This 'shadow network' of Christian nationalists and fossil fuel interests has a plan to take back power in 2022

Five years ago, at the dawn of the Trump era, few national observers were focused on the role of the Council for National Policy. That was not a coincidence; over the past four decades, this coalition of Christian nationalists and fossil fuel interests has deliberately kept a low public profile, maintaining both its meetings and its membership under a veil of secrecy. Although it is registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt "educational" organization, it has advanced an unapologetically partisan agenda, promoting Republican candidates from the radical right and purging moderates. Key to its success is the expansion of its information ecosystem, composed of fundamentalist broadcasting outlets and myriad digital platforms. Often masquerading as "news" outlets, these organizations have served as vehicles for partisan propaganda and dangerous disinformation, including the ongoing hydroxychloroquine hoax claiming that the drug cures COVID-19.

Even Washington insiders who were familiar with the CNP often discounted its influence. As of 2020 this was no longer possible. CNP affiliates played an outsized role in helping Trump win the 2016 election (as documented in my book Shadow Network), offering his campaign the money, the strategy, and the ground troops his primitive operation lacked—enhanced by state-of-the-art digital campaign tools and the Koch Brothers' i360 data platform. The CNP went on to reap the benefits: CNP's then-president Tony Perkins, became a regular visitor to the Oval Office, where he successfully lobbied to restrict the civil rights of LGBTQ populations. Trump granted a day of exclusive coverage at the White House to Salem Media, co-founded by another former president of the CNP. CNP leadership pushed the nominations of right-wing federal judges, and turned out in force for the Rose Garden super-spreader event to celebrate the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

In early 2020, CNP members had every reason to feel confident of Trump's reelection, based on strong economic indicators and a contentious Democratic opposition. Then COVID-19 struck. For the next ten months, the CNP and its partner organizations supported Trump's increasingly desperate attempts to remain in office. CNP Gold Circle member Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Koch Brothers' Tea Party Patriots, orchestrated the promotion of the hydroxychloroquine hoax, designed to reopen the country in time to benefit Trump's campaign rallies. A steep price was paid, by both gullible followers and patients with auto-immune diseases who had a legitimate need for the drug.

As the campaign season advanced, the CNP leadership realized that Trump's chances were eroding. They held a series of strategy meetings, which were accessed and recorded for the first time by researcher Brent Allpress. There the CNP strategists laid out a series of options: If Trump lost the popular vote, they would emphasize the Electoral College. If he lost the Electoral College, they would promote spurious claims of election fraud and support challenges to the electors in Republican-controlled statehouses. Videos of the meetings record the presentation of these strategies by various CNP members, including Lisa Nelson, CEO of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), attorney Cleta Mitchell, and Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a member of the Board of Directors of CNP Action, the organization's lobbying arm.

After the November votes were counted, the organization went into overdrive. On December 10 the CNP leadership released a letter (drafted by Mitchell) calling on legislators in swing states to throw out over 25 million votes based on false claims of electoral fraud. On January 2, 2021, Cleta Mitchell represented Trump on his call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger pressuring him to alter his state's count.

Finally, as a last-gasp effort, a number of members helped to organize the January 6 "Stop the Steal" protest on Capitol Hill. CNP members Jenny Beth Martin, Charlie Kirk, and Virginia Thomas all publicized the event in advance. Ali Alexander, a former CNP member, was a lead organizer, and Trump advisor Michael Flynn, who appeared on the CNP's staff roster, gave an address at the protest saluting his QAnon supporters.

That attempt to sabotage the electoral process failed to halt the certification of the electoral votes — barely—but so far there have been shockingly few consequences. Jenny Beth Martin has gone on to attack Biden nominations and policies without missing a beat. Martin's front woman, Dr. Simone Gold, has expanded the hydroxychloroquine hoax into an anti-vaccine crusade, labelling COVID-19 vaccines "an experimental biological agent deceptively named a vaccine." Equally worrisome, the CNP has regrouped to assert its influence on a state level. Working through Republican-controlled state legislatures, ALEC has renewed its attempt to restrict voting rights in time for the 2022 midterm elections.

The digital arms race will continue into the 2022 midterm campaigns. Trump and some of his supporters have been banned from Twitter, but his camp has accelerated its construction of a parallel media sphere. This operation — much of it now out of sight for outsiders — –effectively networks several critical components of their outreach in swing states. The first component consists of their messaging "news" outlets, including the Daily Caller, video outlets such as NewsMax, and Salem Media's radio stations and digital platforms. All of these are active in stretches of Middle America that have suffered a colony collapse of the local professional news media, turning vast regions of rural America into news deserts.

The second component involves social media, linking new campaign apps to new communities on services such as Reddit, Telegram and Gab and on to the latest versions of the i360 data platform. This assembly provides a powerful tool to state-level from CNP affiliates such as the NRA and the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, allowing them to personalize their messaging for door-knocking and to expand their use of data from evangelical and conservative Catholic congregations.

As recently as the January, 2021, Democratic canvassers in Georgia were still lagging behind, provided with an app that gave them out-of-date information about a resident's contact information and record of voting, and little else. Some critics are uncomfortable with the use of commercial data in political campaigning, but they cannot deny that it has become ubiquitous in other aspects of life, and apparently not illegal in a political context.

The Biden administration came to office with a nearly 7 million lead in the popular vote, but his Electoral College victory was based on a razor-thin margin of less than 45,000 votes in Georgia, Arizona (both current targets of voting suppression legislation), and Wisconsin. As election-watchers look ahead to 2024, they should bear in mind that the Council for National Policy is characterized by three traits: it does not give up; its tactics are infinitely morphable; and it is willing to operate on the very fringes of legality, without regard for public safety or the principles of democracy.

When a community says no to big oil

Over the last year, residents of South Memphis, Tennessee have fought to stop the construction of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline. The companies behind Byhalia promise economic opportunity and neighborhood investment. But members of the community have organized against the further development of oil and gas infrastructure in an area plagued by a cancer risk four times the national average.

In December 2019, Valero Energy and the Texas-based company Plains All American Pipeline announced a joint venture that would run for 49 miles, directly south out of Memphis with a long eastward curve through Mississippi. At the end of the line, Byhalia would connect to an existing pipeline, carrying as much as $21 million dollars worth of oil a day to the gulf of Mexico.

Soon after this route for the pipeline was announced, a representative of the two companies said "We took, basically, a point of least resistance." The first stretch of the pipeline crosses through the historically Black Memphis neighborhoods of Boxtown, Whitehaven, and Westwood.

Justin J. Pearson, born in Westwood and home through the COVID-19 pandemic, learned about the pipeline through a Facebook post on the Mitchell High School alumni page written by south Memphis resident, Kathy Robinson.

Kathy's post began: "Box town is 99% black with a high % of home ownership…They want to build an oil pipeline through this historic neighborhood. Why?"

Seeing this post in his high school facebook group struck Justin by surprise. He says that he wouldn't have otherwise thought of his community as victims of environmental racism. "I didn't know this was happening and so I'm really fortunate and grateful," Justin said, "There was shock about not knowing, and then there was a realization that this was a deeply personal issue that we have affecting our community. Even our high school is only about three or four blocks away from one of the places where the pipeline would cross."

"There was a realization that this was a deeply personal issue that we have affecting our community. Even our high school is only about three or four blocks away from one of the places where the pipeline would cross."

Justin later met Ms. Robinson along with several other Mitchell High School alumni at an October community meeting about the pipeline. Together, they formed Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP).

In order to begin construction, oil companies must first acquire easements and permits. An easement is an agreement in which a property owner allows another party to use their land in some way. According to Memphis publication MLK50, the easements that the Byhalia pipeline seeks would allow "constructing, laying, maintaining, operating, inspecting, altering, replacing, reconstructing, patrolling (by surface or air), protecting, or removing a liquid hydrocarbon."

Residents report that as early as 2018 — before the official announcement of the Byhalia plans — representatives of the oil companies had approached them to strike these land deals.

Joseph Owens, a 59-year-old security guard, refused a one-time offer of $3,000 that would have allowed the companies to build and service the pipeline on his property. Owens called the payment "pennies and peanuts." The companies offered Jeffrey Alexander, a city of Memphis employee, just $4,700 for the permanent rights to operate outside his home. When Owens and Alexander rejected counter-offers, Valero and Plains All American Pipeline took them to court, attempting to win the easements with legal force.

Justin J. Pearson and MCAP have been looking for other residents fighting similar lawsuits. "It's unlikely they have any attorney representation. It's unlikely they know what the heck is going on and what to do," Pearson said. After his organization checked in with 600 homes in the area, Pearson realized that "not a single person knew what was happening."

"We learned that our laws are built to the benefit of the corporation," Pearson said, "not the individual private landowners."

That's partially due to the permitting process that Byhalia has pursued. A Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP12) through the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) "is often used by pipeline companies to fast track projects and cut out the public from the decision making process," reports the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). Other pipelines that have drawn national attention, like the Keystone XL, made use of the same permit.

Pearson sees it as a loophole that has allowed the companies to exploit his neighbors, "You don't have to do any intentional work to hear what the community is saying or include any environmental justice impacts."

"This battle isn't just about people who are living and drinking the water now. It is thinking more generationally, what is going to happen 25, 50 years from now to this pipeline?"

US Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) agrees, writing in a January letter to the ACOE "While the Clean Water Act (CWA) authorizes the Corps to issue NWPs to streamline the permitting process for activities the Corps determines will have minimal adverse environmental effects, I struggle to see how the proposed Byhalia Connection fits that criteria." A recent report by chemical hydrogeologist Douglas J. Cosler found that a single pound of crude oil could contaminate 25 million gallons of water.

In a response to Cohen's letter, the ACOE cited a recent Trump administration policy that limited the government's ability to regulate construction around water. This Navigable Waters Protections Rule excluded the ACOE's "regulatory jurisdiction over groundwater or discharges into groundwater."

That's important because the city of Memphis sits on top of an underground reservoir holding 57 trillion gallons of fresh water. According to the US Geological Survey, Memphis and Shelby County make up one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world that relies exclusively on ground water for municipal supply. Rep. Cohen's environmental concerns stem from the pipeline's proximity to the Memphis Sand Aquifer.

But the Memphis Sand Aquifer is underground, and in this case, the ACOE's jurisdiction doesn't extend below the surface. In early February, the ACOE granted the NWP12, removing one hurdle on the path to Byhalia's construction.

Pearson says that "this battle isn't just about people who are living and drinking the water now. It is thinking more generationally, what is going to happen 25, 50 years from now to this pipeline?"

That question has caught the attention of environmental justice advocates in Memphis and beyond. It's a question at the heart of a meeting on February 23, when the Memphis city council holds a vote that could deny the Byhalia Connection Pipeline access to the city's land.

Back in 2016, the city of Memphis sent 12,000 bottles of water to help Flint, MI recover from one of the nation's worst environmental disasters. Pearson says that this moment sticks out in his mind: "We literally bottled up Memphis' drinking water to send to Flint, and now we're going to risk our water for a private, out-of-state company's profit. Why? Why are we doing this and to whose benefit?"

Trump's latest cover-up: The many glaring omissions in the Pentagon's account of the Capitol siege

The Department of Defense's January 8, 2021 press release purports to "memorialize the planning and execution timeline" of the deadly insurrection that it calls the "January 6, 2021 First Amendment Protests in Washington, DC."*

The memo's minute-by-minute account creates a false illusion of transparency. In truth, its most noteworthy aspects are the omission of Trump's central role in the insurrection and the effort to shift blame away from Trump and his new Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.

Who is Christopher Miller?

By November 9, every news organization declared that former Vice President Joe Biden had won the election. On that day, Trump fired Acting Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and replaced him with Miller, an Army retiree who worked for a defense contractor until Trump tapped him as his assistant in 2018. Miller's promotion began a departmental regime change that embedded three fierce Trump loyalists as top Defense Department officials: Kash Patel (former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA)), retired army Gen. Anthony Tata (pro-Trump Fox News pundit) and Ezra Cohen-Watnick (former assistant to Trump's first national security adviser, Mike Flynn).

At such a late date in Trump's presidency, many asked why the shake-up at the Department of Defense? We may be learning the answer.

Prior to the Attack

The department's January 8, 2021 memo ignores Trump's central role in igniting and then encouraging the January 6 insurrection. In fact, the only reference to Trump appears in a January 3 entry, when Miller and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Milley meet with him and he concurs in activation of the DC National Guard "to support law enforcement."

Other than that, Trump is conspicuously absent, along with the most important parts of the story. In the date and time entries that follow, only those in italics and preceded with "(DoD Memo)" summarize items from the Defense Department's January 8 memorandum. The memo ignores every other fact set forth in this post.

Dec. 19, 2020: Trump tweets: "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!"

Jan. 3, 2021: Replying to a tweet from one of the rally organizers, Trump tweets: "I will be there. Historic day."

Jan. 4: The National Park Service increases the crowd estimate on the January 6 rally permit to 30,000 — up from the original 5,000 in December.

January 6, 2021:

8:17 a.m.: Trump tweets: "States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!"

Noon: Trump begins to address the mob and continues speaking for more than 90 minutes.

  • "We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved."
  • "We won this election, and we won it by a landslide. This was not a close election."
  • "I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president, and you are the happiest people."

1:00 p.m.: While Trump continues his rant to the mob, some members of Trump's crowd have already reached the US Capitol Building where Congress assembles in joint session to certify President-elect Joe Biden's victory. An initial wave of protesters storms the outer barricade west of the Capitol Building. As the congressional proceedings begin, Pence reads a letter saying that he won't intervene in Congress's electoral count: "My oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority."

1:10 p.m.: Trump ends his speech by urging his followers to march down Pennsylvania Avenue. "We're going to the Capitol. We're going to try and give them [Republicans] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country…If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

The Attack

If the District of Columbia were a state, its governor alone could have deployed the National Guard to crush the riot. Instead, Trump and his Defense Department had that responsibility, and an unprecedented assault on a sacred institution of government succeeded, if only for a few hours.

(DoD Memo) 1:26 p.m.:The Capitol Policeorders the evacuation of the Capitol complex.

1:30 p.m.: The crowd outside the building grows larger, eventually overtaking the Capitol Police and making its way up the Capitol steps. Suspicious packages — later confirmed to be pipe bombs — are found at Republican National Committee headquarters and Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington.

(DoD Memo) 1:34 p.m.:DC Mayor Muriel Bowser asks Army Secretary Ryan McCarthywho reports to Millerfor more federal help to deal with the mob.

Bowser is told that the request must first come from the Capitol Police.

(DoD Memo) 1:49 p.m.:The Capitol Police chiefasks the commanding general of the DC National Guard for immediate assistance.

2:15 p.m.: Trump's mob breaches the Capitol building – breaking windows, climbing inside and opening doors for others to follow.

(DoD Memo) 2:22 p.m.:Army Secretary McCarthy discusses the situation at the Capitol with Mayor Bowser and her staff.

They are begging for additional National Guard assistance. Note the time. It's been almost an hour since Bowser requested help.

2:24 p.m.: Trump tweets: "Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!"

After erecting a gallows on the Capitol grounds, the mob shouts, "Hang Mike Pence." Rioters create another noose from a camera cord seized during an attack on an onsite news team.

2:26 p.m.: Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund joins a conference call with several officials from the DC government, as well as officials from the Pentagon, including Lt. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, director of the Army Staff. Piatt later issues a statement denying the statements attributed to him.

"I am making an urgent, urgent immediate request for National Guard assistance," Sund says. "I have got to get boots on the ground."

The DC contingent is flabbergasted when Piatt says that he could not recommend that his boss, Army Secretary McCarthy, approve the request. "I don't like the visual of the National Guard standing a police line with the Capitol in the background," Piatt says. Again and again, Sund says that the situation is dire.

(DoD Memo) 2:30 p.m.: Miller, Army Secretary McCarthy and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff meet to discuss Mayor Bowser's request.

(DoD Memo) 3:04 p.m.:Millergives "verbal approval" to full mobilization of the DC National Guard (1,100 members).

It has now been more than 90 minutes since Mayor Bowser first asked Army Secretary McCarthy for assistance. It took an hour for Defense Department officials to meet and another half hour for them to decide to help. And Bowser still doesn't know the status of her request.

(DoD Memo) 3:19 p.m.:Pelosi and Schumercall Army Secretary McCarthy, who says that Bowser's request has now been approved.

(DoD Memo) 3:26 p.m.:Army Secretary McCarthycalls Bowser to tell her that her request for help has been approved.

The Defense Department's notification of approval to Bowser came two hours after her request.

While Miller and his team were slow-walking Mayor Bowser's request, she had sought National Guard assistance from Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R). At about the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called Northam directly for help and he agreed.

3:29 p.m.: Gov. Northam announces mobilization of Virginia's National Guard. But there's a hitch. Federal law requires Defense Department authorization before any state's National Guard can cross the state border onto federal land in DC. That approval doesn't come until almost two hours later.

(DoD Memo) 3:47 p.m. Governor Hoganmobilizes his state's National Guard and200 state troopers.

The Defense Department "repeatedly denies" Hogan's request to deploy the National Guard at the Capitol. As he awaits approval, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls Hogan from the undisclosed bunker to which he, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have been evacuated. Hoyer pleads for assistance, saying that the Capitol Police is overwhelmed and there is no federal law enforcement presence.

4:17 p.m.: Trump tweets a video telling rioters, "I know your pain, I know you're hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side…It's a very tough period of time. There's never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us — from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election, but we can't play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You're very special. You've seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil."

(DoD Memo) 4:18 p.m.:Millergives voice approval notifying surrounding states to muster and be prepared to mobilize their National Guard personnel.

(DoD Memo) 4:32 p.m.: Miller gives verbal authorization to "re-mission" DC National Guard from city posts where most have been directing traffic and monitoring subway stations "to conduct perimeter and clearance operations" in support of the Capitol Police force.

4:40 p.m.: More than 90 minutes after Governor Hogan had requested federal approval to send his state's National Guard troops to DC, Army Secretary McCarthy calls and asks, "Can you come as soon as possible?" Hogan responds, "Yeah. We've been waiting. We're ready."

5:40 p.m.: The first DC National Guard personnel arrive at the Capitol.

(DoD Memo) 5:45 p.m.:Miller signs formal authorization for out-of-state National Guard personnel to muster and gives voice approval for deployment to support the Capitol Police.

The first Maryland National Guard personnel don't arrive at the Capitol until January 7 at 10:00 a.m. The first Virginia National Guard members arrive at noon.

6:01 p.m.: Trump tweets: "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!"

(DoD Memo) 8:00 p.m.: The DC Capitol Police declare the Capitol Building secure.

The Aftermath of the Attack

8:31 p.m.: After widespread media reports that Pence, not Trump, had actually given the order to deploy the National Guard, Kash Patel — Miller's chief of staff and former top aide to Rep. Nunes — tells the New York Times, "The acting secretary and the president have spoken multiple times this week about the request for National Guard personnel in D.C. During these conversations, the president conveyed to the acting secretary that he should take any necessary steps to support civilian law enforcement requests in securing the Capitol and federal buildings."

But according to the Defense Department's January 8 memo, the only such conversation with Trump occurred on January 3.

Jan. 7: Trump releases a video in which he lies, saying, "I immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building and expel the intruders." Defense Department officials confirm that they did not speak to Trump on January 6.

Jan. 8: Trump tweets: "The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!"

Shortly thereafter, he tweets again: "To all of those who have asked, I will not be going to the Inauguration on January 20th."

Jan. 8: Twitter issues a statement saying that it has banned Trump because his "statement that he will not be attending the Inauguration is being received by a number of his supporters as further confirmation that the election was not legitimate…and encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts that the Inauguration would be a 'safe' target, as he will not be attending."

Twitter's statement continues, "The use of the words 'American Patriots' to describe some of his supporters is also being interpreted as support for those committing violent acts at the US Capitol. The mention of his supporters having a 'GIANT VOICE long into the future' and that 'They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!' is being interpreted as further indication that President Trump does not plan to facilitate an 'orderly transition' and instead that he plans to continue to support, empower, and shield those who believe he won the election."

The statement concludes: "Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the US Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021."

Understand what is happening. The US Department of Defense is reframing an attack on the Capitol and attempted coup as a "First Amendment Protest." That benign label isn't just a dog whistle. It's a megaphone that blesses a violent insurrection, disguising it as the exercising of a constitutional right.

Another cover-up is underway. Another false narrative is in the works. And another agency of the federal government has revealed that Trump has co-opted it.

The fight to save American democracy is now down to a single defining question:

Which side are you on?

*[Note: Late in the afternoon on January 11, 2021, the Defense Department changed the title of its January 8 memorandum and reissued it "to more appropriately reflect the characterization of the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6."]

Trump and McConnell are finally breaking up

December 29, 2020

There is definitely a feeling of change in the air. For all his continuing insistence that he won the 2020 election, Trump is a lame duck.

Today's complicated fight in the Senate over the one-time stimulus payment of $2000 illustrated that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), not Trump, now controls the Republican caucus. Trump originally refused to sign the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the bill that contains the coronavirus relief measures, because he claimed he objected to its meager $600 stimulus payments. Six hundred dollars was the amount his negotiators had demanded, but he suddenly said he wanted them to be $2000. Democrats in the House jumped on Trump's demand for the higher payment and they passed a measure on Monday to increase the payments to $2000.

Trump had attacked the bill largely because he is angry at McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD) (a whip keeps party members in line behind the party leader) for acknowledging Biden's victory in November. He was trying to illustrate his power by refusing to sign the bill at all. But Sunday night he gave in without winning anything, and yet continued to say he wanted higher payments. The House was happy to give him what the Democrats had wanted all along, but today Trump lost the showdown in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the measure, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) killed it. This enabled the two embattled Republican Senate candidates from Georgia both to support Trump and to claim they wanted higher payments, all without actually having to vote for the higher payments. McConnell bested Trump all around: he had no intention of raising those payments no matter what Trump tweeted… and he didn't.

Trump's influence in Washington is waning in other ways, too. Yesterday, the House repassed the National Defense Authorization Act over Trump's veto. Trump claims to object to the bill for a number of reasons, including that it will require that military bases currently named for Confederate generals be renamed, but this is the measure into which Congress put the Corporate Transparency Act I wrote about a few days ago. It will undercut the country's plague of so-called shell companies, which enable money laundering and other criminal activity because they are owned and operated in secret. The new measure will require that all owners and operators of such companies be clearly identified.

This will likely impact the Trump family, which uses shell companies.

There were other rumblings today that Trump's post-presidential life might have some sticky places. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has hired forensic accountants to help investigate Trump and his businesses. This investigation is a criminal investigation. New York Attorney General Letitia James is in charge of a civil investigation into Trump's businesses.

But the big thing which showed momentum is moving away from Trump is that President-Elect Joe Biden is forcefully criticizing the Trump administration for its failure to plan for distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.

With more than 330,000 Americans dead of Covid-19 and infections spiking, Biden today noted that the Trump administration has fallen behind on vaccine distribution. The effort got off to a poor start as the administration delivered fewer doses than it had promised and initially blamed Pfizer for a "miscommunication," only to have Pfizer state that it had "millions of doses" in a warehouse but had received no information about where to send them.

The administration promised to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December, but yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that it had administered just 2.1 million doses in two weeks, although that number is likely somewhat low because of lag times in reporting. At the current rate, Dr. Leana S. Wen writes in the Washington Post, we can expect to achieve herd immunity in 10 years.

The administration at first refused to share information with the Biden camp about distribution, claiming there was a plan, even though, when finally part of discussions, Biden said "[t]here is no detailed plan that we've seen, anyway, as to how you get the vaccine out of a container, into an injection syringe, into somebody's arm."

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar responded that Biden's claim was "nonsense." "[W]e have comprehensive plans from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working with 64 public health jurisdictions across the country as our governors have laid out very detailed plans that we've worked with them on. We're leveraging our retail pharmacies, our hospitals, our public health departments, our community health centers." Azar said the distribution process was being "micromanaged and controlled by the United States military, as well as our incredible private sector. We do hundreds of millions of vaccinations a year. We're leveraging the systems that are known, and that work here in the United States." Azar assured Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that, as soon as the vaccines were approved, the government would be shipping them "to all of the states and territories that we work with. And within hours they can be vaccinating,"

It turns out Biden was more right than Azar. The administration planned simply to get the vaccines to the states, and then leave to them the problem of actually getting the vaccines into people's arms. But state Departments of Health are strapped for money after trying to manage the pandemic for nine months, and had been allotted only $6 million apiece to make the distributions happen. (The new Consolidated Appropriations Act that Trump just signed has significantly more money in it for distribution.)

"The Trump administration's plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind, far behind," Biden said today. "As I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should."

Finally stung, Trump tweeted tonight that "It is up to the States to distribute the vaccines once brought to the designated areas by the Federal Government. We have not only developed the vaccines, including putting up money to move the process along quickly, but gotten them to the states. Biden failed with Swine Flu!" (Biden was not in charge of the Obama Administration's response to H1N1 in 2009, which broke out three months after Obama took office.)

Biden promised to invoke the National Defense Production Act, a law that permits the president to require companies to produce goods at the same time that it guarantees them a market for those goods, to speed up the production of supplies necessary to distribute the vaccine quickly. "I have directed my team to prepare a much more aggressive effort, with more federal involvement and leadership to get things back on track," he said.

But he warned that we are behind and, breaking with the Trump administration, warned that things are going to get much worse before they get better. The spike in infections along with the fallout from holiday gatherings means we will see high cases in January and high death tolls in February. It will be mid-March, he warns, before we see improvement. "The next few weeks and months are going to be very tough, a very tough period for our nation — maybe the toughest during this entire pandemic," Biden said. "I know it's hard to hear, but it's the truth."

"We are going to get through this. Brighter days are coming," Biden said. "But it's going to take all of the grit and determination we have as Americans to get it done."

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'There's a potential for blood in the streets':  Here's what 2 top election lawyers think of Trump's lawsuits

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Moyers on Democracy. President Trump still will not admit he lost. He tweets and repeats the lie that the election was a fraud, the vote rigged, the election stolen. There are fewer than ten weeks before he must leave office, but he refuses to cooperate with Joe Biden in the transfer of power, denying the man who beat him by over five million votes the resources usually provided to a president-elect. Trump has flooded the courts with lawsuits contesting the results, seeking recounts, trying to stop the certification of ballots in battle ground states. Washington grows more paralyzed, the country more polarized, the rule of law in limbo. Here to assess what's going on are two of the country's most experienced lawyers in election litigation. Daryl Bristow is the former senior partner of the multinational law firm Baker Botts LLP, based in Houston. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma and Harvard Law School, he worked for George W. Bush's legal team on two Florida lawsuits regarding balloting for the 2000 presidential election. David Berg founded the firm Berg & Androphy, with offices in Houston and New York City. He has recently taken Trump and others to court over their efforts to use the Postal Service to discredit and dismiss mail-in ballots. He's written two acclaimed books — the memoir RUN BROTHER RUN, and THE TRIAL LAWYER: WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN. Here to talk with Daryl Bristow and David Berg is Bill Moyers.

BILL MOYERS: David Berg and Daryl Bristow, thank you for joining me.

DARYL BRISTOW: Happy to be here.

BILL MOYERS: One headline after another in the last few days has described Washington in a state of chaos. Does it appear to you to be that bad there?

DARYL BRISTOW: The first thing I think about is the tense time we live in, because politics has gotten to be almost a religion. And it's turned people into a religious fervor. Friends, close friends, people that I have long-standing relationships with– there's a strain now when we even think about talking about politics because their views are extreme. And they're extreme in an atmosphere of mendacity; lies and liars. It seems like that's acceptable as long as you achieve the bottom line on the lawsuit, although, frankly, I don't see much to the lawsuits.

DAVID BERG: On the issue of these lawsuits, they're terrifying people. I've gotten emails the last few days asking if Trump's lawsuits are going to upset the results of the election. And, as Daryl and I both can tell you, the lawsuits are specious. The one that's gotten the most attention is the one filed in Pennsylvania where the lawyers are attempting to shut down the certification of the Pennsylvania vote, which I can tell you right now, for a number of reasons, that's never going to happen.

BILL MOYERS: Have the Trump lawyers won any of these many suits they are scattering across the country?

DAVID BERG: They've won a modest order out of the Supreme Court. Justice Alito agreed to refer the question of whether or not, in Pennsylvania, the ballots that were received after Election Day were segregated from those received before Election Day. But it's absurd because they were segregated. And the election was decided on votes received by November 3rd. So, it's absurd. If your listeners want to, go to the website of Democracy Docket and you will see that, of all the cases that have been filed– the case where they're asking to shut down the certification in Pennsylvania, one of the things that you'll find is that they drew a judge who was appointed by Barack Obama and he's got an excellent, scholarly past. And I disagree with Justice Roberts. There are Trump judges and there are Obama judges. So, we've got a hell of a shot at seeing that knocked out quickly.

DARYL BRISTOW: You know, David, I will say this. No question, you have judges who've been appointed and they have allegiances. But at least my experience in 2000 was that those judges did the right thing. we had concerns about some of the judges in a situation as serious as the one we were in. They did the right thing. So, I believe, in the end, although there's going to be a lotta speculation and a lotta fear, I think the system will work. And—

DAVID BERG: To your point, Daryl, I have what I call the Andy Hanen rule. Judge Hanen is a very conservative judge. And about a week ago, a couple of very right-wing plaintiffs filed suit in his court seeking to disqualify 127,000 votes that had been cast around Houston in Harris County at drive-through ballot boxes. And Judge Hanen's response was, first of all, the Supreme Court had approved establishing these ballot boxes where you could just drive through. But he said, you've come to me at the last minute, he was obviously perturbed with that, trying to change the rules. Secondly, he said, I have questions about the legality of these drive-through ballot boxes. It has to do with what's called legislative deference, that the local officials in Houston who set up these ballot boxes had no right to make that change. But he said, even if I found it illegal, I would still count those votes. And one of Daryl's points that he's made repeatedly that it's absolutely true, you have these innocent voters who rely on officials, for instance, in Pennsylvania on the Supreme Court, saying if your vote is postmarked timely and comes in after the election it'll be counted.

BILL MOYERS: Daryl, you mentioned your experience. The fight you were in, what was that, briefly?

DARYL BRISTOW: I represented Bush and Cheney. In 2000, we had three election contests — the Bush v. Gore case, which we all know well, and then two mail-in ballot cases, Seminole County and Martin County, where the Democratic people, were essentially attempting to invalidate 25,000 ballots because the ballot request forms had incorrect voter registration numbers. And the Republican representatives had gone in and corrected those numbers; a violation of Florida law. So, there was a technical violation. And the contention was that because the law had been violated with regard to process, that voter's ballot should be discounted. And if they won those cases, Bush would've lost the presidency. Our position was you cannot set up a system, have a supervisor of elections send out the ballot forms, have the voter actually cast the ballot– all of that, admittedly, the voter had attempted to cast the ballot, had casted the ballot and the Florida Supreme Court confirmed what was state, federal and constitutional law. And that is, you don't invalidate, you don't disenfranchise a voter after the fact when they have relied on the system in order to cast their vote.

BILL MOYERS: Does that experience connect in any relevant way to what's happening right now with all these suits that the Trump team has filed?

DARYL BRISTOW: Well, you know, think about the fact that the Bush campaign, back then, was defending the voting system, was defending the integrity of the ballot. The Trump administration basically is trying to dismantle the integrity of the ballot, disenfranchise voters who innocently cast their ballots. That experience was where the system was tested in one state where there was a few hundred votes' difference. Here, we're talking about five states and a huge amount of ballot difference, and over 5 million votes in the popular vote; a very different situation. A lot less room to stand up and question the election.

BILL MOYERS: David, the last time you and I talked you had just filed a suit against the Postal Service. Where does it stand?

DAVID BERG: We actually filed a suit against Trump, the Postmaster General DeJoy, and against the Postal Service. The object of the exercise was to reverse certain practices that DeJoy triggered. When DeJoy came on board at the Postal Service, DeJoy instituted policies that were, in fact, detrimental to the to on-time delivery of mail-in and absentee ballots. And he froze any more hiring at the Postal Service when thousands upon thousands of postal workers had been felled by the coronavirus or fear of going back to work because of it. Not just Judge Sullivan, the district judge in the district court of D.C. where we filed our suit along with three other suits, but three or four other federal judges issued preliminary injunctions. And by the way, there are eight preliminary injunctions telling the Postal Service, stop doing what you're doing. Reinstitute late delivery, extra trips, hire personnel. Stop this hiring freeze. And, in our case it told them, you've got to reverse these policies. You've got to hire the personnel to get these ballots, these mail-in ballots and absentee ballots delivered on time. This led to a lot of issues, Bill. In Judge Sullivan's case, we had hearings every day for two weeks or more, Saturdays and Sundays included, during which the Postal Service was required to produce evidence of the delivery rates of mail-in ballots and also absentee ballots.


DAVID BERG: And what's astonishing to all of us is that after these injunctions were sent to the United States Postal Service, the testimony was– from high-ranking officials, executive vice presidents who reported directly to DeJoy, a very critical factor– nothing happens there now without his approval. What we learned was that they treated the injunctions as suggestions. They did nothing different. And instead of improving on-time performance, instead of making sure these mail-in and absentee ballots were delivered on time, the performance rates deteriorated, degenerated badly. Now Judge Sullivan stayed very much on top of this. And he issued orders making sure that the various post offices were swept. In only about seven or eight jurisdictions, one example was Atlanta, where they had very sub-standard delivery of absentee and mail-in ballots. Houston, Detroit, astonishing low delivery rates. If I were of a conspiratorial mind, I would say that it's very suspicious. And this was the basis of our lawsuit. Those three are Democratic strongholds. All three of them, Detroit, Atlanta, Houston had sub-standard delivery. There were some other areas like central Pennsylvania that had sub-standard delivery. But that was the exception. And that's a Republican area. So, where does it stand now? We had this discussion with a court the other day. Are we now mooted? Biden has been elected. The ballots have been cast. No, it's not over. That's just one example. And this was my grave concern. We have a runoff in Georgia that could, as the judge pointed out, that could tip the scale of power in the Senate. I mean, it's a point that all of us know. And we cannot give the DeJoy-led Postal Service free reign over delivery of mail-in ballots. So, the case continues. And I think it will end in a consent decree in which the just the Postal Service, through its lawyers at the Justice Department agree that they will never institute the kind of destructive policy, the termination of extra trips by the Postal Service, of late trips, of hiring the personnel they need. That they never again will do that during an election season.

BILL MOYERS: You're looking to the future as well as to the recent election.

DAVID BERG: Absolutely. We want to not only put an end to what they've been doing that impedes the delivery of mail-in and absentee ballots. But we want to stop it from now on in every election year. We can never have this kind of interference.

DARYL BRISTOW: David, a question I have about the lawsuits– when we're sitting here now in a situation where most mail-in ballots tend toward President-elect Biden, even if ballots didn't make it to the polling places, what difference does it make, and what's the endgame for your lawsuits at this point?

DAVID BERG: We had this discussion with the court. Judge Sullivan has issued orders compelling the post office to do sweeps to make sure nothing is left behind. And what the endgame is now, at least from my legal and a political viewpoint– we've got the Georgia runoff and we have to keep our foot on the pedal to make sure that all the mail-in ballots are counted.

DARYL BRISTOW: Got it, got it.

BILL MOYERS: What did the two of you think when Attorney General Barr gave prosecutors around the country to investigate voter fraud claims? It's unusual, isn't it, since Justice Department policy prohibits any action that could influence the outcome of the election until the vote is formally certified, which will be December the 8th? Couldn't the investigations provide the president more information for his lawsuits, if they uncover serious wrongdoing?

DARYL BRISTOW: Well, let me preface my comments by the obvious. I'm a Bush Republican. I represented Bush and Cheney. I knew H.W. Bush well. And Barr was the attorney general under President Bush. I believe that how he has acted is unforgivable. I think he is simply fanning the flame to spread misinformation and speculation about something that is obvious anyway. If there were real fraud, if there was a real malfeasance, the Justice Department would be investigating it. You don't need Bill Barr to make a comment like that to expect your Justice Department to do what they need to do. The point is there isn't any real hard evidence of fraud. There really isn't anything that we can see. You know, if Barr were going to be helpful, he would say, "All right, I'm ordering the Justice Department to step up because…" and then "Here's the meat." Well, where is the meat? It's just not there.

BILL MOYERS: Does it resonate with you in any way that the morning before he issued that letter the attorney general was seen entering and leaving Mitch McConnell's Capitol Hill office and that, earlier, 40 Republicans in Congress sent a letter to Barr, asking him to get to the bottom of the voter fraud claims? Does that raise any suspicion on your part?

DAVID BERG: I see a different kind of conspiracy, Bill, that really troubles me. If you connect the dots, the object of this exercise I think is twofold by the Republicans. They are attempting to undermine the belief that Biden was elected lawfully. There are 71 million people in this country who voted for Donald Trump. And I think Donald Trump is going to preside over his 71 million voters as if it's a mini country. It is anti-democratic. I don't know why these Republicans are so scared of him now. He's toothless. But there's two issues that really trouble me. The lawsuits themselves are designed to undermine confidence so that Trump can claim after the election Biden was not elected lawfully. And it's racist at heart. What they're saying is black folks have to cheat to be able to win an election. That's the underlying appeal of the attack on the election. The second thing is, I'm terribly worried that the Biden folks are doing what they can. But the refusal to allow Biden full access, to be able to send his folks in to each department. You send folks in to find out what the hot spots are. In Trump's case, he's handcuffing Biden and I would be very fearful of some sort of terrorist attack or some incredible failure of security. I know Biden knows where the bathrooms are in the White House, as they say. But he can't know all the dangers we face from the forces arrayed against the United States.

DARYL BRISTOW: Bill, let me weigh in on what's happening with the Republicans now in terms of their support of these conspiracy theories. I really believe that the Republican party is panicked over the proposition that they may lose the two races in Georgia for Senator, and that they have got to whip that base into a frenzy and energy them so that they can get that vote out in Georgia. And if they don't get that vote out you may have a Senate controlled by the Democrats. I think that's much of what's going on. It's shameful that that would be the case, but it is politics.

BILL MOYERS: There's a political scientist of note at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. And he's in a conservative environment. He told Evan Osnos of THE NEW YORKER recently, quote, "There's no other way to say this. The Republican party, with notably few exceptions, has become a party of semi-loyalty to democracy. If you want to stop this, the answer is very simple: The Republican politicians who know better in the House, the Senate and the governorships have to speak up. If they don't put the preservation of democracy and civility over their own political careers, we're going to keep sliding down the path." Does that make any sense to you as a Bush Republican?

DARYL BRISTOW: I say amen to that. I voted as Biden had put it, as a character issue, as an issue of integrity, as an issue of what do we want to stand up and represent the face of our nation no matter what the politics are. I couldn't find a 401K issue or a tax issue or another issue that was important enough for me to see a continuation of the personality that has put such a bad face on this country for four years.

BILL MOYERS: David, I think I heard you say that the president as a lame duck has no ammunition in his rifle, that he's just a noise-maker now.

DAVID BERG: I did say that. I said there was a second thing that concerned me, Bill—

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, yeah.

DAVID BERG: And that's his takeover of the Defense Department. There's a lot of speculation about why he made the move with Secretary of Defense Esper who was a stalwart, a bulwark, against some pretty irrational moves that Trump wanted to make. Moves that would harm our defense. I think that Anne Applebaum's TWILIGHT OF DEMOCRACY should send chills through any country where virtually 50% of the electorate is in, basically, in my mind, a cult following of Trump. I'm sure some percentage of the 71 million votes were not cast because they believe everything that Trump has to say. But there's grave danger, as she points out, in the growing rise of right-wing governments. And Biden's victory is a victory for democracy. The number of voters is a sign that democracy may in fact survive this. But I have grave doubts that our country is going to stop the slide toward an autocratic government, toward– we came so close. We've had a man in government who has crushes on strongmen, on Putin, Duterte, on Kim Jong-un says we had love letters. And how can people, how can 71 million people, my fellow citizens, vote for someone that obviously crazy?

DARYL BRISTOW: Let me speak to it along the conservative side, on the Republican side–


DARYL BRISTOW: I don't feel quite the way David does about all 70 million of those people who voted for Trump. I believe there's a very substantial percentage that held their nose when they voted for Trump. Much of that vote is reflective of a concern that perhaps the Democratic party could go too far to the left. We have strong views, far left; we have strong views, far right. And I believe we are basically a in-the-middle, slightly-left country. And those people who were in the middle and even slightly left may have been voting for Trump out of fear that the political system may move too far to the liberal side. I don't give up on the American people yet. I do not. I do believe we have a significant percentage that we've got to find a man like President-elect Biden to lead our country into a more moderate view and accepting the fact that we are a very different country than we were 200 years ago, in terms of the makeup of the people who live here and who must be cared for here.

DAVID BERG: May I– Daryl disagrees with me so may I rebut my former friend, Daryl Bristow? Obviously, what this presidency has done for the American people, at least for my side of the aisle– I was brought up, Daryl knows, and you know, to believe that Republicans were born without opposable thumbs. I mean, we were a family of yellow Democrats. And what this has done for people like me–

BILL MOYERS: I think in Texas, we call them yellow dog Democrats

DARYL BRISTOW: That's exactly right.

BILL MOYERS: In Oklahoma, we call them yellow dog Democrats. But Arkansas may have a slightly different definition of a yellow Democrat than a yellow dog Democrat.

DAVID BERG: Oh my God, I'm with two Oklahoma natives. I don't know what to do, how to rebut two hillbillies who are ganging up on me. Okay? And Arkansas– I came from the highly educated part of the Arkansas because I got through grammar school. But what troubles me so deeply is, as a liberal Democrat, and I may be the only liberal Democrat, Daryl, you'll be happy to know, really worried about the national debt. I think we have huge problems facing us and Biden has an extraordinary opportunity to become the FDR of this age. We have huge structural problems. We have huge societal problems. And I don't give up on the American people at all. But I do think if you underestimate the people who believe blindly that what Trump says to them about fraudulent elections, you'll never go wrong. They are absolutely a drain on democracy.

BILL MOYERS: What both of you have said takes me back to the opening of our discussion. Every headline I've seen almost in the last two days talk about it. And one of my favorite writers, Tom Engelhardt, says "We're in a gridlocked, post-election moment of previously unimaginable extremity in an increasingly over-armed, ever more divided country that used to be known as the "last superpower."" He says, "With Donald Trump's America still fully mobilized and ready for… well, for anything… don't count on good tidings ahead." Does that have your teeth grinding?

DARYL BRISTOW: It does. It does. I wear my mouth guard during the day now.

BILL MOYERS: Here's another headline, David, from yesterday: "Trump's Transition Chaos is National Security Nightmare." He "…remains commander-in-chief for only ten more weeks, until President-elect Biden takes office in January. But during that time, he's in a position to make destabilizing foreign policy choices that could… restrict Biden's future policies." So, while the president's been tweeting like crazy on Twitter, his administration is elevating the risk of mayhem and alarming experienced officials across Washington, D.C. And as you know, he signed an executive order recently that to place political loyalists in some very influential roles usually held by civil servants. So, what, in a sense. they're suggesting is a kind of slow-motion coup, which many people (conservatives) would say is a conspiracy on the left. What do you think about that, both of you?

DAVID BERG: Let me address that Bill, because it's inherent in what I mentioned about the transition; the failure to engage in a logical, orderly transition of government. So, obviously, we have President-elect Biden who is not being armed with the proper daily briefings. That may come that may happen as of next week. Senator Lankford, a Republican Senator from Oklahoma says he's going to make it happen. But you also have hotspots. You have issues within every department, if you just look at the Defense Department, there's speculation about why he's got his cronies there. I realize several of the people under Esper resigned. But he has his man, Miller, at Defense now. What's to stop him from picking a fight, picking some sort of military action, to try to galvanize the country? You can't get rid of a president in the middle of a war. Some folks dismiss that as paranoia. But there are many gifted thinkers in the political science field who are concerned about that. Or is it that he just wants to get all our troops home by Christmas? And that, itself, presents defense problems. The concern I have– I think it's absurd to think that there's a coup from the left. They're accusing now Dr. Fauci and, of course, the old standby, George Soros and I've forgotten whom else, maybe Aaron Judge from the Yankees of being involved in a coup. I think the real problem, the real chaos that's being created is designed specifically to convince some huge portion– maybe not 71 million people as Daryl rightly points out, but some huge portion of this country, that this election was stolen. I know how I felt after the 2000 election. But I lived with that because the Supreme Court, while I didn't agree with their decision, put an end to the fight. I did have the suspicion that the election was rigged because the Republicans controlled the processes. But can you imagine now having people at the highest level of government telling so many Americans this election was stolen from you? There's a potential for blood in the streets, Bill.

DARYL BRISTOW: I might comment on something David said with regard to at least 2000 and the fear that something was rigged. The MIAMI HERALD commissioned a national accounting firm to go conduct a recount in Florida as though the Florida Supreme Court decision had held. Bush won that recount. So, the Supreme Court did not make George Bush president. The voters in Florida made George president. And to move to today, my overarching disappointment in people that I knew, for example, John Cornyn, someone that I knew pretty well when he was a Texas State Supreme Court justice. The idea that these people would sit back, even be complicit, in some of the irrational things that Trump does simply because they are fearful about some element of their radical, right-wing base, to keep them in office has caused, as far as I'm concerned, the destruction of the Republican party that I knew and that I loved and that I felt was a good counterpoint in terms of conservatism versus liberalism. I think that there's a reason for both sides to argue those points. But we've lost that and as long as Trump can fan that fire and these people are not willing to stand up and do the right thing then, Bill, we have real reason for concern about how President-elect Biden can pull this country back together, how we can have civil discourse.

DAVID BERG: I think that we need a phalanx of prominent Republicans to do what Goldwater and his colleagues did when they went to the White House and told Nixon he had to resign. It's going to take a change of heart. I've talked to people in politics who privately tell you they can't stand what this man is doing. Oh, I wouldn't have him to my house. And you hear reports of Republicans who know this election is over. I think that one of the hallmarks of this period in history will be the Republican Senatorial cowardice in the face of Donald Trump and angry tweets. We had a discussion right after the election, Bill, and it stuck with me. You pointed out that the coalescing around an individual, a personality by the populace, is the first step. The second step is when big business– and I use the analogy that as Hitler got the backing of the Krupps and the German billionaires of the time– and all that remains was the coalescing between Trump and the military. And I was brought up to be suspicious of the military, and now I'm just grateful as I can be because they have been a bulwark against extraordinarily divisive politics. Look at General Mike Esper at Defense apologizing for their involvement in that hideous display in Lafayette Square where Attorney Barr, like some scout for an army troop, goes ahead and makes sure that the area has been cleared of peaceful protesters, cleared by the use of military. Look at what happened. You had Esper and Milley apologizing for their conduct. They have been the main bulwark against what could've been a coup from the right. And I do not believe that that was out of the question.

BILL MOYERS: Earlier this year Trump told a reporter, quote, "I have the right to do a lot of things that people don't even know about." And then Alan Dershowitz wrote this piece with the headline, "Does President Trump Have the Power to Declare Martial Law?" Both of you have spent much of your lives at this intersection where the Constitution meets politics. Does the president, a lame duck, does he have the power to declare martial law?

DARYL BRISTOW: The short answer to that is if the rest of the government sits back and does nothing, he can do whatever he wants to do. Unless our courts step in, unless our Justice Department steps in, unless our Senate and our Congress steps in, unless we step up and say, "No–" he can do a lotta damage. But if we turn around and say, "Wait a minute. We've got a system that is the bright, shining system of the world. We cannot let it disappear," then he won't have that power.

DAVID BERG: Specifically, under the emergency powers, the president can declare martial law. Lincoln, for instance, suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. He can do that. But I think Daryl's right. The danger of martial law would be that all ordered to stay in our houses. The Electoral College is not allowed to proceed. And the president just stays in office. But we have safeguards, as the Biden campaign aptly put it, there are ways to escort a trespasser out of the White House. I do not think the public will is there to allow him to invoke these emergency powers. I want to ask both of you a question if I might. What is the moral movement in the country now that meets Biden as the right man at the right time to bring us together?

DARYL BRISTOW: Well, we live in a country now that is a country that has a make-up very different from the 1950s. And so, there is a moral imperative. And I am not going to give up on the American people. I am not going to give up on the on the hope that there is going to be a leader that can ignite those feelings and that we can come together, left toward the right, right toward the left, to get to what's meaningful. And that is meaningful health care. It is meaningful advancements for minorities. It is meaningful changes in terms of the vast disparity of wealth and poverty. There are so many issues like that out there that are so dramatic right now. And they've been masked by four years of rhetoric that is just hard for me to take.

DAVID BERG: Can I respond to Trotsky, Bill, for just a moment? My friend Daryl and I go way back. My faith in the American people comes from having been in front of so many juries and see them work so hard and do the right thing. What troubles me, and I don't want to be Pollyanna. And I don't think you're being Pollyanna, Daryl, at all. I have great hope, a great belief in the American people. Like Churchill said, you know, after trying everything else, Americans always do the right thing. But what troubles me– and we haven't talked about this. But as you both know, there is a straight line in this country over a 400-year period that goes from slavery to the Civil War, to Reconstruction, to the deconstruction of Reconstruction, to Jim Crow laws, lynching. You can go right through to the high moment of, "One man, one vote." It all goes back to the issue of voting. And you bring it through to the present day. And let's just look at Georgia– Governor Kemp, when he was the Secretary of State, he was the king of voter suppression. I think that one of the most extraordinary moments in American history, and I think that the historians will agree, is the moment when the umbrella was taken down from the storm. The analogy that Justice Ginsburg utilized in the case of Shelby County v. Holder. There was a provision that said that any change in election laws, any at all, had to be approved by the Justice Department in certain states. It was all the Confederate states, all the Southern states, some northern counties in New York, and some in California where there'd been a history of voter suppression. And virtually everything that Justice Ginsburg predicted: purging of polls, the new poll taxes, the identification, the causes– all of the impediments to voting. This is the central issue in the division between those who believe as you do, Daryl, and I do, that racial justice has to come at last. And it's extraordinary that people in Georgia overcame impediments to voting. Georgia has more procedures that impede voting, suppress voting. What a miracle that the Democrats won there. That Biden flipped that state and just parenthetically, you think that the Republicans are turning out their base with this attack on mail-in balloting. Wait till you see what happens now that Democrats, especially the African American community in Georgia realizes, "We can win." But I am terribly concerned. Anyone involved in politics, anyone who thinks about this country. I would rename Dr. James Cone's book. The title should be extended from THE CROSS AND THE LYNCHING TREE to, "The Cross and the Lynching Tree and Shelby v. Holder," where a majority of the Supreme Court just unleashed the gates of voter suppression by striking down important provisions in the Voting Rights Act, just gutted it.

DARYL BRISTOW: Let me add one specific in terms of my hope that we may turn a corner. It is in the youth of our country.


DARYL BRISTOW: As the younger people, they are accepting of the America that we live in. They are concerned about the rights of minorities and about economic disparity. We may not get there tomorrow. But I really do believe that the bright spot is the hope that our younger people as they come in will make a big difference.

BILL MOYERS: I am an optimist about America. A conservative I admire is an economist name Bruce Bartlett. He moved away from the Republican party some years ago because he got concerned about the economics that the conservatives were following. He wrote a piece for the present NEW REPUBLIC that says, "Every four years Americans get a little lesson in Constitutional law when they're reminded that presidents are not actually elected by the people. The winner of the popular vote nationally doesn't necessarily win the election. The official winner is chosen by the Electoral College." Now there are people out there writing right now that that's Trump's and the Republican's strategy is to try to frustrate the election so that some states send their electoral votes to whom they choose to be. Do either of you think there's any credibility to the argument that the Republicans are trying to get this shifted from the popular vote in their states to the electors that they can send if they want to?

DARYL BRISTOW: There is no question in my mind that the lawyers and the administration are aware of those states. And if you do not have the Electoral College that has been selected by the vote by November 23. The legislature votes on its own slate of electors and says, okay, these are the electors that are going to elect the president. You can bet that the Trump administration has got those issues in mind. And they're not easily answered.

DARYL BRISTOW: Let me add one thing. And that is in order for the horribles that I talk about to come to pass, you would have to have a serial pollution of the system. And it's not going to happen. You'd have to have the courts doing things they shouldn't do, legislatures doing things they shouldn't do, Congress doing things it should not do. I don't believe it's going to happen. Not with this vote, not with this many states, not with this mandate. I think President-elect Biden is going to be President Biden.

BILL MOYERS: What happens if Donald Trump refuses to leave?

DAVID BERG: There will be nothing more satisfying to 77 million Americans who voted for Biden to see him do a perp walk right out of the White House. He will be removed. He is not going to have squatter's rights to the White House.

BILL MOYERS: There are 71 million who don't want him to leave the White House.

DAVID BERG: Well, I under–

BILL MOYERS: That's a lot of people.

DAVID BERG: No, but my point is somewhat different. And that is that we would be pleased to see what is inevitably going to happen. And I believe it was Michael Cohen who said that Trump is going to go to Mar-a-Lago at Christmas and never return. There's no institutional support for him to stay in the White House unless there's a military coup. And that's not happening. I have no fear of that. I'm with Daryl 100%. On January 20th, we will see President Biden and Vice President Harris sworn in.

BILL MOYERS: Daryl Bristow, David Berg, thank you very much for joining me. I learned a lot and I enjoyed being with you.

DAVID BERG: Thank you, Bill.


ANNOUNCER: Thanks for listening to Moyers on Democracy. You can find more information about the 2020 election lawsuits at Until next time, you'll find all this and more at

What will it take to shock people out of their routines?

The US is enjoying a nice little simulation of what life is like in a failed state, in the midst of a national crisis. The top of the government has been essentially rendered non-functional, if it ever was. Donald Trump is using the White House solely as a TV room, and has completely disengaged from the coronavirus outbreak. When he said that you wouldn't hear about COVID after November 3, he must have meant from him. Beyond raging at the "medical deep state" for announcing progress on a vaccine after the election, there's been nary a word.

Trump has always been unforgivably lazy, and that's part of why we're in the third wave of this crisis instead of the second. But the consequences are even greater right now, given the skyrocketing numbers of cases and hospitalizations across the country. You may see Trump as a moron but 72.6 million people (and counting) thought he was good enough to be president, and if the coronavirus doesn't exist for him, it doesn't exist for them either. NPR had this heartbreaking story yesterday of an ICU nurse in central Michigan who said she constantly hears regret in her patients, just before they're placed onto ventilators. "I didn't know COVID was real, and I wish I'd worn a mask," they say, struggling to breathe. That's the result of an utter lack of leadership.

That leadership is urgently needed. We had 34,000 COVID hospitalizations across the US a month ago; there are 67,000 and rising now. The system will be at capacity within a couple weeks, on that trajectory; some regions are already there. Thanksgiving is about to "pour gasoline on a fire," as one Biden task force member puts it, with more travel than at any point in the crisis. The medical profession has done exemplary work, and we have strategies and treatments we didn't have in the spring. If people can't get the medical care they need, none of that matters.

Let's put lockdowns aside for a moment, as I'm dubious that any elected official is willing to go there right now. In the spring, New York and other locations set up field hospitals and called in retired health care workers to increase capacity. Outside of mobile morgues in El Paso I don't see any evidence of that happening right now. There's no federal assets or even interest in this basic function of keeping people alive, and not much activity I can see at the state level, particularly in parts of the Midwest that are hit the hardest.

So what can stand in for an absentee government? What's left is personal responsibility, a lot to ask of a public that's adrift. Really we're on our own now. And we can actually make a difference. The public health measures are not unknowable: wear masks, avoid close congregations to the extent possible, don't eat indoors at restaurants or work out indoors at gyms. That would cover an overwhelming majority of this and slow the spread, giving the sick a chance to actually get treatment. With a vaccine in sight, it wouldn't even be an open-ended commitment.

At many moments of the crisis, personal behavior has actually led the way. Restaurant demand was collapsing before any lockdowns took hold. Mask usage has actually been decent, though obviously not good enough. People starting to hoard food again could actually be a positive sign. But the real moment when the public took the lead was during that first phase of lockdowns, where everyone actually paid heed, went inside, and engaged in a collective action, a rare moment for this country.

That came right after the NBA reacted to one positive test from a player by shutting down the season. Tom Hanks' positive test happened around the same time. That was the news needed to get everyone to take things seriously. What is the antecedent to that now? What is going to shock people away from their normal routines?

I mean, it's probably football, our secular religion in America. There is active talk now about the college football playoff being delayed. The majority of the SEC schedule was postponed for this weekend, along with several other games. With quarantine and contact tracing protocols being what they are, it's entirely possible there aren't enough bodies available to finish the season, and at some point you'd expect players to just start opting out. They're not being paid to risk their health, after all.

In the NFL, at least one practice facility is closed, but there's so much damn money involved that you'd have to see a league-wide outbreak before the season is derailed. The college game, though, is probably different. And that's as important, if not more so, to a significant portion of the population.

It's beyond sad that I'm sitting here strategizing over whether we can see enough leadership—or really resignation—among athletic directors and football coaches, because there isn't any in Washington or state houses. But the prospect of 100,000 more people dying before Inauguration Day has me grasping at straws. There's a vast leadership desert in America right now, and I'm looking for an oasis.

Days Without a Bailout Oversight Chair


Today I Learned

  • Elon Musk has it and is blaming the tests, which are antigen tests and admittedly not that accurate. (Reuters)
  • The oldest member of Congress has it. (Washington Post)
  • These billionaire Trump donors have it. (The Guardian)
  • Rand Paul, a doctor (OK an eye doctor), thinks all those people above are lucky duckies because they'll have immunity. (Talking Points Memo)
  • The liberal wonk consensus appears to be that real fiscal relief will only happen by giving Republicans more tax cuts in exchange. (Vox)
  • Avoiding canvassing seemed like the right public health move but may have been wrong for winning the election, Democrats admit. (HuffPost)
  • The mutation of the virus in minks won't be a problem for the vaccine, Dr. Fauci asserts. (CNBC)
  • Thoughts of rage about the third wave. (ProPublica)

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