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Biden Names Longtime Advisor Ron Klain as His White House Chief of Staff

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  • In his first official appointment, Joe Biden announced his chief of staff will be Ron Klain, a top advisor who previously served as the chief of staff to Biden when he was vice president.
  • Klain also led then-President Obama’s Ebola task force in 2014, a role that many supporters have highlighted while applauding his selection.
  • Critics argued that Klain had played down the coronavirus pandemic in the past, pointing to remarks he made in February encouraging people not to panic and saying he was unsure how serious the virus would be.
  • However, Klain’s comments were largely taken out of context, and in both instances, he emphasized the need to do more to prepare and condemned the Trump administration for failing to act.

Biden Picks Chief of Staff

President-elect Joe Biden announced the first appointment of his incoming administration Wednesday, officially selecting longtime advisor Ron Klain to be his chief of staff.

Klain, a lawyer and well-established Democratic operative, has known the former vice president for decades, having first worked for Biden in the late 1980s when he was a senator. Klain later served as Biden’s Chief of Staff when he was vice president during former President Barack Obama’s first term — a position he also held under former Vice President Al Gore.

Notably, in 2014, Obama also tapped Klain to be his “Ebola czar,” and lead the task force confronting the outbreak. Biden highlighted Klain’s experience leading that effort in a statement announcing the appointment, saying that Klain was “precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff as we confront this moment of crisis and bring our country together again.”

Klain’s selection as chief of staff was applauded by politicians and reporters, who also noted his work on the Ebola outbreak as an important asset in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Criticisms of Klain

However, on the other side, a number of conservatives, and specifically supporters of President Donald Trump, slammed the decision, arguing that Klain had downplayed the virus in the past.

Many pointed to a specific clip that was tweeted out by the Trump campaign, which showed Klain speaking about the pandemic at an event on Feb. 11.

“Nearly 2 weeks AFTER President Trump restricted travel from China, Joe Biden’s top #coronavirus advisor Ron Klain said #COVID19 ‘may not be’ a serious epidemic.’ The evidence suggests it’s probably not’ serious, he said,” the campaign tweeted.

But that is not the full context of what Klain was saying, and the video of his complete remarks paints a very different picture.

“Fundamentally, the world remains unprepared for a serious epidemic,” he said. “Now, the coronavirus may be that, it may not be that. The evidence suggests it’s probably not. But it will come sooner or later, and the world really lacks the detection systems it needs, the response tools it needs, and the leadership it needs to really deal with that.” 

Others also flagged an interview Klain gave around the same time, where he said there was not yet a reason to be fearful or to panic.

But in the same clip people used to claim he was downplaying the pandemic, Klain also said much was unknown about the virus and how lethal it may be, emphasized the need to be prepared, and even explicitly said the Trump administration needed to be more aggressive in their response.

Some Twitter users also countered these attacks by pointing out that Trump has continually downplayed the virus, and even admitted to doing so around the same time Klain made those remarks.

Beyond the coronavirus, a number of people also circulated a tweet from Klain in 2014 in response to an article tweeted out by Vox titled “68% of Americans think elections are rigged.” Klain responded to the tweet, writing “That’s because they are.”

Numerous conservative voices, including the Trump campaign and other allies of the president, circulated the post, arguing it was proof that Biden’s top adviser believed the election had been rigged.

The Vox article in question is not about election fraud though and is instread about how a majority of Americans think elections are slanted towards incumbents. The report argues that this is in large part due to the fact that incumbents get a voice in gerrymandering, thus getting to effectively pick their voters, and also because they have political leverage ties to influential people.

In fact, the article even explicitly says in the second sentence of the piece: “The term ‘rigged’ might go a tad far. The problem here isn’t fraud. In elections, like in so much else, the scandal is what’s legal.”

Still, allies of the president, including his son, Donald Trump Jr., continued to spread the deceptive post on Thursday, signaling that as Biden continues to announce his administration, Trump’s top cronies can be expected to spread more misleading claims and outright disinformation in the coming weeks.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Politico) (NPR)

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NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud

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The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.


New York Attorney General’s Filing

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”

The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.

The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage. 

The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.

That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.

In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.

While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.

Alleged Direct Involvement

The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.

The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations. 

According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.” 

Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.

While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.

It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.

Response

Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.

“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”

As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”

Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win

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The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.


New Maps Upheld

A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.

Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.

The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.

The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.

In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”

Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.

Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution. 

The Path Ahead

While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.

There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.

A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month

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The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.


New At-Home Testing Policy

The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.

Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.

The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months. 

According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance. 

Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.

Potential Exemptions

All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased. 

In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.

As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.

If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.

During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”

“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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