White House says Biden ‘refining plans for all scenarios’ over Ukraine-Russia – as it happened
4 months ago
White House says Biden ‘refining plans for all scenarios’ over Ukraine-Russia – as it happened
That’s all for today, thanks for following along. Some key links and developments:
- The US has placed 8,500 troops on heightened alert to deploy to Europe as Nato reinforced its eastern borders with warships and fighter jets, amid growing fears of a possible “lightning” attack by Russia to seize the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
- Conservative groups across the US, often linked to deep-pocketed rightwing donors, are carrying out a campaign to ban books from school libraries, often focused on works that address race, LGBTQ+ issues or marginalized communities.
- Covid cases are rising rapidly among US nursing home residents and staff and causing shortages in admissions, exacerbating bed shortages at hospitals in turn.
- US authorities are confident most states will soon reach and pass a peak in coronavirus Omicron variant cases, even as hospitals struggle to cope with the current surge, Fauci said.
- Opening arguments began in the federal trial of Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, three officers present for the murder of George Floyd.
- US stock markets were hit by another wave of wild trading as investors worried that the Federal Reserve would wind down its support for the economy faster than expected and fears of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine intensified.
- CNN obtained an intelligence bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security that warns that Russia would consider conducting a cyberattack on the US homeland if Moscow perceived that a US or Nato response would be a threat to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
US Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman, who was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for his acts during the insurrection, has given his first interview since the January 6 riot, saying the attacks “could have easily been a bloodbath”.
On the episode, Goodman expressed concerns that one of his fellow officers who has been more outspoken than him has since faced harassment: “He’s said he’s out with his daughter, and he’s had random people run up and throw drinks in his face, and stuff like that. That’s mostly why I haven’t been doing any interviews, anything like that, ‘cause I just don’t want any part of the negativity.”
Conservative groups across the US, often linked to deep-pocketed rightwing donors, are carrying out a campaign to ban books from school libraries, often focused on works that address race, LGBTQ issues or marginalized communities, my colleague Adam Gabbatt reports:
Literature has already been removed from schools in Texas, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming. Librarians and teachers warn the trend is on the increase, as groups backed by wealthy Republican donors use centrally drawn up tactics and messaging to harangue school districts into removing certain texts.
In October, the Texas state representative Matt Krause sent a list of 850 books to school districts, asking that they report how many copies they have of each title and how much had been spent on those books.
The Texas Tribune reported that the books included two by Ta-Nehisi Coates; LGBT Families by Leanne K Currie-McGhee; and ‘Pink is a Girl Color’ … and Other Silly Things People Say, a children’s book by Stacy and Erik Drageset. Krause’s list sparked panic in schools, and by December a district in San Antonio said it was reviewing 414 titles in its libraries.
In Biden’s call with European leaders today, the group “reiterated their continued concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and expressed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, the White House says in a readout of the call just released:
The leaders underscored their shared desire for a diplomatic resolution to the current tensions and reviewed recent engagements with Russia in multiple formats. The leaders also discussed their joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on Nato’s eastern flank.
Participants on the call included the European Commission president, the European Council president and heads of state from France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the UK.
Biden was caught on a hot mic appearing to insult Fox News journalist Peter Doocy, calling him a “stupid son of a bitch”.
“Do you think inflation is a political liability in the midterms?” the reporter asked as journalists were leaving the room at the end of a news conference.
Biden responded: “It’s a great asset – more inflation. What a stupid son of a bitch.”
The mic was right in front of Biden, so it’s unclear why he made the remark, but it appeared as if he was making the remark to himself or that he may have thought the mic had been turned off.
The remark came at the end of a White House Competition Council meeting, in which officials provided an update on efforts to combat inflation. Biden, who was also fielding questions about the growing crisis in Ukraine, had said he only wanted to address questions on the topic of the council, which Doocy appeared to be covering in his inquiry. The White House has said this month that inflation would only be a temporary problem, but some Democrats have worried about the potential for longer-term political consequences.
The clip of Biden’s remark quickly went viral on social media, with some pointing out that Biden days earlier had muttered, “What a stupid question,” in response to another Fox News reporter’s question about Russia. Doocy went live on Fox News soon after and joked about the insult, saying, “Nobody has fact checked him yet.”
Last year, Biden apologized to a CNN reporter after snapping at one of her questions. As vice president, Biden famously got caught on a hot mic telling Obama, “This is a big fucking deal!” after he signed healthcare legislation.
Biden has finished his call with European leaders on the crisis in Ukraine, which the White House says lasted more than an hour.
“I had a very, very, very good meeting, total unanimity with all the European leaders. We’ll talk about it later,” the president told CNN’s chief White House correspondent.
The US has placed 8,500 troops on heightened alert to deploy to Europe as Nato reinforced its eastern borders with warships and fighter jets. There are growing fears of a possible “lightning” attack by Russia to seize the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. More details:
Hi all - Sam Levin in Los Angeles here, taking over our live coverage for the rest of the day.
A prosecutor has alleged that lawyer Michael Avenatti stole nearly $300,000 in book proceeds from former client Stormy Daniels, the adult film actor and producer. The prosecutor outlined the case for jurors in court on Monday at the start of his third criminal trial in two years. My colleague Gloria Oladipo has more details:
Prosecutors say Avenatti, 50, who has pleaded not guilty, embezzled book contract proceeds intended for Daniels, who came to worldwide attention when she claimed to have had an affair with Donald Trump before he became president and was then paid to keep quiet about it.
“This is a case about a lawyer who stole from his client. A lawyer who lied to cover up the scheme,” assistant attorney Andrew Rohrbach said, noting that Avenatti forged Daniels’s signature in a letter to an agent as part of the crime. “The defendant stole almost $300,000 from the person he was supposed to be looking out for.” Avenatti became a media fixture when he represented Daniels in cases against Trump, and himself became an outspoken critic of the then president, even stirring speculation that he might enter politics.
Today so far
- 8,500 US troops are on “heightened alert” to deploy to Eastern Europe amid rising tensions of Russia possibly invading Ukraine, according to the Department of Defense.
- Vice-president Kamala Harris is in Wisconsin to talk infrastructure.
- Opening statements began today in the federal civil rights trials of the three other police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd.
A Georgia district attorney will be allowed to seat a special grand jury this spring in the investigation into Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, CNN is reporting.
The special grand jury will allow Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis to seat a panel with the power to issue subpoenas to compel witnesses to testify and to gather additional evidence.
Trump was infamously recorded on a phone call with Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, nearly two months after election day, pressuring him to overturn the states election results based on unfounded claims of voter fraud.
Willis has said that Raffensperger, whom she described as an “essential witness”, has indicated he would only take part in an interview once presented with a subpoena.
8,500 US troops on 'heightened alert' to deploy amid Russia tensions
The secretary of defense has put 8,500 US troops on “heightened alert” to deploy to Eastern Europe in support of the eastern flank as the possibility of Russia invading Ukraine continues to rise, said John Kirby, press secretary for the Pentagon.
However, while the Biden administration could deploy US troops to the eastern flank, Kirby made a point in saying there are currently no plans for US troops to go to Ukraine directly if Russia invades.
Vice president Kamala Harris has arrived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to talk about infrastructure investment.
The VP is talking now about bipartisan infrastructure investment in replacing lead-based water pipes, that can end up poisoning the public, taking an especially hard toll on children and seniors.
Harris said the issues involved intersect between public health, education, environmental justice and labor rights and that “eliminating lead exposure” must be one of the highest priorities for the US.
“This is an issue that we, as a nation, should commit to ending...getting rid of lead in our pipes and in our paint,” she said, citing children in particular, exposed to lead in water supplies at school or the paint on bedroom walls at home in public housing.
She said half of children in the US are at risk of lead exposure, which can cause “irreparable damage” to their health as their brains develop.
Harris said it was “long overdue to get this done”, but the Biden-Harris administration aims to remove and replace all lead pipes in the nation in the next decade, spending $15bn and “creating good union jobs”.
The vice president has now ended her address.
Opening statements began on Monday, in the federal civil rights trial of the three lesser-known police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd.
Now-ex officers Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane are on trial in court in St Paul, the state capital of Minnesota - after white former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, and admitted violating his civil rights in May 2020, sparking the largest racial reckoning in America’s recent history.
Federal prosecutor Samantha Trepel, from the US Department of Justice’s civil rights division, said Thao, 35, Lane, 38, and Kueng, 27, had broken their oath with a callous indifference to Floyd. She recounted that video had captured how Kueng at times seemed more preoccupied with some gravel lodged in the tire of the nearby police car than the man pinned beneath him repeatedly saying: “I can’t breathe.”
The three have pleaded not guilty in both their civil rights case and their state case, which is due later this year and in which they are accused of aiding and abetting murder.
In the current trial they are accused of depriving George Floyd of his right “to be free from a police officer’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs”, according to the charges.
Thao and Kueng are also accused of willfully failing to “intervene to stop Defendant Chauvin’s use of unreasonable force” when Floyd was unresponsive on the ground.
“Today is another milestone in the long, slow journey to justice for George Floyd,” Ben Crump, the civil rights lawyer who represented his relatives, said in a statement: “This trial will be another painful experience for the Floyd family, who must once more relive his grueling death in excruciating detail.”
A wide radius of security fences, tight police patrolling and road closures are in operation outside the federal courthouse amid concerns of mass protest.
Floyd’s murder ignited huge demonstrations across America and in many other countries, as the US Black Lives Matter movement revived and spread, although some of the protests against police brutality and entrenched racism more widely were often harshly curtailed by the police.
- Joe Biden is considering sending several thousand US troops to Eastern Europe amid the rising possibility of Russia invading Ukraine.
- Biden is set to have a video call with a number of European leaders about the Russian situation this afternoon.
- The Department of Homeland Security warned that any action taken against Russia could result in a cyberattack on US homeland.
- The supreme court is set to hear a pair of cases on race-based affirmative action in college admissions.
- Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s defamation trial against the New York Times was postponed after she contracted Covid-19. She is unvaccinated.
When questioned about whether sending more troops to Eastern Europe could escalate tensions, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “We have a sacred obligation to support the security of our eastern flank countries.”
“I think it’s important to remember who the aggressor is here,” she said. “It’s not the United States, it’s not these eastern flank countries. It’s Russia, who has tens of thousands of troops on the border of Ukraine. They have the power to deescalate. We would certainly welcome that.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated the state department guidance for American citizens in Ukraine to consider departing now.
“(The president) said last week that military action by Russia could come at any time,” Psaki said. “That remains his point of view.”
Ukraine-Russia: Psaki says US 'refining plans for all scenarios'
White House press secretary Jen Psaki begins today’s press briefing with questions about the possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The briefing took place ahead of a video call Joe Biden planned to hold with European leaders about the rising tensions in Eastern Europe. Psaki said she expected that “they will discuss diplomacy, deterrence and defense efforts” during the call, as well as any possible pending sanctions.
Psaki hemmed a bit on the reports that Biden was considering deploying thousands of US troops to Eastern European countries, saying that “we’ve never ruled out providing additional support.”
“We have been consulting with allies and deployments and refining plans for all scenarios,” Psaki said. “We have always said we would reinforce our allies on the eastern flank and those conversations and discussions have certainly been a part of what our national security officials have been discussing with their counterparts now for several weeks.”
Supreme court to hear affirmative action cases
The supreme court agreed on Monday to hear a pair of cases on race-based affirmative action in college admissions.
The cases will give the majority conservative court an opportunity to overturn precedent that protects the use of affirmative action.
Both cases have been brought forth by Students for Fair Admission, a nonprofit led by anti-affirmative-action activist Edward Blum, who has spent much of the last decade trying to end affirmative action in higher education. Harvard and the University of North Carolina are the defendants.
Blum was behind Fisher v University of Texas, the last case on affirmative action that the supreme court considered, in 2016. In that case, Blum argued that race-based admission policies discriminated against Abigail Fisher, a white applicant. The court in a 4-3 ruling upheld affirmative action, with then-justice Anthony Kennedy the only conservative who ruled in favor of the policy.
The cases will be the first opportunity for the three Donald Trump appointees to review a case on affirmative action.
Students for Fair Admission alleges that race-based admission – which has boosted the admission rate of applicants from historically marginalized backgrounds, particularly Black and Hispanic students – has led to discrimination against Asian Americans.
Lawyers from Harvard and the University of North Carolina, along with the US justice department, urged the court not to take on the cases, saying that the schools’ policies are in line with affirmative action protections upheld by previous supreme court cases.
Two lower courts upheld Harvard’s use of affirmative action, with one federal court judge saying Harvard’s use of race was meaningful, but not “impermissibly extensive”.
“Harvard’s race-conscious admission program ensures that Harvard can retain the benefits of diversity it has already achieved,” said US circuit judge Sandra Lynch in an appeals court ruling.
The court will likely hear arguments for the case in its fall session, with a possible ruling in summer 2023.
Twenty-seven lawmakers, ranging from far-right to progressive, have signed a letter to House speaker Nancy Pelosi and House minority leader Kevin McCarthy calling for legislation that would ban members of Congress from owning or trading stock.
“Congress passed the STOCK Act in 2012 in an attempt to prevent members of Congress from using congressional knowledge to their advantage in stock trading,” the letter reads. “However, one recent investigation found that the STOCK act had been violated hundreds of times just since 2020. It’s clear the current rules are not working.”
The letter boasts the support of “Americans across the political spectrum”, and indeed the House members signing onto the letter do come from all sides - from Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, to longtime conspiracy theorist and Donald Trump supporter Matt Gaetz.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s positive Covid-19 tests have forced a postponement of her defamation trial against the New York Times.
The Associated Press reports that US District judge Jed Rakoff said the trial, which was set to begin today, can begin instead on 3 February if Palin has adequately recovered by then.
“She is, of course, unvaccinated,” the judge said of the 2008 Republican vice-presidential pick and conservative political star.
Palin has urged people not to get vaccinated, telling an audience in Arizona last month that “it will be over my dead body that I’ll have to get a shot.”
More on the Ukraine situation: Joe Biden will hold a video call this afternoon with European leaders about the possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The call will be with:
- Boris Johnson, prime minister of the United Kingdom
- Emmanuel Macron, president of France
- Olaf Scholz, chancellor of Germany
- Andrzej Duda, president of Poland
- Mario Draghi, president of Italy
- Ursala von der Leyen, president of the European Commission
- Charles Michel, president of the European Council
- Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of Nato
Glenn Youngkin, the Republican governor of Virginia, is facing a new legal challenge over his executive order allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates, the Associated Press is reporting.
The mandate, one of the first that Youngkin issued when he was sworn in as governor on 15 January, went into effect today, bringing about confusion throughout the commonwealth. Some districts have interpreted the order as being at odds with a state law that deals with Covid-19 mitigation in schools and have kept pre-existing mask mandates in place.
“Listen to a principal today. And I know that there are some school systems that are doing things that are inconsistent with respecting the rights of parents. ... Let’s respect it right now and let this legal process play out,” Youngkin said in an interview with Richmond radio station WRVA Monday morning.
A legal challenge to Youngkin’s order was filed last week by a group of parents, with another filed today by seven school boards, including Fairfax, the state’s most populous jurisdiction.
In a message to parents, Scott Brabrand, superintendent of Fairfax county public schools, said he hoped the lawsuit will allow for a swift resolution of the conflict between the governor and local boards that believe a mask mandate is a necessary public health measure.
“It is imperative that decisions about education and school safety are made locally in order to champion the best interests of our students and community,” Brabrand said.
Supporters of the executive order say the state law is not in conflict with Youngkin’s executive order because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recommends mask-wearing and does not mandate it, Meanwhile, Democrats commended the school boards who challenged Youngkin.
“Youngkin is quickly on his way to becoming the most divisive and authoritarian governor in our commonwealth’s long history,” Mamie Locke, Virginia state senator, said at a news conference.
Homeland Security warns of possible cyberattack amid Russian tensions
CNN has obtained an intelligence bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security that warns that Russia would consider conducting a cyberattack on the US homeland if Moscow perceived that a US or Nato response would be a threat to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Russia maintains a range of offensive cyber tools that it could employ against US networks—from low-level denials-of-service to destructive attacks targeting critical infrastructure,” states the 23 January memo.
Russian hackers have penetrated some of Washington’s signature institutions in the past, from homeland security, the commerce and treasury departments, nuclear laboratories and the Pentagon, as well as leading Fortune 500 companies.
Sarah Palin has tested positive for the coronavirus – on the first morning of her defamation trial against the New York Times.
Jed Rakoff, the US federal judge presiding over the case in Manhattan, announced the test result on Monday.
“She is of course unvaccinated,” the judge said, referring to the former Alaska governor, 2008 Republican vice-presidential pick and conservative political star.
Palin’s positive test was an at-home test, Rakoff said, adding that she would be retested before it was determined whether jury selection should be delayed or the trial adjourned until February.
The supreme court has agreed to hear a pair of cases challenging race-based affirmative action policies for admission at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.
An update on the Ukraine situation: it appears the Biden administration is moving forward with deploying troops to Eastern Europe, CNN reports.
The supreme court will not hear House minority leader Kevin McCarthy’s case seeking to invalidate proxy voting for the House of Representatives.
Some background on the lawsuit: House members from both parties have cited the pandemic as a reason to keep voting by proxy - but members have also used voting by proxy for plenty of other reasons, like meeting with Joe Biden, meeting with Donald Trump or taking care of sick family members, Politico reports.
McCarthy believes that voting by proxy has been “expanded to something that we always feared” - and has promised that should he ever become speaker of the House, he will do away with it. However, even some of the Republicans that he initially got to sign onto the lawsuit have taken their name off of it.
A defamation trial pitting Sarah Palin against the New York Times opens today, over a 2017 editorial which the former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential pick says falsely linked her to a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
On the right, many hope Palin’s case will lead to a revision of the high standard for proving libel of US public figures – an aim cherished by Donald Trump among others.
Freedom of the press is enshrined in the first amendment to the US constitution, ratified in 1791. The supreme court adopted the “actual malice” standard, which makes it difficult for public figures to win libel lawsuits, in 1964, in the landmark New York Times v Sullivan decision.
Two justices on the current, conservative-dominated supreme court, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, have suggested revisiting that standard and Palin has signaled that she will challenge the Sullivan precedent on appeal if she loses at trial.
Most observers expect her to lose, particularly because the paper so swiftly acknowledged its error. But the Times faces an embarrassing few days in court.
Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has stoked outrage by predicting members of the committee investigating the Capitol attack will be imprisoned if Republicans retake the chamber this year.
One of two Republicans on the committee, Liz Cheney, said: “A former speaker of the House is threatening jail time for members of Congress who are investigating the violent attack on our Capitol and our constitution. This is what it looks like when the rule of law unravels.”
Gingrich made his name with scorched-earth opposition to Bill Clinton in the 1990s and ran for the Republican nomination in 2012. He is now a prominent supporter of Donald Trump, rightwing gadfly and adviser to House Republican leaders. He made his prediction on Fox News, for which he is a contributor.
Calling the members of the 6 January committee “wolves [who] are going to find out that they’re now sheep”, he said that if Republicans take Congress in November, “this is all going to come crashing down … they’re the ones who in fact, I think, face a real risk of jail for the kinds of laws they’re breaking”.
The 6 January committee has recommended criminal charges for the former White House adviser Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows, Trump’s final chief of staff. Both refused to comply with subpoenas.
Bannon has pleaded not guilty to contempt of Congress, a charge that carries a year in jail, with a trial set for the summer. The Department of Justice has not acted regarding Meadows.
Gingrich said: “You have, both with Attorney General [Merrick] Garland and this select committee on 6 January, people who have run amok … they’re running over people’s civil liberties.
“And what they need to understand is on 4 January next year, you’re going to have a Republican majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate. And all these people who have been so tough, and so mean, and so nasty are going to be delivered subpoenas for every document, every conversation, every tweet, every email.”
Gingrich also said the committee was “basically a lynch mob”.
Another member of the committee, the Democrat Zoe Lofgren, told CNN Gingrich’s comments were “just bizarre. I think Newt has really lost it. You know, it leaves me speechless.”
Alluding to Trump’s attempt to overturn his defeat in part through the Capitol putsch, Lofgren added: “I mean, unless he is assuming that the government does get overthrown and there’s no system of justice.”
Biden mulls options including troop deployments as Ukraine crisis deepens
Greetings, live blog readers. Happy Monday.
With tensions mounting at the Ukraine border amid fears of a Russian invasion, Joe Biden is considering deploying several thousand US troops, in addition to warships and aircraft, as Nato reinforces its eastern borders with land, sea and air forces.
Administration officials told the New York Times of a Pentagon presentation at Camp David this weekend that included sending 1,000 to 5,000 troops to Eastern European countries.
Biden is expected to make a decision early this week. Antony Blinken, Biden’s secretary of state, has already warned that the US and its allies will deliver a “swift, severe and united response” if Russia invades Ukraine. The US and the UK have withdrawn diplomats’ families from Ukraine embassies ahead of a possible invasion.
This comes after the UK Foreign Office claimed it had exposed evidence of a plot to install a pro-Moscow government in Ukraine.