Attorney General William Barr upended long-standing Justice Department policy on Monday by announcing federal prosecutors could investigate “specific allegations” of voter fraud in last week’s election. In response, the Justice Department’s chief election crimes prosecutor, Richard Pilger, resigned in protest. Former Justice Department official Vanita Gupta criticized Barr, saying, “this is about disruption, disinformation, and sowing chaos.”
This comes as top Republicans are backing President Trump’s refusal to concede the election, claiming — without providing any evidence — that the vote was marred by fraud. According to the Associated Press, Biden has secured 290 votes in the Electoral College, and his lead in the popular vote is approaching 5 million. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell defended Trump’s decision not to concede to Biden.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “President Trump is 100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.”
The Trump campaign is also continuing to file numerous lawsuits in battleground states despite no evidence emerging of voter fraud. Voting rights expert and author Ari Berman responded to the news by writing, “There were no irregularities. This is an attempted coup & every major figure in America needs to denounce it. US attorneys need to resign in protest. They are trying to overturn the election & subvert the will of the people.” We’ll have more on this story later in the broadcast.
Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is rejecting calls to step down after the state’s two sitting Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, called for his resignation, claiming he had “failed to deliver honest and transparent elections.” Loeffler and Perdue made the stunning request after both of their races went to runoffs against Democratic challengers and with President-elect Joe Biden on the verge of becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992. Raffensperger dismissed part of Loeffler and Perdue’s claims as “laughable.”
As the number of U.S. COVID-19 cases topped 10 million, President-elect Joe Biden gave a nationally televised address Monday warning of a “dark winter” ahead and pleading for the use of face masks.
President-elect Joe Biden: “I implore you: Wear a mask. Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together. I want to be very clear: The goal of mask wearing is not to make your life less comfortable. It’s to take something — or take something away from you. It’s to give something back to all of us: a normal life.”
This comes as two more close associates to President Trump have tested positive for the virus: Housing Secretary Ben Carson and the attorney David Bossie, who is leading Trump’s post-election legal challenges.
Meanwhile, global stocks soared on Monday following news from Pfizer that early data from a large clinical trial shows its coronavirus vaccine cut symptomatic COVID-19 cases by more than 90%.
In news from the Middle East, Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, has died at 65 after he became infected with COVID-19. Erekat was a key Palestinian negotiator involved in peace talks for over three decades. He famously showed up at the 1991 Madrid Conference proudly wearing a keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. He stood in staunch opposition to Trump’s Middle East plan, which he called the “fraud of the century,” and condemned recent agreements normalizing relations between Israel and Gulf nations. This is Saeb Erekat speaking in 2018.
Saeb Erekat: “I think, as Palestinians, we have defined our interest, as no one benefits more from achieving peace than us, and nobody stands to lose more in the absence of peace more than us.”
Erekat is survived by his wife, four children and eight grandchildren.
In Washington, D.C., President Trump has fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. This comes months after Esper clashed with Trump by opposing the deployment of active-duty troops to respond to the nationwide protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. On Monday, Trump announced Christopher Miller, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, would serve as acting defense secretary. Senator Ron Wyden responded on Twitter by writing, “Donald Trump fired someone who wouldn’t order U.S. troops to attack peaceful protesters and is replacing him with someone he may think will carry out those orders.”
In a second tweet, Wyden wrote: “I opposed Chris Miller’s nomination because he refused to promise that intelligence agencies wouldn’t target Americans based on their political views. He should remember that anyone who carries out an illegal order from Donald Trump will be held fully accountable under the law.” During an interview last week with the Military Times, Esper suggested that he would soon be fired because he stood up to Trump. He said, “Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real 'yes man.' And then God help us.”
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments today in a case seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act. The Republican effort could strip away the healthcare of over 20 million people and deny protections for preexisting conditions, as well as preventive care, amid a devastating pandemic that has caused millions to lose their employer-based health insurance. The court now has a 6-3 conservative majority. During last month’s Senate confirmation hearing, Justice Amy Coney Barrett refused to recuse herself from cases on the Affordable Care Act even though she has been critical of Obama’s signature legislation in the past. President-elect Joe Biden is delivering a speech today defending the ACA, which he vowed to expand during his campaign, though progressive Democrats and public opinion favors a universal healthcare system or Medicare for All.
In Bolivia, former President Evo Morales has returned to his country after one year in exile following a right-wing military coup that overthrew Morales last November. Thousands of supporters celebrated Morales’s triumphant return as he crossed into Bolivia by foot through the border with Argentina, where he’d been living since last year. This is Morales speaking to his throngs of supporters yesterday.
Evo Morales: “The fight continues. While imperialism and capitalism exist, the struggle of the people will continue. I am convinced of that, brothers and sisters.”
Evo Morales’s return follows the swearing-in of Luis Arce as the new president and the return of Morales’s MAS party to power.
Peru has been thrown into political uncertainty after lawmakers ousted President Martín Vizcarra Monday in his impeachment trial. The vote to remove him, on charges of corruption, came two months after a failed impeachment in September on an unrelated accusation of obstruction of justice. Some lawmakers and protesters decried the vote as a political ploy ahead of elections in 2021 and said the political chaos could further hamper the response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated Peru.
In Armenia, protesters stormed a government building in the capital Yerevan Monday night following the announcement of an agreement to end the raging six-week conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. Protesters say the deal, which was signed by the president, does not represent the will of the Armenian people, and the Armenian prime minister said military actions in the region are not over yet. The deal came after Azerbaijan seized control of the second-largest city in Nagorno-Karabakh and after Azeri forces admitted to shooting down a Russian helicopter, which they claimed was an accident. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday Russian peacekeepers will be deployed along the frontline. It is estimated the conflict has killed at least 1,000 people and displaced over 100,000, though some say the death toll is much higher.
In Georgia, protests continued Monday, one day after police fired water cannons on crowds in the capital Tbilisi as they called for a rerun of recent parliamentary elections they and the country’s main opposition parties say were rigged. The election saw the ruling Georgian Dream party, which was founded by Georgia’s wealthiest man, declaring victory.
Meanwhile, protests continue in Belarus, where hundreds were again arrested over the weekend as people call for President Alexander Lukashenko to resign following August elections they say were rigged. At least nine journalists were believed to be among those arrested Sunday. On Friday, the EU imposed sanctions on Lukashenko for his violent crackdown on protests.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on regional powers to engage in peaceful talks, following reports Trump is planning to slap a series of new sanctions on Iran in the coming weeks, in coordination with Israel and several Gulf states. Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted, “A sincere message to our neighbors: Trump’s gone in 70 days. But we’ll remain here forever. Betting on outsiders to provide security is never a good gamble. We extend our hand to our neighbors for dialog to resolve differences. Only together can we build a better future for all.”
Axios, which reported the possible sanctions, said the Trump administration hopes the move will make it harder for Joe Biden’s administration to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, from which Trump unilaterally withdrew.
In Cancún, Mexico, at least two local reporters were wounded after police opened fire against a crowd of people protesting femicides and violence against women. Protests erupted across the state of Quintana Roo Monday after the body of 20-year-old Bianca Alejandrina Lorenzana, known as Alexis, was found earlier in the day. She had been missing all weekend, after leaving her home to work. At least a dozen other femicides have been reported in the state of Quintana Roo this year. On average, 10 women are murdered in Mexico every day, according to Mexican officials.
In immigration news, The Guardian reports nearly 50 Cameroonian asylum seekers are scheduled to be deported today. Some of them are activists who face arrest warrants in Cameroon and political persecution from government forces known for conducting extrajudicial killings. Several have told The Guardian that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have tortured them into signing their deportation papers and forcibly took their fingerprints. Last month, dozens of Cameroonian asylum seekers were deported, many of whom are now missing. Advocates say Black asylum seekers are being disproportionately targeted with mass deportations.
In other immigration news, lawyers working on reuniting children who were separated from their families at the southern border say they still cannot find the parents of 666 children — over 100 more children than previously reported. The children were taken away from their families between April and June 2018 at the height of Trump’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy.
A federal court has temporarily blocked the construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline pending an ongoing appeal from environmental groups. The 300-mile pipeline would cross through wetlands and streams in Virginia and West Virginia. Activists have long argued a permit allowing its construction violates environmental laws and could pose catastrophic threats to vital waterways.