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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.
2020 ELECTION/PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION
Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, the most powerful Rebpublican in Congress, congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on his election victory on Tuesday. In remarks made on the Senate floor, McConnell said:
“Many millions of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result. But our system of government has processes to determine who will be sworn in on January the 20th. The Electoral College has spoken. So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”
Privately, McConnell is also asking his Senate colleagues not to join efforts by House members to throw out the election results, Nicholas Fandos reports for the New York Times.
McConnell has already received blowback from President Donald Trump and right-wing media outlets. Tweeting at 1 a.m. on Wednesday, Trump said, “Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!”
“Trump’s tweet made it clear that McConnell’s decision to recognize Biden as president-elect has opened a rift at the top of the GOP, with the president continuing to falsely claim victory while McConnell works behind the scenes to convince Republican senators not to challenge the electoral college, which cast 306 votes for Biden on Monday, formalizing his victory,” Timothy Bella reports for the Washington Post.
Chris Krebs is scheduled to testify this morning before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Krebs, the former head of the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency, was recently fired by Trump after he stated there was no evidence of election fraud. The other witnesses scheduled to testify today are expected to question the integrity of the election results. Krebs was called as a witness by the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich, who said he was “appalled by many of my colleagues’ choice to help spread the President’s lies and false narratives about the outcome of the 2020 election.” Allison Pecorin reports for ABC News.
Biden’s Cabinet continues to take shape, including his climate team. The transition team announced that Biden will nominate Pete Buttigieg to lead the Department of Transportation. The president-elect is also expected to pick Gina McCarthy, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to coordinate the White House’s domestic climate agenda, and Jennifer Granholm, a former governor of Michigan, to lead the Department of Energy. Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman report for the New York Times.
In remarks she made Tuesday, Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged the Department’s career staff to “resist” as the Biden team comes in, reports Michael Stratford for POLITICO.
A state senator in North Carolina has called on Trump to suspend civil liberties and invoke the Insurrection Act to remain in power. North Carolina state senator Bob Steinburg (R), “wrote an inflammatory Facebook post on Tuesday quoting an interview with retired Air Force lieutenant general Thomas McInerney earlier this month,” reports Katie Shepherd for the Washington Post.
A second coronavirus vaccine, this one made by Moderna, is expected to get emergency authorization later this week. A review by the FDA has confirmed “Moderna’s earlier assessment that its vaccine had an efficacy rate of 94.1 percent in a trial of 30,000 people. Side effects — including fever, headache and fatigue — were common and unpleasant, but not dangerous, the agency found.” Noah Weiland, Denise Grady and Carl Zimmer report for the New York Times.
On Tuesday, the FDA authorized “the first rapid coronavirus test that can be taken at home without prescription and that yields immediate results,” William Wan reports for the Washington Post.
As COVID-19 cases and deaths surge, California has had to activate its “mass fatality” program, including the purchase of 5,000 body bags. Cheri Mossburg reports for CNN.
Congressional leaders are nearing a deal on a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill. “The two most contentious items — funding for state and local governments and a liability shield for businesses — have been left out of the agreement,” Jake Sherman and Burgess Everett report for POLITICO.
Online disinformation peddlers, including the president’s former lawyer, Sidney Powell, are shifting from claims of election fraud to telling lies and fueling conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine, Davey Alba and Sheera Frenkel report for the New York Times.
The mayor of Dodge City in Kansas has resigned after receiving violent threats because the city adopted a mask mandate. “A cascade of nasty messages — and in some cases, crowds of armed protesters outside their homes — have led some public health officials to leave their posts this year,” reports Teo Armus for the Washington Post.
Wealthy countries are racing to preorder enough doses of the vaccine to immunize their populations multiple times over, while poorer countries are unable to keep up. “‘The high-income countries have gotten to the front of the line and cleared the shelves,’ said Andrea Taylor, a Duke researcher who is studying the contracts,” report Megan Twohey, Keith Collins and Katie Thomas for the New York Times.
The damage of the Russian hacking operation and the U.S. secrets that may have been obtained are not yet fully understood. “It will take weeks, maybe years in some cases, for digital sleuths combing through U.S. government and private industry networks to get the answers,” Frank Bajak reports for the AP.
The U.S. government’s multibillion-dollar detection system, Einstein, was unable to detect the Russian malware that was slipped into federal government computer systems, even after it began transmitting to command-and-control computers operated by the hackers. Einstein “was not equipped to find novel malware or Internet connections, despite a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office suggesting that building such capability might be a wise investment,” report Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima for the Washington Post.
The term to describe what’s happening to Americans’ widespread embrace of conspiracy theories and disinformation is “mass radicalization.” “At conferences, in op-eds and at agency meetings, domestic terrorism analysts are raising concern about the security implications of millions of conservatives buying into baseless right-wing claims,” Hannah Allam reports for NPR.
In Texas, a “former Houston police captain was arrested and accused of pointing a gun at a repairman and running him off the road over false voter fraud allegations,” Doha Madani reports for NBC News. “Police said Aguirre told them after the incident in October that he was part of a civilian group called ‘Liberty Center’ that was looking into allegations of voter fraud. According to the district attorney’s office, Aguirre said he conducted “surveillance” on a man for four days in the belief that he had 750,000 fraudulent ballots in his truck.”
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT AND LAW ENFORCEMENT
Trump has come so close to firing FBI Director Christopher Wray in recent months that White House lawyers have had to warn him not to do it, telling him it could put the president in legal jeopardy. “White House lawyers ‘strongly’ advised Trump against firing another FBI director out of concern that doing so would risk creating the perception that a ‘loyalty test’ was being imposed on a position that traditionally has maintained independence from the White House, according to the senior administration official.” Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube report for NBC News.
Trump is thinking about having a special counsel appointed to investigate Biden’s son, Hunter. “Trump — angry that out-going Attorney General William Barr didn’t publicly announce the ongoing, two-year investigation into Hunter Biden — has consulted on the matter with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and outside allies,” Michael Balsamo and Jonathan Lemire report for the AP.
In his resignation letter, Barr said he was “wrapping up a few remaining matters important to the Administration.” POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney look at what those could possibly be.
A judge has ordered the Trump Organization to turn over documents related to its Westchester County estate to the New York Attorney General’s office, which is pursuing a civil fraud investigation into the president and his company. Corinne Ramey reports for the Wall Street Journal.
Through a FOIA lawsuit, Buzzfeed News has obtained a letter detailing the criminal referral alleging Trump committed crimes related to his phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The letter, signed by Michael Atkinson, inspector general for the intelligence community, was sent to Stacey Moy, the deputy assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division. Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier report for Buzzfeed News.
In an article for The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance compares Facebook to a Doomsday Machine, writing, “No single machine should be able to control the fate of the world’s population—and that’s what both the Doomsday Machine and Facebook are built to do.”
On Tuesday, “Facebook accused people linked to the French military on Tuesday of running a covert online influence operation targeting parts of Africa. It is the first time Facebook has publicly linked a campaign like this to individuals connected to a Western military.” Donnie O’Sullivan reports for CNN.
A “narrow path” has opened up for the United Kingdom and the European Union to strike a post-Brexit trade deal, the president of the European Commission has said. BBC News reports.
A record number of journalists are jailed worldwide, according to a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Tuesday that Trump still intends to veto the National Defense Authorization Act despite both chambers of Congress passing the $740.5 billion spending bill with veto-proof majorities, Steve Beynon reports for Stars and Stripes.
The Trump administration said Tuesday it has finalized an agreement reached last year with El Salvador that will enable DHS “to send asylum seekers from the U.S. border to the Central American nation, instead of allowing them to seek humanitarian protection in the United States.” Nick Miroff reports for the Washington Post.