- Attorney General William Barr sent a memo authorizing the Department of Justice to investigate voter fraud, despite the fact that there is no evidence of fraud.
- The move also breaks precedent with DOJ policy to not investigate an election until the results are certified. Barr acknowledged this but said that is not a “hard and fast rule” and that a case-specific judgment had to be made.
- Following this, the director of the Election Crimes Branch of the DOJ, Richard Pilger, resigned from his position citing Barr’s memo and the ramifications of it.
- Others, including Biden campaign officials and prominent Democratic senators, have either slammed Barr for making this choice or slammed members of the Republican party for backing Trump in his unfounded claims of voter fraud.
Barr Authorizes Voter Fraud Investigations
The Director of the Election Crimes Branch of the Department of Justice resigned Monday after Attorney General William Barr sent a memo authorizing the department to probe voter fraud, despite there being no evidence to support any wide-scale fraud in the 2020 election.
Barr’s memo breaks standard DOJ policy, not just by encouraging an investigation based on unfounded claims, but by prompting an investigation before an election has been certified.
“Overt investigative steps ordinarily should not be taken until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded,” Barr acknowledged.
“Such a passive and delayed enforcement approach can result in situations in which election misconduct cannot realistically be rectified,” he added. “Moreover, this Election Crimes Branch practice has never been a hard and fast rule, and case-specific determinations and judgments must be made.”
Barr said that most allegations of misconduct would not be big enough to actually impact the results of the election, but that this is not always the case. As far as fears about the potential of the department inadvertently impacting the results of the election, Barr said that risk is small after voting is concluded, even if the election has not yet been certified.
“Given this and given that voting in our current elections has now concluded, I authorize you to pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections in your jurisdictions in certain cases, as I have already done in specific instances,” Barr wrote.
Barr has been repeatedly criticized for politicizing his department in favor of the White House. In his memo, he encouraged attorneys to maintain a commitment to neutrality and not investigate “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims.”
Election Crimes Director Resigns
Currently, there is no merit to the claims President Donald Trump and those in his circle have made about voter fraud in the election, which was declared for President-Elect Joe Biden on Saturday. Election officials on both sides of the aisle have said they have not seen any evidence indicating fraud.
Not long after Barr released this memo, Richard Pilger, the director of the Election Crimes Branch of the DOJ sent out a resignation email that was obtained by multiple news outlets.
“Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications, and in accord with the best tradition of the John C. Keeney Award for Exceptional Integrity and Professionalism (my most cherished Departmental recognition), I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch,” he wrote.
“I have enjoyed very much working with you for over a decade to aggressively and diligently enforce federal criminal election law, policy, and practice without partisan fear or favor. I thank you for your support in that effort.”
Barr’s announcement comes just a month after the DOJ lifted constraints when it comes to election fraud inquiries and investigations. He also released the note not long after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been backing Trump’s efforts to not concede the election.
According to sources from The New York Times, Barr himself has privately said that he thinks election disputes should be resolved within the courts. He also has said he has not seen anything indicating mass voter fraud. Still, he has cleared the path for claims to be investigated anyways.
Responses to Barr’s Announcement
Biden campaign attorney Bob Bauer told the Associated Press that it is “deeply unfortunate that Attorney General Barr chose to issue a memorandum that will only fuel the ‘specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims’ he professes to guard against.”
“Those are the very kind of claims that the president and his lawyers are making unsuccessfully every day, as their lawsuits are laughed out of one court after another,” Bauer told the outlet. “But, in the end, American democracy is stronger than any clumsy and cynical partisan political scheme.”
Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Civil Rights division of the DOJ under former President Barack Obama, accused Barr of “scaremongering.”
“Let’s be clear – this is about disruption, disinformation, and sowing chaos. Trump is furious, demanding all ‘his’ lawyers take action,” Gupta wrote. “They have no evidence so they’ll push the PR. Doesn’t change the result.”
Even though Gupta has no faith that this effort will change the election’s outcome, she does think it will “play harm by seeking to undermine confidence, create fear and validate Trump’s lies.”
But leaders like McConnell are still pulling pages from Trump’s book and paving the way for legal battles and investigations into an election that, for all intents and purposes, still benefited them even though they lost the presidency. McConnell and other Republicans are not calling fraud on the House or Senate races their party won, even though those races were won on the same ballots Trump lost the presidency.
“In the United States of America, all legal ballots must be counted. Any illegal ballots must not be counted,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Monday. “The process should be transparent or observable by all sides and the courts are here to work through concerns.”
“Our institutions are actually built for this. We have the system in place to consider concerns. And President Trump is 100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.”
McConnell has faced backlash from Democrats for supporting the president in his baseless claims aimed at calling a fair election into question.
“The American people made their voices heard in record numbers and chose Joe Biden as their next president,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote. “Rejecting that mandate in favor of political games and conspiracy theories is a dangerous attack on our democracy—even by Mitch McConnell’s standards.”
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (New York Times) (NBC News)
CDC Data Shows Booster Shots Provide Effective Protection Against Omicron
Public health experts have encouraged Americans to get boosted to protect themselves against the omicron variant, but less than 40% of fully vaccinated people who are eligible for their third shot have received it.
A First Glimpse of Official Data on Boosters and Omicron
COVID-19 booster shots are effective at preventing Americans from contracting omicron and protecting those who do become infected from severe illness, according to three reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published Friday.
The reports mark the first real-world data regarding the highly infectious variant and how it has impacted the U.S.
One of the CDC reports, which studied data from 25 state and local health departments, found that there were 149 cases per 100,000 people among those had been boosted on average each week.
In comparison, the figure was 255 cases per 100,000 people in Americans who had only received two shots.
Another study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalizations in 10 states found that the third doses were 90% effective at preventing hospitalization.
By contrast, those who received just two shots were only 57% protected against hospitalization by the time they were eligible for a booster six months after their second dose.
Additionally, the same report also found that the boosters were 82% effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centers, a marked increase from the 38% efficacy for those who were six months out from their two-shot regime and had not yet received a third.
Low Booster Shot Vaccination Rates
Public health officials hope that the new data will urge more Americans to get their booster shots.
Since the emergence of omicron, experts and leading political figures have renewed their efforts to encourage people to get their third shots, arguing they are the best form of protection.
The CDC currently recommends that everyone 12 and older get a booster shot five months after their second shot of Pfizer and Moderna or two months after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Still, in the U.S., less than 40% of fully vaccinated individuals eligible for a third shot have gotten one.
While COVID cases in the country have begun to drop over the past several days from their peak of over 800,000 average daily infections, the figures are still nearly triple those seen in the largest previous surges.
Hospitalizations have also slowly begun to level out over the last week in places that were hit first, such as New York City and Boston, but medical resources still remain strained in many parts of the country that experienced later surges and have not yet seen cases slow.
Some experts predict that the U.S. will see a sharp decline in omicron cases, as experienced in South Africa and Britain. Still, they urge American’s to get boosted to ensure their continued protection from the variant, as well as other strains that will emerge.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (The New York Times)
California Bill Would Allow Kids 12 and Up to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent
Nearly one million California teens and preteens between the ages of 12 and 17 are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
State Senator Proposes Legislation
Legislation proposed in California on Thursday would allow children age 12 and up to get vaccinated without parental consent.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Bill 866 in the hope it could boost vaccination rates among teenagers. According to Wiener, nearly one million kids aged 12- to 17-years old remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 in the state of California.
“Unvaccinated teens are at risk, put others at risk & make schools less safe,” Wiener tweeted. “They often can’t work, participate in sports, or go to friends’ homes.”
“Many want to get vaccinated but parents won’t let them or aren’t making the time to take them. Teens shouldn’t have to rely on parents’ views & availability to protect themselves from a deadly virus.”
Currently, teens in California can receive vaccines for human papillomavirus and hepatitis B without parental consent. They can also make other reproductive or mental healthcare choices without a guardian signing off. Wiener argues that their medical autonomy should expand to all vaccines, especially during a pandemic that has already killed roughly 78,000 Californians.
Vaccine Consent Across the U.S.
“Teens shouldn’t have to plot, scheme or fight with their parents to get a vaccine,” he said. “They should simply be able to walk in & get vaccinated like anyone else.”
Bill 866 would allow any kids ages 12 and up to receive any vaccine approved or granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, Pfizer’s COVID vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA for those 16 and older. It has received emergency authorization for ages five through 15.
Across the United States, vaccine consent ages vary. While the vast majority of states require parental approval for minors to be vaccinated against COVID-19, kids as young as 11 can get the jab on their own in Washington, D.C. In Alabama, kids can receive it without parental consent at 14, in Oregon at 15, and in Rhode Island and South Carolina at 16. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, providers can waive consent in certain cases in Arkansas, Idaho, Washington, and Tennesee.
In October, California became the first state to announce plans to require that students receive the COVID-19 vaccine to attend class. The mandate has yet to take effect, but under the guidelines, students will be “required to be vaccinated for in person learning starting the term following FDA full approval of the vaccine for their grade span.”
In other words, once the FDA gives a vaccine full approval for those aged 12 and up, it will be required the following session for kids in grades 7-12. Once it does so for kids as young as five, the same process will happen for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. There will also be room for exemptions from the mandate.
The Fight to Vaccinate California
This week, a group of California state legislators formed a Vaccine Work Group in order to boost public health policies in the state. Wiener is among the several members who are “examining data, hearing from experts, and engaging stakeholders to determine the best approaches to promote vaccines that have been proven to reduce serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.”
“Vaccines protect not only individuals but also whole communities when almost everyone is vaccinated at schools, workplaces and businesses, and safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines have already prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans,” Sen. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) said in a press release. “Public safety is a paramount duty of government, and I am proud to join a talented group of legislators in the pro-science Vaccine Work Group who want to end this disastrous pandemic and protect Californians from death and disability by preventable diseases.”
While vaccine policies have been a divisive subject nationwide, including in California, state politicians and leaders are hopeful public health initiatives will prevail.
“If we allow disinformation to drive our state policy making we will not only see more Americans needlessly suffer and die, but we will sacrifice the long term stability of our society having effectively abandoned the idea that we all must work together to protect each other in times of crisis.” Catherine Flores Martin, the Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition, added.
See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (NBC News) (Sacramento Bee)
Inmates Sue Jail for Giving Them Ivermectin to Treat COVID-19 Without Consent
Four detainees who filed the suit allege that the jail’s doctor gave them “incredibly high doses” of the anti-parasite in a “cocktail of drugs” that he said were “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”
Washington County Detention Center Lawsuit
Four inmates at an Arkansas jail have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that they were unknowingly given the anti-parasite drug ivermectin without their consent by the detention center’s doctor after contracting COVID-19.
The Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and countless other medical experts have said that ivermectin — commonly used for livestock — can be dangerous and should not be used to treat the coronavirus.
According to the lawsuit, after testing positive for COVID in August, the four men at the Washington County Detention Center (WCDC) were given a “cocktail of drugs” twice a day by the facility’s doctor, Robert Karas.
The inmates claim that Dr. Karas did not tell them that he was giving them ivermectin, but instead said the drugs consisted of “‘vitamins’, ‘antibiotics,’ and/or ‘steroids.’”
The complaint also alleges that the detainees were given “incredibly high doses” of the drug, causing some to experience “vision issues, diarrhea, bloody stools, and/or stomach cramps.”
Use on Other Inmates
The four plaintiffs were far from the only people to whom Karas gave ivermectin.
According to the lawsuit, the doctor began using the drug to treat COVID starting in November of 2020. In August, the Washington County sheriff confirmed at a local finance and budget committee meeting that the doctor had been prescribing the drug to inmates, prompting the Arkansas Medical Board to launch an investigation.
In response, Karas informed a Medical Board investigator in a letter from his attorney that 254 inmates at the facility had been treated with ivermectin.
In the letter, he confirmed that whether or not detainees were given information about ivermectin was dependent on who administered it, but paramedics were not required to discuss the drug with them.
He also admitted that after the practice got media coverage, he “adopted a more robust informed consent form to assuage any concern that any detainees were being misled or coerced into taking the medications, even though they weren’t.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, which filed the suit on behalf of the inmates, also claimed in a statement that after questions were raised about the practice, the jail attempted to make detainees sign forms saying that they retroactively agreed to the treatments.
The WCDC has not issued a public response to the lawsuits, but Dr. Karas appeared to address the situation in a Facebook post where he defended his actions.
“Guess we made the news again this week; still with best record in the world at the jail with the same protocols,” he wrote. “Inmates aren’t dumb and I suspect in the future other inmates around the country will be suiing their facilities requesting same treatment we’re using at WCDC-including the Ivermectin.”