President-elect Joe Biden on Friday offered a sober assessment of the nation’s ability to conquer the coronavirus pandemic, saying the country remains “in a very dark winter” as the number of dead approaches 400,000. Biden unveiled his incoming administration’s plan to get Americans vaccinated.

Vice President Pence called Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris to congratulate her Thursday, more than two months after she and Biden won the November election and just five days before the new Democratic administration takes office.

President Trump plans to leave Washington on Wednesday morning before Biden is sworn in, according to a senior administration official. Trump had previously announced he would not attend his successor’s inauguration at the U.S. Capitol, breaking with decades of tradition.

Here’s what to know:
  • Biden is seeking to keep a focus on combating the coronavirus with his speech in Wilmington, Del., on vaccine distribution a day after he called the rollout by Trump’s administration a “dismal failure.” “Things will get worse before they get better. I told you I would always level with you,” Biden said Friday.
  • The vast majority of Americans say they oppose the actions of the rioters who stormed and ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, while smaller majorities say Trump bears responsibility for the attack and that he should be removed from office and disqualified from serving again, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
  • A hearing scheduled for Biden’s nominee to serve as the nation’s top intelligence official, Avril D. Haines, has been postponed until next week, according to leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
  • The violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol came perilously close to Pence, who was not evacuated from the Senate chamber until about 14 minutes after the Capitol Police reported an initial attempted breach of the complex.
2:12 a.m.
Link copied

Biden administration will release White House visitor logs again, spokeswoman says

A transition spokeswoman said the Biden administration will once again release White House visitor logs to the public, a practice that was stopped under President Trump.

When asked at a press briefing earlier in the day, Biden’s incoming White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, did not fully commit to releasing the logs but said she expected that there would not be very many visitors to the White House initially because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Psaki clarified her response in a tweet late Friday.

“For the sake of clarity — The Biden-Harris Administration will return to the policy of releasing White House visitor logs,” Psaki stated. “Also true that visitors will be limited for some time because safety during the pandemic is top priority.”

A watchdog group sued the Trump administration shortly after Trump took office to release the names of at least some White House visitors for the sake of transparency, but the courts upheld Trump’s ability to withhold the visitor logs from the public.

2:11 a.m.
Link copied

Manhattan district attorney investigating Trump subpoenas local records

The Manhattan district attorney has subpoenaed local government records related to an estate President Trump owns in suburban New York, a property Trump used to claim a $21 million tax break, according to one town’s attorney.

That could signal a new front in the criminal investigation by District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance (D), one of at least two state-level investigations that Trump will face when he leaves office next week. Vance’s investigation, which has lasted more than a year, has not produced any charges.

Joel Sachs, the town attorney for Bedford, N.Y., said Vance’s office had subpoenaed documents related to a residential subdivision that the Trump Organization had proposed — but never built — on its Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, N.Y.

“They’ve asked for documents. And all the documents relate to this residential subdivision that the Trump Organization proposed in three different municipalities,” Sachs said in an interview Friday evening. He said that Bedford had complied: “The town supplied everything.”

Sachs said he could not disclose what specific documents Vance’s office had asked for, or when the subpoena was issued.

Vance’s office declined to comment. The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment. The subpoena related to Seven Springs was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The Washington Post previously reported that Trump had claimed a $21 million tax break five years ago by putting a “conservation easement” on the land, essentially agreeing to forgo plans to build houses on that. To back up that claim, Trump said he could have built 24 mansions on the land. But his company did not have all the approvals necessary to build them: the company had proposed building a subdivision and a golf course on the land in the past, but those efforts were bogged down after neighbors and environmental groups objected.

Last year, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said her office was also investigating Seven Springs, questioning whether Trump’s company improperly inflated the land’s value. James’s investigation, which is separate from Vance’s, is also ongoing.

1:32 a.m.
Link copied

Capitol Police intelligence report warned three days before attack that ‘Congress itself’ could be targeted

Three days before thousands of rioters converged on the U.S. Capitol, an internal Capitol Police intelligence report warned of a violent scenario in which “Congress itself” could be the target of angry supporters of President Trump on Jan. 6, laying out a stark alert that deepens questions about the security failures that day.

In a 12-page report on Jan. 3, the intelligence unit of the congressional police force described how thousands of enraged protesters, egged on by Trump and flanked by white supremacists and extremist armed groups, were likely to stream into Washington ready for battle.

This time, the focus of their ire would be members of Congress, the report said.

“Supporters of the current president see January 6, 2021, as the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election,” according to the memo, portions of which were obtained by The Washington Post. “This sense of desperation and disappointment may lead to more of an incentive to become violent. Unlike previous post-election protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th.”

The internal report — which does not appear to have been shared widely with other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI — was among a number of flags that security experts say should have alerted officials to the high security risks on Jan. 6.

11:11 p.m.
Link copied

House impeachment managers announce counsels

Impeachment managers announced Thursday that Barry Berke and Joshua Matz will serve as counsels in the upcoming trial of President Trump. Both attorneys served among the counsels to the House impeachment managers during Trump’s first impeachment trial.

Berke, an expert on federal criminal law and public corruption, will serve as chief impeachment counsel. Matz, a constitutional scholar whose practice includes civil rights, commercial, and Supreme Court and appellate litigation, will serve as impeachment counsel.

“Our democracy continues to face clear and present danger from the violent insurrectionist mob summoned, assembled and blessed by President Donald Trump,” said lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who described Berke and Matz as “eminent and surpassingly effective lawyers.”

“As we work to secure the Nation’s Capital and defend our institutions against violent mob rule in the days ahead, I want to salute the great lawyers and public servants who have rallied to the task of preparing with the impeachment managers for perhaps the most important trial of American history,” Raskin added.

Other senior staff assisting the House impeachment managers include Krista Boyd, Susanne Sachsman Grooms and Candyce Phoenix from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform; Arya Hariharan and Aaron Hiller from the House Committee on the Judiciary; and Julie Tagen from Raskin’s office.

10:06 p.m.
Link copied

Secret Service designates ‘Green Zone’ in nation’s capital

The Secret Service has designated a “Green Zone” in central Washington as part of its security efforts ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, a move that sparked comparisons to the highly fortified swath of Baghdad that came to symbolize America’s struggles in Iraq.

In a news release issued Thursday, the agency laid out road closures, public transportation disruptions and other restrictions affecting Washington, D.C., surrounding the Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony. It identified a ‘Red Zone’ where during a six-day period only cars with special permits can enter, and a separate ‘Green Zone’ into which only permitted vehicles or residents or businesses who can verify their links to the area can pass.

Authorities are scrambling to intensify security, erecting metal and concrete barriers and deploying thousands of National Guard and other security forces, to prevent a repeat of the deadly Jan. 6 riot by a pro-Trump mob at the Capitol. But for some Washingtonians, the use of ‘Green Zone’ heightened the sense of the surreal in the elaborate fortifications and deployments descending on the heart of the nation’s capital.

By this weekend there will be more National Guard troops on duty in Washington than there are troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria combined. The term ‘Green Zone’ became widely known in the years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when American officials remained sealed behind high concrete blast walls and tightly guarded checkpoints in a central area of Baghdad while a bloody sectarian war unfolded outside.

9:42 p.m.
Link copied

Biden will elevate White House science office to Cabinet level

In a move that signals the importance of science to the incoming administration, President-elect Joe Biden announced Friday a plan to make the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy a Cabinet-level agency.

To head the newly elevated office, Biden nominated Eric Lander, a mathematician and geneticist who helped map the human genome and founded the Broad Institute, a Boston-based biomedical research center famous for work on the gene-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9.

Biden also named MIT Vice President of Research Maria Zuber, a planetary scientist who lead efforts to map the surfaces of the moon and Mars, and Nobel laureate Francis Arnold, a pioneer in synthesizing artificial proteins, to head the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, a geneticist-physician who spearheaded the Human Genome Project, will remain in his current role, the transition said.

9:31 p.m.
Link copied

Biden lays out covid vaccine plan, with goal of 100 million shots administered in 100 days: ‘The health of the nation is literally at stake’

In a speech from Wilmington, Del., Biden laid out an ambitious plan to dramatically increase the number of coronavirus vaccines administered after he takes office, as covid-19 cases and deaths hit record highs across the country. Chief among his goals was to administer 100 million vaccine shots within his first 100 days in office.

“This is a time to set big goals, to pursue them with courage and conviction, because the health of the nation is literally at stake,” Biden said Friday.

Biden said that on his first day in office, he would instruct FEMA to begin setting up federally supported community vaccination centers in places like school gymnasiums, sports centers and community centers.

His administration would also use pharmacies and mobile vaccination clinics, as well as push for vaccination programs in high-risk settings like homeless shelters, jails and centers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Biden criticized the Trump administration’s strategy of holding back nearly half of the available vaccines and said the current rollout had been “too rigid and confusing.”

“If you were to ask most people today, they couldn’t tell you who exactly is getting vaccinated,” he said. Meanwhile, he added, tens of millions of vials of vaccines were sitting unused in refrigerators.

Biden also said his administration plans to fully reimburse states for the use of the National Guard for vaccine distribution, and would launch a “massive public education campaign” to counter vaccine hesitancy and disinformation, particularly among communities that have been hardest hit by the virus.

“It’s a critical piece to account for a tragic reality on the disproportionate impact this virus has had on Black, Latino and Native American people,” Biden said.

As he had for months, Biden pleaded with the public to continue wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing. He blasted how the act of mask-wearing had become politicized and said he would issue an executive order to require masks in his first 100 days of office where he had the authority to do so — namely federal buildings and on airplanes and trains.

“The more people we vaccinate and the faster we do it, the sooner we can put this pandemic behind us and the sooner we can build our economy back better and get back to our lives and to our loved ones,” Biden said.

“As we’ve seen during this pandemic, we can’t solve our problems as a divided nation. The only way we come through this is if we come through together,” he said.

9:21 p.m.
Link copied

Biden says he’ll sign executive order requiring mask-wearing where he has authority to do so

Biden announced that he will issue an executive order requiring everyone to wear masks in places where he has the authority to mandate it, called on Americans generally to “mask up for the next 100 days” and lambasted those who have made face coverings a political issue.

The executive order would cover federal property and interstate travel, such as on trains and planes, Biden said during remarks on his administration’s plan to battle the coronavirus. He also said he will be asking states and local governments to implement mask mandates through the spring.

“I hope we now know this is not a political issue. This is about saving lives,” Biden said. “I know it’s become a partisan issue, but what a stupid, stupid thing to happen. This is a patriotic act we’re asking you. We’re in a war with this virus.

Biden blasted a group of Republicans sheltered in the crowded lockdown room during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol for refusing to wear masks even when offered one by a Democratic congresswoman.

“What the hell’s the matter with them?” Biden asked. “It’s time to grow up.”

8:10 p.m.
Link copied

GOP’s Sasse: Some of the rioters ‘planned to kidnap and possibly assassinate the Vice President’

Sen. Ben Sasse released a strongly worded statement calling the pro-Trump rioters at the Capitol “terrorists” who sought to harm Vice President Pence.

The Nebraska Republican, who has been critical of Trump’s behavior since the election, warned that some will attempt to “whitewash” what happened Jan. 6 but that Americans must understand how grave the threat really was.

“Every American needs to understand what the Department of Justice has just made public: Investigators have strong evidence to suggest that some of the rioters who stormed the United States Capitol planned to kidnap and possibly assassinate the Vice President,” Sasse said. “These men weren’t drunks who got rowdy — they were terrorists attacking this country’s constitutionally-mandated transfer of power.”

Sasse was referring to a court filing by federal prosecutors in Phoenix who wrote that there was “strong evidence … that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States government.”

The mob came dangerously close to Pence, missing crossing paths with him by mere seconds, The Washington Post reported. Some chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” and one man who got inside the Senate chamber left a note on the vice president’s desk that read in part, “It’s only a matter of time, justice is coming,” according to court filings.

7:24 p.m.
Link copied

Congressional Republicans balk at Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan, complicating push for quick passage

A growing number of congressional Republicans are expressing opposition to President-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief proposal, complicating the incoming administration’s push to quickly inject additional aid into the U.S. economy.

Congressional Republican lawmakers and aides on Friday predicted widespread GOP opposition to the plan Biden unveiled the day before, particularly over its provisions to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and provide $350 billion in state and local aid.

Democrats will have only a narrow Senate majority and could pass a relief package without any Republican votes. But doing so would require a parliamentary Senate procedure that would likely take weeks and may require Biden to jettison key parts of his proposal, such as the increase in the minimum wage. Approving a relief package solely with Democratic votes would also fly against Biden’s repeated campaign pledges to unify lawmakers and cut bipartisan deals across party lines.

7:22 p.m.
Link copied

Undercutting Trump, Justice Dept. ends Pa. election investigation, citing ‘insufficient evidence’ of criminal intent

The top federal prosecutor in Harrisburg, Pa., announced Friday that his office has closed an investigation of nine discarded ballots found in the northeastern part of the state that President Trump had touted to support his unfounded claims of election rigging, saying in a statement that the probe had found “insufficient evidence to prove criminal intent on the part of the person who discarded the ballots.”

The investigation had been controversial from the start, as election law experts said the department seemed to be violating department policy and tradition in revealing an ongoing probe in a way that could affect the election.

Though just nine ballots in a dumpster were at issue, then-U.S. Attorney David J. Freed, who oversaw prosecutors in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, announced the probe in a public statement in September soon after Trump alluded to what happened on Fox News Radio’s “Brian Kilmeade Show.” Freed also first claimed that all nine ballots were cast for Trump, though he later clarified that seven of the ballots had been cast for the president and two were found sealed.

7:12 p.m.
Link copied

Pence calls Harris to congratulate her five days before inauguration

Pence called his soon-to-be successor Harris on Thursday to congratulate her, more than two months after she and Biden won the November election and just five days before the new administration takes office.

Pence’s belated call to Harris came a week after Congress formally certified the electoral college votes. Pence recognized Biden and Harris as the winners when he declared it Jan. 7 at 3:41 a.m. once Congress completed the count.

Trump’s refusal to accept the election results complicated Pence’s timeline for reaching out to Harris. Trump hasn’t called Biden to congratulate him and has not formally conceded defeat, and for weeks Pence deferred to Trump on their post-election position.

But after last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington that saw Trump supporters and the president himself turn against Pence for upholding his legal responsibility to oversee the electoral college vote count, the vice president has stepped into a sort of de facto presidential role.

Not only did Pence call Harris to offer his congrats, he also is planning to attend the inauguration, which Trump is not. This week it was Pence, not Trump, who sat in on an FBI security briefing about efforts to counter violent actors who may descend on Washington again.

It’s unclear whether Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, will have Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, to the vice-presidential residence before Wednesday as is custom. Trump has no plans to invite Biden and wife Jill Biden to the White House.

6:19 p.m.
Link copied

Rep. Cedric Richmond resigns seat as he prepares to enter Biden White House

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond formally resigned his seat in the House on Friday as he prepares to enter the Biden White House as a senior adviser and director of the Office of Public Engagement.

“New Orleans will always be home, but it is time to represent my community in a different way,” the Louisiana Democrat said in a letter read by the House clerk during a pro forma session Friday morning.

Richmond’s departure leaves the House with 432 members: 221 Democrats and 211 Republicans. There are now three vacancies. Richmond’s seat in a solidly Democratic district will be filled in an upcoming special election.

Richmond’s final appearance on the House floor, during Wednesday’s impeachment debate, was a memorable one.

“Some of my colleagues, some of which may well be co-conspirators … let me suggest to them: Stand up, man up, woman up and defend this Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic, including Donald J. Trump,” Richmond said.

“In the first impeachment, Republicans said we didn’t need to impeach him, because he learned his lesson,” Richmond said of Trump. “… Well, we said if we didn’t remove him, he would do it again. Simply put — we told you so.”

“Richmond out,” the congressman concluded.

5:53 p.m.
Link copied

Pelosi noncommittal on timeline for sending articles of impeachment to the Senate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) demurred on a timeline for sending the article of impeachment against Trump to the Senate for trial, telling reporters that they’ll “be the first to know when we announce that we’re going over there.”

McConnell has said he didn’t want to hold a trial before Biden’s inauguration, but also noted that if the House presents the articles on Tuesday, the day before the inauguration, when the House and Senate return to work, then the trial would start at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Inauguration Day.

“One week ago on January 6, there was an act of insurrection perpetrated on the Capitol of the United States, incentivized by the president of the United States,” Pelosi said. “One week later, Wednesday to Wednesday, that president was impeached in a bipartisan way by the House of Representatives, so urgent was the matter. They’re now working on taking this to trial.”