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Is COVID-19 Why Florida Has About 1300 More Pneumonia Deaths This Season Than Average Over Previous Five?

Earlier today, I saw this tweet that suggests a huge excess of pneumonia deaths in Florida this year compared to previous years. The data in the tweet suggested that Florida has around 4000 more pneumonia deaths this year than the average for the previous five years. That sounded a little high to me, as I have spent a lot of time over the past few months poring through the data at this CDC site on weekly numbers for pneumonia and influenza deaths. Looking deeper into the tweet, it appeared to depend on a reddit post and it had a low number for Florida reported COVID-19 deaths, so it was necessary to go back to original sources.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent several hours downloading data from the CDC national database you can access at the link above and picking out just the Florida data to paste into another spreadsheet. I chose a poor strategy that day, as I only looked at the total pneumonia and influenza deaths even though the data are broken down into both categories. I few days later, I realized that I needed to go back into the data and look only at pneumonia deaths, as it seems likely that there could be quite a few deaths attributed to pneumonia in patients who were never tested for COVID-19. Also, flu deaths vary widely from year to year depending on the severity of the outbreaks and the effectiveness of that year’s vaccine, so that total number has a lot of noise year to year. Seeing the tweet today prompted me to go back and download the data again so that the 2019-2020 data would be more up to date.

As downloaded today, there are data in the spreadsheet through week number 20 for each state. For Florida, the week 20 numbers appear to be only partial totals, so for this analysis, I only went through week 19 of 2020. Each season in the data begins with week 40 of the year (so this year’s data starts at week 40 of 2019). However, since the COVID-19 outbreak is generally considered to have started in earnest in mid- to late November of 2019, I included only the last four weeks of 2019 with the first 19 weeks of 2020. I then found the totals for the same time period in each of the five previous seasons.

The totals for pneumonia deaths are:

2014-2015                 5510

2015-2016                 5214

2016-2017                 5540

2017-2018                 5792

2018-2019                 5374

2019-2020                 6772

One of these things is not like the others. The average total for the previous five years is 5486 pneumonia deaths for weeks 49 through week 19 of each season. That means that 2019-2020 has 1286 more deaths from pneumonia than the average for that period in the previous five seasons. The Florida COVID-19 dashboard right now is showing 2319 deaths from the virus. I would suggest that number is more like 3605 when the excess pneumonia deaths are included. Note also that there may well be other deaths due to the virus in patients who were not tested but died due to the other types of pathology seen by the virus that don’t manifest directly as pneumonia.

Last week, I asked how many COVID-19 deaths Ron DeSantis is hiding. We can now account for about 1300 and it seems likely there may well be more.

 

 

How Many COVID-19 Deaths Is Ron DeSantis Hiding?

I had been told a couple of days ago, either here in comments or on Twitter, that Ron DeSantis had put his cronies in charge of the Florida database for COVID-19 cases and deaths. I hadn’t followed up on that, but then on Twitter last night i learned that the scientist who had been in charge of the site was fired back on May 1.  She spoke last night with a West Palm Beach TV station which broke the blockbuster story of why she was fired:

Rebekah Jones said in an email to CBS12 News that her removal was “not voluntary” and that she was removed from her position because she was ordered to censor some data, but refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

Jones made the announcement May 5 in a farewell email to researchers and other members of the public who had signed up to receive updates on the data portal, according to Florida Today. She said that for “reasons beyond my division’s control,” her office is no longer managing the dashboard, involved in its publication, fixing errors or answering any questions.

Wow. Note that DeSantis “reopened” Florida on May 4. So the timing here, coupled with Jones saying she was ordered to change or censor data, shows a clear intent by DeSantis to game the numbers and create the false impression that the reopening would be a success. Just how stupid can a governor be?

Well, in his case, pretty stupid. He can’t even figure out how to wear a mask:

So who would trust this clown, compared to the scientist he fired? Here she is in a photo she supplied to Florida Today:

Near the end of the story filed last night, Jones notes that the Florida database still hasn’t been repaired. Here’s what I got when I checked at 1:40 this afternoon (refreshing 15 minutes later gave a plot for cases but not deaths, so there may be some “repair” work underway as I write this; and both plots were visible at 2:50):

There are big holes where the plots of new cases by day and deaths by date of death for the last 30 days would show up. Back on May 5, when Jones talked to Florida Today about her firing (but without mentioning the orders to censor data), Jones noted that near the end of her time in the job, the database suddenly started to malfunction:

Late last Friday, the architect and manager of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard — praised by White House officials for its accessibility — announced that she had been removed from her post, causing outcry from independent researchers now worried about government censorship.

The dashboard has been a one-stop shop for researchers, the media and the public to access and download tables of COVID-19 cases, testing and death data to analyze freely. It had been widely hailed as a shining example of transparency and accessibility.

But over the last few weeks it had “crashed” and gone offline; data has gone missing without explanation and access to the underlying data sheets has become increasingly difficult.

The site was created by a team of Florida Department of Health data scientists and public health officers headed by Rebekah Jones. She announced last week her removal as of May 5 in a heartfelt farewell note emailed to researchers and other members of the public who had signed up to receive updates on the data portal.

Citing “reasons beyond my division’s control,” Jones said her office is no longer managing the dashboard, is no longer involved in publication, fixing errors or answering questions “in any shape or form.”

Note that the story from the West Palm Beach TV station says Jones announced her firing on May 5, but this Florida Today story makes it clear she informed people on May 1 that she was being removed May 5. Since she speaks of the database malfunctioning at the time of her firing, for the purposes of discussion here I consider May 1 the firing date and the time when fuckstickery of the database began.  With today being May 19, it’s clear that the database has been malfunctioning for nearly three weeks at a minimum.

The big problem, though, is that the plot for deaths magically starts dropping right after Jones was fired. I captured this version of the death plot around 9 this morning and noted the date Jones was fired (did she insert a parting shot of a bit more reality on her last day of May 4?):

There should be one partial note of caution here even though it’s really hard not to get the impression death numbers are being artificially reduced. There is a note on the death graph that I’m pretty sure popped up fairly recently and may well have been added around the time of Jones’ departure. The note says that deaths are now counted on the day of death rather than on the day the report is entered into the database. Since it can take a while for deaths to be reported depending on the county involved, the last few days in the plot can be expected to show increases as more death reports get entered into the system. But it has been long enough now since Jones was removed for it to be clear that there is a discontinuity in the plot that coincides precisely with her removal.

I haven’t included a plot of cases by day, but I also find the current data there (site is here) not believable. With the partial reopening of the state on May 4, it’s simply incomprehensible that the number of new cases per day is holding steady rather than increasing.

Will DeSantis ever face consequences for this egregious breach of public trust? Odds aren’t good. The Republican Party in Florida has a long tradition of doing whatever it pleases, rules and laws be damned. Just look at how they over-ruled the will of the people on the initiative overwhelmingly passed in 2018 to restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences. It would seem that firing a scientist because she refused to censor data and mislead the public on a life or death matter would be the end of a normal political career. But in Florida, there is no limit to how criminal Republican officeholders can be.

WaPo Should Go to Columbus To Find Out How Economy Will Reopen, Not Perpetuate Trump’s Myths about It

I complained last Friday about a long WaPo story describing how Trump thinks he’ll reopen the economy next month that, in its ninth paragraph, undermines the entire premise of the story by noting that, “The White House cannot unilaterally reopen the country.” The same paragraph falsely claims that states are following CDC guidelines, when the official social distancing guidelines fall far short of what most governors have now imposed.

In spite of all the focus this week on the fact that Trump doesn’t have that authority, WaPo continues to write stories like that.

This story, naming a rogue’s gallery of discredited economists (Hank Paulson, Stephen Moore, and Arthur Laffer) who are indulging Trump’s delusions about reopening immediately, admits in paragraph 8 that, “governors and mayors have the authority to impose or lift stay-at-home orders and to permit businesses and schools in their localities to reopen.” And this story, talking about a CDC/FEMA “plan” to start opening parts of the economy by geography (which is obviously just a slide show written to meet someone’s demand for a May 1 date, one that is not temporally possible), never actually informs readers that Trump has no authority to implement this plan. Instead, it just repeats Trump false claims to have that authority from yesterday’s presser unchallenged.

“The plans to reopen the country are close to being finalized,” Trump said at a White House briefing Tuesday.

He said he planned to speak with all 50 governors “very shortly” and would then begin authorizing individual governors to implement “a very powerful reopening plan” at a specific time and date for each state.

He said roughly 20 states have avoided the crippling outbreaks that have affected others, and he hinted that some could begin restarting their economies even before May 1.

“We think we’re going to be able to get them open very quickly,” Trump said.

He added: “We will hold the governors accountable. But again, we’re going to be working with them to make sure it works very well.”

WaPo did publish this story yesterday in which they admitted in the very first paragraph that Trump can’t reopen the economy.

President Trump’s inaccurate assertion that he has “total” authority to reopen a nation shuttered by the coronavirus is igniting a fresh challenge from governors scrambling to manage their states and highlighting a Republican Party reluctant to defy a president who has relished pushing the boundaries of executive power.

But it’s a horse race story that attempts to force Republicans to criticize Trump’s ridiculous comments, not a story claiming to report on how the economy will reopen. If the WaPo, in its stories purporting to describe how Trump will reopen the economy, only report that he can’t do so in asides buried deep in those stories, why would we expect Republicans to note how ridiculous the claim is?

My working theory is that WaPo continues to get suckered into reporting extensively on Trump efforts that are a sidelight to the story of how the economy will reopen because they have so many journalists with good sources in DC, but far fewer in the capitals of the states that actually matter. Gavin Newsom, Andrew Cuomo, John Bel Edwards, and Gretchen Whitmer have some of the hardest decisions to make (and Republicans’ aggressive efforts to put Whitmer on the defensive here in Michigan is an interesting political story). The possibility that Gregg Abbott, Ron DeSantis, and (to a lesser degree) Tate Reeves will undercut the efforts of mayors in their states by overriding their city-wide shut-down orders in an attempt to reopen their states is a possibility worth anticipating, especially since that’s one point of leverage Trump already appears to be working (I think Brian Kemp would normally be included here but suspect he has realized he has a real problem on his hands).

But the real story about how the country will reopen can likely be found in Columbus, OH, Annapolis, MD, and Boston, MA, where Republican governors who’ve been working closely with — and to a large extent, leading — their Democratic neighbors are pursuing their own path.

Because Ohio’s Mike DeWine was quoted in several of yesterday’s stories saying something that was far less substantive than he manages on Twitter, I went back to see what WaPo has reported on him. On Monday, they published this interview between WaPo’s superb horse race politics reporter, Bob Costa, and DeWine. It offers key lessons, not just about what DeWine is thinking, but also about why Costa (who, again, is a superb reporter) didn’t elicit the key policy questions that elsewhere WaPo seems to believe is the key story.

DeWine made six key policy points:

States and localities need direct payments

Three times, DeWine emphasized the importance of direct payments to states and localities so they can deal with their budgetary shortfalls. After that, Costa asked DeWine specifically about Nancy Pelosi’s fight with Republicans to do just that (which seemed like an unnecessary attempt to get DeWine to contradict Republicans). DeWine pretended not to know what was in Pelosi’s bill, but repeated, a fourth time, that states and localities need direct payments.

MR. COSTA: Final question, Governor. Really appreciate your time. I know you’re busy. There is a big issue here in Washington. Speaker Pelosi wants 250 billion on top of the 250 billion wanted by Senate Republicans for small business expansion of that loan program that was part of phase three legislation. Where do you come down on how urgent it is to get a deal done in Washington? What specifically would you like to see in that agreement if it does come to be this week in Washington?

MR. DEWINE: Well, look, I’ve not looked at everything that’s in those respective bills. What I mentioned earlier on is important. It’s important that local government have the money that they can actually run local government. It’s important that the state be able to supply money for education. I mean, if you ask me what I’m worried about at the state level, I’m worried about that we’re not going to have enough money to provide K-12, our local schools, 630-some schools district in the state of Ohio with money. So, you know, I’m concerned about that. And so the federal government being able to help in that area would certainly be very, very, very helpful and very important to us.

In the interview as a whole, DeWine avoided antagonizing Trump and other Republicans. But on this issue, he clearly backs the policy that Democrats are pushing.

States — and corporations — need testing

Unsurprisingly, DeWine emphasized the import of testing to reopening the economy. But he also suggested that corporations are also thinking along these lines:

The other thing that we have not talked about here but I know is on the minds of governors, and certainly on my mind, is testing, how extensive can we have testing, how extensive are we going to be able to do tracing, and do that maybe more–in a more sophisticated way. So, those are things that private employers are looking at. I talked to a person who has a large retail business today, a nationwide company, and these were the things that he was talking to me about that they’re already looking at. Irrespective of what the state does, they’re looking at these things: how are they going to protect their workers, how are they going to protect their customers, how are they going to assure their customers that when they enter their store, you know, they’re going to be in a safe situation.

The nationwide retailer here may be Kroger, which is headquartered in Cincinnati and plays a critical role in the country’s food supply chain. But this is a key insight (and one that accords with what I’m hearing in Michigan). Corporations are going to play a key role in the public health process here, testing their employees and contact tracing in an effort to avoid having to shut down stores. This is one reason this won’t work regionally, because if (say) Kroger can solve this, then it will have an impact across the country.

Of course, the testing isn’t there yet, which is why Trump’s claims to be reopening the economy should be reported as pure fantasy and an attempt to dodge the federal role in testing.

There won’t be a Midwestern task force but there will be cooperation

Because the West Coast states and some Northeastern ones set up task forces this week, Costa asked DeWine whether there would be a Midwestern one. DeWine suggested it won’t be formal, but there will be cooperation.

MR. COSTA: Is it Ohio alone? You saw the news a few hours ago. The governors in the Northeast have formed a taskforce to try to figure out decisions in a collective way. Do you envision Ohio making decisions about Ohio, and Ohio only, or could you see a Midwestern collection of governors in a taskforce in the coming days?

MR. DEWINE: Well, I don’t know if it’s going to be a formal task force or not, but I can tell you that I talk to the governors that surround Ohio quite frequently. I was on the phone, I guess it was Saturday night, or Friday night with the governors of Kentucky and Indiana. I talked to the Michigan governor quite a bit, and so West Virginia. So, we certainly share ideas, and we collaborate in that sense because our states are generally in pretty much the same shape. Michigan certainly has been harder hit with–in Detroit, but we’re all kind of going through it in real time at about the same time period. So that consultation and sharing of ideas is going to continue and is very important.

This cooperation has been clear for some time (and because of the way traffic works, it is necessary). If Midwesterners do anything, especially Michiganders, they’re going to drive through another states, often as not on Interstates 70, 71, 75, 80, and 90 through Ohio. The auto industry, with a supply chain that links the region with factories in Mexico and Asia, sprawls across the region (although also some key southern states, notably Alabama). Plus, the states demographically blend into one another, with the same kind of challenges tied to Appalachia or Rust Belt health issues.

It is unsurprising (and, in fact, public) that this cooperation exists. But it’s also a far more important story to how the country will reopen than what Trump says in a presser.

In the DeWine’s Midwest, COVID-19 is a bipartisan issue

DeWine refused Costa’s invitation to antagonize Trump and acknowledged his cooperation with his neighbors, including Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Andy Beshear. In addition, he made several other nods to bipartisanship.

As he always does, he emphasized the import of his Health Direct Amy Acton, who worked with Obama.

MR. COSTA: Your health director, Amy Acton, she’s been at your side since day one, was part of your decision to have an early response to the coronavirus pandemic. You’ve seen the retweet by President Trump. You’ve seen the news conferences. Dr. Fauci has been there. There’s now this chatter among some of the President’s allies, fire Fauci. Would you advise the President against considering that idea?

MR. DEWINE: Well, I don’t give the President advice?

MR. COSTA: Why not? You’re a governor in a major state.

MR. DEWINE: Look, I think the doctor’s done a good job, and I think he has a relationship with the American people. You know, Dr. Acton in Ohio has established really a relationship with the people of the state. And when I picked her, you know, she was the last member of my cabinet to pick, and I was going to be very, very careful of who I picked for that position. I wanted someone who had a background in public health, who was a medical doctor, but I also wanted someone with a passion to do it and someone who had an ability really to communicate with the people. And I made that decision having absolutely no idea that we were going to be dealing with this horrible coronavirus.

But that is important, the ability to communicate and talk to people. And I kind of jokingly tell people that, you know, I figured since Dr. Acton could explain it to me, if she could explain it to me, then she will have no trouble explaining it to the people of the state. So, but she has been by my side, and I’ve relied on her and other medical advice, you know, as we’ve gone through this. As we look to come out, we’ve put together a business group also to go along with our medical advice to help us as we move forward.

And he applauded the work of both Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown (and, not by name, the entire Congressional delegation).

You know, our two senators in our congressional delegation have done a very, very good job, Rob Portman, Sherrod Brown and the members of the House of Representatives, both Democrat and Republican. So, we work with them very closely just like we work with our local mayors. So that collaboration is important. We appreciate what they’ve done.

This is not a very sexy story in today’s DC, and it totally contrasts with Trump’s efforts to make COVID response into a series of transactions that benefit him, personally, but unlike the West Coast and Northeast coalitions of blue states, COVID in the Midwest is necessarily bipartisan, even if Republicans in KY, OH, and MI are focusing their efforts on challenging such bipartisanship in these states.

That doesn’t mean DeWine is conceding the election — he dodged a question about mail-in voting (though in part by repeatedly pointing out that no-excuse absentee voting makes that possible without more legislation). But DeWine is doing a lot to retain the ability to work in bipartisan fashion on COVID response.

DeWine doesn’t see reopening working like Trump wants it to

DeWine stated that “I don’t know that [Ohio’s reopening is] going to be geographical phases.” Trump’s entire “plan” is premised on such a geographical approach (and Stephen Moore, who’s not an epidemiologist, anticipates it rolling out by zip code). It seems to me an alternative approach — especially at the state level (though even at the national level if we had someone competent who believed in government) — would be to first shore up essential services like health care and food supply chain, and then slowly roll out each less essential part of the economy after we can prove the ability to do the former safely. In any case, I’d love to know more about what DeWine has in mind.

DeWine also said it’s not going to work the way “some people” think, with everything reopening all the way.

I think it’s not going to be coming back like some people think. And part of my job, I think, is to explain to the people of Ohio that we’re really not going to be all the way back–I said this today at our press conference–we’re not going to be all the way back until we have a vaccine that is available to everyone in the state.

[snip]

[I]t’s particularly dangerous to people with medical conditions, people over 60, over 65, 70, and people are going to have to be exceedingly careful. And some people are going to have to be more careful, frankly, than other people are.

This is consistent with what Anthony Fauci has said: we’re going to stop shaking hands, possibly forever. And, for seniors and those with pre-existing conditions, it will take a lot longer to get back to normal.

Prisons and nursing homes present key challenges

During the interview, Costa passed on a question about prisons from an Ohioan. DeWine responded by discussing prisons and nursing homes in the same way, as populations in which you can’t social distance.

MR. DEWINE: Well, we are releasing people and we are going to continue to look and see who we frankly feel safe in releasing. You know, these are not easy calls. They’re not easy calls because, you know, we don’t want to really turn back the sex offenders and murderers and others. But there are other people there.

For example, we just made a decision to–there’s an Ohio law provision which says that the director of prisons, if there is overcrowding, can release people within 120 days of their sentence ending. In other words, people who would have gotten out anyway within the next 120 days. We came with a whole group that we have recommended to be released. The legislative committee will look at that tomorrow, and I expect that, you know, they will be released. But we are continuing to look at that. We’re doing very significant testing in the prisons that have COVID-19, Marion Prison and our Circleville Prison. So, we are very, very focused on it.

And, you know, if you ask me of the things we worry about, at this stage of this epidemic, it’s any kind of congregation. Our nursing homes, we have put together a strike force to work with our nursing homes. But we’re very concerned about them. We’re concerned about our prisons. And any time that we’ve got people, a lot of people–a lot of people together where distancing is difficult, we have to worry about and should.

This has been an important point that — while Bill Barr has been making at times stumbling efforts to decarcerate (Josh Gerstein has been covering this closely) — hasn’t gotten sustained focus federally. Indeed, the federal government is not tracking nursing home outbreaks, at least not publicly.

You can have essential workers (including prison guards and nursing home workers) get back to work all you want, but each of these facilities has the ability to seed a new cluster of cases, not just within a prison or nursing home, but in the surrounding communities. And any head of government that is thinking seriously about how to reopen the economy needs to have a plan in place for that. Donald Trump doesn’t have one. Mike DeWine is at least working on it.

The Washington Post either thinks it’s really important to tell their readers how the country will reopen or they’ve been snookered by Trump’s aides into perpetuating a myth that that process will be led by the White House. If it’s the latter, that strand of reporting (which is separate from a great deal of good WaPo journalism on how Trump fucked up) is just as negligent as Trump’s own actions are, because such stories misinform about how this will work. If it’s the former, then WaPo would do well to send some journalists to work full time in Columbus, Annapolis, and Boston, or better yet, bring on some laid off reporters who know how those state houses really work. Because a handful of key Republican governors are the ones who’ll be making some of the most important decisions about how the country will reopen.

Update: As noted above, I named Larry Hogan as another of the GOP Governors where journalists should look to understand how the economy will really reopen. Hogan has just rolled out his plan. Unlike Trump’s plan, Hogan’s includes testing and means to limit transmission. It also does not yet include a date (not least, because as Hogan admits, the DC-Maryland-Virginia region still has a growing caseload.

Update: In spite of what DeWine said earlier this week, the Midwest just formed a pact. Maybe yesterday’s stupid protests in KY, OH, and MI forced this issue?

Mark Meadows and the Potemkin Shut-Downs: Welcome to the April’s Fool White House

I know the White House has been running on Trump’s fumes for so long we’ve forgotten that Chiefs of Staff can exercise real power.

I’d like to suggest two things we’ve seen in the last week may reflect the hand of Mark Meadows.

The first is Monday’s campaign video played in the middle of Trump’s briefing, something Trump said Dan Scavino made inside the White House — a violation of the Hatch Act.

In a mash up of clips and audio that amounted to campaign ad, Trump lashed out at critics and returned to his favorite past time of going after reporters. The video began with a white screen saying “the media minimized the risk from the start.” At one point, it showed news clips of different governors giving kind remarks about the president’s response to the pandemic.

[snip]

When a reporter pressed him about the video resembling a campaign ad, Trump said it was done in the office. “We’re getting fake news and I’d like to have it corrected,” he declared.

The president also claimed that White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino created the video, prompting reporters to question the fact that he had government employees put together what was essentially a campaign advertisement.

There’s nothing that suggests Meadows determined the content of it, but several of the decisions made in the almost two weeks since Meadows has been in place involve merging the White House and the campaign — most notably, the replacement of Stephanie Grisham with his campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

But I also suspect Meadows is behind a far more important strategy on shut-downs, in which Trump allies carry out a Potemkin shut-down, only to reopen quickly, probably in the context of graft as payoff. For this one, there’s explicit evidence in the Bloomberg coverage of his first week: Meadows convinced a number of hold-outs to enact stay-at-home orders.

Meadows has also gotten involved in the administration’s coronavirus response, calling Republican governors who have held out against issuing stay-at-home orders in their states to ask them to implement the policies immediately, according to two people familiar with the calls. The president has said such decisions are up to state leaders and has not publicly criticized those who decline, who are all Republicans.

[snip]

Meadows has also tried to persuade a group of holdout Republican governors that they should issue shelter-in-place orders to help curb the coronavirus outbreak. It isn’t clear if the new chief of staff has Trump’s blessing for the calls. The president has publicly said it is up to governors and local leaders to decide whether stay-at-home orders are appropriate and has declined to criticize the holdouts, all of whom are his political allies.

The governor of one of the holdout states, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, tweeted Wednesday that she’d spoken with Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is a top medical adviser to the president. “Thankfully, he AGREES that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the answer in our state,” Noem wrote.

The tweet, according to one person familiar with the matter, was read by some as a signal to Meadows.

The week that Meadows started, a bunch of Trump flunkies issued stay-at-home orders: Arizona’s Doug Ducey (which was issued before Meadows officially started on April 1 and which extends through April 30), Florida’s Ron DeSantis (issued on April 1 and effective through April 30), Georgia’s Brian Kemp (which he has already extended through April 30), Mississippi’s Tate Reeves (imposed April 1, effective April 3, effective through April 20), Missouri’s Mike Parsons (imposed April 3, effective April 6, effective through April 24), South Carolina’s Governor Henry McMaster (imposed April 6, effective April 7, effective until rescinded). On March 31, Texas’ Governor Gregg Abbott issued an order that has been taken as a stay at home order which stops short of that; it remains in effect through April 30.

At least some of these governors, given the timing and the Bloomberg report, were cajoled by incoming Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to do so.

Last Thursday, days after his stay-at-home order, Ron DeSantis started talking about reopening schools in May (to be clear: this shut-down is having the greatest impact on children, especially those who don’t have WiFi at home and rely on schools for other services, like hot lunches). Yesterday, Gregg Abbott told Hannity most states don’t need to wait until May 1 to reopen (even though his own order goes through May 1). And of course, Mississippi and Missouri’s shutdowns don’t even last that long (indeed, they were never long enough to do any good).

So it seems likely that the same governors whom Meadows convinced to impose stay-at-home orders will shortly rescind them, giving Trump the story that he wants, that some of the nation’s biggest states have come through the COVID crisis. In Texas and Florida, in particular, a governor’s recision of a stay-at-home order might supersede those in badly affected cities (and both states are artificially limiting the number of official positive cases, in Texas by not testing likely cases in Houston, and in Florida by playing games with snowbirds.

I also suspect that one reason Mitch McConnell is refusing to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi over the other things she’d like to include in the next COVID relief package — which would include, among other things, $150 billion for state and local governments. McConnell wants to deal with such aid in a fourth aid bill and simply expand the funds available for the Paycheck Protection Program relief for small businesses, which is predictably already running out of money. The obvious reason to do that would be to withhold something that Trump can use as leverage over states and cities to do what he wants, rather than to give funds to them now without strings attached.

Trump believes, the Constitution notwithstanding, that he has either the authority or power to make states reopen. And given that Meadows was involved in getting a handful of states to impose what will amount to shut-downs that don’t appear to be good faith efforts to achieve the goal of shut-downs (though Kemp may have realized he has a bigger problem on his hands than he originally claimed), my suspicion is that those shut-downs were part of a plan to achieve some kind of leverage over reopening the economy.

Trump And Southern Governors Team Up To Kill Republican Voters

The New York Times is out with another set of jaw-dropping cell phone data. This time, the analysis addresses, on a county by county basis, when various areas reduced their average travel below two miles a day. When I saw the map, it immediately looked to me like the map for the 2016 presidential election results. Because the areas where people still had not curtailed travel by March 26 were primarily in the South, I grabbed that section of the map and pulled a similar cut from a map of the 2016 voting results.

There really isn’t much that needs to be added to this, other than to point out that Southern Republican governors, by delaying statewide stay home orders, allowed control to devolve to the county and city level. The small pockets of blue you see in the 2016 election results overlay almost perfectly on the pockets which shut down despite the lack of action by Republican governors. My little island of blue, Alachua County, stands out nicely in north central Florida. Note also how isolated the Birmingham area is in Alabama. This map makes it not at all surprising that Birmingham elected a progressive mayor in 2017.

The correlation is not complete, as I’m a bit stumped by St. John’s county appearing to have shut down travel around the same time as Alachua County. I don’t think they ever did a county shut down, and in fact they didn’t even close their beaches until March 29, after a viral photo showed massive numbers of people on the beach on the St. Johns side of the line at Duval County on March 28.

What the Times map shows, though, is that we have a massive social experiment underway. In the South, red counties have been much slower about curtailing travel (and presumably social contact) than blue counties. According to Marcy’s constantly updated list, Florida, Georgia, Mississipi and Texas have statewide shut down or stay home orders going into effect today or tomorrow. I do hope that the cell phone tracking data collection continues, so that we can see if there even is compliance in these deep red areas. Considering Trump’s early rhetoric and the blather from Fox News, it would not surprise me in the least if compliance is much slower and spottier in these areas.

It almost goes without saying that the longer these areas continue social mixing, the longer the rest of us who are already isolating will have to wait before there can be a consideration of a general easing of restrictions. And, of course, we can sadly expect the death toll to stay high longer in those areas continuing to travel. The end result of this is that Trump’s failure to move quickly on a national stay home order, coupled with red state Republican governors parroting that rhetoric, means that in the South, counties that vote predominantly Republican could see deaths stretching out much farther into the summer than in counties and cities controlled by Democrats who enacted social distancing much earlier.

Update: I am too angry to address this any further than to give this link and a couple of paragraphs:

Hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order Wednesday, he quietly signed a second order to override restrictions put in place by local governments to halt the spread of coronavirus.

The second order states that new state guidelines that take effect Friday morning “shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19.” In other words, local governments cannot place any limitations that would be more strict than the statewide guidelines.

Locally, it means Hillsborough County cannot mandate churches close their doors, a rule that drew national attention and the ire of the local Republican Party after Tampa megachurch The River of Tampa Bay held two Sunday services, leading to the arrest of pastor Rodney Howard Browne.

Seriously though, fuck Ron DeSantis very thoroughly.

Trump’s Promise of Only 100,000 Deaths Assumes We Ignore Him

Court transcribers like Peter Baker and Mike Allen were very impressed with what they deemed a very somber new Donald Trump in yesterday’s COVID rally. At it, Trump warned that we’re going to have a hard two weeks ahead of us (and then, over an hour later, admitted in an offhand comment it might actually be three). He warned there were going to be a lot of deaths — then stepped aside so someone not up for election could explain that means upwards of 100,000 deaths. And so, Trump implored while promising everything would get better in two weeks (or maybe three), we need to follow White House 30 Days to Slow the Spread guidelines to ensure we can limit deaths to 100,000.

There are a couple of major problems with that.

First, those guidelines ask for 30 days, but Trump is just asking for two more weeks (or three, if you manage to watch over an hour of this stuff).

Then, as Dr. Deborah Birx noted repeatedly, that 100,000 best case scenario is based off the IHME projections. But the IMHE projections are based off adopting a more stringent level of social distancing than White House 30 Days to Slow the Spread guidelines — basically, stay at home orders — and they assume those orders will remain in place until the end of May, not April.

To be fair, starting before the time Trump was pushing to reopen the economy, a bunch of governors (most of them Democrats, including people like Jay Inslee, whom Trump has repeatedly attacked) decided to impose more stringent requirements than Trump was recommending. As of yesterday, 29 Governors had stay-at-home measures in place to match the IMHE projections. Republican die-hards Doug Ducey of Arizona and Greg Abbott of Texas even capitulated yesterday and imposed state-wide orders (though on second review Abbott’s is just a non-essential business closure).

But even as this presser was going on, Trump’s closest ally among the governors, Ron DeSantis, was digging in, claiming that the White House task force had never suggested to him that they should impose a stay-at-home.

“I’m in contact with (the White House task force) and I’ve said, are you recommending this?” DeSantis said. “The task force has not recommended that to me. If they do, obviously that would be something that carries a lot of weight with me. If any of those task force folks tell me that we should do X, Y or Z, of course we’re going to consider it. But nobody has said that to me thus far.”

Trump was even asked about this. In a presser where Trump and Birx suggested that New York had been really late in adopting social distancing (that’s not true: Andrew Cuomo imposed an order more stringent than Trump’s current guidelines on March 18, just two days after Trump first called for social distancing, and imposed a full stay-at-home on March 20, effective March 22, which was among the earliest full state shut-downs), Trump and Mike Pence also had nice things to say about DeSantis, with Georgia’s Brian Kemp, the last of the major state governors not have one.

Reporter: I wanted to ask you about individual states issuing stay at home or what do you think, for instance, in Florida, Ron DeSantis has resisted urges to issue one of those, but he said moments ago that if you and the rest of the task force recommended one, that would weigh on him heavily. What sort of circumstances need to be in place for you to make that call and say this is something you should consider?

Trump: Different kind of a state, also great Governor, knows exactly what he’s doing, has a very strong view on it, and we have spoken to Ron. Mike, you want to just to tell him a little bit about that.

Pence: Well, let me echo our appreciation for Governor DeSantis’ leadership in Florida. He’s been taking decisive steps from early on and working closely with our team at the federal level. But let me be very clear on this. The recommendation of our health experts was to take the 15 days to slow the spread, and have the President extend that to 30 days for every American. Now, that being said, we recognize that when you’re dealing with a health crisis in the country, it is locally executed by healthcare workers, but it’s state managed. And so we continue to flow information to state governors. We continue to hear about the data that they’re analyzing and consult with them. But at the President’s direction, the White House Coronavirus Task Force will continue to take the posture that we will defer to state and local health authorities on any measures that they deem appropriate. But for the next 30 days, this is what we believe every American and every state should be doing at a minimum to slow the spread.

Trump: So, unless we see something obviously wrong, we’re going to let these governors good. Now, it’s obviously wrong, I mean, people can make things, they can make a decision that we think is so far out that it’s wrong, we will stop that. But in the case of DeSantis, there’s two thoughts to it, and two very good thoughts to it, and he’s been doing a great job in every respect, so we’ll see what happens. But we only would exercise if we thought somebody was very obviously wrong.

Aside from some rural states and Georgia, just about the only entity in the country not telling DeSantis to shut his state full of especially vulnerable seniors down is the President.

According to the IHME projections (and assuming those aren’t hopelessly optimistic because of a known lag of test results in places like California), we might still make that 100,000 projection if DeSantis imposes a true lockdown within seven days. But he says he’ll only do that if President Trump gives him political cover to do so.

Effectively, then, the allegedly sober President yesterday said we might only have 100,000 deaths if people ignore him and one of his closest political allies, Ron DeSantis.

Update: DeSantis is announcing a stay-at-home order within the hour.

Trump’s Blame the Governors Strategy and Rural Roulette

The other day, I laid out how, even if Trump wants to open the country back up by Easter, at least fifteen governors may prevent him, including OH’s Republican governor Mike DeWine, who in the wake of Trump’s comments tweeted out defending his approach again. The WaPo did a similar piece this morning, confirming that the governors aren’t on board with Trump’s hopes.

That said, it’s clear that Trump plans to pressure governors, not just to do his bidding, but also to demand fealty before he heeds their pleas for help. Ultimately, it may be a bid to blame the upcoming crisis on the governors — disproportionately Democrats — struggling most directly with the crisis.

And that could work.

Though I doubt it, for a number of reasons. As US numbers continue to spike, it’s likely the governors who’ve taken more aggressive stances (with the possible but very notable exception of Andrew Cuomo, largely because of NYC’s density) will be able to show significantly better outcomes than those states that have adopted a hybrid approach, shutting down affected cities but not the entire state, to say nothing of those who were doing nothing (this Politico piece shows what each state has done or, in the case of OK and MS, not done at all).

Right now, almost all the identifiable clusters are in big cities, with both the international travel and density that would lead to early exposure. But some (not all — Detroit is an exception) of those cities actually have relatively low levels of the preexisting conditions that make the population more susceptible to the virus and more likely to have an extreme case if they get it. By contrast, much of America’s more rural areas have a higher instance of those pre-existing conditions. And those rural areas don’t have the hospital beds, much less ICU rooms, to treat seriously ill patients. This map, from an MIT project, shows where current outbreaks are and where particularly vulnerable populations are for the country as a whole.

That means in states where governors have not imposed state-wide stay at home orders, there’s a significant risk that clusters will arise in areas that are less prepared to deal with an outbreak. Effectively, the governors who’ve adopted such an approach are playing “rural roulette,” assuming that a focus on the cities will mitigate the biggest risks, even though the rural areas would be easily overwhelmed even with a smaller number of infections.

And that may have an important dynamic given the election. A number of the key swing states — MN, WI, MI, OH — have instituted full state stay-at-home orders. But many of the rest — PA, FL, NC, CO, GA, TX — have not. And in some of the states where that decision is riskiest — GA, FL, and AZ — there’s a Republican governor adopting those strategies in part to adhere to Trump’s views.

Take Georgia. It has had an outbreak in the more rural southwest part of the state, and municipalities are trying to force Governor Brian Kemp to impose a state-wide shutdown.

But the rest of the state has high incidences of some of the preconditions that make the population particularly susceptible to infection. In other words, while Atlanta has the medical resources (including CDC) to respond to the medical crisis, Georgia is already exhibiting an atypical pattern of rural spread in ways that might make Kemp’s refusal to do a state-wide order particularly costly. (As I was writing this, Kemp announced that schools will remain closed through April 24, which suggests he may be budging on a state-wide approach.)

Then there’s Florida.

Jim here.

As the New York Times notes, the municipalities of Miami and Miami Beach have stay home or shelter in place orders that went into effect this week. Also, Alachua, Leon, Orange and Pinellas Counties have stay home orders. Note that while Orange County holds most of the Orlando metro area, Pinellas is only the St. Petersburg portion of the Tampa Bay region. Tampa is in Hillsborough and the population stays fairly high going north into Pasco and south into Manatee and Sarasota Counties.

A very interesting aspect of the Alachua County stay home order, which went into effect here at 12:01 am Tuesday, is that, as noted in the Gainesville Sun, “Non-medical businesses may only allow one customer inside per 1,000 covered square feet, per an Alachua County emergency order.” Here is the line outside a grocery store Tuesday morning in the Sun’s photo accompanying the article:

As the Tampa Bay Times notes, despite multiple public health authorities pleading for a statewide shutdown, DeSantis has instead been listening almost exclusively to business interests, and their message to him has been exactly the one Fox News and Trump have been flogging:

The Florida Chamber of Commerce have spoken frequently with the governor and his staff, urging him not to take drastic measures that might shut down the state’s economy. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has been asking for ways to help their industries stay afloat.

Their message: don’t let the cure be worse than the disease.

But this is ignored:

Public health experts say that a three-week limit on public movement is required to stop the spread of the virus, and they point to a statistical model that shows that Florida may have only one week to act before hospitals become overwhelmed.

Instead, he hears a Republican telling him just how responsible he is to ignore the public health requests:

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, said DeSantis was under “a tremendous amount of pressure,” but the idea he’s making decisions based on politics — and not public health — was “irresponsible.”

“He’s hearing from a lot of self-interested actors right now who are acting out of self-preservation,” Lee said. “With every executive order, there’s another industry being impacted. Those people are pretty aggressive and pretty vocal, and I think he’s done a pretty good job of ignoring all that.”

What could go wrong?

/Jim

In Florida, on top of the vacation traffic that DeSantis only belatedly shut down, it has significant numbers of seniors and its rural, more vulnerable communities do not have the beds to treat patients in if an outbreak happens (the gray circles here are senior facilities).

To make things worse, DeSantis is not sharing information about which senior facilities have had positive cases, which is likely to lead to clusters outside of locked down areas that lead to community infection. So on top of the rural/urban mix, DeSantis has the likelihood of a breakout at senior facilities.

It’s not just Republican governors who’ve adopted a hybrid strategy though: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf  locked down PA’s major counties without imposing stay at home in their more rural areas. PA is going to experience the community spread of the Eastern Seaboard; it’s a real question what happens as the virus spreads west from the Philadelphia metro area. Plus, it also has a concentration of senior facilities (the family member I’m most worried about now is stuck in one until April 1 fighting several other preexisting conditions).

In bmaz’s Arizona, something that has the possibility of being worse is happening: Republican Governor Doug Ducey is using his authority to prevent cities from imposing more stringent stay at home orders. Thus far, this order strives only to impose a state-wide standard for what amounts to essential businesses (something that has led to confusion even in states with full state-wide orders). Most of his businesses match those adopted by state-wide orders. His order specifically includes golf courses (but not their restaurant facilities) as essential businesses, which I this is reasonable, in AZ, in the name of exercise; bmaz says that the crowds on urban hiking trails, which are also exempted, are far worse. Ducey’s order could override school closures.

Or, the order as a whole could suggest he’s being pushed closer to where other states are, full stay at home orders.

Arizona faces a particular rural challenge, but one Ducey can’t manage: the Native American reservations, which already have cases and which have a real dearth of health resources. But they’re sovereign.

North Carolina’s Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is another person who is having to be pressured to impose a more stringent state-wide stay at home order.

If states can access adequate testing, it’s still unproven whether state-wide or city-by-city orders will be most effective (though the testing is clearly not there yet).

What is clear, however, is that there will be at least as much political pressure on the states that have incomplete stay at home orders as those with statewide orders. And that just happens to include many of the states where November’s election will be decided.

Update: Trump has just sent a letter to governors suggesting the Feds are going to roll out new standards for identifying high and low risk counties, suggesting he wants to adopt the piecemeal shutdowns of the states discussed here. Such a regime will make orders like Doug Ducey and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves’ orders standardizing shut-downs at the state level dangerous in a way they aren’t now, because both cite Trump’s guidelines for protective measures.

Lev Parnas Wouldn’t Reveal Whether He Has Receipts on Bill Barr

I suggested in this post that Lev Parnas appears to believe that how and when he was arrested was an attempt to silence him and force him to take the fall for Trump.

With that in mind, I want to reexamine why he might believe that coming forward now might help his defense.

Obviously, one thing he is trying to do — thus far unsuccessfully — is make it clear that in his actions regarding Ukraine, he is a co-conspirator with the President, Victoria Toensing, Joe DiGenova, and, of course, Rudy Giuliani. That doesn’t mean he didn’t insert himself into that role — by all appearances he did; that’s what his existing indictment is about, how he spent big money to insinuate himself into Trump’s immediate circle.

But since that time, Rudy, Toensing, and DiGenova took actions that might be deemed an overt act of a conspiracy. So did Trump, not least on July 25, 2019, on a call with President Zelensky. Implicating powerful Americans in his influence-peddling is particularly important because, if he can’t do that, he may be exposed to further charges. WSJ reports that, late last year, Parnas’ lawyer Joseph Bondy tried to convince prosecutors that Parnas did not “push[] for the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine at the behest of a Ukrainian official—one of the charges in the campaign finance indictment.” If Parnas can claim that anything he did after some point in 2018 — which otherwise might be deemed to be FARA violations, suborning perjury, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, bribery, and more — he did with the approval of the President of the United States, he might be able to claim that those actions were the official foreign policy of the United States, which would basically be the same claim Trump is using to defend against impeachment.

None of that may matter, however, depending on what SDNY plans or is allowed to do.

After all, Barr had been briefed on this investigation since shortly after he was confirmed, probably indicating that SDNY deemed it a significant matter reflecting the sensitivities of an investigation into political figures including Pete Sessions, some Las Vegas politicians, Ron DeSantis, and the President’s SuperPAC. As such, Barr would receive advance notice before SDNY took steps against any of these political figures (and it would have to happen before pre-election blackouts kick in in August). The Criminal Division would need to approve any search or prosecution of an attorney, covering Rudy, Toensing, and DiGenova. Barr would have to approve any legal process targeting media figures like John Solomon or Sean Hannity, as he would have to approve their treatment as subjects of the investigation. And, just on Monday, Barr stated he will require Attorney General approval before DOJ or FBI can open a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign (and Trump started his reelection campaign almost immediately upon inauguration).

In short, for SDNY to go after any of Parnas’ other known potential co-conspirators, aside from Fruman, Bill Barr or Criminal Division head Brian Benczkowski would have to approve.

That gives Barr veto power over including most of Parnas’ potential co-conspirators in an indictment with him. And he has made no secret that he was brought in to protect Trump from facing any legal consequences for his crimes.

For a time, it looked like Barr believed he couldn’t protect Rudy. But then Rudy loudly announced he had insurance.

“I’ve seen things written like he’s going to throw me under the bus,” Giuliani said in an interview with Fox News’ Ed Henry about the characterizations and comments made in the media about him and his relationship with the president. “When they say that, I say he isn’t, but I have insurance.”

And if Rudy’s actions are beyond legal sanction, then Parnas is left holding the bag, just like Michael Cohen appears to have been for hush payments he made on the orders of Trump. Indeed, while Parnas expressed some interest in cooperating with prosecutors, if prosecutors are barred from pursuing anyone more senior than Parnas, then there’s little for Parnas to offer.

Which brings us to Parnas’ expressed fear of Barr.

In the second installment of his Maddow interview, Parnas claimed he was doing all of this because he fears Barr — or deems Trump too powerful when he is protected by Barr.

PARNAS: The only reason – if you’ll take a look, and you know very well because you have been following, the difference between why Trump is so powerful now, and he wasn’t as powerful in ’16 and ’17 –

MADDOW: Uh-huh.

PARNAS: – he became that powerful when he got William Barr.

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: People are scared. Am I scared? Yes, and because I think I`m more scared of our own Justice Department than of these criminals right now, because, you know, the scariest part is getting locked in some room and being treated as an animal when you did nothing wrong and – or when you’re not, you know, and that’s the tool they’re using.

I mean, just – because they’re trying (ph) to scare me into not talking and with God’s help, and with my lawyer next to me that I know will go bat for me no matter what, with the truth –

MADDOW: Yes.

PARNAS: – and I’m taking a chance.

That comment makes sense whether he believes Barr had him arrested to silence him or even just worries that Barr will protect everyone else. It would even make sense if — as is quite possible — Parnas is working for powerful Russians or Ukrainians who’ve been trying to control Trump by making him vulnerable.

There’s no doubt that abundant evidence can be shown that Barr is not just covering up, but actively obstructing any investigation into Trump’s actions. As I’ve noted repeatedly, Barr or one of his subordinates:

  • Scoped the assessment of the whistleblower complaint to ensure it wasn’t tied to the ongoing investigation of Parnas and Fruman in SDNY
  • Failed to share the whistleblower complaint with the FEC, which (if it were functional) could have imposed civil penalties for the illegal solicitation of campaign help
  • Had OLC invent a bullshit reason to withhold the complaint from Congress
  • Had Kerri Kupec exonerate Trump publicly, reportedly in response to a demand from Trump

Mind you, I’m the only one harping on this obstruction, but they’re still details that deserve more attention.

But that’s not how Parnas is focusing on Barr.

In his interview with Maddow, Parnas twice alleged that he had seen Barr receiving calls from Rudy and others on this stuff. First, he said that Rudy and Toensing and DiGenova had told him they were engaging Barr on this project.

MADDOW:  Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he had spoken to the attorney general specifically about Ukraine?

PARNAS:  Not only Rudy Giuliani. I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all best friends. I mean, Barr was – Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.

He then expanded on that to say, first, that he witnessed conversations between the lawyers and Barr, and then, less convincingly, claimed that “Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it’s impossible.”

PARNAS:  I personally did not speak to him, but I was involved in lots of conversations that Joe diGenova had with him in front of me, Rudy had with him in front of me, and setting up meetings with Dmytro Firtash’s team. I was involved in that.

MADDOW:  Do you know if Rudy Giuliani was ever in contact with Mr. Barr, specifically about the fact that he was trying to get Ukraine to announce these investigations into Joe Biden?

PARNAS:  Oh, absolutely.

MADDOW:  Mr. Barr knew about it?

PARNAS:  Mr. Barr had to have known everything. I mean, it’s impossible.

MADDOW:  Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he had spoken to the attorney general specifically about Ukraine?

PARNAS:  Not only Rudy Giuliani. I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all best friends. I mean, Barr – Barr was – Attorney General Barr was basically on the team.

Claiming “Barr had to have known everything,” while seemingly consistent with the public actions of Barr’s DOJ, is not going to be strong enough to get Barr, personally, in trouble.

Though it is worth noting that (in the same way that Devin Nunes unforgot speaking to Parnas as Parnas started rolling out receipts), CNN reported that Barr had attended a meeting where Rudy pitched the case of the Venezuelan paying for the grift long after he had to have known Rudy was under criminal investigation.

The Giuliani meeting at the Justice Department in September became public months ago in the wake of the arrest of two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were working on Giuliani’s Ukraine mission for the President.

Brian Benczkowski, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, issued a public statement at the time expressing regret for holding the meeting and saying he wouldn’t have met with Trump’s personal lawyer had he known about Giuliani’s role in the ongoing investigation.

But department officials didn’t mention then that Barr was also in the meeting. Barr was at the meeting for about 10 minutes and had dropped in to greet other lawyers who worked alongside Giuliani to represent the Venezuelan businessman, according to a Justice Department official. His presence is also notable because Justice officials have said he was briefed after taking office in February on the investigation by Manhattan federal prosecutors into Parnas and Fruman, and the connections with Giuliani.

There’s almost certain to be more, though. When Maddow asked Parnas whether he knew whether Barr ever spoke with any of the Ukrainians that Parnas was grifting (the question I’ve been asking for some time), he claimed not to recall, even though the entire point of his interview was to talk about how he had come forward out of fear of Bill Barr.

MADDOW:  Do you know if Attorney General William Barr every [sic] spoke with any Ukrainian officials?

PARNAS:  I don’t recall at this moment. I’d have to look at my text messages and see.

There is absolutely no way that Parnas did not know, when he gave this answer, whether he has proof that Barr was personally involved with the three Ukrainians who have spoken to John Durham. None.

Which likely means Parnas does have proof that, contrary to every denial DOJ has issued since they started issuing very carefully crafted denials since September 25, Barr did interact with the corrupt Ukrainians Rudy was teeing up.

Parnas kept receipts, for just the moment when his grifting on behalf of Trump and his associates can do damage. Those receipts might, conservatively, make additional charges from SDNY more difficult. They might even make a cooperation deal possible.

But it sure sounds like something even crazier. Parnas apparently believes Barr makes Trump something he hadn’t been before, protecting Trump in a way he hadn’t been. But that’s only true if Parnas can’t produce proof that Barr is part of this conspiracy.

In other words, whatever the reality, Parnas appears to be dribbling out the receipts implicating the people that SDNY prosecutors work for in an attempt to either increase the chances of cooperating out of his indictment or at least raising the costs of any further charges.

Perhaps a more interesting question is why SDNY prosecutors permitted Parnas to launch this media campaign. They didn’t have to: Parnas got permission to modify the protective order on this stuff so he could release it, and they may have had to question Robert Hyde earlier than they otherwise intended to because of the publicity surrounding Parnas’ texts with Hyde. SDNY might be doing it to encourage a criminal target to run his mouth and say something incriminating. They might have done it for counterintelligence reasons, to see who responded to this media campaign. But it’s also possible that SDNY is happy for Parnas to expand the possible scope of their own investigation by making it harder for Barr to protect Rudy and others.

The suspense, though, has to do with that non-committal answer Parnas gave about whether he has any texts directly implicating the Attorney General of the United States. A defendant being prosecuted by the Department of Justice was asked whether he had proof that the top law enforcement officer in the country was personally implicated in his corrupt influence peddling.

And Parnas is not telling. Yet.

The Government’s Coy Dance on FISA and Rudy’s Grifters

As I noted last month, one of the guys indicted along with Rudy’s grifters, Andrey Kukushkin, asked the government for notice of any of several kinds of surveillance, including FISA. The government responded today with the kind of non-denial that all-but confirms that one of the grifters, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, their co-conspirators, or their funders were implicated in a FISA order.

It starts by stating, “the Government has repeatedly informed the defendants, it does not intend to use any information that was obtained or derived from FISA or other forms of surveillance identified by Kukushkin,” meaning under FISA they have no obligation to notify defendants of its use. It then reviews the requirements of statute, which state that the government only has to provide notice if it plans to use evidence obtained via FISA. It asserts it has met the requirements of FISA.

The Government has complied with its discovery and disclosure obligations, and Kukushkin’s motion fails to set forth any legal basis to require anything more.

With respect to FISA, the Government has complied with its obligations under Section 1806 in this case. On December 1, 2019, the Government notified defense counsel that it did not intend to use any FISA-obtained or FISA-derived information against the defendants at trial.

It’s basically a legalistic way of saying, “yes, yes, yes, but no.” All the more so given that the government corrects a Kukushkin claim that the government had stated they had not obtained FISA collection.

Kukushkin incorrectly states that the Government has “denied procuring evidence pursuant to Title III or FISA warrants.” Dkt. 45 at n.1. The Government has told the defense that it did not obtain or use Title III intercepts in this investigation. The Government has not made any representations about the use of FISA warrants.

And the government  provided Judge Oetken an ex parte filing, which is the kind of thing you’d do to be very transparent to the judge when asked about FISA.

The Government is separately submitting a supplemental letter to the Court ex parte and under seal.

Again, all this is legally uninteresting but factually intriguing given how open the government is about the likelihood they did use FISA in this case.

Especially given how they note that the representations the government makes in this letter apply to all the defendants, including Fruman and Parnas.

The Government writes in response to defendant Andrey Kukushkin’s December 12, 2019 letter motion, which is made “on behalf of all defendants,” seeking the Court to direct the Government to affirm or deny, under 18 U.S.C. § 3504, whether the defendants were the subject of any Government surveillance, including under Executive Order 12333 or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). [my emphasis]

If Kukushkin were targeted with a FISA order, it would mostly implicate some Nevada Republicans — that’s the side of the grift Kukushkin got charged under.

But if Parnas or Fruman were targeted, it might implicate Pete Sessions, Ron DeSantis, Devin Nunes, the other members of Congress Adam Schiff intimated were also included in the Parnas call records obtained by HPSCI, the President’s lawyer, and possibly even the President himself.

And if any of the grifters were personally targeted, it would probably mean that Bill Barr (who has been personally involved in the case since early last year) had agreed that someone in direct communication with all these Republicans was or is probably an Agent of a Foreign power.

Yesterday, Roger Stone Answered, then Backtracked, on a Question Mueller Has Already Posed to Trump

As I laid out last week, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Contrary to Trump’s squeals about the hack indictment yesterday, it’s utterly damning for him. It shows:

  • Russian hackers responded to his plea for more Hillary emails by targeting her office that same day
  • Trump’s lifelong political advisor, Roger Stone, was described directly communicating with a GRU-run persona
  • Stone’s own advisor on these matters, then Breitbart and current Sputnik journalist Lee Stranahan, asked for and obtained files from the same GRU-run persona
  • GRU stole Hillary’s analytics in September, the heart of the general election, and did … the indictment doesn’t say what GRU did with the data
  • The same GRU persona made available information helping some of Trump’s most vocal defenders in Congress, ones he has discussed pushback strategies with on Air Force One

Like my own testimony, because this investigation started in Pittsburgh, and only later got moved under Mueller sometime last fall (I know one key witness who was about to speak to prosecutors when I saw him in October), it minimally overlaps with Peter Strzok’s involvement in the case, if at all.

In this post, I want to look at the second bullet: Roger Stone.

Since Stone got described in an indictment of those who helped Trump win the election, he has  (as is his habit) provided conflicting explanations, first suggesting it wasn’t him, then suggesting it couldn’t be him because he wasn’t “a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump,” as the indictment described.

My contact with the campaign in 2016 was Donald Trump. I was not in regular contact with campaign officials.

Only, this morning (as Ryan Goodman noted), Stone has changed his tune, admitting that he did talk to Trump campaign officials and probably is the person described in the indictment who said all the things he said in his DMs to Guccifer 2.0.

I certainly acknowledge that I was in touch with Trump campaign officials.

Here’s why Stone’s changing story about whether he only spoke with Trump or in fact spoke with other campaign officials. Among the questions (as interpreted by Jay Sekulow) that Mueller has already posed to Trump is this one:

What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or Wikileaks?

Mueller wants to know how much of Stone’s discussions with election operation participants Trump knew about. And Stone’s first instinct when seeing himself mentioned in an indictment of those participants was to say he only spoke to Trump.

I guess it’s clear why he’s backtracking from that.