In Brief: July 31, 2021

Trump urged Justice officials to declare election ‘corrupt’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged senior Justice Department officials to declare the results of the 2020 election “corrupt” in a December phone call, according to handwritten notes from one of the participants in the conversation.

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“Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen,” Trump said at one point to then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, according to notes taken by Richard Donoghue, who was then Rosen’s deputy and who was also on the call.

The notes of the Dec. 27 call, released Friday by the House Oversight Committee, underscore the lengths to which Trump went to try to overturn the results of the election and to elicit the support of senior government officials in that effort. Emails released last month show Trump and his allies in the last weeks of his presidency pressured the Justice Department to investigate unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud, forwarding them conspiracy theories and even a draft legal brief they hoped would be filed with the Supreme Court.

The pressure is all the more notable because just weeks earlier, Trump’s own attorney general William Barr, revealed that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have overturned the results. Unsubstantiated claims of fraud have been repeatedly rejected by judge after judge, including by Trump appointees, and by election officials across the country.

“These handwritten notes show that President Trump directly instructed our nation’s top law enforcement agency to take steps to overturn a free and fair election in the final days of his presidency,” committee chairman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.

Justice says IRS must give Trump tax returns to Congress

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department, in a reversal, says the Treasury Department must provide the House Ways and Means Committee former President Donald Trump’s tax returns, apparently ending a long legal showdown over the records.

In a memo dated Friday, Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel said the committee chairman “has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President’s tax information” and that under federal law, “Treasury must furnish the information to the Committee.”

The 39-page memo is signed by Dawn Johnsen, installed by the Biden administration as the acting head of the legal counsel office.

During the Trump administration, then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he wouldn’t turn over the tax returns because he concluded they were being sought by Democrats who control the House of Representatives for partisan reasons.

The committee sued for the records under a federal law that says the Internal Revenue Service “shall furnish” the returns of any taxpayer to a handful of top lawmakers. The committee said it needed Trump’s taxes for an investigation into whether he complied with tax law.

$1 trillion plan for infrastructure clears another hurdle

WASHINGTON — The Senate further advanced a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure plan Friday with a bipartisan group of senators helping it clear one more hurdle and bracing to see if support can hold during the next few days of debate and efforts to amend it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the chamber should be able to process the legislation quickly given the bipartisan support. But as the day dragged into evening, the full text of what promises to be a massive bill was not finished by the time lawmakers adjourned.

Senators will return for a rare Saturday session as they push through a lengthy process.

“We may need the weekend, we may vote on several amendments, but with the cooperation of our Republican colleagues I believe we can finish the bipartisan infrastructure bill in a matter of days,” Schumer said.

But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, predicted, “It’s going to be a grind.”

Study: Vaccinated people can carry as much virus as others

In another dispiriting setback for the nation’s efforts to stamp out the coronavirus, scientists who studied a big COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts concluded that vaccinated people who got so-called breakthrough infections carried about the same amount of the coronavirus as those who did not get the shots.

Health officials on Friday released details of that research, which was key in this week’s decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend that vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant is fueling infection surges. The authors said the findings suggest that the CDC’s mask guidance should be expanded to include the entire country, even outside of hot spots.

The findings have the potential to upend past thinking about how the disease is spread. Previously, vaccinated people who got infected were thought to have low levels of virus and to be unlikely to pass it to others. But the new data shows that is not the case with the delta variant.

The outbreak in Provincetown — a seaside tourist spot on Cape Cod in the county with Massachusetts’ highest vaccination rate — has so far included more than 900 cases. About three-quarters of them were people who were fully vaccinated.

Travis Dagenais, who was among the many vaccinated people infected, said “throwing caution to the wind” and partying in crowds for long nights over the July Fourth holiday was a mistake in hindsight.

From wire sources

To get shots in arms, governments turn to money in pockets

Millions of people in the U.S. who haven’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccine could soon have a new reason to roll up their sleeves: money in their pockets.

President Joe Biden is calling on states and local governments to join those that are already handing out dollars for shots. New York, the nation’s biggest city, started doling out $100 awards on Friday.

The president, health officials and state leaders are betting that the financial incentive will spur hesitant people to get the shot just as the highly contagious delta variant sweeps through parts of the country — particularly those with low vaccination rates — and as the number of daily inoculations falls sharply from its April high.

Jay Vojno, getting his shot Friday in New York, said he figured some kind of incentive was coming, so he was willing to hold off on getting vaccinated until it did.

“I knew they were going to do it, so I just waited,” he said.

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Pentagon grappling with new vaccine orders; timing uncertain

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is vowing he “won’t let grass grow under our feet” as the department begins to implement the new vaccine and testing directives. But Pentagon officials on Friday were scrambling to figure out how to enact and enforce the changes across the vast military population and determine which National Guard and Reserve troops would be affected by the orders.

The Pentagon now has two separate missions involving President Joe Biden’s announcement Thursday aimed at increasing COVID-19 vaccines in the federal workforce. The Defense Department must develop plans to make the vaccine mandatory for the military, and set up new requirements for federal workers who will have to either attest to a COVID-19 vaccination or face frequent testing and travel restrictions.

Austin said the department will move expeditiously, but added that he can’t predict how long it will take. He said he plans to consult with medical professionals as well as the military service leaders.

Any plan to make the vaccine mandatory will require a waiver signed by Biden, because the Food and Drug Administration has not yet given the vaccine final, formal approval. According to federal law, the requirement to offer individuals a choice of accepting or rejecting use of an emergency use vaccine may only by waived by the president, “only if the president determines in writing that complying with such requirement is not in the interests of national security.”

Mandating the vaccine prior to FDA approval will likely trigger opposition from vaccine opponents, and drag the military into political debates over what has become a highly divisive issue in America.

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Florida coronavirus cases jump 50% as surge continues

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida’s coronavirus cases jumped 50% this week, the state Health Department reported Friday, continuing a six-week surge that has seen it responsible for 1 in 5 new infections nationally, becoming the outbreak’s epicenter.

The release came shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis barred school districts from requiring students to wear masks when classes resume next month.

More than 110,000 new coronavirus cases were reported statewide over the past week, up from 73,000 last week and 11 times the 10,000 reported the week of June 11, six weeks ago. Case numbers are now back to where they in January, just before vaccinations became widely available.

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The Florida Hospital Association also said Friday that statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations are nearing last year’s peak. More than 9,300 patients are hospitalized, up from 1,845 a month ago and nearing the record 10,179 set on July 23, 2020. On a per capita basis, Florida now has more people hospitalized than any other state.

The state reported 409 deaths this week, bringing the total to more than 39,000 since its first in March 2020. The state’s peak happened in mid-August 2020, when 1,266 people died over a seven-day period. Deaths usually follow increases in hospitalizations by a few weeks.

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