June 1, 2018

Critics of President Trump saw Thursday's full pardon of admitted campaign-finance-law violator and conservative provocateur Dinesh D'Souza as yet another signal that Trump will use his pardon power to protect and reward his allies.

"While it is nothing new for a president to use clemency to reward friends and family, there is something unique and darker taking shape," law professor and former federal prosecutor Mark Osler argues at CNN. "Trump seems to be using the pardon power not only for the sodden purpose of helping buddies, but also to hurt those who have opposed him." On Friday morning's New Day, Joe Lockhart, Bill Clinton's former press secretary, said Trump is clearly promising "get of our jail free" cards "in order to survive the special counsel probe."

But Roger Stone, an ally and longtime confidante of Trump's, said basically the same thing to The Washington Post. "It has to be a signal to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort and even Robert S. Mueller III: Indict people for crimes that don't pertain to Russian collusion and this is what could happen," Stone said. "The special counsel has awesome powers, as you know, but the president has even more awesome powers."

"The constitutional pardon power is a rare and remarkable thing: It gives the president nearly unchecked power to relieve the burdens of a criminal conviction," Osler writes. "It was meant to be a tool of mercy; Alexander Hamilton described it as such in Federalist 74." But Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe explained on New Day that like all presidential powers, it isn't absolute: "Every power of the president is limited by the impeachment clause." Peter Weber

4:21 p.m.

President Biden has issued another two executive orders aimed at the coronavirus pandemic's economic fallout.

Millions of Americans have claimed unemployment insurance as they lost their jobs amid the pandemic, not to mention thousands of noncitizen workers who haven't been eligible for the benefits. Congress has so far passed two relief bills aimed at helping those who've lost their jobs, though many families are still struggling to pay bills or buy groceries. Biden is pushing Congress to pass another $1.9 trillion stimulus program, but took initial and immediate relief steps Friday with another round of executive orders.

The first order would increase how much families are given through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program each week. About 12 million families rely on the program, and this order would boost food stamp benefits for a family of four by 15 percent, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese tells The New York Times. And while Biden has called for another round of $1,400 stimulus checks, this order would direct the IRS to ensure Americans are getting their $600 payments as well. Notably, the order will also let people claim unemployment benefits even if they quit their job because they feel unsafe working it during the pandemic, among other economic benefits aimed at low-income Americans.

The second order meanwhile lays the groundwork for ensuring federal workers and contractors are paid at least $15 per hour and can access paid leave, CNN reports. It also undoes some of former President Donald Trump's orders that let a president hire and fire employees for political reasons and limited federal workers' bargaining rights.

Biden has spent the first two days of his presidency issuing executive orders to combat Trump's policies on immigration, climate, the pandemic, and more. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:29 p.m.

In the wake of this month's deadly attack on the Capitol building, the White House is pledging to confront the "serious and growing" threat of "domestic violent extremism."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki announced Friday that President Biden is requesting a "comprehensive threat assessment" from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence focused on domestic violent extremism, which will be conducted in coordination with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

"The January 6 assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known: the rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat," Psaki said. "The Biden administration will confront this threat with the necessary resources and resolve."

Psaki said the threat assessment Biden has ordered is the "first step" toward doing so, and it will provide "fact-based analysis upon which we can shape policy."

Additionally, Psaki said the National Security Council will launch a "policy review effort" focused on "how the government can share information better about this threat" and "support efforts to prevent radicalization, disrupt violent extremist networks, and more." Finally, she said, the Biden administration will work to coordinate "relevant parts of the federal government to enhance and accelerate efforts to address" domestic violent extremism.

A mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6 while Congress was meeting to certify Biden's election win, leaving five people dead. Biden condemned the rioters as "domestic terrorists," and CNN previously reported that his administration plans to "make domestic terrorism a significant focus of the National Security Council." Brendan Morrow

1:54 p.m.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday that there's "some evidence" a surging COVID-19 variant may be more deadly than the original strain.

The B117 strain was first identified in London, and has since spread across the U.K. and arrived in other U.S. and other countries. "In addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant ... may be associated with a higher degree of mortality," Johnson said in a Friday press conference.

Before Johnson's announcement, evidence suggested the variant was no more inherently deadly than the original COVID-19 strain. But evidence the U.K.'s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group assessed for the government shows that it could be up to 30 percent more deadly. Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific advisor, cautioned that the data is "not yet strong," saying "there's a lot of uncertainty around these numbers and we need more work to get a precise handle on it."

Even if the variant is not necessarily more deadly, its rapid transmission rate could allow it to infect — and therefore kill — more people. Still, research suggests both major COVID-19 vaccines currently in distribution will still be just as effective against the new strain. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:50 p.m.

Former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial appears on track to begin within days, with an article of impeachment against him headed to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced Friday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to transmit an article of impeachment charging Trump with incitement of insurrection to the Senate on Monday. Pelosi later confirmed this timing.

"Make no mistake: a trial will be held in the United States Senate, and there will be a vote on whether to convict," Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has suggested the trial should be delayed until the middle of February, adding that Trump deserves a "full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense," NBC News reports. But Axios notes that "the Senate is required to begin the impeachment trial at 1 p.m. the day after the article is transmitted." The trial would, therefore, be set to begin on Tuesday, Jan. 26, though as Politico writes, this is assuming Schumer and McConnell don't "agree to a different timetable" before then.

The House impeached Trump again for "incitement of insurrection" after a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol building in a deadly riot. His forthcoming second impeachment trial will be the first to ever take place against a former president. Brendan Morrow

12:12 p.m.

Some members of the National Guard stationed near the Capitol after Inauguration Day were forced to use a parking garage for a rest area last night, and it's unclear who is to blame.

Politico first reported that the soldiers were pushed out from the Capitol and congressional office buildings Thursday night, with one Guard member saying they were told to set up new command centers outside or in hotels. Breaks after Guard members completed their 12-hour shifts were supposed to be taken outside or in a nearby parking garage, another member said. Photos soon showed dozens of troops huddled in the garage.

The incident prompted outrage and finger pointing from both lawmakers on sides of the aisle. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) his scapegoats, while Schumer promised he would "get to the bottom of this." By Friday morning, the troops were allowed back into the Capitol.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) implied in a Thursday tweet that the Capitol Police were the ones who'd ordered the Guard out of the Capitol, and the D.C. National Guard confirmed to Military Times in a statement that the police had made the call. But two soldiers told Military Times that the police shouldn't be blamed. "I hate that senators are blaming this on the Capitol Police,” one said, recounting how the force has done "nothing but act like coworkers to us." Another Guard soldier said it's the senators who "keep increasing the Guard force and decreasing the space we are allowed to rest in."

State governors are the commanders in chief of their individual Guard forces. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) ordered his Guard members home Friday morning after the incident. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:07 p.m.

Hall of Fame slugger Hank Aaron — thought by many to be Major League Baseball's "legitimate" home-run king — has died at 86, his daughter said on Friday. Aaron, who played from 1954 to 1976, mostly with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, finished his career with 755 home runs — a record that stood until 2006, when he was surpassed by the steroid-assisted Barry Bonds.

Aaron still holds major-league records for RBI, extra-base hits, and total bases, and won his lone MVP award in leading Milwaukee to the 1957 World Series title. But Aaron is also revered for his fortitude in facing down racism as he chased Babe Ruth's career home run record in the early 1970's. "When people finally realized I was climbing up Ruth's back, the 'Dear N----r' letters started showing up with alarming regularity," he wrote in his 1991 memoir. "There's no way to measure the effect those letters had on me, but I like to think every one of them added another home run to my total." The Associated Press reports Aaron died peacefully in his sleep. Jacob Lambert

11:09 a.m.

Vaccinated health care workers are headed to next month's Super Bowl.

The National Football League said Friday it will allow a total of 22,000 fans to attend Super Bowl LV, which will be held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, CNN reports. The league said it made this decision following "discussions with public health officials, including the CDC, the Florida Department of Health, and area hospitals and health care systems."

Approximately 7,500 health care workers who have received their COVID-19 vaccine are scoring free tickets to the game from the NFL. The league posted a video Friday showing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sharing the news with one group of health care workers.

"We can't thank you enough, and we hope this program will be a small way to celebrate you, honor you, and most importantly, thank you," Goodell says in the video.

The NFL says health officials have "reviewed and provided feedback on the NFL's comprehensive plans that will enable the league to host fans and the vaccinated health care workers in a safe and responsible way," and it plans to "enhance the already rigorous COVID-19 protocols" it has been using, including mandating mask-wearing. The Raymond James Stadium "has a capacity of around 65,000," the "plan is that for each pod of non-vaccinated fans, a group of vaccinated health care workers would be seated in the row behind, staggered to the side, throughout the stadium," The Washington Post writes.

Super Bowl LV is scheduled for Feb. 7. Brendan Morrow

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