Much has happened since our last news summary, and we are here to catch you up.
So without further ado, here are the day’s top stories.
Friday’s proceedings featured opening arguments from the defense in the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump.
Michael van der Veen began the proceedings by calling them “an unjust and blatantly unconstitutional act of political vengeance.” He argued that Trump did not intend to incite violence with his speech but rather to urge senators to use the civic process to address concerns around electoral fairness. He introduced video evidence chronicling the objections of Democratic members of Congress following the 2016 election, in an attempt to demonstrate that such objections were routine and any suggestion to the contrary hypocritical. He then introduced video evidence of the many times that Trump used the phrase “law and order,” in an effort to prove that Donald Trump was not interested in inciting lawlessness and that any actions to the contrary ran counter to his intent. After all, he argued, if Sen. Bernie Sanders could not be blamed for the rhetoric that inspired the shooting of members of Congress at a softball game, nor could Donald Trump.
“Now is not the time for such a campaign of retribution. It is the time for unity and healing,” he closed.
David Schoen then argued that the impeachment process seeks to disenfranchise the millions of voters who sought to elect Donald Trump. He accused Democrats of relying on press reports and rumors — “claims that would never meet the evidentiary standards of any court” — playing video of each time that House managers used the words “reports,” “reported,” or “reportedly.” He accused House managers of manipulating evidence and said that a lack of due process deprived the defense of an opportunity to independently review and assess the veracity of House exhibits — offering as proof of manipulation the fact that a reproduced tweet carried the wrong date (said tweet was not introduced at trial but, rather, appeared in a New York Times article). He presented video of Trump’s full Charlottesville statements, suggesting that Democrats had selectively edited the tape, and introduced video of the myriad times that Democrats themselves had used the word “fight.”
Michael van der Veen then returned to argue that the letter written by 144 legal scholars — stating that Trump’s First Amendment defense was “legally frivolous” — was signed by “partisan law professors” and that its introduction into evidence was an attempt to both intimidate and threaten the defense.
“The reality is Mr. Trump was not in any way, shape, or form instructing these people to fight or to use physical violence. What he was instructing them to do was to challenge their opponents in primary elections to push for sweeping election reforms, to hold Big Tech responsible — all customary and legal ways to petition your government for redress of grievances, which, of course, is also protected constitutional speech,” he said.
Bruce Castor then argued that there wasn’t actually an insurrection and that the private call between Donald Trump and “Ben Raffensberger” (Brad Raffensperger) could not be viewed as an attempt to incite a riot because Trump neither recorded nor released it himself. Castor argued that because the rejection rate in Georgia was significantly lower in 2020 than it was in 2016 (a drop-off from 6.42 percent to 0.4 percent), Donald Trump was justified in asking the Georgia Secretary of State to “find” votes. “How can a request for signature verifications to be done in public be a basis for a charge for inciting a riot?” he asked.
Castor concluded the defense’s opening arguments in saying, “We will not take most of our time today, us of the defense, in the hopes that you will take back these hours and use them to get delivery of COVID relief to the American people. Let us be clear, this trial is about far more than President Trump. It is about silencing and banning the speech the majority does not agree with. It is about canceling 75 million Trump voters and criminalizing political viewpoints. That is what this trial is really about. It’s the only existential issue before us. It asks for constitutional cancel culture to take over in the United States Senate. Are we going to allow canceling and banning and silencing to be sanctioned in this body? To the Democrats who view this as a moment of opportunity, I urge you instead to look to the principles of free expression and free speech. I hope, truly, that the next time you are in the minority, you don’t find yourself in this position. To the Republicans in this chamber, I ask, when you are next in the majority, please resist what will be an overwhelming temptation to do this very same thing to the opposing party.”
The defense’s conclusion kicked off the question-and-answer portion of the afternoon, with Sens. Graham, Cruz, Marshall, and Cramer asking if a politician raising bail for rioters encourages more rioting (“Yes,” the defense replied); with Sens. Collins and Murkowski asking what specific actions Donald Trump took to bring the rioting to an end (“With the rush to bring the impeachment, there’s been absolutely no investigation into that,” van der Veen said); with Sen. Romney asking if Trump knew that Pence had been evacuated (“No. At no point was the president informed the vice president was in any danger,” van der Veen claimed); with Sen. Warren asking if Democratic objections to past elections were raised after violent riots and if they were specifically intended to delay certification; with Sen. Cramer asking if there has ever been a more pro-Israel president than President Trump; with Sen. Sanders asking if Trump’s lawyers actually believe that the election was stolen from him (“My judgment is irrelevant in this proceeding,” van der Veen replied); with Sen. Merkley asking if saying, “Be peaceful” is sufficient to evade a charge of incitement (“If you rob a bank, and on the way out the door you yell, ‘Respect private property,’ that’s not a defense to robbing the bank,” Raskin said); with Sen. Cruz asking if it is possible for Donald Trump’s words to be incitement and Kamala Harris’ words during the BLM riots not to be; with Sen. Cassidy asking if Donald Trump’s tweet about Vice President Pence suggests that he was tolerant of the intimidation of Vice President Pence; and with Sen. Rubio asking if a future House will feel pressured to impeach former official Hillary Clinton under this new precedent.
On Saturday, the two sides debated the utility of calling witnesses, and Michael van der Veen drew a laugh from the gallery when he said that he would require depositions to occur in person, in his office in “Philly-delphia.”
Following debate, the Senate voted 55-45 in favor of calling witnesses (with Sen. Graham changing his vote from nay to yea at the last minute), but there was some confusion on the floor over the substance of the vote, which ultimately necessitated clarification and a short recess. Ultimately, Democrats agreed not to seek witnesses if they could introduce Rep. Jaime Herrerra Beutler’s statement into the record, and the two sides proceeded to closing arguments.
In the end, Donald Trump was acquitted for a second time, with 57 senators voting to convict and 43 to acquit (67 votes — a supermajority — would have been required for conviction).
Seven Republicans joined Democrats in the vote: Sens. Burr, Cassidy, Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Sasse, and Toomey.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted to acquit, offered his reasoning after the vote, stating that he continued to believe that such a conviction would be unconstitutional, despite the fact that the matter of constitutionality had already been settled at the outset. On the merits, however, McConnell signaled his agreement with House managers. “There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” he said. “This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.”
“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office as an ordinary citizen unless the statute of limitations is run, still liable for everything he did while in office. Didn’t get away with anything yet. Yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.”
WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY RESIGNS
TJ Ducklo, who had originally been placed on a one-week suspension after threatening a Politico reporter, has now resigned.
The reporter, Tara Palmeri, had been pursuing a story about Ducklo’s romantic relationship with another political reporter, and the deputy press secretary had attempted to suppress the story by telling her that he would “destroy” her.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki and the Biden administration were roundly criticized for their lukewarm response, prompting Ducklo’s resignation.
“No words can express my regret, my embarrassment and my disgust for my behavior,” Ducklo said in a statement. “I used language that no woman should ever have to hear from anyone, especially in a situation where she was just trying to do her job. It was language that was abhorrent, disrespectful and unacceptable.”
Ducklo becomes the first member of the Biden administration to depart, less than one month following the inauguration.
STEVE SCHMIDT RESIGNS FROM LINCOLN PROJECT BOARD
The Lincoln Project co-founder Steve Schmidt announced his resignation from the board on Saturday amidst growing scrutiny over his knowledge of former co-founder John Weaver’s improprieties.
Weaver is accused of sexually harassing at least 21 men, to whom he reportedly promised employment and political help in exchange for sexual favors.
“I am resigning my seat on the Lincoln Project board to make room for the appointment of a female board member as the first step to reform and professionalize the Lincoln Project,” Schmidt said in a statement. “I am not the daily manager of the Lincoln Project, but I am the senior leader. As the senior leader, it is my responsibility to set an example and to assume accountability.”
The organization has announced its intent to “retain a best-in-class outside professional” to review Weaver’s tenure “to establish both accountability and best practices going forward for The Lincoln Project.”
YOU GET A CENSURE
The Louisiana GOP Executive Committee voted unanimously to censure Sen. Bill Cassidy for his vote to convict Donald Trump in the impeachment trial on Saturday.
Similarly, the North Carolina Republican Party’s central committee will meet Monday night in an emergency session to vote on the censure of Sen. Richard Burr, who, too, voted to convict.
“I am voting yes because he failed his state and his constituents by voting to convict FORMER President Trump in what was an unconstitutional trial. A trial that even he said was unconstitutional,” RNC committeewoman Kyshia Lineberger said. “At the end of the day, America is a Republic where we the people elect representatives. Senator Burr did not represent the will of the people and that is a shame.”
BIDEN CALLS ON CONGRESS TO ENACT GUN REFORM
On the anniversary of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, President Biden called on Congress to enact commonsense gun law reforms, to include universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and an end to immunity for gun manufacturers.
Sunday marked three years since the mass shooting that claimed the lives of 14 students and three educators at the Parkland, Florida high school.
“The Parkland students and so many other young people across the country who have experienced gun violence are carrying forward the history of the American journey,” Biden said in a statement. “It is a history written by young people in each generation who challenged prevailing dogma to demand a simple truth: we can do better. And we will. This Administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call. We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer.”
Read President Biden’s full statement here.
CUOMO’S NURSING HOME PROBLEM
A top aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told lawmakers that the state withheld data on the virus’ toll in nursing homes in order to stave off future investigations.
In a transcript of the phone call between the aide and state lawmakers, Melissa DeRosa said that the state was concerned about a Department of Justice preliminary inquiry and about attracting the ire of President Donald Trump, who was already criticizing the state for its coronavirus response.
“He directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us. He finds one person at DOJ, who since has been fired because this person is now known to be a political hack, who sends letters out to all of these different governors. And basically, we froze, because then we were in a position where we weren’t sure if what we were going to give to the Department of Justice or what we give to you guys, what we start saying was going to be used against us while we weren’t sure if there was going to be an investigation,” DeRosa is quoted as saying.
Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado called for a full investigation, saying, “Politics should never come before people’s lives.”
CDC RELEASES NEW GUIDANCE FOR REOPENING SCHOOLS
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that there was strong evidence to suggest that in-person schooling could safely resume with masks, social distancing, hand washing, disinfection of school facilities, and diagnostic testing and contact tracing, and that the vaccination of teachers should not serve as a prerequisite or barrier to opening.
The full release can be read here.
AUCKLAND IN LOCKDOWN
After an emergency cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern placed Auckland into a three-day lockdown and reimposed social distancing requirements on the rest of the country, while authorities look to locate the source of three new community cases of the more transmissible U.K. strain.
The restrictions are set to be in place until midnight on Wednesday, with reviews expected to occur daily.
FAUCI WINS $1 MILLION PRIZE
Dr. Anthony Fauci has been awarded the Israeli-based Dan David Prize — a prize that is awarded annually to three recipients: one for outstanding contributions that expand knowledge of the past, one for contributions that enrich society in the present, and one for contributions that promise to improve the future of our world.
Fauci received the $1 million prize for his contributions to the present, “courageously defending science in the face of uninformed opposition during the challenging Covid crisis.”
WINTER STORM CAUSES POWER OUTAGES ACROSS U.S.
As of Monday morning, approximately 2.7 million customers were without power in Texas due to a winter storm that brought 11 inches of snowfall to San Abilene, 10 inches near San Angelo, and the coldest temperatures in Midland in 32 years.
Gov. Greg Abbott had issued a disaster declaration for every county in the state, and on Sunday evening, President Biden approved Gov. Abbott’s emergency declaration request and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts.
Oregon, Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky also saw widespread power outages, and storm conditions in Oklahoma necessitated over 100 motorist assists (24 due to injury collisions).
The conditions are due to what the National Weather Service calls an “Arctic outbreak” — a cold air outbreak that is normally kept in the Arctic by a series of low-pressure systems but which moved through Canada and into the U.S. due to a weakening of the polar vortex, which affected the jet stream pattern.
LOS ANGELES POLICE INVESTIGATING GEORGE FLOYD-INSPIRED VALENTINE: “YOU TAKE MY BREATH AWAY”
The LAPD launched an internal investigation Monday after reports surfaced that an offensive photograph of George Floyd was circulating amongst officers.
The picture of Floyd, alongside the caption “You Take My Breath Away,” was the subject of a complaint made by a fellow officer. Police chief Michel Moore confirmed that his department was investigating two anonymous Instagram accounts linked to department personnel, including one called the “Blue Line Mafia”.
Floyd was killed last May when then-officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nine minutes, cutting off his air supply. His murder sparked large-scale protests.
BIDEN ADMIN HELPS SECURE RELEASE OF WOMEN’S RIGHTS ACTIVIST IN SAUDI ARABIA
Loujain al-Hathloul was released from custody last week after 1,001 days in prison, during which time she was reportedly forced to “kiss and perform other sexual acts on interrogators.”
The women’s rights activist had fought to end the country’s ban on female drivers and had been sentenced to nearly six years in prison under a broad counterterrorism law, having been accused of agitating for change, using the internet to cause disorder, and pursuing a foreign agenda.
President Biden described her release as “welcome news,” and her family thanked him for his support.
“She was released after few weeks after [President] Biden’s arrival to power. Without international pressure we cannot obtain something in Saudi Arabia,” her sister Alia al-Hathloul said. “Thank you Mr. President, that helped release my sister.”
7.1 MAGNITUDE EARTHQUAKE HITS JAPAN
According to the national Meteorological Agency, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck the country’s coast on Saturday was an aftershock of the 9.0 magnitude quake which struck the same area almost 10 years ago and caused the country’s worst nuclear disaster on record.
48 injuries were reported in the wake of Saturday’s quake; though, thankfully, there were no major casualties.
GUS MALZAHN NAMED UCF HEAD COACH
Gus Malzahn was announced as UCF’s new head coach on Monday, marking the end of a weeks-long search that commenced after former coach Josh Heupel took the job at Tennessee.
Malzahn was fired by Auburn at the conclusion of his eighth season, after compiling a 68-35 record. While he reached fifth on Auburn’s all-time win list, he was just 39-27 in SEC play, prompting the university to buy out his contract to the tune of $21.45 million.
Malzahn’s buy out is the largest buy out of a fired coach in college football history.
Malzahn, who is known for his hurry-up, no-huddle offensive philosophy, revealed during the announcement that he would be calling plays at UCF.
“I’m calling plays the rest of my career,” he said.
MEGHAN MARKLE AND PRINCE HARRY EXPECTING SECOND CHILD
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced on Sunday the upcoming arrival of their second child. The announcement comes not long after Markle revealed in a New York Times piece that she suffered a miscarriage last July. The couple’s second child will be the younger sibling of brother Archie, who is set to turn two in May.
Meanwhile, Oprah announced Monday that she will host an “intimate conversation” with the couple for a 90-minute primetime special scheduled to air Sunday, March 7.