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Biden's margin of victory widens as Trump's subversion efforts grow more frantic – CNN

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Trump’s efforts to deny Biden the White House traveled from the courts to state legislatures on Friday with Trump’s personal reception with Republican lawmakers from Michigan — and their counterparts in Pennsylvania may be next on the list.
But there were signs, even among Republicans, that Trump’s efforts need some evidence.
“As legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors, just as we have said throughout this election,” Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield said in a joint statement after their meeting at the White House.
Importantly, they acknowledged there is no actual evidence of wrongdoing, a blow to a President and his allies who’ve been peddling baseless claims about fraud.
“Allegations of fraudulent behavior should be taken seriously, thoroughly investigated, and if proven, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And the candidates who win the most votes win elections and Michigan’s electoral votes. These are simple truths that should provide confidence in our elections,” the Michigan lawmakers said.
Another blow for Trump came on Friday in Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed the paperwork that officially grants the state’s 16 electoral votes to Biden. A federal judge on Thursday had rejected a last-ditch lawsuit that tried to block certification, and Biden’s victory was certified Friday afternoon by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican.
Other setbacks came in Nevada, where a district judge on Friday denied a request brought by a conservative activist to halt the certification next week of the state’s election results — which show Biden leading by more than 33,000 votes — and in Wisconsin, where elections officials in the Democratic stronghold of Dane County rejected requests from the Trump campaign to throw out tens of thousands of absentee ballots on Friday as the state kicked off its partial presidential recount.

Testing out loopholes

To succeed, Trump would need to bulldoze the Electoral College system. But for all the angst he’s sparked about a coup, the President doesn’t seem to have a plan so much as a shameless sense of entitlement to the White House. What he’s doing is exploiting loopholes and prying at technicalities to see if any of them will give.
He’s clearly trying to generate the heat and noise he craves. But he’s also casting about for an unexpected opening, as he’s done so many times before.
Trump refused to take questions at the White House Friday at what he had falsely billed a “press conference,” where he discussed prescription drug prices and gave a business-as-usual veneer to the democratic subversion he’s orchestrating from the Oval Office and the raging pandemic he appears to be largely ignoring. The appearance came just as Covid hospitalizations and new daily cases hit a record again and news emerged that his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., has tested positive. Cases to continue to climb in Congress, too, with Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida — a staunch Trump ally — becoming the latest to test positive.
Trump skipped a special side-conference focused on the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday during the Group of 20 summit, the opening session of which he spent tweeting before going to play golf at his Virginia club.
Perhaps in a brief moment of reality on Friday, Trump appeared to acknowledge his impending departure from the White House, implying that it will be up to the new administration to maintain the drug pricing rules he was announcing. But he quickly repeated during the same lie that he won the election, despite the results, and he promised, “We’ll find that out.”
What he meant was this: If he can delay certification, whether in Michigan or Pennsylvania or another Biden-won state with a Republican-run legislature, then he can maybe lean on lawmakers to appoint pro-Trump slates of presidential electors.
That’s why Trump met with the Michigan GOP lawmakers on Friday. He’d need to turn them and a majority of the Michigan statehouse into accomplices if his effort is to succeed, after previous legal attempts all failed. Trump’s top campaign attorneys — Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis — did not attend the meeting after Giuliani’s son, who works at the White House, tested positive for Covid-19. Also not in attendance: Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, who is from Michigan.
But Michigan’s just the first part of Trump’s puzzle. Biden has 306 of the 538 available electoral votes, which means Trump would need to find a way to claw back 37 to bring Biden under the 270 normally needed to win. So he’d need to poach votes in at least three states where a majority of voters said Biden should be President.
The clear focus by the White House is on Michigan (16 electoral votes), Wisconsin (10 electoral votes) and Pennsylvania (20 electoral votes).
Overturning the results of one state’s election would be brazen and horrible enough. Overturning three would be a macabre triple Lindy.
That doesn’t mean Trump won’t try. Two sources tell CNN there are discussions currently underway with the President about inviting Republican state legislators from Pennsylvania to the White House. It’s not clear if those invitations have been extended yet, but Trump has expressed interest in doing so as he tries to insert himself into the vote certification process.
The election certification deadline for both Michigan and Pennsylvania is Monday, so the plotting will have to move into overdrive if it’s to be anything more than a delusional sideshow.
One state is off the map, though, with Georgia’s Republican governor certifying the election results after his Republican secretary of state formalized the fact that Biden won, very narrowly. Every small normally procedural step is under scrutiny during this strange time, and these Republicans were true to the democratic result.
Legal experts have made clear that it would be incredibly difficult for Trump to hack any path from his current deficit to a second term.
For starters, they’ve pointed out that if Trump can get electoral votes thrown out or contested so that they’re not approved in Congress, it changes the 270 threshold and doesn’t necessarily gain Trump ground.
As Michael Morley, a professor of election law at Florida State University and a member of National Task Force on Election Crises, said, “In short, under any remotely plausible scenario, the election will be settled in the Electoral College without triggering a contingent election in the House.”

Read the fine print

As his effort to stay in the White House becomes more frantic, Trump’s continuing to ask for more money.
But as CNN’s Fredreka Schouten notes, donors need to read the fine print of the solicitation, in which Trump’s political team says it has upped to 75% the share of the money that goes to Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America. It had been a 60% cut last week.
This money is not primarily geared at Trump’s legal efforts, but rather could fund Trump’s post-presidential political efforts.
That Trump’s adviser and aides are tacitly eyeing what comes next is not news, but the extent of his efforts to gum things up and make things more difficult for Biden continues to become clear.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, for instance, is defending a decision to claw back billions the government had given the Federal Reserve to help American small businesses. It’s a program more easily ended than spun back up. And while the move certainly creates political headaches for Biden, it’ll also have a negative impact on everyday Americans still living in a pandemic.

Biden moves forward with his Cabinet

Even if Trump continues to block a formal transition, Biden is carrying forward with his own preparations to take office. On Friday, his 78th birthday, he met in Wilmington, Delaware, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer.
What they’ll be able to accomplish on Capitol Hill and who Biden will be able to place in his Cabinet depends very much on who wins the twin Senate runoffs in Georgia on January 5, the day before Electoral College votes are counted on Capitol Hill.
Biden said he’s already selected his Treasury secretary, but will make the announcement in the coming week.
As Trump’s agitating leads him to darker, more dangerous places, the former vice president’s mandate has only grown. He had won nearly 80 million votes, as of Friday evening, which is more votes than any US presidential candidate in history by a considerable margin. Trump has received nearly 74 million votes.
While most of GOP leadership continues to back Trump’s efforts to contest those results, a growing number of veteran Republicans pushed back on Trump’s tactics and expressed frustration about the transition being held up.
“The President-elect should be receiving the briefings, office space, and access to government resources he needs to be ready to govern on Inauguration Day,” Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who won a competitive reelection earlier this month, said in a statement Friday, adding that states should certify their results as planned.
“There is a right way and a wrong way for the incumbent President to pursue his rights to contest what he perceives as election irregularities,” she said. Trying to pressure state election officials, she added, “undermines the public’s faith in our election results without evidence and court rulings to support the allegations.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who’s retiring at the end of this year, also called for the transition to move forward.
“If there is any chance whatsoever that Joe Biden will be the next president, and it looks like he has a very good chance, the Trump administration should provide the Biden team with all transition materials, resources, and meetings necessary to ensure a smooth transition so that both sides are ready on day one,” Alexander said in a statement Friday.
“That especially should be true, for example, on vaccine distribution,” the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions chairman added.
“I think that it’s time to move on,” 12-term Rep. Kay Granger of Texas said Friday when asked about Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results. “I think it’s time for him to really realize and be very clear about what’s going on.”
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking member of House GOP leadership, said in a statement on Saturday that if Trump and his lawyers have “genuine evidence” of widespread fraud, “they are obligated to present it immediately in court and to the American people.”
“If the President cannot prove these claims or demonstrate that they would change the election result, he should fulfill his oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States by respecting the sanctity of our electoral process,” she added.
This story has been updated with additional developments.

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U.S., UK, Germany clash with China at U.N. over Xinjiang

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The United States, Germany and Britain clashed with China at the United Nations on Wednesday over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, angering Beijing by hosting a virtual event that China had lobbied U.N. member states to stay away from.

“We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the event, which organizers said was attended by about 50 countries.

Western states and rights groups accuse Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities in camps. Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.

“In Xinjiang, people are being tortured. Women are being forcibly sterilized,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told the event there were an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities arbitrarily detained.

In a note to U.N. member states last week, China’s U.N. mission rejected the accusations as “lies and false allegations” and accused the organizers of being “obsessed with provoking confrontation with China.”

While China urged countries “NOT to participate in this anti-China event,” a Chinese diplomat addressed the event.

“China has nothing to hide on Xinjiang. Xinjiang is always open,” said Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun. “We welcome everyone to visit Xinjiang, but we oppose any kind of investigation based on lies and with the presumption of guilt.”

The event was organized by Germany, the United States and Britain and co-sponsored by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said countries who sponsored the event faced “massive Chinese threats,” but did not elaborate.

British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time,” adding: “The evidence … points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups.”

She called for China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called out Bachelet for not joining the event.

“I’m sure she’s busy. You know we all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today,” Roth told the event.

Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights office, said Bachelet – who has expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and is seeking access – was unable to participate.

“The High Commissioner continues to engage with the Chinese authorities on the modalities for such a visit,” she said, adding that Bachelet’s office “continues to gather and analyze relevant information and follow the situation closely.”

(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alison Williams and Elaine Hardcastle)

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Ex-finance minister breached ethics rules in charity dealings

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Former Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau breached conflict-of-interest rules by not recusing himself when the government awarded a contract to a charity he had close ties to, independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion said on Thursday.

In a parallel probe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was cleared of having broken any ethics rules when WE Charity was tapped to run a C$900 million ($740.9 million) program to help students find work during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The charity later walked away from the contract.

Trudeau and Morneau both apologized last year for not recusing themselves during Cabinet discussions involving WE.

Trudeau’s wife, brother and mother had been paid to speak at WE Charity events in previous years, but Dion said this appearance of a conflict of interest was not “real”.

Morneau, on the other hand, was a friend of Craig Kielburger, one of the charity’s founders, Dion said. The charity had “unfettered access” to the minister’s office that “amounted to preferential treatment”, a statement said.

No fines or penalties were levied.

Morneau said on Twitter he should have recused himself. Trudeau said in a statement issued by his office that the decision “confirms what I have been saying from the beginning” that there was no conflict of interest.

Ahead of a possible federal election later this year, the opposition could use the ruling to underscore the government’s uneven track record on ethics. Trudeau has been twice been found in breach of ethics rules in the past.

In August 2019, he was found to have broken rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case, and in December 2017, the previous ethics commissioner said Trudeau had acted wrongly by accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.

In a statement, opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said: “To clean up Ottawa, Conservatives will impose higher penalties for individuals who break the Conflict of Interest Act and shine a light on Liberal cover-ups and scandals, ending them once and for all.”

The controversy over Morneau’s ties to the charity was a factor in his resignation in August last year, when he also left his parliamentary seat, saying he would not run again. Chrystia Freeland was named to take over for him a day later.

($1 = 1.2147 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jan Harvey)

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EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June

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The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.

Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.

Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.

The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.

Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.

Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.

EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.

“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.

The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.

Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.

“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

More details were not immediately available.

 

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)

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