Russian parliament OKs New START nuclear treaty extension

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian lawmakers on Wednesday quickly approved the extension of the last remaining nuclear Russia-U.S. arms control treaty, a fast-track action that comes just days before it’s due to expire.

Both houses of parliament voted unanimously to extend the New START treaty for five years, a day after a phone call between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin said they agreed to complete the necessary extension procedures in the next few days.

Speaking via video link to the World Economic Forum’s virtual meeting, Putin hailed the decision to extend the treaty as “a step in the right direction,” but warned of rising global rivalries and threats of new conflicts.

The pact’s extension doesn’t require congressional approval in the U.S., but Russian lawmakers must ratify the move and Putin has to sign the relevant bill into law.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told lawmakers that the extension will be validated by exchanging diplomatic notes once all the procedures are completed.

The upper house speaker, Valentina Matvienko, said after the vote that the decision to extend the pact shows that Russia and the U.S. can reach agreements on major issues despite the tensions between them.

New START expires on Feb. 5. After taking office last week, Biden proposed extending the treaty for five years, and the Kremlin quickly welcomed the offer.

The treaty, signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.

Biden indicated during the campaign that he favored the preservation of the New START treaty, which was negotiated during his tenure as U.S. vice president.

Russia has long proposed prolonging the pact without any conditions or changes, but the Trump administration waited until last year to start talks and made the extension contingent on a set of demands. The talks stalled, and months of bargaining have failed to narrow differences.

The negotiations were also marred by tensions between Russia and the United States, which have been fueled by the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other irritants.

After both Moscow and Washington withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, New START is the only remaining nuclear arms control deal between the two countries.

Earlier this month, Russia announced that it would follow the U.S. in pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed surveillance flights over military facilities, to help build trust and transparency between Russia and the West.

Before the Biden administration took office, Russia always had offered to extend New START for five years — a possibility that was envisaged by the pact at the time it was signed. But President Donald Trump charged that it put the U.S. at a disadvantage. Trump initially insisted that China be added to the treaty, an idea that Beijing bluntly dismissed.

The Trump administration then proposed to extend New START for just one year and also sought to expand it to include limits on battlefield nuclear weapons.

Arms control advocates hailed the treaty’s extension as a boost to global security and urged Russia and the U.S. to start negotiating follow-up agreements.

Ryabkov said that Russia will count its Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle along with other Russian nuclear weapons under the treaty limits.

The Russian military has said the Avangard is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound and could make sharp maneuvers on its way to a target to bypass missile defense systems. It has been fitted to a few existing Soviet-built intercontinental ballistic missiles instead of older type warheads, and in the future could be fitted to the Sarmat, a prospective intercontinental ballistic missile now under development.

Ryabkov said that Russia is ready to sit down for talks on prospective arms cuts, noting that they should also involve non-nuclear precision weapons with strategic range.

US terrorism alert warns of politically motivated violence

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Homeland Security issued a national terrorism bulletin Wednesday warning of the lingering potential for violence from people motivated by antigovernment sentiment after President Joe Biden’s election, suggesting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol may embolden extremists and set the stage for additional attacks.

The department did not cite any specific plots, but pointed to “a heightened threat environment across the United States” that it believes “will persist” for weeks after Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

It is not uncommon for the federal government to warn local law enforcement through bulletins about the prospect for violence tied to a particular event or date, such as July 4.

But this particular bulletin, issued through the department’s National Terrorism Advisory System, is notable because it effectively places the Biden administration into the politically charged debate over how to describe or characterize acts motivated by political ideology, and suggests it regards violence like the kind that overwhelmed the Capitol as akin to terrorism.

The bulletin is an indication that national security officials see a connective thread between different episodes of violence in the last year motivated by anti-government grievances, including over COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results and police use of force. The document singles out crimes motivated by racial or ethnic hatred, such as the 2019 rampage targeting Hispanics in El Paso, Texas, as well as the threat posed by extremists motivated by foreign terror groups.

A DHS statement that accompanied the bulletin noted the potential for violence from “a broad range of ideologically-motivated actors.”

“Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence,” the bulletin said.

The alert comes at a tense time following the riot at the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump seeking to overturn the presidential election. Authorities are concerned that extremists may attack other symbols of government or people whose political views they oppose.

“The domestic terrorism attack on our Capitol earlier this month shined a light on a threat that has been right in front of our faces for years,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “I am glad to see that DHS fully recognizes the threat posed by violent, right-wing extremists and is taking efforts to communicate that threat to the American people.”

The alert was issued by acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske. Biden’s nominee for the Cabinet post, Alejandro Mayorkas, has not been confirmed by the Senate.

Two former homeland security secretaries, Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano, called on the Senate to confirm Mayorkas so he can start working with the FBI and other agencies and deal with the threat posed by domestic extremists, among other issues.

Chertoff, who served under President George W. Bush, said attacks by far-right, domestic extremists are not new but that deaths attributed to them in recent years in the U.S. have exceeded those linked to jihadists such as al-Qaida. “We have to be candid and face what the real risk is,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

Federal authorities have charged more than 150 people in the Capitol siege, including some with links to right-wing extremist groups such as the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers.

The Justice Department announced charges Wednesday against 43-year Ian Rogers, a California man found with five pipe bombs during a search of his business this month who had a sticker associated with the Three Percenters on his vehicle. His lawyer told his hometown newspaper, The Napa Valley Register, that he is a “very well-respected small business owner, father, and family man” who does not belong to any violent organizations.

Trump signs coronavirus relief and government funding bill into law after lengthy delay

By Kevin Liptak, Kate Bennett, Tami Luhby, Kaitlan Collins, Jason Hoffman, Phil Mattingly and Jeremy Diamond, CNN

(CNN) — President Donald Trump signed the massive $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding bill into law Sunday night, averting a government shutdown that was set to begin on Tuesday, and extending billions of dollars in coronavirus aid to millions.

Trump’s signature of the $900 billion Covid relief package extends unemployment benefits for millions of jobless gig-workers and independent contractors, as well as the long-term unemployed.

The estimated 12 million people in two key pandemic unemployment programs, who were facing their last payment this weekend, will now receive benefits for another 11 weeks. Plus, all those collecting jobless payments will receive a $300 weekly federal boost through mid-March.

When will you get a second stimulus check?”

However, because Trump did not sign the bill on Saturday, those in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs will likely not receive a payment for the final week of the year. And the $300 federal enhancement may only last 10 weeks instead of 11 weeks for most folks. That’s because states can’t provide benefits for weeks that start before programs are authorized, but the legislation calls for the extra payments to end on March 14.

Also, because Congress waited until late December to strike a deal, those in the two pandemic unemployment programs will likely experience a break in payments of several weeks while state agencies reprogram their computers. But the benefits are retroactive.

The Covid-19 relief legislation was passed by Congress on Monday and was flown to Mar-a-Lago on Thursday to await Trump’s signature. But after sitting on the sidelines during the negotiations, Trump emerged with an eleventh-hour complaint that a separate provision in the deal, which the President’s own White House helped broker, would only provide up to $600 in direct payments. Trump wanted to send out $2,000 checks. Trump also took umbrage with certain items that were actually from the omnibus spending package and which he had requested in his annual budget to Congress.

Trump signaled in a statement Sunday night that he signed the coronavirus relief bill only after securing a commitment for the Senate to consider legislation to increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, did not reference that commitment in his own statement Sunday night praising the President for signing the relief bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had seized on Trump’s call for $2,000 checks last week and brought to the floor a standalone bill that would have boosted the amount for relief checks on Thursday. House Republicans, however, objected to the bill over deficit concerns.

The Democratic-led House is set to vote on the expansion of the direct payments on Monday.

Calling the President’s signing of the relief bill “welcome news” for Americans whose benefits had lapsed, Pelosi said in a statement Sunday that Trump should “immediately call” on Republicans “to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000.”

Here’s what’s in the second stimulus package.

Trump also claimed that the Senate will consider legislation that “repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud,” though it is not clear what that legislation would be. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in November’s election.

Trump last week vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act — which passed both chambers of Congress with veto-proof majorities — in part because of his frustration over Section 230, a law that shields internet companies from liability for what is posted on their websites by them or third parties. The House is expected to act Monday to override Trump’s veto. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has suggested many Republicans won’t vote to override Trump’s veto, despite having voted for the bill itself, so it’s unclear if the override attempt will be successful or if the veto will stand.

Trump also said in his Sunday statement that he would submit a request for Congress to cut specific spending items in the Covid relief and government funding package, a nod to his litany of complaints about foreign aid. But that request, beyond freezing new spending on the specified items for a period of 45 days, will have no meaningful effect. Trump will be out of office before Congress could act on any of his requests.

Unemployment benefits and eviction protections extended

Trump chooses chaos with delayed signature of Covid relief bill

The relief package extends two programs that were part of the historic expansion of the nation’s unemployment system that Congress enacted as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act in late March.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program allowed independent contractors, the self-employed, freelancers and gig workers to qualify for up to 39 weeks of payments. It also opened up the program to those who can’t work because of the pandemic, including if they or family members are ill or quarantining or if their children’s schools are closed.

And the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provided an additional 13 weeks of federally paid benefits to those who run out of state payments, which typically last 26 weeks. The programs technically would have expired on December 31.

The third CARES Act measure — an extra $600 a week in federal payments — expired at the end of July.

The new stimulus deal extends the two pandemic programs for up to 11 weeks. Each closes to new applicants on March 14, but continues through April 5 for existing claimants who have not yet reached the maximum number of weeks.

The relief package also extends eviction protection to January 31 and provides $25 billion in rental assistance for those who lost their sources of income during the pandemic.

A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order halting some evictions was set to expire at the end of the year. Since the order does not cancel or freeze rent, all of a tenant’s back rent would have been due January 1 if the moratorium had been allowed to expire. Without rent relief or an extension of the protection, many struggling renters would again face eviction.

An estimated 9.2 million renters who have lost employment income during the pandemic are behind on rent, or 23% of such renters, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

A lengthy delay

Trump signed the bill almost a week after calling it a “disgrace” and demanding Congress amend the legislation. Trump’s complaints came only after Congress passed the bill with a veto-proof majority and after the President stood on the sidelines during weeks of negotiations.

Aides had prepared for the President to sign the bill as early as Christmas Eve, when it arrived at Mar-a-Lago for his signature. But the plan was scrapped at the last minute, two sources with knowledge of the circumstances told CNN.

In anticipation of the signing, the smaller of Mar-a-Lago’s two ballrooms was prepped for a 7 p.m. ceremony, complete with a desk and chair for Trump to sit, and his customary pens at the ready, according to the source.

However, as the hour approached, aides were informed the President would not be signing the relief bill that evening. One source told CNN that Trump had “changed his mind.”

The country, Congress and many of Trump’s closest aides and advisers had remained in the dark as to what he intended to do. He had not offered any clarity since posting the video objecting to the bill on Tuesday night.

When a deal was struck between congressional leaders, Trump’s aides had signed off believing the President was on board, though two officials previously told CNN they did not believe he was walked through the package in detail.

In fact, throughout his video message asking Congress to amend it, Trump railed against several provisions that were part of the omnibus spending bill, not the Covid relief bill.

“It is called the Covid relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with Covid,” the President said at one point.

While the omnibus spending bill — which appropriates money for all the federal agencies for the rest of the fiscal year — was combined with the stimulus deal, funds allocated to the omnibus bill don’t mean less is available for the Covid relief bill.

Still, the President had publicly maintained his opposition to the legislation — leaving small business support, jobless benefits and relief checks for millions of Americans in limbo.

U.S. Will Close Last Two Consulates in Russia

By Pranshu Verma, NY Times

The closure would leave the United States with one remaining diplomatic outpost in Russia amid heightened tensions between the two countries.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has notified members of Congress that it plans to close the last two remaining United States consulates in Russia.

In a letter dated Dec. 10, the State Department said it plans to close the consulate in Vladivostok, a major port city in far-east Russia, and temporarily suspend its operations at the consulate in Yekaterinburg, east of the Ural Mountains.

The closure of these consulates would leave the United States with one remaining diplomatic outpost in Russia — the embassy in Moscow — amid heightened tensions between the two countries.

The State Department notification was sent days before reports emerged of a suspected Russian cyberattack against numerous federal agencies and companies. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday said that “we can say pretty clearly that it was the Russians that engaged in this activity.”

According to the notification to Congress, the consulates are being closed because of caps imposed by Russian authorities in 2017 on the number of American diplomats allowed to work in the country.

A State Department spokeswoman said that the Mr. Pompeo, in consultation with the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John J. Sullivan, decided to close the two U.S. consulates in Russia to ensure the safety and security of the U.S. diplomatic mission in the country, as well as to streamline the work of U.S. diplomats.

Ten diplomats assigned to the consulates will be reassigned to the embassy in Moscow, according to the State Department notification. Thirty-three staff members who are locally employed will be laid off.

The consulate in Vladivostok has been closed since March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Its permanent closure is expected to save $3.2 million per year, according to State Department estimates.

The consulate closures, reported earlier by The Associated Press, will likely cause major inconveniences for American travelers and Russians in the country’s far-eastern region. All planned consular services — including visa applications and other travel support for Americans in the country — will now be run out of Moscow.

In 2018, Russian officials ordered the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg to close. This was in retaliation for the U.S. decision to close a Russian consulate in Seattle over the country’s reported involvement in the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain.

The exact timing of the closures was not disclosed, and it is unclear if they will happen before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office on Jan. 20.

Damage from border wall: blown-up mountains, toppled cactus

BY ANITA SNOW

GUADALUPE CANYON, Ariz. (AP) — Work crews ignite dynamite blasts in the remote and rugged southeast corner of Arizona, forever reshaping the landscape as they pulverize mountaintops in a rush to build more of President Donald Trump’s border wall before his term ends next month.

Each blast in Guadalupe Canyon releases puffs of dust as workers level land to make way for 30-foot-tall (9-meter-tall) steel columns near the New Mexico line. Heavy machines crawl over roads gouged into rocky slopes while one tap-tap-taps open holes for posts on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property.

Trump has expedited border wall construction in his last year, mostly in wildlife refuges and Indigenous territory the government owns in Arizona and New Mexico, avoiding the legal fights over private land in busier crossing areas of Texas. The work has caused environmental damage, preventing animals from moving freely and scarring unique mountain and desert landscapes that conservationists fear could be irreversible. The administration says it’s protecting national security, citing it to waive environmental laws in its drive to fulfill a signature immigration policy.

Customs and Border Protection said in a statement Friday that it has worked with the National Park Service and other agencies to minimize damage in construction areas, including not using groundwater within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, home to endangered species like the Sonoyta mud turtle. The agency said it also has replanted salvageable cactuses and has identified 43 places for small wildlife corridors along the Arizona border, with installation of some underway.

Environmentalists hope President-elect Joe Biden will stop the work, but that could be difficult and expensive to do quickly and may still leave pillars towering over sensitive borderlands.

The worst damage is along Arizona’s border, from century-old saguaro cactuses toppled in the western desert to shrinking ponds of endangered fish in eastern canyons. Recent construction has sealed off what was the Southwest’s last major undammed river. It’s more difficult for desert tortoises, the occasional ocelot and the world’s tiniest owls to cross the boundary.

“Interconnected landscapes that stretch across two countries are being converted into industrial wastelands,” said Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson.

In the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge near Guadalupe Canyon, biologist Myles Traphagen said field cameras have captured 90% less movement by animals like mountain lions, bobcats and pig-like javelinas over the past three months.

“This wall is the largest impediment to wildlife movement we’ve ever seen in this part of the world,” said Traphagen of the nonprofit Wildlands Network. “It’s altering the evolutionary history of North America.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1982 established the nearly 4-square-mile (10-square-kilometer) refuge to protect water resources and endangered native fish. Diverse hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and bats also live there.

Since contractors for Customs and Border Protection began building a new stretch of wall there in October, environmentalists estimate that millions of gallons of groundwater have been pumped to mix cement and spray down dusty dirt roads.

Solar power now pumps water into a shrinking pond underneath rustling cottonwood trees. Bullfrogs croak and Yaqui topminnows wiggle through the pool once fed solely by natural artesian wells pulling ancient water from an aquifer.

A 3-mile (5-kilometer) barrier has sealed off a migratory corridor for wildlife between Mexico’s Sierra Madre and the Rocky Mountains to the north, threatening species like the endangered Chiricahua leopard frog and blue-gray aplomado falcon.

The Trump administration says it’s completed 430 miles (692 kilometers) of the $15 billion wall and promises to reach 450 miles (725 kilometers) by year’s end.

Biden transition officials say he stands by his campaign promise — “not another foot” of wall. It’s unclear how Biden would stop construction, but it could leave projects half-finished, force the government to pay to break contracts and anger those who consider the wall essential to border security.

“Building a wall will do little to deter criminals and cartels seeking to exploit our borders,” Biden’s transition team has said. It says Biden will focus on “smart border enforcement efforts, like investments in improving screening infrastructure at our ports of entry, that will actually keep America safer.”

Environmentalists hope for an ally in Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Customs and Border Protection.

Until construction is stopped, “every day, it will be another another mile of borderlands being trashed,” Serraglio said.

Environmental law attorney Dinah Bear said Biden’s administration could terminate building contracts, which would allow companies to seek settlements. What that would cost isn’t clear because the contracts aren’t public, but Bear said it would pale in comparison to the price of finishing and maintaining the wall. Military funds reappropriated under a national emergency declared by Trump are now funding the work.

Bear, who worked at the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality under Republican and Democratic administrations, said she wants to see Congress set aside money to repair damage by removing the wall in critical areas, buying more habitat and replanting slopes.

Ecologists say damage could be reversed in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, where thousands of tree-like saguaros were bulldozed, with some reportedly replanted elsewhere.

They say keeping floodgates open could help ease damage done by damming the San Pedro River, which runs north from just below the Mexican border through the central corridor of the Sierra Madre’s “Sky Islands.”

These high mountains have ecosystems dramatically different from the desert below, with 300 bird species, including the yellow-billed cuckoo, nesting along what was the Southwest’s last major free-flowing river. The white-nosed, racoon-like coati and the yellow-striped Sonoran tiger salamander also live there.

In the nearby Coronado National Monument, scientists are using cameras to document wildlife as crews prepare to start building. Switchbacks have been slashed into mountainsides, but 30-foot (9-meter) posts aren’t yet up along where a Spanish expedition marched through around 1540.

The government plans to install the towering pillars 4 inches (10 centimeters) apart where there are now vehicle barriers a couple of feet high with openings large enough to allow large cats and other animals to cross to mate and hunt.

Biologist Emily Burns of the nonprofit Sky Island Alliance said construction will hurt elf owls, the world’s littlest at less than 5 inches (13 centimeters) tall. The birds are too small to fly over the fence and likely wouldn’t know to squeeze through.

“This kind of large-scale disruption can push a species to the brink, even if they aren’t threatened,” said Louise Misztal, alliance executive director.

Judge: Trump administration must take new DACA applications

NEW YORK (AP) — The Trump administration must accept new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects some young immigrants from deportation, a federal judge ruled Friday, in vacating a memo from the acting Homeland Security secretary that had suspended it.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said the government had to post a public notice within three days — including on its website and the websites of all other relevant government agencies — that new DACA applications were being accepted.

The ruling follows one from November where Garaufis said Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was unlawfully in his position.

On Friday, the judge said that invalidated the memo Wolf had issued in July suspending DACA for new applications and reducing how long renewals were valid from two years down to one year.

Wolf had issued his memo after the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in June that President Donald Trump failed to follow rule-making procedures when he tried to end the program.

Garaufis also ordered the government to put together a status report on the DACA program by Jan. 4.

An email seeking comment was sent to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Every time the outgoing administration tried to use young immigrants as political scapegoats, they defiled the values of our nation. The court’s order makes clear that fairness, inclusion, and compassion matter,” said New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who led a number of state attorneys general in one of the lawsuits against the administration.

DACA, which was started in 2012 during the Obama administration, allows certain young immigrants who were brought to the country as children to legally work and shields them from deportation. Those who are approved for it must first go through background checks and regularly renew.

The Trump administration had announced the end of the program in 2017, leading to the legal challenges that wound up in front of the Supreme Court.

In making its ruling, the Supreme Court upheld DACA, saying that the particular way the administration had gone about shutting it down was improper, but that the president did have the authority to do so.

“Dreamers have fought so hard for justice. For the second time, a court has ordered the administration to resume processing DACA applications. It’s time to do the right thing,” Jennifer Molina, a spokesperson for President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, said Friday. “On day one, President-elect Biden will ensure Dreamers and their families have the opportunity to live their lives free of fear and continue to contribute to our country.”

About 650,000 people are currently enrolled in the program.

Trump says he’ll leave if Electoral College seats Biden

By JILL COLVIN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he will leave the White House if the Electoral College formalizes President-Elect Joe Biden’s victory — even as he insisted such a decision would be a “mistake” — as he spent his Thanksgiving renewing baseless claims that “massive fraud” and crooked officials in battleground states caused his election defeat.

“Certainly I will. But you know that,” Trump said Thursday when asked whether he would vacate the building, allowing a peaceful transition of power in January. But Trump — taking questions for the first time since Election Day — insisted that “a lot of things” would happen between now and then that might alter the results.

“This has a long way to go,” Trump said, even though he lost.

The fact that a sitting American president even had to address whether or not he would leave office after losing reelection underscores the extent to which Trump has smashed one convention after another over the last three weeks. While there is no evidence of the kind of widespread fraud Trump has been alleging, he and his legal team have nonetheless been working to cast doubt on the integrity of the election and trying to overturn voters’ will in an unprecedented breach of Democratic norms.

Trump spoke to reporters in the White House’s ornate Diplomatic Reception Room after holding a teleconference with U.S. military leaders stationed across the globe. He thanked them for their service and jokingly warned them not to eat too much turkey, then turned to the election after ending the call. He repeated grievances and angrily denounced officials in Georgia and Pennsylvania, two key swing states that helped give Biden the win.

Trump claimed, despite the results, that this may not be his last Thanksgiving at the White House. And he insisted there had been “massive fraud,” even though state officials and international observers have said no evidence of that exists and Trump’s campaign has repeatedly failed in court.

Trump’s administration has already given the green light for a formal transition to get underway. But Trump took issue with Biden moving forward.

“I think it’s not right that he’s trying to pick a Cabinet,” Trump said, even though officials from both teams are already working together to get Biden’s team up to speed.

And as he refused to concede, Trump announced that he will be traveling to Georgia to rally supporters ahead of two Senate runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate. Trump said the rally for Republican Sens. David Perdue and Sen. Kelly Loeffler would likely be held Saturday. The White House later clarified he had meant Dec. 5.

One of the reasons Republicans have stood by Trump and his baseless claims of fraud has been to keep his loyal base energized ahead of those runoffs on Jan. 5. But Trump, in his remarks, openly questioned whether that election would be fair in a move that could dampen Republican turnout.

“I think you’re dealing with a very fraudulent system. I’m very worried about that,” he said. “People are very disappointed that we were robbed.”

As for the Electoral College, Trump made clear that he will likely never formally concede, even if he said he would leave the White House.

“It’s gonna be a very hard thing to concede. Because we know there was massive fraud,” he said, noting that, “time isn’t on our side.”

“If they do,” vote against him, Trump added, “they’ve made a mistake.”

Asked whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration, Trump said he knew the answer but didn’t want to share it yet.

But there were some signs that Trump was coming to terms with his loss.

At one point he urged reporters not to allow Biden the credit for pending coronavirus vaccines. “Don’t let him take credit for the vaccines because the vaccines were me and I pushed people harder than they’ve ever been pushed before,” he said.

As for whether or not he plans to formally declare his candidacy to run again in 2024 — as he has discussed with aides— Trump he didn’t “want to talk about 2024 yet.”

All states must certify their results before the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14, and any challenge to the results must be resolved by Dec. 8. State have already begun that process, including Michigan, where Trump and his allies tried and failed to delay the process, and Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Vote certification at the local and state level is typically a ministerial task that gets little notice, but that changed this year with Trump’s refusal to concede and his unprecedented attempts to overturn the results of the election through a fusillade of legal challenges and attempts to manipulate the certification process in battleground states he lost.

Biden won by wide margins in both the Electoral College and popular vote, where he received nearly 80 million votes, a record.

Feds agree to help Biden transition after more Trump defeats

By DAVID EGGERT, ZEKE MILLER and COLLEEN LONG

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government recognized President-elect Joe Biden as the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election on Monday, formally starting the transition of power after President Donald Trump spent weeks testing the boundaries of American democracy. He relented after suffering yet more legal and procedural defeats in his seemingly futile effort to overturn the election with baseless claims of fraud.

Trump still refused to concede and vowed to continue to fight in court after General Services Administrator Emily Murphy gave the green light for Biden to coordinate with federal agencies ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration. But Trump did tweet that he was directing his team to cooperate on the transition. 

Monday’s fast-moving series of events seemed to let much of the air out of Trump’s frantic efforts to undermine the will of the people in what has amounted to a weekslong stress test for American democracy. But Trump’s attempts to foment a crisis of confidence in the political system and the fairness of U.S. elections haven’t ended and are likely to persist well beyond his lame-duck presidency.

Murphy, explaining her decision, cited “recent developments involving legal challenges and certifications of election results.” 

She acted after Michigan on Monday certified Biden’s victory in the battleground state, and a federal judge in Pennsylvania tossed a Trump campaign lawsuit on Saturday seeking to prevent certification in that state. 

It also comes as an increasing number of Republicans were publicly acknowledging Biden’s victory, after weeks of tolerating Trump’s baseless claims of fraud. The 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 him 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.

Yohannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden transition, said the decision “is a needed step to begin tackling the challenges facing our nation, including getting the pandemic under control and our economy back on track.”

Murphy, a Trump appointee, has faced bipartisan criticism for failing to begin the transition process sooner, preventing Biden’s team from working with career agency officials on plans for his administration. The delay denied Biden access to highly classified national security briefings and hindered his team’s ability to begin drawing up its own plans to respond to the raging coronavirus pandemic.

“Please know that I came to my decision independently, based on the law and available facts. I was never directly or indirectly pressured by any Executive Branch official—including those who work at the White House or GSA—with regard to the substance or timing of my decision,” she wrote in a letter to Biden.

Trump tweeted moments after Murphy’s decision: “We will keep up the good fight and I believe we will prevail! Nevertheless, in the best interest of our Country, I am recommending that Emily and her team do what needs to be done with regard to initial protocols, and have told my team to do the same.”

Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, criticized the delay but said Biden’s team would be able to overcome it. 

“Unfortunately, every day lost to the delayed ascertainment was a missed opportunity for the outgoing administration to help President-elect Joe Biden prepare to meet our country’s greatest challenges,” he said. “The good news is that the president-elect and his team are the most prepared and best equipped of any incoming administration in recent memory.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the GSA action “is probably the closest thing to a concession that President Trump could issue.″ Noting that the nation “faces multiple crises that demand an orderly transition,″ Schumer urged Democrats and Republicans to “unite together for a smooth and peaceful transition that will benefit America.″

Murphy’s action came just 90 minutes after Michigan election officials certified Biden’s 154,000-vote victory in the state. The Board of State Canvassers, which has two Republicans and two Democrats, confirmed the results on a 3-0 vote with one GOP abstention. Trump and his allies had hoped to block the vote to allow time for an audit of ballots in Wayne County, where Trump has claimed without evidence that he was the victim of fraud. Biden crushed the president by more than 330,000 votes there.

Some Trump allies had expressed hope that state lawmakers could intervene in selecting Republican electors in states that do not certify. That long-shot bid is no longer possible in Michigan.

“The people of Michigan have spoken. President-elect Biden won the State of Michigan by more than 154,000 votes, and he will be our next president on January 20th,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, said, adding it’s “time to put this election behind us.” 

Trump was increasingly frustrated by his legal team, led by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose erratic public performances drew bipartisan mockery in recent weeks. Still, the legal challenges were expected to continue, as Trump seeks to keep his supporters on his side and keep his options open for opportuntities post-presidency.

In Pennsylvania on Saturday, a conservative Republican judge shot down the Trump campaign’s biggest legal effort in the state with a scathing ruling that questioned why he was supposed to disenfranchise 7 million voters with no evidence to back their claims and an inept legal argument at best.

But the lawyers still hope to block the state’s certification, quickly appealing to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which ordered lawyers to file a brief Monday but did not agree to hear oral arguments.

The campaign, in its filings, asked for urgent consideration so it could challenge the state election results before they are certified next month. If not, they will seek to decertify them, the filings said.

Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes. 

Pennsylvania county election boards voted Monday, the state deadline, on whether to certify election results to the Department of State. The boards in two populous counties split along party lines, with majority Democrats in both places voting to certify. After all counties have sent certified results to Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, she must then tabulate, compute and canvass votes for all races. The law requires her to perform that task quickly but does not set a specific deadline.

In Wisconsin, a recount in the state’s two largest liberal counties moved into its fourth day, with election officials in Milwaukee County complaining that Trump observers were slowing down the process with frequent challenges. Trump’s hope of reversing Biden’s victory there depends on disqualifying thousands of absentee ballots —- including the in-person absentee ballot cast by one of Trump’s own campaign attorneys in Dane County.

https://apnews.com/article/michigan-consider-certifying-joe-biden-4ee6fbfd69f9a2a4daf9be449c6fe31d

Current and former Trump officials quietly reach out to Biden team

By Evan Perez, Jeff Zeleny and Vivian Salama, CNN

Washington (CNN) — A handful of current Trump administration officials, as well as some political appointees who left in recent months, have quietly started to reach out to members of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, according to people briefed on the matter.

The outreach is a sign that President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election and the continued obstruction from the White House is beginning to frustrate even those affiliated with the administration. The General Services Administration still has yet to acknowledge Biden’s victory and begin the formal transition. As a result, Biden and his team remain locked out of access to contacts with the federal agencies, funding to help ramp up government hiring for the new administration and access to classified intelligence briefings.

One former Trump official told CNN they’re viewing the outreach effort as putting duty to the country over partisan considerations. The conversations are not as detailed as formal briefings that would take place under the officially sanctioned transition, sources said, but they at least could help incoming Biden transition members have a sense of the issues they might have to deal with upon taking office.

Another former White House official who left the administration a few months ago said that he personally emailed someone who he expects will be back in the Biden administration in a similar role to his and offered to help.

One current administration official confirmed to CNN on Wednesday that there has been informal outreach from inside Trump’s government to Biden’s team. “Nothing that would get us in trouble,” the official said. “Just an offer to be of help. They know what we mean, and what we can-and-can’t do or say.”

<img alt=”&amp;#39;It&amp;#39;s a terrible situation&amp;#39;: Inside a government bureaucrat&amp;#39;s pressure-filled decision to delay the transition” class=”media__image” src=”//cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/201109192836-emily-murphy-large-169.jpg”>

The official said that outreach thus far hasn’t resulted in any substantive conversations.

A senior adviser to Biden acknowledged the outreach from across the government, but declined to comment. A separate Biden aide said the assistance was appreciated and in several cases was an outgrowth of pre-existing relationships in specific fields, but noted that it was not nearly as robust as a traditional transition of power.

“It requires more than former officials choosing to step forward and be helpful to ensure a smooth transition of power,” Kate Bedingfield, deputy campaign manager and transition adviser to Biden, told CNN. “GSA should follow the law and ascertain the results of the election so that Americans get a smooth and effective hand off between administrations.”

Continuing to stonewall

It’s been more than a week since CNN and other news organizations called the presidential election for Biden. Since then, the Trump campaign’s lawsuits challenging the result in a handful of states have been repeatedly tossed out of court.

RELATED: CNN’s live presidential election results

Still, employees in at least one federal agency are still being warned not to talk to anyone on Biden’s team.

Health and Human Services staffers were told Wednesday that if anyone from President-elect Joe Biden’s team contacts them, they are not to communicate with them and are to alert the deputy surgeon general of the communication, according to an administration official.

Secretary Alex Azar also said during a briefing on Wednesday that staff will not work with Biden’s transition team until the General Services Administration makes a determination that Biden is the President-elect, a decision that is made by a Trump appointee.

“We’ve made it very clear that when GSA makes a determination, we will ensure complete, cooperative professional transitions and planning,” Azar said. “We follow the guidance. We’re about getting vaccines and therapeutics invented and get the clinical trial data and saving lives here. That’s where our focus is as we go forward with our efforts.”

Though it’s not clear how widely the instructions were disseminated at the department, the directive underscores the lengths the administration is going to in order to stonewall Biden’s transition on critical transfer of power activities, including matters concerning the coronavirus pandemic.

Outreach to former Mattis officials

Another former US official who participated in the last transition said that while the GSA’s official sanction is important, some agencies are limited in what they can share with transition members even with the GSA’s blessings. At the Justice Department and intelligence agencies there’s some information that will have to wait until the Biden names prospective members of his administration and they receive the necessary clearances.

The GSA delay does however slow the process of getting those clearances. Still, many Biden transition members served in the Obama administration and maintained security clearances in the interim.

CNN previously reported that some Biden transition team are reaching out to former Pentagon officials who worked for former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

The conversations are the result of the inability to engage with current Pentagon officials at this time, sources told CNN. And they come as an effort to build the transition team’s understanding about what has happened in the department over the last four years. Reaching out to former officials is “the next best thing,” one of the former officials explained.

‘A nice change of pace’

A separate White House official criticized the overall drama that continues to engulf the West Wing, even as this administration comes to a close. This person told CNN that a Biden administration will be “a nice change of pace” by comparison.

A different White House official shared that sentiment, telling CNN that they had already sent out their resume to potential employers.

“Looking forward to getting out of here,” this person told CNN.

Trump tweets words ‘he won’t; says vote rigged, not conceding

By KEVIN FREKING

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump worked to take back an apparent acknowledgment that Joe Biden won the White House and was making clear he would keep trying to overturn the election result. 

Trump’s earlier comments Sunday had given some critics and supporters hope that the White House was ready to begin working on a transition with Biden’s team. Not so fast, Trump soon assured.

Trump, without using Biden’s name, said that “He won” as part of a tweet that made baseless claims about a “rigged” election. But as the Republican president saw how his comments were being interpreted as his first public acknowledgment of a Biden victory, he quickly reversed course.

“He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA,” Trump subsequently tweeted. “I concede NOTHING! We have a long way to go. This was a RIGGED ELECTION!”

There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election. In fact, election officials from both political parties stated publicly that the election went well, and international observers confirmed there were no serious irregularities. Trump’s campaign has tried to mount legal challenges across the country,but many of the lawsuits have been thrown out and none has included any evidence that the outcome might be reversed.

Biden, a Democrat, defeated Trump by winning back a trio of battleground states: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and topped the 270 electoral vote threshold to clinch the presidency. Biden so far has 78.8 million votes, the most ever by a winning candidate, to Trump’s 73.1 million.

“If the president’s prepared to begin to recognize that reality, that’s positive,” Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Still, Klain said, “Donald Trump’s Twitter feed doesn’t make Joe Biden president or not president. The American people did that.”

A Republican governor, Arkansas’ Asa Hutchinson, said “it was good, actually” to see Trump’s tweet that Biden won. “I think that’s the start of an acknowledgment. … We want to make sure that there is a smooth transition,” Hutchinson said on NBC.

Nearly two weeks after Election Day, Trump has neither called Biden nor made a formal concession, and White House officials have insisted that they are preparing for a second term.

Former President Barack Obama, in an interview conducted and aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” said he would remind Trump that, as president, he is a public servant and a temporary occupant of the office.

“And when your time is up then it is your job to put the country first and think beyond your own ego, and your own interests, and your own disappointments,” Obama said. “My advice to President Trump is, if you want at this late stage in the game to be remembered as somebody who put country first, it’s time for you to do the same thing.”

Obama also criticized those Republicans going along with Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud.

“I’m more troubled by the fact that other Republican officials who clearly know better are going along with this, are humoring him in this fashion. It is one more step in delegitimizing not just the incoming Biden administration, but democracy generally. And that’s a dangerous path,” he said.

In recent days, Trump appeared to be inching closer to acknowledging the reality of his loss. In comments Friday in the Rose Garden about a coronavirus vaccine, Trump said his administration would “not be going to a lockdown” to slow the spread of COVID-19, and added that “whatever happens in the future, who knows which administration it will be? I guess time will tell.”

Trump on Sunday renewed his groundless attacks on an election technology firm, Dominion Voting Systems, without evidence of any serious irregularities. Dominion has said it “denies claims about any vote switching or alleged software issues with our voting systems.”

The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, a federal agency that oversees U.S. election security, said in a statement last week that the “November 3rd election was the most secure in American history.” The agency said, ”There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

John Bolton, a former Trump national security adviser, said it was important for Republican Party leaders to explain to voters that Trump did lose and that his claims of election fraud are baseless. Bolton left the administration last year. He says he resigned; Trump says he fired Bolton.

“I think as every day goes by, it’s clearer and clearer there isn’t any evidence. But if the Republican voters are only hearing Donald Trump’s misrepresentations, it’s not surprising that they believe it,” Bolton said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s critical for other Republican leaders to stand up and explain what actually happened. Donald Trump lost what by any evidence we have so far was a free and fair election.”

Having none of that was Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who is helping lead Trump’s national legal front on the election challenge. In a television appearance that Trump previewed on Twitter after his morning tweets, Giuliani denied Trump was conceding — “No, no, no, far from it.” 

“I guess,″ Giuliani told Fox News Channel’s ”Sunday Morning Futures,” “you would call it sarcastic.”

___

Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Wilmington, Delaware, and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.