- Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator to former President Trump, said she believes the majority of U.S. COVID-19 deaths could have been prevented if the administration had taken more decisive actions.
- “The first time, we have an excuse,” Birx said in a CNN documentary that aired Sunday, referring to the initial cases last spring. “There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
- Several other top officials were also interviewed for the documentary, including many who said the administration censored or marginalized them.
- Still, some have criticized the officials for waiting until now to speak out, calling them complicit in Trump’s failures and accusing them of attempting to rehabilitate their images.
CNN Airs “Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out”
In a new CNN documentary that aired Sunday night, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator under former President Donald Trump, said that most COVID-19 deaths would have been prevented if the administration had done more.
The documentary is titled “Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” and in it, CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta asked Birx how big of a difference she believes it would have made if Trump had “mitigated earlier.”
“I look at it this way: The first time, we have an excuse,” Birx responded. “There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
Since last February, nearly 550,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. By late April and May, after the initial set of cases, Trump began pressuring states and cities to reopen while spreading disinformation such as promoting the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure and casting doubt on the effectiveness of masks.
Experts believe his rhetoric contributed to another spike in the summer, which was followed by the winter surge that led to the deadliest month so far in January, when an average of 3,100 people died of COVID-19 every day.
In the documentary, Dr. Birx also said that she was marginalized by the White House as she began to slowly break with the administration over testing and mitigation as the year went on. She claimed that Trump personally rebuked her in August after she said American’s needed to take more strict safety precautions.
Other Officials Speak Out
Birx, however, was not the only former official who spoke to the network. Five other top officials were also interviewed in the documentary, many of whom echoed her experiences of being censored or ignored by the White House and other members of the administration.
Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, claimed that former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar personally meddled with the center’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports to try and change ones that political officials did not like.
Stephen Hahn, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, separately told Gupta that Azar had revoked his agency’s ability to regulate certain coronavirus tests, a decision he said crossed a “line in the sand” and put patients at risk.
Still, many other former administration officials and health experts outside the White House were critical of the remarks made in the interviews, arguing that these officials should have done more at the time and that they are only speaking out now as a PR stunt to restore their images.
Several people pointed to how Dr. Birx had praised Trump for his response early in the pandemic, specifically saying in March that he was “so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data,” even as he was downplaying the virus, comparing it to the flu, and pushing hydroxychloroquine over the objections of his scientific advisers.
Others also noted instances Birx herself presented overly optimistic data, as well as the time she sat idly by as Trump wondered aloud whether disinfectants like bleach could cure COVID during a nationally televised press briefing.
When asked by reporters why they did not speak out sooner, eight people involved in the coronavirus response — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity — said that by keeping in line with the administration, they believed they were better able to influence COVID policy.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Vox)
Matt Gaetz Reportedly Venmo’d Accused Sex Trafficker, Who Then Sent Money To Teen
- A report published by The Daily Beast Thursday alleges that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) sent $900 through Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the funds to pay three young women, including one teenager.
- Gaetz is currently under federal investigation as part of a broader inquiry into Greenberg, a former politician who has been charged with 33 counts, including sex trafficking an underage girl.
- Investigators are reportedly looking into the involvement of politicians with women who were recruited online for sex and paid in cash, as well as whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws by paying for her to travel with him.
- Greenberg’s lawyer did not comment on the new allegations but said Thursday his client would soon enter a plea deal and implied that Greenberg would testify as a witness against Gaetz. Meanwhile, Gaetz has accused The Daily Beast of spreading “rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements.”
Gaetz’s Alleged Venmo Payments
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly sent money via Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the money to pay three young women, including at least one teenage girl, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.
Greenberg, a former local Flordia politician and an associate of Gaetz, was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but his lawyers said in court Thursday that he would plead guilty as part of a plea deal.
Legal experts say the move almost certainly indicates that Greenberg plans to cooperate as a witness against Gaetz, who is currently under investigation by the Justice Department as part of a broader probe into Greenberg.
According to The New York Times, among other things, the DOJ inquiry is looking into their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and paid cash, as well as whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws.
Investigators reportedly believe that Greenberg met the women through a website for people willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and money, and then arranged for them to meet with himself and associates including Gaetz, The Times reported.
The new report from The Daily Beast, published Thursday, appears to support this narrative. According to the outlet, which viewed the transactions before they were made private this week, Gaetz sent Greenberg two late-night Venmo payments totaling $900 in May 2018.
In the text field of the first payment, Gaetz wrote “Test.” In the second, he asked Greenberg to “hit up” a teenager who he allegedly referred to by her nickname. The Daily Beast did not publish the name of the girl “because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.”
The next morning, Greenberg transferred a total of $900 to three different young women using the same app.
One of the transfers was titled “Tuition,” and the other two were both listed as “School.” The Daily Beast also said it was able to obtain “partial records” of Greenbergs Venmo, which is not publicly available.
Those records, the outlet reported, show that the two men are connected through Venmo to at least one other woman who Greenberg paid with a government-funded credit card, and at least two other women who received payments from Greenberg.
Gaetz, for his part, has not directly addressed the latest allegations. A representative from the Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm, provided The Daily Beast with a statement from the congressman.
“The rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements of others will be addressed in due course by my legal team,” the statement said, with the firm also informing the outlet that their lawyers would be “closely monitoring your coverage.”
Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, also declined requests to comment, but during a press conference Thursday, he implied that the plea deal his client is expected to accept spelled trouble for Gaetz.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.
The Daily Beast story also comes amid reports that that the FBI has widened its probe of Gaetz. According to The Times, sources familiar with the inquiry have said investigators are also looking into a trip he took to the Bahamas with other Florida Republicans and several women.
Sources said the trip took place shortly after Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016, and that the FBI has already questioned witnesses about whether the women had sex with the men in exchange for money and free travel.
It is illegal to trade sex for something of value if prosecutors can provide the exchange involved force, fraud, or coercion.
The Times also reported that investigators are now additionally looking into Gaetz’s alleged involvement in discussions to run a third-party candidate in a State Senate race to make it easier for an associate of his who was running for the seat to win.
The act of recruiting so-called “ghost candidates” who run for office purely to divert votes from one candidate is not usually illegal. However, paying a ghost candidate is normally considered a violation of campaign finance laws.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (The New York Times) (The Hill)
Biden Announces Executive Actions on Gun Violence
- President Biden unveiled several executive actions on Thursday to address gun violence in America, which he described as “an epidemic” and “an international embarrassment.”
- Biden’s measures include new limits on “ghost guns,” which are built from separate parts and usually do not have traceable serial numbers, as well as stabilizing braces, which functionally turn pistols into more lethal weapons.
- Biden also said he would direct the Justice Department to publish a model for states to use in implementing “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement or family to petition a court to temporarily block a person in crisis from accessing firearms.
- The president characterized these actions as first steps, noting that congressional approval will be needed for his agenda and urging the chambers to take action.
Biden’s Plan for Gun Violence
President Joe Biden announced a series of executive actions on Thursday aimed at addressing gun violence in America.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment,” he said in remarks from the Rose Garden. “The idea that we have so many people dying every single day from gun violence in America is a blemish on our character as a nation.”
Among other measures outlined, the president said he will tighten restrictions on so-called “ghost guns,” which are firearms built at home by buying individual parts or kits to assemble guns that often lack serial numbers, making them hard to identify and trace.
Another rule will require devices to meet the requirements of the National Firearms Act if they are marketed as a stabilizing brace that can functionally turn a pistol into a short-barreled rifle. The alleged shooter who killed 10 people in Boulder last month appeared to have used a pistol with an arm brace, which Biden said made the weapon more stable and accurate.
Additionally, Biden will also direct the Justice Department to publish a model for states to use to enact “red flag” laws, which allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition a court to temporarily ban a person in crisis from accessing firearms. He will also as require the agency to publish an annual report on firearms trafficking.
In addition to those actions, the president said that he will nominate gun control advocate David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which has not had a permanent director since 2015.
Finally, Biden also emphasized that his administration will invest in community violence intervention programs. That includes proposing $5 billion for the initiatives over the course of eight years as part of his infrastructure plan.
Mounting Press and Continued Gridlock
Biden’s announcement comes as he is facing pressure from gun control activists and Democrats to act on gun violence following the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder.
Many have also condemned the president for not making gun control a top priority for his first days in office, as he promised during his campaign.
According to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll, 57% of Americans disapprove of the way Biden has handled gun violence so far, and two-thirds “believe reducing gun violence should be a higher priority than protecting the right to own a wide variety of guns.”
Biden, for his part, has repeatedly pressured Congress to take action on gun violence, specifically pointing to two bills passed by the House last month. Both were dead on arrival in the divided Senate. In his remarks Thursday, the president characterized the actions he outlined as the first steps.
“This is just a start, we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go, it seems like we always have a long way to go.”
However, he also acknowledged that further, substantial action will require the approval of Congress, which he urged to close background check loopholes, ban assault weapons, and narrow protections for gun manufacturers from litigation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (USA Today)
Matt Gaetz Reportedly Asked Trump’s White House for Blanket Preemptive Pardons
- The New York Times reported Tuesday that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly asked former President Trump to preemptively pardon him and unknown congressional allies for any possible crimes they might have committed.
- The request reportedly happened the same time federal investigators started looking into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl in violation of sex trafficking laws, though it is unclear if either Gaetz or the White House were aware of the inquiry at the time.
- Gaetz denied that he privately asked for a pardon in connection with the investigation, and Trump said the congressman had “never asked [him] for a pardon.”
Gaetz Scandal Deepens
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly asked former President Donald Trump to grant blanket preemptive pardons for any crimes he or his other allies in Congress may have committed, according to a report from The New York Times published Tuesday.
Four people familiar with the matter told the outlet that the ask came around the same time Gaetz was publicly calling for broad pardons. About two weeks after Trump lost the election, the congressman publicly said that he should “pardon everyone” before he left office, or they would be targeted by the “radical left.”
At the time, federal investigators from the Justice Department had already begun looking into whether he had a previous sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws — revelations that surfaced last week — which Gaetz denied.
According to The Times, it is unclear if either Gaetz or the White House knew he was under investigation at the time he allegedly made the request. The sources said he did not tell White House aides.
It is also unclear who else he sought a pardon for, though, as the outlet notes, “In recent days, some Trump associates have speculated that Mr. Gaetz’s request for a group pardon was an attempt to camouflage his own potential criminal exposure.”
The sources also said that aides told Trump about the request, though Trump himself released a statement Wednesday claiming he had not discussed the matter directly with Gaetz.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” he said. “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”
A spokesperson for Gaetz also denied that he privately asked for a pardon in connection with the DOJ investigation.
“Entry-level political operatives have conflated a pardon call from Representative Gaetz — where he called for President Trump to pardon ‘everyone from himself, to his administration, to Joe Exotic’ — with these false and increasingly bizarre, partisan allegations against him,” the spokesperson said. “Those comments have been on the record for some time, and President Trump even retweeted the congressman, who tweeted them out himself.”
Gaetz and Allies Ramp Up Rhetoric
Meanwhile, Gaetz has continued to go on the offensive in the last week since news of the sex trafficking investigation broke — a story The Times also first published.
Also on Tuesday, Talking Points Memo reported that Gaetz is now using allegations that he sex-trafficked a minor to raise money. In a screenshot of a campaign fundraising email published by the outlet, Gaetz accused The Times of publishing the allegations in an attempt to end his career, and accusing “the Left” of trying to drag his “dating life into their political attacks.”
So far, the growing scandal does not appear to be hurting the congressman’s image among Trump allies. While many have remained silent, Trump’s statement Wednesday about the pardon — his first public comment on any of the allegations — clearly implies that he still backs the congressman who has been one of his biggest allies.
The Flordia representative has also been asked to speak at a conservative women’s conference at Trump’s Miami golf course this Friday. In a tweet Tuesday, the organization said they were “honored” to have Gaetz speak at the event, despite the ongoing investigation.