President Donald Trump appears to have cut ties with Sidney Powell, a key member of his legal team who also represents former national security adviser Michael Flynn in his long-running attempt to unravel a guilty plea for lying about his 2016 contacts with Russia.
The abrupt shake-up came in a terse Sunday-evening statement from the Trump campaign that offered no explanation for Powell’s removal.
“Sidney Powell is practicing law on her own,” Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis said in the statement. “She is not a member of the Trump Legal Team. She is also not a lawyer for the President in his personal capacity.”
Powell had made headlines in recent weeks for her increasingly outrageous and unsupported claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, repeatedly vowing to “release the kraken” of evidence, only to refuse to produce it when asked by reporters.
She has accused election officials in multiple states of committing crimes, and in recent days turned on Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who on Friday helped certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Her attack on Kemp, which also included the threat of a “biblical” lawsuit, appeared to unsettle some of Trump’s allies.
“Sidney Powell accusing Governor Brian Kemp of a crime on television yet being unwilling to go on TV and defend and lay out the evidence that she supposedly has, this is outrageous conduct,” former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Sunday.
Trump announced Powell as a centerpiece of his legal team in a recent tweet, declaring that she, Giuliani and others would form a team that would later dub itself an “elite strike force.”
But the team has so far failed to produce any meaningful legal wins, and in fact has been repeatedly rebuffed by federal judges who have excoriated the Trump lawyers for demanding draconian measures — like throwing out millions of lawful ballots — without presenting evidence to justify it.
In recent days, Republicans aligned with the national party began to express increasing reservations about Powell’s rhetoric, including the claim that Trump had “won by a landslide,” even though Biden is millions ahead in the popular vote and won states equating to 306 electoral votes, compared with Trump’s 232.
The national GOP on Thursday posted a video clip of Powell making the claim, and Ellis, the Trump campaign’s attorney, celebrated Powell’s remarks at last week’s press conference.
Mike DuHaime, the Republican National Committee’s former political director, tweeted on Sunday that the party must pull down its tweet endorsing Powell’s remarks now that she’s been removed from representing Trump or the campaign.
“This is crazy/embarrassing to promote,” he tweeted.
And Powell’s attacks on Georgia’s governor and top election official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who are Republicans, come as the GOP is fighting to retain control of the Senate in two Georgia runoffs scheduled for Jan. 5.
Powell has been a fixture of the conservative media circuit for years but became particularly prominent in the Trump era as the firebrand attorney for Flynn. Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI, fired his legal team last year and hired Powell, who helped lead his push to rescind his guilty plea and lodge incendiary court filings about allegations of FBI and Justice Department misconduct.
At a hearing on the matter in September, Powell revealed that she had held a meeting with Trump in the previous weeks at which she urged him not to pardon Flynn so they could continue fighting out his case.
Powell has assailed the judge in the matter, Emmet Sullivan, even though she once lionized him in a book for his handling of prosecutorial misconduct in the case of former Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
Top national security, foreign policy officials and activists this weekend issued a call for democratic nations to revitalize international institutions and pursue new, more flexible ways for governments to band together to confront China’s economic and technological warfare and aggressive military buildup.
”Modern-day China has emerged as the most powerful authoritarian state in history and the major challenger to the liberal world,” concluded a detailed appraisal issued at the annual Halifax Security Forum, which was conducted virtually this year.
But perhaps the harsher assessment of the “China Handbook” was that the world's democracies need a plan: “The challenge is no longer about trying to cooperate with a rising China governed by autocrats,” the assessment said. “The real China challenge for the world’s democracies is how to cooperate effectively with each other.”
Sen. Chris Coons , a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who is considered to be on the short list to be secretary of state under President-elect Joe Biden, said now is the time to act.
“If we are going to make it as a world community of democracies, this is an absolutely pivotal year,” the Delaware Democrat said. "This is a pivotal moment in world history. In our history."
Nowhere was the level of urgency more acute than in Hong Kong, where China’s crackdown is seen as a test of the resolve of democratic nations to check Beijing's efforts to undermine democracy.
"We are sort of disappearing before the world's eyes," said Emily Lau, who was a legislator in the formerly British-administered territory, in a video appearance. "What is disappearing? Our freedom. Our personal safety. The rule of law."
There was, however, a noticeable feeling of optimism that a new administration in Washington will play a leading role again after the more unilateral approach by President Donald Trump alienated many of America's traditional allies.
Angus Campbell, Australia’s chief of defense, told the forum that he is “very optimistic about the future of American power in the world.”
But there was also a strong sentiment that smaller democratic nations cannot simply rely on the U.S.
"The world is in crisis," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the gathering, citing the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and inequality. "Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping that the big powers will figure this out, let's look at what we can do to make a difference together. ... Let's not wait for someone else to act, let's do it ourselves.”
While there was no broad consensus on how to reboot the democratic alliance, speakers agreed that the traditional arrangements that encouraged solidarity in the second half of the 20th century, such as NATO, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, are insufficient in their current forms to confront China.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general, said the Cold War-era military alliance “should remain a regional alliance, but needs a more global approach” to deal with the rise of China in space, cyberspace and other domains, including by partnering with Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
But the report issued at the outset of the forum, which drew upon the insights of 250 experts around the world, also warned that “there is no appetite for a return to the days in which Asian countries place themselves under Western power structures, even if today they are under new management.
“What will work in Asia will be flexible alliances and partnerships between the United States and individual Asian nations, sometimes in combination with other Asian nations, and sometimes with the added participation of other allies from outside Asia," it added.
One promising model, multiple participants and China watchers agreed, is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, an informal partnership between the U.S., India, Japan and Australia that has gained strength in recent years.
“There may well be aspects of the four-nation combination that can be replicated elsewhere,” the Halifax report contends. “There are few bells and whistles, and there don’t need to be to make a useful partnership work. Approaches like this could herald a golden age for diplomacy as nations put these new-style partnerships together.”
Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama between 2006 and 2011, said in an interview that he believes the arrangement, which was conceived in 2007, has turned out better than expected..
“This Quad that has been developed — of India, Australia, Japan and the United States banding together to defend the interests of democratic states, politically, economically and militarily — is a very positive step,” he said.
But without added U.S. military and diplomatic heft, many see other more regional structures such as the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as insufficient vehicles.
For example, a new report from the Atlantic Council think tank argues that the U.S. should take advantage of “extraordinary gains and interoperability and cooperation” between American and French military forces to strengthen the democratic presence in the Indo-Pacific.
When it comes to trade, speakers made appeals to fashion “a global free-trade zone for democracies” to ensure less reliance on Chinese goods and technology.
“The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the European Union’s single market are natural building blocks for the eventual creation of such a global, democratic free-trade club,” according to the Halifax report. “This should be extended to include the United Kingdom, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and all other Indo-Pacific democracies, as well as democracies in Africa and Central and South America.
“From such a position of strength,” it adds, “democracies should then coordinate policy and investment decisions related to consumer and supply chain dependence.”
China isn’t planning to cede that ground. After signing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership on Nov. 15 — now the world’s biggest trade deal between 15 Asia-Pacific nations — Chinese President Xi Jinping further expanded his ambitions Friday, announcing that Beijing will seek to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a trade deal originally designed by 12 of China’s neighbors as a response to Beijing.
While the U.S. helped negotiate the original deal, Trump withdrew in one of his first acts as president in January 2017.
Some experts are also calling for an informal tech-focused club of democracies to check China’s efforts to use technology to stifle the flow of information and impinge on personal liberty.
For example, former State Department official Jared Cohen, who is now the CEO of Jigsaw, a technology incubator started by Google, and Richard Fontaine, a former National Security Council official and leading think tank scholar, are proposing “uniting the techno-democracies” in what they call the T-12.
It would be a new intergovernmental organization built around the core G-7 economic partners of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S., but also add India, Australia, South Korea, Sweden, Finland and Israel.
Another potential model is the “Clean Network,” the unfolding campaign against Chinese tech giant Huawei; nearly 50 countries have agreed to participate so far, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the forum.
“You shouldn’t let the Chinese Communist Party have access to your telecommunications network,” he said.
The interest in greater tech cooperation is fueled by a combination of Chinese censorship, intellectual property theft, and espionage. And China in 2020 added $1 trillion of state tech spending to its five-year plan.
Also driving the fears is the fact that Chinese companies are adopting artificial intelligence technologies faster than the U.S. and its allies.
“Because we have data protection rules, our artificial intelligence is falling behind,” Kersti Kaljulaid, the president of Estonia, told the forum. She urged smarter regulation to help keep pace with Chinese advancements in AI systems, “which can learn faster” due to the regime’s disregard for personal privacy.
A number of other long-standing international organizations are also getting a fresh look.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has advocated expanding the G-7 to include India, Australia and South Korea, an informal arrangement that he can pursue as Britain takes over the G-7 presidency in January.
“You’re going to need some level of new architecture,” said Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, in calling for an expansion of existing partnerships.
He cited Japan’s interest in joining the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance between the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
A new report published by the Republican-led Senate Foreign Relations Committee also singled out the need to restore traditional diplomatic links between the U.S. and its European allies.
“Transatlantic security and prosperity requires that the United States and Europe renew our commitment to each other and pledge to use all of our combined tools to succeed,” the report said, or risk “losing the fundamental principles of open societies.”
Coons, in an interview, said traditional and more innovative international arrangements will be needed to counter Beijing.
“Institutions like ASEAN and the WTO and NATO and the U.N. all need a fresh look,” he said. “Many of them are a little creaky, a little tired. But I think our first step is to re-engage in a supporting and positive way and to strengthen them, and sustain them, at the same time we’re considering whether they are all purpose-built for our current moment.”
But convincing democracies to cut back their economic and technological reliance on Beijing creates challenges.
“This is an ambition fraught with obstacles from domestic interest groups,” acknowledges the new report unveiled at the Halifax forum.
“It’s not free to stand up to China,” Pompeo told attendees. “There are costs.”
Speakers also warned against asking nations to explicitly choose sides.
“Building greater flexibility, as well as depth, into the culture of alliance and partnership formation in the twenty-first century naturally means not asking countries to make black and white choices, for example between Beijing and Washington on trade,” the Halifax report recommends.
Campbell, the chief of Australian defense forces, agreed. “This question of choosing is something that I think to the fullest extent possible we should avoid causing smaller countries, middle-sized countries, and geographically-proximate countries from feeling that they don't have a choice,” he told the forum. “They ought to always have a choice."
Still, there was a sense of relief among attendees about the choice that American voters made this month.
Coons described the reaction from allies to Biden’s victory as “uniform jubilation” that the U.S. will reclaim its leading role in global engagement.
Gates, who also served as CIA director and deputy national security adviser under President George H.W. Bush, agreed that Biden’s election provides an opportunity.
“There are a lot of countries now in Europe and elsewhere that are in a different palace vis-a-vis China than they were two or three years ago, in no small measure because of the measures that Xi has taken," he said, citing China's crackdown on Hong Kong and the internment of one million Uighur Muslims. "In a way they’ve been helped by the aggressive posture of President Xi and his wolf-warrior diplomacy.”
There is only one viable response, Leon Panetta, another former secretary of defense and CIA chief, told the Halifax forum.
“What is it that China fears? It fears alliances,” he said.
But even that won't be enough, warned Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees.
“We really need a more vigorous democracy promotion project that will take advantage of the fact that there are democracies all over the globe,” he said in an interview. “It’s the governing model itself that is under attack from authoritarians.”
Luiza Savage and Lara Seligman contributed to this report.
Former White House national security adviser John Bolton on Sunday blasted President Donald Trump for continuing to contest the Nov. 3 election results, accusing his former boss of mounting political damage.
"I think Trump is throwing rocks through windows," Bolton said on CNN's "State of the Union." "I think he's the political equivalent of a street rioter."
Breaking tradition, Trump has refused to concede to his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, and launched numerous legal challenges to the election results.
At this point, Trump has "given up on the legal issues," Bolton said, pointing out that Trump's campaign has lost almost all of the legal challenges it has brought around the country.
"I think what he's trying to do now is sow enough confusion that he can break through what's called the 'safe harbor' provision in the Electoral College process," Bolton said. "I think he's playing for as much time as he can, hoping that something will happen."
"This is not a legal exercise anymore," Bolton said. "As we saw on Friday, when the Michigan legislators were called to the Oval Office, this is now an exercise of raw political power."
Still, it's unlikely that electors could go against election results and vote for Trump over Biden. Many states have laws that punish or prevent electors from voting against the chosen candidate, and state parties tend to choose party loyalists as electors.
Appearing separately on CNN's "State of the Union," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said he was "embarrassed that more people in the party aren't speaking up" against Trump's actions to influence electors.
"I thought the pressuring of the legislators to try to somehow change the outcome with electors was completely outrageous," Hogan said. "We were the most respected country with respect to elections. And now we're beginning to look like we're a banana republic."
Hogan acknowledged that a fear of reprisal from Trump could be a factor in Republicans not speaking up against the president.
"We all know how vindictive the president can be, how powerful his Twitter account is, and how he can really pressure Republicans and go after them," Hogan said. "Very few of us are willing to stand up."
But the number of critics is growing, he added. "And I think the others are quietly talking and telling the president their advice about what he should do. He's just not following any of the advice."
Both Bolton and Hogan expressed confidence that Biden will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Sunday that the president’s legal team is “a national embarrassment” for continuing its attempts to question the election results without presenting evidence of voter fraud.
President Donald Trump’s team has seen its defense against the integrity of the 2020 election unravel, as states officially certify vote counts and judges dismiss lawsuits.
“If you’ve got the evidence of fraud, present it,” Christie said on "This Week" on ABC. “Quite frankly, the conduct of the president’s legal team has been a national embarrassment.”
Christie, who served as the U.S. attorney for New Jersey under the George W. Bush administration, was a contender for attorney general in the Trump administration.
Trump's legal team, which features Rudy Giuliani, was chastised in a ruling Saturday on Pennsylvania election processes by U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann, who said of their claims: "This is simply not how the Constitution works.” In a lengthy news conference Friday, Giuliani — a former New York mayor and also a former U.S. attorney — and his fellow campaign attorneys offered an incoherent collection of conspiracy theories, unsupported by evidence or detail.
Christie noted that the president’s legal team alleges fraud outside the courtroom but “when they go inside the courtroom, they don't plead fraud, and they don't argue fraud.”
“I have been a supporter of the president's,” Christie said. “I voted for him twice, but elections have consequences, and we cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn't happen.
"You have an obligation to present the evidence. The evidence has not been presented, and you must conclude, as Tucker Carlson even concluded the other night, that if you are unwilling to come forward and present the evidence, it must mean the evidence doesn't exist.”
Effective coronavirus vaccines are headed for widespread use within several months, but the nation must "double down" on preventive public health measures in the meantime, Anthony Fauci says.
"We are in a very serious situation, but we can do something about it," the nation's leading infectious diseases expert said in an interview aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"Traditionally and historically, highly efficacious and effective vaccines have crushed epidemics like smallpox and polio and measles," Fauci said, expressing confidence in the forthcoming Covid-19 vaccines.
Two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have announced they have developed effective coronavirus vaccines. Pfizer has sought Food and Drug Administration authorization for emergency use, and Moderna is expected to to do so, too.
The vaccines should be "an incentive to have us double down even more with public health measures until we get the full component of the help that’s on its way," Fauci said.
"Putting vaccines aside for a moment, which will be extraordinarily helpful, if we implement the simple public health measures ... we can blunt that inflection," he added. Those measures include wearing masks, physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and avoiding congregate activities, particularly indoors.
Fauci rejected the idea the public can't take action against the virus' spread, especially given the upcoming holiday season, which is expected to lead to an uptick of cases. Instead, he urged people to consider whether they have family members at a higher risk of infection, including older people and those with preexisting medical conditions.
"Do you really want to get a crowd of 10, 15, 20 people, many of whom are coming in from places where they have gone from crowded airports, to planes, getting into the house?" he asked. "I mean, those are the things that have been such joyous things in the past. But this is a very special situation."
"I think the people in this country need to realistically do a risk-benefit assessment," Fauci said. "Every family is different. Everyone has a different level of risk that they want to tolerate."