- 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)
House Votes To Censure Rep. Gosar, Remove Him From Committees Over AOC Video
Gosar remained defiant in remarks delivered on the floor where he defended the video and refused to apologize.
Republicans Stay Defiant Amid Censure Debate
The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Az.) and remove him from his committees after he tweeted an anime video last week that showed him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)
The video, which has since been removed by Gosar, was a parody of the popular anime show “Attack on Titan.”
At one point in the clip, Gosar, along with Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), are seen battling and then killing a titan version of Ocasio-Cortez.
That post garnered widespread backlash, but Gosar continued to defend it and refused to apologize.
During the heated debate leading up to Wednesday’s vote, the lawmaker again expressed no regret and remained defiant.
“I rise today to address and reject the mischaracterization and accusations from many in this body that the cartoon from my office is dangerous or threatening. It was not,” he said. “I reject the false narrative categorically.”
“I do not espouse violence toward anyone. I never have. It was not my purpose to make anyone upset,” he continued. He then went on to insist the video was just a rebuke of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy and compared himself to Alexander Hamilton.
Many Republican leaders — who have largely refused to condemn the video — also defended Gosar and dismissed the post as a joke.
While some said they do not condone violence, few members of the party criticized the lawmaker. Rather, most focused their attacks on Democrats, arguing that they were abusing their power and silencing conservatives.
Democrats and Ocasio-Cortez Condemn Incitement of Violence
Democrats slammed Republicans’ continued refusal to reprimand Gosar. They said there must be consequences and that they were forced to act because his party would not.
Many also argued that they must speak out against actions that could incite the kind of violence that unfolded during the Jan. 6 insurrection. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), for instance, described the situation as “an emergency” that amounted to “violence against women” and “workplace harassment.”
“When a member uses his or her national platform to encourage violence, tragically, people listen,” she said, adding that “depictions of violence can foment actual violence, as witnessed by this chamber on Jan. 6, 2021.”
The Speaker additionally noted that there are legal implications for Gosar’s video because it amounted to a threat against a member of Congress, which is a criminal offense.
Ocasio-Cortez echoed the sentiments expressed by Pelosi during her speech on the floor.
“What I believe is unprecedented is for a member of House leadership of either party to be unable to condemn incitement of violence against a member of this body,” she said. “It is sad. It is a sad day in which a member who leads a political party in the United States of America cannot bring themselves to say that issuing a depiction of murdering a member of Congress is wrong.”
“What is so hard about saying this is wrong?” she continued. “It’s pretty cut and dry. Does anyone in this chamber find this behavior acceptable?”
“Our work here matters. Our example matters. There is meaning in our service. And as leaders in this country, when we incite violence with depictions against our colleagues, that trickles down into violence in this country.”
Ultimately, the vast majority of House Republicans voted against the resolution to censure Gosar. Only Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.) supported the measure, which passed 223 to 207.
While removing Gosar from his committees effectively takes away a major platform for him to effect legislation, the censure is basically just a public condemnation. Still, the move is significant because it represents the first time in more than a decade that a member of the House has been censured and only the 24th instance in American history.
Gosar, for his part, appeared to be unmoved by the decision. Just an hour after the vote, the lawmaker retweeted a post praising him that also included the same video of him killing Ocasio-Cortez.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)
Former Trump Aide Steve Bannon Surrenders to FBI After Contempt of Congress Charges
The charges stem from Bannon’s failure to comply with a subpoena from the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Bannon Faces Contempt Charges
Former White House advisor Steve Bannon surrendered to the FBI Monday morning on two contempt of Congress charges.
Bannon, who previously served as an aide to former President Donald Trump, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday after he defied a subpoena to testify and provide documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“I don’t want anybody to take their eye off the ball…We’re taking down the Biden regime every day,” he said when briefly addressing the media as he turned himself in to the FBI’s Washington, D.C. field office.
Bannon made his first court appearance Monday afternoon, though he did not make a plea and was released from custody. His arraignment is set for Thursday morning.
If convicted, each count of contempt carries a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Contempt of Congress charges are incredibly rare. According to The Washington Post, only three such charges have been brought in the last three decades.
Ongoing Legal Battle
While the proceedings against Bannon will likely be quick, they are only one part of what is shaping up to be a lengthy battle over executive privilege.
Trump has repeatedly attempted to block the Jan. 6 committee from obtaining requested documents, testimonies, and other materials under the argument that they are protected by executive privilege — which he asserts still applies to him and his former aides.
In addition to provoking a fraught legal back-and-forth over key records, the former president’s efforts have additionally prompted multiple previous top officials to refuse to comply with subpoenas.
Some top Democrats have said that Bannon’s indictment will encourage other witnesses to cooperate, but at the same time, it has reinvigorated Trump’s allies in Congress.
While some have threatened payback if Republicans take the House in 2022, others have also weaponized support of Bannon as the latest show of loyalty for Trump, effectively centering the matter as a key issue for the midterm elections.
On Saturday, Trump himself released a statement condemning all Republicans who either voted for the infrastructure bill or the contempt charges against Bannon, listing each by name and promising to back anyone who primaried them in the upcoming elections.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Judge Blocks Trump’s Effort To Keep Records From Jan. 6 Committee
The former president’s lawyers quickly appealed the decision, and experts have said the legal battle over the records could extend into next year.
Trump’s Attempt To Withhold Documents Rejected
A federal judge issued a ruling Tuesday rejecting former President Donald Trump’s effort to block records from being handed over to the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Trump has launched numerous attempts to prevent the committee from obtaining key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers have requested, claiming the materials are protected by executive privilege.
Last month, he went as far as to file a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing those documents.
In his suit, Trump claimed that executive privilege still applied to him even though he is no longer president, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden also declined to exercise executive privilege over the records.
The former president argued that the requested information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”
In her Tuesday ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan broadly rejected those arguments, writing that “the public interest lies in permitting […] the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again.”
Chutkan additionally argued that Congress’ ability to obtain information as part of its constitutional oversight authority outweighs Trump’s remaining secrecy powers, especially because Biden agreed that investigators should see the records.
“[Trump] does not acknowledge the deference owed to the incumbent president’s judgment. His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity,'” she added. “But presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president.”
Ongoing Legal Battle
Immediately after the ruling, Trump’s lawyers appealed and moved to block the release of the records until their appeal can be heard.
According to various reports, the appeals court set an initial written briefing deadline for Dec. 27. Legal experts, however, believe the battle will likely continue into next year and will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court.
A drawn-out legal process will only continue to benefit Trump, whose strategy of stonewalling and stalling the investigation has so far proven effective at hindering lawmakers.
Additional delays would further aid the former president if litigation continues past the 2022 midterm elections when Republicans hope to retake the House.
In a statement on Twitter, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich indicated that the legal fight is just now starting.
“The battle to defend Executive Privilege for Presidents past, present & future—from its outset—was destined to be decided by the Appellate Courts,” he wrote. “Pres. Trump remains committed to defending the Constitution & the Office of the Presidency, & will be seeing this process through.”