December 21, 2020

President Trump held a heated, chaotic meeting in the Oval Office over several hours Friday night, and the senior White House officials present were alarmed that Trump was entertaining extreme ideas to overthrow an election he lost by more than seven million votes and 74 electoral votes, several sources told The New York Times, Axios, and CNN. Fringy lawyer Sidney Powell was there pushing her international conspiracy theory about voting machines, and recently pardoned former national security advisers Michael Flynn was also in attendance, the sources said.

Two days before the meeting Flynn had suggested on Newsmax that Trump essentially declare martial law, sending the U.S. military into "swing states" to make them "rerun" the election. "At one point in the meeting on Friday, Mr. Trump asked about that idea," the Times reports. "It wasn't clear whether Trump endorsed the idea," CNN adds, "but others in the room forcefully pushed back and shot it down."

Trump is reportedly seriously considering hiring Powell, pushed off his legal team a month ago, in some sort of special counsel–type role out of the White House, with top-level security clearance. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, counsel Pat Cipollone, and others at the meeting forcefully pushed back against that idea and others, including Rudy Giuliani's plan to forcibly seize states' voting machines.

"It's basically Sidney versus everybody," a source familiar with the meeting told Axios. "That is why voices were raised. There is literally not one motherf----r in the president's entire orbit — his staunchest group of supporters and allies — who doesn't think that Sidney Powell should be on that first rocket to Mars." Powell was seen leaving the residence side of the White House shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday night, CNN reports. The Times' Maggie Haberman adds that Powell was there "once again pitching an executive order on seizing voting machines," but didn't necessarily meet with Trump.

When Trump is "retweeting threats of putting politicians in jail, and spends his time talking to conspiracy nuts who openly say declaring martial law is no big deal, it's impossible not to start getting anxious about how this ends," a senior administration official told Axios. "People who are concerned and nervous aren't the weak-kneed bureaucrats that we loathe," but rather "people who have endured arguably more insanity and mayhem than any administration officials in history." Peter Weber

10:13 a.m.

Germany was one of the international stars of the early response to the COVID-19 pandemic last year thanks to a renowned contact tracing system that kept infection rates low, but it's vaccine rollout is not going so well. So far, the country has only administered 6.2 million doses, well below the 21 million in the United Kingdom, which began its drive a few weeks earlier, but has a smaller population.

One of the big issues is how difficult it is to sign up for an appointment in the first place, at least in some regions of the country. Per The Financial Times, the registration portal requires 10-online steps, including a two-step authentication process. For months, the website would also only allow people to sign up for one appointment, even though two doses of the vaccines available in Germany are required for full inoculation, and if everything is booked, there's no waiting list people to notify people when more doses become available. "It's totally amateurish and incredibly inflexible," one German health official told FT.

The jumbled nature of the system is giving some Americans "flashbacks" to the highly-anticipated healthcare.gov launch in 2013, which was tainted by a variety of technical difficulties and an incomplete website design that made it challenging for people to sign up for their health insurance. Read more at The Financial Times. Tim O'Donnell

9:32 a.m.

Former Vice President Mike Pence broke his silence Wednesday with an op-ed in The Daily Signal, criticizing congressional Democrats for their voter reform push and giving new life to former President Donald Trump's baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Despite being a central target of the mob that breached the Capitol on Jan. 6 because of his refusal to answer former President Donald Trump's call to block the Electoral College, Pence claimed the election was "marked by significant irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside election law" and said he shares "the concerns of millions of Americans" about its integrity, suggesting he still hasn't fully broken with Trump on the matter. For many people the show of loyalty was baffling.

That said, Pence never outright called the 2020 vote fraudulent in the piece. Rather, he framed its outcome as uncertain so he could launch into his argument about why Congress should not pass HR 1, the so-called For the People Act, which includes measures such as required early voting and same-day voter registration in every state. Pence called the bill "an unconstitutional power grab" with the sole goal of giving "leftists a permanent, unfair, and unconstitutional advantage in our political system." Read the full op-ed at The Daily Signal. Tim O'Donnell

2:07 a.m.

At 14, Benjamin Kagan isn't old enough to get the coronavirus vaccine — but he can help those who are eligible secure appointments.

Due to a limited number of appointments, getting signed up has been hard for most people, and it's even more daunting for those who don't have access to a computer or have a slower internet connection. After making appointments for his grandparents, Kagan, a Chicago resident, was inspired last month to start Chicago Vaccine Angels, a group where volunteers secure appointments for people in need of assistance.

It hasn't been easy, the tech-savvy high schooler said. Kagan has to be on his computer at midnight, ready to get in a virtual line, and "it's incredibly complicated to navigate even for myself," he told CBS Chicago, adding, "If you're not on the ball and getting them as soon as they are released, they're gone." It's worth it, though — since launching Chicago Vaccine Angels, Kagan has helped more than 119 people, mostly seniors, get appointments. Catherine Garcia

1:35 a.m.

After interviewing 79 witnesses and reviewing numerous documents, the Department of Defense inspector general has issued a review of the time Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) spent as physician to the president, finding that Jackson made inappropriate comments about a female subordinate and drank alcohol while on trips with the president, violating policy.

CNN obtained a copy of the report on Tuesday, a day before its expected release. Jackson, who served as the top White House doctor during the Obama and Trump administrations, was elected in November to represent Texas' 13th Congressional District, and is on the House Armed Services subcommittee. The investigation into his conduct began in 2018, and the report says that the probe was "limited in scope and unproductive" because former President Donald Trump's White House counsel demanded on being present during all interviews with White House Medical Unit employees.

The report states 56 of the witnesses who worked with Jackson said they "personally experienced, saw, or heard about him yelling, screaming, cursing, or belittling subordinates." He was described as a "dictator," "control freak," and "crappy manager," and only 13 witnesses had anything positive to say about him, CNN reports.

While on trips with the president, the White House physician is not allowed to drink for 24 hours before the president's arrival until two hours after the president leaves. Witnesses said they observed Jackson drinking during two overseas trips with former President Barack Obama — in Manila in 2014 and in Bariloche, Argentina, in 2016. In Manila, witnesses said Jackson was intoxicated and made lewd comments about a female subordinate, with one person stating they also spotted him "pounding" on the door to her room while saying "I need you" and "I need you to come to my room."

In a statement, Jackson told CNN the report was politically motivated, and accused Democrats of using it "to repeat and rehash untrue attacks on my integrity." He also denied "any allegation that I consumed alcohol while on duty." Catherine Garcia

12:25 a.m.

More than 300 years after it was mailed, a letter sent from one cousin to another in the Netherlands has finally been opened — virtually.

Jana Dambrogio, a conservator with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries, told NPR that before the gummed envelope was invented in the 1830s, people would secure their letters via "letterlocking," using intricate folds, creases, slits, and holes to transform the piece of paper into a package. While some archivists have used scissors to cut locked letters, Dambrogio worried about what is lost "when we open the unopened."

With a team of researchers, Dambrogio was able to take a locked letter and read it, without disturbing anything. The letter, written in 1697, was found in The Hague in an old postmaster's trunk. Inks at that time contained high amounts of metal, so the team used an X-ray scanner that can create 3D images of teeth to make a 3D image of the letter. The writing showed up "as a very bright region on the scan," like a bone would appear on an X-ray, Amanda Ghassaei of Adobe Research told NPR.

Because it was folded so many times, the letter had several layers close together, making the words look jumbled. The team had to "find a way to manipulate that data and actually virtually unfold it so that we could get it into a flat state," Ghassaei said. Success came after the researchers used a brute-force algorithm, and they discovered that the letter was sent to request an official death certificate for a relative.

The folding pattern included an arrow shape, and is "quite beautiful," Dambrogio told NPR. She finds it "thrilling" that the note can be read "without tampering with the letter packet, leaving it to study as an unopened object." Catherine Garcia

March 2, 2021

The Senate confirmed Cecilia Rouse on Tuesday to become chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Rouse, a labor economist and former dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, is the first Black person to serve in the role. She was confirmed with a vote of 95-4.

Rouse served on the council during the first Obama administration, in the wake of the Great Recession. During her confirmation hearing, Rouse said economists often "focus on average outcomes instead of examining a range of outcomes. One of my priorities as chair will be to try to understand how policies will impact all in our country, as we strive to ensure the economy works for everyone."

There are too many people who have "slipped through our frayed safety net into hardship and hopelessness," Rouse added. "And structural inequities that have always existed within our economy have not just been exposed, but exacerbated, their impact more devastating than ever before." Catherine Garcia

March 2, 2021

For her next act, Kayleigh McEnany is heading to Fox News to serve as a contributor — a hire that was met with groans inside the network's newsroom, several employees told The Daily Beast.

McEnany was former President Donald Trump's final press secretary, known for being wrong on everything from COVID-19 ("We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here," she stated in February 2020) to the presidential election (she asserted that Trump had a "one in quadrillion chance" of losing to President Biden). The Daily Beast's Justin Baragona and Diana Falzone — a former FoxNews.com reporter who settled a disability and gender discrimination lawsuit with the network — spoke with multiple Fox News staffers who said bringing McEnany on board was "upsetting" because several employees have been let go.

"It's truly disgusting that they fired hard-working journalists who did care about facts and news reporting only to turn around and hire a mini-Goebbels," one person told The Daily Beast. Fox News is "quickly becoming a very scary place and quite dangerous for our democracy," they added. "It's not even conservative news anymore. They've plunged into an alternate reality where extremist propaganda is the only course on the menu."

The Fox News audience "loves Kayleigh," another staffer told The Daily Beast, and the network's decision to hire her isn't shocking because "they have shown they don't give a damn about facts and real news." McEnany has "name recognition, notoriety, and an obvious willingness to say anything her employer desires," a third Fox News employee said. "The viewers are morons."

Fox News is trying to woo back viewers who didn't like that on election night, the network correctly projected that Biden would win Arizona. Many called for boycotts of Fox News, and switched over to conservative Newsmax. Fox News ratings dipped, with the network finishing in third place for the first time in two decades, The Daily Beast reports. To correct this, two new conservative opinion shows have been added to the lineup.

"They are grasping at straws on how to keep the viewership they built and fueled over the last four plus years with Trump at the forefront," one staffer said. "It has become about keeping viewers and they will do anything to do that, including blatantly lying and selling their souls and integrity to the devil." Fox News did not respond to The Daily Beast's request for comment. Catherine Garcia

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