Sen. Joni Ernst says 130,000 American deaths show Trump is ‘stepping forward’

Though it is a holiday weekend, the Sunday news shows continued on in mostly the usual fashion. Trump ally Sen. Joni Ernst, one of the corrupt man-child's most ardent defenders as the Republican Senate nullified impeachment charges against Trump without investigation, once had a lot to day about two (2) Americans dying of Ebola under President Barack Obama, saying it showed "failed leadership." CNN host Dana Bash asked Ernst whether 130,000 Americans dying in the (now fully out-of-control) COVID-19 pandemic also is showing "failed leadership."

Sen. Joni Ernst replied with yet another response seemingly hand-tailored to show just how corrupt, incompetent, and buffoonish the Republican Party has become. After a long filibuster resulting in Bash repeating of the question: "No, I think that the president is stepping forward," she clowned.

CNN's Dana Bash: You said in 2014 that Obama showed "failed leadership" with Ebola, when only 2 Americans died. Would you say Trump's showed failed leadership with coronavirus as 130,000 Americans have died? Sen. Joni Ernst: "No, I think that the president is stepping forward" pic.twitter.com/WQqSC82OSt

— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) July 5, 2020

Lord, now that was just pathetic. I’m embarrassed for both of them.

Again, the whole premise of so-called "news" programs is invalidated if political leaders are simply allowed to bullshit their way through each with no repercussions. Bash's question was spot-on, probing whether a sitting senator's supposed outrage at one pandemic would translate to the next. Clearly, it did not.

What, then, should the repercussions be for being so transparently a hack? Should a buzzer sound? Should a duck drop from the ceiling? During the pandemic itself physical solutions are largely out of bounds, as most of the people praising Donald Trump's brilliant handling of a pandemic now expected by the White House to result in at least a quarter million dead are praising him from inside their own homes because it is simply too unsafe to travel to the studios as usual. That means the best solution is, for now, right out; nobody is going to agree to have a pie-throwing machine installed in their den.

Hecklers, then. I'm going to propose the "news" shows liven up their broadcasts with professional hecklers. If any politician says something as egregiously tawdry as Joni Ernst says regularly, ninety seconds of interview time will be given to a team of hecklers to point it out and roast their target into oblivion.

Hey, it's more news than what's currently being broadcast. If the nation's top political reporters are incapable of bringing shame to those that quite transparently deserve it, we need to bring in people with more appropriate skills.

Trump, Ratcliffe implausibly claim Trump was never told of Russian bounties for murder of US troops

Numerous news agencies have now confirmed the story broken by The New York Times on Friday: The Russian government secretly issued bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, offering cash to militants in exchange for the killing of American soldiers. The Russian intelligence unit in question is believed to be the same one behind the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal, in 2018.

The Trump administration's response to this now-undeniable news is coalescing around a bizarre argument: Despite the immediate danger to U.S. forces, nobody in U.S. intelligence told Donald Trump or Mike Pence it was going on.

Despite the Times reporting that Trump's National Security Council met in late March to present Trump with a "menu" of possible retaliatory responses, both Trump and his surrounding toadies now claim that Trump and Pence were not told of the clear and substantive danger to U.S. troops. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, newly installed in the post after maudlin and sycophantic performances as a House Republican defending Trump during impeachment proceedings, gave the most definitive declaration:

"I have confirmed that neither the President nor the Vice President were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting yesterday. The White House statement addressing this issue earlier today, which denied such a briefing occurred, was accurate. The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate."

This is almost certainly a lie—as would be expected from Ratcliffe. There are few plausible scenarios in which top U.S. intelligence officials would hide a Russian operation to assassinate U.S. soldiers from the White House, and fewer still in which this would happen, but the Times' government sources would instead falsely invent a scenario in which he was.

Trump's installed team, however, is suggesting one of only two possible scenarios. One, that those surrounding Trump and Pence did not feel a high-level Russian espionage operation directly promoting the murder of U.S. troops was worth White House attention.

Or two, the U.S. intelligence community was intentionally hiding information about the Russian operation from Trump and Pence. If so, that would be an astonishing choice, and would suggest that intelligence officials believed there were national security reasons to keep Trump and Pence in the dark about just how much the U.S. knew about Russian operations.

The Director of National Intelligence is either suggesting that Trump and Pence are such impotent figures that his office did not bother to alert them or discuss with them a Russian plot to murder Americans, or that his office believed telling Trump about the Russian scheme would itself compromise U.S. security. Both of those possibilities are alarming.

It seems far more likely that both Ratcliffe and the White House are lying, directly, about Trump's involvement. At the end of March, Trump and Putin spoke by phone five times in three weeks, an "unprecedented" level of communications; the White House, as usual, has concealed the contents of those calls.

Trump's own denials are scattershot and ridiculous. In a petulant pair of tweets Trump proclaimed that "Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an “anonymous source” by the Fake News @nytimes," before wandering off to attack Hunter Biden again.

But Mark Meadows was not Trump's chief of staff during the period in question, and Trump is misstating the actual story. Russians did not "attack" U.S. troops directly, but have offered bounties for others to attack them. Trump, or whoever is tweeting for him, seems to have little ability to comprehend the thing he is denying—a point in favor of Ratcliffe's claim that Trump is simply too stupid to be of use to intelligence officials, to be sure.

Again: We will almost certainly learn that Ratcliffe, Trump, and Trump's indignant but forever-lying spokescreatures are lying blatantly about Trump's knowledge of the Russian operation. That is almost a given. The next question to be answered is why Trump (and Pence), despite learning of the bounties in March, have taken no action in response to Russia's act.

That answer, too, seems self-evident. It is the same reason it was necessary to install a thoroughly corrupt but loyal House Republican into a top intelligence spot to begin with.

Lt. Col. Vindman is up for promotion, but everyone is presuming Trump will just be corrupt again

Most Americans last heard of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman when Donald Trump had both him and his uninvolved twin brother forcibly escorted out of the White House in overt retaliation for Vindman's testimony to House impeachment investigators. Vindman spoke of what he personally witnessed in the Trump White House's effort to extort the Ukrainian government into producing "dirt" on Trump's election opponent before releasing congressionally mandated aid for the war-torn country. It was one of Trump's first acts of vengeance against those that testified against him, after being immunized from lawbreaking by the Republican-led Senate.

Now Lt. Col. Vindman is up for promotion, to full colonel, and according to The Washington Post the question hanging over the Pentagon is whether Trump will once again reach down to retaliate against Vindman, turning the usual promotion process into yet another example of the fascist man-child's use of government as a tool to protect and enable his own lawbreaking.

The Post's article is mostly speculative, with senior officials and the Pentagon expressing concern that once the normally noncontroversial list of hundreds of promotions hits the White House and Senate for confirmation, Trump will create new military controversy by making the move. Nobody believes Trump to be above it. Nobody is seriously pretending, at this point, that Trump has not been using his office to personally retaliate against impeachment witnesses, whistleblowers, investigators, and anyone else who he believes has improperly challenged his absolute authority to do crimes.

Everybody knows Trump is a sack of crap. Everybody knows he has no impulse control to call on, even if it would be in his interest to not do the overly corrupt thing. It's a given. The question, then, is whether his staff can perhaps jingle some keys or whatnot for long enough for the promotion process to go by as it normally does, unimpeded. Perhaps show him a new “antifa" mug, get him riled about that. Perhaps tell him that a fictitious world leader from a fictitious country called him a “poopyhead,” something sure to set him off for two weeks and render him unable to function as anything but short-thumbed tweet machine.

But this seems unlikely, and the subtext of the Post's speculation and sources is that all involved are so dreading having this battle that the promotion roster itself miiiight have been delayed while everyone involved steeled themselves for it, or might have only been delayed for the more prosaic reason of, you know, Trump so f--king up the response to a worldwide pandemic that even the United States military is unable to perform its usual functions at full capacity, while a "senior defense official" tells the Post that actually there was no delay at all, which doesn't seem like the kind of assertion you'd normally insist on being anonymous to pipe up with.

So we'll see. Will Trump take the opportunity to avoid even one new clusterf--k, even as the military reels from what was very close to a direct order to attack American citizens in Washington, D.C. streets? The odds say ... no.

NOAA panel determines agency head violated ethics code in ‘Sharpiegate’ debacle

Last September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's acting chief scientist announced that the agency would be conducting a probe of NOAA's apparent public buckling to Donald Trump on whether or not Hurricane Dorian was headed for the state of Alabama when all agency science demonstrated it was not. After Trump erroneously tweeted a claim that Alabama would be in the path of Dorian, you may recall that all hell broke loose when the National Weather Service told Alabama residents that no, they were not actually in danger, upon which Trump had a fit at being corrected and the administration threatened mass firings in the agency if they didn't back Trump on where Trump thought the hurricane was headed.

That verdict is now in. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a panel commissioned by the agency determined that acting NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs and Deputy Chief of Staff Julie Roberts violated agency ethics "intentionally, knowingly, or in the reckless disregard" of the agency's Scientific Integrity Policy, according to the probe's final report. What's not clear is whether it will result in any significant changes whatsoever.

Trump's false Hurricane Dorian claim, which reached its public apex in an act of supreme White House gaslighting now known as Sharpiegate, was before the COVID-19 crisis, perhaps the most known public episodes of Trump's uncontrollable malignant narcissism turning into genuine public policy crisis. In a passing tweet on September 1, Trump gave an off-the-cuff warning to various states to "BE CAREFUL!" as Hurricane Dorian approached, erroneously including Alabama in the list of states that would be affected.

Trump was wrong about that, and Alabama's National Weather Service office tweeted a quick correction aimed at state residents, reassuring them the state was not in danger. It should and could have ended there, a minor gaffe by a public official that was quickly nullified, but Donald Trump is a genuine malignant narcissist, with symptoms so severe that they alter his very perceptions of reality, and he had an multi-day absolute raging meltdown over the correction that culminated, and this is true, in a decompensating Oval Office Trump displaying a posterboard-sized map of Dorian's once-projected progress on which Trump himself had drawn in new, obviously faked forecast lines encompassing Alabama with, yes, his own black marker.

Technically speaking, altering a federal government forecast map or warning in such a fashion is illegal, for the obvious reason that malevolent figures could use faked government warnings to defraud Americans or cause public panic, but it was only a small part of Trump's furious, extended insistence that a minor error on his part was not an error, and that it was the entire rest of the United States government that was wrong.

It quickly went farther still, with Donald Trump telling his White House staff that the Alabama office's correct tweet needed to be "corrected" to match his own views, an order carried out by then-Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, upon which Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross personally phoned acting NOAA administrator Jacobs with a threat to fire the entire political leadership team at NOAA if they did not "fix" their contradiction of Dear Leader, upon which NOAA released an unsigned, unattributed statement from "a spokesperson" disavowing the Alabama correction and claiming that office, not Donald Trump, was in the wrong.

It was an act of fraud by all involved, for no larger goal than placating a raging but delusional incompetent who insisted that harm be visited upon the scientists that he believed had attacked him by telling the public correct forecast information when he had tweeted an incorrect version. It was an act of overt authoritarian government, and the most egregious one, before only a few months later Trump would insist that a new worldwide pandemic would not arrive in the United States, would not kill Americans in large numbers, and did not need to be met with aggressive emergency preparations because he, the delusional babbling boob, simply said so.

NOAA leaders should have resigned, but bowed to the intense pressure of the near-satirically corrupt Trump team. NOAA's report on the matter now confirms that Jacobs and Roberts should have at the least refused to put the statement out as an official NOAA claim.

The recommendations of NOAA Assistant Administrator Stephen Volz revolve mainly around "clarifying" the ethics policies and formulating new agreements between NOAA and its supervising officials in the Department Commerce to, when possible, Not Be Corrupt—including the establishment of "a scientific integrity policy" covering "the career and political leadership at Commerce." We can safely assume Wilbur Ross will have absolutely no interest in Not Being Corrupt training, so those particular recommendations will likely go nowhere.

More troubling, however, is that the acting NOAA administrator is himself disputing the conclusions of the report. The Washington Post reports that Jacobs, in a statement, "applied an overly broad interpretation" and that NOAA was correct to issue the statement because "The intent was to reconcile the forecaster’s duty to convey information to the public with probabilistic numerical model guidance that was still showing a small, but non-zero, chance of impacts."

Translation: Agency heads are still very afraid, and rightly so, of what Trump and team will do to them if they do not toe whatever lines they are told to toe, and so we will be going with the premise that technically speaking it's not absolutely impossible that a hurricane could, say, make a quantum jump to land on top of Idaho so technically speaking Trump could warn whatever state he wanted to warn and it wouldn't be NOAA's place to correct him.

You cannot say that those fears are unfounded. The Trump team has now dived fully and wholly into corruption, freed by Republican nullification of impeachment charges to seek vengeance on every government watchdog and inspector that has dared to impede them in even the slightest way. It is a given that Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump, and the newest Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows would have absolutely no qualms about removing Jacobs or other officials even now, if they dared question Trump's now Sharpie-backed insistence that hurricanes go wherever Donald Trump says they will go.

Senate Republicans refuse to even look at Trump’s tweet smearing 75-year-old attacked by police

This morning Donald Trump smeared a 75-year-old American citizen attacked by police in one of the impeached president’s most delusional tweets yet, and that is saying something. "Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur. 75 year old Martin Gugino was pushed away after appearing to scan police communications in order to black out the equipment. @OANN I watched, he fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?" tweeted the conspiracy-promoting crackpot who has barricaded himself in the White House. (A phone. The man was holding what is known in common circles as a "phone.")

For three years, Senate Republicans have evaded questions about Trump's most grotesque behaviors by insisting that they, America's most powerful lawmakers, have not seen them. It is such a tired game that reporters like Politico's Burgess Everett and Andrew Desiderio are printing out Trump's statements to show them to shut-in senators. The result? Senate Republicans refusing to even look at the paper as they flee.

Multiple reporters pressed Republican senators for their thoughts on Trump now peddling insane conspiracy theories about an American citizen who has been hospitalized after being assaulted by Buffalo police force.

Sen. Marco Rubio: "I didn't see it, you're telling me about it, I don't read Twitter, I only write on it." (Rubio "liked" another of Trump's tweets only four days ago, one of at least 1,663 tweets known to have been read by Sen. Insert Bible Verse.)

Sen. Dan Sullivan: “I don’t want to comment right now. I’m on my way to a meeting. I’ll see it when I see it.”

Sen. John Cornyn going for the cornpone I-am-an-idiot routine: "You know, a lot of this stuff just goes over my head."

Sen. Kelly Loeffler: Fled to an elevator.

Sen. Cory Gardner: Didn't "want" to look at it. Fled.

Sen. Ted Cruz: “I don’t comment on the tweets.” (Sen. Cruz does, however, comment on other presidential tweets.)

Sen. Lamar Alexander: “Voters can evaluate that. I’m not going to give a running commentary on the president’s tweets.”

Sen. Susan Fret-Level Collins: “I think it would best if the president did not comment on issues that are before the courts.”

Breaking Republican ranks with unusual admissions that they do at least know how to read:

Sen. John Thune: “Most of us up here would rather not be political commentators on the president’s tweets. That’s a daily exercise that is something you all have to cover.” But: “It’s a serious accusation, which should only be made with facts and evidence. And I haven't seen any yet.”

Sen. Mitt Romney: “It was a shocking thing to say. And I won’t dignify it with any further comments.”

With the exception of Romney, each of these Republican senators, and all the others, voted to dismiss impeachment charges brought against Donald Trump with similar defenses. They claimed they had not seen the evidence of Trump's actions, and that they were simply too busy to bother reading it when presented. It is based on cowardice, for the most part, but also on a more transactional calculation: So long as they support Trump, no matter what radicalism, authoritarian proclamations, promotion of violence, or crimes he may commit, the party can continue recrafting America into something more pleasing to their own racist eyes.

There has been no bottom, even after an attack on an American church so that Trump could commandeer it out from under clergy for his own purposes. There will not be one any time soon. They have betrayed their country countless times now; there is no going back.

�In case you didn�t see the tweet...� pic.twitter.com/eoYHYW02dz

— Andrew Desiderio (@AndrewDesiderio) June 9, 2020

Mike Pompeo ‘urged’ Trump firing of inspector general asked to investigate Mike Pompeo

On Saturday, The New York Times reported what we probably should have presumed all along: It was Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who "urged" Donald Trump to fire the State Department's inspector general, continuing the widespread purge of government officials responsible for oversight of the impeached president and his team of corrupt incompetents.

The official non-reason Trump gave for firing inspector general Steve Linick was that Trump had "lost confidence" in him, the same catch-all Trump has used to dispense with all other watchdogs who investigated, or merely raised questions about, illegal acts by Trump's team. While the White House seems uninterested in giving any more plausible rationale for the firing than Trump's ever-vocal gut, it does appear Mike Pompeo had a specific reason why he might have wanted his department's watchdog out: Linick had been asked to investigate charges that Pompeo had been corruptly using a State Department employee to run personal errands for himself and his wife.

Mike Pompeo has remained steadfastly loyal to Trump. He was identified as a key player in Trump's withholding of congressionally earmarked military funds to Ukraine in an attempt to force that nation's government into crafting materials to help him smear his presumed election opponent, and defied congressional demands for testimony. He is quite definitely the sort of person who would use government resources to have personal favors done, and would not be the first, second or sixth of Trump's cabinet appointees to be credibly identified as doing so. He is certainly, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the sort to sabotage government investigations into such wrongdoing.

House Democrats are already vowing investigation into Linick's firing; there is no plausible rationale for Trump firing inspectors general across government, immediately after his impeachment, other than as a government-wide attempt to block all remaining oversight into his team's actions. Senate Republicans, as usual, are using Trump's action to either reaffirm their loyalty to Trump over the rule of law or to reaffirm their commitment to saying Trump probably oughtn't break laws while doing not a damn thing in response.

The eternally dumb Sen. Ron Johnson, proven a traitor to his own oath and nation during impeachment, as well as both before and after it, suggested that he was comfortable with the firing because Linick had not been sufficiently helpful in assisting Senate Republicans with an unidentified Senate investigation almost certainly pertaining to continued election-year efforts to smear Trump opponent Joe Biden.

The less dumb Sen. Chuck Grassley, also a traitor to his own oath and nation for the same multi-year patterns of behavior, issued the now bog-standard sternly worded statement noting that Congress requires explicit written reasons for such a firing, and that he will continue to be slightly huffy about that until the precise moment somebody asks him to take an actual action upon which he will fold like an origami swan.

Sen. Mitt Romney, alone in his impeachment opinion that perhaps if top administration officials are doing crimes it would behoove the Senate to at least momentary feign an interest in acting as check against such acts, gave a similar statement. Trump’s actions are a “threat to accountable democracy,” Romney warned, without suggesting he would engage in even the smallest of acts to combat that threat.

So the answer is no. No, it does not appear that the Republican Senate is willing to take any action as Trump continues his purge of those who have been investigating, or who have merely been charged with watching over, his team's continued pattern of grossly unethical and/or criminal acts.

It is likely that Grassley and other Republican concern-bearers will take no actions to support House efforts to call witnesses and probe the reasons for the firings, much less engage in such probes themselves. The party has made it absolutely clear that Trump and his allies are allowed to use government for their personal gain, and are allowed to sabotage any government effort or fire any government employee necessary in order to obtain that gain. They betrayed their country unforgivably in refusing to even conduct a trial or hear from direct witnesses, during impeachment; the play now will be to allow Trump to commit any number of further crimes, rather than conducting oversight between now and November. Trump's corrupt acts will not disappear then, whether or wins or loses, but for Johnson, Grassley and the others, putting off judgment day is paramount. Even if it is only temporary, it is now a party necessity.

Tapper to Senator Johnson: I find it hard to believe that if President Obama had gotten rid of four Inspectors General in six weeks that you would have the same attitude that you seem to have right now pic.twitter.com/7e9sBsVUT1

— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) May 17, 2020

Senate Republicans move to quietly confirm lying Trump toady Rep. Ratcliffe during pandemic chaos

The rise to power, for ambitious conservatives, has been greatly simplified in the last few years. Attach yourself to crackpot far-right and conspiracy theories; use the fame to propel yourself to a House seat in a noncompetitive, always-Republican district; do your best to attract the attention of Donald Trump, who carefully sifts through the candidates and selects only the most toadying, dishonest, and conspiracy-riddled for new administration positions. If it worked for Mike Pompeo, it'll work for anyone.

While the rest of the nation is distracted by a true national emergency, Senate Republicans are taking the opportunity to quietly schedule hearings for fervent Trump acolyte Rep. John Ratcliffe's confirmation as Trump's new director of national intelligence. Ratcliffe had to bow out of the nomination in scandal the last time Trump attempted it; after the Senate nullification of impeachment charges, however, Senate Republicans seem to be signaling that there's no "scandal" left that they won't pave over to do Trump's bidding.

CNN reports the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Richard Burr, intends to hold a confirmation hearing for Ratcliffe next week. Burr has been mired in his own, far worse scandal of late after it was disclosed that he responded to secret government briefings on the likely severity of the upcoming pandemic by dumping his own stock market holdings before the resulting market crash. Burr had opposed Ratcliffe's prior nomination last year, but has now evidently changed his mind.

CNN implies Burr's change of heart might be because he has been under heavy attack from Trump, who views him as disloyal for his unambiguous recognition that yes, the Russian government did indeed act to manipulate the 2016 elections. But it may be that Burr, at least in theory being investigated by the Justice Department for his stock dumping, has come to the same post-impeachment conclusion as every other non-Romney Senate Republican: In for a penny, in for a pound. If we're going to erase Trump's proven extortion attempt against a foreign nation, using the tools of government to brazenly abuse the office in a manner long recognized, unambiguously, as corrupt, it's impossible to argue that merely installing a Trump-loyal sycophant of sketchy record as top intelligence official is an authoritarian-minded bridge too far.

But CNN also implies that the move forward to install Ratcliffe is because the current part-time acting Trump pick, odious hyperpartisan Twitter troll Richard Grenell, is deemed so universally unacceptable that both parties would rather install a rotting tuna in the post than leave him in it. There may be more truth to that one.

Ratcliffe is, in typical Trump adviser fashion, about the last person you would want in the role of director of national intelligence. He has little relevant experience. As a House Republican, he has proven a pathetic and dishonest partisan, aggressively promoting Trump-favoring conspiracy theories like the notion that the intelligence community's probe of 2016 Russian election hacking was actually a Democratic-led plot against Trump. These conspiracies were enough for Senate Republicans to signal Ratcliffe's nomination would be a heavy lift even for them last time around, but it was the discovery that Ratcliffe had "embellished" his resume by a considerable amount that led to his eventual withdrawal from the nomination.

Ratcliffe had claimed terrorism experience, claiming that as U.S. attorney he had "convicted" terrorism-linked individuals—but the federal officials who actually prosecuted the case disputed that, saying they couldn't identify Ratcliffe as having "any" role in that prosecution. Ratcliffe similarly claimed he "arrested over 300 illegal immigrants on a single day" as U.S. attorney—the case he was apparently referring to actually swept up only 39 workers, was widely considered an embarrassment and a failure, and had no apparent involvement by Ratcliffe whatsoever.

That was enough, back in August, to send the seemingly perpetually dishonest Ratcliffe packing. After Trump's renomination, however, it seems that everyone involved, from Ratcliffe to Burr to Trump, have decided that "shame" is no longer something Republicans can have.

The confirmation hearing will be eventful, however, with at least Democratic senators eager to probe Ratcliffe's claims that the investigation into Russian hacking was a Democratic plot against the glorious ascendant Trump. And Republican estimations that Ratcliffe's confirmation can be sneaked through a busy news cycle might instead find that news-starved, entertainment-starved Americans stuck at home might not have anything more pressing to do than watching Richard Burr and other Republicans again humiliate themselves for Donald's benefit.

COVID-19 news: Trump gaslights America, police close down reopened Hobby Lobby stores

Donald Trump's delays in responding to the building wave of a COVID-19 pandemic have now created a "best case" scenario of between 100,000—240,000 American deaths, according to government experts. The result: A new push by Donald Trump to insist that he had never downplayed the virus, despite many weeks and videotaped speeches in which Trump did exactly that. Already supported by Mike Pence and other fawning officials, it will be the greatest test yet of the administration's gaslighting strategies—a new claim that the virus killing family members, neighbors and friends was being taken seriously all along, despite weeks of Fox News coverage directly showing, and arguing for, the opposite.

In today's other pandemic news:

• Disparities in federal supplies being granted to different states, with some Republican-held states receiving all or more than all of their requested orders while other states receive only a fraction of their orders, continue amid strong suggestions that Trump's obsessive need for praise and hostility towards criticism is playing an undue role in those decisions.

• New Trump administration guidelines tie the recently-passed $1200 pandemic relief checks to Americans to an IRS filing: If you don't file, you won't get it. This sets up a barrier to Social Security beneficiaries, disabled Americans with Supplemental Security Income, and veterans with pensions, who do not normally file returns because they have no taxable income.

• Despite the still-surging pandemic and the advice of health officials, the White House is still refusing to open up a new Obamacare enrollment period to allow uninsured Americans to shop for health insurance plans.

California's early, encompassing pandemic response measures have proven so far to have had dramatic success in slowing virus spread.

• Wisconsin's April 7 presidential primary and elections are still slated to take place on that date, despite demands that they be rescheduled—and the increasing likelihood of fiasco.

Police are closing down Hobby Lobby stores in shelter-in-place states and cities after the chain, owned by now-notorious malevolent God-botherers, reopened the locations in defiance of local orders.

• In yet another disclosure of prior pandemic preparedness efforts ignored, a National Security Council study predicted the scope of economic damage from a pandemic similar to the one that would soon afterwards appear.

• Three weeks ago Trump stood with the CEOs of Walmart, Target, Walgreens and other companies to announce nationwide testing centers hosted by the huge retailers. The total number of testing centers opened three weeks later: 5. Of 30,000 locations. And of the five, most offer testing "only to first responders and health care workers," not the general public.

• Trump continues to lie about testing efforts and testing delays.

• House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has indicated he is drafting plans for a new 9/11-styled independent commission to investigate government preparedness failures leading up to the pandemic.

• Recent Republican claims that Trump's incompetent pandemic response was caused by the distraction of impeachment were leveled flat by Trump himself, who says "I don't think I would have done any better had I not been impeached."

• New disclosures show Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler continued her previously known stock trading into late February and early March, selling off shares of retail stores and purchasing shares of a company that makes medical protective gear of the sort now being rationed in hospitals nationwide. (Loeffler was publicly dismissive at the onset of the pandemic, but as senator was receiving pandemic briefings not available to the general public.)

House and Senate lawmakers are demanding Immigration and Customs Officials release detainees to reduce crowded conditions, and the possibility of a "severe health crisis", in immigration detention centers. "A decision to do nothing is a decision to do harm." Another federal judge on Tuesday ordered the release of ten detainees for whom the virus posed heightened risks.

• Journalists continue to reward Trump for his falsehoods and incompetent, exploitative behaviors.

• Google is now banning political ads on the COVID-19 pandemic. But it's still allowing Trump's own political messages to go through.

• Medical workers are being fired for speaking up about inadequate protective gear as hospital systems warn workers they are "not allowed to speak to the press."

28 University of Texas at Austin students who recently returned from spring break in Mexico have now tested positive for the virus. The students had returned to the United States on March 19.

• A Michigan man who purchased a gun to "protect himself" during the pandemic ended up in a Battle Creek hospital after shooting himself in the leg with his new weapon.

• Although New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the coronavirus "the great equalizer," unequal access to healthcare means that is likely not the case.

• Has China lied about their COVID-19 numbers? It's possible. But the "real" numbers are unlikely to be dramatically different from those reported.

• In new polling, 94% of American adults say they're practicing social distancing measures.

• Should we all be wearing masks in public, even if homemade versions? It still might be a good idea.

• Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden released a new video honoring the heroism of doctors, nurses and first responders during the pandemic.

• Coronavirus myths: No, you didn't "already have it in January."

Schiff drafting plans for 9/11-styled commission to investigate failed pandemic preparations

In an interview with Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff says that his staff is now working on a "discussion draft" for creating an independent commission to investigate the failures of the United States in preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic. The commission would be modeled after the 9/11 Commission, created to investigate the events leading up to the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

Schiff told Ignatius that that would be delayed "until the crisis has abated to ensure it does not interfere with" agencies' ongoing response efforts.

The most obvious concern, of course, is whether Trump and surrounding loyalists ignored warnings about the rapidly spreading virus due to Trump's obsession over his own self-interests. Ignatius reports that intelligence officials are already concerned that new acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, a partisan Trump loyalist, is "trying to shape intelligence that might challenge or embarrass Trump."

If this is the case, and there is absolutely no reason to believe Grenell would not act in such a fashion, an investigation of administration actions cannot be delayed for long. The Trump administration has already been caught once engaging in criminal conduct intended solely to benefit Trump's own reelection, resulting in impeachment; there is no question that Trump's team, having been immunized from consequences for those acts by a similarly corrupt Republican-held Senate, may engage in more.

COVID-19 news: U.S. deaths top 3,000; nuclear aircraft carrier captain begs for aid

Three weeks after Donald Trump said it would "go away" and two months after he claimed it was "very well under control," U.S. deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic topped 3,000 yesterday evening, outnumbering deaths in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The month of April is going to see mass deaths in the United States.

In recent days, government experts have been floating a new estimated eventual death toll of 100,000—200,000 Americans. Trump has seized upon that number, if it creeps no higher, as representing a possible "very good job" by him.

In today's pandemic updates:

• It is now evident that the Trump administration and its congressional allies had overwhelming evidence of the pandemic's dangers during the same period of time they were publicly downplaying the threat of the virus—and, in the case of several Republican senators, cashing out of the stock market before those markets collapsed.

• In a hint of what may be to come, a New York City hospital today reminded its doctors that they are allowed to withhold care for "futile" intubation efforts.

The nation's critical shortage of protective masks continues.

• The captain of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt wrote a four-page letter begging the Navy for quarantine rooms in Guam after between 150 and 200 sailors tested positive for the virus. The ship has over 4,000 on board, and little to no ability to contain further spread.

Republicans coordinated to again push the notion that January’s impeachment trial of Donald Trump "diverted" the Trump administration's attention away from the pandemic. Attempting to address Trump's known criminality, in other words, only exacerbated his known incompetence.

• Talks of the next stimulus measures to salvage the pandemic-ravaged economy are beginning. Those measures need to be much bolder than the first few attempts.

• As U.S. testing continues to lag behind that of other nations, rural counties may soon face the same consequences of sparse testing that allowed the pandemic to explode in more urban areas.

• Democratic mayors in Republican-held states are battling against the more lax pandemic policies of their Republican governors.

The New York Times and other outlets continue to privilege Trump's false statements, framing them as political disagreements rather than provable lies.

• Trump's attacks on black female journalist Yamiche Alcindor for asking him to explain his past pandemic statements did not go unnoticed.

After three federal judges temporarily blocked legislation ending abortion services in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama by declaring them "unnecessary" medical services, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals swiftly issued an order staying that decision, allowing the Texas legislation to be enforced.

A second federal judge is now urging immigration officials to work more urgently to release detained children, warning officials that he will "revisit" demands for emergency releases if "there are [COVID-19] cases in these centers" or "there are other problems that are not compliant." Detained immigrants and immigration attorney's groups are now suing for the immediate closure of U.S. immigration courts due to severe pandemic risks.

• A ventilator manufacturer took $13.8 million of federal money to design and produce 10,000 ventilators for the emergency stockpile. They delivered none, but are instead selling more expensive variants of the designed machine overseas.

• Ohio voting rights groups have filed a lawsuit asking the state's pandemic-delayed, now vote-by-mail primary be further delayed, arguing the April 28 date set does not allow enough preparation time for either boards of election or voters.

• Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden's campaign released another video highlighting Trump's own words downplaying the pandemic as it unfolded.

• The Trump administration is using the pandemic crisis to nullify environmental regulations, allowing widespread air, water, and soil pollution without consequence.

• After Trump publicly invented an alleged new website he claimed was in the works, a Jared Kushner-tied company quickly scrambled to try to create one.

• While much of the rest of the economy shutters, construction of Trump's demanded wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is not just continuing, but "ramping up."

• The conservative legal scholar who impressed the Trump team with his ... unusual ... theories about the virus gave an interview to defend his claims. It did not go well.

Large corporations continue to furlough workers by the tens of thousands as pandemic-related shutdowns wreak havoc on newspapers, retail stores, and other industries. The CEO of Columbia Sportswear, however, slashed his own salary to help avoid layoffs during the crisis.

A majority of Americans disapprove of Trump's handling of the pandemic, and 69% support a "national quarantine." Republicans, however, remain "remarkably insular" in their support for Trump and his (non)responses.

DACA recipients are playing vital roles in the nation's pandemic response.

• For decades, the U.S. militia movement has prepared for disaster to strike America. Now that a disaster is taking place the same idiot brigades are resisting social distancing measures, believing them an illegitimate use of government power.

• Farm work was already one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Now it's even more dangerous.

• Fox News has promoted reckless and false conspiracy theories, medical advice, and dismissals of the emerging pandemic throughout its early days. If you have cable television, you are probably helping to subsidize those lies.

• While Trump congratulates himself (now, for potentially allowing "only" 200,000 deaths), Rep. Maxine Waters isn't having it.