Environment

California

Explosive wildfires stoked by fierce winds

Wildfires raged unchecked across parts of the western U.S. on Wednesday amid gusty and dry conditions, but forecasters said some weather relief was in sight that could help firefighters overwhelmed by the blazes.

Hurricane Laura

Donald Trump visits storm-lashed Louisiana and Texas

Donald Trump got a first-hand look on Saturday at hurricane damage to south-west Louisiana, two days after Hurricane Laura roared in off the Gulf of Mexico with winds up to 150mph, killing at least 15 people, knocking out power and causing extensive flooding and lack of running water across several towns.

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Poll

66 percent approve of Biden’s handling of transition

As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office on Wednesday, new surveys report that a majority of Americans approve of the way he has handled the tumultuous transition period — which has been marred by baseless voter fraud claims, a still-raging pandemic and mob violence inside the Capitol.

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Poll

66 percent approve of Biden’s handling of transition

As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office on Wednesday, new surveys report that a majority of Americans approve of the way he has handled the tumultuous transition period — which has been marred by baseless voter fraud claims, a still-raging pandemic and mob violence inside the Capitol. Roughly two-thirds of respondents in a CNN poll conducted this month said they approve of Biden’s performance during the presidential transition. The vast majority of those surveyed, 70 percent, disapprove of President Donald Trump’s handling of the post-election period.

An NBC News poll released on Tuesday also showed that most registered voters, 60 percent, approve of Biden’s handling of the transition, while a PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll showed a narrower margin of approval among Americans, 51 percent.

Additionally, Biden’s personal favorability rating in CNN polling has improved by 7 percentage points since October, now resting at 59 percent. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ favorability is 51 percent, its highest ever in CNN polling.

By contrast, Trump’s latest favorability rating is 33 percent, and his job approval rating is 34 percent — both lower than at any other point in his presidency, according to CNN polling.

Respondents appeared mostly optimistic about Biden accomplishing his key policy goals as president, the CNN poll showed, although more than half of those surveyed (53 percent) said it is unlikely the incoming president will be able to cool down the country’s political divisions.

Majorities of respondents said it is at least somewhat likely Biden will sign new coronavirus relief legislation (83 percent), restore relationships with U.S. allies (74 percent), administer 100 million coronavirus vaccines in 100 days (70 percent) and create a public health care option (64 percent).

Most of those polled (61 percent) said Biden will do a good job as president — compared to the 48 percent who said the same about Trump in 2017 and the 79 percent who had high expectations for Barack Obama in 2008. That same percentage of Americans, 61 percent, think the country will be better off after four years of Biden’s presidency.

The CNN poll was conducted by SSRS from Jan. 9-14, surveying 1,003 adults with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. Among the respondents, 33 percent identified as Democrats, 26 percent identified as Republicans and 41 percent identified as independents or members of another party.

The NBC News poll was conducted Jan. 10-13, surveying 1,000 registered voters with a margin of sampling error of 3.1 percentage points. The PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll was conducted Jan. 11-13, surveying 1,173 adults with a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.

Ali Alexander

Facebook bans 'Stop the Steal' organizer

Facebook and Instagram have permanently banned one of the top organizers of the “Stop the Steal” protest that devolved into deadly riots on Capitol Hill last week. Within the last day, the company removed the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Ali Alexander, a far-right Republican operative who helped organize the event.

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Ali Alexander

Facebook bans 'Stop the Steal' organizer

Facebook and Instagram have permanently banned one of the top organizers of the “Stop the Steal” protest that devolved into deadly riots on Capitol Hill last week. Within the last day, the company removed the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Ali Alexander, a far-right Republican operative who helped organize the event.

“We removed this account on both Facebook and Instagram for violating our Coordinating Harm policy,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement. He said the removal is part of Facebook’s decision to remove any content referring to “stop the steal” ahead of the inauguration.

Last Friday, according to the Daily Beast, Alexander posted a video on Twitter saying: “I didn’t incite anything. I didn’t do anything.” But in the lead up to the rally, Alexander had not only called for a march on the Capitol but hinted that it could get violent.

At one rally in mid-December in Arizona, he told the crowd, “One of our organizers in one state said, ‘We’re nice patriots, we don’t throw bricks.’ I leaned over and I said, ‘Not yet. Not yet!’ Haven’t you read about a little tar-and-feathering? Those were second-degree burns!”

Alexander also said: “We’re going to convince them to not certify the vote on January 6 by marching hundreds of thousands, if not millions of patriots, to sit their butts in D.C. and close that city down, right? And if we have to explore options after that … ‘yet.’ Yet!”

And in an online video before the rally, he said, “I was the person who came up with the Jan. 6 idea” along with three other members of Congress. He also promised to help find hotel rooms for anyone attending the protest if the hotel they had reserved temporarily closed down.

Asked for comment about being banned by Facebook and Instagram, Alexander said he has “tens of thousands of threats against my life and safety by Democrat activists and Antifa.” He insisted that the violent demonstrations at the Capitol were entirely separate from the event he had organized, warned tech companies that his movement could be hijacked by “bad actors and dark elements” with him off their platforms, and said he’d testify before lawmakers.

“I eagerly look forward to speaking to Congress and testifying about the events that led to and happened on January 6th,” Alexander said.

“I fight for civil rights. I believe this election was stolen. I petitioned my government. I’m being punished for organizing millions of people,” he added in a text message.

In addition to Facebook and Instagram, Alexander has also been banned from Twitter, PayPal, and Venmo since the Jan. 6 events.

In 2007, Alexander pleaded guilty to a felony of property theft in Texas and the next year to a credit card abuse felony, also in Texas.

Alexander, also known as Ali Akbar, worked for the John McCain 2008 presidential campaign and has also worked on various political action committees, including one called Black Conservatives Fund to which Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer gave $60,000 in 2016.

In 2019, he got attention for accusing Vice President-elect Kamala Harris of not being “an American Black” since her dad is from Jamaica, a tweet that got him a retweet by Donald Trump Jr., although he later deleted it. That July, Alexander was invited to a social media summit hosted by the White House.

Capitol attack

Security concerns: Theft of two computers

At least two computers were stolen from the Capitol when a violent mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the building on Wednesday – including one from the office of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi – raising grave information security concerns. An aide to Pelosi confirmed Friday that a laptop was stolen from the speaker’s office, saying it belonged “to a conference room and was used for presentations”, but did not elaborate further on what information it may contain.

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Capitol attack

Security concerns: Theft of two computers

At least two computers were stolen from the Capitol when a violent mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the building on Wednesday – including one from the office of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi – raising grave information security concerns. An aide to Pelosi confirmed Friday that a laptop was stolen from the speaker’s office, saying it belonged “to a conference room and was used for presentations”, but did not elaborate further on what information it may contain.

At least one other computer was stolen, a laptop belonging to the office of the Democratic senator Jeff Merkley, of Oregon. The acting US attorney, Michael Sherwin, said that some of the thefts might have potentially jeopardized what he described as “national security equities”.

The theft of electronic devices from congressional offices has been a persistent worry following the invasion by Trump supporters, who, incited by the president, entered the capitol in an effort to subvert the certification of Joe Biden’s election win.

Staffers were quickly forced to shelter in place, leaving many devices vulnerable to the attackers. Photos posted by rioters from inside the Capitol showed exposed computers, including one in Pelosi’s office with an email inbox in full view. The impact of such a device being taken could be grave, said Brandon Hoffman, the chief information security officer at IT security provider Netenrich.

“Regardless of how much they want to downplay this, the laptop has to have at least access that could be leveraged,” he said. “It’s highly unlikely that this laptop was sitting there with no files, or file access, or any other useful information to somebody looking for leverage or retribution.”

What else might have been taken during the chaos is not yet known. Some information technology experts worry that intruders may have planted malicious software on computers, although it’s not clear that devices were a particular focus of the attack.

The concerns come as the US grapples with the aftermath of the biggest state-sanctioned hack of the government in history, after SolarWinds was breached and government email was accessed. Officials are still working to determine the extent to which government devices were violated in that breach, which is now being attributed to Russia. Nearly 10 agencies were impacted, including the US Treasury and Department of Commerce.

Bill Barr

Trump's behavior 'betrayal of his office'

William Barr, the former attorney general, released a scathing statement about Donald Trump’s behavior yesterday, as a mob stormed the US Capitol. Barr, who left office late last month, described the president’s conduct as a “betrayal of his office and supporters.” In a statement to the AP, Barr said that “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable.”

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Bill Barr

Trump's behavior 'betrayal of his office'

William Barr, the former attorney general, released a scathing statement about Donald Trump’s behavior yesterday, as a mob stormed the US Capitol. Barr, who left office late last month, described the president’s conduct as a “betrayal of his office and supporters.” In a statement to the AP, Barr said that “orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable.”

After a pro-Trump stormed the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to evacuate, the president praised his supporters as “very special” and told them, “We love you!”

Trump also justified the mob’s actions yesterday by citing his baseless claims of widespread fraud in the presidential election, essentially blaming his opponents for the violence that left four dead.

Twitter removed three of Trump’s tweets about the storming of the Capitol due to a “risk of violence.”

Civil War

Trump adviser resigns

Donald Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Matt Pottinger, and former chief of staff and current special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mick Mulvaney, have resigned. Two other senior White House officials – the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, and the deputy chief of staff, Chris Liddell – are reportedly considering stepping down after a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building.

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Civil War

Trump adviser resigns

Donald Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Matt Pottinger, and former chief of staff and current special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mick Mulvaney, have resigned. Two other senior White House officials – the national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, and the deputy chief of staff, Chris Liddell – are reportedly considering stepping down after a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol building.

Pottinger and Mulvaney’s departures comes amid speculation that others will also quit after the US president incited and praised rioters while continuing to air baseless grievances over his loss of the presidency.

“I called [Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo last night to let him know I was resigning from that. I can’t do it. I can’t stay,” Mick Mulvaney told CNBC on Thursday morning.

“Those who choose to stay, and I have talked with some of them, are choosing to stay because they’re worried the president might put someone worse in,” Mulvaney added.

So far seven officials associated with Trump and his inner circle have said they are quitting, including members of Melania Trump’s team, after the deadly violence that surrounded the Congressional vote to certify Joe Biden’s presidential election victory in November.

Senior Republican figures have also indicated splits from the president.

Tweeting from his personal account, O’Brien – a staunch Trump loyalist – praised the behaviour of the vice-president, Mike Pence, who resisted Trump’s pressure to overturn the election certification, while making no mention of Trump.

“I just spoke with Vice President Pence. He is a genuinely fine and decent man,” he tweeted. “He exhibited courage today as he did at the Capitol on 9/11 as a Congressman. I am proud to serve with him.”

In further fallout that underlined the fracturing of the Trump administration’s inner circles, Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, indicated to journalists he had been banned from the White House by Trump after the president “blamed” him for advice he gave to Pence on Trump’s demands he overturn the election result.

According to reports in the US media, some senior administration officials have also begun talking informally about invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president before his term expires on 20 January, while calls are also growing for a second impeachment to ensure Trump cannot run for public office again.