Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey defends election process after Trump attack

By Caroline Kelly and Alison Main, CNN

Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey sent a lengthy string of tweets Monday night defending the state’s election process after being attacked by President Donald Trump for his handling of it.

“I’ve been pretty outspoken about Arizona’s election system, and bragged about it quite a bit, including in the Oval Office,” Ducey tweeted in part, praising the state’s election laws and practices as secure and empowering to voters.

Ducey pointed to the statute requiring Arizona’s secretary of state to canvass the election results in front of the governor and attorney general on the fourth Monday after the general election. “That was today,” he tweeted.

Earlier Monday, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, had certified the election results, saying the election process was the most secure in recent history, “despite unfounded claims to the contrary.” President-elect Joe Biden beat Trump by 10,457 votes in Arizona, the secretary of state’s office said.

MAP: See 2020 election results

Ducey and Republican state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, along with Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel, witnessed the certification, as required by state law.

“The canvass of the election triggers a 5-day window for any elector to bring a credible challenge to the election results in court. If you want to contest the results, now is the time. Bring your challenges,” Ducey tweeted. “That’s the law. I’ve sworn an oath to uphold it, and I take my responsibility seriously.”

Despite states certifying their results and awarding electoral votes to Biden ahead of the Electoral College meeting on December 14, Trump has not conceded the election. Instead, he has continued to falsely claim that he won and to criticize officials who have refused to adopt his conspiratorial view of the election.

Ducey had said earlier Monday that he would sign official documentation and have it hand-delivered to the president of the US Senate, so that Senator-elect Mark Kelly could “be sworn in as swiftly as possible.”

In several tweets Monday night, Trump accused Ducey of “rushing to put a Democrat in office,” made baseless voter fraud allegations and vowed that “Republicans will long remember!” The President then retweeted a number of tweets about Ducey, including one that said: “Who needs Democrats when you have Republicans like Brian Kemp and Doug Ducey?”

The President has also recently attacked Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, another member of his own party, over fraud allegations.

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers also formally certified Biden’s victory on Monday, signing the paperwork to award the state’s 10 electoral votes to the President-elect after a Trump campaign-requested recount in Wisconsin’s two most populous counties. Pennsylvania and Nevada each completed their certification processes last week.

Despite what Trump is tweeting and saying publicly in the wake of Arizona and Wisconsin certifying Biden’s victory Monday, two White House advisers told CNN that Trump sees the scoreboard and understands he has no chance of hanging on to the presidency.

CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Bob Ortega and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.


Trump attorney issues call for violence against truth-telling former election cybersecurity official

By Jim Acosta, Jake Tapper, Zachary Cohen and Devan Cole, CNN

An attorney for the Trump campaign on Monday issued a call for violence against Chris Krebs, a former cybersecurity official who was unceremoniously ousted from his post by President Donald Trump after he rejected the President’s unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud.

Joe diGenova, the attorney for Trump’s campaign, said during an appearance on “The Howie Carr Show“: “Anybody who thinks the election went well, like that idiot Krebs who used to be the head of cybersecurity. That guy is a class A moron. He should be drawn and quartered. Taken out at dawn and shot.”

A day later, diGenova tried to walk back his remarks by portraying them as a joke. “For anyone listening to the Howie Carr Show, it was obvious that my remarks were sarcastic and made in jest. I, of course, wish Mr. Krebs no harm. This was hyperbole in a political discourse,” diGenova said Tuesday in a statement distributed by the Trump campaign.

A source familiar with Trump’s election challenges said diGenova is believed to still be helping Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s attorney, in challenging the presidential election results.

Asked about diGenova’s comment, White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah told CNN, “That statement was wildly inappropriate.”

Carr did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The remarks from diGenova, though much more extreme than others made by officials in the White House during Trump’s time in office, underscore the administration’s crusade against whistleblowers and others who have spoken out in opposition during the President’s term and refuse to adopt his conspiratorial view of the election.

Krebs suggested Tuesday in an interview with the “Today” show that he may take legal action against diGenova following the comments, which he called “dangerous.”

“The way I look at it is that we are a nation of laws and I plan to take advantage of those laws. I’ve got an exceptional team of lawyers that win in court and I think they’re probably going to be busy,” he said.

DiGenova’s remarks were swiftly condemned on Monday by the Government Accountability Project, a whistleblower group that warned that such threats could have a chilling effect on officials seeking to expose wrongdoing.

“Threats like these trigger an avalanche of them. They terrorize other whistleblowers into silence. It’s behavior befitting a mob attorney,” Louis Clark, the group’s executive director and chief executive officer, said in a blistering statement on Monday.

DiGenova’s comments also prompted a strong rebuke from Krebs’ former deputy, Matt Travis, who called diGenova, “a small man with a small mind and bad mustache.”

“It’s egregious, loss of words for just how absurd and offensive those comments are,” Travis said Tuesday during the Aspen Cyber Summit. “We certainly never expected CISA, its mission, its people, to be under attack like this and I hope it ends soon. I hope Mr. diGenova takes back those words, apologies and recognizes that maybe the hot lights of the studio got to him.”

Trump announced earlier in November that Krebs would be “terminated” from his job running the cyber arm of the Department of Homeland Security “effective immediately” because a Krebs’ statement — in which he had rejected Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud — was “highly inaccurate.” CNN reported ahead of Krebs’ firing that he had expected the move.

Travis, who served as the No. 2 official at the agency, resigned last month in the wake of Krebs’ firing.

The statement from Krebs’ agency, along with state and private election officials, had read: “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. … There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Krebs repeated his assessment that the election was secure in an op-ed published Tuesday in The Washington Post, and he addressed diGenova’s comments, saying he wasn’t “going to be intimidated by these threats from telling the truth to the American people.”

“The 2020 election was the most secure in U.S. history. This success should be celebrated by all Americans, not undermined in the service of a profoundly un-American goal.”

In the lead-up to the election, Krebs had often quietly disputed the President’s repeated false claims about mail-in ballots but went out of his way to not get drawn into criticizing his boss for spreading lies.

But in the days that followed, Krebs had adopted a more forceful approach, regularly posting on Twitter — often with blaring red siren emojis — fact checks of the claims and conspiracy theories being pushed by Trump, his allies and supporters around the country.

Prior to the election, CISA “took the stance that it was not our role to fact check the candidates. We were going to stay out of that political process,” Travis said. “But once the election had been conducted … then we felt it was our role to be articulating the ground truth on what these processes entailed.”

“We generally had try to fly under the radar, knowing how fraught with peril this election might be because of the non-traditional way the votes would eventually be tabulated and the timing of that … we tried to kind of filter out that noise,” Travis said when asked about Trump’s continued politicization of the election leading up to Election Day.

Despite states certifying their results and awarding electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden ahead of the Electoral College meeting on December 14, Trump has not conceded the election. Instead, he has continued to falsely claim that he won.

This story has been updated with additional comment.

CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Geneva Sands and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.

CNN-National & Wolrd

Celebs mingle without masks at birthday party for Lil Wayne’s daughter

By Jamiel Lynch and Amanda Jackson, CNN

Several celebrities attended a birthday bash for actress Reginae Carter on Sunday night at an Atlanta nightclub.

Though Covid-19 cases across the country continue to rise and people have been warned to avoid large gatherings, many of the guests were not wearing masks or socially distancing, as seen in video in several posts on social media.

The 1990s/2000s themed birthday bash for Carter, daughter of rapper Lil’ Wayne, was held at Republic Lounge. According to its website, the lounge is a 7,550 square feet venue in West Midtown.

CNN has reached out to the club for comment.

On Sunday, the day of the party, a record-high 93,238 Covid-19 patients were hospitalized in the US, according to the Covid Tracking Project. For weeks, health officials urged people to rethink Thanksgiving travel and gatherings to minimize the spread of the virus as the number of cases increase.

Meanwhile in Atlanta, a packed party was being held to celebrate Carter’s 22nd birthday. It even featured music performances by her father, Lil’ Wayne, and fellow hip-hop artists, Juvenile and 2 Chainz. They were all seen in posts at the party without masks and at times standing shoulder to shoulder with each other.

“The Mayor’s advisory mask mandate and orders on gathering remain in effect,” a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN in a statement. “However, State Orders — which supersede decisions made at the local level — currently allow bars and venues to remain open.”

Other celebrities in attendance included music producer and rapper Mannie Fresh, singer-songwriter Kandi Burruss and her husband Todd Tucker. Burruss shared several images and videos on her Instagram from the party.

The couple owns restaurants in Atlanta and are cast members on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” A representative for Burruss and Tucker could not be reached for comment.

On social media, Carter posted images along with a thank you to her boyfriend YFN Lucci and those who attended, “I want to thank everybody who came and partied with me! Y’all some real ones,” it said.

CNN has reached out to representatives for Carter and YFN Lucci for comment.

“COVID-19 continues to ravage our communities — disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities,” reads the statement from the mayor’s office. “If we are to curb the spread of this deadly disease, we all have an individual responsibility to take every precaution possible to stay safe.”

Several celebrities have hosted large parties during the pandemic showing guests seemingly ignoring Covid-19 guidelines. Earlier this month, Kendall Jenner faced backlash on social media for her 25th birthday Halloween bash that was held in West Hollywood.


‘Urgent actions’ needed in US government response to pandemic, watchdog says

By Shelby Lin Erdman, CNN

The federal government must take “urgent actions” in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, a new report from the US Government Accountability Office finds.

Medical supply shortages persist, despite efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to mitigate shortages and expand the supply chain, the report found.

States and US territories are concerned about ongoing shortages of some Covid-19 testing materials and medical supplies, including rapid point-of-care tests and reagents needed for testing and nitrile gloves, an October GAO survey found. About one-third of states that responded said they were “greatly” or “completely” concerned about having enough vaccine-related supplies to administer a potential Covid-19 vaccine, and another 21 states said they were “moderately concerned.”

The GAO made recommendations to HHS and FEMA in September, but they have not been implemented.

“In light of the surge in COVID-19 cases, along with reported shortages, including GAO’s nationwide survey findings, GAO underscores the critical imperative for HHS and FEMA to implement GAO’s September 2020 recommendations,” the GAO, an independent agency that serves as the investigative arm of Congress, said in its report.

In a response attached to the GAO’s report, Sarah Arbes, the HHS assistant secretary for legislation, said the agency “does not concur” with the findings about shortages and suggested the report is “too vague” in its recommendations about how best to help states meet testing and supply needs.

The new report is also concerned about the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s changes in testing strategy and guidance, saying the CDC has not been transparent about the changes.

“GAO recommends that HHS ensure that CDC clearly discloses the scientific rationale for any change to testing guidelines at the time the change is made,” the report said.

The GAO report made 11 recommendations for improving the federal pandemic response. It recommended that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services quickly develop a plan to respond to 27 recommendations in the Coronavirus Commission on Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes analysis, a report released on September 16.

The GAO report also recommended that the Department of Veterans Affairs develop a plan to inspect state veterans homes and “collect timely data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in each state’s veterans homes.”


GOP senators’ strategy on Trump’s election fraud claims: Keep quiet and carry on

By Manu Raju, Senior Congressional Correspondent

A wide range of Republican senators are shrugging off President Donald Trump’s evidence-free claims that mass voter fraud cost him the election, ignoring their party leader’s relentless attacks against a foundation of American democracy amid their growing expectation that the matter will be resolved within two weeks — without their involvement.

As they watch Trump torch local Republicans and governors who refuse to try to overturn the election results, many have remained silent as more states certify Joe Biden’s victory and more of the President’s legal challenges collapse. A central factor around the GOP’s decision to stay quiet: The two critical Georgia Senate runoffs where Trump can play a key role in turning out their base to help keep the chamber in Republican hands next Congress. Infuriating Trump now will only undercut their efforts to lean on a President who holds enormous sway with their core voters, Republican sources said Monday.

In the meantime, some prominent senators on Monday dismissed the idea that they have much of a role to play in pushing back on Trump’s unfounded claims as the legal and state certification process plays out — as powerful Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remained silent after saying little about the President’s weeks-long campaign to undermine faith in the elections.

McConnell walked by reporters in the Senate hallways Monday without responding to a question about Trump’s actions or if he considers Biden to be the President-elect.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said Monday that the “verdict was rendered, and I think that’s becoming clearer by the minute” and that he’s “already moving on” to prepare for the incoming Biden administration.

But Cornyn, like most Senate Republicans, would not refer to Biden as “President-elect,” saying the matter will be resolved on December 14 when electors meet in their state capitols to cast their ballots to make official that Biden is the winner.

“I really don’t feel the need to comment anymore on this,” Cornyn said when asked about Trump’s conspiracy theories. “I don’t think that’s very productive.”

Indeed, many Republicans — weary after four years of being asked to respond to Trump’s controversies and scandals — said that the fact that the transition is formally underway is more important than pushing back against Trump’s false claims that the election was rigged and speaking out against his brazen efforts to pressure state officials to overturn the will of voters.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, asked why Republican senators are not speaking out against Trump’s rhetoric, said: “Well I mean I think the important thing for us is the transition is moving forward, and he has authorized that, which I think suggests at least that he understands where this is headed.”

But Trump has shown little willingness to publicly accept the results of the election, even as six critical battleground states have certified Biden as the winner. While he said last week he would leave the White House on January 20 if he loses the vote in the Electoral College, Trump also has shown no signs of letting up his stream of conspiracies — ranging from false claims of Dominion voting software switching votes to Biden and saying without evidence that Biden didn’t receive 80 million votes.

In a phone call with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham this weekend, Trump vowed to plow ahead despite his failing legal strategy.

“He’s gonna fight for every vote and push systems to get better, and I said, ‘Keep it up,'” Graham told CNN on Monday evening. “I think he’s focused on the challenges he has and trying to, you know, deal with mail-in voting and I’m very worried about it too myself quite frankly.”

Asked if he thinks Trump should attend Biden’s inauguration in January, Graham said: “If Biden ends up winning, yeah I think so. I think it’s good for the country, it’d be good for him. We’ll know in December.”

But Graham quickly added: “I hope Biden will come to his.”

Murkowski and Romney remain minority voices among Republicans

A few Republicans say they’ve seen enough.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who has been critical of the President, called on Trump to concede.

“I think he should concede, I think the race is over,” Murkowski told CNN as she was departing the Senate floor Monday evening.

Asked if she voted for Trump in the elections, Murkowski wouldn’t say. “I don’t think that’s the pertinent question of the day.”

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the lone GOP senator to vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial this year, called Trump’s attacks on democracy “dangerous.”

“I think making serious accusations of fraud and an election theft without seriously presenting evidence of substantial fraud is irresponsible and dangerous,” Romney said Monday night.

But those concerns remain few and far between among Senate Republicans.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, asked if GOP senators should speak up, said: “Well I mean I think that, if your question is should we be criticizing him, then I think what you’re getting at in my view is that the President has every right to present his case in every court that he wants to go to and has every right to be heard. And I think we are going to have to look at the effect of mail-in balloting.”

Asked if he thought the election is rigged, as Trump claims, Hawley said: “I mean we’ll see. We’ll see at the end when all of the legal challenges are resolved and see when all the evidence has been produced.”

Impact on Georgia runoff?

Others took little issue as well — especially ones who have a close eye on what’s happening in the Georgia runoff races. If Republicans hold one of the two seats, they will remain in the majority for Biden’s first two years.

As Trump attacks Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and the GOP secretary of state for certifying Biden’s win there, Republican senators seemed to take little issue, even as Trump prepares to rally voters there on Saturday.

“Oh goodness — I think no one in Georgia or no one in Indiana is really talking about that,” said Sen. Todd Young, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, of Trump’s attacks on the governor and election officials.

Asked if he had any concerns about Trump attacking the integrity of the elections, Young said: “People aren’t talking about that. I’m concerned what people are talking about — and they’re not talking about that. I’m concerned about making sure we fight off the far left of the Democratic Party.”

CNN’s Daniella Diaz, Yahya Abou-Ghazala, Olanma Mang, Ted Barrett and Kristin Wilson contributed to this report.


Biden transition braces for tough Senate confirmation for Neera Tanden

By Kate Sullivan and MJ Lee, CNN

Joe Biden‘s transition team is bracing for a tough Senate confirmation battle for the President-elect’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, who is already facing fierce opposition from Senate Republicans.

Neera Tanden, the CEO and president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, was announced on Monday as Biden’s choice for the position. Biden has announced several Cabinet and other top administration officials, but none have received the same level of backlash as Tanden, who has frequently sparred with Republicans and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party on Twitter.

The Biden team is well aware Tanden is a challenging nominee, with one person familiar with the matter telling CNN that there is currently widespread acknowledgment in the Biden transition world that she is going to be tough, at best, to get through the Senate confirmation process.

Her uphill battle in the Senate was underscored Monday by a wave of criticism aimed at her from Republican senators. Republicans currently hold a majority in the Senate, but two January runoff elections in Georgia will determine which party controls the chamber and could affect the confirmation process.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said that Tanden has a “problematic path” to confirmation in light of past “combative and insulting comments” about GOP senators.

Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton said Tanden’s tweets are “Filled with hate & guided by the woke left” and tweeted, “she’s unfit to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.”

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is expected to chair the Budget Committee if Republicans keep control of the Senate, said the Tanden nomination faces an “uphill” climb in the Senate.

There are plenty of other Biden nominees, including Janet Yellen for treasury secretary, who have received fine reception from both Republicans and Democrats and are currently not expected have any major issues getting confirmed in the Senate.

Of the multiple people that Biden has so far nominated, Tanden is “most definitely, singularly” worst positioned in terms of having a shot at being confirmed, one adviser to multiple GOP members tells CNN.

Tanden is an ally of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and previously served as a senior adviser for health reform at the US Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration, where she helped work on the Affordable Care Act.

“After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden tweeted on Monday. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure, and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is president pro tempore and the most senior Republican in the chamber, told reporters on Monday that Tanden’s nomination “might be controversial” among his colleagues. He said he didn’t yet have a position on how he would vote on her nomination.

Josh Holmes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, reacted to the news of Tanden being nominated and wrote on Twitter, “And there’s the sacrifice to the confirmation gods….”

Tanden also received criticism by some on the left, mostly from her usual online critics and rivals. But her nomination was mostly applauded by progressives, including some with whom she had clashed in the past, in large part because of concerns that Biden might tap someone else, like former Biden chief of staff Bruce Reed, with a more hawkish record on the deficit.

“Bruce Reed is ideologically committed to austerity. Neera Tanden is not,” tweeted Social Security Works communications director Linda Benesch. “Keeping Reed out of OMB is a big win.”

Tanden, who would be the first woman of color and first South Asian American to become director of the OMB if confirmed, has also received praise from several Democratic senators.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday praised Tanden and criticized Republicans for what he described as “crocodile tears.”

Tanden “is so eminently qualified that some on the Republican side, grasping at straws, have taken issue with comments made on Twitter criticizing the policy positions of Republicans in Congress,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “Honestly, the hypocrisy is astounding. If Republicans are concerned about criticism on Twitter, their complaints are better directed at President Trump.”

Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown praised Tanden as “smart, experienced, and qualified for the position of OMB Director.” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren responded directly to Brown’s tweet and said she agreed.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker said he has known Tanden for more than two decades and tweeted, “She’s brilliant and laser-focused on making our country a fairer place for all. I’m excited to work with her as she does the vital work of rebuilding our government.”

This story has been updated with a tweet from Tanden on Monday.

CNN’s Gregory Krieg, Ted Barrett, Kristin Wilson, Daniella Diaz and Manu Raju contributed to this report.


Trump sees ‘the writing on the wall’ despite what he maintains publicly about the election, advisers say

By Jim Acosta and Caroline Kelly, CNN

Despite what President Donald Trump is tweeting and saying publicly in the wake of Arizona and Wisconsin certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory Monday, Trump sees the scoreboard and understands he has no chance of hanging on to the presidency, two White House advisers told CNN.

Asked whether the President realizes that he’s been defeated, a close adviser who has been in contact with Trump about his legal strategy said Monday: “Yes, he does.”

The same adviser told CNN that Trump will continue to pursue his legal challenges until they are exhausted, but that adviser pointed to the certification in Wisconsin and said, “The writing is on the wall.” Without the ability to override the results in a combination of states, not to mention even one state, the adviser said Trump’s election challenges are obviously doomed.

Trump is still sounding as if he could still win because he wants to believe it, the adviser continued. But the adviser added Trump is fully aware that he has lost.

Trump has not conceded the election and he still falsely claims that he won, but his administration has approved access to transition materials and national security briefings for Biden and his team.

A separate adviser said the President has understood for some time that it is unlikely he will be able to overturn the election results but that Trump simply does not want to say that out loud.

There may be another reason for the reticence: since Election Day, Trump and his political operation have raised more than $170 million, a person familiar with the matter said — a massive fundraising haul fueled by Trump’s baseless allegations that the election was rigged. In all, the campaign has sent 400 fundraising emails and another 125 texts between 11 p.m. Election Night and early Tuesday morning.

One campaign adviser confirmed the $170 million number and said it’s a big indication that Trump “isn’t going anywhere.”

The adviser said there is already talk of Trump doing some extensive post-presidency travel, including overseas trips to maintain his visibility.

Certifying election results is typically a formality, but the process had been the subject of Trump’s long-shot attempt to cling onto power. His campaign has unsuccessfully tried to block or delay certification in key states in hopes of overturning Biden’s victory through the Electoral College.

Those efforts, though, are nearing an end as states continue to certify their results ahead of the Electoral College meeting on December 14.

Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers formally certified Biden’s victory on Monday, signing the paperwork to award the state’s 10 electoral votes to the President-elect after a Trump campaign-requested recount in Wisconsin’s two most populous counties.

Arizona also certified its election results on Monday, awarding the state’s 11 electoral votes to Biden and clearing the way for Senator-elect Mark Kelly, a Democrat, to be sworn in this week.

Pennsylvania and Nevada each completed their certification processes last week.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey praised the integrity of Arizona’s election system after witnessing Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, certify the election results Monday morning, as required by state law. Ducey said he would sign official documentation on Monday and have it hand-delivered to the president of the US Senate, so that Kelly “can be sworn in as swiftly as possible.”

In several tweets Monday night, Trump accused Ducey of “rushing to put a Democrat in office,” making baseless voter fraud allegations and vowing that “Republicans will long remember!”

Trump then sent a number of retweets about Ducey, including one that read, “Who needs Democrats when you have Republicans like Brian Kemp and Doug Ducey?” The President has also recently attacked Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, another member of his own party, over fraud allegations.

CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Bob Ortega, Samira Said, Marshall Cohen, Fredreka Schouten, Jeremy Diamond, Betsy Klein and Devan Cole contributed to this report.

CNN-National & Wolrd

Alligators can regrow their tails, new study finds

By Marika Gerken, CNN

Small reptiles like lizards and geckos are known for their extraordinary ability to regrow their tails, a potentially lifesaving skill in the wild. But it turns out these reptiles are not the only animals in the amniote family with the ability to regenerate appendages.

Researchers were surprised to discover that juvenile alligators also have the ability to regrow their tails up to 9 inches, or up to 18% of their total body length, according to a new study in Scientific Reports.

A team of scientists from Arizona State University and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries used advanced imaging techniques together with time-tested methods of studying anatomy and tissue organization to find that the alligators’ regrown tails had a central cartilage skeleton without any bone, exhibiting features of both regeneration and wound repair.

“The regrown skeleton was surrounded by connective tissue and skin but lacked any skeletal muscle (which lizard tails do regenerate with),” Kenro Kusumi, co-senior study author and professor and director of ASU’s School of Life Sciences and associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, told CNN.

Even a muscle-less regrown tail is vital for the massive predators, Kusumi added.

The team of researchers says that understanding these limitations may help in developing regenerative therapies in humans.

“We know that humans — who are incapable of regenerating — have the same cells and pathways being used to regenerate in these other animals,” Jeanne Wilson-Rawls, co-senior study author and associate professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences, told CNN.

“If this very large long-limbed animal has this ability, can we take advantage of this to help people who have lost limbs or burn victims who need skin regeneration?”

Kusumi quickly added that this isn’t something that is going to happen tomorrow, but maybe by the end of the century.


Pentagon shake-up continues as another top official departs

By Ryan Browne, CNN

The top official leading the Pentagon’s Defeat-ISIS Task Force resigned Monday, becoming the latest senior official to be fired or asked to resign in recent days, part of a White House-directed post-election purge that saw some of the senior-most Defense Department civilians ousted in a matter of days.

“Today, Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller accepted the resignation of Christopher Maier, the Director of the DoD Defeat-ISIS Task Force,” a Pentagon spokesman said in a statement.

Maier had led the task force since its inception in March 2017. The task force was responsible for overseeing policy and strategy development as well as international negotiations pertaining to the fight against ISIS.

The statement also said the task force director position’s duties and responsibilities “will be absorbed” by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict and the regionally focused staffs of the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

Loyalists installed

The two offices are currently being led by Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Anthony Tata, individuals perceived as Trump loyalists who have been promoted in the wake of the recent purge.

Cohen-Watnick was made the top Pentagon civilian overseeing intelligence, as well as continuing to serve as the acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

The latter position was further enhanced earlier this month when Miller signed a memo that he said made the post “commensurate” with the service secretaries leading the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Tata, who failed to obtain Senate confirmation for a top Pentagon policy position, was installed as the top policy official at the Defense Department after his predecessor was forced out the day after President Donald Trump fired then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Tata’s nomination encountered controversy after it was revealed that he had espoused a series of conspiracy theories.

The Defense Department statement Monday said that “these changes recognize the success of the military fight to destroy the so-called physical caliphate of ISIS and reflect DoD’s commitment to institutionalize efforts to counter ISIS and integrate efforts with allies and partners within our counterterrorism and regional policy offices.”

Maier’s resignation follows a wave of departures in early November after Trump fired Esper and replaced him with Miller.

Alexis Ross, Esper’s deputy chief of staff, resigned November 12, joining now-former chief of staff Jen Stewart and the top Pentagon officials overseeing policy and intelligence, all three of whom had submitted their resignations two days earlier.

Stewart was replaced by Kash Patel, who most recently served as senior director for counterterrorism at the White House National Security Council and is seen as much more ideological and closely linked to Trump.

Retired Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Kernan, the under secretary of defense for intelligence, also left his position and was replaced by Cohen-Watnick.

The White House has also moved to clear out an outside advisory group of former high-profile national security officials, acting last Wednesday to jettison former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, former ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Jane Harman and former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, two officials told CNN.

The Defense Policy Board they sat on provides “the Secretary of Defense and the Deputy Secretary of Defense, independent, informed advice and opinions concerning matters of defense policy in response to specific tasks from the Secretary of Defense, the Deputy Secretary of Defense,” according to their website.


Afghan major who helped save US pilot begs Pentagon to ‘keep their word’ to protect his family and him

By Sara Sidner, CNN

Mohammed Naiem Asadi and his wife, Rahima, haven’t slept well in days. They are too nervous to eat much. They are trying to keep their fear in check for their 4-year-old daughter. But their bodies sometimes betray them.

That’s because as of Monday, the US Department of Defense has ejected them from their safe hiding place on a US military base in Afghanistan, putting them at risk from the Taliban, who, Asadi says, have targeted them for killing.

Asadi is a decorated Afghan helicopter pilot credited with protecting US Air Force pilots in Afghanistan and killing more Taliban than any other pilot in the Afghan air force, according to Stars and Stripes, the US military’s independent newspaper. The Pentagon would not confirm the Stars and Stripes report on Asadi’s record.

Asadi and his family say they could now be in grave danger because of a Pentagon decision to reverse permission for them to come to the US and force them to leave the safety of the US military base in Kabul where they have been staying since October 28. There are two options awaiting him outside of US protection, Asadi told CNN in a conversation Sunday, hours before being taken off the base.

‘We are so stressed’

“If I am sent back to Kabul, I’m afraid I will be jailed by the Afghan government or killed by the Taliban,” Asadi said. “We are so stressed.” He and his family are now in hiding at an undisclosed location.

Asadi, 32, says the Afghan government and military he served for more than a decade will see him as a spy for the United States and that the Taliban have been looking to kill him for years because of his identity as a Taliban killer in the skies.

Asadi, Rahima and their daughter, Zainab, had been staying in a small room crammed with a bunk bed on Bagram air base, after the Department of Defense and US Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security, approved the Asadis’ request to take refuge in America.

Asadi’s attorney Kimberley Motley says Asadi has a job offer and a place to stay already arranged in the United States. She says someone seems to be playing politics with the Asadis’ lives.

“The US has an obligation under the UN convention of torture act that if there’s a substantial ground for believing that a person would be in danger of being subjected to torture, that we have an obligation as a government to not expel that person,” Motley said. “Ultimately we need to be a country of our word.”

A Pentagon spokesperson said it is aware of the situation surrounding Asadi, who is still an active-duty officer in the Afghan air force.

“There are criteria and processes to handle humanitarian parole requests by foreign nationals,” Pentagon spokesperson Army Maj. Rob Lodewick said in a statement. “After completing a full review of the request, the appropriate officials determined that DoD could not support the request. Because this remains a developing situation that involves personal matters and privacy concerns, DoD remains limited in what can be publicly disclosed.”

Asadi says he has proof that his and his family’s lives are being threatened. The threat came in the form of a letter to Asadi’s father demanding he turn his son in for killing members of the Taliban. If not, the letter said, the Taliban would seek revenge on the family.


The email was authenticated by a contractor adviser working for the US military’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, who wrote: “It is reasonable to infer that the applicant’s family face specific persecution from the Taliban.”

Asadi had applied to come to the US under a program known as Significant Public Benefit Parole, which offers temporary status for non-US citizens who need protection.

In an email Motley provided to CNN, the chief of the Humanitarian Affairs Branch of US Citizen and Immigration Services wrote, “USCIS confirms approval of parole on the basis of DOD evidence related to the direct threat … please issue parole document and coordinate flight processing.”

Asadi says he was filled with relief and joy on October 28 when he was told to come pick up his passport and boarding pass at the US Embassy. But a couple of hours before he was supposed to do that, he says, he was told his passport and boarding pass were not ready “due to some issues.”

A few hours after that, Asadi says, he received a call from the Afghan government demanding that he go to an Afghan air force commander’s office to answer questions about why he was leaving the Afghan military.

“At that point I knew that he might just jail me. They look at me as a spy now because I was under the protection of the US government,” he said.

The Afghan Ministry of Defense and the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington have not yet responded to requests for comment.

Asked about the Taliban’s threats against Asadi and his worries about the Afghan government, Lodewick said in a statement that “Major Asadi is an officer in good standing with the Afghan Air Force (AAF) and with US Forces – Afghanistan.”

Lodewick said the Defense Department “continues to work with Afghan leaders to mitigate risks to pilots within the AAF. … Taliban threats to our Afghan military partners, no matter how common, are not taken lightly by DoD or the Afghan Government. Taliban violence in Afghanistan has been unacceptably high for too long and must decrease for progress towards peace, which all Afghans deserve, to continue.”

Speaking to CNN before he was forced to leave Bagram Air Base, Asadi told CNN that he was “thankful to be on this base, no matter how small our room. We are at least safe here.”

Keeping their word

As he spoke by video call, his wife sat beside him, holding their daughter tightly. Asadi said he knew he wouldn’t be safe “if they throw me out. My wife and child will have no one.” He can’t believe this is happening to him after years of working with the US against the Taliban and ISIS.

In August, he had received a letter of commendation for leading a formation in a risky last-minute mission to protect and save an American Air Force pilot whose aircraft was downed in Afghanistan’s heavily contested Baghlan province.

The letter, written by US Air Force Capt. Robert V. Yost, said Asadi was “one of our most trusted partners in the MD-530 helicopter community.” And that “Asadi’s actions were vital to the safe rescue and transport of the US pilot.”

Now Asadi says he fears for his life and his family’s lives because of the last-minute decision by the US Department of Defense.

“I am only asking them to keep their word,” Asadi said. “I am most afraid of the Taliban, but in this moment right now, I am most afraid of the Afghan government because they don’t keep their word.”

CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.