December 4, 2020

The Pentagon announced Friday that it will remove all troops from Somalia by Jan. 15, five days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

Virtually all of the 700 troops, largely Special Operations forces on training and counterterrorism missions against Islamist insurgents, will leave. Many will be "repositioned" to nearby Kenya, a Pentagon official told The New York Times. It's unclear if diplomats and the U.S. ambassador in Somalia will be leaving as well.

President Trump has reportedly been rushing to withdraw American troops from around the world in his last weeks in office, including from Iraq and Afghanistan. Trump campaigned in 2016 on a promise of leaving Afghanistan, and reportedly has at least a draft order circulating that would cut troop deployment there in half. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:45 a.m.

For the first times in weeks, President Trump's official schedule for Wednesday, Jan. 20, does not say "he will make many calls and have many meetings." In fact, it has only one item on it: His departure from the White House for Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, the final official stop of his presidency.

About 45 minutes after Trump's scheduled departure, President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and their spouses will attend church services at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, according to Biden's first official presidential schedule. Biden and Harris will be sworn in at noon, then they'll review military forces in a pass in review, lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and finally head to the White House, where Biden is scheduled to start work at 5:15 p.m.

The Bidens being their celebrations at 8:48 p.m., for some reason, and their final scheduled event is just before 10 p.m. Peter Weber

3:12 a.m.

President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris really did create a playlist of 46 songs for Wednesday's inauguration of the 46th president. Stephen Colbert's Late Show made some changes to the playlist Tuesday night. It's "a well-rounded mix of classic hits and in no way a cryptic jab at the outgoing administration" nor "a thinly veiled putdown of the soon-to-be ex-president," The Late Show insists. "These songs were selected on their musical merits, not because when read sequentially, they taunt the man who tried to destroy our democracy."

In the real world, President Trump is "particularly upset that Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Tom Hanks, and other stars agreed to perform as part of Biden’s inaugural celebrations," after Trump's "harsh rhetoric, hard-line immigration policy, and other stances during the 2016 campaign led Hollywood to largely boycott his inauguration," The Washington Post reports. Trump is "a believer in the power of being associated with marquee names," so the snubs apparently stung hard. In comparison, a fake playlist would probably just pinch. Peter Weber

2:23 a.m.

President Trump's last big batch of pardons will get most of the attention, but he also issued an executive order in his last few hours in office that seeks to free all current and former hires from the ethics agreements they signed to work in his administration. Trump revoked his January 2017 "Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees" order, the White House announced early Wednesday, so "employees and former employees subject to the commitments in Executive Order 13770 will not be subject to those commitments after noon January 20, 2021."

Those commitments included not lobbying the federal agencies they served under for five years after leaving government. The executive order, Yashar Ali notes, was the backbone of Trump's "drain the swamp" pledge.

President-elect Joe Biden takes office at noon on Wednesday, and presumably he could just issue a new executive order reversing Trump's

Norm Eisen, "ethics czar" to former President Barack Obama, said in a Politico column Tuesday that Obama's clear ethics rules led to "arguably the most scandal-free presidency in memory," but "Trump greatly watered down the standards with scandalous results" and "Biden has done the opposite, restoring the Obama rules and expanding them."

Biden's planned executive order, Eisen wrote, "restores the fundamentals of the Obama plan, closing loopholes Trump opened—but going further, including new crackdowns on special interest influence. If implemented rigorously (always a big if) Biden’s plan promises to go further to 'drain the swamp' than either of his predecessors." Peter Weber

2:03 a.m.

President Trump has granted pardons to 73 individuals and commuted an additional 70 sentences, the White House announced early Wednesday morning.

There are several well-known names on the list, including Stephen Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist; Elliott Broidy, a major Trump fundraiser and former deputy national finance chair of the Republican National Committee; rapper Lil Wayne; and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Trump also pardoned or commuted the sentences of individuals — including several former members of Congress — convicted of drug offenses, fraud, and lying to federal investigators.

In 2013, Kilpatrick was convicted for his part in a racketeering and bribery scheme conducted while in office; Trump commuted his sentence after Kilpatrick served seven years in prison. The White House said several people — including social media personalities Diamond and Silk and televangelist Paula White — supported this commutation.

Similarly, there were several people pushing Trump to grant Broidy a full pardon — the White House said Broidy had the support of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell. Broidy pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to violate foreign lobbying laws, and was scheduled to be sentenced in February.

Bannon, however, did not have a long list of supporters. The White House simply said Bannon — who was charged with defrauding investors through a group called "We Build the Wall" — received a full pardon and "has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen." The organization received donations from Trump fans, something that was not lost on Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.):

Last month, Trump pardoned his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and longtime friend Roger Stone. He still has a few more hours to issue additional pardons and commutations, but is not expected to do so. Catherine Garcia

1:19 a.m.

President Trump pardoned Stephen Bannon, his 2016 campaign chairman and one-time White House aide, late Tuesday amid a final flurry of executive clemency with just hours left in his administration. Bannon was arrested in August and charged with defrauding investors, mostly Trump supporters, through a group called "We Build the Wall."

In its pardon notice, the White House said Bannon had received "a full pardon" for "charges related to fraud stemming from his involvement in a political project," adding that the former Breitbart News chief "has been an important leader in the conservative movement and is known for his political acumen." Trump has already pardoned another 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as well as longtime ally Roger Stone and other 2016 advisers and allies.

The "We Build the Wall" campaign raised more than $25 million, ostensibly to build border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Federal prosecutors alleged that Bannon siphoned off more than $1 million through a nonprofit he controlled and gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to another organizer, Brian Kolfage, who was also charged in the alleged scheme. Kolfage was not on Trump's pardon list. Trump distanced himself from Bannon and the fundraising project after the arrests, and aides believed Bannon was not going to get a pardon up until Tuesday, CNN reports.

Trump "made the decision on Mr. Bannon after a day of frantic efforts to sway his thinking, including from Mr. Bannon himself, who spoke to him by phone on Tuesday," The New York Times reports. After Bannon helped elect Trump and joined his White House, the two had a dramatic falling-out when Bannon told journalist Michael Wolff, for his book Fire and Fury, that Ivanka Trump is "dumb as a brick" and Donald Trump Jr. had acted "treasonous" by meeting with Russian agents during the campaign. But since last summer, "Bannon has slowly come back into the Trump orbit," The Washington Post notes.

Bannon may still be in legal jeopardy for his work with exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, and state prosecutors might still be able to charge him for any "We Build the Wall" fraud. Peter Weber

12:40 a.m.

Ashton Edwards is changing ballet for the better.

Edwards, 18, is a member of the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Professional Division in Seattle. He started studying classical ballet at 4, and after years of performing traditional male roles, Edwards became intrigued by the idea of trying something that is traditionally for women: dancing en pointe.

"It took a lot of searching within myself," Edwards told NPR. "But I think my goals in life and in my career and who I saw myself as a person were much bigger than just one small box I was put in. So I decided to explore." Because ballet has such clear divisions between male and female roles, Edwards didn't know if his school would be open to him dancing en pointe, and was thrilled when they were "open and accepting."

Peter Boal, artistic director for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, told NPR "ballet can be a little slow," and when Edwards asked to study en pointe, "we said, 'Why not? Lead us and we will work with you.'" It usually takes several years of training before a dancer can put on their en pointe shoes, but after just six months, Edwards had the strength and technique necessary. Those shoes "have their challenges," he said, but it's all worth it: "Once you're up and once you start dancing, you're floating, and it feels like flying I think. It's amazing." Catherine Garcia

12:30 a.m.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Tuesday that the Justice Department has informed him it will not prosecute him for insider trading, making him the last of five senators known to have been investigated for selling stocks right before the market crashed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Burr sold up to $1.7 million worth of stock on Feb. 13, 2020, days after receiving briefings on the emerging coronavirus threat. Burr at the time was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a member of the Senate health committee.

Burr has acknowledged he sold the shares because of the pandemic, but says he was guided solely by public news sources, specifically CNBC's Asia health and science reporting. After the FBI executed a search warrant and seized his cellphone in May, he stepped down as chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Democrats take control of the Senate on Wednesday, and it's unclear if Burr will seek the top GOP slot on either the intelligence or health committees now that the investigation is over.

Three of the other senators investigated for possible insider trading — Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — were cleared in May. An investigation into Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.)'s stock trades expanded but then was closed in August, The New York Times reports. Perdue and Loeffler were both defeated in special elections earlier this month and their Democratic successors will be sworn in Wednesday.

Burr has already said he plans to step down after his term ends in 2022, but the timing of his exculpation, on the final day of the Trump administration, raised some eyebrows. President Trump was not a fan of Burr, who led a bipartisan investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, though Burr will now sit as a juror in Trump's second impeachment trial.

It was always a steep climb for prosecutors to prove criminality in congressional insider trading cases, The Washington Post reports. "The law under which Burr was investigated — the Stock Act, which prohibits members of Congress and other federal officials from trading on information they glean from their government work — has not been used as the basis for a criminal charge since it was passed in 2012." Peter Weber

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