July 3, 2020

Tucker Carlson for president? It's not inconceivable.

According to Politico, a number of Republican Party insiders are hoping the Fox News host will "parlay his TV perch into a run for president in 2024," believing he could be the next-generation leader of Trumpism. It's undeniable that Carlson has a massive platform from which he could make his pitch. As Politico reports, Tucker Carlson Tonight is the most watched cable news program in history, and Luke Thompson, a Republican strategist who worked for Jeb Bush's super PAC in 2016, told Politico this would make him a "formidable" candidate. But if he were to become the nominee, a "debate over the future of the party" would erupt, Politico says, about "whether Trump was an aberration or a party-realigning disrupter — a fight that will be all the fiercer if Trump loses in November."

Carlson's high ratings come alongside an advertiser exodus following his on-air claim that the Black Lives Matter movement "is definitely not about Black lives. Remember that when they come for you, and at this rate, they will." His ability to repeatedly withstand a barrage of backlash seems to be one of his selling points for the Republican base. "What he's been saying speaks for a lot of people, and it's basically not expressed or serviced by most Republican politicians," Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative National Review, told Politico. "There's a lot to be said for being fearless, and he is, while Republican politicians, as a breed, are not."

The question, though, is: Would Carlson run? According to one former top political aide to Trump, Carlson is "disgusted" with politicians, so he probably won't be interested in becoming one. He also has zero political experience under his belt, but as Lowry notes: "Political experience matters less than it once did."

Read more at Politico. Jessica Hullinger

2:59 a.m.

Britain's medicine and health-care regulator, the MHRA, gave emergency approval Wednesday for the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech, making the U.K. the first country to green-light the promising vaccine for mass rollout. Britain has already ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, or enough to inoculate 20 million people, and the first doses should arrive in the coming days. "Help is on its way," Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: "The NHS stands ready to start vaccinating early next week."

Pfizer and fellow drugmaker Moderna have reported a 95 percent effectiveness rate for their vaccines from large human clinical trials. Both vaccines use a new approach, relying on messenger RNA, or mRNA, to teach the body how to fight off the new coronavirus. Moderna has also applied for emergency use authorization in Britain and the U.S., and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve both vaccines in the next two or three weeks. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows summoned FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to the West Wing on Tuesday to explain why the FDA hasn't already approved Pfizer's vaccine, Axios reports. Peter Weber

2:36 a.m.

Attorney General William Barr revealed Tuesday that he had secretly given U.S. Attorney John Durham special counsel status in October, explaining that the designation assured Durham and his team "that they could complete their work, without regard to the outcome of the election." The decision was news to President Trump, The New York Times reports. But Trump wasn't satisfied, Axios adds.

Trump and his allies are "piling extreme pressure" on Barr to release Durham's findings on the FBI's investigation of Trump and Russia, and they view Durham's special counsel designation "as a smokescreen to forestall the release of the so-called Durham report, which senior administration officials believe is already complete," Axios says. "Trump has been ranting about the delay behind the scenes and mused privately about replacing Barr with somebody who will expedite the process."

Democrats view Durham's criminal investigation as motivated entirely by politics and revenge, and Barr's move was widely seen as a way to ensure it will continue after President-elect Joe Biden takes office Jan. 20. Trump abruptly pushed out all U.S. attorneys appointed by his predecessor soon after he took office, but special counsels can only be removed by an attorney general under a narrow set of documented criteria. Barr used a work-around with Durham, though, and that would apparently make it much easier for Biden to end the investigation.

A Justice Department official told The Washington Examiner that "attorneys general have often appointed prosecutors to act as special investigators, either under the special counsel regulations or outside them," so Durham's appointment wasn't so unusual. But because Durham, the current U.S. attorney for Connecticut, "was not appointed pursuant to the special counsel regulation, it is possible the next attorney general could rescind Mr. Barr's directive that special counsel rules would apply to him, then end his inquiry without any finding of misconduct," the Times reports.

"I suppose the calculation is that there is a political cost" for doing so, Duke University law professor Samuel Buell told the Times. But Barr's move is an "odd" use of the special counsel provision. Peter Weber

12:58 a.m.

President Trump threatened to veto a $740 billion defense spending bill if it doesn't repeal Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, an unrelated provision that grants broad legal immunity to social media and other internet sites. Unless the "dangerous and unfair Section 230" is "completely terminated," Trump said on Twitter, he will "unequivocally veto" the legislation. Section 230, which shields social media companies from legal liability for user content posted on their sites, is considered a foundational provision of the internet.

Congress has passed the National Defense Authorization Act with bipartisan support for 59 years in a row, and "presidents from both parties have always signed them, even after issuing veto threats," The Wall Street Journal notes. "The Senate version passed 86-14, and the House version passed 295-125, more than the two-thirds supermajority needed to override a potential veto." Negotiators are currently working out the differences so the legislation can be cleared in the next few weeks. Trump has already threatened to veto this same bill over a provision to rename military bases honoring Confederate officers.

There is bipartisan support to reform Section 230, though each party objects to different ways it affects social media. Democrats say Facebook, Twitter, and other sites should do more to weed out disinformation and dangerous content, while Trump has complained baselessly that the sites censor conservatives. The NDAA authorizes $740 billion in Pentagon and Energy Department spending, including a 3 percent raise for U.S. troops, and guides Pentagon policy decisions.

Besides passing the NDAA, Congress hopes to push through a spending bill to keep the government running and a COVID-19 relief package before adjourning for the year. Peter Weber

December 1, 2020

The U.S. was investigating a potential "bribery-for-pardon" scheme in involving a federal convict, two intermediaries, and White House officials as recently as August, a federal judge in Washington revealed in a court filing Tuesday.

The 18-page document, from Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell and dated Aug. 28,, was heavily redacted, revealing none of the people involved. But it did indicate that federal prosecutors were investigating whether the intermediaries secretly lobbied White House officials for a pardon or commuted sentence, and a parallel scheme in which a pardon or "reprieve of sentence" would be traded for a potential political contribution. The convict apparently seeking clemency was imprisoned as recently as this summer.

Only the president has the power to pardon federal crimes, but there is no indication President Trump was aware of the schemes. "No government official was or is currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in this filing," a Justice Department official told The Washington Post.

The document Howell released involved her approving a request from investigators to read certain emails connected to the scheme, ruling they were not protected by attorney-client privilege. Whatever the investigation entailed, the document shows that 50 electronic devices, including laptops and iPads, were seized. The status of the investigation is unclear. Peter Weber

December 1, 2020

It's official: Salesforce has unveiled plans to acquire Slack in a $27.7 billion deal.

The company on Tuesday announced the Slack acquisition, the biggest deal since Salesforce's founding, The New York Times reported. The news came after The Wall Street Journal reported that the deal for the software company was in advanced discussions.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff described the purchase of Slack as "a match made in heaven," while Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield called this the "most strategic combination in the history of software."

Salesforce's acquisition of Slack will still need to receive approval from regulators and Slack shareholders, the Journal notes. But should it go through, the Journal writes that it would "turn the combined company into one of the biggest players in the competitive business-software market." Slack has said there has been a "significant increase in demand and usage" due to increased working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the three months that ended in October, its revenue rose 39 percent, the Times reports.

But analysts note this deal comes as Slack "faces heavy competition from Microsoft's Teams product," The Washington Post reports.

"When you're a scrappy start-up going against an 800-pound gorilla that's one of the most well-capitalized companies in existence, it's tough to compete," analyst Logan Purk told the Times. "This is more or less saying, 'We can't compete with Microsoft Teams anymore. We need more firepower.'" Brendan Morrow

December 1, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will advise health care workers and long-term care facility residents receive COVID-19 vaccinations first, if and when Food and Drug Administration approval is granted.

The decision was reached by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which is advising the CDC on vaccine distribution practices. As vaccine approval for emergency use becomes increasingly likely in the coming weeks, the panel voted 13-1 in favor of a motion elevating two groups to the front of the line. Health care workers are frequently exposed to the virus and are essential to keeping hospitals running throughout the pandemic, while nursing homes have faced some of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks across the country.

The lone vote against the priority recommendation came from Dr. Helen Kiepp Talbot, who clarified that she has no reservations about health care workers receiving the vaccines, but is concerned there is not enough data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine candidates nearing approval in older adults, who are more likely to live in long-term care facilities. Tim O'Donnell

December 1, 2020

President Trump's campaign lawyers have an unexpected new enemy.

Attorney General William Barr took a surprising step away from Trump on Tuesday, telling The Associated Press the Justice Department has so far not found any major instances of voter fraud. Trump's legal team, including Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, quickly fired back, claiming Barr just doesn't have enough evidence to clear every fraud allegation.

"With all due respect to the attorney general, there hasn't been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation" into the allegations of voter fraud Trump's team has gathered. If Barr just looked at Giuliani's "many witnesses" and "audited" some voting machines, the legal team insists he'd find some fraud; Election officials across the U.S. say there's been no evidence of widespread fraud that would change the election outcome.

In an interview with AP, Barr said the department had "not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome" in the presidential election last month. President-elect Joe Biden beat Trump, but the president and most of his team has yet to acknowledge that, levying legal challenges and furthering conspiracy theories in a longshot attempt to overturn the election results. Judges have almost universally knocked down the Trump campaign's challenges and voter fraud allegations. Kathryn Krawczyk

See More Speed Reads