we see it, you know, with Clarence Thomas in the Supreme Court and a whole list and litany of public officials who offer cosmetic change but not substantive change.

We are in a deep and disturbing set of crises, and we need people who are going to act to curb the greed of billionaires and provide relief to working people, but we also need people who are going to speak out and stand up against racism and the resurgence of white nationalism. I'm not confident that Biden is heading in that direction, which is why we need to continue to build a movement.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Barbara Ransby, I wanted to ask you about one person who's being talked about who has not yet been named but could be, someone that you — whose record you know well as a Chicagoan. That's Rahm Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago, who is being talked about, has been mentioned as a possible secretary of transportation. I'm wondering your thoughts on that and whether that would be a further mistake by the president-elect, and also that Rahm Emanuel, since he left office, has gone back into the corporate world in terms of advising companies on mergers and acquisitions.

BARBARA RANSBY: Right. Well, I think you probably know my answer to that, Juan. You know, Chicagoans, the Chicago movement would be in the street of Rahm Emanuel was nominated to a Cabinet position. Not only the commitment to corporate interests, but the cover-up, the inexcusable cover-up, of the Laquan McDonald murder, a young Black man murdered by police, and Rahm Emanuel, by all indications, participating in a cover-up of that murder; closing schools in Black and Brown neighborhoods; closing mental health centers; having a deaf ear to the demands of progressives in this city. So, no, I mean, you know, we wouldn't support that. That would be a slap in the face to progressives not just in Chicago, but around this country.

So, you know, another Chicagoan who would be quite an alternative to Rahm Emanuel is Congressman Chuy García, who comes out of our movements, has a progressive record. So, his name has been floated for the transportation post, and certainly that would be a welcome divergence from a Rahm Emanuel-type appointment.

AMY GOODMAN: And, David Sirota, if you can weigh in on those who have been chosen? I mean, you have Alejandro Mayorkas, who would be the first Latinx head or secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He talked about his family, he put it as, fleeing communism, fleeing Cuba, and coming to this country. You have, as Professor Ransby just talked about, among those, Avril Haines and the climate envoy, John Kerry, a new position that clearly President-elect Biden has chosen to say climate change will be front and center.

DAVID SIROTA: Well, look, the nominees, as a whole, I think, represent an effort at restoration, the idea being that we have to bring back familiar faces, Washington careerists, to restore the pre-Trump Washington status quo. And typically these are people with various corporate ties, ties to the establishment, ties to corporate power.

John Kerry is a good example. And it's not to pick him out and say he's particularly bad or particularly awful, but here's a guy who was in government. When he was in government, he was very supportive of fossil fuel development, fracking in particular. He left office. He then got a top position at Bank of America, which is one of the largest financiers of fossil fuel development in the world. And then he comes back into government as Biden's at least first climate pick. And it's not to say that John Kerry is going to be terrible on climate, but it is to say, as one example of many, that we need to understand where these people come from. Joe Biden, on the campaign, on climate, on climate policy, his campaign very early on said it was seeking a, quote, "middle ground" on climate policy.

And so, I think what you see in all of these nominees — and you could go through all of them — is that it is an attempt to restore the old Washington. Ideologically, these are middle-ground picks. And what that says to me is that it's going to be more important than ever for movements, activists, people all over this country to demand the kinds of policies that Joe Biden, at least rhetorically, promised on the campaign, that the personnel that Joe Biden is appointing so far are not people who are going to necessarily do the right thing on their own. They are not necessarily people who are going to offer a different kind of path, one that doesn't appease corporate interests. They're not going to do that alone, unless they are actually pushed and pressured. And that's going to be the key.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David, I wanted to ask you about — you were a speechwriter for Bernie Sanders. Clearly, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren represented, to some degree, the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party. There's still talk of Bernie Sanders as possible labor secretary, but, clearly, Elizabeth Warren is not going to get any kind of a major position, it appears, at this point, in the Biden administration. Your sense of how they might still be able to influence these choices, and also the argument that Biden may be trying to figure out who he can name that will get confirmation from a Senate that will — could be in Republican hands, but certainly will be very divided?

DAVID SIROTA: Well, look, I think we need to remember that lawmakers themselves can be independent power centers, that there was a time in this country when there were the so-called giants of the Senate. And I think people like Bernie Sanders, people like Elizabeth Warren, fit that archetype, or at least potentially do, in the sense that they have — they're well known in the country. They have large mass movement followings among them, a very large, grassroots — a set of grassroots supporters. And they can choose to use that power in the Senate on legislation and on nominations.

I mean, the other way to look at nominations, if we're just talking about Cabinet nominations, is the progressives in the Senate are also, or also could be, a voting bloc. If the Republicans are going to oppose Joe Biden nominees, then it means that a progressive bloc of Senate votes can be the difference between confirmation and not confirmation. And those progressive senators have the potential power to demand progressive Cabinet appointees. And we've seen this happen at certain points. In the second term, in Obama's second term, you saw Elizabeth Warren oppose various Obama potential appointees on the grounds that they were too close to Wall Street. And ultimately, those nominees were not confirmed, because of that opposition.

And we've seen a new poll that's come out that says about 68% of Americans — this is a poll from Demand Progress that just came out yesterday, that we reported on at The Daily Poster — 68% of Americans say that if Biden appoints corporate executives or lobbyists to top positions, that 68% of Americans want the Senate to vote those nominees down.

So, I would say that those progressives — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, others — in the Senate have serious leverage. But the question is always: Will they actually use that leverage? Not to pick on them. I think Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have at times used that leverage. But will the progressive movement and progressive legislators in the Congress use the leverage that they have? That's the open question.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmembers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib — you know, members of what's known as "The Squad" — are the first sitting members of Congress to sign a petition launched by the Justice Democrats against a potential nomination of Joe Biden's former chief of staff, Bruce Reed, as head of the Office of Management and Budget. Reed is considered a "deficit hawk," has supported cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The petition calls for OMB to, quote, "be staffed with people who will prioritize working people, not Wall Street deficit scaremongers." Let me put this question to Professor Ransby: In the midst of this serious pandemic-fueled recession, is it possible to build back better with Wall Street-friendly austerity politics? And what about these congressmembers speaking out and taking a stand, drawing a line in the sand, on Reed?

BARBARA RANSBY: Yeah, well, I think that's a welcome and refreshing move by elected officials. Rashida Tlaib is somebody who is pretty uncompromising in speaking out, so I'm not surprised that she's one of the signatories of the petition opposing Bruce Reed. I mean, we have to be very, very attentive to people being put in positions of power with regard to the economy. And on one hand, this is not surprising. On the other hand, we have to be vigilant. You know, somebody like Darrick Hamilton or Stephanie Kelton, people who have bold ideas that really would serve the economic interests of the majority of people, of poor and working people, rather than people who have consulted for corporations, who have been paid by corporations and financial institutions and Wall Street and so forth. So, obviously, we have to oppose a Reed nomination.

But I think, bigger than that, Amy — you know, I wanted to go back to something David Sirota said, which is about the importance of movements continuing to organize. I mean, we have all been so obsessed with this election, so fearful that this maniac and aspiring dictator would have retained power for four more years, that I don't want us to lose sight of the importance of pressure from the street. We had literally tens of millions of people in the street after the murder of George Floyd. And it wasn't just about the murder of George Floyd; it was about all the George Floyds who struggle in an economy that's not in their interest, who struggle to make ends meet, who are vulnerable to police harassment on the street, partly because of their race and class vulnerabilities.

And so, we have to fight for people in these positions of power that are going to respond to our demands, but we also have to organize to make those demands as loudly, as persistently as possible. So, you know, the group The Frontline, which was a coalition to defeat Trump, has called for actions on Inauguration Day in Washington to do exactly that, to push for a progressive agenda. And so, we need to be supporting movements like that, as well. I mean, we can get a less bad appointment out of Joe Biden in some of these Cabinet positions, and that is important. I am all about, you know, increasing the margin of possibility in that arena, but also really about the importance of building a movement in this period and not forgetting the neoliberal politics of a Joe Biden — Joe Biden who took us into the war in Iraq and supported the crime bill and all of these things that helped to put us in the position we're in now. So there's a lot of work for movement organizers to do. Being attentive to these Cabinet posts is one of them, but certainly not the only.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David Sirota, we only have about a minute or so left, but I wanted to ask you about the speculation on the Department of Justice that Biden could possibly name Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York — before that, a staff member for Chuck Schumer — as possible head of DOJ or the Securities and Exchange Commission. I'm wondering your thoughts about that.

DAVID SIROTA: Well, Preet Bharara got a reputation as being supposedly tough on crime because he prosecuted some insider trading. He investigated part of the Cuomo administration in New York. But we have to remember the big thing about Preet Bharara. Preet Bharara was the head of the most powerful prosecutorial office in the United States during the financial crisis: the Southern District of New York, as you said, Juan. And in that time, there were no prosecutions of top executives at major banks in relation to the financial crisis. The idea of putting someone in power at the top of the Justice Department who played an active role — an active role — in making sure that Wall Street executives were not prosecuted after the financial crisis would be a complete abomination. It would be a disturbing promotion of the idea of a lack of accountability.

And I'll just say the last thing about all of this, which is that we really are seeing, in a lot of ways, in this whole debate, an effort to pretend that the past crises that we face — the Iraq War, the financial crisis and the like — didn't happen, or if they did happen, that the people who helped lead us into that, there will not be accountability for them. There will not even be career accountability or job accountability for them in terms of getting promoted later. So, the point about Preet Bharara is, if he is put in there, the implications for what we're saying about whether Wall Street will ever be held accountable, whether for the financial crisis in the past or crises in the future, they would be deeply, deeply disturbing.

AMY GOODMAN: David Sirota, I want to thank you for being with us, award-winning investigative journalist, founder of the news website The Daily Poster, columnist for The Guardian, editor-at-large for Jacobin, serves as an adviser and speechwriter for Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign. And I want to thank Barbara Ransby, historian, author and activist adviser to the Movement for Black Lives, professor of African American studies, gender and women's studies and history at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Her latest book, Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the 21st Century.

This is Democracy Now! Next up, we look at the Indigenous-led fight against the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in northern Minnesota. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has just granted a key permit, but protests continue. Stay with us.

Barbara Ransby & David Sirota Warn of Close Links Between Biden’s Cabinet Picks & Corporate Power

Barbara Ransby & David Sirota Warn of Close Links Between Biden’s Cabinet Picks & Corporate Power

President-elect Joe Biden declared “America is back” this week as he revealed some of the people who will staff his administration in key national security posts, vowing to roll back Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and embrace multilateralism. Among his picks are longtime adviser Tony Blinken for secretary of state, diplomatic veteran Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador to the United Nations, and former Secretary of State John Kerry for a new Cabinet post as climate czar. Historian, author and activist Barbara Ransby says Biden’s picks so far mostly come from the centrist establishment of the Democratic Party and lack progressive voices. “We need people who have compassion, who have accountability to the most vulnerable, who pledge to defend the planet, people who have a clear understanding and commitment to fighting white supremacy and police violence,” says Ransby. We also speak with investigative journalist David Sirota, who says Biden’s picks represent “an attempt to restore the old Washington.” Sirota served as an adviser and speechwriter for Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign.

Here's how Joe Biden can cancel student debt on day one

The incoming Biden administration is facing increasing pressure to cancel federal student loan debt, something Joe Biden is reportedly considering through executive action, which would not require Congress to pass legislation. Astra Taylor, a member of the Debt Collective, says canceling student debt would be a boon to debtors and the wider economy, and could be part of a larger wave of progressive action from the Biden administration. "There was a sense right after the election … that because Democrats didn't take the Senate that it would be impossible for a Biden administration to govern," says Taylor. "There are things that Biden can do if he's willing to play hardball, if he's willing to actually understand that's what Republicans do, and the Democrats can do the same."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to turn right now to Astra Taylor. Astra Taylor of the Debt Collective. The protest comes as the incoming Biden administration is also facing increasing pressure to cancel all federal student loan debt. On Wednesday, a group of 200 groups sent a letter to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris urging them to "use executive authority to cancel federal student debt on day one of their administration."

So yes, we are turning now to the writer, to the filmmaker, to the organizer Astra Taylor, who is a member of the Debt Collective which has just published a book titled Can't Pay, Won't Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition. Astra wrote the foreword to the book as well as a new piece in The Guardian that's headlined We're being told Biden won't be able to achieve much. We must reject that idea. We turn right to that theme. Astra, let's begin there. What does it mean to say that we must reject this idea that not much can be achieved during a Biden administration?

ASTRA TAYLOR: First, thanks so much for having me. Wonderful to follow up on those brave words from Representatives Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The "Biden, be brave" rally also captures this spirit. There was a sense right after the election, the election that is still unending, that because Democrats didn't take the Senate that it would be impossible for a Biden administration to govern. What is so great in this moment is how the grassroots are saying, "No, we actually have a deep understanding of how power works and what power you will have, even if the Democrats do not manage to flip those Senate seats in Georgia." Of course flipping those seats would be ideal, keeping those seats and winning those for the Democrats would be ideal. But nevertheless, there are things that Biden can do, if he's willing to play hardball. If he's willing to actually understand that that's what the Republicans do and the Democrats need to do the same.

So there's a movement afoot to pressure the Biden administration to do this, first by saying, "We know that you possess this power." So for example, Biden can make appointments using the Vacancies Act, the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. This is a power that Trump used even though he had the Senate on his side. This essentially allows the president to appoint Cabinet-level posts, people who have been confirmed by Congress or senior employees within certain agencies. I would recommend people follow Demand Progress and the Revolving Door Project, which have been doing a lot of great work on this, essentially saying there is a way to put people in positions of power so that you can advance the progressive agenda that you were elected to advance.

Because as AOC made so clear, progressives won this election. And in a moment of pandemic and economic crisis, we simply cannot afford to have a government that fails to govern in the interest of the people. It's also the self interest of the Democrats, because they will be crushed in 2022 or 2024 if they don't do this. So I am very heartened by movements paying attention of these sorts of things, thinking about staffing, thinking about important positions.

I think all of these social moments, whether we're talking about climate change, whether we're talking about economic justice, student debt—we recognize the importance of positions like the Treasury or the Office of Management and Budget, and realize it's all interconnected. And we need people who are committed to meeting the moment as opposed to the same old politics of austerity. We need those people in place right now. So the Debt Collective is very concerned, for example, with issues—who staffs the Department of Education, to ensure that we don't have a repeat of the Obama-Biden administration. We cannot afford to have an Obama 2.0 at the level of the Department of Education.

AMY GOODMAN: And of course we're talking about the Obama-Biden administration, except Biden would be—is the president-elect. Now, can you talk about the wish list for Cabinet members? A lot has been talked about. Apparently, President-elect Biden is about to name his treasury secretary. Among those who progressives have really been pushing is Senator Elizabeth Warren, but there is concern that because she comes from Massachusetts, which has a Republican governor, that that would not guarantee who would fill that Senate seat.
And of course, the Senate, it has not been decided who will run the Senate, because of the two Georgia senatorial runoffs. But the possibility of Elizabeth Warren. Now the name being floated among others is Janet Yellen.

You have Bernie Sanders wanting to be labor secretary. The concern that his state, Vermont, the governor is also Republican. Phil Scott, who says that he would choose an independent, which of course, Bernie Sanders is, that would possibly caucus with the Democratic Party. But in both these cases, you've got these Republican governors who make the final decision. What about the Cabinet, how important it is and these particular candidates, Astra?

ASTRA TAYLOR: It is absolutely important that we put forward—I think the first thing that the Biden administration needs to do is put forward bold progressive options like Elizabeth Warren. Sarah Bloom Raskin is another person that people are interested in. I think she was at the Treasury under Obama and has said some really interesting things about climate and the power of the Treasury to halt climate change. So there are these dynamics to consider.

Whether or not the Democrats have the Senate is a big concern. If they don't, then what there needs to be, and organizations are doing this, is creating lists of people who are already in government. So people who have positions on independent commissions within the government that could be appointed through the Vacancies Act. At the Department of Education, some of the names being floated are Randi Weingarten of the AFT, the American Federation of Teachers. Having the head of a teachers union at the Department of Education would be significant progress.

But we don't know what is going to happen. We're not at the point where we can rest easy. But I think as people in the movement, we need to signal that we're paying intense attention to this and that we understand just how critical these positions are. Again, we need to look at things like the OMB, the Office of Management and Budget as well, sort of more boring agencies we don't pay a lot of attention to that actually are influential when we are thinking about the power of the purse.

AMY GOODMAN: In the foreword of the new book Can't Pay, Won't Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition, you write, "If we don't get organized, debtors will keep getting pushed deeper into a financial hole. In the throes of the pandemic, some payday lenders are charging close to 800% interest on short-term loans, taking advantage of people who have no other way to keep a roof over their heads or put food on the table. Mass unemployment in the absence of a functioning safety net intensifies mass indebtedness, fueling the already vastly unequal distribution of wealth along predictable racial lines."

We are moving into the holiday week. There are people blocks long on food lines across this country. Charity groups, food groups that are giving out turkeys or any kind of food are running out of food. Unemployment numbers are going up. We are talking about millions of people about to lose their unemployment benefits. Can you talk about the whole issue of debt and what you think is possible?

ASTRA TAYLOR: Indebtedness was an absolute crisis before the COVID pandemic. I think we have to begin there. Already, household indebtedness was reaching historic proportions. The thing is that access to credit has masked stagnating wages and deepening, mind-boggling inequality. So what people have had to do, because they're not paid enough, is they've had to borrow to compensate. So in that sense, people are robbed twice. You're robbed at the workplace by being paid poverty wages, then you're forced to borrow and pay interest to make ends meet. So we have to borrow money to get an education so we can get a job. The average student borrower now has about $32,000 of debt. It goes up and up every year. People have to take out payday loans to keep a roof over their head. We know the research shows that people tend to put necessities on their credit cards. We are talking basic things like food, sustenance.

People of course are drowning in medical debt because we live in a country that lacks universal healthcare. Medical debt, as Bernie Sanders often pointed out on the campaign trail, is the number one cause of bankruptcy in this country. If you live in a country with universal healthcare, medical debt does not exist. So these are political structural problems.

So we are a country of people in debt. The vast majority, 75% of people, are in debt. Americans died—before the pandemic, Americans were dying on average with $62,000 of debt. The pandemic hits, millions of jobs evaporate and this becomes an even more urgent crisis. We know before the pandemic that people didn't have $400 for an emergency. What happens when your incomes dries up? You go deeper and deeper into debt, delinquency, default. And all of the psychological and physical consequences that come with that. We all know that debt is incredibly stressful. It's bad for our health.

So these are structural problems, and the Debt Collective, which is a union of debtors, demands structural solutions. So just like workers organize in the workplace and want higher wages, benefits, fair terms of employment, we believe debtors also have to organize. So debtors do not share an office space or a factory floor, but we can come together and organize against our creditors. That might be a private entity like the bank, or in the case of student loans, the federal government. The federal government holds the vast majority of student debt, an overwhelming amount of it, over 95%.

So we are trying to build debtor power in this moment, and underscoring the fact that in a crisis like this, the one we're living in, what we need is cash to the people, just like those unemployment benefits, the checks for $1200 that were not nearly enough. People need the money, the financial support to survive, but we need to couple that with a program of debt cancellation, of a jubilee. Otherwise, those cash payments are just going to pay people's debts.

In fact, we know that the $1200 stimulus checks that were sent to people were just basically sent to debt servicing because that's what people were doing. They were paying their debts instead of spending the money in the economy which would then provide an economic boost. And it shows that their priority is paying off their debt, that that's what they are afraid of.

So we need to couple relief programs with debt cancellation. And there are calls emanating from all over to cancel medical debt, cancel rent. And the Debt Collective has been leading the fight for the last ten years to cancel student debt. And that is now seriously on the table and being debated in Washington, and we have pushed the Biden administration to at least commit to the immediate cancellation of $10,000. We need to push them further, and we need to push them to use executive power to do so.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk more deeply about student debt, But first, in 2005, then Joe Biden, who, alongside most Republicans, favored the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, a bill that essentially made it more difficult to file for bankruptcy. The credit card industry, much of which is based in Biden's home state of Delaware, also supported the bill and even wrote some of the bill's key amendments. This is an exchange between Biden, who at the time was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Elizabeth Warren, who at the time was a Harvard law professor, now of course a senator.

ELIZABETH WARREN: They have squeezed enough out of these families in interest and fees and payments that never pay down the principal.
SEN. JOE BIDEN: Maybe we should talk about usury rates, then. Maybe that's what we should be talking about, not bankruptcy.
ELIZABETH WARREN: Senator, I'll be the first. Invite me.
SEN. JOE BIDEN: No, I know you will. But let's call a spade a spade! Your problem with the credit card companies is usury rates, from your position. It's not about the bankruptcy bill.
ELIZABETH WARREN: But Senator, if you're not going to fix that problem, you can't take away the last shred of protection for these families.
SEN. JOE BIDEN: I got it. Okay. Well, you're a very good professor.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Astra Taylor, if you can describe where Biden has stood—of course he was a longtime senator from Delaware, home of the credit card companies, very much seen as in bed with them—to where he is today, and what kind of concessions he has made and where you think he needs to be.

ASTRA TAYLOR: Biden's role in the student debt crisis goes way back to 1978 when he supported the Middle Income Student Assistance Act, which essentially eliminated restrictions on federal loans. So he has been very involved in expanding lending while also repealing bankruptcy protections, as that clip just pointed out. Indeed, he was the longtime senator from Delaware, the credit card capital of the world. So this is his track record. We have no illusions about who we're dealing with.

And I think that is one of the benefits of a Biden administration: nobody thinks he is a Messiah. We know who he is. The 2005 bankruptcy bill was a travesty. It was written by the credit card industries, parts of it, as you pointed out. It was actually vetoed under Clinton and then Biden fought passionately for it and it was passed under the Bush administration. So this is not an encouraging track record in many ways.

And as I said earlier, the Debt Collective was in a fight with the Obama administration, the Obama-Biden administration. We led a student debt strike that was made up of students from predatory for-profit colleges. These students had been defrauded. They had been lied to. And the Department of Education had basically supported and bailed out these predatory corporations that pretend to offer education and don't. They leave students—disproportionately working-class, black and brown, single mothers, veterans—buried in debt, unable to get the employment that they were promised. And that administration absolutely failed to use the power at its disposal to help these students. In fact, many former OBiden Department of Ed officials went immediately from that administration to working in the for-profit college sector. They just waltzed right through that revolving door.

So we have been calling on the Biden administration, along with so many of our allies in the education space, to break with this tradition. And there are some signs that under pressure, he is doing so. After Joe Biden won the Democratic nomination, he moved and finally formally embraced student debt forgiveness. Of course, we know that Bernie Sanders had a policy of full student debt cancellation. That is what the Debt Collective supports. We think every penny should be erased because those loans should not exist in the first place. We should not have to mortgage our futures simply to get an education. Senator Elizabeth Warren has been very good on this issue. She pushed quite an ambitious student debt plan and is still pushing today. So Biden has taken up some elements of that plan. He still needs to go further.

As I said, because of COVID, he has said that he will immediately cancel $10,000 of student debt. This is included in his racial equity plan. He has a long Medium post about this. The question now though is how is he going to do it, and will he do more. And we are committed to building a movement to ensure that the Biden administration cancels far more than $10,000 of student debt. Again, we believe he should cancel all of it, and that he uses an authority that the Department of Education already possesses called compromise and settlement.

The Biden administration can erase all student debt on day one. Legal research from the Debt Collective shows this is possible. Senators Warren and Schumer have embraced this legal argument. And indeed the Trump administration already used this authority to cancel interest on student loans a few months ago because of the pandemic. So we are in a very interesting moment where public pressure could really actually make a massive difference and turn Joe Biden from the person who has basically advanced the student debt crisis into the president who finally helps roll it back.

AMY GOODMAN: Astra, if we can cut across the political spectrum, and as we move into this holiday season get biblical, canceling debt obviously is not a new idea. In Deuteronomy 15, at the end of every seven years, you must cancel debts. Go back to that history of debt jubilee.

ASTRA TAYLOR: Yeah, jubilee has a long tradition. Here we can lean on the work of the late and great anthropologist David Graeber. David Graeber was a friend of mine. He brought me into the Occupy Wall Street movement and recruited me to the cause of debt resistance. In his beautiful book Debt: The First 5000 years, he talks about how in ancient societies, there were these periodic jubilees, a wiping of the slate.

Essentially, societies would become torn apart by indebtedness. People started selling themselves and their children into debt slavery. And there was a recognition that often people would be driven into debt because of circumstances that weren't their fault. Maybe it was bad crops or maybe there was warfare. And to keep society from breaking in two, and also to mitigate the power, to reduce the power of the lenders, there would be these periodic amnesties. So there was the laws of Hammurabi, very famous from 1750 BC, that says there need to be debt amnesties.

So this is not some utopian future-looking idea. This is something that has deep historical roots. And there have been critical policies of debt cancellation in the modern era. Scholars and economists who look at this period often point to Germany after World War II where the debts were wiped away so that Germany would have a chance to restart its economy, and became the economic miracle.

So part of the call for jubilee is part of this long tradition. And it's both a kind of moral argument and it says these debts are destroying people's lives. They are having disastrous social consequences. We can't afford as a society have those. But then there's a kind of practical economic thing, which is that it will actually boost the economy for everybody. Everybody will be better off if we get rid of these debts, based on the logic that debts that can't be paid won't be paid. So let's face that fact.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Can Trump pardon himself?

President Trump has only made one brief public appearance since the election was called for Joe Biden, and his Twitter feed is filled with conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud, which state elections officials have repeatedly rejected. His refusal to concede has complicated President-elect Biden's transition, and senior Republicans have mostly aligned behind Trump or stayed silent as he continues his desperate legal campaign to overturn the election results in several key states that won Biden the presidency. New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer says Trump has a lot at stake due to the litany of lawsuits and criminal investigations he faces. "He has many reasons to be concerned," she says. "If he leaves the White House, he's going to lose the immunity that goes along with being president."

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman.

The number of Americans hospitalized due to COVID-19 has more than a doubled in the past week as infections soar to record numbers across the nation. On Thursday, a staggering 163,000 new cases were reported — a new world-shattering record. The U.S. death toll has topped 242,000. Despite the surge, President Trump is largely ignoring the crisis, letting the virus rip through the country.

Since the election was called for Joe Biden last Saturday, Trump has only made one brief public appearance, and his Twitter feed is filled with conspiracy theories. While Trump has claimed the election was stolen, his campaign has provided no evidence of widespread voter fraud. On Thursday, a wing of the Department of Homeland Security released a statement saying, quote, "The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. … There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised," they said.

Well, as Trump refuses to concede the race, we begin today's show with longtime investigative journalist Jane Mayer of The New Yorker magazine. Her most recent article is headlined "Why Trump Can't Afford to Lose." It was published just before the election. Jane Mayer writes, "Trump has famously survived one impeachment, two divorces, six bankruptcies, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits. Few people have evaded consequences more cunningly. That run of good luck may well end, perhaps brutally, if he loses to Joe Biden."

Well, Jane Mayer, welcome back to Democracy Now! It's great to have you with us. Is President Trump simply concerned of moving from the presidency to private life, or is he concerned about moving from the presidency to prison?

JANE MAYER: Well, I think you can see that he has many reasons to be concerned, at least, that if he leaves the White House, he's going to lose the immunity that goes along with being president, for legal reasons. And I think, from what I understand, he's quite concerned that he may face prosecution in New York, where a pardon from the White House wouldn't be able to reach.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don't you go through all of the lawsuits and criminal investigations that he is facing? And then we'll talk about the possibility that as the coronavirus rips through the population, what he's doing right now is figuring out if he can pre-pardon himself.

JANE MAYER: So, there are about two dozen different kinds of legal actions coming at him. By far, I think, the most serious is the investigation underway in New York City by the District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has picked up the case that originated with the Southern District of New York, the U.S. Attorney's Office. It was a federal case against Michael Cohen, who had been Trump's lawyer. Michael Cohen, as people remember, served a three-year — is still serving a three-year prison sentence. And when he was indicted, the indictment mentioned that there was an unindicted co-conspirator, who happened to have been — he wasn't named by name, but it was clear that it was President Trump. So, that unindicted co-conspirator charge has now been sort of picked up by the District Attorney's Office, which has got an open criminal investigation into President Trump, looking at among all kinds of fraud in his business before he became president — bank fraud, insurance fraud, tax evasion and other kinds of fraud. So, that is ongoing. There is an open investigation, and it's said to be quite a serious one.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you talked about Cy Vance here in New York. What about Letitia James, the attorney general of New York state?

JANE MAYER: So, she, too, has any open investigation into Trump's pre-presidential business practices. It has to do with whether or not he took a — whether he fraudulently evaluated the value of one of his real estate holdings in order to take a big tax deduction. And that is under investigation, too. In the course of doing reporting on this, people told me that that's a harder case to make, because evaluations and assessments of real estate are more of a art than a science. So, it may be difficult to argue that it was absolutely fraudulent, whereas the case that the district attorney is looking — I mean, excuse me, that, yeah, the Manhattan DA is looking at is one that is just a much harder sort of — there are many more facts involved that are harder to fight.

AMY GOODMAN: Bloomberg is also — Bloomberg News and ProPublica are also talking about his CFO and the information that is now coming out about the Trump Organization finances.

JANE MAYER: I mean, I think that there's just a bottomless pit, from what I understand. I interviewed Michael Cohen, the former lawyer to Donald Trump, for the story that I did, and he's also written a book. And it's clear that there are so many possible charges that they could bring. And so, this is a serious situation. It's one we really haven't faced in the country before, where a president may be facing serious prosecution for criminal behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to President Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, who you were just talking about, Michael Cohen. He was speaking to MSNBC in September, once he got out of jail.

MICHAEL COHEN: I think what's really bothering him the most, though, is that Trump has over $420 million in outstanding loans that are coming due. Now, in the event that there is a potential tax liability for the time period that they're talking about, I mean, it could be hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. If you add those together, I mean, he's very — I mean, very realistically facing a potential bankruptcy. … He'll find some corrupt foreign entity to help him out of the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that's Michael Cohen, President Trump's former personal fixer and lawyer. Talk about this issue of the debt and what's at stake, that he might owe something like $421 million, and how that could — actually, what national security folks are saying across the political spectrum, their deep concern that if President Trump, as president, has access to top-secret information, he could use this to somehow get countries to give him money to pay off that debt.

JANE MAYER: I mean, that's absolutely true that Donald Trump has at least over $300 million of loans coming due in the next four years that he has personally backed, meaning he's on the hook himself for these loans. He's also got an IRS case that he appears to be losing. It's an argument with the IRS about what he owes in taxes. It appears that if he loses it, he's going to have to pay an additional $100 million. So he has tremendous liabilities hanging over his head.

If he had stayed president, he probably would have been — you know, had the clout to renegotiate these loans somehow. If he's out on the street, it's going to be a lot harder. He's going to be very hard up for where to find the cash to pay these things off. He could try to sell some of his assets, but because of the pandemic, some of those assets are worth a good bit less than they were before, because commercial real estate and resorts are in the tank right now. And so, he's in a hard, hard spot, and as he is with facing these criminal investigations. And so, there are a lot of reasons he's fighting so hard to stay inside the White House, according to people who know what's going on inside.

Whether he would turn to foreign backers, I mean, that's certainly one thing that some of the people around him who I interviewed suggested, that he might turn to corrupt foreign oligarchs. You know, he has also clearly flattered a number of the world's richest and most corrupt leaders, including Putin, including Duterte. He may try to call in some chips, people worry. I mean, the situation suggests that it's possible that some of his foreign policy positions were very self-interested. There's certainly been that question raised about his relationship with Turkey.

So, these are all — you know, these would have been huge liabilities going forward also, if he had stayed, if he had gotten himself reelected. As it is — excuse me — these are reasons also why he might be fighting so hard to try to convince people that he won an election that he lost.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about, among the lawsuits, Trump having to deal with E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit, if you can discuss what that is all about, the woman who charged him with rape back in the 1990s, who recently spoke out.

JANE MAYER: Right. She charged him with rape. She met him in a department store in New York and said that he tried to rape her in one of the changing rooms there. She's a writer and a relatively well-known figure. And so, when she made this charge and told what had happened to her, Trump called her a liar, as he has with most of the other people who — as you mentioned at the start of this, that there are 26 claims against him of sexual assault and other kinds of sexual misbehavior. And he called her a liar, and she turned around and then sued him for defamation for that. And her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, and she are so far being upheld in the courts as they move forward against — with their case against Trump for defamation. It may come down to them trying to get a DNA sample to — she's still got, I guess, the outfit that she wore, and they're hoping to be able to test it against Trump's DNA.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that, though, is not a rape case. It is a defamation case for him saying —

JANE MAYER: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: — she lied about her. So, if you then, Jane, can talk about these civil versus criminal cases, and what would happen, for example, if when Trump leaves, if he leaves the White House, he goes to Florida instead of New York, what does that mean for these cases? And also you talking about possibly he's using this time to negotiate deals of protection?

JANE MAYER: Well, so, as we all know, there is a very broad pardon power in the Constitution that the president has. He can issue pardons almost without any kind of guidelines to whomever he wishes. And one of the questions that people, legal experts, have, and historians, watching all of this, this incredible spectacle, is whether Trump might try to pardon himself. It has not been done before in our history. An earlier corrupt president, Richard Nixon, thought about it and thought that he had the power to do it. The Justice Department at the time looked into it. And there's just a sort of a relatively flimsy, quick opinion that suggests that the Justice Department found at that time that they didn't think it could be done, because just it's illogical, as the paper says. The opinion just says no man can stand in judgment of his own trial. But it's never really been tested before. And a number of experts who I interview suggest that they think it's possible that Trump could try to pardon himself, and might even get away with it if he did.

But what's interesting is that the pardon power he has is to be able to pardon himself against federal charges. And that might be able to wipe the slate clean for himself of many, many possible criminal charges, but it would not reach the New York state charges that he may be facing from the DA's Office or from the Attorney General's Office in New York, because those are state charges. So he might still have to go ahead with some kind of process there, and he wouldn't be able to get himself off the hook.

What people are suggesting is it's possible that maybe there would be some sort of global settlement offered him on the way out the door, that in exchange for some kind of concession that he might give saying that he had — he was guilty or a fine or something like that, that there might be some kind of, you know, just general settlement. It's a very ticklish, difficult problem of what to do with a president. We don't want to look like a new president prosecutes the former president. It sort of has a kind of a tinpot dictatorship feel to it. At the same time, there's a sense that you need to hold everybody accountable, and nobody is above the law, and that includes presidents of the United States. So, this is really complicated, fraught subject. And, anyway, this is all what's going on in terms of why, again, Trump may be fighting so hard not to leave that White House.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, then there are some who speculate maybe he'll hand over power to Pence for a few minutes, either now or in the last hour of the presidency, so that he could do the pardoning.

JANE MAYER: That's actually a scenario that is laid out as a possibility in this Justice Department memo that dates back to the Watergate era, where the Justice Department suggested a president shouldn't probably pardon himself. It suggested a president might be able to temporarily step down, under the 25th Amendment, have the vice president become president temporarily, pardon the president, and then have the president step back up and take over the powers of the office again. I mean, it would be an outrage, in many ways, because it's such a charade. But then, look at the charade we're looking at right now.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about pardoning other members of his family or his allies, the significance of a possible pre-pardon, as there are all sorts of discussions coming out, like maybe the next senatorial race in New York will be AOC versus Ivanka Trump? But what about that possibility of pre-pardoning family members?

JANE MAYER: The president's pardon powers are very broad. He can probably pardon anybody in his circle, anybody he wants to. It's not even clear whether it's prohibited to sell pardons, practically. I mean, he's got very, very broad powers. The question is whether you can give prospective pardons. Can you say — could the president say, "I hereby pardon Ivanka Trump for anything she might do from here until the end of her life"? He can't do that, but he could wipe the slate clean for her for any possible prosecution that might come out from, say, you know, the years of his time in office. And that's definitely within his powers.

AMY GOODMAN: Jane, before you go, I wanted to ask you about the previous piece you wrote, "The Secret History of Kimberly Guilfoyle's Departure from Fox." And the reason I ask you about this now is this latest information out of CNN Politics about Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle, his partner, the former wife of Gavin Newsom, the current California governor, about Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle making moves to expand their RNC influence — the Republican National Committee — and possibly take it over. If you can talk about who Kimberly Guilfoyle is and what the charges were, that you laid out, around her departure from Fox?

JANE MAYER: So, she was a talk show host at Fox. She's a former prosecutor herself. And she left Fox under kind of mysterious circumstances. She has claimed she did nothing wrong. Her lawyers have claimed she did nothing wrong. But, in fact, what I discovered was that there was a whopping legal settlement involving her. A former assistant of hers accused her of sexual harassment. The details were just mind-boggling. And Fox paid out over $4 million to the former assistant of Kimberly Guilfoyle to settle the claim, which suggests that they felt it had a lot of merit. Guilfoyle left, started dating Don Jr. and has become one of the top officials in Trump's reelection campaign. She's the co-finance chair of the campaign. And, anyway, there's quite a lurid backstory to her, if anybody wants to go back and take a look at this piece.

AMY GOODMAN: What was most significant to you? What most shocked you about the work conditions for the people who worked for her, who were forced to be at her house? Talk about the conditions there and what they alleged she forced them to do.

JANE MAYER: Well, her assistant claimed that Guilfoyle required her to work at her apartment in New York City and that Guilfoyle often was completely naked and that she paraded around with no clothes on and required the assistant to look at photographs she had on her phone of the genitals of the various guys that she had had sex with, that she talked incessantly about sex. It was really weird, to tell you the truth. It was a completely bizarre and sort of obsessively sex-oriented behavior that very much upset her assistant over the course of several years.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the Republican National Convention, several speakers warning of chaos if Trump loses the race. This was one of — we wanted to play — we think we have a clip here of the former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, who addressed the Republican convention.

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: They want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear. They want to steal your liberty, your freedom. They want to control what you see and think and believe, so that they can control how you live. They want to enslave you to the weak, dependent, liberal, victim ideology, to the point that you will not recognize this country or yourself.

AMY GOODMAN: Jane Mayer, your response? But also, as we wrap up, what has most surprised you this week? Your piece that you wrote, "Why Trump Can't Afford to Lose," was just before the announcement that Joe Biden had won, and I'm wondering what's most surprised you in this last week.

JANE MAYER: Well, so, to tell you the truth, all of Trump's behavior was not only predictable, it literally was predicted in this piece by all the people who knew him best. Everybody said he will not concede. And they called it.

But what has surprised me has been the behavior of the leaders of the Republican Party. And I guess they've surprised me over and over again, the extent to which they have enabled Trump, the extent to which Mitch McConnell has yet to say one word suggesting that the false claims that Trump won the election are in fact false — you know, he's saying, "Oh, he's entitled to play it out," or whatever — and that Lindsey Graham is saying that he should never concede, and he needs to fight, fight, fight. I mean, this behavior is what makes Trump possible. It's the difference between Trump being seen as pathetic by the country and Trump being seen as powerful by the country. And so that's what surprises me over and over again.

AMY GOODMAN: Jane Mayer, we want to thank you for being with us, and we'll link to your pieces in The New Yorker, "Why Trump Can't Afford to Lose" and "The Secret History of Kimberly Guilfoyle's Departure from Fox."

When we come back, Desmond Meade votes for the first time for president in 30 years. Stay with us.

From Your Site Articles
Related Articles Around the Web

Arizona’s blue shift rooted in years of grassroots Latinx organizing against GOP’s xenophobia

One of the crucial states that could decide the presidential election is Arizona, where Joe Biden is leading Donald Trump with thousands of ballots left to count. Trump won Arizona in 2016, and if Biden's lead holds, he will be just the second Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1948. "The lion's share of the credit belongs to sustained community organizing in the state," says Marisa Franco, director and co-founder of Mijente, a national digital organizing hub for Latinx and Chicanx communities. She says the Trump administration has been disastrous for immigrants and immigrant rights groups, and a second term would be even worse. "A shift in administration would give us a fighting chance," she says.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we turn to the presidential race in Arizona, where Joe Biden is leading Donald Trump by more than 68,000 votes, with 86% reporting. The Associated Press and Fox News have called the state for Biden — and they did that over a day ago — but other outlets, including CNN, have yet to declare a winner. Biden's lead narrowed early Thursday morning when Arizona announced results of a batch of mail-in ballot, mainly from Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix. Counting the remaining votes could take several days.

Several hundred Trump supporters gathered outside the Maricopa County election center last night, chanting "Count the vote." Many of the protesters were openly carrying AR-15 assault rifles and other guns. Donald Trump won Arizona in 2016. So, they were [chanting] "Count the vote," and that's opposed to the group, what Donald Trump Jr. has referred to as the army of supporters, that were outside a Detroit counting center, where Trump was ahead in Michigan, and they were saying "Stop the vote" as they stormed into a counting center. But in Arizona, where they were behind, Trump insisted they count every vote.

Now, if Biden's lead holds in Arizona, he'll be just the second Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1948. Arizona's blue shift is in large part due to a decade of grassroots organizing, particularly in Latinx communities against Arizona's anti-immigration policies and Maricopa County's infamous former Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Meanwhile, in a closely watched Senate race, Democrat Mark Kelly, the astronaut and the husband of Gabby Giffords, the congressmember from Tucson who was shot in the head — yes, Mark Kelly has unseated Arizona Republican Senator Martha McSally.

We go now to Phoenix, where we're joined by Marisa Franco. She's co-director and co-founder of Mijente, which means "my people," a national digital organizing hub for Latinx and Chicanx communities, which this year has led a national campaign to mobilize Latinx voters.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Marisa. Talk about the significance of what's happening right now in Arizona, the explosion of the Latinx vote.

MARISA FRANCO: The lion's share — I think the first thing to say is that the lion's share of the credit belongs to sustained community organizing in the state. The other night, you know, all of us were watching. It was — I think, probably like many of you all, we were having this feeling of doom, of 2016. And 2016, we had this moment of like — it was bittersweet, right? We finally took Sheriff Arpaio out of office, but, really, you know, as soon as that was announced, it was very clear that Trump was going to win the election. And so, as we waited for the results this year and we heard about Florida, we heard about — you know, we started seeing the numbers coming out of Ohio and coming out of the Midwest, it felt really good this year to have our state be a shot in the arm. We were very excited about the results.

At this point, we are still awaiting what the results are at the top of the ticket, but we have won seats at the county Board of Supervisors. The Red for Ed ballot initiative won. We've elected, it looks like, a progressive county attorney in Julie Gunnigle, and just continue to see a shift in the state. And I think it's important to name that it's a shift that comes at the efforts of many, many people. It is sustained community organizing. And it's an embracing of a multiplicity of strategies. This is just as much owed to the people that took to the streets in protest, the people that called for boycotts, as much as it is the people who knocked hundreds of thousands of doors to register and mobilize voters.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Marisa, what do you think accounts for the difference in Arizona compared to other states when it comes to Latinx voters? Is it this organizing that you're speaking of?

MARISA FRANCO: Absolutely. And, you know, Juan was after my own heart in your last segment, because he's naming numbers that are astounding. Our community, the main story of this election, in reference to Latino voters, is that we came out. We showed up, and we showed out, the vast majority rebuking and rejecting the Trump agenda. Arizona is one example of how that's done. I think it's an example that can be replicated.

I think we should not take for granted that this means that Arizona will always be blue or Latinos will always come out. And frankly, that's something the Democratic Party does pretty often. Our community is an afterthought, and there isn't a substantive effort to think of how — what are the kind of issues that matter to us, how can we be engaged in a meaningful way, how are we involved in decision-making and leadership of political campaigns, and often are getting the very short end of the stick on resources, as well.

And so, frankly, you know, you could probably look at a lot of different examples. Arizona is one of them. And the Arizona example, I think it really demonstrates that consistent, sustained organizing is really critical for the community to actually feel that something is changing and that they have a role in it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Marisa, can you talk about the significance — and we don't know the results yet of the election, but what's at stake on immigration issues, in particular, now?

MARISA FRANCO: It's big. You know, we were really clear in our organization when we engaged in the endorsement process and we decided to participate in this election in a more active way. We made it very clear we were not picking our savior; we were picking our target.

For immigrants and the immigrant rights movement across the country, these have been very difficult times. We've seen our advances dismantled or attempted to be dismantled, and there's been very little opportunity to have anything positive or progressive. Immigrants are largely under attack. You know, the numbers, but the conditions, it's just, I think — it's been one of the things that the Trump administration is most focused on in this first term. We can only expect in this first term they were understanding that they would have to face reelection. I think we don't want to imagine what they're going to do in the second term. A shift in administration would give us a fighting chance. It would give us a fighting chance to advance the campaigns and causes that we need in terms of immigration and addressing deportations.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about some of the sheriff's races, Marisa, that you've been following? And though you're based in Arizona, you work everywhere, from Arizona to Georgia.

MARISA FRANCO: Yeah. Georgia, in particular, folks in Georgia organized, mobilized, so we're still waiting for the results of the presidential election. But immigrants in the state of Georgia have faced — it's almost a tradition in the Georgia state Legislature, similar to what's happened here in Arizona — it's almost tradition to pass anti-immigrant laws every year, year after year, year after year; politicians who think they can make a name by disparaging us. And now this is the second cycle where people have come together to mobilize voters. Two sheriffs have been knocked out, in Gwinnett and Cobb County. These are sheriffs that have promoted the 287(g) program, which has long been a program that fuses local police with immigration enforcement and has been a catalyst to deportations. It's a huge victory. We're really proud.

AMY GOODMAN: Final words, 30 seconds, Marisa, on this cusp of the announcement of the president, which may come later today?

MARISA FRANCO: Yes. I want — like, as we await these results, Trump and his supporters are showing who they are. In one place, they say to count the votes; in one place, they say to stop it. We must not give them a lifeline to relevance. We must not try to think that we're going to be able to just come and counter them. They cannot play the same plays. They cannot sue their way into the White House. Our movement needs to hold steady that we need to count the votes. We are confident that we voted him out. And if we need to walk him out of that White House, we will. Let's hold down. Let's hold steady. Let's not give Trump supporters a pathway to any form of moral high ground. They are showing us who they are. They're showing everyone who they are. And let the world see it.

AMY GOODMAN: Marisa Franco, thanks so much for being with us, director and co-founder of Mijente, a national digital organizing hub for Latinx and Chicanx communities, which this year has led the national campaign called Fuera Trump to mobilize Latinx voters.

'We never made it to the polls': Police in North Carolina pepper-spray voting march — arresting 8

Police in Alamance County in North Carolina pepper-sprayed a peaceful get-out-the-vote march Saturday, descending on the crowd after they stopped near a Confederate monument to kneel in honor of George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis in May. Viral videos of the violent police action show officers in riot gear attacking the marchers, including young children and elderly people, who had intended to walk to a polling place on the last day of early voting in North Carolina. At least eight people were arrested, including march organizer Rev. Greg Drumwright, who says police gave the crowd of hundreds only 14 seconds to clear out before attacking. "We never made it to the polls," says Drumwright. "We believe that this interaction, this interference from local authorities, has obstructed our marchers from not only lifting up our First Amendment rights to protest, to speak out, but also our rights to vote."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show in the battleground state of North Carolina. On Saturday, police in Alamance County pepper-sprayed voters taking part in a peaceful get-out-the-vote rally. The rally began at a local Black church and was scheduled to end at an early voting site in Graham, North Carolina, which is located between Durham and Greensboro. During the rally, participants stopped near a Confederate monument and paused in the street for eight minutes and 46 seconds to remember George Floyd, who was killed by police in Minneapolis in May. Floyd's niece was scheduled to speak but didn't get a chance. Moments later, the police, some dressed in riot gear, began pepper-spraying the crowd, which included children as young as 3 years old. One elderly woman in a wheelchair appeared to have had a seizure after being exposed to the pepper spray.

MARCHER: Medic! Medic!

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic congressional candidate Scott Huffman was pepper-sprayed and recorded this video in his car moments later.

SCOTT HUFFMAN: Hey, everybody. It's Scott Huffman. I'm running for Congress here in District 13. And my eyes are full of pepper spray because, you know, we were peacefully demonstrating. We were exercising our First Amendment rights with Black Lives Matter. And what I've witnessed is what is happening all over America. This is wrong. People should be allowed to — to show up, to exercise their rights, to vote. We're all taxpayers. The police work for us. Yet today I witnessed pepper spray, chemical weapons being sprayed on my fellow Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: Saturday was the last day of early voting in North Carolina, but the march never made it to the polling site. At least eight people were arrested during the rally, including the march organizer, the Reverend Greg Drumwright, who joins us now from Greensboro. He's lead organizer of Justice 4 the Next Generation coalition.

Reverend Greg Drumwright, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you take us through Saturday? What happened?

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: Good morning to all of your viewers and certainly to you. And thank you for having us.

Saturday is, in some instances, still a blur. We still have people recovering from those tear gas and pepper spray attacks. We started the morning really knowing that there was going to be some form of a materialized effort to quell our success and to quiet our voices, even though we prayed intently and we met, several times over, with the local authorities there, asking them not to bring militia force to our march. As you and I know now, that was not the case.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what the purpose of your rally was, where you went, and when the police moved in and attacked you.

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: We landed there, after marching for about three-quarters of a mile, on the north side of Main Street just before the court square, where we were allowed. We were in full cooperation with our agreement with authorities.

Once we got to North Main Street in front of a Confederate monument, we kneeled eight minutes and 46 seconds, as you have uplifted, in honor of George Floyd's family. And I need to say that George Floyd's family, four members of the family, was there with us on the frontline. After eight minutes and 46 seconds, we got up and began to prepare for our rally.

And just as the Graham Police Department uplifted in their press conference yesterday, at the nine-minute mark, they began to release pepper spray and tear gas upon our marchers, stating that we were not moving fast enough out of the roadways. I don't know if you know arithmetic well enough to discern that that's only 14 seconds for hundreds of people to remove themselves peacefully onto the sidewalks.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us who the sheriff is, and then tell us what happened next, once the police tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed you. Were they wearing riot gear?

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: We seen all types of tactical force dressings and gear. We petitioned Chief Kristi Cole, who was in charge of this. Sheriff Terry Johnson's department, his deputies were working in concert with Chief Kristi Cole and the Graham Police Department. We begged them not to bring militia force. We begged them across several letters, stating that when this type of police presence gets involved, Black and Brown people end up in jail.

And so, we started our riot with people already being injured, people already being hassled and detained by local police authorities, simply because they would not get onto the sidewalks, after they escorted us in the streets, fast enough. Again, 14 seconds to make something like that happen with a crowd of hundreds of people.

AMY GOODMAN: The Graham Police Department held a news conference Sunday to answer questions about the pepper-spraying of the marchers at Saturday's event. This is Lt. Daniel Sisk.

LT. DANIEL SISK: We wanted them to have a successful event. They were under the same understanding we were, that we thought, when the event started, that they were not authorized to keep the road closed for an extended period of time, that the road closure was temporary just to accommodate the march, which we led from the chapel, had road closures up to the courthouse. And when we gave the order to clear the road, and when it was clear to our officers that the people had no intent on clearing the road, that's when we deployed the pepper fogger measure just to get them out of the roadway.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Lt. Daniel Sisk. And I'm looking at a flyer that was published and distributed by your organization, Justice 4 the Next Generation, that says, on Saturday, October 31st, in Graham, North Carolina, participants will be, quote, "marching from Wayman's Chapel AME to a Court square Rally at the Confederate Monument and on to Elm Street Poll!" So, talk about that end point. You had hundreds of people. Many were going to vote?

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: Yes. We believe that many were going to vote. We believe that others were waiting for us to get to the Elm Street poll to vote in concert with us. The truth of the matter is, we really don't know what those numbers would have looked like. Because of this police brutality, we never made it to the polls. And therefore, we believe that this interaction, this interference from local authorities, has created — obstructed our marchers from not only lifting up our First Amendment rights to protest, to speak out, but also our rights to vote. This interaction from the police most certainly kept people from voting in Alamance County.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, as people heard this story all over the country, the parallels were being made to Bull Connor, the head of so-called security in Birmingham, who would water-hose the people who were going to register to vote, beat people, water-hose children. Your thoughts, Reverend Drumwright?

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: This is a sheriff that has been sued by the federal government in 2012, has been sued by the government for actually disproportionately arresting Black and Brown people, even referring to Hispanics as "taco eaters." Sheriff Terry Johnson and his department has long suppressed the citizens of Alamance County. There are horror stories. The fearmongering in Alamance County is very intense.

As a matter of fact, as we have organized there all summer long, there are people who are in support of our movement but fear for their safety. One of our marchers, one of the speakers of our march, uplifted the fact that she, as a business owner, has been targeted. Other members of our march has had the KKK show up in their yard. And all of them have information that lead back to Sheriff Terry Johnson's administration.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened to the woman in the wheelchair?

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: We seen her yesterday. She is still recovering. She is very sore, and she is very shaken. And her spirit, as you might imagine, is broken. But she's not cast down, is what she told me. We are hoping that she makes a full recovery. We believe that she has lost the use of one of her mobile wheelchair units. And therefore, we are still fighting for all of the people that are recovering from the incidences on Saturday. And we're going to return to the streets on Tuesday.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend, how did you get arrested?

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: Did you say how did I get arrested?


REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: We were standing there, holding our ground, because we were permitted to be at the court square until 2:00 with our rally. And the police, the law enforcement, the deputies formed a militia line. And they impeded upon us. They wrestled many of the folks that ended up in jail with me onto the ground. Those were people who had already been pepper-sprayed by this same police force. I was grabbed by my clothing and roughed up and taken into custody right there in front of the Confederate monument.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about who you met in jail?

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: I met folks that I didn't know yet. I met people that were there to stand with us in solidarity. I met Black folks and white folks in jail.

I also met a young man who did not come in with the crew, the particular crew, that I was detained with, and I didn't think that he knew who I was. I certainly didn't know who he was. And I had a split second to ask him, as he was being released, just minutes before me, in passing and processing, "Sir, are you going to vote?" He looked at me and said, "Reverend Drumwright, I was going to vote with you today."

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I'm looking at a piece from the Triad City Beat in September that said, "Supporters of the president's re-election bid yelled 'white power' from pickup trucks in 'Trump convoy' in Alamance County organized by neo-Confederate activist Gary Williamson." Can you talk about the climate in your county?

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: Well, let me just say that it is a known fact that Sheriff Terry Johnson has a relationship with Gary Williamson. From that July 11th event, we have footage of Sheriff Terry Johnson actually being sympathetic, putting his arm around Mr. Williamson and telling Mr. Williamson just to calm down, while his same sheriff deputies were being instructed to lock up our peaceful protesters.

That's why we are advocating. That's why this was not just a march to the polls. But we had to stop by that Confederate monument and uplift our peaceful message for change. There needs to be police reform in Graham, North Carolina, just as it is being discussed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This scene from Saturday, and even the scene from July the 11th, where over 200 Confederates and neo-Nazis were allowed access to our march to disparage our efforts, to disrupt our efforts, is all too common right now in Graham, North Carolina.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your plans for Election Day, for Tuesday?

REV. GREG DRUMWRIGHT: You know, I am banned from Graham until Tuesday. And so, we are having to do this under so many different dynamics. We thought that Saturday would end our George Floyd summer and that we would have a little time to rest. We never imagined that we would be planning voter efforts on Tuesday on the streets.

And so, as soon as our interview wraps and in between other interview opportunities today, we are in very intense meetings to figure out, with our very meager resources, how we are still going to get people now into their various districts to vote. We also are concerned about the people who can't register to vote now, because Saturday was the last day of registration and voting in one stop. And so, we know for a fact that there are people who will not be able to vote simply because of the police brutality that we incurred on Saturday. We do know that our efforts will start at 9:00, and we're asking everyone to stay attuned to our social media for the official announcement of our plans after noon today.

AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Greg Drumwright, I want to thank you for being with us, lead organizer and activist with Justice 4 the Next Generation.

Next up, we go to Texas, where a caravan of Trump supporters tried to run a Biden campaign bus off the road. One truck swerved into a car full of Biden campaign workers. And a QAnon supporter has sued Harris County, home to Houston, to throw out nearly 127,000 early votes from 10 drive-thru polling locations. It goes to court today. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: "Beautiful Morning" by Little Brother, from Durham, North Carolina.

Facebook choked traffic to Mother Jones and other progressive sites while amplifying right-wing misinformation

Big Tech CEOs were grilled Wednesday about how they moderate election disinformation and extremist content, and were accused by Republicans of censoring conservatives. Overlooked were reports that Facebook designed changes to its news feed algorithm in 2017 to reduce the visibility of left-leaning news sites like Mother Jones. Mother Jones editors wrote in 2019 that the site had seen a sharp decline in its Facebook audience, which translated to a loss of around $600,000 over 18 months. "The fact that we are trying to do everything we can to get the truth out and Facebook is deliberately sabotaging our readership is so disturbing, at the same time that Facebook is spreading all of this dangerous information by conservatives, by President Trump," responds Ari Berman, senior writer at Mother Jones magazine, who has been reporting extensively on the 2020 election.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: But, Ari Berman, we have one last question for you that doesn't exactly relate to, though kind of, the elections. We're about to turn to a segment on Big Tech. The CEOs were grilled Wednesday on Capitol Hill about how they moderate election disinformation and extremist content. They were accused by Republicans of censoring conservatives.

But before we go, I wanted to ask you about how Facebook designed changes to its news feed algorithm in 2017 to reduce the visibility of progressive news sites like Mother Jones, your news organization. According to The Wall Street Journal, some policy executives at Facebook voiced concerns in 2017 about pending changes to the news feed algorithm that they thought might have a larger impact on right-leaning news sites like The Daily Wire, so engineers made changes to the algorithm that would have a bigger impact on the traffic to left-leaning sites. Meanwhile, Mother Jones editors wrote in 2019 the site had seen a sharp decline in its Facebook audience, which translated to a loss of around $600,000 over 18 months. And apparently, according to The Wall Street Journal, Zuckerberg himself signed off on these changes. Your comments?

ARI BERMAN: It's incredibly disturbing. It's an attack on democracy. It's an attack on freedom of the press. It's an attack on the progressive movement. Facebook is not censoring conservatives; it's boosting conservatives. It's censoring progressives. It's censoring independent media. And the fact that we are trying to do everything we can to get the truth out and Facebook is deliberately sabotaging our readership is so disturbing, at the same time that Facebook is spreading all of this disinformation by conservatives, by President Trump. So you have a situation where things that are manifestly untrue, by President Trump, by right-wing media, are getting huge boosts on Facebook, but efforts by Mother Jones and other publications to counter that disinformation, to tell people what's really going on, to report the facts, that is being censored.

So this is a huge scandal for democracy. This is a huge scandal for the media. Facebook needs to be held accountable for this. And I believe if there's a new administration and a new Congress, they are going to take a very hard look at Facebook's policies and how it's deliberately censored publications like Mother Jones, because this is an attack on democracy, an attack on freedom of the press.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, thanks so much for being with us, senior writer at Mother Jones, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. And we'll link to your piece at Mother Jones' website, "Brett Kavanaugh Lays Out a Plan to Help Trump Steal the Election.

When we come back, yes, we will look more at how — Big Tech's role in the election, as Senate Republicans accuse social media companies of favoring Democrats. And Democrats also took on the CEOs. But is that true? Stay with us.

“Break ’em up”: As DOJ targets Google, Zephyr Teachout urges breakup of more big tech monopolies

The Department of Justice and 11 states have filed a major antitrust lawsuit against Google in a move that could lead to the breakup of the company's business and holds major implications for other tech giants. The lawsuit accuses Google of engaging in illegal practices to maintain a monopoly on the search market, which fuels its dominance in online advertising. Fordham law professor Zephyr Teachout, who has long advocated for breaking up Big Tech monopolies, says it's "an incredibly important lawsuit" that should be the start of a wave of legal and legislative action to tackle "this incredible democratic crisis we have of Big Tech really becoming a form of private, for-profit government that is taking over so many parts of our lives."

AMY GOODMAN: The Department of Justice has sued the internet giant Google in a massive antitrust lawsuit that will have major implications for the rest of Big Tech and may even lead to Google's breakup. Eleven states joined the lawsuit, the largest of its kind against a tech company in more than two decades. It accuses Google of engaging in illegal practices to maintain a monopoly on the market, including by spending billions of dollars each year on deals with Apple and other companies to appear as the default search engine on handheld devices and browsing services. Through these practices, Google, quote, "owns or controls search distribution channels accounting for roughly 80 percent of the general search queries in the United States," according to the Department of Justice.

The DOJ complaint reads, in part, quote, "The Google of today is a monopoly gatekeeper for the internet, and one of the wealthiest companies on the planet … Google has used anticompetitive tactics to maintain and extend its monopolies in the markets for general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising — the cornerstones of its empire," unquote.

The complaint continues, quote, "Absent a court order, Google will continue executing its anticompetitive strategy, crippling the competitive process, reducing consumer choice, and stifling innovation," unquote.

For more, we're joined by Zephyr Teachout, professor of law at Fordham University and author of the new book Break 'Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money. Earlier this month, Professor Teachout testified at the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law Judiciary Committee investigation into competition in digital markets.

Zephyr Teachout, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of this lawsuit and what it means?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Thank you for having me.

It is an incredibly important lawsuit, and it is clearly just the beginning of what should be a series of both lawsuits at the federal and state level — keep your eyes on the states — and legislation to deal with this incredible democratic crisis we have of Big Tech really becoming a form of private, for-profit government that is taking over so many parts of our lives.

As you mentioned, it has been decades since we have seen a antitrust case of this kind, not just against Big Tech, but in general. The last big one, of course, was Microsoft. And as most people understand, the case against Microsoft was actually essential in leading to the innovations that followed in Silicon Valley.

But in the last 10, 15 years, you've seen these Big Tech giants consolidating power and then protecting their power through illegal means. And what this complaint lays out is now years and years of illegal practices of Google coming to not just dominate, but then illegally protect its monopoly in this area. And just being a person in the world, you know what a monopoly Google is, that search is an essential part of all of our lives. It's an essential gateway through which everybody has to pass.

And, I mean, this suit comes right after the major report by Cicilline, the House Antitrust Subcommittee report, which really took pretty direct aim at enforcers for their pathetic failure to do their job with existing antitrust laws, and called for Congress to act because of the nature of the democratic crisis we face.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Zephyr Teachout, I wanted to ask you about some of the revelations in the complaint, specifically the close ties between some of these tech giants, like Google and Apple, that — because, on one hand, Google is arguing that the default — that its use of its search as a default on Apple equipment is not a big deal because the user can switch it. But at the same time, it was revealed that spending $8 billion to $12 billion — paying Apple $8 billion to $12 billion a year just to have Google's search be the default on all Apple equipment?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yeah. No, this is a really important revelation. I mean, there's some aspects of this lawsuit where those of us who have been watching this field are saying this suit should have been brought a long time ago. A lot of Google's behavior is really obvious. It's obvious there's a monopoly, and it's obvious that it's been using its power to maintain its monopoly, using its contractual power to do so.

Looking at the relationship with Apple is really important, because here you have Google paying Apple. And I think it helps just clarify something that I argued in my book, which is that we are dealing with something akin to Mafia power, where you have a handful of big companies that theoretically compete, but they're also supporting each other in growing their power, and they are effectively competing against democracy. It's an alternate form of governance. And so, here you have Apple getting rich off of Google maintaining its monopoly. And what I think this points to is the importance of people understanding that this suit only is the beginning and has to only be the beginning.

The Antitrust Subcommittee, Cicilline's investigations, was absolutely revelatory. And this was a House committee with five staffers going up against these four Big Tech firms. And we learned about self-dealing behavior on Amazon's part, the way that Apple operates. And we have enforcers who have just been sitting on the sidelines for decades, kind of acting as if there's something magical about tech, that we — they're acting in two ways. One is that there's something magical about tech, that if we actually enforce basic laws, then you can't have nice things — tech will go away. In fact, all of history suggests the opposite, that antitrust is essential for innovation. And this is something the suit talks about. But it also shows just how deeply both, honestly, Democrats and Republicans have bought into this really dangerous idea that we don't have an anti-monopoly problem unless you can precisely point to consumer prices going up.

But I want to talk about the harm here, because I think it's really important to understand how this relates to the moment we're living in.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask —

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: And I — go ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, though, in terms of this issue of Democrats and Republicans, could you comment about the decision of Attorney General William Barr to bring this lawsuit just before the elections? Apparently, many of the lawyers who were working on this case felt that they were not yet ready, but for some reason the attorney general moved forward. And also, that there was an investigation of Google back during the Obama years, where, apparently, some Obama-era justice officials felt that they should be moving forward on antitrust, but that didn't happen back then. Could you talk about how the Republican administration is dealing with it, Trump administration now, and how Obama dealt with it several years back?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: I mean, we had a real revolving door problem with Obama and Google, in particular, and a failure during the Obama years to bring antitrust cases, to be aggressive enforcers. And this is one of the things the Cicilline report really lays out, is this decades of nonenforcement.

I do think it's important — look, Barr should be impeached. He should have been impeached a while ago. He is lawless. He has undermined the rule of law. And I have been regularly calling for his impeachment and have zero respect there.

But this is a pretty narrow, slam-dunk case. And I would be wary of understanding it in partisan terms. I want to point to the statement of Attorney General Tish James yesterday, a very powerful statement, which is clear that they are going forward with a Google investigation. And I'll actually be really interested to see if they even expand it beyond what — this kind of pretty narrow, but pretty central claim.

I also want to say something that Amy mentioned that is really important to understand about this case. When we're talking about remedies, what do you do when you have a search engine which has become basically public infrastructure, but it's profit-seeking, data-mining, privacy-destroying, small-business-crushing public infrastructure? What do you do? Well, the legal recourse we have under current law is to break it up. And that is not off the table in this suit. In fact, structural remedies — when you see structural remedies, that's code for breaking up — is mentioned in the lawsuit.

But one of the things this moment then — this lawsuit does is, while it's going forward, it pushes the ball back to Congress, because we may decide, you know, we want to have a search engine that we all share; we just shouldn't have it be profit-seeking, nontransparent, self-serving. We might want to then move to a public utility model, where you can have a search engine, but the search engine doesn't rely on targeted ads and the sucking up of individual personal and, by the way, political data in the way that it currently does. So this lawsuit sort of squarely puts Congress in the position to say, "What kind of public communications infrastructure do we want to have?"

AMY GOODMAN: Zephyr Teachout, senior vice president of Google affairs, Kent Walker, responded to the lawsuit in an article titled "A deeply flawed lawsuit that would do nothing to help consumers." In it, Walker writes, "People use Google because they choose to, not because they're forced to, or because they can't find alternatives. This lawsuit would do nothing to help consumers. To the contrary, it would artificially prop up lower-quality search alternatives, raise phone prices, and make it harder for people to get the search services they want to use." If you could respond to this and follow through on the earlier point you wanted to make about the real-life harms that are done here?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yeah, yeah. I mean, look, this is — it's not a surprising press release. It's the same thing that Microsoft said in '98. It's basically what Standard Oil was saying. "Look, people are choosing us — even though we are forcing our product on those with whom we contract with."

But I do want to talk about the real-life harms. What the complaint talks about is the harms to innovation — and that's quite real — and the harms to privacy. So, if you have — right now if you are angry about how Google is gathering up your data, if you're angry about the way that Google is — basically, it's an ad company; we call it a search company, but it makes its money through the targeted ad business model — the recourse is to go beg Google to be better. And we know how well that goes. So, when you actually have a competitive market, with DuckDuckGo, which is — or Bing or Yahoo actually competing on grounds of saying, "Hey, we're going to protect your privacy better. We're going to do search in a way that isn't self-serving, isn't based on targeted ads," you actually lead to both more innovation and better consumer protection.

The direct harm that the complaint doesn't talk about, though, is that because of Google's monopoly, it charges an enormous amount, outrageous amounts, to people who need to advertise on it. And that's when we're thinking about the small businesses who are currently struggling right now. And so those small businesses then, having to pay more just to get seen, to get known, push that cost onto their workers. And there's recent research showing that — the ways in which monopoly power is a major driver of inequality. And that's something that isn't in the suit but we need to understand, is when you have monopoly chokepoints at the center of our economy, they use that power to go suck value out of businesses, who then turn around and push that harm onto workers.

Meet the college senior who built a White House COVID tracker after CDC blocked from tracing Trump’s contacts

As the number of people in President Trump's orbit who test positive for COVID-19 continues to grow, we meet a student journalist who is doing what the White House doesn't want the CDC to do: tracing the contacts of people who may have infected or been infected by President Trump. Benjy Renton, a Middlebury College senior, helped develop a real-time tracking tool to monitor the growing number of people in President Trump's circle who were exposed or infected with COVID-19. The site is called COVID-19 at the White House and lists over 270 contacts and 25 positive cases, so far. It uses "publicly available information to ensure the American public have access and have the transparency that they deserve," says Renton.

Meet the College Senior Who Built a COVID Tracker After CDC Blocked from Tracing Trump’s Contacts

As the number of people in President Trump’s orbit who test positive for COVID-19 continues to grow, we meet a student journalist who is doing what the White House doesn’t want the CDC to do: tracing the contacts of people who may have infected or been infected by President Trump. Benjy Renton, a Middlebury College senior, helped develop a real-time tracking tool to monitor the growing number of people in President Trump’s circle who were exposed or infected with COVID-19. The site is called COVID-19 at the White House and lists over 270 contacts and 25 positive cases, so far. It uses “publicly available information to ensure the American public have access and have the transparency that they deserve,” says Renton.

As the number of people in President Trump’s orbit who test positive for COVID-19 continues to grow, we meet a student journalist who is doing what the White House doesn’t want the CDC to do: tracing the contacts of people who may have infected or been infected by President Trump. Benjy Renton, a Middlebury College senior, helped develop a real-time tracking tool to monitor the growing number of people in President Trump’s circle who were exposed or infected with COVID-19. The site is called COVID-19 at the White House and lists over 270 contacts and 25 positive cases, so far. It uses “publicly available information to ensure the American public have access and have the transparency that they deserve,” says Renton.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

As the number of people in President Trump's orbit who test positive for COVID-19 continues to grow, we're joined now by a student journalist who's doing what the White House does not want the Centers for Disease Control to do: tracing the contacts of people who may have infected or been infected by President Trump. Benjy Renton is a Middlebury College senior who helped develop a real-time tracking tool called COVID-19 at the White House. Benjy is also the digital director for Middlebury College's school newspaper.

Benjy, we welcome you to Democracy Now! Your website now shows 277 contacts, with 25 positive cases and a list of people you know to have come in contact with Donald Trump and others through him. Can you explain who's on the list, how you were able to come up with this, with a group of people?

BENJY RENTON: Yeah. Amy, thank you so much for having me.

So, we've been able to essentially track the contacts of anyone who's come in contact with the president or Hope Hicks or any of the individuals who have tested positive. As you said, we've had 277 contacts that we've been able to track so far, 25 of those who are positive, including Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, two of her assistant press secretaries, first lady Melania Trump, Notre Dame president John Jenkins.

So, we're still trying to understand the scope of the spread of this outbreak and sort of what events really led to the viral transmission. But we've determined that the spread is particularly alarming in and around the White House.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you've included in your contact tracking map a variety of events: the Rose Garden event, where Trump's Supreme Court nominee was officially announced, on Saturday, September 26th; the presidential debate last Tuesday; the president's rally in Duluth, Minnesota, on Wednesday; and his fundraiser at his golf club in Bedminster on Thursday evening. Talk about the map, how you put it together, and how you're getting this information.

BENJY RENTON: Sure. So, we were able to essentially use public reports, pictures, flight manifests, as well as we have our own tip line where individuals can fill out any sort of tips or results that they want us to investigate.

And so, we've looked essentially at any events or any settings that the president may have come in contact with. And that goes, as you said, to the Supreme Court nominee event in the Rose Garden, which also there was also an indoor event that was just before the ceremony, which potentially contributed to viral spread, and that was a smaller-scale event but indoors with a larger risk of transmission; the debate on that Tuesday, the debate prep beforehand; the Minnesota fundraiser. We just received an article this morning that we are adding a couple of individuals who were at the restaurant that was helping prepare the food for the fundraiser, who are now quarantined.

So, there's truly a national scope of this outbreak, and we're really trying to cast as wide of a net as possible, using publicly available information, to ensure that the American public have access and have the transparency that they deserve.

AMY GOODMAN: Which also really shows us how important public information is. I mean, you have Michael Shear of The New York Times, who's COVID-positive, one of three reporters, White House reporters, who have tested positive since last weekend. He has not been contacted by the White House, he says. And so, the real question, if any contact tracing is being done. And why, Benjy, is this contact tracing so important, when people find out if they have been near any of the people? I mean, Chris Christie now, the former governor of New Jersey, who did debate prep and was at the Supreme Court ceremony, he is hospitalized with COVID.

BENJY RENTON: Yeah. And so, as you said, Michael Shear and a couple of individuals, including Chris Christie himself, really only found out that they were in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 via the media or any sort of news reports that they consumed, because there was no official contact tracing effort, that we know of, at the White House. And we received notification yesterday in a New York Times report that the event at the Supreme — the Supreme Court nomination event Saturday will not be contact traced.

And so, while this is a not an official contact tracing investigation — we're not conducting a medical investigation — we really believe and we hope that this tracker can enact change and essentially help people understand the scope, as well as, hopefully, if those who are contacts of the president or those who are contacts of those who tested positive, really urging them to quarantine and prevent further spread of this virus, as we've seen second-order contacts, which are essentially people who were not at the events that the president attended or not at the White House events, but were contacts with somebody else, and they tested positive. So, this is truly kind of a ripple effect when we talk about spread here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Can you talk about some of the people you've identified as possible second-level contacts?

BENJY RENTON: Yeah. So, Claudia Conway, who is the daughter of former counsel to the president Kellyanne Conway, had posted on TikTok that she had tested positive for COVID-19. And she was not at any of the initial events or anything. She had contact, obviously, with her mother, Kellyanne. And so, we know that COVID-19 spreads oftentimes in home settings or in family settings, because those are areas where individuals are in close contact with each other without masks. So, that's one of them.

We've also started to really kind of draw back the scope of this, and maybe even go earlier than that Saturday Supreme Court event. We learned yesterday, according to The New York Times's Maggie Haberman, that two White House resident staff have tested positive. We read a CNN report a couple days ago that showed, even as far back as two or so weeks ago, there was a White House staffer that tested positive.

And we want to reiterate that we really do protect individuals' privacy, and so this is all publicly available information. And that often means that we may need to name someone as "White House staffer" or "journalist one" or "journalist two," "journalist three." But we really want to get as accurate and as timely of a data set as possible, without sacrificing privacy or accuracy.

AMY GOODMAN: And if people want to get this information, where can they go? We have five seconds.

BENJY RENTON: Yeah, so they can go to, and there's a tip line there that we encourage anybody to submit tips or even results, if they are contacts.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, with all the controversies going around college education right now, Benjy, I can see that your time is well spent. Benjy Renton, senior at Middlebury College in Vermont, one of the creators of the White House COVID-19 outbreak tracker website. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.