A year ago today, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
In his plea to Senators to convict the president, Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead impeachment manager for the House, warned “you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country.” Schiff asked: “How much damage can Donald Trump do between now and the next election?” and then answered his own question: “A lot. A lot of damage.” “Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will… protect our national interest over his own personal interest?” Schiff asked the senators who were about to vote on Trump’s guilt. “You know you can’t, which makes him dangerous to this country.’’
Republicans took offense at Schiff’s passionate words, seeing them as criticism of themselves. They voted to acquit Trump of the charges the House had levied against him.
And a year later, here we are. A pandemic has killed more than 312,000 of us, and numbers of infections and deaths are spiking. Today we hit a new single-day record of reported coronavirus cases with 246,914, our third daily record in a row. The economy is in shambles, with more than 6 million Americans applying for unemployment benefits. And the government has been hobbled by a massive hack from foreign operatives, likely Russians, who have hit many of our key departments.
Today it began to feel as if the Trump administration was falling apart as journalists began digging into a number of troubling stories.
Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, appointed by Trump after he fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper by tweet on November 9, this morning abruptly halted the transition briefings the Pentagon had been providing, as required by law, to the incoming Biden team. Observers were taken aback by this unprecedented halt to the transition process, as well as by the stated excuse: that Defense Department officials were overwhelmed by the number of meetings the transition required. Retired four-star general Barry R. McCaffrey, a military analyst for NBC and MSNBC, tweeted: “Pentagon abruptly halts Biden transition—MAKES NO SENSE. CLAIM THEY ARE OVERWHELMED. DOD GOES OPAQUE. TRUMP-MILLER UP TO NO GOOD. DANGER.”
After Axios published the story and outrage was building, Miller issued a statement saying the two sides had decided on a “mutually-agreed upon holiday, which begins tomorrow.” Biden transition director Yohannes Abraham promptly told reporters: “Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed upon holiday break. In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period as there’s no time to spare, and that’s particularly true in the aftermath of ascertainment delay," a reference to the delay in the administration’s recognition of Biden’s election.
Later, the administration suggested the sudden end to the transition briefings was because Trump was angry that the Washington Post on Wednesday had published a story showing how much money Biden could save by stopping the construction of Trump’s border wall. Anger over a story from two days ago seems like a stretch, a justification after the briefings had been cancelled for other reasons. The big story of the day, and the week, and the month, and the year, and probably of this administration, is the sweeping hack of our government by a hostile foreign power. The abrupt end to the briefings might reflect that the administration isn’t keen on giving Biden access to the crime scene.
Republicans appear to be trying to cripple the Biden administration more broadly. The country has been thrilled by the arrival of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine that promises an end to the scourge under which we’re suffering. Just tonight, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, for emergency authorization use. This vaccine does not require ultracold temperatures for shipping the way the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine does. Two vaccines for the coronavirus are extraordinarily good news.
But this week, as the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were being given, states learned that the doses the federal government had promised were not going to arrive, and no one is quite sure why. The government blamed Pfizer, which promptly blasted the government, saying it had plenty of vaccines in warehouses but had received no information about where to send them. Then the White House said there was confusion over scheduling.
Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo has been following this story, and concluded a day or so ago that the administration had made no plans for vaccine distribution beyond February 1, when the problem would be Biden’s. Kovensky also noted that it appears the administration promised vaccine distribution on an impossible timeline, deliberately raising hopes for vaccine availability that Biden couldn’t possibly fulfill. Today Kovensky noted that there are apparently doses missing and unaccounted for, but no one seems to know where they might be.
Today suggested yet another instance of Republican bad faith. With Americans hungry and increasingly homeless, the nation is desperate for another coronavirus relief bill. The House passed one last May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take it up. Throughout the summer and fall, negotiations on a different bill failed as Republicans demanded liability protection for businesses whose employees got coronavirus after they reopened, and Democrats demanded federal aid to states and local governments, pinched as tax revenue has fallen off during the pandemic. Now, though, with many Americans at the end of their rope, McConnell indicated he would be willing to cut a deal because the lack of a relief package is hurting the Republican Senate candidates before the runoff election in Georgia on January 5. Both sides seemed on the verge of a deal.
That deal fell apart this afternoon after Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) with the blessing of McConnell, suddenly insisted on limiting the ability of the Federal Reserve to lend money to help businesses and towns stay afloat. These were tools the Trump administration had and used, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried to kill them after Trump lost the election. The Federal Reserve’s ability to manage fiscal markets is key to addressing recessions. Removing that power would gravely hamper Biden’s ability to help the nation climb out of the recession during his administration.
It’s hard not to see this as a move by McConnell and Senate Republicans to take away Biden’s power—power enjoyed by presidents in general, and by Trump in particular—to combat the recession in order to hobble the economy and hurt the Democrats before the 2022 election.
Money was in the news in another way today, too. Business Insider broke the story that the Trump campaign used a shell company approved by Jared Kushner to pay campaign expenses without having to disclose them to federal election regulators. The company was called American Made Media Consultants LLC. Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, was president, and Vice President Mike Pence’s nephew, John Pence, was vice president until the two apparently stepped down in late 2019 to work on the campaign. The treasurer was the chief financial officer of the Trump campaign, Sean Dollman.
The Trump campaign spent more than $700 million of the $1.26 billion of campaign cash it raised in the 2020 cycle through AMMC, but to whom it paid that money is hidden. Former Republican Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter is trying to take up the slack left by the currently crippled Federal Elections Commission. His organization, the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan clean election group, last July accused the Trump campaign of "disguising" campaign funding of about $170 million "by laundering the funds" through AMMC.
This news adds to our understanding that Trump is leaving the White House with a large amount of cash. He has raised more than $250 million since November 3, urging his supporters to donate to his election challenges, but much of the money has gone to his own new political action committee or to the Republican National Committee. Recently, he has begged supporters to give to a “Georgia Election Fund,” suggesting that the money will go to the runoff elections for Georgia’s two senators, but 75% of the money actually goes to Trump’s new political action committee and 25% to the Republican National Committee.
Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman at the New York Times note that are very few limits to how Trump can spend the money from his new PAC.