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The utility that services San Antonio, CPS Energy, was one of those that got an order to cut power.

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he control room of the Texas electric grid is dominated by a Cineplex-sized screen along one wall. As outdoor temperatures plunged to arctic levels around the low-slung building 30 miles from Austin last Sunday night, all eyes were on it. The news wasn’t good.

Electric demand for heat across the state was soaring, as expected, but green dots on the corner state map started flipping to red. Each was a regional power generator, and they were spontaneously shutting down — three coal plants followed quickly by a gas plant in Corpus Christi.

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Then another metric began to flash: frequency, a measure of electricity flow on the grid. The 60 hertz needed for stability fell to 59.93.

Bill Magness, chief executive officer of the grid operator, was watching intently and understood instantly what was at stake. Below 59 and the state’s electrical system would face cascading blackouts that would take weeks or months to restore. In India in 2012, 700 million people were plunged into darkness in such a moment.

Key Speakers At The 2019 CERAWeek Conference
Magness
Photographer: Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg
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Texas was “seconds and minutes” from such a catastrophe, Magness recalled. It shouldn’t have been happening. After the winter blackouts of 2011, plants should have protected themselves against such low temperatures. The basis of the Texas system is the market — demand soars, you make money. Demand was soaring last Sunday, but the plants were shutting down.

If insufficient power came in, the grid wouldn’t be able to support the energy demand from customers and the other power plants that supply them, causing a cycle of dysfunction. So over the following hours, Magness ordered the largest forced power outage in U.S. history.

More than 2,000 miles away in San Juan, Puerto Rico, power trader Adam Sinn had been sitting at his computer watching the frequency chart plummet in real time. He knew the dip would be enough to start forcing power plants offline, potentially causing more widespread blackouts. It was an unprecedented situation but, from his perspective, entirely avoidable.

In fact, it was a crisis years in the making. Texas’s power grid is famously independent — and insular. Its self-contained grid is powered almost entirely in-state with limited import ability, thereby allowing the system to avoid federal oversight. It’s also an energy-only market, meaning the grid relies on price signals from extreme power prices to spur investments in new power plants, batteries and other supplies.

There is no way to contract power supply to meet the highest demand periods, something known as a capacity market on other grids. There are no mandates or penalties compelling generators to make supply available when it’s needed, or to cold-proof their equipment for storms like the one that slammed Texas last weekend.

So, as the cold began shutting in natural gas supplies, freezing instruments at power plants and icing over wind turbines, there wasn’t enough back-up generation available to meet demand. As many as 5 million homes and businesses were abruptly thrust into frigid darkness for nearly four straight days as the crisis continued, ensnaring more than a dozen other states as far as away as California and roiling commodity markets across the globe.

Now, as the snow across Texas melts and the lights come back on, answers remain hard to come by. What’s clear is that no one — neither the power plants that failed to cold-proof their equipment nor the grid operator charged with safeguarding the electric system — was prepared for such an extreme weather event. What happened in those two hours highlights just how vulnerable even the most sophisticated energy systems are to the vagaries of climate change, and how close it all came to crashing down.

Hour-by-Hour Texas Power Generation by Type

The warning signs started well before the cold set in. Nearly a week before the blackouts began, the operator of a wind farm in Texas alerted the grid manager, known as Ercot, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, that ice from the impending storm could force it offline, an early signal that capacity on the system would likely be compromised.

On Thursday, a natural gas trader trying to secure supplies for his company’s power plants for the holiday weekend was surprised to see prices surging. The reason? There were concerns that gas production in West Texas was at risk of freezing off, which would crimp supplies for power generation. And Sinn, the owner of Aspire Commodities, noticed from his computer in San Juan that day-ahead power prices on Texas’s grid were climbing, a sign that the market was anticipating scarcity.

By Saturday, a considerable amount of capacity was already offline, some of it for routine maintenance and some of it due to weather. This is because in Texas peak demand is associated with summer heat so many plants do routine maintenance in winter.

Wind was the first to go, as dense fog settled over turbine fleets, freezing on contact. The slow build-up of moisture over several days caused some of the blades to ice over, while connection lines began to droop under the weight of the ice until power production from some wind farms completely ceased. But because the resource makes up a minor share of Texas’s wintertime power mix, grid operators didn’t view it as a big problem. Then gas generation began declining. That was inconvenient, but not unmanageable. There was still plenty of supply on the system.

On Sunday, the mood in the control room grew tense. As the cold deepened, demand climbed sharply, hitting and then exceeding the state’s all-time winter peak. But the lights stayed on. Magness and his director of system operations, Dan Woodfin, watched the monitors from an adjoining room, satisfied that they had made it through the worst of the crisis.

“We thought maybe we are OK for the rest of the night,” Magness said.

They weren’t.

At 11 p.m., the green dots on the monitor overlooking the control room turned red. Across the state, power plant owners started seeing instruments on their lines freezing and causing their plants to go down. In some cases, well shut-ins in West Texas caused gas supplies to dip, reducing pressure at gas plants and forcing them offline. At that point, virtually all of the generation falling off the grid came from coal or gas plants.

“Contrary to some early hot takes, gas and coal were actually the biggest culprits in the crisis,” said Eric Fell, director of North America gas at Wood MacKenzie.

Back in Taylor, the town northeast of Austin, where Ercot is based, orange and red emergency displays began flashing on the giant flat-screens that lined the operators’ workstations.

“It happened very fast — there were several that went off in a row,” Magness said.

In the span of 30 minutes, 2.6 gigawatts of capacity had disappeared from Texas’s power grid, enough to power half a million homes.

“The key operators realized, this has got to stop. This isn’t allowed to happen,” said Magness.

By that point, the temperature outside had fallen to 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 15 Celsius). Across the state, streets were icing over and snowbanks piling up. Demand kept climbing. And plants kept falling offline.

No one in the room had anticipated this. And it was about to get worse.

relates to The Two Hours That Nearly Destroyed Texas’s Electric Grid
The ERCOT control room in Austin.
Source: Courtesy of ERCOT
The generation outages were causing frequency to fall — as much as 0.5 hertz in a half-hour. “Then we started to see lots of generation come off,” Magness said.

To stem the plunge, operators would have to start “shedding load.” All at once, control room staff began calling transmission operators across the state, ordering them to start cutting power to their customers.

“As we shed load and the frequency continued to decline, we ordered another block of load shed and the frequency declined further, and we ordered another block of load shed,” said Woodfin, who slept in his office through the crisis.

Operators removed 10 gigawatts of demand from 1:30 a.m. until 2:30 a.m., essentially cutting power to 2 million homes in one fell swoop.

The utility that services San Antonio, CPS Energy, was one of those that got an order to cut power.

“We excluded anything critical, any circuit that had a hospital or police,” CPS chief executive Paula Gold-Williams said Friday. “We kept the airport up.”

Alton McCarver’s apartment in Austin was one of the homes that lost power. The IT worker woke shivering at 2:30 a.m., an hour after the blackouts began, and tried turning up the thermostat. “Even my dog, he was shaking in the house because he was so cold,” he said.

McCarver wanted to take his wife and 9-year-old daughter to shelter with a friend who still had power, but the steep hills around their home were coated in ice and he didn’t think they could make the drive safely. “You’re hungry, you’re frustrated, you’re definitely cold,” he said. “I was mostly worried about my family.”

The power cuts worked — at least in so far as Ercot managed to keep demand below rapidly falling supply.

Power Crunch
But the grid operator shed load so rapidly that some generators and market watchers have wondered whether they exacerbated the problem.

What’s more, frequency continued to fluctuate through the early hours of the morning, potentially causing even more power plants to trip, according to Ercot market participants. The Sandy Creek coal plant near Waco was one them, falling offline at 1:56 a.m. in tandem with the frequency dip, according to data from the plant operator.

Ercot, however, maintains that the frequency stayed above the level at which plants would trip.

And as blackouts spread across the state, power was cut not only to homes and businesses but to the compressor stations that power natural gas pipelines — further cutting off the flow of supplies to power plants.

Texas Residents Told to Boil Water, If They Have It
Power supplies became so scarce that what were supposed to be “rolling” blackouts ended up lasting for days at a time, leaving millions of Texans without lights, heat and, eventually without water. Even the Ercot control center lost water, and had to bring in portable toilets for its staff.

“It’s just catastrophic,” said Tony Clark, a former commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a senior adviser at law firm Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP.

By Friday, when Ercot declared that the emergency had ended, 14.4 million still lacked reliable access to public water supplies, and the crisis had already cost the state $50 billion in damages, according to Accuweather. The cost of power on Monday alone was $10 billion, according to estimates from Wood Mackenzie. The Public Utility Commission of Texas announced an investigation into the factors that led to the blackouts.

But at least the lights were coming back on. In the afternoon, shell-shocked people trickled out of their homes to soak up the sun. “It feels crazy standing outside in the 40 degree sunlight,” said Cassie Moore, a 35-year-old writer and educator, who offered up her shower and washing machine to her boss and friends who were still without power or water. “In this same spot a few days ago I was worried that my dogs might freeze to death.”

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Market

Also on the Senate’s calendar today is to move Commerce Secretary nominee Gina Raimondo’s nomination forward with a cloture vote so her confirmation vote will also likely be this week

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on

In his nearly 90-minute speech at CPAC on Sunday, Donald Trump lashed out at President Biden on immigration, at the Republicans who voted for his impeachment, at mask-wearing policies, and even at transgender athletes playing women’s sports.

On top of it all, he claimed — falsely — that he won the 2020 presidential election. (In fact, he lost the popular vote by 7 million, and the electoral vote by a 306-232 margin.)

But strikingly, Trump made only passing reference to the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package that House Democrats passed early Saturday and that the Senate is now set to consider.

Trump speaks at CPAC, hints he may run in 2024
MARCH 1, 202102:21
“The Democrats now say we have to pass their $1.9 trillion boondoggle to open schools, but a very small part of it has to do with that,” he said. “You know where it’s going — it’s going to bailout badly-run Democrat cities, so much of it.”

That’s it. In almost 90 minutes of remarks, Trump devoted just two sentences of criticism to Biden’s first legislative priority as president.

And it says a lot about the state of GOP opposition to the Covid relief bill, which remains popular in polls: While House Republicans uniformly voted against it on Saturday, it hasn’t been an animating issue for Republicans.

Whether for Trump at CPAC yesterday.

Or for other CPAC speakers over the weekend.

Or for even rank-and-file GOP lawmakers in Washington.

It’s getting worse for Cuomo
“Faced with multiple allegations of sexual harassment, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday apologized for comments that ‘have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation’ and, following pressure from fellow Democrats, agreed to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office,” per NBC News.

“‘At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny,’ he said, adding, ‘I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.’”

This year is shaping up to be a miserable year for New York Democrats, and we can imagine how Andrew Cuomo and his multiple controversies are going to dominate 2021’s New York City mayoral race.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today
28,706,169: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 192,884 more than Friday morning.)

515,544: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 4,784 more than Friday morning.)

47,352: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus in the United States.

354.6 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

75,236,003: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

24,779,920: People fully vaccinated in the U.S.

59: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

68 percent: The share of CPAC straw-poll voters who said they wanted Trump to run again in 2024.

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Tweet of the day

Talking policy with Benjy
Back to the drawing board on minimum wage: Democrats are on the verge of passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill with surprisingly little internal drama, but a minimum wage increase is off the table thanks to a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian and moderate opposition. Now their backup plan is also gone.

At 1:51 p.m. on Jan. 6, a right-wing radio host named Michael D. Brown wrote on Twitter that rioters had breached the United States Capitol — and immediately speculated about who was really to blame. “Antifa or BLM or other insurgents could be doing it disguised as Trump supporters,” Mr. Brown wrote, using shorthand for Black Lives Matter. “Come on, man, have you never heard of psyops?”

Only 13,000 people follow Mr. Brown on Twitter, but his tweet caught the attention of another conservative pundit: Todd Herman, who was guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s national radio program. Minutes later, he repeated Mr. Brown’s baseless claim to Mr. Limbaugh’s throngs of listeners: “It’s probably not Trump supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Right?”

What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of a right-wing disinformation machine primed to seize on a lie that served its political interests and quickly spread it as truth to a receptive audience. The weekslong fiction about a stolen election that President Donald J. Trump pushed to his millions of supporters had set the stage for a new and equally false iteration: that left-wing agitators were responsible for the attack on the Capitol.

In fact, the rioters breaking into the citadel of American democracy that day were acolytes of Mr. Trump, intent on stopping Congress from certifying his electoral defeat. Subsequent arrests and investigations have found no evidence that people who identify with antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, were involved in the insurrection.

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But even as Americans watched live images of rioters wearing MAGA hats and carrying Trump flags breach the Capitol — egged on only minutes earlier by a president who falsely denounced a rigged election and exhorted his followers to fight for justice — history was being rewritten in real time.

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Within hours, a narrative built on rumors and partisan conjecture had reached the Twitter megaphones of pro-Trump politicians. By day’s end, Laura Ingraham and Sarah Palin had shared it with millions of Fox News viewers, and Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida had stood on the ransacked House floor and claimed that many rioters “were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”

Nearly two months after the attack, the claim that antifa was involved has been repeatedly debunked by federal authorities, but it has hardened into gospel among hard-line Trump supporters, by voters and sanctified by elected officials in the party. More than half of Trump voters in a Suffolk University/USA Today poll said that the riot was “mostly an antifa-inspired attack.” At Senate hearings last week focused on the security breakdown at the Capitol, Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, repeated the falsehood that “fake Trump protesters” fomented the violence.

For those who hoped Mr. Trump’s don’t-believe-your-eyes tactics might fade after his defeat, the mainstreaming of the antifa conspiracy is a sign that truth remains a fungible concept among his most ardent followers. Buoyed by a powerful right-wing media network that had just spent eight weeks advancing Mr. Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, pro-Trump Republicans have succeeded in warping their voters’ realities, exhibiting sheer gall as they seek to minimize a violent riot perpetrated by their own supporters.

If anyone was responsible for desecrating the Capitol, Mr. Johnson said in a radio interview as the violence was unfolding that day, “I would really question whether that’s a true Trump supporter or a true conservative.”

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In a telephone interview last week, Mr. Johnson delivered a handful of unsubstantiated or false statements that dovetail with much of the right-wing disinformation about the riot circulating online and on conservative radio and television programs. The senator said that while most of the people arrested at the Capitol were right-wing Trump supporters, he had not reached any conclusions about the political affiliations of those responsible for planning it.

He said he had “seen videos of other people claiming to be antifa” preparing in their hotel rooms.

“I don’t know if any of that’s been verified,” Mr. Johnson added.

ImageRioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6 wore red hats and carried flags bearing President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6 wore red hats and carried flags bearing President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
A lie that outraced the truth
A review of media activity in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot reveals just how quickly the right-wing media machine, first online and then on radio and cable TV, advanced the fiction about antifa’s supposed involvement.

The conspiracy gained new momentum after The Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper, published an online article shortly before 2:30 p.m. claiming that a facial recognition firm had identified antifa activists in the crowd at the Capitol. The newspaper corrected the article less than 24 hours later, after its claims were proved false — but not before the story made an enormous impact. The article eventually amassed 360,000 likes and shares on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle, a tool owned by Facebook and used for analyzing social media.

From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., the antifa falsehood was mentioned about 8,700 times across cable television, social media and online news outlets, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company. “Remember, Antifa openly planned to dress as Trump supporters and cause chaos today,” said one tweet that collected 41,100 likes and shares.

Snopes, the online fact-checking outlet, had already debunked the false antifa narrative — but its story attracted only 306 likes and shares on Twitter at the time, an indication of how difficult it is for fact-checking efforts to gain traction over the original falsehood.

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Mr. Gaetz, the pro-Trump congressman, was a super spreader of the Washington Times article: His Facebook post about it collected 27,000 interactions. And Ms. Ingraham cited the article on Twitter and on her prime-time Fox News show. (By contrast, a BuzzFeed News article that refuted the Washington Times story collected only 18,000 interactions on Facebook.)

Rumors require a receptive audience to take hold, and Mr. Trump’s supporters had long been primed to accept a baseless claim that antifa — relentlessly portrayed by the president as a dangerous terror group — had instigated the violence, rather than their fellow MAGA fans.

Image
On her Fox News program on Jan. 6, Laura Ingraham shared an inaccurate report claiming that antifa was involved in the Capitol riot.
On her Fox News program on Jan. 6, Laura Ingraham shared an inaccurate report claiming that antifa was involved in the Capitol riot.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times
In May, Mr. Trump announced that the United States would declare antifa a domestic terrorist group, despite lacking clear authority to do so. Falsehoods about busloads and planeloads of antifa activists traveling the nation to sow violence became a common trope on right-wing internet sites, even prompting some Americans to ask local law enforcement for help.

At the first presidential debate in September, seen by 73 million people, Mr. Trump said “somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.” (In the same answer, Mr. Trump declined to condemn the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group that has endorsed violence.)

This drumbeat meant that the notion of left-wing activists disrupting the Electoral College to embarrass Mr. Trump might not have seemed far-fetched to the president’s supporters — even those in Congress.

Hours after the attack, Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, a Republican who had served as a warm-up speaker for Mr. Trump at the pre-riot rally, promoted the false antifa claims on national television.

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“We did have some warning that there might be antifa elements masquerading as Trump supporters in advance of the attack on the Capitol,” Mr. Brooks told the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. He amplified his baseless claim the next morning in a Twitter thread that was retweeted nearly 19,000 times. “Evidence, much public, surfacing that many Capitol assaulters were fascist ANTIFAs, not Trump supporters,” Mr. Brooks wrote, providing no evidence. “Time will reveal truth. Don’t rush to judgment.”

In an interview last week, Mr. Brooks admitted that he had not verified his information before airing it publicly. But he insisted that several members of Congress — whom he would not identify — had warned him about an antifa presence in Washington, prompting him to sleep in his congressional office for two nights preceding Jan. 6.

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Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama served as a warm-up speaker for Mr. Trump at a rally that preceded the attack on Jan. 6.
Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama served as a warm-up speaker for Mr. Trump at a rally that preceded the attack on Jan. 6.Credit…Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press
Mr. Brooks now says that the role of antifa and Black Lives Matter “appears to be relatively minimal compared to the roles of more militant elements of other groups.” He said in the interview that he had “very frequently cautioned that the information that we’re getting is incomplete, preliminary” — a caveat that went unmentioned in his incendiary tweets at the time.

From Riot to Impeachment
The riot inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, followed a rally at which President Trump made an inflammatory speech to his supporters, questioning the results of the election. Here’s a look at what happened and the ongoing fallout:

As this video shows, poor planning and a restive crowd encouraged by President Trump set the stage for the riot.
A two hour period was crucial to turning the rally into the riot.
Several Trump administration officials, including cabinet members Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao, announced that they were stepping down as a result of the riot.
Federal prosecutors have charged more than 70 people, including some who appeared in viral photos and videos of the riot. Officials expect to eventually charge hundreds of others.
The House voted to impeach the president on charges of “inciting an insurrection” that led to the rampage by his supporters.

An activist’s arrest, and more disinformation
There is no question that the violent and sudden nature of the Capitol riot created a fire hose of partial and sometimes conflicting information from an array of sources, generating confusion for the lawmakers, journalists and Americans watching from home as they struggled to make sense of what transpired.

Several major news outlets, for example, including The New York Times, initially reported that a Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, died after being struck with a fire extinguisher by a rioter. Those reports were based on early information from law enforcement officials. Weeks later, The Times updated its reporting on Officer Sicknick’s death, after investigators began to suspect he had been sprayed in the face by some kind of irritant, rather than struck by an object. On Friday, the F.B.I. said it had pinpointed an assailant who attacked Officer Sicknick with bear spray, but investigators had yet to identify the attacker by name.

Unlike those reports, the antifa narrative had a clear ideological component. The political leanings of the rioters are not in question. Court filings in many of the criminal cases stemming from the attack quote pro-Trump rioters explicitly denying that antifa was involved and instead emphasizing their own participation, portraying it as an act of patriotism. To date, there is no evidence in case filings that any individual associated with antifa has been charged.

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Ms. Ingraham, who told Fox News viewers about “antifa sympathizers” at the riot, later shared on Twitter that the Washington Times article she cited had been debunked; she did not issue an on-air correction. Mr. Herman, the Limbaugh guest host who speculated about antifa, wrote in an email on Saturday that “it was clear a large group of Trump supporters entered the Capitol and assaulted people.” But he continued to assert, falsely, that antifa activists had plotted to impersonate Trump supporters.

Of the 290 people who have been charged in the attack, at least 27 are known to have ties to far-right extremist groups like the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys. Others have links to neo-Confederate and white supremacist entities, or are clear supporters of the conspiracy movement QAnon. The vast majority expressed a fervent belief that Mr. Trump was the election’s rightful winner.

On Jan. 8, the F.B.I. said there was no evidence that supporters of antifa, who have been known to aggressively counterprotest white supremacist demonstrations, had participated in the Capitol mob. And on Jan. 13, Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader, spoke at Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial and declared, “Some say the riots were caused by antifa. There’s absolutely no evidence of that, and conservatives should be the first to say so.”

But the next day, the arrest of a protester named John Sullivan prompted yet another surge in right-wing media about antifa and the riot.

Mr. Sullivan called himself an “activist” from Utah and CNN introduced him, inaccurately, as a “left-wing activist” when he appeared on the network on Jan. 6. (He had sold footage to CNN and other news outlets that showed the shooting of Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who died inside the Capitol.) The conspiracy site Gateway Pundit and Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, seized on Mr. Sullivan’s arrest to again blame antifa in posts that collected tens of thousands of likes and shares on Facebook and Twitter.

In reality, Mr. Sullivan was an attention seeker whose politics were fungible and seemingly shifted based on which protest he was attending at the time, according to activists from Seattle, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., who had issued warnings about him months before the Capitol riot.

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On Jan. 8, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah said that Mr. Sullivan “never has been and never will be” a member of the group. (“John is not affiliated with any organization,” Steven Kiersh, a lawyer for Mr. Sullivan, said on Friday.)

Image
Pro-Trump Republicans have succeeded in warping their voters’ realities, deploying disinformation and exhibiting sheer gall to try to minimize a violent riot perpetrated by their own supporters.
Pro-Trump Republicans have succeeded in warping their voters’ realities, deploying disinformation and exhibiting sheer gall to try to minimize a violent riot perpetrated by their own supporters.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
But the facts about Mr. Sullivan did not spread as far as the falsehoods.

YouTube videos featuring Mr. Sullivan prompted the Oregon Republican Party to adopt a resolution on Jan. 19 asserting that there was “growing evidence” the Jan. 6 violence was a “false flag” operation intended “to discredit President Trump, his supporters, and all conservative Republicans.”

The resolution was written by Solomon Yue, a longtime Republican National Committee member, who said in an interview that he based it on videos of Mr. Sullivan offering tips on how to disguise oneself at a protest. Mr. Yue said he also used his own knowledge of “Battle of the Bulge,” a 1965 Henry Fonda film in which German soldiers disguise themselves as American troops.

Thanks to the YouTube clips and the movie analogy, the Oregon state party “understood what I meant by ‘false flag,’” Mr. Yue said, referring to a scheme to deceive enemies by adopting a fake identity. Mr. Yue said he hoped others would consider alternate explanations for the Jan. 6 attack. “If I can pull those videos from the internet and raise the issue, I think other Americans can do the same,” he said.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty on Monday by a court in Paris on charges of trying to bribe a judge and influence peddling dating from his time in office. He received a three-year jail sentence with two of the years suspended.

In a trial that wrapped up in December, prosecutors accused Sarkozy and his lawyer of attempting to bribe a judge in exchange for confidential information on an inquiry looking into earlier allegations that during his 2007 presidential campaign, Sarkozy took illegal payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. The Bettencourt case was later dropped.

Sarkozy, 66, is allowed to ask to serve home confinement, France24 reported. The court sentenced Sarkozy to three years, but suspended two of those years – meaning he faces a year in jail.

Sarkozy is also separately facing multiple other legal challenges.

Former French President Sarkozy To Face Trial For Alleged Graft
EUROPE
Former French President Sarkozy To Face Trial For Alleged Graft
The judge, Gilbert Azibert, who was at the time a top appeals court magistrate, was allegedly offered a cushy job in Monaco in exchange for the information. Prosecutors said Sarkozy made the job offer through his attorney, Thierry Herzog, who was a co-defendant in the trial, as was Azibert. Herzog and Azibert were also found guilty by the court.

The guilty verdict against Sarkozy makes him the second ex-French president in recent years to be convicted of corruption. His predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was convicted in 2011.

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Taken together, the charges could have resulted in a maximum sentence of 10 years and a one million euros ($1.2 million) fine, according to France24.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of at least four years, half of which would he would be required to serve.

“The events would not have occurred if a former president, as well as a lawyer, had kept in mind the magnitude, the responsibility, and the duties of his office,” prosecutor Jean-Luc Blachon told the court in December, according to France24.

Sarkozy also testified in December, denying any wrongdoing.

“Never. Never abused my influence, alleged or real,” he told the court. “What right do they have to drag me through the mud like this for six years? Is there no rule of law?”

The state’s case rested mainly on wiretaps of conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, as they discussed the bribe. Sarkozy’s defense attorney called the recorded conversations just “chats between friends.”

The defense also said the fact that the judge never got the job in question was evidence against actual corruption. However, the court rejected that argument, declining to draw any distinction between a successful corruption attempt and a failed one.

Sarkozy is also expected to stand trial over allegations that he exceeded a campaign spending limit of 22.5 million euros ($24 million) during his 2012 bid for reelection and then sought to cover it up.

He could also face legal trouble stemming from an investigation into allegations that he received millions of dollars for his 2007 campaign from Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was deposed and killed in 2011.

French prosecutors in January started an influence-peddling investigation against the former president after reports that in 2019, he signed a 3 million euro ($3.6 million) consulting contract with a Russian insurance company.

Many pro-Trump Americans have already reached their own conclusions about the violence on Jan. 6.

Jason Franzen, 46, a Trump voter who works in carpentry in Thorp, Wis., said he was convinced that the former president’s enemies planned and carried out the attack.

“I don’t want to point fingers, but my gut tells me that there were some higher-up Democrats who were instigating the whole thing,” said Mr. Franzen, who said he gets his news from Facebook and the right-wing cable network One America News. “My gut has been right a lot of times, so I’m just going to go with my gut.”

Senate Democrats, led by Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., initially unveiled a “Plan B” to encourage higher wages through the tax code by penalizing large corporations who paid less than $15 an hour and providing a $10,000 deduction for small businesses who raised wages.

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But on Sunday, that plan collapsed. A source familiar with talks said it was too much to negotiate before March 14, when emergency unemployment benefits lapse if no bill is signed. While the details were never finalized, outside experts had also questioned whether big companies would find ways to reorganize in order to avoid the tax.

So what’s next? The failure to find a workaround on wages prompted renewed calls from progressives to end the filibuster, but that’s a nonstarter so long as Senators Joe Manchin, D-W. Va. and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. are still opposed, and the two also favor a lower minimum wage than the $15 figure approved by the House.

Some Republicans are floating alternatives, but they seem unlikely to produce a bipartisan deal. A group led by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. want to pair a $10 minimum wage (nonstarter with Democrats) that’s indexed to inflation with new requirements for businesses to screen for undocumented workers (part of the big bipartisan immigration bill in 2013, nonstarter with Democrats here). Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. proposed requiring large corporations to pay workers $15 an hour along with a bill to subsidize wages for workers who make less than $16.50 with tax credits. But his staff estimates a $200 billion price tag and it’s unclear if it has any traction within the GOP.

If Wyden and Sanders can’t find a workable tax proposal for the next reconciliation bill, Democrats could potentially try to tie a wage increase to a larger vehicle elsewhere. This is how the 2007 minimum wage hike became law, which was attached to a bipartisan Iraq War spending bill. Would Republicans let, say, a $12 minimum wage in a must-pass spending bill slide in order to get past a political issue that favors Democrats?

Senate takes action on two more Biden Cabinet picks
The Senate is readying to act on at least two of President Biden’s Cabinet nominees today.

According to the Senate’s calendar, Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona may have his confirmation vote later this afternoon, and he’s likely to be confirmed by the end of the day. The Senate advanced Cardona’s nomination to the Senate floor last week.

Cardona’s first priority as Education secretary will likely be getting schools across the country reopened. Biden promised during a townhall in February that most schools grades K-8 would be back to having students learn in-person, five days a week by the end of his first 100 days.

“I think we’ll be close to that at the end of the first 100 days. We’ve had a significant percentage of them being able to be opened. My guess is they’re going to probably be pushing to open all summer, to continue like it’s a different semester and try to catch up,” Biden said.

Also on the Senate’s calendar today is to move Commerce Secretary nominee Gina Raimondo’s nomination forward with a cloture vote so her confirmation vote will also likely be this week.

MTP Compressed
Catching up on Meet the Press? We’ve got you covered with MTP Compressed. Dr. Anthony Fauci joined the show to discuss the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine and states easing coronavirus restrictions as cases and deaths trend downward. Plus, we had exclusive interviews with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about America’s place in the world under new leadership, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) on Biden’s Covid relief package and the fight over the minimum wage.

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Some Republicans are floating alternatives, but they seem unlikely to produce a bipartisan deal. A group led by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. want to pair a $10 minimum wage (nonstarter with Democrats) that’s indexed to inflation with new requirements for businesses

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In his nearly 90-minute speech at CPAC on Sunday, Donald Trump lashed out at President Biden on immigration, at the Republicans who voted for his impeachment, at mask-wearing policies, and even at transgender athletes playing women’s sports.

On top of it all, he claimed — falsely — that he won the 2020 presidential election. (In fact, he lost the popular vote by 7 million, and the electoral vote by a 306-232 margin.)

But strikingly, Trump made only passing reference to the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package that House Democrats passed early Saturday and that the Senate is now set to consider.

Trump speaks at CPAC, hints he may run in 2024
MARCH 1, 202102:21
“The Democrats now say we have to pass their $1.9 trillion boondoggle to open schools, but a very small part of it has to do with that,” he said. “You know where it’s going — it’s going to bailout badly-run Democrat cities, so much of it.”

That’s it. In almost 90 minutes of remarks, Trump devoted just two sentences of criticism to Biden’s first legislative priority as president.

And it says a lot about the state of GOP opposition to the Covid relief bill, which remains popular in polls: While House Republicans uniformly voted against it on Saturday, it hasn’t been an animating issue for Republicans.

Whether for Trump at CPAC yesterday.

Or for other CPAC speakers over the weekend.

Or for even rank-and-file GOP lawmakers in Washington.

It’s getting worse for Cuomo
“Faced with multiple allegations of sexual harassment, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday apologized for comments that ‘have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation’ and, following pressure from fellow Democrats, agreed to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office,” per NBC News.

“‘At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny,’ he said, adding, ‘I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.’”

This year is shaping up to be a miserable year for New York Democrats, and we can imagine how Andrew Cuomo and his multiple controversies are going to dominate 2021’s New York City mayoral race.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today
28,706,169: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 192,884 more than Friday morning.)

515,544: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 4,784 more than Friday morning.)

47,352: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus in the United States.

354.6 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

75,236,003: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

24,779,920: People fully vaccinated in the U.S.

59: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

68 percent: The share of CPAC straw-poll voters who said they wanted Trump to run again in 2024.

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Tweet of the day

Talking policy with Benjy
Back to the drawing board on minimum wage: Democrats are on the verge of passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill with surprisingly little internal drama, but a minimum wage increase is off the table thanks to a ruling by the Senate parliamentarian and moderate opposition. Now their backup plan is also gone.

At 1:51 p.m. on Jan. 6, a right-wing radio host named Michael D. Brown wrote on Twitter that rioters had breached the United States Capitol — and immediately speculated about who was really to blame. “Antifa or BLM or other insurgents could be doing it disguised as Trump supporters,” Mr. Brown wrote, using shorthand for Black Lives Matter. “Come on, man, have you never heard of psyops?”

Only 13,000 people follow Mr. Brown on Twitter, but his tweet caught the attention of another conservative pundit: Todd Herman, who was guest-hosting Rush Limbaugh’s national radio program. Minutes later, he repeated Mr. Brown’s baseless claim to Mr. Limbaugh’s throngs of listeners: “It’s probably not Trump supporters who would do that. Antifa, BLM, that’s what they do. Right?”

What happened over the next 12 hours illustrated the speed and the scale of a right-wing disinformation machine primed to seize on a lie that served its political interests and quickly spread it as truth to a receptive audience. The weekslong fiction about a stolen election that President Donald J. Trump pushed to his millions of supporters had set the stage for a new and equally false iteration: that left-wing agitators were responsible for the attack on the Capitol.

In fact, the rioters breaking into the citadel of American democracy that day were acolytes of Mr. Trump, intent on stopping Congress from certifying his electoral defeat. Subsequent arrests and investigations have found no evidence that people who identify with antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, were involved in the insurrection.

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But even as Americans watched live images of rioters wearing MAGA hats and carrying Trump flags breach the Capitol — egged on only minutes earlier by a president who falsely denounced a rigged election and exhorted his followers to fight for justice — history was being rewritten in real time.

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Within hours, a narrative built on rumors and partisan conjecture had reached the Twitter megaphones of pro-Trump politicians. By day’s end, Laura Ingraham and Sarah Palin had shared it with millions of Fox News viewers, and Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida had stood on the ransacked House floor and claimed that many rioters “were members of the violent terrorist group antifa.”

Nearly two months after the attack, the claim that antifa was involved has been repeatedly debunked by federal authorities, but it has hardened into gospel among hard-line Trump supporters, by voters and sanctified by elected officials in the party. More than half of Trump voters in a Suffolk University/USA Today poll said that the riot was “mostly an antifa-inspired attack.” At Senate hearings last week focused on the security breakdown at the Capitol, Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, repeated the falsehood that “fake Trump protesters” fomented the violence.

For those who hoped Mr. Trump’s don’t-believe-your-eyes tactics might fade after his defeat, the mainstreaming of the antifa conspiracy is a sign that truth remains a fungible concept among his most ardent followers. Buoyed by a powerful right-wing media network that had just spent eight weeks advancing Mr. Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, pro-Trump Republicans have succeeded in warping their voters’ realities, exhibiting sheer gall as they seek to minimize a violent riot perpetrated by their own supporters.

If anyone was responsible for desecrating the Capitol, Mr. Johnson said in a radio interview as the violence was unfolding that day, “I would really question whether that’s a true Trump supporter or a true conservative.”

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In a telephone interview last week, Mr. Johnson delivered a handful of unsubstantiated or false statements that dovetail with much of the right-wing disinformation about the riot circulating online and on conservative radio and television programs. The senator said that while most of the people arrested at the Capitol were right-wing Trump supporters, he had not reached any conclusions about the political affiliations of those responsible for planning it.

He said he had “seen videos of other people claiming to be antifa” preparing in their hotel rooms.

“I don’t know if any of that’s been verified,” Mr. Johnson added.

ImageRioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6 wore red hats and carried flags bearing President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6 wore red hats and carried flags bearing President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
A lie that outraced the truth
A review of media activity in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot reveals just how quickly the right-wing media machine, first online and then on radio and cable TV, advanced the fiction about antifa’s supposed involvement.

The conspiracy gained new momentum after The Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper, published an online article shortly before 2:30 p.m. claiming that a facial recognition firm had identified antifa activists in the crowd at the Capitol. The newspaper corrected the article less than 24 hours later, after its claims were proved false — but not before the story made an enormous impact. The article eventually amassed 360,000 likes and shares on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle, a tool owned by Facebook and used for analyzing social media.

From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., the antifa falsehood was mentioned about 8,700 times across cable television, social media and online news outlets, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company. “Remember, Antifa openly planned to dress as Trump supporters and cause chaos today,” said one tweet that collected 41,100 likes and shares.

Snopes, the online fact-checking outlet, had already debunked the false antifa narrative — but its story attracted only 306 likes and shares on Twitter at the time, an indication of how difficult it is for fact-checking efforts to gain traction over the original falsehood.

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Mr. Gaetz, the pro-Trump congressman, was a super spreader of the Washington Times article: His Facebook post about it collected 27,000 interactions. And Ms. Ingraham cited the article on Twitter and on her prime-time Fox News show. (By contrast, a BuzzFeed News article that refuted the Washington Times story collected only 18,000 interactions on Facebook.)

Rumors require a receptive audience to take hold, and Mr. Trump’s supporters had long been primed to accept a baseless claim that antifa — relentlessly portrayed by the president as a dangerous terror group — had instigated the violence, rather than their fellow MAGA fans.

Image
On her Fox News program on Jan. 6, Laura Ingraham shared an inaccurate report claiming that antifa was involved in the Capitol riot.
On her Fox News program on Jan. 6, Laura Ingraham shared an inaccurate report claiming that antifa was involved in the Capitol riot.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times
In May, Mr. Trump announced that the United States would declare antifa a domestic terrorist group, despite lacking clear authority to do so. Falsehoods about busloads and planeloads of antifa activists traveling the nation to sow violence became a common trope on right-wing internet sites, even prompting some Americans to ask local law enforcement for help.

At the first presidential debate in September, seen by 73 million people, Mr. Trump said “somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.” (In the same answer, Mr. Trump declined to condemn the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group that has endorsed violence.)

This drumbeat meant that the notion of left-wing activists disrupting the Electoral College to embarrass Mr. Trump might not have seemed far-fetched to the president’s supporters — even those in Congress.

Hours after the attack, Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, a Republican who had served as a warm-up speaker for Mr. Trump at the pre-riot rally, promoted the false antifa claims on national television.

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“We did have some warning that there might be antifa elements masquerading as Trump supporters in advance of the attack on the Capitol,” Mr. Brooks told the Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. He amplified his baseless claim the next morning in a Twitter thread that was retweeted nearly 19,000 times. “Evidence, much public, surfacing that many Capitol assaulters were fascist ANTIFAs, not Trump supporters,” Mr. Brooks wrote, providing no evidence. “Time will reveal truth. Don’t rush to judgment.”

In an interview last week, Mr. Brooks admitted that he had not verified his information before airing it publicly. But he insisted that several members of Congress — whom he would not identify — had warned him about an antifa presence in Washington, prompting him to sleep in his congressional office for two nights preceding Jan. 6.

Image
Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama served as a warm-up speaker for Mr. Trump at a rally that preceded the attack on Jan. 6.
Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama served as a warm-up speaker for Mr. Trump at a rally that preceded the attack on Jan. 6.Credit…Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press
Mr. Brooks now says that the role of antifa and Black Lives Matter “appears to be relatively minimal compared to the roles of more militant elements of other groups.” He said in the interview that he had “very frequently cautioned that the information that we’re getting is incomplete, preliminary” — a caveat that went unmentioned in his incendiary tweets at the time.

From Riot to Impeachment
The riot inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, followed a rally at which President Trump made an inflammatory speech to his supporters, questioning the results of the election. Here’s a look at what happened and the ongoing fallout:

As this video shows, poor planning and a restive crowd encouraged by President Trump set the stage for the riot.
A two hour period was crucial to turning the rally into the riot.
Several Trump administration officials, including cabinet members Betsy DeVos and Elaine Chao, announced that they were stepping down as a result of the riot.
Federal prosecutors have charged more than 70 people, including some who appeared in viral photos and videos of the riot. Officials expect to eventually charge hundreds of others.
The House voted to impeach the president on charges of “inciting an insurrection” that led to the rampage by his supporters.

An activist’s arrest, and more disinformation
There is no question that the violent and sudden nature of the Capitol riot created a fire hose of partial and sometimes conflicting information from an array of sources, generating confusion for the lawmakers, journalists and Americans watching from home as they struggled to make sense of what transpired.

Several major news outlets, for example, including The New York Times, initially reported that a Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, died after being struck with a fire extinguisher by a rioter. Those reports were based on early information from law enforcement officials. Weeks later, The Times updated its reporting on Officer Sicknick’s death, after investigators began to suspect he had been sprayed in the face by some kind of irritant, rather than struck by an object. On Friday, the F.B.I. said it had pinpointed an assailant who attacked Officer Sicknick with bear spray, but investigators had yet to identify the attacker by name.

Unlike those reports, the antifa narrative had a clear ideological component. The political leanings of the rioters are not in question. Court filings in many of the criminal cases stemming from the attack quote pro-Trump rioters explicitly denying that antifa was involved and instead emphasizing their own participation, portraying it as an act of patriotism. To date, there is no evidence in case filings that any individual associated with antifa has been charged.

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Ms. Ingraham, who told Fox News viewers about “antifa sympathizers” at the riot, later shared on Twitter that the Washington Times article she cited had been debunked; she did not issue an on-air correction. Mr. Herman, the Limbaugh guest host who speculated about antifa, wrote in an email on Saturday that “it was clear a large group of Trump supporters entered the Capitol and assaulted people.” But he continued to assert, falsely, that antifa activists had plotted to impersonate Trump supporters.

Of the 290 people who have been charged in the attack, at least 27 are known to have ties to far-right extremist groups like the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys. Others have links to neo-Confederate and white supremacist entities, or are clear supporters of the conspiracy movement QAnon. The vast majority expressed a fervent belief that Mr. Trump was the election’s rightful winner.

On Jan. 8, the F.B.I. said there was no evidence that supporters of antifa, who have been known to aggressively counterprotest white supremacist demonstrations, had participated in the Capitol mob. And on Jan. 13, Representative Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader, spoke at Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial and declared, “Some say the riots were caused by antifa. There’s absolutely no evidence of that, and conservatives should be the first to say so.”

But the next day, the arrest of a protester named John Sullivan prompted yet another surge in right-wing media about antifa and the riot.

Mr. Sullivan called himself an “activist” from Utah and CNN introduced him, inaccurately, as a “left-wing activist” when he appeared on the network on Jan. 6. (He had sold footage to CNN and other news outlets that showed the shooting of Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who died inside the Capitol.) The conspiracy site Gateway Pundit and Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, seized on Mr. Sullivan’s arrest to again blame antifa in posts that collected tens of thousands of likes and shares on Facebook and Twitter.

In reality, Mr. Sullivan was an attention seeker whose politics were fungible and seemingly shifted based on which protest he was attending at the time, according to activists from Seattle, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., who had issued warnings about him months before the Capitol riot.

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On Jan. 8, the founder of Black Lives Matter Utah said that Mr. Sullivan “never has been and never will be” a member of the group. (“John is not affiliated with any organization,” Steven Kiersh, a lawyer for Mr. Sullivan, said on Friday.)

Image
Pro-Trump Republicans have succeeded in warping their voters’ realities, deploying disinformation and exhibiting sheer gall to try to minimize a violent riot perpetrated by their own supporters.
Pro-Trump Republicans have succeeded in warping their voters’ realities, deploying disinformation and exhibiting sheer gall to try to minimize a violent riot perpetrated by their own supporters.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
But the facts about Mr. Sullivan did not spread as far as the falsehoods.

YouTube videos featuring Mr. Sullivan prompted the Oregon Republican Party to adopt a resolution on Jan. 19 asserting that there was “growing evidence” the Jan. 6 violence was a “false flag” operation intended “to discredit President Trump, his supporters, and all conservative Republicans.”

The resolution was written by Solomon Yue, a longtime Republican National Committee member, who said in an interview that he based it on videos of Mr. Sullivan offering tips on how to disguise oneself at a protest. Mr. Yue said he also used his own knowledge of “Battle of the Bulge,” a 1965 Henry Fonda film in which German soldiers disguise themselves as American troops.

Thanks to the YouTube clips and the movie analogy, the Oregon state party “understood what I meant by ‘false flag,’” Mr. Yue said, referring to a scheme to deceive enemies by adopting a fake identity. Mr. Yue said he hoped others would consider alternate explanations for the Jan. 6 attack. “If I can pull those videos from the internet and raise the issue, I think other Americans can do the same,” he said.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty on Monday by a court in Paris on charges of trying to bribe a judge and influence peddling dating from his time in office. He received a three-year jail sentence with two of the years suspended.

In a trial that wrapped up in December, prosecutors accused Sarkozy and his lawyer of attempting to bribe a judge in exchange for confidential information on an inquiry looking into earlier allegations that during his 2007 presidential campaign, Sarkozy took illegal payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt. The Bettencourt case was later dropped.

Sarkozy, 66, is allowed to ask to serve home confinement, France24 reported. The court sentenced Sarkozy to three years, but suspended two of those years – meaning he faces a year in jail.

Sarkozy is also separately facing multiple other legal challenges.

Former French President Sarkozy To Face Trial For Alleged Graft
EUROPE
Former French President Sarkozy To Face Trial For Alleged Graft
The judge, Gilbert Azibert, who was at the time a top appeals court magistrate, was allegedly offered a cushy job in Monaco in exchange for the information. Prosecutors said Sarkozy made the job offer through his attorney, Thierry Herzog, who was a co-defendant in the trial, as was Azibert. Herzog and Azibert were also found guilty by the court.

The guilty verdict against Sarkozy makes him the second ex-French president in recent years to be convicted of corruption. His predecessor, Jacques Chirac, was convicted in 2011.

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Taken together, the charges could have resulted in a maximum sentence of 10 years and a one million euros ($1.2 million) fine, according to France24.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of at least four years, half of which would he would be required to serve.

“The events would not have occurred if a former president, as well as a lawyer, had kept in mind the magnitude, the responsibility, and the duties of his office,” prosecutor Jean-Luc Blachon told the court in December, according to France24.

Sarkozy also testified in December, denying any wrongdoing.

“Never. Never abused my influence, alleged or real,” he told the court. “What right do they have to drag me through the mud like this for six years? Is there no rule of law?”

The state’s case rested mainly on wiretaps of conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, as they discussed the bribe. Sarkozy’s defense attorney called the recorded conversations just “chats between friends.”

The defense also said the fact that the judge never got the job in question was evidence against actual corruption. However, the court rejected that argument, declining to draw any distinction between a successful corruption attempt and a failed one.

Sarkozy is also expected to stand trial over allegations that he exceeded a campaign spending limit of 22.5 million euros ($24 million) during his 2012 bid for reelection and then sought to cover it up.

He could also face legal trouble stemming from an investigation into allegations that he received millions of dollars for his 2007 campaign from Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was deposed and killed in 2011.

French prosecutors in January started an influence-peddling investigation against the former president after reports that in 2019, he signed a 3 million euro ($3.6 million) consulting contract with a Russian insurance company.

Many pro-Trump Americans have already reached their own conclusions about the violence on Jan. 6.

Jason Franzen, 46, a Trump voter who works in carpentry in Thorp, Wis., said he was convinced that the former president’s enemies planned and carried out the attack.

“I don’t want to point fingers, but my gut tells me that there were some higher-up Democrats who were instigating the whole thing,” said Mr. Franzen, who said he gets his news from Facebook and the right-wing cable network One America News. “My gut has been right a lot of times, so I’m just going to go with my gut.”

Senate Democrats, led by Ron Wyden, D-Ore. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., initially unveiled a “Plan B” to encourage higher wages through the tax code by penalizing large corporations who paid less than $15 an hour and providing a $10,000 deduction for small businesses who raised wages.

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But on Sunday, that plan collapsed. A source familiar with talks said it was too much to negotiate before March 14, when emergency unemployment benefits lapse if no bill is signed. While the details were never finalized, outside experts had also questioned whether big companies would find ways to reorganize in order to avoid the tax.

So what’s next? The failure to find a workaround on wages prompted renewed calls from progressives to end the filibuster, but that’s a nonstarter so long as Senators Joe Manchin, D-W. Va. and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. are still opposed, and the two also favor a lower minimum wage than the $15 figure approved by the House.

Some Republicans are floating alternatives, but they seem unlikely to produce a bipartisan deal. A group led by Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. want to pair a $10 minimum wage (nonstarter with Democrats) that’s indexed to inflation with new requirements for businesses to screen for undocumented workers (part of the big bipartisan immigration bill in 2013, nonstarter with Democrats here). Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. proposed requiring large corporations to pay workers $15 an hour along with a bill to subsidize wages for workers who make less than $16.50 with tax credits. But his staff estimates a $200 billion price tag and it’s unclear if it has any traction within the GOP.

If Wyden and Sanders can’t find a workable tax proposal for the next reconciliation bill, Democrats could potentially try to tie a wage increase to a larger vehicle elsewhere. This is how the 2007 minimum wage hike became law, which was attached to a bipartisan Iraq War spending bill. Would Republicans let, say, a $12 minimum wage in a must-pass spending bill slide in order to get past a political issue that favors Democrats?

Senate takes action on two more Biden Cabinet picks
The Senate is readying to act on at least two of President Biden’s Cabinet nominees today.

According to the Senate’s calendar, Education Secretary nominee Miguel Cardona may have his confirmation vote later this afternoon, and he’s likely to be confirmed by the end of the day. The Senate advanced Cardona’s nomination to the Senate floor last week.

Cardona’s first priority as Education secretary will likely be getting schools across the country reopened. Biden promised during a townhall in February that most schools grades K-8 would be back to having students learn in-person, five days a week by the end of his first 100 days.

“I think we’ll be close to that at the end of the first 100 days. We’ve had a significant percentage of them being able to be opened. My guess is they’re going to probably be pushing to open all summer, to continue like it’s a different semester and try to catch up,” Biden said.

Also on the Senate’s calendar today is to move Commerce Secretary nominee Gina Raimondo’s nomination forward with a cloture vote so her confirmation vote will also likely be this week.

MTP Compressed
Catching up on Meet the Press? We’ve got you covered with MTP Compressed. Dr. Anthony Fauci joined the show to discuss the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine and states easing coronavirus restrictions as cases and deaths trend downward. Plus, we had exclusive interviews with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about America’s place in the world under new leadership, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) on Biden’s Covid relief package and the fight over the minimum wage.

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they need 60 votes to rebuff a filibuster. With only 50 Democrats in the S

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A brawl is brewing between liberal and moderate Democrats. One can find evidence of this fight in the battle to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the latest coronavirus relief bill. The left failed in that effort. And despite having control of the House, Senate and White House, exclusion of the wage hike reflected the political realities of what progressives can do with a 50/50 Senate and a House with 221 Democrats and 211 Republicans.

This doesn’t bode well for progressive initiatives like gun restrictions, climate change legislation and immigration reform. A failure to translate those campaign promises into legislative achievements could drive progressives up the wall by the end of this Congress.
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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters before the House votes to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters before the House votes to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. (AP)

To wit: Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough serves as a procedural umpire. She ruled recently that the Democrats’ gambit to include a $15-an-hour minimum wage increase in the COVID relief bill violated special budget reconciliation rules.

Lawmakers can stuff almost anything they want in a garden variety piece of legislation. But not in a measure treated under the unique budget reconciliation process.

Democrats elected to use the special budgetary framework for the COVID measure to avoid a filibuster. Otherwise, they need 60 votes to rebuff a filibuster. With only 50 Democrats in the Senate and only a handful of “gettable” Republicans for this measure, attaining 60 votes was never going to happen. So, Democrats teed up the budget reconciliation option.

Deploying the once-a-fiscal-year reconciliation process terminates the filibuster for this bill – and this bill only.

But there was a tradeoff.

Those budget rules restrict provisions from the bill that address policy or contribute to the deficit over an extended period. MacDonough ruled that the minimum wage proposal didn’t qualify for reconciliation.

BIDEN’S $1.9T CORONAVIRUS RELIEF BILL IS ‘TROJAN HORSE,’ WILL USE AS ‘SLUSH FUND’ TO BUY VOTES: REP. NUNES

In many respects, this is not a surprise. Just days ago, President Biden doubted that the minimum wage increase would survive MacDonough’s vetting for this COVID bill.

Liberal Democrats went ballistic.

“I certainly do think that there should be either an override (of MacDonough’s ruling) or a replacement,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. “There are no more excuses.”

“I think the parliamentarian was wrong on this call,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

When asked if they should sack MacDonough, Ocasio-Cortez replied “all options should be on the table.”

Progressive Caucus Co-chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., argued that Senate Democrats should go over the head of MacDonough.

“This is an advisory opinion. We made a promise to raise the minimum wage. We now have to deliver on that promise to 27 million Americans who are not going to be convinced when we go back in two years and say ‘Sorry, the unelected parliamentarian told us we couldn’t raise the minimum wage,’” said Jayapal. “So we’re going to have to make a choice here.”

Jayapal said Senate budget reconciliation rules “were put in there, really, to preserve the power of White segregationists and the power of the minority.”

Jayapal may be right about some of the reasons regarding “segregationists” and the Senate filibuster. But not when it comes to budget reconciliation.

The reason is that the Budget Act of 1974 governs the budget reconciliation process in the Senate. That’s 1974, not 1874.

Omar and Jayapal are right. There is a way to potentially contest MacDonough’s ruling.

MacDonough was enforcing the “Byrd Rule” when she nixed the minimum wage proposal. It’s named after late Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.

A senator could challenge MacDonough’s ruling – but the Senate would have to find itself in a very specific procedural posture – essentially a parliamentary cul-de-sac – where nothing else could be debated. Thus, senators could set up a vote to overturn MacDonough’s ruling by detonating the Byrd rule on a simple majority vote.

This would not constitute a Senate “rules change.” But a “precedent” change. The Senate conducts much of its business via “precedent” and not by the 44 Standing Rules of the Senate. Such a tactic would be akin to the “nuclear option” used in 2013 and 2017 to curb filibusters on executive branch and Supreme Court nominees.

Overriding the parliamentarian boils down to the math.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is one Democrat who opposes including the minimum wage increase in the COVID bill. Incidentally, Manchin is now in the seat held for decades by Byrd. Manchin has indicated he would also oppose nuking the Byrd Rule.

‘SQUAD’ MEMBERS AOC, OMAR SUGGEST SENATE PARLIAMENTARIAN COULD BE REMOVED OVER MINIMUM WAGE DECISION

So if Democrats only have 50 votes to start with and Manchin opposes overriding the parliamentarian…

The other option is for a senator to move to “waive the Budget Act” as it pertains to the minimum wage provision. This option permits the Senate to ignore the Budget Act – and potentially include the minimum wage increase. But, the Senate can only waive the Budget Act if 60 (!) senators vote to do so.

That dog won’t hunt.

In other words, if you are struggling to get 51 votes, you’ll never wrangle 60.

Replacing the parliamentarian?

Yes. It’s happened before. In 2001, Senate Republicans relieved then Parliamentarian Bob Dove of his position after some rulings they didn’t like. But there is a tiny universe of persons on the planet qualified to perform the parliamentarian’s duties.

Democrats criticized former President Trump’s nomination of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the high court last fall. They asserted the former president only tapped Barrett because she would make rulings favorable to the Trump administration. Do Democrats really want to install a parliamentarian who will only rule in their direction? Or, would they rather have someone objectively calling balls and strikes?

Democrats included the $15 minimum wage increase in their $1.9 trillion COVID bill passed early Saturday morning. But Democrats must decide whether or not to support the next round of the bill after the Senate strips the minimum wage provision from the measure.

Ocasio-Cortez said moderate Democrats should be “lucky that progressives aren’t asking for $24 (an hour) right now.”

But that’s the problem. Procedural gymnastics with MacDonough revealed just how little power progressives truly have in Washington. This was always going to be the tension inside the party with Democrats controlling the White House, House and Senate.

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Liberals hoped to raise the minimum wage. Approve climate change legislation. Impose gun control. Adopt immigration reform. Grant Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico statehood. Those may be great campaign promises. But parliamentary realities will get in the way of actually enacting such plans into law.

It’s about the math. It’s about the math. It’s about the math.

One wonders if Democrats overpromised to their base? Or, if liberals will grow disillusioned? It’s a danger for Democrats.

I asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., if she thought there would be problems passing the bill when it came back from the Senate.

“No,” replied the speaker.

That’s the verdict on the coronavirus bill. But bigger problems could lurk for the party if they don’t enact major initiatives they promised their left flank.

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