with Mariana Alfaro

During a noon meeting in a suite at the Pierre hotel in Manhattan on a Friday in June, Attorney General Bill Barr pressured Geoffrey Berman to step aside as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. There were sandwiches on the table, but neither man ate. Barr offered to put Berman in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Division and, a few hours later, floated the chairmanship of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The attorney general said that if I did not resign from my position I would be fired. He added that getting fired from my job would not be good for my résumé or future job prospects,” Berman told the House Judiciary Committee under oath in July.

Barr fired Berman the day after the 45-minute lunch at which no one ate, but it does not appear to have hurt his job prospects. The 500-attorney law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP announced Tuesday that Berman is joining as a partner. He will head up the white-collar defense, regulatory enforcement and investigations practice.

I asked Berman, 61, by phone on Monday afternoon whether his new firm’s mandatory retirement age of 65 will still apply to him. “I’m not concerned,” he quipped. “I’m not so easy to fire.”

Berman’s soft landing might prove an exception to the norm. Many Trump administration alumni who proved pliable to the president – and those who are staying silent as he leaves office with a loud bang instead of a whimper – could find it more difficult to score these kinds of top-tier jobs. Senior executives at a handful of Fortune 500 companies have told me privately over the last year that they would not risk the potential employee blowback that would come from hiring someone closely linked to President Trump.

In a year of twists and turns, the showdown that led to Berman’s removal stands out as one of the more bizarre episodes of 2020. Berman, a lifelong Republican, oversaw several politically sensitive investigations involving people close to Trump, including his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. He told Barr he wanted to see these cases through as he declined the inducements to step aside.

At 9:15 that night, without any warning, Barr put out a news release announcing that Berman was stepping down, that Trump planned to nominate SEC Chairman Jay Clayton to replace him and that the president would appoint the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, to oversee the New York office in an acting capacity. Just before midnight, Berman released his own statement saying that he had not resigned and intended to stay in the job until a nominee was confirmed. At 3:30 on Saturday afternoon, Barr publicly released a letter he had sent to Berman notifying him that he had been fired by the president.

Berman agreed not to litigate his removal after Barr agreed to let the No. 2 in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, Audrey Strauss, replace him on an interim basis, instead of Carpenito.

Barr has not directly challenged Berman’s sworn testimony about the substance of their June conversations. He said this summer that he was trying to get rid of Berman because Clayton had expressed interest in the job, and he saw “an opportunity to put in a very strong person.” Clayton, a friend of the president who has no experience as a federal prosecutor, had golfed with Trump at his Bedminster club the weekend before Barr’s meeting with Berman.

But the administration’s stated version of events does not really explain why Barr tried to install Carpenito, the U.S. attorney in New Jersey. Critics suspected the move was driven by a desire to curtail the New York office’s independent streak and, perhaps, to rein in potential prosecutions of the president’s allies. Appointing Carpenito as acting U.S. attorney “would have been unprecedented, unnecessary and unexplained,” Berman said in his July testimony.

A Barr spokeswoman at the Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment.

On Aug. 20, two months to the day after Barr got rid of Berman, Strauss – his handpicked deputy – unsealed a criminal indictment against Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, and three other men they alleged defrauded donors to a crowdfunding campaign that claimed to be raising money for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Bannon has pleaded not guilty and is out of jail on a $5 million bond.

During his two-and-a-half years as U.S. attorney, Berman spearheaded the prosecutions of former congressman Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) for insider trading, ex-Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti for extortion against Nike, the late Jeffrey Epstein for sex trafficking and the Turkish state-owned Halkbank for violating sanctions on Iran. In 2018, Berman’s team also got the president’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen to plead guilty to tax evasion, campaign finance violations and lying to Congress.

Last year, Berman’s prosecutors charged two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, with scheming to funnel foreign money to U.S. politicians while trying to influence U.S.-Ukraine relations. On Monday, Parnas pleaded not guilty to charges he defrauded investors in a start-up insurance company, called Fraud Guarantee, that claimed to offer fraud-protection services to corporate clients. He appeared by video in Manhattan federal court. Giuliani was paid $500,000 by Fraud Guarantee for consulting work before teaming up with Parnas in a bid to dredge up dirt in Ukraine on Joe and Hunter Biden. This became a line of inquiry in the House investigation that led to Trump’s impeachment last December.

Since replacing Jeff Sessions when Trump fired him as attorney general after the 2018 midterm elections, Barr has often behaved more like the president’s lawyer than the people’s lawyer. Detractors say he has politicized, even weaponized, the nation’s law enforcement apparatus for a president who has frequently shown disdain for the rule of law. By interfering in the sentencing of Trump allies, including Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, the attorney general has earned the enmity of legions of front-line prosecutors. Barr’s recent comparison of career attorneys who work under him to petulant preschoolers further strained his relationship with the DOJ’s rank-and-file. 

President-elect Biden has promised to restore the department’s independence, and he is carefully considering a handful of finalists for attorney general. Berman said yes when I asked whether he has been contacted by anyone on Biden’s Justice Department transition team, but he declined to comment on the substance of that conversation.

The Southern District of New York, which lawyers at DOJ headquarters have jokingly referred to as the Sovereign District of New York for decades, famously prides itself on its prosecutorial independence. Berman’s predecessor, Preet Bharara, was fired from the post in March 2017 after being told he could stay on. Previous U.S. attorneys who led the office include James Comey, Mary Jo White and Giuliani, who led the office under President Ronald Reagan from 1983 until 1989.

Berman taught this fall at Stanford Law School, where he graduated in 1984 and where he was a note editor for the law review. He is still grading the final papers for the course on “Prosecutorial Discretion and Ethical Duties in the Enforcement of Federal Criminal Law.” While he will be based in New York for his new job, Berman said he will continue to be a visiting fellow at Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance.

Berman had worked in the U.S. attorney’s office for SDNY from 1990 to 1994 after working as an associate counsel for Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh during the Iran-Contra affair from 1987 to 1990. Berman prosecuted former CIA employee Thomas Clines for tax fraud. He was the only Iran-Contra defendant to actually serve prison time.

Strauss also worked for Walsh. She spent 12 years as a partner at Fried Frank, the firm Berman is now joining. Before her work on the Iran-Contra investigation, Strauss spent seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District. During her first tour of duty in the office she now leads, Strauss bested defense attorney Roy Cohn – a key Trump mentor – in his attempt to overturn the convictions of two Mafia members.

Giuliani has talked with Trump about getting a pre-emptive pardon. 

The president’s lawyer discussed the possibility with the president as recently as last week, two sources tell the New York Times. “It was not clear who raised the topic. The men have also talked previously about a pardon for Mr. Giuliani,” Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt reported this morning. “Mr. Trump has not indicated what he will do. … Mr. Giuliani’s potential criminal exposure is unclear. … Christianne Allen, his spokeswoman, said, ‘Mayor Giuliani cannot comment on any discussions that he has with his client.’ Mr. Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, said, ‘He’s not concerned about this investigation, because he didn’t do anything wrong and that’s been our position from Day 1.’”

Sean Hannity said Trump should pardon himself and his family.

“The president, out the door, needs to pardon his whole family and himself,” Hannity said Monday on his radio show. “I assume that the power of the pardon is absolute, and that he should be able to [pardon] anybody that he wants to.” 

“During an interview with Trump advocate Sidney Powell, Hannity brought up a recent opinion article in the New York Times from Andrew Weissmann, a lead prosecutor in the investigation led by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. The op-ed called for Biden’s attorney general to ‘investigate Mr. Trump and, if warranted, prosecute him for potential federal crimes,'" Jaclyn Peiser reports. "Despite Hannity’s suggestion, it is unclear whether a president has the power to pardon himself. … Mark Greenberg, a professor of law and philosophy at UCLA, said that experts have varying opinions on the matter since no president has actually pardoned himself. Greenberg, through his best interpretation of the law, told The Post that the Constitution doesn’t give Trump the power to pardon himself and his family."

  • One of the witnesses in Powell’s lawsuit challenging the results in Michigan cited a non-existent county in the state. An affidavit claims that there was something wrong with the election results in Edison County. There is no Edison County in Michigan. (Bridge Michigan)
  • The Justice Department asked a federal judge to dismiss the criminal case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, a client of Powell's, making it clear that the president's Thanksgiving Eve pardon covered potential legal troubles beyond Flynn’s charge of lying to federal investigators. (NYT)
  • During oral arguments, Supreme Court justices seemed skeptical of Trump’s claim that he has the authority to exclude undocumented immigrants from population totals when deciding congressional reappointment, but they also wondered whether a definitive answer is needed now. (Robert Barnes)

The coronavirus

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled a $908 billion stimulus proposal.

“Several centrist and deal-maker types in the Senate, including Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), will push their new bipartisan agreement as a template for legislation that could pass Congress,” Seung Min Kim and Jeff Stein report. “It would provide $300 per week in federal unemployment benefits — a lower amount than the $600 per week sought by Democrats, while still offering substantial relief to tens of millions of jobless Americans — for four more months. The agreement includes $240 billion in funding for state and local governments, a key Democratic priority opposed by most Republicans, as well as a six-month moratorium on some coronavirus-related lawsuits against firms and other entities — a key Republican priority opposed by most Democrats. Aides close to the effort described details as fluid and subject to change.”

Scott Atlas resigned on Nov. 30 as President Trump’s coronavirus adviser after months of feuding with administration health officials. (Reuters)
Scott Atlas resigns as Trump’s coronavirus adviser.

“Atlas had become widely disliked in the White House — even among aides who shared his view that the country should reopen,” Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb report. “Although Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no infectious-disease or public health background, fell out of favor with senior White House advisers in recent weeks, he was the only medical adviser the president met with regularly for several months, according to several senior administration officials. Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner brought in Atlas, who was officially made a special government employee this summer with a 130-day detail, which expires this week. Aides noted, however, that the president could have extended Atlas’s tenure if he had desired to do so.

"Trump sidelined the task force’s other doctors, including White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx and Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, soon after Atlas arrived and advocated an approach more in line with what the president wanted to hear. Atlas’s resignation comes as more than 267,000 Americans have died of the virus and 13.5 million have been infected. The country is entering the worst stretch yet of the pandemic, with more than 95,000 hospitalizations and more than 1,000 deaths reported Monday.

“Atlas embraced strategies that most public health experts warned were dangerous. He advocated allowing the virus to spread among young, healthy people to help the country reach ‘herd immunity’ levels — a strategy experts warned would result in tens of thousands of needless deaths … He also shot down attempts by Birx and Fauci to expand testing; openly feuded with other doctors on the coronavirus task; … and advanced fringe theories, such as that social distancing and mask-wearing were meaningless and would not have changed the course of the virus … ‘He was the worst thing to happen to Trump in 2020 from a personnel perspective,’ said a former senior administration official who regularly sparred with Atlas.”

Hospitalizations rose by more than 12 percent over the past week.

“Nineteen states — Oregon, Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Alabama, North Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio, Rhode Island, Alaska, Virginia, Nevada, Minnesota, Kentucky and Indiana — reported record numbers of hospitalizations on Monday. Meanwhile, California, New York and Arizona each reported more than a 25 percent increase in the average number of hospitalizations, compared with one week ago,” Antonia Farzan and Jacqueline Dupree report. "On Monday, Rhode Island became the latest state to begin sending patients to a temporary field hospital due to rising demand for beds, as residents received an emergency alert on their phones warning them that hospitals were full. New York began directing hospitals to implement emergency measures such as identifying retired staff who can return to work and figuring out ways to expand their bed capacity by 50 percent.” 

The FDA is moving at record speed to review the vaccine candidates.

"The review period, from company filing to a decision, will probably take weeks — not the year that is more typical after a company submits a vaccine for approval,” Carolyn Johnson reports. “The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech are a major proof of concept for a flexible and fast medical technology, years in the making, that utilizes a snippet of genetic material called messenger RNA that teaches cells to build the spiky protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. The immune system learns to recognize and block the real virus. The vaccines are on track to make history because of years of basic science research and an all-out coordinated effort from pharmaceutical companies and government that removed the financial risks of failure. … The AstraZeneca trial [with Oxford] is continuing in the United States, and a single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is also being tested. … The full data from Moderna and Pfizer will probably leave some questions unanswered. No one knows yet how long immune protection will last, and it is unclear whether the vaccine will decrease transmission in addition to preventing illness."

  • DeepMind, a lab owned by the same parent company as Google, said its system, called AlphaFold, had solved what is known as the protein folding problem. "Given the string of amino acids that make up a protein, the system can rapidly and reliably predict its three-dimensional shape,” the New York Times reports.
  • Britain is racing to become the first Western country to approve a vaccine. “Those hopes persist, accompanied by much flag waving, despite questions about the Oxford vaccine’s trials and effectiveness,” William Booth and Karla Adam report. “Russia and China are already widely distributing their own vaccines, though they have been less transparent about their process."
  • White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows summoned FDA chief Stephen Hahn for a meeting today to explain why he hasn’t moved faster to approve the Pfizer vaccine. Hahn wanted to just talk with Meadows by telephone, but Meadows insisted that he come to the White House in person, Axios reports. In a statement, Hahn said: “Our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision."

Some epidemiologists predict the U.S. death toll will pass 500,000 in March. “In a bitter paradox, some experts noted, Mr. Trump could have been the hero of this pandemic,” the New York Times reports. “Had Mr. Trump heeded his medical advisers in late spring and adopted measures to curb new infections, the nation could now be on track to exit the epidemic next year with far fewer deaths per capita than many other nations. … Some health experts expressed concern that Mr. Trump might continue to undermine the coronavirus effort after he leaves office, by contradicting and diminishing any measure proposed by Mr. Biden."

But the White House is expected to throw more than a dozen indoor holiday parties, including a large congressional ball on Dec. 10. “The parties will be paid for by the Republican Party … and will cost millions of dollars," Dawsey reports

Here's the story behind a heartbreaking photo:

“An elderly man in a hospital gown buried his head in the arms of a doctor who, fully clad in protective equipment, hugged and consoled the patient. The doctor’s fixed, disturbed gaze can be seen through the plastic face shield,” Paulina Villegas reports. “‘I want to be with my wife,’ the frail patient, battling covid-19, had told Joseph Varon, chief of staff at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. Varon had found the man out of his hospital bed, crying and seeking help. … The man depicted in the photograph is recovering and is expected to be discharged this week, Varon said. But with the surge of infections overwhelming hospitals across Texas, health workers at the United Memorial Medical Center are sometimes incapable of offering more comfort to their patients, Varon said.”

A couple relaxed their covid-19 stance and died from it.

“For a couple who had spent five decades by each other’s sides, Leslie and Patricia McWaters couldn’t have been more different. Patricia, 78, was punctual, no-nonsense and to the point. … Retired truck driver Leslie, 75, or LD as he was known to friends (which was pretty much anyone he met), cracked jokes, appreciated one-liners and was always fun-loving … They lived in tandem, and that’s how they died — both in the same hospital on Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 4:23 p.m., from complications caused by covid-19,” Meryl Kornfield reports. "After months of feeling trapped amid coronavirus restrictions in Michigan, the two had let their guard down: Shortly before they fell ill in November, they visited a restaurant where people weren’t wearing masks and were walking around among tables. The McWaters, like many others, had developed an attitude of ‘I want to get out and live my life, and if I get covid, so be it,’ [one of their daughters, Joanna] Sisk, said. ‘But I can tell you after they got covid, they were both extremely regretful because they didn’t really take their own words to heart that it would actually take their lives,’ she said.”

The pandemic is forcing men to realize that they need deeper friendships.

“For more than a decade, psychologists have written about the ‘friendship crisis’ facing many men,” Samantha Schmidt reports. “Male friendships are often rooted in ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ interactions, such as watching a football game or playing video games, while women’s interactions are more face-to-face, such as grabbing a coffee or getting together for a glass of wine, said Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work … Because of this, many men have probably had a harder time than women figuring out how to adapt their friendships in a pandemic that is keeping them apart. … ‘Guys don’t want to seem too needy,’ [Greif said.] … 

“Dozens of men shared stories about Zoom poker games, backyard cigar nights, neighborhood-dad WhatsApp chains, Dungeons & Dragons groups and Fantasy Football leagues where casual chats about sports and politics have suddenly led to deep conversations — about the struggles of virtual schooling, family illness, breakups, births, wedding postponements and job losses. The moment feels heavier and so do the conversations. Some men said their friendships have begun to look more like those of their wives and girlfriends. For the first time in their lives, they’re going on walks with male friends just to catch up. They’re FaceTiming old college friends and checking in on neighbors — not only to talk about the NBA draft picks or their children’s soccer schedule — but to ask how they’re doing.”

  • Ohio Republican lawmakers are trying to impeach Gov. Mike DeWine (R) over his coronavirus restrictions. He responded that it’s just “a small number of people out there making a lot of noise.” During a news conference on Monday, he added: “I just wish they’d go spend some time talking to somebody who suffered through this.” (Teo Armus)
  • The NFL postponed the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game for a third time amid a coronavirus outbreak and now plans for it to be played Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh. (Mark Maske)
  • The D.C. Metro is proposing the elimination of weekend rail service as the transit agency’s financial troubles deepen because ridership has plummeted. The agency also wants to fire 2,400 employees and close 19 stations. (Justin George)
  • The District reported 371 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, its highest total in a single day since the start of the pandemic. (Michael Brice-Saddler and Dana Hedgpeth)
The CDC says the virus has been circulating here since last December.

Scientists found evidence of infection in 106 of 7,389 blood donations collected by the American Red Cross from residents in nine states between Dec. 13 and Jan. 17, according to new research published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. “The findings significantly strengthen evidence suggesting the virus was spreading around the world well before public health authorities and researchers became aware," the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Leaked documents from China’s Hubei province, where the virus was first detected, reveal the regime’s mishandling of the pandemic in its early states. The internal records, obtained by CNN, include a list of cases in February that was twice as big as the official public number. There are numerous other inconsistencies in what authorities believed to be happening versus what they disclosed.
  • Oregon became the fourth state to confirm an outbreak on a domestic mink farm, days after the Danish government reported an outbreak among thousands of its minks. (Kim Bellware)
  • Just hours after voting to ban outdoor dining, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl visited a restaurant in Santa Monica, where she dined outdoors. (Fox11)
  • Cases in El Paso continue soaring. The University Medical Center is so full that adult patients are being diverted to a children’s hospital and critically ill patients are being airlifted to other cities. The leader of the county ordered a two-week shutdown of all nonessential businesses, but Texas’s GOP attorney general said that violates executive orders from Gov. Greg Abbott (R). (Peiser)
  • People who have dental problems may see them aggravated by encounters with the virus. Some survivors are suspecting a connection to tooth loss, citing the disease’s well-documented effects on the circulatory system, as well as symptoms such as swollen toes and hair loss. Some dentists, however, are skeptical. (NYT)
  • The U.N. anticipates that the pandemic will lead to a 40 percent increase in the number of people requiring humanitarian assistance in 2021 and forecasts that assisting the neediest will cost $35 billion. (Farzan)
  • The nation’s weekly unemployment statistics have been plagued by backlogs, fraud and inconsistent data reporting state by state, making them a seriously flawed measurement that has likely overstated the number of individuals claiming unemployment during the pandemic, according to a GAO report. (Eli Rosenberg)

The voting wars

Wisconsin and Arizona on Nov. 30 became the last two of six states where President Trump has contested his defeat to finalize their vote counts. (Reuters)
Trump fails to stop vote certification in all six states where he contested his loss.

“Wisconsin and Arizona on Monday became the last two of six states where Trump has contested his defeat to finalize their vote counts,” Amy Gardner, Emma Brown and Rosalind Helderman report. “Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) certified her state’s election results alongside the Republican governor and attorney general. Several hours later, the Democratic chairwoman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Ann Jacobs, completed her state’s canvass and declared Biden the winner of the state’s 10 electoral votes, a declaration that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers promptly certified. … ‘We do elections well here in Arizona,’ Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) said shortly before he signed the certificate of ascertainment for Biden’s electors … Ducey’s full-throated defense of his state’s results came as Trump’s legal advisers made sweeping allegations that the election was stolen during an event Monday with GOP state lawmakers in Phoenix. … Trump called in and spoke to the crowd via cellphone, calling the 2020 election the ‘greatest scam ever perpetrated against our country.’ … He also said that additional suits would be filed as soon as Tuesday in Wisconsin and Georgia. … 

One GOP leader who declined yet again to acknowledge Biden’s victory Monday was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who gave a nine-minute floor speech in the Senate chamber without once mentioning the transition or any of Biden’s designated Cabinet nominees. … Meanwhile, Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, the permanent U.S. representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, described Biden on Monday as president-elect and repeatedly referred to his team as ‘the incoming administration,’ going further than most Trump appointees in acknowledging the president’s election loss. In Arizona, the certification paves the way not only for Biden to receive the state’s 11 electoral votes but also for Democrat Mark Kelly to join the U.S. Senate. … [He is] expected to be sworn in Wednesday."

Quote of the day

“Your political career is worth losing if you save the right to vote in America,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told supporters in Arizona, where he demanded that the state legislature choose its own rival slate of electors to support the president, even though he lost the state.

Trump’s political operation has raised more than $150 million since Election Day, using a blizzard of misleading appeals about the election to shatter fundraising records set during the campaign,” Dawsey and Michelle Ye Hee Lee report. “The influx of political donations is one reason Trump and some allies are inclined to continue a legal onslaught and public affairs blitz focused on baseless claims of election fraud … Much of the money raised since the election is likely to go into an account for the president to use on political activities after he leaves office … The surge of donations is largely from small-dollar donors … The campaign has sent about 500 post-election fundraising pitches to donors, often with hyperbolic language about voter fraud … 

"The donations are purportedly being solicited for the Official Election Defense Fund, which is blazed in all red across the Trump campaign’s website, with an ominous picture of the president outside the White House. There is no such account, however. … According to the fine print in the latest fundraising appeals, 75 percent of each contribution to the joint fundraising committee would first go toward the Save America leadership PAC and the rest would be shared with the party committee, to help with the party’s operating expenses."

Trump campaign lawyer Joe DiGenova said Chris Krebs should be “shot.” DiGenova said the former head of DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency should be “taken out at dawn and shot” for challenging the president’s conspiracy theories and declaring that the 2020 elections were secure. “That guy is a class A moron. He should be drawn and quartered,” DiGenova said on “The Howie Carr Show."

In neighboring Georgia counties, the election revealed a growing divide that mirrors the nation.

“Not long ago, Elizabeth Allen and Wanda Cummings were on the same side of America’s political divide. Both were reliable Republican voters in a reliably conservative part of a reliably red state. But Cummings and Allen have changed, and so has their state, Georgia. They just haven’t changed in the same way,” Haisten Willis and Griff Witte report. “When [Allen] cast a vote for [Biden] this year — helping him to swell his margins in the fast-growing suburbs of Newton County and claim Georgia’s 16 electoral votes — it was the first time she had ever marked a ballot for a Democrat. Cummings … moved from Newton and found ideological kinship just across the county line, in rural and ever-redder Jasper. She reluctantly backed Trump in 2016. But after his four years in office, she — and her new county — turned out for the president with gusto. Allen and Cummings crossed lines that in America today increasingly resemble a chasm. Unlike some previous elections marked by either a blue or a red wave, the 2020 vote featured both. And in many parts of the country, they crested side-by-side, with the turnout and margin for Trump surging next door to areas that boomed for Biden.” 

Senate Republicans fear Trump's false fraud claims could cost them Georgia by depressing base turnout. "They are publicly hoping he will refrain from pushing his false fraud claims when he visits the Peach State this week to campaign for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler,” Politico reports. “Republicans in Georgia are exasperated with his rhetoric, and they’re publicly urging the president to avoid talking about the Nov. 3 election. ‘It’s time for this to be over,’ said former Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who previously held Perdue’s seat. … ‘The ridiculous things claimed in some of these lawsuits are just that — they’re insanity, fever-dream, made-up internet cabal,’ said Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and the voting system implementation manager for Georgia’s elections.”

Biden’s OMB pick emerges as a lightning rod for the GOP.

“Biden’s pick to lead the powerful White House budget office generated early controversy Monday, with Neera Tanden emerging as an immediate target for conservatives and Republican lawmakers,” Annie Linskey, Stein and Kim report. “Tanden, 50, has regularly clashed with the GOP in a manner that Republicans say will complicate her Senate confirmation process. Several GOP senators said Monday that she could run into trouble during confirmation hearings." (Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will name Tina Flournoy, who currently serves as chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton, as her chief of staff, per freelance journalist Yashar Ali.)

John Bolton urged fellow Republicans to show Biden more deference in confirming his nominees. “Twice in George W. Bush’s presidency, Biden unjustifiably tried to block my nominations, first as an undersecretary of State, and later as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. My complaint, however, is constitutional, not personal,” the former Trump national security adviser writes in an essay for The Dispatch. “In recent years, increasing partisanship in advice-and-consent matters has risked transforming our system of separated powers into something quasi-parliamentary. So far, Biden’s nominees are not beyond the pale.”

A reminder that personnel is policy: Elaine Chao's Transportation Department set lax new standards for how it would determine whether airlines are being unfair or deceiving passengers, giving a boost to the industry in Trump's final weeks by issuing rules that consumer groups say will make it harder to rein in bad behavior and craft new protections. (Ian Duncan)

Other news that should be on your radar

For more than 40 years, America’s deadliest serial killer went undetected. 

“Samuel Little guided his car to a stop in a secluded area off Route 27 near Miami and cut the engine. Before long, Mary Brosley had straddled his lap. He started playing with her necklace,” Wesley Lowery, Hannah Knowles and Mark Berman report. “She was a frail, vulnerable woman, about 5-foot-4 and anorexic, barely 80 pounds. … Estranged from her family, struggling to survive, she was the kind of woman who might disappear from the face of the Earth without attracting much notice. … ‘I had desires. Strong desires to … choke her,’ he would later tell police. ‘I just went out of control, I guess.’ By New Year’s Day 1971, Mary Brosley, 33, had become the first known victim of a man since recognized as the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history. 

"Over more than 700 hours of videotaped interviews with police that began in May 2018, Little, now 80, has confessed to killing 93 people, virtually all of them women, in a murderous rampage that spanned 19 states and more than 30 years. … ‘If Little hadn’t confessed … then none of this would have been solved,’ said Angela Williamson, a Justice Department official who worked on the case. … So far, officials say they have identified more than 50 victims. Other cases remain in limbo … The Post obtained and analyzed thousands of pages of law enforcement and court records … and conducted interviews with dozens of police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and relatives of Little’s victims. … What emerges is a portrait of a fragmented and indifferent criminal justice system that allowed a man to murder without fear of retribution by deliberately targeting those on the margins of society.”

Social media speed read

Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller and his wife, a spokeswoman for the vice president, welcomed a child:

A GOP operative who was a top aide to former House speaker Paul Ryan explained the catch-22 for Republicans in his home state of Georgia:

The first lady released a virtual tour of her Christmas decorations:

Videos of the day

Jimmy Fallon reviewed the White House Christmas decorations: 

Trevor Noah doubts Trump would pass the citizenship test he just created: 

Stephen Colbert shared parts of his interview with President Barack Obama that got cut from last week's show: