Igor Derysh

Trump spent his final moments in the White House raging at Republican leaders on Capitol Hill: report

With no one else to blame for his own election defeat, President Trump has zeroed in on one of his earliest Congressional backers, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-CA.

According to the New York Times' Maggie Haberman, Trump is spending his final moments in the White House fuming because he is still convinced that he won the election. In keeping with his aversion to personal responsibility, Trump has now put a target on his once stalwart ally, who has, as of late, not shown the unconditional support he demands.

McCarthy –– who supported the President's crusade to overturn the election and voted against the electoral certification of President-elect Joe Biden –– surprised his colleagues on the House floor last week when he cast slight aspersion on Trump following the riot on Capitol Hill. "The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters," McCarthy said, treading a fine line, "He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding."

After condemning the riot despite propagating the very lies which incited it, McCarthy stopped short of calling for Trump's impeachment, instead suggesting that censure or a bi-partisan investigation would be better suited for the circumstances. Although McCarthy said just about the bare minimum to oppose Trump, the President is reportedly furious with him for not staying true to the Big Lie. The President's sudden disownment of one of his most loyal boosters comes just after Trump's bizarre disavowal of Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump asked to do the impossible by invalidating the Electoral College votes.

After supporting Trump's baseless election fraud crusade, but condemning the Capitol riot while defending Trump against a second impeachment, McCarthy has now alienated himself on Capitol Hill, with Democrats and Republicans alike demanding that he step down.

The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican political action committee, denounced McCarthy as a "pathetic enabler," telling the Senator, "pack up [his] desk." A blistering op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, a paper-based in McCarthy's home state of California called him a "soulless anti-democracy conspirator." Even McCarthy's very own mentor retired California Congressman Bill Thomas tarred his former protégé as a "hypocrite" for supporting the "the phony lies the President perpetuated."

The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump Republican political action committee, denounced McCarthy as a "pathetic enabler," telling the Senator, "pack up [his] desk." A blistering op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, a paper-based in McCarthy's home state of California called him a "soulless anti-democracy conspirator." Even McCarthy's very own mentor retired California Congressman Bill Thomas tarred his former protégé as a "hypocrite" for supporting the "the phony lies the President perpetuated."

Cruz and Hawley became DC pariahs — but their 'cynical ploy' for 2024 may have worked anyway

Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have faced widespread condemnation for their roles in pushing the false election-rigging narrative that fueled the Capitol riot. But some political insiders think their stunt could still aid their 2024 Republican primary hopes, despite the violence it wrought.

Hawley and Cruz, without any evidence of widespread fraud, led the objections to the Electoral College results during a joint session of Congress that was ultimately delayed several hours when a mob of President Donald Trump's supporters overran Capitol Police and stormed the halls of Congress. The senators' electoral challenge was slammed by many as a "cynical ploy" intended to gin up 2024 primary support among Trump's base, but it seemed to have struck a chord among the Trump diehards hunting for lawmakers throughout the building. "I think Cruz would want us to do this," one rioter said in a video that showed the mob rummaging through drawers in the Senate chamber. "So I think we're good."

The blowback for the two senators was swift. Hawley, in particular, lost his book deal, a major donor, his Republican mentor and financial backing from a growing number of corporate PACs after he pumped his fist to the pro-Trump rioters before they stormed the Capitol. Two of the biggest Missouri newspapers called for his resignation. One of Cruz's top aides resigned in response to the riot. Dozens of Democrats have called for both to resign and have suggested censuring them. House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., even called for Cruz and Hawley to be put on the FBI's no-fly list.

But while mainstream figures have been quick to condemn the two lawmakers, "they're probably not the ones that Hawley is appealing to," argued Adam Jentleson, who served as chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "After the violence, 138 Republicans took stock and decided it was still in their interests to stick with Hawley. He wants to be a hero to the right. Seems to be working."

Jentleson noted that Republican voters have been loyal to Trump since 2016, and there's not much reason to think they will now reject loyalists like Hawley.

"Hawley is likely to emerge with the political upper hand... and it's important to be clear-eyed about that," he said. "Elite opinion may pile on him for a while. But by this time next year his GOP colleagues will be begging him to do fundraising events for them."

What do the polls say now?

Early polling suggests that becoming mainstream pariahs has not hurt Hawley's nor Cruz's brands among the party's base. An Economist/YouGov poll found that although their general favorability is underwater, Republican voters back Cruz 61-20 and Hawley by a 2-to-1 margin, though the latter is still largely unknown to the majority of voters. An Axios/Ipsos poll similarly found that most voters disapprove of the senators' "recent behavior," but 61% of Republicans said they approve of Cruz's actions, and 46% of Republicans approve of Hawley's.

Trump voters have largely stayed supportive. More than 90% of his supporters back his attempt to challenge results of the election he lost and want him to run again in 2024, according to the Axios/Ipsos survey. And while less than half of "traditional" GOP voters said they felt the same in that survey, a new CNN poll found that 75% of Republicans believe Biden did not legitimately win the election. On the other hand, Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump last week, predicted that he "may very well have" ended his political career just days after taking office.

"I don't trust any polling right now," Alex Conant, a veteran Republican strategist who served as the communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio's, R-Fla., 2016 presidential campaign, said in an interview with Salon. He added that it was "too soon to say" how the fallout from the riot would affect the 2024 primary picture but acknowledged that the senators' attempts to cast themselves as victims of the left in response to the backlash could be effective, as it has been for Trump.

And, like Trump, both senators have been unrepentant about their own actions since the Capitol siege, despite condemning the violence. Cruz has denied any involvement in fueling the riot while blaming Trump's "rhetoric." Hawley said he "will never apologize for giving voice to the millions of Missourians and Americans who have concerns about the integrity of our elections."

"Some wondered why I stuck with my objection following the violence at the Capitol," he wrote in a subsequent op-ed. "The reason is simple: I will not bow to a lawless mob, or allow criminals to drown out the legitimate concerns of my constituents."

But how significant is their support?

Conant, who also worked in the George W. Bush administration and as the top spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said that backing Trump's electoral challenge was a "dumb idea" that "clearly turned off a lot of voters and other key people inside the party are really upset with them."

"I don't think that they're any more popular now with Trump's base," he said. "Let's be honest, Trump's base is… small relative to the nation as a whole and… they're loyal to Trump and I don't think that support is going to be transferrable to Hawley or Cruz or anyone else because of a vote they took."

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat who ran for president in 2004, agreed that Trump's relatively small base was likely to warm up to Cruz and Hawley in response to their backing but predicted it would doom the Republican Party.

"Yeah, Josh and Cruz might make it easier for themselves to win the Republican primary, but I think the Republican party is going to suffer enormously if it's still going on in 2024," Dean said in an interview, adding, "that's assuming we can hold the line against violence."

Dean predicted that "there's going to be more violence" but believes that the serious and public consequences facing the perpetrators may make "all these conspirators — not the crazy people who stormed Washington — but the 70 million people who are delusional about the election" rethink their politics. This is "not a revolutionary moment," he said, "it's a movement that's been hijacked by people who are basically authoritarians and fascists."

"Basically, we are where we are because there are a whole class of people who basically surrendered their agency in some desperation to Donald Trump," he said. "It's exactly the same phenomenon as Hitler or Mussolini or people like that. And they exist in this conspiracy theorist world as a defense… So a lot of those people are going to change that unconscious defense when it doesn't work for them anymore… When the situation becomes intolerable as a result of believing in the conspiracy theory, a lot of people who are not crazy but may be embracing the conspiracy theory, they're going to stop it because it doesn't suit them anymore.

"I can't imagine we're going to be at the same place in 2024, because I don't think the country will survive another three years of this," he added.

How radicalized is the Republican party now?

While Trump's influence is likely to wane, especially if he remains banned from mainstream social networks, the hold that his supporters have on the party may not. Some Republicans reportedly worried that they could face violence from their own supporters if they "voted the wrong way" on the Electoral College challenge and Trump's impeachment, noted Kurt Braddock, an extremism expert at American University.

Braddock said he was not surprised how many people in the party "have been radicalized by the far-right" and predicted those emboldened by Trump's presidency are not likely to quickly go back "underground."

"Truth be told, those individuals have always been there," he said. "Trump gave them a symbol to kind of rally around and to make them think that their beliefs were normalized and they were justified in the sorts of things they were doing."

"It's very difficult to see which direction" the party will go in the coming years, he added. "If you asked me six months ago if I thought QAnon adherents would be elected to Congress I would have said no. But, I mean, here we are."

Braddock, who has called for Hawley and Cruz to be investigated for their roles in the riot, said the two should face sanctions for fueling the narrative that led to the attack, but agreed that very little of the blowback has come from the right. He said he hopes that the ongoing condemnation could sway some Republicans.

"I think that the Republicans aren't pushing back on Hawley too much, but the pushback on Hawley by the general population… will be seen by some Republicans and that kind of phenomenon when they see the larger population rejecting it so soundly, I don't know if it will have a huge effect but I'd like to think it will have some effect," he said.

Jentleson said there was little intra-party blowback toward Hawley and Cruz because of "what the modern GOP has become."

"It is a party that will ultimately reward the kind of reprehensible behavior Hawley has displayed," he wrote on Twitter.

Where does this leave Mike Pence?

While Hawley and Cruz tried to appeal to Trump's supporters by backing his false election-rigging claims, Vice President Mike Pence, who stood loyally at Trump's side for four years, has been repeatedly criticized by the president for failing to circumvent the Constitution to overturn the election on January 6, framing it as a betrayal. Though Pence has drawn praise for standing up to Trump's tantrums, it's unclear if the party's base will look favorably on the president's longtime stoic sidekick.

"It's very hard to predict what voters are going to want years from now," said Conant. "In the long run, I don't think there's any question that what he did last week will look very good. History will remember his actions well, and he will end up defining his time as vice president. Clearly, I think there's some backlash in the moment from some of Trump's most hardcore supporters, but how relevant that is from three years from now, I don't know."

Braddock said the turn against Pence was one of the most "amazing, incredible, difficult to believe" things about the whole ordeal.

"In the span of 12 hours, Mike Pence [went from] the hero of the Trump Republicans to 'hang Mike Pence' at the Capitol building," he said, referring to the chants of some Trump supporters as they stormed through the halls of Congress.

"As long as the party is beholden to Trumpism… I don't think there is a place for Mike Pence, because if the party goes in the direction of the people outside the Capitol on January 6, I don't see people who were calling for his hanging to vote for him anytime soon," he said.

Mainstream Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appear eager to "cast off the shadow of Trump," he added. "If they're able to do that, there might be a place for people like Mike Pence. If they can't, it's difficult seeing Trumpism or Trump Republicans ever really going for someone like him again."

Will the backlash last?

Dean said the "more significant" aspect of the fallout is the corporate backlash against the lawmakers who backed Trump's election objections.

"The business community has tremendous leverage here," he said. "It was the business community who stepped up in the Civil Rights movement and even to a lesser extent in the climate change movement when government wasn't acting. And so if business makes good on their threats not to fund Republicans who are denying the election, that's pretty significant."

Dean said that members like Hawley and Cruz should be "expelled from the Senate" for their role in the riot in order for the country to try to move past the Trump era but doesn't think Congress should pursue large numbers of expulsions like the ones called for by freshman Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo.

"Because the truth is if you do that, most of them will get reelected in their special elections. So I think expulsion from Congress should be used very judiciously," he said. "What we really need is a truth and reconciliation commission. But in order to do that, the Republicans have to be willing to admit guilt and they're not there yet. And our job is to make their lives so unpleasant politically that they'll get there."

The Pentagon denied multiple requests to send National Guard during Capitol siege: GOP governor

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said federal officials repeatedly denied his requests to deploy the state's National Guard to quell the deadly Capitol riot on Wednesday as members of Congress pleaded for assistance.

Hogan told reporters on Thursday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called him from an "undisclosed bunker" and were "pleading" for assistance as Congress was overrun by Trump supporters after the president urged them to go to the Capitol during a speech falsely claiming the election was stolen.

"[Hoyer] said that the U.S. Capitol Police was overwhelmed, that there was no federal law enforcement presence and that the leaders of Congress were pleading with me, as the Governor of Maryland, for assistance from Maryland's National Guard and State Police," he said.

Hogan said he mobilized 200 "specially trained" state troopers and "immediately" offered support but the Defense Department "repeatedly denied" approval for him to send in the state's National Guard. The Republican governor said that after an hour and a half he received a call "out of the blue, not from the secretary of defense, not through what would be normal channels," but from Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who said the guardsmen could "come as soon as possible."

"I was ready, willing and able to immediately deploy [National Guard] to the Capitol, however we were repeatedly denied approval to do so," he said.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, called up the National Guard after he received calls from Pelosi and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser asking for help. A spokeswoman for Northam told The Washington Post that the governor called up the National Guard immediately and worked with the Defense Department "only after the fact," though the administration was "able to reach the necessary agreements before guardsmen crossed state lines."

While governors control the National Guard, they have to receive approval from the Pentagon to deploy. Since D.C. is not a state, only the Pentagon has the authority to deploy the D.C. Guard. Bowser complained that the Defense Department took far too long to deploy guardsmen after the Capitol came under attack and CNN and The New York Times reported that Trump resisted deploying troops, prompting acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller to reach out to Vice President Mike Pence instead.

Some National Guard troops were stationed around the city but not at the Capitol. The Pentagon disputed reports that it denied or delayed requests, claiming that Miller immediately called up 1,100 members of the D.C. Guard after receiving a call from Bowser at 2 pm. though the White House did not announce that additional troops were activated until after 3:30 pm and a Pentagon spokesman did not make the same announcement until 3:52 pm. Those troops had to travel to an armory to gear up and load vehicles and arrived shortly before 6 pm, according to the Defense Department.

Defense officials also disputed that Trump did not sign off on the mobilization. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters that Trump signed off on National Guard support days earlier and any contact between Pence and Miller was more a courtesy to keep the White House apprised of the situation.

Pentagon officials blamed the Capitol Police, which rejected its offers of support. The Associated Press and other outlets also reported that Capitol Police officials turned down an offer to send National Guard troops ahead of Wednesday's violence and later rebuffed an offer from the Justice Department to send FBI agents after the Capitol was overrun.

McCarthy told reporters that 340 National Guardsmen were assigned mostly to traffic control but "no other requests were made" until Bowser called the Pentagon. Hoffman told reporters that the Capitol Police and the Justice Department "believed they had sufficient personnel and did not make a request" for additional assistance before the riot.

Kenneth Rapuano, the assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said that Capitol Police officials turned down assistance on Tuesday and Wednesday.

But The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon placed "tight limits" on the DC Guard, issuing memos on Monday and Tuesday in response to an earlier request from Bowser prohibiting guardsmen from receiving any ammunition or riot gear and interacting with any protesters unless it was in self-defense. "The limits were established because the Guard hadn't been asked to assist with crowd or riot control," the outlet reported.

Bowser told the Post that Capitol Police "made it perfectly clear that they needed extraordinary help, including the National Guard. There was some concern from the Army of what it would look like to have armed military personnel on the grounds of the Capitol."

It took roughly three hours for the National Guard to mobilize to the Capitol, at which point rioters had already forced lawmakers to evacuate in gas masks and ransacked the Senate chamber and lawmakers' offices. The Pentagon left it to law enforcement agencies to clear the building "amid the hesitancy about sending Guard units into the building itself," according to the Post.

McCarthy told reporters officials did not in their "wildest imagination" believe rioters would breach the Capitol.

Many DC and federal officials questioned why the National Guard was not more prepared to assist quickly, noting their overwhelming preemptive deployment ahead of Black Lives Matter protests in the nation's capital. A former Trump Cabinet member told The Military Times that there needs to be an investigation into why guardsmen were not ready earlier.

"Why wasn't the D.C. National Guard, and perhaps Guard troops from Maryland and Virginia, there ahead of time?" the former Cabinet member said. "It makes absolutely no sense that they were not there ahead of time. This was not an intelligence failure. The president invited these folks to Washington. He met with them and incited them. Everyone knew they were coming for a significant period of time."

McCarthy told reporters that intelligence ahead of the riot was "all over the board."

"There were estimates of 80,000 there were estimates around 20 to 25 [thousand]. So getting back to just the pure intelligence. It was all over the board," he told reporters. "It was very hard to make that determination of what you're dealing with."

D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee claimed on Thursday that there was "no intelligence that suggested there would be a breach of the U.S. Capitol" even though many of the rioters plotted the assault publicly on social media. Capitol Police and the Justice Department also believed they had enough resources and appropriate intelligence to handle the crowd, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Wall Street Journal.

"They were flat wrong," he said. "Yesterday was an embarrassment to their response."

The chief of the Capitol Police and the House and Senate sergeant-at-arms announced they would resign after the widely criticized riot response.

One law enforcement official sent to the Capitol during the riot told the Journal he was surprised there was no tight police perimeter around the Capitol.

"The whole thing felt woefully underprepared. It was like 'get there and figure it out,'" the official said. "There wasn't command and control. This is not how these things are supposed to go down."

Some lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers have argued that the law enforcement response would have been very different if the crowd in question was not white Trump supporters.

"The fact is that it's explicitly because they were white dudes with the support of the president that law enforcement basically did nothing," one staffer told Politico.

"If Black people were storming the Capitol, they would have been treated so much differently than they were today," Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, told the outlet. "I don't think there's any question that communities of color would have been handled much, much differently."

Some Capitol Police officers were seen allowing rioters through security gates and posing for selfies with the mob. One rioter told CNN that the "cops were very cool."

"It's really crazy, you could tell that some of them were on our side," he said.

Another rioter told The New York Times that a Capitol Police officer tried to help them find Schumer's office as they hunted for the top Democrat in the halls of the Capitol. Meanwhile, a DC police officer said in a public Facebook post that off-duty police officers who were among the rioters "flashed their badges" as they tried to overrun the building, according to the outlet.

"If these people can storm the Capitol building with no regard to punishment," the officer wrote, "you have to wonder how much they abuse their powers when they put on their uniforms."

'You used MAGA!': Trump supporters turn on Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton for breaking with GOP election challenge

Two of President Donald Trump's closest Senate allies pushed back on their colleagues' futile plans to challenge the Electoral College results on Wednesday, quickly drawing attacks from the president's supporters.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and nearly a dozen other Senate Republicans have announced over the past week that they will join a growing number of House Republicans in challenging the results in certain contested states, even though Trump and his allies have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud or irregularities. The effort has no realistic chance of overturning President-elect Joe Biden's win in any state since the process is largely a formality and such objections will merely delay the certification of the votes for several hours. The scheme has drawn widespread condemnation as an "attempted coup" aimed at disenfranchising millions of legal voters.

In a statement, Cruz demanded the appointment of a commission to audit the election results in certain states and said that he and other Republicans would "reject the electors from disputed states as not 'regularly given' and 'lawfully certified' ... unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a staunch Trump ally who has echoed the president's baseless fraud claims in numerous interviews, dismissed the effort as a stunt.

"Proposing a commission at this late date — which has zero chance of becoming reality — is not effectively fighting for President Trump. It appears to be more of a political dodge than an effective remedy," Graham said on Twitter.

Graham said the group of Republican objectors would have to clear a "high bar" and "need to provide proof of the charges they are making" along with "clear and convincing evidence" that the "failure to take corrective action in addressing election fraud changed the outcome of these states' votes and ultimately the outcome of the election."

Former Attorney General Bill Barr, who left his post just before Christmas, has already said that the Justice Department has found no evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities that could have affected the election result. Trump and his allies have not offered anything approaching such any evidence in dozens of legal challenges. But Graham's tweets quickly drew scorn from Trump supporters uninterested in anything but blind loyalty.

"So you used MAGA to get re-elected and now do this? Disgusting," said Errol Webber, a former Republican candidate who refused to concede his California congressional race, making baseless fraud allegations. He lost by more than 72 points to Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., another close Trump ally who has baselessly questioned the election outcome, said he would not join Wednesday's effort and warned that it "would essentially end presidential elections and place that power in the hands of whichever party controls Congress."

"The Founders entrusted our elections chiefly to the states — not Congress," Cotton said in a statement on Sunday. "They entrusted the election of our president to the people, acting through the Electoral College — not Congress. And they entrusted the adjudication of election disputes to the courts — not Congress."

Though Cotton will not join the effort, he echoed Trump's unfounded fraud allegations and said he supported creating a commission to "study" the election results.

"Objecting to certified electoral votes won't give him a second term," he said. "It will only embolden those Democrats who want to erode further our system of constitutional government."

Despite explaining, correctly, that the Wednesday stunt would do nothing to affect the outcome of the election, Cotton was widely criticized by Trump's ardent backers for what they described as a "betrayal." Conservative pundits like former Fox News contributors Todd Starnes and Michelle Malkin demanded a primary challenge to Cotton in response to his decision.

Cotton, like Hawley, has long been rumored as a potential candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, although Trump appears to have his eye set on running again in four years. Cotton's decision surprised many on the right, though his comments were far less critical of the effort than those from more moderate Republican senators like Mitt Romney of Utah, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Romney called the effort an "egregious ploy" that "dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic." Toomey said that the objectors "fail to acknowledge" that their fraud claims have been discredited in "courtrooms across America." Murkowski agreed that courts "have found nothing to warrant overturning the results."

"Let's be clear what is happening here: We have a bunch of ambitious politicians who think there's a quick way to tap into the president's populist base without doing any real, long-term damage," Sasse said in a statement. "But they're wrong — and this issue is bigger than anyone's personal ambitions. Adults don't point a loaded gun at the heart of legitimate self-government."

Cruz's effort is expected to be joined by Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., James Lankford, R-Okla., Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., John Kennedy, R-La., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., Mike Braun, R-Ind., Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., and Roger Marshall, R-Kan. (Lummis, Tuberville and Marshall are all newly-elected senators sworn in on Sunday.) Sen. Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who faces a key runoff election on Tuesday, left open the possibility that she would join the challenge even as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has reportedly urged his caucus members against the objection. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the GOP deputy leader, has predicted the effort will go down like a "shot dog."

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan said over the weekend that this effort to overturn the 2020 election would "strike at the foundation of our republic." Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the No. 3 Republican in the House, wrote in a memo to her GOP colleagues that the challenge would "set an exceptionally dangerous precedent."

Some conservatives have pushed back as well. Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., Chip Roy, R-Texas, Ken Buck, R-Colo., and four others said in a statement that the "narrow" role of Congress is only to "count the electors submitted by the states, not to determine which electors the states should have sent."

Ultimately, this effort has less to do with changing the outcome of the election than serving as a loyalty test for MAGA world, a chance to position potential 2024 Republican candidates, and a chance to raise large sums of money after the election.

"All that is being done is certain members of Congress, the president, and 'thought leaders' on Twitter are getting retweets, getting followers, and raising money on this scam," Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said last week. "It is a scam and it is going to disappoint the people that believe this election was stolen, that think this is an opportunity to change it."

Operation Warp Speed already admits it won’t hit its vaccination goals

The Trump administration officials heading up Operation Warp Speed acknowledged that the coronavirus vaccine rollout has been slower than expected and that it was "unlikely" to meet its goal of 20 million vaccinations by the end of the month.

The process has been "slower than we thought it would be," Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who is heading up the administration's efforts to speed up vaccine production and distribution, told reporters during a press conference last week, adding that the goal of 20 million two-dose vaccinations is "unlikely to be met."

The Trump administration has repeatedly said that it aimed to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of the year. About 2 million people have been vaccinated through December 28, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though administration officials say there is a lag in the data.

"By the end of December, we expect to have about 40 million doses of the [Pfizer and Moderna] vaccines available for distribution," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said last month. "Enough to vaccinate 20 million of our most vulnerable Americans."

Slaoui told reporters earlier this month that the Trump administration's efforts to bolster vaccine production "allow us to feel confident that we will be able to distribute enough vaccine to immunize 20 million people in the US in December, that's 40 million doses."

Slaoui admitted last week that the process of getting "shots in arms" has been slower than expected and "the commitment that we can make is to make vaccine doses available."

But Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said during a press conference last week that only half of the promised doses would actually be distributed to states by January.

"We have allocated 15.5 million doses of vaccine and we are on track to allocate another 4.5 to 5 million next week, which will bring us to 20 million doses of vaccine allocated to America before the end of the year," he said. "We'll finish those deliveries in the first week of January."

Perna, who is charged with overseeing the logistics of the vaccine rollout, said that the government had done a "good job so far" of distributing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines but admitted that there have already been problems.

"We have had a handful of packages that we tried to deliver that were not destined for the right place, but we captured them before they were dropped off and we rerouted them to the right place," he said. "And we had a couple of ... shipments that did not go out on the right day."

Perna previously said that there were also temperature issues with thousands of doses of Pfizer's vaccine, which has to be stored at around minus 70 degrees Celsius.

State officials around the country have also complained that their vaccine allocations had been abruptly slashed earlier this month. Pfizer said it had millions of doses sitting in warehouses just waiting for delivery instructions.

Perna told reporters that he takes "personal responsibility for the miscommunication" with state governments.

"There is a delay between what is available and what is releasable," he said, "because we're talking about hundreds and thousands and millions of doses that we want to make sure are right."

"We all made the error or mistake of assuming that vaccine that's actually produced and being released is already available for shipment, when, in fact, there is a two-days lag between the time at which we generate a lot of data that shows this vaccine vial is actually safe and right and the time we can ship it," Slaoui later told CNN.

"The FDA has to receive certain documentation," he added. "And that's really where that lag period has resulted in differences in between what was in the plan and what was actually done. I think we have addressed that."

Stephen Hanh, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, said that Pfizer and Moderna are required to "submit Certificates of Analysis for each lot at least 48 hrs prior to vaccine distribution" but they "can distribute without waiting for the FDA's ok."

State officials have also warned that Trump's delay of the coronavirus relief bill, which he finally signed on Sunday, also prevented billions in funds for vaccine distribution from being allocated.

"Every minute of delay impacts how many people can get the vaccine and when," Adriane Casalotti of the National Association of County and City Health Officials told CNBC.

Pfizer also said that the Trump administration turned down the chance to buy an additional 100 million doses for next spring, though the company later said it reached a deal that would require the administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to boost the company's manufacturing capacity after months of resistance from the White House. Using the Defense Production Act, a wartime law that allows the president to require companies to aid with production necessary for national security, will allow Pfizer to secure enough raw materials to produce up to 100 million more doses by July, the company said. Pfizer previously slashed its estimated production by the end of the year in half due to raw material shortages.

President-elect Joe Biden will invoke the Defense Production Act to "make sure the personal protective equipment, the test capacity and the raw materials for the vaccines are produced in adequate supply," Dr. Celine Gounder, a member of Biden's coronavirus advisory board, told CNBC on Monday.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who sits on the Senate committee that oversees public health, said that he and other Democrats have tried to "press the Trump administration to fully invoke the DPA" for nine months.

"They refused, likely to protect private industry profits," he tweeted. "There is so much low hanging fruit like this to make our COVID response better."

This Walter Reed doctor was ousted after criticizing Trump: 'I regret nothing'

An emergency room physician at Walter Reed Medical Center said he has no regrets after being ousted from his position following his public criticism of President Donald Trump's bizarre joyride while hospitalized with the coronavirus.

Dr. James Phillips, who worked at Walter Reed during Trump's hospitalization at the medical center in October, slammed the president for driving in a car with Secret Service agents to greet supporters while he was sick.

"Every single person...in the vehicle during that completely unnecessary Presidential 'drive-by' just now has to be quarantined for 14 days. They might get sick. They may die. For political theater," Phillips tweeted in October before removing the post. "Commanded by Trump to put their lives at risk for theater. This is insanity."

"That Presidential SUV is not only bulletproof, but hermetically sealed against chemical attack," he added in another tweet. "The risk of COVID19 transmission inside is as high as it gets outside of medical procedures. The irresponsibility is astounding. My thoughts are with the Secret Service forced to play."

He later upped his criticism in an interview with NBC News, arguing that the president sent a message to "people who are sick that it's okay to go out."

"The reality is that this was a dangerous move," he said. "There is no medical benefit for this to have taken place. It violates CDC guidelines that come from the president's own administration."

Phillips, the chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital, was removed from Walter Reed's schedule beginning in January earlier this month, according to CBS News.

On Sunday, Phillips seemed to suggest his ouster was politically motivated.

"Today, I worked my final shift at Walter Reed ER," he tweeted. "I will miss the patients and my military and civilian coworkers - they have been overwhelmingly supportive. I'm honored to have worked there and I look forward to new opportunities. I stand by my words, and I regret nothing."

Officials at Walter Reed told CBS News that the hospital did not make the decision to remove Phillips from the schedule and said it "provides requirements for contract positions" and "schedules are determined by the contractor."

Phillips' contractor, GW Medical Faculty Associates, did not say whether it removed him from the Walter Reed schedule.

"While we cannot comment on the scheduling assignments of our providers, we can confirm that he continues to be employed at the GW Medical Faculty Associates," Lisa Anderson, a spokesperson for GW School of Medicine, told the outlet, adding that Phillips remains on staff at the university's DC hospital.

Phillips' colleagues told CBS they were "surprised" that Walter Reed would remove a disaster medicine expert amid rising coronavirus infections.

Phillips' removal came about a month after Trump lost the election to President-elect Joe Biden.

Trump defended his joyride, arguing that he wore a mask during the drive and the Secret Service agents were "very heavily protected."

But the stunt drew heavy criticism from Secret Service agents.

"He's not even pretending to care now," one agent told The Washington Post at the time.

"Where are the adults?" another wondered.

Phillips was far from the only doctor to criticize the episode, though he appears to be the only Walter Reed doctor to do so publicly.

"By taking a joy ride outside Walter Reed the president is placing his Secret Service detail at grave risk," Jonathan Reiner, Phillips' colleague at GW Hospital, said at the time. "This is the height of irresponsibility."

Trump bragged after his hospitalization that his infection had made him an expert on the disease.

"It's been a very interesting journey, I learned a lot about COVID," he said in a video in October. "I get it, and I understand it."

Despite his own experience being hospitalized with the virus, Trump continued to disregard medical guidelines on masks and public gatherings and left the pandemic response up to individual states. More than 330,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the "politicization" of masks and social distancing have hampered the pandemic response but Trump's decision to leave key decisions to individual states resulted in the US becoming the "hardest-hit country in the world."

"The states are very often given a considerable amount of leeway in doing things the way they want to do it, as opposed to in response to federal mandates, which are, relatively, rarely given," Fauci said in a radio interview over the weekend. "What we've had was a considerable disparity with states doing things differently in a nonconsistent way. There have been a lot of factors that have led to the fact that, unfortunately for us, the United States has been the hardest-hit country in the world, but I believe that disparity among how states do things has been a major weakness in our response."

Democrats open investigation into Trump's handling of COVID as House watchdog subpoenas HHS, CDC heads

A House panel investigating the Trump administration's coronavirus response issued subpoenas to two top health officials on Monday after finding extensive evidence of Trump political appointees interfering in scientific coronavirus reports.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., the chairman of the select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis, issued subpoenas to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ordering them to turn over "full and unredacted" documents sought by the panel for months after finding that political appointees tried to "alter or block" at least 13 CDC reports on the coronavirus.

"The subpoenas were necessary because the… investigation has revealed that efforts to interfere with scientific work at CDC were far more extensive and dangerous than previously known," Clyburn said in a letter to the two officials. "Top political officials at HHS and CDC not only tolerated these efforts, but in some cases aided them -- even after a senior official warned that CDC's scientific writing 'needs to remain an independent process' and that the Administration's attempts to influence these reports violated 'long-standing policy.'"

Clyburn said the Trump appointees targeted reports that "provided evidence of the virus's 'early spread' across the country and 'massive spread' this summer, which they believed sent 'the wrong message' about the Administration's policies." The appointees also "drafted rebuttals aimed at undercutting CDC's credibility" and "attempted to muzzle CDC scientists by retaliating against career employees who provided truthful information to the public," he wrote.

The efforts came at the same time that some Trump appointees at HHS were pushing for a "herd immunity" strategy to allow the coronavirus to infect large numbers of people.

"There is no other way, we need to establish herd [immunity], and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD," Paul Alexander, who was then a science adviser to HHS spokesman Michael Caputo, wrote in a July email to top officials that was obtained by Politico. "Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle-aged with no conditions, etc. have zero to little risk … so we use them to develop herd. … We want them infected."

The World Health Organization has warned that achieving herd immunity by exposing people to the virus was "dangerous" and "unethical." Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also warned that such a strategy would result in rampant death.

Clyburn said the officials must turn over all requested documents by December 30 so that investigators can determine "who in the Trump Administration was responsible for this political pressure campaign" and "whether it was intended to cripple the nation's coronavirus response in a misguided effort to achieve herd immunity" after HHS repeatedly refused to comply with the panel's requests and blocked lawmakers from interviewing Redfield and other top officials.

Clyburn launched the investigation in September after Politico reported that top Trump appointees sought to "intimidate the reports' authors" and "water down" their findings because they "would undermine President Donald Trump's optimistic messages about the outbreak."

Earlier this month, a senior CDC official told the panel that Redfield ordered aides to delete an email showing evidence of interference from Alexander.

Alexander, who along with Caputo has since left the agency, had demanded the right to review the CDC reports and urged CDC officials to alter reports that broke with Trump's messaging, emails obtained by Politico show. Alexander also tried to block Fauci from warning of the risk to children regarding the coronavirus. Clyburn's letter detailed numerous communications in which Alexander and Caputo sought to "influence or block CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" and other publications as well as extensive pushback from career officials. Despite the pushback, Alexander sought to alter reports related to the use of hydroxychloroquine and face coverings, comorbidities, child vaccination, outbreaks and deaths among children, and coronavirus transmission in primary elections, according to the letter.

Emails obtained by the committee also show Caputo threatening officials.

"If you disobey my directions, you will be held accountable," he wrote to one senior official.

Another official described Caputo's behavior as "a pattern of hostile and threatening behavior directed at … communication staff at CDC."

Caputo ultimately took a leave of absence in September after a public meltdown over pushback at the CDC and has since left the agency.

Dr. Charlotte Kent, the editor-in-chief of the reports, testified to the committee that Alexander "contacted her directly on numerous occasions to pressure her to make changes to Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports and to seek a larger role in the review process, in violation of longtime CDC and HHS policy to maintain the independence of these reports."

HHS officials even drafted an op-ed attacking the CDC authors of the hydroxychloroquine report as a "disgrace to public service" because they could "prevent the news from giving the proper coverage of a true 'miracle cure,'" according to the subcommittee. The op-ed was never published.

Trump has repeatedly pushed hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug shown to be ineffective against the coronavirus, and raised doubts about the use of masks. He has falsely claimed that children are "almost immune" from the coronavirus and insisted that in-person voting during the elections was safe as he waged a months-long campaign to raise doubts about mail voting.

An HHS spokesperson argued that the agency had complied with the panel's requests and accused Clyburn of politicizing the coronavirus response. "While the Administration is focused on vaccination shots, the Subcommittee is focused on cheap shots to create headlines and mislead the American people," the spokesperson said in a statement to the Associated Press.

The CDC did not comment on the letter but Redfield previously testified to Congress that outside actors were unsuccessful in "modulating the scientific integrity" of the agency's reports.

Clyburn argued in the letter that although CDC officials were able to beat back some of the interference, the evidence shows that Kent and other officials were forced to "fend off more than a dozen attempts to influence CDC's scientific publications, and in some cases were instructed to make changes recommended by political officials."

"To the extent career staff were successful in limiting the damage, as Dr. Kent stated she was, that is a testament to the career staff's integrity and resilience," Clyburn wrote, "not an indication that the Trump Administration's political pressure tactics were appropriate or scientifically sound."

Bill Barr just publicly shot down Trump's demand for a special counsel on Hunter Biden case

Outgoing Attorney General Bill Barr said on Monday that he would not appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden or President Trump's baseless voter fraud claims before leaving office later this week.

Barr, who announced he would step down before Christmas after refuting Trump's unfounded allegations of voter fraud, made the comments at a news conference two days before he is set to leave the Justice Department. Multiple news outlets have reported that President-elect Joe Biden's son Hunter, a frequent target of the president's attacks, has been under investigation by U.S. attorney's offices in Delaware and the Southern District of New York since at least 2018. Hunter Biden has said he learned of the investigation earlier this month, and has denied any wrongdoing.

The news prompted Trump to consider appointing a special counsel to investigate the younger Biden, according to the Associated Press.

"I think to the extent that there's an investigation, I think that it's being handled responsibly and professionally," Barr said of the probe on Monday. "To this point I have not seen a reason to appoint a special counsel and I have no plan to do so before I leave."

The comments came after Trump criticized Barr, who was reportedly aware of the investigation, for not disclosing the probe publicly before the election.

"Why didn't Bill Barr reveal the truth to the public, before the Election, about Hunter Biden. Joe was lying on the debate stage that nothing was wrong, or going on — Press confirmed" the president tweeted last week. "Big disadvantage for Republicans at the polls!"

Barr also broke with Trump on the recent cyberattack on federal agencies, telling reporters that it "certainly" appeared to have been carried out by the "Russians," echoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Trump over the weekend disputed that the attack was from Russia and attempted to downplay its impact.

Trump has also complained that Barr publicly rejected the president's baseless voter fraud claims earlier this month. Barr said that while he is "sure" that there was some minor fraud during the election, the Justice Department has found no evidence of widespread fraud that might have changed the result.

"I'm sure there was fraud in this election, but I was commenting on the extent to which we had looked at suggestions or allegations of systemic or brace fraud that could affect the outcome of the election, and I already spoke to that, and I stand by that statement," Barr said. He added that there was "no basis" for the federal government to seize voting machines to examine them, as some Trump loyalists have urged.

The attorney general's comments came after The New York Times reported that Trump has considered naming attorney Sidney Powell, who has pushed a baseless and bizarre conspiracy theory alleging a foreign-backed plot by a voting machine company to flip votes from Trump to Biden, as a special counsel to investigate the unfounded voter fraud claims. Powell, who was ousted from Trump's legal team after claiming that Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican, was involved in the plot, reportedly brought her client Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser recently pardoned by Trump, to a White House meeting. Flynn has recently suggested that Trump could invoke martial law to "rerun" the election, although the president has no legal or constitutional authority to do such a thing.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and other top advisers strongly pushed back on the idea of appointing Powell, according to the report, but Trump and Giuliani have discussed issuing an executive order to seize voting machines in various states.

Giuliani separately called Ken Cuccinelli, a top Trump appointee who was illegally installed as acting deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, to ask DHS to seize the voting machines. Cuccinelli explained that the department did not have the authority to do so, according to the report.

Barr disputed Powell's conspiracy theory earlier this month.

"There's been one assertion that would be systemic fraud, and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results," he told The Associated Press. "And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven't seen anything to substantiate that."

Though Barr pushed back against using special counsels to investigate Biden or voting irregularities, he announced last month that he had appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham as a special counsel in order to continue his investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.

"I wanted to provide him and his team with assurance that they'd be able to finish their work, and they're making good progress now, and I expect they will be able to finish their work," Barr said Monday. "And I am hoping that the next administration handles that matter responsibly."

Trump announced that Barr would be replaced by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who did not participate in the news conference on Monday and declined to answer questions from Reuters about whether he would appoint a special counsel to investigate Biden or election fraud. Rosen has also declined to say whether he agrees with Barr's assessment that there was no widespread fraud.

"If Trump is unable to pressure Rosen to appoint a special counsel he could replace the acting attorney general with someone more likely to carry out his wishes," the AP reported. "He asked his team of lawyers, including personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, to look into whether the president has the power to appoint a special counsel himself."

Rosen said at his 2019 confirmation hearing that he would push back against any improper pressure from the White House, arguing that criminal investigations should "proceed on the facts and the law" and be "free of improper political influences."

"If the appropriate answer is to say no to somebody," he said, "then I will say no."

Rand Paul and Newt Gingrich let slip the truth: They fear voters will 'affect the outcome' in Georgia races

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., on Thursday joined a growing chorus of Republicans complaining that making it easier for legal voters to cast ballots will cause Republicans to lose elections.

Paul, who has falsely claimed the election was "stolen" from President Donald Trump without any evidence, warned that increased voter turnout in Georgia could cost Republicans the Senate majority and urged Republican state officials to stop encouraging people to vote.

"They're mailing out a solicitation to vote by mail. This is not in the state law," Paul complained in an interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo, who has also pushed fantastical fraud conspiracies without evidence. "I'm very, very concerned that if you solicit votes from typically non-voters, that you will affect and change the outcome," Paul said, even though non-voters are ineligible to receive a ballot even if they do request one and their votes would not be counted in a would-be fraud scheme since ballots are checked against voter registrations. In other words, there is no risk of nonvoters voting, and there has been no evidence of people using dead or other registered voters' information to cast ballots.

Paul's comments come one day after he declared without any evidence that the election was "in many ways stolen" from President Donald Trump during a Senate hearing with former DHS official Chris Krebs, who refuted Paul's claims.

"The fraud happened. The election in many ways was stolen and the only way it'll be fixed is by, in the future, reinforcing the laws," Paul claimed, even though the Trump campaign and its allies have been unable to prove any widespread fraud or irregularities in court.

Paul claimed that courts "never looked at the facts" and "stayed out of it" by ruling that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the lawsuits, even though numerous judges did review these lawsuits and rejected them on the merits. Paul's comments raised speculation that he would break with the rest of the Republican Party to join Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., in a futile effort to block Congress from affirming the Electoral College results.

Attorney General Bill Barr said earlier this month that the Justice Department did not find any evidence of fraud that would affect the election result and Republican election officials from Georgia to Pennsylvania have rejected the claims pushed by Trump and his allies.

But the Republican complaints long predate the actual election and any potential fraud. Trump and his allies have argued for months that expanding voting access would hurt Republicans. Barr argued before the election that expanded mail voting raises the possibility of voter fraud, despite its use by numerous states before the pandemic, though he ultimately determined that was not the case in the 2020 race.

"Let me be 100% clear," Josh Douglas, an election law expert at the University of Kentucky, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "Sen. Rand Paul is lying about it. He is lying, and all of these politicians who are claiming massive fraud in mail-in voting are lying because they have zero evidence. It's just patently false."

Paul and Trump are not the only ones.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., erupted at Wednesday's Senate hearing to declare he has no "doubt" that there was "fraudulent votes and ballot stuffing" in the election. Johnson, along with Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., also appeared to echo former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell's otherworldly conspiracy theory that voting machines were rigged to switch votes from Trump in a plot financed by Venezuela, China, and others that ultimately got her booted from Trump's legal team. Johnson cited "corruption of voting machines and software" while Scott claimed that his constituents think the election was no "different than what [Nicolas] Maduro is doing" in Venezuela.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., also complained on Twitter over the weekend that Georgia Secretary Brad Raffensperger's effort to expand ballot drop boxes would "make it harder for Republicans to win," even though Republican voters would have increased access to submit their votes.

"You're busted Newt," former Attorney General Eric Holder said in response to Gingrich. "Making it easier for more people to vote in a pandemic (the usual fraud claims have been exposed as nonsense), resulting in more people voting 'makes it harder for Republicans to win'. Guess you think you have to suppress the vote to win. What a disgrace."

But Gingrich's bizarre complaint was echoed in a lawsuit by the Georgia Republican Party and the Republican National Committee, which is seeking to limit the use of ballot drop boxes in the state's Senate runoffs.

Although Raffensperger has drawn praise for standing up to attacks from Trump and other Republicans to dispute their baseless fraud allegations, he has also pushed to limit voting access in future elections since the election. Republicans in the Senate and state legislatures in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Texas have also seized on Trump's voter fraud lies to push for laws restricting voting access.

But some election experts warned that Republican attacks on voting could backfire.

"Recent polling shows that many of the innovations adopted for the 2020 election are popular with voters of all partisan persuasions, making some changes potentially difficult," Robert Stein, a voting expert at Rice University, told Salon earlier this month. "There is ample evidence that states that attempt to adopt restrictive election laws produce a backlash effect, especially among nonwhite voters."

"In non-pandemic times, it's not at all clear to me that restricting mail-in voting would hurt Democrats more than Republicans," added Justin Levitt, a constitutional law expert at Loyola University.

Republicans have worried for weeks that the attacks on Georgia's election could depress turnout in the pivotal Senate runoffs. Raffensperger argued that Trump's baseless claims cost him the state in the presidential race, noting that 24,000 people who voted in the Republican primary did not vote in the general election.

"He would have won by 10,000 votes," he said last month. "He actually depressed, suppressed his own voting base."

DeSantis faces renewed scrutiny following report of mysterious gap in Florida's COVID death tally

Amysterious gap in Florida's coronavirus death data suggests the state "manipulated" numbers to create more favorable death counts ahead of November's election, according to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Coronavirus deaths are often recorded days or weeks later but the state abruptly stopped including older deaths that occurred more than one month earlier in its daily count on October 24. The state began to include the older deaths in its daily counts again on November 17, two weeks after the election. The older deaths had consistently been included in the earlier data.

The change came after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration announced that it would review every suspected coronavirus death before it is reported.

Jason Salemi, an epidemiologist at the University of South Florida, said he was "surprised" by the gap but "drew no conclusions," according to the report, noting that Florida's death data "continues to be a bit of a black box."

Health experts have long warned that coronavirus deaths are likely being underreported but DeSantis and state Republicans have alleged that the Florida deaths are overstated. Florida health officials did not respond to questions from the outlet, leaving the cause of the mysterious gap unclear. But as a result, Florida voters saw significantly lower death totals in the days leading up to the election.

The death data between September 23 and October 20 included 1,128 deaths that had occurred at least a month earlier, or 44% of all reported deaths during that span. When the state resumed reporting the older deaths after the election, a large number of deaths had occurred more than two months earlier, according to an analysis by Salemi.


"It's hard to know if there was a limitation around election time or random other things were happening," Scott David Herr, a data scientist who tracks the daily reports, told the Sun-Sentinel. "The Department of Health hasn't explained why lags have been inconsistent. When they keep changing whatever is going on behind the scenes, when the lags keep changing, that is where it gets confusing."

The DeSantis administration has repeatedly changed the guidelines on the reporting of pandemic deaths, drawing outcry from public officials. Medical examiners sounded the alarm in the spring after the state stopped publishing real-time death data reported by local health officials, which showed a higher death total than the state's reports.

In August, as medical examiners dealt with a massive backlog of deaths stemming from the state's outbreak, the administration allowed attending doctors to determine and report coronavirus deaths. The state had also released summaries of death certificate data from county medical examiners through the summer but stopped releasing the data after the change.

State House Speaker José Oliva, a Republican, slammed the state's death reporting in October as "often lacking in rigor" and undermining "the completeness and reliability of the death records."

Prior to the gap in the death data, Florida Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees announced that the state would conduct an additional review of the reported deaths before releasing them publicly "to ensure the accuracy of COVID-19 related deaths."

Salemi told the Sun-Sentinel that he initially believed the gap may have been caused by the change that took reporting responsibility away from medical examiners or the state's vow to review the deaths but grew suspicious when the state started to record older deaths again in mid-November.

"I'm starting to wonder what's going on," he said.

DeSantis, who has tried to downplay the threat posed by the pandemic for months as it killed more than 20,000 Floridians, has repeatedly been accused of manipulating and concealing data to justify a coronavirus response that the White House coronavirus task force labeled "inadequate."

A task force report obtained by the Center for Public Integrity showed that the Trump administration urged the state to take tougher measures to curb the "unrelenting community spread" earlier this month. Instead, the state stopped releasing the task force's reports and DeSantis barred cities from enforcing mask requirements and limited their ability to contain the spread. On Tuesday, he broke with public health recommendations and announced that all of the state's bars and restaurants will operate at full capacity for the rest of the pandemic.

Earlier this year, the state also ousted Rebekah Jones, a data scientist who helped build the Florida Department of Health's coronavirus data dashboard. Jones claimed that the firing was retribution for her refusal to "manipulate" the coronavirus data to justify the state's early reopening in the spring, which DeSantis has denied. Earlier this month, armed state police raided Jones' home with their guns drawn to seize her computer and electronic devices that she claimed contained evidence of "corruption."

State officials claimed that DeSantis was unaware of the raid before it happened and that Jones was suspected of improperly accessing the state's internal emergency communication system to urge first responders and others to "speak up before another 17,000 people are dead." Jones denied the allegation and alleged that DeSantis was behind the raid, noting that the judge who approved the warrant was appointed by DeSantis just weeks earlier.

"They took evidence of corruption at the state level. They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo," she wrote on Twitter. "This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly. This is what happens to people who speak truth to power."

Despite repeated denials from the administration, the incident led to the resignation of a Republican DeSantis appointee on a judicial selection panel, who called the police raid "unconscionable" and DeSantis' denials "fantastical" and "not credible."

He resigned, he said, to draw attention "to the plight of the people of Florida who I feel are not being told the truth about COVID."

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