Trump engaged in yet another ‘internal investigation’ to silence whistleblowers in the White House

Donald Trump’s silence over the Russian scheme to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan hasn’t been getting much press, displaced from the headlines by Trump’s own schemes for killing wholesale volumes of American civilians in America. But never let it be said that Trump can’t multitask. Trump can hate everyone who tries to inject any semblance of reality into the nation’s planning for the coronavirus pandemic, and Trump can hate everyone who spilled the beans on how he kept chatting up Vladimir Putin months after he was aware that Putin had put contracts on Americans. 

As Politico reports, Trump is engaged in an internal investigation to locate and punish the people who let slip both the knowledge of Russia’s efforts to buy American deaths in Afghanistan, and the people who keep making it clear that Trump knew about the scheme for over a year. But this is just the latest in Trump’s long line of efforts to determine who stole the strawberries. And just as likely to succeed.

Whistleblowers of any sort have long been on Trump’s naughty list. His own twisted sense of morality requires that personal loyalty to Trump trumps all other concerns—even when Trump is in the midst of plans that could harm large numbers of people or the nation. Even when he’s doing something purely illegal. Trump made it clear that he was perfectly willing to breech both the spirit and the letter of whistleblower protection laws during his impeachment (Reminder: Donald Trump was impeached!) and the purge of inspectors general shows that Trump is out to get the tattletales, no matter where they live. Who watches the watchmen? No one, as far as Trump is concerned. 

Trump is still engaged in announced investigations of who posted an anonymous op-ed back in September of 2018 that said, among other things, “many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.” And Trump is still looking for the person who distributed internal schedules in 2019 showing that Trump spent well over half his time either thumbing buttons on Twitter, or appreciating the softness of the Charmin, in unstructured “executive time.”

And now even more of Trump’s White House is involved in investigating those scoundrels at … Trump’s White House, this time in an effort to catch whoever let slip the Russian bounty scheme, and then kept making if obvious that Trump knew. Because he did. As a quick reminder:

  • Trump was personally briefed on the Russian operation by John Bolton over a year ago.
  • Trump received updates on the scheme at multiple points, including a February 27 daily brief.
  • Trump has called Putin at least five times since March, with the content of those phone calls unknown.
  • Trump has made repeated demands, despite knowing that Russia was both conducting a proxy war against American forces and engaged in an effort to thwart peace negotiations in Afghanistan, to have Russia readmitted to the G7, and threatened to invite Putin personally if other nations did not agree.

Amusing as it may be to see how much effort Trump puts into chasing his own tail, it’s even more frustrating that all of these whistleblowers are content to remain whistleblowers. Again and again, members of Trump’s staff have spoken up to denounce his policies after they’ve been removed from office—and often after they’ve secured a book contract so they can collect a check for describing just how dysfunctional things are within Trump’s regime. But none of them seem to be willing to step forward openly and immediately when seeing Trump engaged in behavior harmful to the nation.

There should always be whistleblower protections, and the information brought forward by these women and men is invaluable. But the fear with which insiders continue to regard Trump is frustrating specifically because Trump mistakes that fear for respect.

House Judiciary committee hearing confronts Barr’s politicization of the DOJ

On Tuesday, Capitol Hill was dominated by a hearing with health experts, where the biggest news was that Trump hadn’t spoken to Dr. Anthony Fauci or any of his team on the subject of the pandemic in over two weeks. On Wednesday, the focus of the day shifts to the Department of Justice and how Attorney General William Barr has blown up the barriers that are supposed to exist between that agency and the White House.

The most critical testimony of the day is likely to come from attorney Aaron Zelinsky, who was formerly assigned as a prosecutor in the case against Trump campaign adviser, Roger Stone. Zelenski’s opening statement makes it clear that there was an unprecedented degree of political influence exerted on prosecutors. That included giving Stone unmatched leniency, including reducing the sentencing recommendation without cause, and bringing in a new attorney at Barr’s direction to give Stone kid-glove treatment. With Barr’s dismissal of the U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York fresh off the headlines, and multiple voices from within the DOJ speaking up against the politicization of the department, the hearing can be expected to be contentious.

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In his opening statement, Zelinsky is expected to say that, "What I saw was the Department of Justice exerting significant pressure on the line prosecutors in the case to obscure the correct Sentencing Guidelines calculation to which Roger Stone was subject—and to water down and in some cases outright distort the events that transpired in his trial and the criminal conduct that gave rise to his conviction.” 

Since the release of Zelnsky’s statement, Barr has issued a reply which clarifies the situation, by making it worse. The statement shows that Barr personally intervened in Stone’s case, ordering the removal of sentencing guidelines. Laughably, Barr also maintains that stepping into this one case specifically to deal with Trump’s long-time friend and campaign adviser, was keeping the department “away from politics.”

Barr’s handling of the Justice Department may be unprecedented, but so is the Republican reaction. Republicans in both the House and Senate have been protective of Barr and Trump’s ability to turn the DOJ into an extension of Trump’s personal legal team and to overlook its use as a political tool—just as they’ve defended Trump’s right to use pardons to reward friends with protection from absolutely justified convictions. 

The special treatment for Stone came after Barr fired U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu and replaced her with an acting attorney who was under “heavy pressure from the highest levels of the Department of Justice to cut Stone a break.” The way in which Liu was removed to clear the way for making things easy for Stone is a mirror of the legal musical chairs that has seen Barr replace the legal team handing charges against Michael Flynn. And it’s exactly why the removal of U. S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in the midst of investigations of Rudy Giuliani and other Trump associates rang (and continues to ring) so many alarm bells. In all of these instances, Barr has removed experienced prosecutors taking a standard, apolitical approach to cases involving serious crimes, and replaced them with second-tier toadies who get their marching orders via Twitter. And in the case of both Stone and Flynn, Barr has used his personal authority to the benefit of Trump’s associates.

Barr has bent the law beyond the breaking point to protect Stone, and Flynn, and most of all Trump. What has happened with both Stone and Flynn, as the DOJ has revised and reduced sentencing proposals, isn’t just unprecedented or extraordinary, it’s corrupt. Republicans who defend these actions aren’t just protecting this corruption, they are rolling in it. Five months is not too short a time to conduct an impeachment.  

The Judiciary Committee hearing on prosecutorial independence will begin at 12 PM ET.

Trump’s attempt to block release of John Bolton’s book denied by federal judge

Judge Royce Lamberth has denied Donald Trump’s attempt to block the release of John Bolton’s book. In the ruling, Lamberth says that the presentation from William Barr’s DOJ team failed to “established that an injunction is an appropriate remedy.”

During the presentation on Friday, Lamberth repeatedly pointed out that the book was, in fact, already published, printed, in the hands of reviewers, and stacked up in both warehouses and bookstores. Digital versions have also been produced, along with audiobooks. He asked the DOJ “what do you want me to do about it?” and got back a fumbling response about possibly blocking the release in ways that seemed about as well thought out as most things emerging from this White House. In his ruling, Lamberth makes it clear that he was unimpressed: “For reasons that hardly need to be stated, the Court will not order a nationwide seizure and destruction of a political memoir.”

None of this makes Bolton’s book worth buying. The former National Security Advisor’s demonstrated cowardice and greed in refusing to testify before the House impeachment proceedings showed clearly enough that he placed potential profits infinitely above the good of the nation. 

Over the next few days, as the embargo is released, all the “good parts” of Bolton’s book will be made public in any case—including information this morning that makes it clear that Donald Trump was mad at the U. S. attorney who Barr is trying to kick out in part because that attorney screwed up a scheme between Trump and a Turkish bank. And no one really wants to read John Bolton’s opinion on anything. Ever.

Lamberth’s ruling makes it clear that Bolton may have violated national security and that he, “stands to lose his profits from the book deal, exposes himself to criminal liability, and imperils national security.” However, none of that means that this last second maneuver can stop the release of the book.

So Trump loses. Barr loses. And Bolton also loses. That’s a good ruling.

The ruling from judge Lamberth just establishes—again—how willing Bill Barr is to use the Justice Department as if it is Trump’s private law firm. And how amazingly incompetent Barr is in just about every instance. But it also shows that Bolton’s cowardly action is unlikely to net him a dime. You have to like that.

Trump’s lawsuit against John Bolton is pointless, incompetent, and weak

A million years ago, in the time before the coronavirus pandemic—a time also known as January—former National Security Advisor John Bolton had a chance to do this nation a solid. In both the House and the Senate, testimony in Donald Trump’s impeachment made it clear that Bolton was a key witness to the events during which Trump had attempted to suborn false statements from the Ukrainian government in an attempt to get a political edge over Joe Biden. Bolton then exacerbated the calls for his appearance at the hearings by leaking excerpts from an upcoming book and promising that there was blockbuster info both in connection to Ukraine and to Trump’s other foreign entanglements.

Even with Republicans putting on a genuinely history show of cowardice in voting to listen to no witnesses at all, Bolton had an opportunity. He didn’t have to testify in the Senate, he just had to … testify. He could have gone on any news show in America and made a genuine impact by revealing the information he knew about Trump’s lies, attempted bribery, incompetence, and profiteering. Instead, Bolton stayed silent, choosing to wait for the moment when his book was released to maximize his own profits while simultaneously assuring that he would not be there when his nation needed him most. So now Bolton’s book is here. Or almost here. Because despite months of review and revision to remove anything that could be considered classified, Donald Trump has now declared that everything is considered classified. Every single word that ever dropped from Trump’s lips has been retroactively classified by Trump. And now he’s suing Bolton to block the release of his book.

Even the title of Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened, suggests that Bolton was witness to a crime. And he’ll share the salacious details with the rest of us … for a price. On the one hand, there would be a definite satisfaction if Bolton, who found he liked teasing the nation more than providing vital testimony, never got to profit from his book. His abdication of his responsibilities, not just as a former government official, but as a citizen, was so egregious that watching Bolton and Trump locked in a fruitless legal snarl from now until both have shuffled off, would seem like justice of a sort.

As The New York Times reports, Trump’s suit claims that Bolton has broken an agreement for review of the manuscript and that he’s unilaterally deciding that it’s okay to go forward with the material in the book. Bolton handed over draft copies of the manuscript for review in 2019, and Bolton made changes in response to a set of initial requests. But after that, the response from the Trump White House was to simply not respond. Bolton never got the standard written release to mark the end of the review.

The suit charges Bolton with “breach of contract” in proceeding with publication and distribution of the book without securing that White House approval. Since the Justice Department now acts as Donald Trump’s personal law firm, the DOJ has asked a federal judge to both claw back Bolton’s payment for the book, and tell Bolton to get Simon & Schuster to pull copies from the shelf. The fact that the suit doesn’t name the publisher directly is an indication of just how fragile Trump’s suit really is. There are a semi-infinite number of previous cases that can be referenced when it comes to trying to block the publication of material that’s deemed to be classified, and very few of them are helpful to Trump’s position. So instead the suit skates around trying to extract either money or action directly from the publisher and attempts to both go after Bolton’s pocketbook and force him to act to block sales of the book.

On the one hand, the careful tiptoe made by the DOJ in framing the suit to skirt the publisher is a sign that even William Barr understands how tenuous this attempt to block the book really is. On the other hand, the suit includes claims that Bolton leaked classified information. Leaking classified information is a federal crime. Bolton hasn’t been charged with that crime, but including that claim in the lawsuit certainly suggests that if he doesn’t agree to a further delay of the book, those charges could appear.

But … overall the effort from the DOJ seems to be halfhearted. Everything points to this being more an exercise in Barr making Trump happy than a serious attempt to block publication. Simon & Schuster has actually printed and distributed hundreds of thousands of copies of Bolton’s book to warehouses, and even book stories, across the nation. There’s not so much as a request for a restraining order—even a temporary order—that would stop the publisher from simply giving stores the thumbs-up to begin sales.

Trump’s suit seems to be a good deal of smoke, but there’s little sign it contains any fire. Bolton’s book is going to be released. That doesn’t mean it should be bought.

Donald Trump will use this moment to fan the flames of hatred, just like every other moment

With reports that white supremacists instigators are behind instances of violence at protests across the nation, with the military standing by to take control of the streets, and with Donald Trump tweeting out that the blame for violence entirely lies with the “radical left,” it raises an obvious question: Is this Trump’s Reichstag fire moment? Is this the point at which Trump uses the events of the news cycle to justify the destruction of democratic institutions and the sitting aside of legal protections, in the name of racism, divisiveness, and hate?

The answer is no … and also yes. Because for Donald Trump, every moment is a Reichstag fire moment. Every moment is an excuse for hate. Every moment is an opportunity to erode civil liberties. Every moment is a chance to consolidate authoritarian control. Trump lives in Reichstag fire mode 24/7, and his election started the fire that is burning down the nation.

Just a month after Adolph Hitler was sworn into power, an arson attack on the home of the German parliament was swiftly blamed on “communist agitators” and used as an excuse to silence, imprison, or murder those whose political positions fell to the left of Nazism. But many historians believe, based on very good evidence, that the fire was actually set by the Nazis themselves, to provide justification for going after other political parties. 

Since Trump’s election, there has been a continual concern about what might serve as his Reichstag fire moment. What might Trump used as a casus belli on democracy? The answer is everything.

Investigating the over 100 connections between his campaign and Russian officials was a Reichstag fire. Impeachment was a Reichstag fire. Actually exercising democracy by keeping Republicans out of control in the House in the 2018 election was definitely a Reichstag fire. But her emails was a Reichstag fire, James Comey was a Reichstag fire, Robert Mueller and unmasking that never happened and the World Health Organization and studies that come out against hydroxychloroquine are all Reichstag fires. 

For Trump, the Reichstag fire isn’t an event, it’s a way of life. It’s how he governs every day—from a place that seeks to lever open racial, social, and political gaps for the purposes of furthering his own power.

So of course Trump will treat the protests against police violence are a Reichstag fire. He will make, as he always seems to, some offhand claim to seeking unity—in this case by calling the family of George Floyd—but when that action isn’t immediately greeted with universal praise and a special Nobel Prize minted in his honor, he will flip around to use this moment as an assault on everything who isn’t one of his “very fine people.” Even if those very fine people turn out to be the root cause of violence.

Trump has spent a lifetime dehumanizing Black people, from denying them apartments in the 1970s to taking out a full page ad calling for the death of five Black teenagers, to repeated that desire for blood shed long after he knew those teenagers were wrongfully accused. Racism is in Trump. To the bone. On top of this, Trump has used the language of “enemy of the people” in describing the media. In just the last week, he retweeted a message saying that the “only good Democrat is a dead Democrat,” and he spent the morning defending white supremacists.

Is this a Reichstag fire moment? Of course it is. Just like every moment, of every day, watching democratic institutions wither and die under Donald Trump. 

Barr’s ‘investigation’ into the Russia investigation began months earlier than previously known

Attorney General William Barr has been conducting a series of investigations into the origins of the Russia investigation since he arrived to bail Trump out. Republicans and their media pals have been pushing the idea that some always-unspecified crime was committed by following up on information that Putin was determined to interfere in the U.S. election, and that Trump officials were eager to welcome his assistance. After all, Obamagate was just awful—even if no one can explain why.

But maybe what’s needed is an investigation into the origins of Barr’s investigation. Because new information shows that Barr was already talking to his own hand-picked investigator, U.S. Attorney John "Bull" Durham, before he released the redacted Mueller report to the public. A whole series of meetings between Durham and Barr took place soon after the attorney general returned to Washington, D.C., all for the purposes of ripping into the Russia investigation and supporting Trump’s endless string of conspiracy theories.

As CNN reports, records show that Barr brought Durham in for a series of meetings well before announcing the official start of an investigation into how the Russia investigation got underway. Soon after being confirmed as attorney general, Barr began pulling in Durham, meeting with him much more frequently than other U.S. attorneys. 

That Barr hit the ground ready to attack the Mueller investigation isn’t surprising; after all, it was a letter complaining about that investigation that was largely responsible for netting Barr his job. But it seems that Barr went in the door already planning how he would try to attack the Russia probe, and who he would select to do it. That degree of early action opens questions into whether Barr was already moving the pieces into place to attack Mueller before he sat down in the Justice Department.

Barr’s meeting with Durham eventually became a series of round-the-world trips in which both Barr and Durham undermined U.S. intelligence agencies and attempted to get allies to confirm parts of ludicrous conspiracy theories. That includes attempting to get officials in both Rome and London to agree that Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud was a CIA plant put in place to lure George Papadopoulos into connection Trump and Putin, that Australian official Andrew Downer was an instrument of U.S. intelligence who provided false reasons for opening an investigation, and that Ukrainian hackers conspired with Hillary Clinton to make it seem as though Russia stole data from the DNC. 

Barr and Durham apparently failed to find any takers on their Q-flavored tour, but that didn’t stop Barr from announcing that Durham’s investigation had become a “criminal probe” in October and announcing an expanded scope in December that included having Durham going after former FBI Director James Comey and other former intelligence officials, including former CIA Director John Brennan. 

This week, Barr refused to answer a question about the status or focus of Durham’s investigation. He did say that he doesn’t expect that the probe will result in a criminal investigation of Joe Biden or Barack Obama. That may seem like a disappointment for Trump fans, but it doesn’t mean that Durham isn’t going to announce charges against Comey, or Brennan, or anyone else that Trump wants charged. It doesn’t even mean that there won’t be charges against Obama or Biden as Barr is perfectly capable of feigning surprise at just what Durham has “uncovered.”

What’s clear is that the Durham probe was planned in advance. And while Barr has complained repeatedly about there being insufficient evidence to charge Michael Flynn, or insufficient evidence to initiate the Russia investigation, the Durham probe was created as a total fishing expedition, with no evidence whatsoever.

Donald Trump prepares to move into his 2020 campaign by blaming COVID-19 on China and … Joe Biden

Being impeached has not slowed down Donald Trump’s attempts to weaponize intelligence agencies and foreign policy against political opponents. In fact, receiving a free pass from Senate Republicans in spite of overwhelming evidence of guilt has made it clear to Trump that he really can dragoon the whole mechanism of the federal government into the Trump 2020 campaign. For months, Attorney General William Barr and special Q-spiracy pal John Durham have been jetting around the world, trying to convince foreign governments to help Trump out by backing up conspiracy theories that he can use in his campaign against Joe Biden.

But as Trump prepares to kick the 2020 campaign into high gear, the situation in the world has changed. That’s going to require a whole new level of conspiracy theory. Now Ukraine is tired and China is wired as Donald Trump prepares to connect Joe Biden to the coronavirus.

Trump is preparing to launch his first major ad campaign for the 2020 election. Doing so at a time when the United States has over 1 million cases of COVID-19 and the death toll has just passed 61,000 may seem somewhat … problematic. But as Jared Kushner proved on Wednesday, the Trump White House is fully prepared to point out that there are still 327 million Americans who are not dead. Yet. That somehow makes saddling the U.S. with a third of all cases around the globe a “great success story.”

According to Politico, the first flight of ads will depict Trump as “showing leadership” despite having to fight against those darned Democrats and that enemy of the people, the free press. Undoubtably, these ads will focus on how Nancy Pelosi distracted Trump from preparing to face the novel coronavirus by moving forward with impeachment. It was, in fact, such a distraction, that Trump could barely manage to fill the entire months of January and February with golf and rallies. 

The ads will also focus on just how eager Trump is to bring back the pre-virus economy. That’s a position that might also be a bit of a hard sell considering that the 4.8% shrinkage of the economy that was reported for the first quarter is likely to look like robust growth when the second quarter numbers come in. Donald Trump personally oversaw a disaster that is the biggest national health crisis, the biggest economic crisis, the biggest crisis since World War II, and he blew it—at a cost in lives that won’t be reckoned for months to come and a cost in damage to the economy that may genuinely bring conditions worse than the Great Depression. That is not a tenable position from which to start a campaign. Not even if it comes with a whole new motto.

Clearly what Trump needs is a solution, not one that can cure the virus or bring back jobs, one that allows him to pin the whole thing on someone else. With someone else being Joe Biden.

That’s why the ads won’t just blow the patriotic Trump-ets for more jobs and how-about-that-stock-market. The Republican National Committee has already been engaged in cranking out ads, especially on right-wing outlets, to keep Trump supporters pumped about his bigly leadership in the midst of the crisis. But the angle of those ads is about to change. Coming soon to a television, computer, and phone screen near you: ads that connect Joe Biden with China, along with accusations that China both created the coronavirus and covered up its spread.

Trump has already been laying the groundwork in his daily briefings. He’s repeatedly accused China of hiding information about the origins of the coronavirus and of being responsible for its spread to the rest of the world. Trump has extended these claims to the World Health Organization, cutting off funds to this critical resource in the midst of a pandemic. And over the last week, Trump has made multiple cryptic remarks that “someone a long time ago” made the decisions that caused the COVID-19 epidemic. The introduction of these lines into the daily briefings is absolutely sitting up the next phase of blame-pinning.

As The New York Times reports, the White House is forcing intelligence agencies to dig into Trump’s conspiracy theories in China, just as they did when chasing his claims about Biden and Hillary Clinton across Europe. In particular, Trump has intelligence assets trying to find some connection between a lab in Wuhan, China that tried to prevent the spread of novel viruses, and the release of this virus. It’s part of an escalating campaign to tie what Trump has insisted on calling the “Chinese virus” to the epidemic inside the United States.

The character of that campaign goes beyond just the idea that a virus under study accidentally slipped away from researchers. Almost from the outset, Republicans like Senator Tom Cotton have been pushing the idea that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was created as a bioweapon. In truth, there’s no evidence that the coronavirus came, in any sense, out of a laboratory. Multiple studies have looked at the virus’ genetic structure and found no sign of tinkering. And while much has been made of a letter warning that the Wuhan lab needed more experienced personnel, there is no evidence that it was either studying the novel coronavirus before its release, or had anything to do with that release. That hasn’t stopped Trump from retweeting claims that the virus did come from a lab, or halted the constant stream of White House officials and Republican senators making such claims in social media, on Fox, and on right-wing radio.

But as Trump starts to crank up his campaign, both the White House and right-wing media are warming up to the idea that this weapon had one real target—Donald Trump 2020.  

Trump has already falsely claimed that Hunter Biden “walks out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund … and he’s there for one quick meeting, and he flies in on Air Force Two, I think that’s a horrible thing.” Trump has also called for an investigation into the activity of both Hunter Biden and Joe Biden in China. China has refused. Which will surely be pointed at as evidence that there’s a problem.

Neither Biden actually got billions from China. It’s not clear that either ever got anything from China. But don’t be surprised to see not just ads, but an increasing theme on the right that the coronavirus was weaponized to take down the “Trump economy.” That only the biggest crisis in a century could hope to stop the inevitable reelection of Dear Leader Donald Trump. And that both Hunter Biden and Joe Biden have connections to the people who murdered tens of thousands of Americans.

Distractions are Donald Trump’s specialties. And the biggest disaster in ages, demands the biggest, most damnable lie imaginable.

In the meantime, enjoy the ads that are giving Trump heartburn right now.

Trump replaces acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney with Rep. Mark Meadows

Back in mid-June, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney dared to cough during a press event, causing Donald Trump to fly into a rage and expel him from the room. Since then, Mulvaney did a ton of heavy-lifting in terms of using the Office of Management and Budget to direct his whole extortion of Ukraine for political dirt against Joe Biden scheme. Of course, Mulvaney also went live on national TV to tell Americans all about how Trump had … extorted Ukraine for political gain and, you know, “get over it.”

Now that impeachment is in the rear view, it’s unclear whether Trump is tossing Mulvaney for confessing to his crimes, or the coughing. Probably the coughing. In either case, Mulvaney is out as the White House chief of staff, and Republican Rep. Mark Meadows is coming in.

Trump made a point of using “acting” in describing Mulvaney’s position as he was tweeting him buh-bye, and he pointedly did not use that term in describing Meadows new role. So it seems likely that Trump is going to plunk Meadows in front of the Senate for an actual vote. Which is fine. Not only would Republicans give their blessing to a rock, or a rock with a Hitler mustache, the odds of Capitol Hill voting down one of their own is always remote.

Meadows has always earned high praise from Trump for the same reason that anyone does—he spends an inordinate amount of time praising Trump first. Not only was Meadows keep to repeating Republican talking points during the impeachment proceedings, he’s been right there for Trump on everything — including explaining how Trump’s response to the coronavirus is just so, so perfect.

It’s clear this switch has been in the works for at least a few weeks, as Meadows recently announced his mid-term retirement from the House at just the right moment to block out other candidates from filing and making it possible to fill his seat with a hand-picked successor. In the meantime, Mulvaney has been appointed as special envoy to Northern Ireland, which is … a nice distance to keep him from appearing on U.S. television. Presumably Mulvaney is also surrendering his role at the OMB, but whether Trump plans to fill that slot, or just reach into the national till with his own hands from now on, is unclear.

What is clear is that this is the absolutely perfect time to be making major changes to the top White House staff, because absolutely nothing important is happening. Oh, and as always, there is a tweet for this…

3 Chief of Staffs in less than 3 years of being President: Part of the reason why @BarackObama can't manage to pass his agenda.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 10, 2012

CDC reports potentially significant outbreak of COVID-19 as cases reported coast to coast

On Friday, the first person died in the United States from the effects of an infection by the 2019 novel coronavirus. On Saturday, another case of apparent community spread was identified, this time in Chicago, half a continent away from previous signs that the virus may be circulating in Washington, Oregon, and California. Then came another case in Rhode Island (a traveler to Italy, not community spread).

But the worst news of the day came in a phone call from the CDC on Saturday afternoon. Though it has received little attention in a usually sensationalist media that seems suddenly concerned about saying anything at all that might raise a sensation, what the CDC said during that call indicated that the official number of cases of COVID-19 is likely to double almost overnight — and it’s happening in the worst place imaginable for a disease of this type.

The subject of that CDC press call on Saturday was the Life Care Center, a long term nursing facility near Kirkland, Washington. The cases there have not yet been confirmed by testing, but there are two “presumptive positives”—which, from the call, appear to be quick tests that returned positive values, but are waiting for lab confirmation. One of these positives is a health care worker at Life Care Center. The other is one of the residents there, a woman in her 70s. 

But those two aren’t alone. CDC officials and officials from Washington state indicated that another 27 out of the facility’s 108 residents are showing symptoms that may indicate COVID-19. So are 25 members of the staff. 

Considering the profile of COVID-19, with deaths and severe illness heavily slanted toward patients over 60 or those with other health issues, this sort of facility would seem to be the very worst case scenario. These are the people at highest risk for a poor outcome … and yes, that’s a euphemism. 

And the worst thing out of this worst thing may be that one of the Washington state officials made it clear that, had they been able to test earlier, they might have identified and isolated infections before the situation reached this point. Now there seems little to do but protect those not yet showing any symptoms, wait for test results, and hope that everyone there is just sharing a persistent cold.

So, let’s look at a number that’s actually kind of nice to see.

COVID-19: Global Case Status

For the first time, the blue wedge here is actually larger than the orange—that is, the number of cases considered to be “recovered” have exceeded the number of active cases. The reason for this is also right there on the same chart. With a recovery period between 10-17 days, the “fat” part of the graph in terms of the original epicenter in China are now reaching the point where they reach an outcome. In a sense, cases before Valentines Day have now, with few exceptions, either ended in death or recovery. And as far as China goes, the number of cases logged after that date is less than what came before. 

However, there’s also a bad sign on this chart. At the very top of the graph, you can see that the overall slope for total cases has stopped flattening out and started to grow more steeply. This is because China is no longer driving the outcome. South Korea alone reported more new cases on Saturday than did all of China. Iran was not far behind. Here’s another look at the top 10 locations outside of China (and cruise ships).

COVID-19: Time sequence outside China

The growth of cases outside of China shows the appearance of those three new epicenters—South Korea, Italy, and Iran, though the order of these new sources is almost certainly not as they appear from the public information. Every indicator is that Iran is not only continuing to vastly under-report the true situation, but was harboring a significant number of infections for days or even weeks before the first case was reported. Iran has reported 54 deaths as of Satuday—more than Italy and South Korea combined.

What may be more interesting on the chart is actually those other countries up near the top:  Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. In each of these nations, despite proximity and frequent travel to affected regions in China that made them all early locations for cases identified outside of the original epicenter, additional cases have not undergone exponential growth. That’s true in Japan despite dozens of cases of community spread (including a scary number of cab drivers in major cities). After an initial outbreak, Singapore now shows only 32 active cases.  Both of these countries show admirable management of the infection that has avoided the mistakes seen elsewhere. Worth studying.

Finally, here’s a warning of a different sort—these daily reports need to change.

The first of these articles on 2019 novel coronavirus appeared on January 23, when the number of cases in China was still in the hundreds, but 17 deaths had made it clear that what was happening near the city of Wuhan demanded attention. Chinese authorities had already instituted travel restrictions within the country, restricting travel in Hubei Province. However, there was something going on at the time—an impeachment—that definitely put the story on the back burner, and back pages, within the U.S. It wasn’t until a week later that the virus, and the disease it caused, got a regular daily post. That first one warned against the rumors and misinformation that was already spreading faster than the infection.

Since then, the series had gone through a lot of topics: Right wing efforts to paint the virus as the another reason for xenophobia, the difference between an epidemic and pandemic, the death of whistle-blowing doctor Li Wenliang, who became an overnight symbol for free speech and government transparency, and the first news that passengers aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess had been confirmed to be carrying the virus.

Even though most of those events were less than a month ago, they’re already receding into the early history of an event that is turning into something that’s exceedingly rare—a genuinely worldwide event. For the last three weeks, these articles have often been a grim exercise in watching the rising tide of numbers. That may be an interesting exercise in some ways, but hitting everyone with charts and graphs is likely of diminishing value as this becomes more about how 2019 novel coronavirus affects your town, family, and life. Look for some changes to the reporting to match that new focus.

Resources on novel coronavirus

World Health Organization 2019 Coronavirus information site. World Health Organization 2019 Coronavirus Dashboard. 2019-nCoV Global Cases from Johns Hopkins. BNO News 2019 Novel Coronavirus tracking site. Worldometer / Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak. CDC Coronavirus-2019 (COVID-19) information site. European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Information on preparing yourself and your family

Some tips on preparing from Daily Kos. NPR’s guide to preparing your home.

Trump calls coronavirus ‘the new hoax’ as he repeats lies about spread within the U.S.

On Friday night, Donald Trump called the coronavirus epidemic a “hoax” by Democrats who “failed” to bring him down over his collusion with Russia, or the extortion of Ukraine that led to his impeachment. After weeks of downplaying the threat, of ignoring the spread around the world, and of demonstrating that his concerns begin and end with the stock market, Trump has moved on to the next stage of how he is handling the COVID-19 issue — affixing the blame.

On a rally stage in South Carolina, Trump took his statement that he could kill Americans and get away with it out of the realm of theory and put it into practice. The people that he murdered might not be dead yet, but his words on that stage have killed them as certainly as if he lined them up on Fifth Avenue and opened fire.

Trump has criminally underplayed the importance of emergency preparations of all kinds. His gutted White House has disposed of epidemiologists and emergency response specialists from the National Security Council, CDC, and elsewhere — for reasons that don’t seem to be much more defined than Trump’s lifelong hatred of having people around who know that what is doing is foolish.

During his positively incoherent press event on Thursday, Trump already knew that there were sixty cases of coronavirus within the United States. More importantly, he knew that the CDC had just identified the first case of “community spread” in the country — a case that didn’t come in from overseas, and wasn’t obviously tied to someone who had caught it outside the country. Before his speech in South Carolina, three more cases had been identified, including another case of community spread. However, Trump insisted on telling his rally audience that there were still only “fifteen cases in this huge country.”

Trump took credit for this “pretty amazing” imaginary victory, claiming it was because he “moved early.” But it’s clear that Trump wants to declare the win … won. And everything that happens from now on can’t be blamed on him.

Trump: “Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that … coronavirus. We did one of the great jobs, you say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’ They say, ‘Oh, not good. Not good.’ They have no clue. They don’t have any clue.  … They tried to beat you on ‘Russia, Russia, Russia,’ that didn’t work out to well. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried over and over. They been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning, they lost, it’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.”

The worst thing with Trump’s statement isn’t that it once again treats an infectious disease as a political talking point. It’s not that he’s failing to warn his listeners of the genuine threat they and their families will be facing. It’s not even that he’s dodging the blame for a response that has already proven inadequate

The worst thing is that Trump never has a worst thing. There is always more ahead. Because when confronted, he won’t admit a mistake, or apologize, or even try to sidestep. He will double down. 

And where he’s going can already be seen in the way that this story is being handled by right-wing media and by politicians who are racing to get ahead of the issue … the Republican way.

The Corona virus was man-made. Bill Gates is one of the financiers of the Wujan lab where it was being developed. I wouldn�t put it past them and by �them� I mean everyone from Adam Schiff to George Soros, Hillary Clinton and the Pope. #DeepStateCabal #KAG2020 @CIA

— JoanneWrightForCongress (@JWrightforCA34) February 24, 2020

Joanne Wright is an actual Republican candidate for Congress in the 34th California district currently held by Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez. Gomez won his last race with 72% of the vote … over a Green Party candidate, as Republicans didn’t even field a challenger. Wright doesn’t actually represent a threat to take away a seat in the House.

But she represents a threat all right. Her version of the coronavirus situation, with conspiracy theory ladled on top of conspiracy theory, with a heaping helping of both antisemitism and anti-Catholicism is exactly how this story is circulating in right wing channels. That may seem like the batsh#t fringe of the party. But at this point, the Trumpist party is all fringe.

Trump is already stepping onto this ground with his claim that the coronavirus is a Democratic hoax. With the stock market already in free-fall, and the disease beginning to spread across the nation in earnest, there is no place he will not go. Or at least … no place except responsible behavior and good management.

Trump in South Carolina saying Coronavirus is the "new hoax" to defeat him after impeachment "failed."

— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) February 29, 2020