February 2, 2021

Reports of a contentious Dec. 18 meeting in the Oval Office involving former President Donald Trump, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn, former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne, and disapproving White House officials were outlined in the news media almost immediately. But Axios provided a detailed recounting of the six-hour meeting Tuesday morning, and the early reports do not do it justice. Former senior White House adviser Eric Herschmann is quoted extensively, frequently reacting incredulously to some voter fraud conspiracy theory put forward by Powell or yelling profanities at Byrne or Flynn.

For example, Axios' Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu report:

Flynn was ranting, seemingly infuriated about anyone challenging Powell. ...

Finally Herschmann had enough. "Why the f--k do you keep standing up and screaming at me?" he shot back at Flynn. "If you want to come over here, come over here. If not, sit your ass down." Flynn sat back down. [Axios]

Byrne, in his first face-to-face meeting with Trump, started yelling at Herschmann, too, Axios reports:

"Do you even know who the f--k I am, you idiot?" Herschmann snapped back.

"Yeah, you're Patrick Cipollone," Byrne said.

"Wrong! Wrong, you idiot!" [Axios]

Herschmann had called Cipollone, the White House counsel, into the meeting when it became clear Trump was taking seriously Powell's suggestion he claim emergency powers and seize voting machines. When Cipollone walked into the Oval Office, Axios reports, "he looked at Byrne and said, 'Who are you?'" Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was dialed in on speakerphone. As the meeting crept past three hours, Axios says, "the arguments became so heated that even Giuliani — still on the phone — at one point told everyone to calm down. One participant later recalled: 'When Rudy's the voice of reason, you know the meeting's not going well.'"

After the Oval Office meeting finally broke up, Herschmann and Cipollone "soon discovered that the Powell entourage had made their way to the president's residence," and "they followed them upstairs," Axios reports. "Byrne wolfed down pigs in a blanket and little meatballs on toothpicks that staff had set on the coffee table. It didn't take long for the yelling to start up again. They were now in hour four of a meeting unprecedented even by the deranged standards of the final days of the Trump presidency."

The meeting finally broke up after midnight, with nobody sure what Trump would do. Read more details at Axios. Peter Weber

8:24 p.m.

With a 51-49 vote, the Senate on Wednesday confirmed Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general.

As promised, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joined the Democrats in voting for Gupta, who is now the first woman of color to serve as associate attorney general. In this role, Gupta is the No. 3 Justice Department official, after Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

Gupta led the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, and Republicans accused her of having "radical" positions on topics like drug legalization and funding for police. Democrats fired back, saying her nomination was endorsed by several law enforcement organizations.

"We never have had a former civil rights attorney serving in such a position of prominence at the Justice Department," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. "In that sense alone, Ms. Gupta would bring a long overdue perspective to our federal law enforcement agency." Catherine Garcia

7:36 p.m.

After a tough fall and winter, with record numbers of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in intensive care units and a high death toll, California now has the lowest coronavirus case rate in the continental United States.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows California's seven-day rate of new cases is 40.3 per 100,000 people, compared to the nationwide rate of 135.3 per 100,000 people. Hawaii is faring slightly better, at 39.1 cases per 100,000 people, while Michigan is continuing to struggle with a surge in cases and is seeing 483 cases per 100,000 people.

California is home to more than 39.5 million people, and over the last week, the state reported an average of 2,320 new cases per day, down 13 percent from two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times reports. During the winter, there were more than 40,000 new cases being reported a day, and at the height of the surge, 600 deaths were recorded daily. Today, an average of 81 deaths are being reported a day, and the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital is at its lowest rate since last spring, the Times reports.

Californians are being urged to keep wearing masks, wash their hands, and social distance, and those measures, as well as an effort to quickly vaccinate residents, is helping matters. So far, 27 million vaccine doses have been distributed in the state, with 44 percent of Californians having received at least one shot and more than 25 percent fully vaccinated.

"All of the information currently available to us does indicate that our vaccines appear to be highly effective in preventing transmission, hospitalizations, and deaths, even with the increased presence of variants," Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said on Wednesday. Read more at the Los Angeles Times. Catherine Garcia

5:36 p.m.

It's an honor just to be nominated … because you still get a goody bag worth six figures.

The Academy Awards are this Sunday, but no matter who gets a trophy, all Best Actor and Actress, Best Director, and Supporting Actor and Actress nominees get an unofficial "Everyone Wins" gift bag, courtesy Distinctive Assets.

According to Vogue Australia, highlights include: A three-night stay at a lighthouse in Sweden; a four-night stay at a luxury spa; a plastic surgery session; a PETA emergency hammer designed to save dogs from hot cars; a home renovation project; vape cartridges; vitamin IV infusions; and, because it's 2021, an NFT.

Big ticket items are accompanied by a plethora of down-to-earth gifts, like cookies, alcohol, and sweatpants. Thank god for the goody bags, how would celebs have been able to afford this stuff otherwise?

Read more at Vogue Australia and HelloGiggles. Taylor Watson

5:32 p.m.

Dave Bautista is playing Bane! And no, excuse you, it doesn't happen to matter that there are no upcoming Batman movies featuring the villain, nor that there aren't any plans to otherwise bring back the character made famous by Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises.

"I want to play Bane so bad I went to Warner Bros., had an appointment with them, had an appointment with DC, walked in the door and said, 'I want to play Bane.' I'm not kidding," the retired wrestler said, reports Indiewire. Notably, that is, uh, not how that usually works. "They were a little like, 'Whoa, we're not even casting Bane,'" Bautista said. "I was like, 'I don't care, I'm playing him.'" Now that's manifesting.

Read more at Indiewire and Jezebel. Jeva Lange

5:15 p.m.

Gen. Arnold Bunch, the commander of the Air Force Material Command, announced Wednesday that Maj. Gen. William Cooley of the AFMC is headed to court-martial on a sexual assault charge. The decision marks the first time an Air Force general has faced such a trial, Military.com reports.

Bunch said "this was not a decision made lightly," but he believes it was the right call after reviewing "all of the evidence from the investigation" and a preliminary hearing.

Cooley, the former head of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, has been accused of making "unwanted sexual advances by kissing and touching a female victim," who is not a service member or Defense Department employee, in August 2018, Military.com reports. A charge sheet from last November obtained by Military.com provided more specific details about the off-duty incident, including the accusation that Cooley kissed the woman on the mouth without her consent. Read more at Military.com. Tim O'Donnell

4:10 p.m.

What is ... about time?

LeVar Burton has finally been tapped to guest host Jeopardy!, the game show announced Wednesday. The Star Trek: The Next Generation actor and former host of the beloved PBS children's series Reading Rainbow will step behind the lectern for one week beginning on July 26.

Jeopardy! has been making use of a series of rotating guest hosts following Alex Trebek's death, and for months, fans have been calling for Burton to be brought in. In fact, one petition urging the show to make him the new host drew over 245,000 signatures. It certainly made sense given he's known in part for an educational show, and in recent weeks, Burton has been making clear he was interested — not just in guest hosting, but in taking on the gig permanently.

"This is something that I really think is a good idea," Burton recently told USA Today. "I think it's a good fit of what the show is, what the show requires and what I feel like I bring to the table."

Burton's name was announced Wednesday as part of what Jeopardy! said would be the final group of guest hosts to finish its current season, the others being Good Morning America anchors Robin Roberts and George Stephanopoulos, CNBC host David Faber, and sportscaster Joe Buck. This schedule takes the show up to August 13, around which point a permanent successor to Trebek could potentially be revealed.

So who might it be? Burton is a strong contender, though former champion Ken Jennings' guest hosting stint was also well received by fans, as was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers'. Like Burton, Rodgers has said he's interested in the permanent job. At the moment, CNN's Anderson Cooper is a few days into his two weeks as guest host, and emails leaked as part of the Sony hack suggested Cooper was interested in the job in 2014. We'll take "tough decisions" for $1,000. Brendan Morrow

3:53 p.m.

Brazil says it will cut back on deforestation — for a price.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has sent a proposal to the Biden administration that involves reducing deforestation by 40 percent in exchange for $1 billion, The Wall Street Journal reports. Bolsonaro is often criticized as a "negligent steward" of the vulnerable Amazon rainforest, the Journal notes, but he and others, including residents of the Amazon region, have argued the only way to save the rainforest is by funding "nascent bio-industries" like fish farming "that would provide alternatives to poor farmers who slash and burn to raise crops and cattle."

Ricardo Salles, Brazil's environment minister, said $1 billion is a "reasonable" amount, especially since President Biden mentioned during his campaign last year that he would work to gather $20 billion from around the world to help Brazil fight forest destruction. Salles told the Journal that one-third of the money would finance "specialized battalions" to enforce environmental laws, while the rest would go to the aforementioned sustainable economic activities.

Per the Journal, Brazil believes foreign aid would end deforestation by 2030, but not everyone is buying the talk. "The [Brazilian] government's credibility to collect funds from other governments is entirely damaged," Carlos Rittl, a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability in Germany, told the Journal. "This is a blackmail discourse."

Bolsonaro will be one of around 40 heads of state to participate in a virtual climate summit hosted by Biden on Thursday and Friday. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

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