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Biden to introduce Judge Merrick Garland as attorney general
Scroll back up to restore default view. ERIC TUCKER and MICHAEL BALSAMO Thu, January 7, 2021, 6:01 AM EST WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden has announced Merrick Garland as his pick for attorney general, saying the federal appeals court judge and three others he has selected for senior Justice Department positions will “restore the independence” of the agency and faith in the rule of law.
The four lawyers are to be introduced by Biden at an event Thursday afternoon in Wilmington, Delaware.
In picking Garland, Biden is turning to an experienced judge who held senior positions at the Justice Department decades ago, including as a supervisor of the prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Garland's nomination will force Senate Republicans to contend with someone they spurned four years ago — refusing even to hold hearings when President Barack Obama nominated Garland for the Supreme Court. Biden is banking on Garland's credentials and reputation for moderation to ensure his confirmation.
Others being named Thursday to the Justice Department's senior leadership team include Obama administration homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general and former Justice Department civil rights chief Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general, the No. 3 official. He will also name an assistant attorney general for civil rights, Kristen Clarke, now the president of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group.
“Our first-rate nominees to lead the Justice Department are eminently qualified, embody character and judgment that is beyond reproach, and have devoted their careers to serving the American people with honor and integrity," Biden said in a statement. “They will restore the independence of the department so it serves the interests of the people not a presidency, rebuild public trust in the rule of law, and work tirelessly to ensure a more fair and equitable justice system.”
Garland was selected over other finalists including former Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. His confirmation prospects were solidified as Democrats on Wednesday scored control of the Senate majority by winning both Georgia Senate seats.
Garland would confront immediate challenges on the job, including an ongoing criminal tax investigation into Biden’s son Hunter as well as calls from many Democrats to pursue inquiries into President Donald Trump after he leaves office. A special counsel investigation into the origins of the Russia probe also remains open, forcing a new attorney general to decide how to handle it and what to make public.
Garland would also inherit a Justice Department that has endured a tumultuous four years and abundant criticism from Democrats over what they see as the overpoliticization of law enforcement. The department is expected to dramatically change course under new leadership, including through a different approach to civil rights issues and national policing policies, especially after months of mass protests over the deaths of Black Americans at the hand of law enforcement.
Black and Latino advocates had wanted a Black attorney general or someone with a background in civil rights causes and criminal justice reform. Groups including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund had championed Garland's Supreme Court nomination, but the extent of support from minority groups for the attorney general job was not immediately clear.
Though Garland is a white man, the selection of Gupta and Clarke, two women with significant experience in civil rights, appeared designed to blunt any concerns about his selection and served as a signal that progressive causes would be prioritized in the new administration.
Garland would return to a Justice Department radically different than the one he left. The Sept. 11 attacks were years in the future and the department’s national security division had not yet been created. A proliferation of aggressive cyber and counterintelligence threats from foreign adversaries have made countries like China, Russia and North Korea top priorities for federal law enforcement.
Monaco in particular brings to the department significant national security experience, including in cybersecurity — an especially urgent issue as the U.S. government confronts a devastating hack of federal agencies that officials have linked to Russia.
Some of the issues from Garland’s first stint at the department persist. Tensions between police and minorities, an issue that flared following the 1992 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, remain a major concern, particularly following a summer of racial unrest that roiled American cities after the May killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
And the FBI has confronted a surge in violence from antigovernment and racially motivated extremists. That is a familiar threat to Garland, who as a senior Justice Department official helped manage the federal government’s response to the 1995 bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people. The bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was later executed.
Garland has called the work the “most important thing I have done” and was known for keeping a framed photo of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in his courthouse office in Washington.
At the time of the bombing, Garland was 42 and principal associate deputy attorney general, a top lieutenant to Attorney General Janet Reno. He was chosen to go to Oklahoma City, the highest-ranking Justice Department official there, and led the prosecution for a month until a permanent lead prosecutor was named.
It is rare but not unprecedented for attorneys general to have previously served as judges. It happened in 2007 when President George W. Bush picked Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge in Manhattan, for the job. President Barack Obama’s first attorney general, Eric Holder, had also previously been a Superior Court judge in the District of Columbia.
Garland was put forward by Obama for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, but Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings in the final year of Obama’s term, arguing that the person elected president that fall should make the selection.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., drew criticism from Democrats this fall when he took the opposite approach toward confirming Trump’s third and final Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett. He said the difference was that the White House and Senate were controlled by the same political parties.
After the firing of FBI Director James Comey in 2017, McConnell said he would support Garland as a replacement for that position, though Garland was said to be not interested.
Garland has been on the federal appeals court in Washington since 1997. Before that, he had worked in private practice, as well as a federal prosecutor, a senior official in the Justice Department’s criminal division and as the principal associate deputy attorney general.
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Georgia county absentee ballot envelope audit finds no fraud
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a presser Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) Wed, December 30, 2020, 9:58 AM EST ATLANTA (AP) — Investigators who audited the signatures on more than 15,000 absentee ballot envelopes in one Georgia county found “no fraudulent absentee ballots,” according to the audit report.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced earlier this month that his office would work with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to do the signature audit in suburban Atlanta's Cobb County. Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said at the time that President Donald Trump's campaign had alleged that Cobb County didn't properly conduct the signature match for the June primary.
"This audit disproves the only credible allegations the Trump campaign had against the strength of Georgia’s signature match processes,” Raffensperger said in a news release Monday.
President-elect Joe Biden narrowly won Georgia by about 12,000 votes out of the 5 million cast, but Trump and his allies have made repeated baseless claims of widespread election fraud.
The investigators reviewed 15,118 absentee ballot envelopes from randomly selected boxes, about 10% of the total received in Cobb County for the November general election, according to the audit report. That sample size was chose to “reach a 99% confidence level in the results.”
The Cobb County elections department had “a 99.99% accuracy rate in performing correct signature verification procedures,” the audit report says.
There were two cases where the audit team determined that a voter should have been contacted to fix a problem. In both those cases, investigators interviewed the voters and determined they were the ones who cast the ballots, the report says.
Georgians can request absentee ballots either through an online portal that Raffensperger established in September or by submitting an application. For online requests, they provide their driver’s license number and date of birth to verify their identity. If they use an application, they must sign it for verification.
When an application is received, county election workers compare the signature on the application to the voter’s signature on file, and if it is consistent, a ballot is mailed, Raffensperger has said.
Before submitting an absentee ballot, a voter must sign an oath on an outer envelope. When county election officials receive an absentee ballot, they must compare the signature to the absentee ballot application if one exists and to the signature on file. The signatures must be consistent but don’t have to match exactly, Raffensperger has said.
If the signature doesn’t match, the voter is notified and can take other steps to verify identity. If the signature does match, the ballot is separated from the envelope to protect the right to ballot secrecy guaranteed by Georgia law.
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Biden's team vows action against hack as US threats persist
Scroll back up to restore default view. HOPE YEN Sun, December 20, 2020, 12:45 AM EST WASHINGTON (AP) — Once in office, President-elect Joe Biden will punish Russia for its suspected cyberespionage operation against the United States with financial sanctions and measures to hobble the Kremlin's ability to launch future hacks, his chief of staff said Sunday, as a GOP senator criticized President Donald Trump for having a “blind spot” when it comes to Moscow.
“Those who are responsible are going to face consequences for it,” said Biden chief of staff Ron Klain. “It's not just sanctions. It’s also steps and things we could do to degrade the capacity of foreign actors to repeat this sort of attack or, worse still, engage in even more dangerous attacks."
The head of the cybersecurity firm FireEye, which disclosed that it had been targeted by the spying attempt, said it was clear the foreign intrusions were not “one and done” and suggested there was little time to spare before the next one.
“These attacks will continue to escalate, and get worse if we do nothing,” said CEO Kevin Mandia.
Cybersecurity experts and U.S. officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been clear over the past week that they believe Russia was behind the massive hack that infiltrated over 40 federal agencies, including the departments of Treasury, Energy and Commerce, as well as government contractors.
But Trump over the weekend cast doubt on that assessment, suggesting without evidence that China may be behind the cyber intrusions and minimizing the impact. “The Cyber Hack is far greater in the Fake News Media than in actuality. I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control,” Trump tweeted, contradicting his own cybersecurity agency, which described the hacks as a “grave” threat.
On Sunday, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, blasted Trump for putting the U.S. at continuing risk.
“Russia acted with impunity,” he said. “They didn’t fear what we would be able to do from a cybercapacity. They didn’t think that our defense systems were particularly adequate. And they apparently didn’t think that we would respond in a very aggressive way.”
“I think we’ve come to recognize that the president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia,” Romney added, urging an immediate response and calling cyberspace the “warfare of the future.”
While Trump downplayed the impact of the hacks, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has said it compromised federal agencies as well as “critical infrastructure.” Homeland Security, the agency’s parent department, defines such infrastructure as any “vital” assets to the U.S. or its economy, a broad category that could include power plants and financial institutions.
It’s not clear exactly what the hackers were seeking, but experts say it could include nuclear secrets, blueprints for advanced weaponry, COVID-19 vaccine-related research and information for dossiers on government and industry leaders.
Still, it may take months to kick elite hackers out of the U.S. government networks they have been quietly rifling through since as far back as March. Christopher Krebs, former director of CISA, highlighted the challenges ahead as Trump dismisses the threat and Biden prepares for his Jan. 20 inauguration.
“The federal civilian agencies, the 101 civilian agencies, are not really optimized for defense right now,” Krebs said. “And what that means is, there’s a lot of old antiquated, legacy IT systems that are hard to defend. Plus, the authorities are not in place for teams like CISA to really get out there and aggressively root out adversaries.”
Throughout his presidency, Trump has refused to blame Russia for well-documented hostilities, including its interference in the 2016 election to help him get elected. He blamed his predecessor, Barack Obama, for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, has endorsed allowing Russia to return to the G-7 group of nations and has never taken the country to task for allegedly putting bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Klain said the incoming administration was still learning information about the purpose, nature and extent of the hacks and faulted the confused messaging from the Trump administration on who’s to blame.
Klain and Mandia spoke on CBS' “Face the Nation,” Krebs was on CNN's “State of the Union," and Romney was on CNN and NBC's “Meet the Press.”
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Trump adviser broke law with Biden criticism, watchdog says
KEVIN FREKING Mon, December 7, 2020, 4:20 PM EST WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal watchdog agency on Monday reported that one of President Donald Trump’s economic advisers repeatedly violated the law during the campaign season with his criticisms of Joe Biden, now the president-elect.
The Hatch Act prevents federal employees from engaging in political work while performing their official duties. The agency charged with enforcing the act said that Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office for Trade and Manufacturing Policy, used his position to influence the 2020 presidential election through his statements in television interviews and on social media.
“His comments were directed at undermining Mr. Biden’s presidential candidacy and persuading voters not to support him in the 2020 election,” the Office of Special Counsel report stated.
White House lawyers have asserted Navarro did not violate the Hatch Act because factual or policy statements do not constitute advocacy for or against a candidate, the report stated. They argued, for example, that Navarro’s statement about Biden “kowtowing to the Chinese” was acceptable for him to make in his official capacity.
But the Office of Special Counsel found that argument lacking. It said federal employees violate the law when they make statements intended to encourage others to vote for or against a candidate for political office or when they promote or disparage a candidate’s campaign.
“Dr. Navarro violated the Hatch Act because he engaged in that very activity,” the report said.
The report said it’s up to the president to determine the “appropriate disciplinary action,” showing the limits of the law. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a private advocacy group, said that it submitted multiple complaints about Navarro to the Office of Special Counsel and that “the referral for action demonstrate the severity of Navarro’s misconduct.”
“In an administration full of people illegally using their government positions to influence an election, Navarro has been one of the worst,” said the group’s executive director, Noah Bookbinder.
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Trump vents about election as agencies aid Biden transition
President Donald Trump, followed by Vice President Mike Pence, left, walks into the briefing room at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, to make a statement. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) ZEKE MILLER Tue, November 24, 2020, 4:14 PM EST WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump insisted Tuesday that he is not giving up his fight to overturn the election results, but across the federal government, preparations were beginning in earnest to support President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration.
Within hours of the General Services Administration’s acknowledgement Monday evening of Biden’s victory in the Nov. 3 election, career federal officials opened the doors of agencies to hundreds of transition aides ready to prepare for his Jan. 20 inauguration. And on Tuesday, Trump signed off on allowing Biden to receive the presidential daily brief, the highly classified briefing prepared by the nation’s intelligence community for the government’s most senior leaders.
An administration official said logistics on when and where Biden will first receive the briefing were still being worked out.
Biden, in an interview with “NBC Nightly News,” said he was also working out a meeting with the White House's coronavirus task force and vaccine distribution effort.
“So I think we’re going to not be so far behind the curve as we thought we might be in the past,” he said. "And there’s a lot of immediate discussion, and I must say, the outreach has been sincere. There has not been begrudging so far. And I don’t expect it to be. So yes it’s already begun.”
By Tuesday afternoon, the Biden transition had been in contact with all federal agencies about transition planning, according to a transition official.
But Trump, who has not formally conceded to Biden — and may never — continued to sow doubt about the vote, despite his own administration’s assessment that it was conducted without widespread fraud, misconduct or interference.
The president has maintained a low profile since his defeat. He made a quick appearance in the briefing room on Tuesday to deliver just over one minute of remarks on the Dow Jones Industrial Average trading at record levels and later delivered the traditional pre-Thanksgiving turkey pardon in the White House Rose Garden. He has not taken questions from journalists in weeks.
He did not hold back on Twitter regarding the election results.
“Remember, the GSA has been terrific, and (Administrator) Emily Murphy has done a great job, but the GSA does not determine who the next President of the United States will be,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. His legal team continued to mount seemingly futile challenges to the votes in battleground states.
Murphy acted after Michigan certified Biden’s victory in the battleground state on Monday, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state. Pennsylvania certified its results, and its 20 electors for Biden, on Tuesday morning, followed hours later by Nevada.
It also came as an increasing number of Republicans were publicly acknowledging Biden’s victory, after weeks of tolerating Trump’s baseless claims of fraud. The Republican president had grown increasingly frustrated with the flailing tactics of his legal team.
In recent days, senior Trump aides including chief of staff Mark Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone had also encouraged Trump to allow the transition to begin, telling the president he didn’t need to concede but could no longer justify withholding support to the Biden transition.
Late Monday, Meadows sent a memo to White House staffers saying that their work was not yet finished and that the administration would “comply with all actions needed to ensure the smooth transfer of power,” according to a person who received it. At the same time, he warned staffers who are not specifically authorized to interact with the Biden team against contact with the incoming administration.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters Tuesday that within hours of GSA’s ascertainment of Biden’s victory, his agency’s top career official was in contact with the Biden team on coordinating briefings, including on the Trump administration’s planning to distribute vaccines for COVID-19.
“We are immediately getting them all of the pre-prepared transition briefing materials,” Azar said. “We will ensure coordinated briefings with them to ensure they’re getting whatever information that they feel they need.”
The official managing the Pentagon’s transition work with the Biden landing team said that the first meeting was held virtually on Tuesday morning and that he expected daily meetings to come -- some virtually and some in person. The official, Tom Muir, told reporters that normal accommodations for the Biden team have been made, including provision of briefing materials, video-teleconferencing capabilities and office space inside the Pentagon.
“HUD career officials have begun the process of scheduling briefings with the Biden transition team in response to their requests," said a spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
GSA’s move frees up millions of dollars in federal support for the Biden transition and gives his team access to additional federal office space and support services, including computers, phones and secure briefing rooms.
A day after Trump said his administration should begin working with Biden’s team, Republican allies filed two more lawsuits attempting to stop the certification in two battleground states. One in Minnesota was swiftly rejected by a state court Tuesday before the state certified its results for Biden. Shortly after, another was filed in Wisconsin, which doesn’t certify until Dec. 1.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Colleen Long and Robert Burns in Washington and Alexandra Jaffe in Wilmington, Del., contributed to this report.
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