A Supreme Court announcement packed with Covid-19 red flags

The flags are so red they might as well be wailing like sirens.

As more people in and around the White House test positive for the virus that causes Covid-19, no event is being more scrutinized than the Rose Garden event last Saturday, where President Trump announced the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. That gathering, as videos and photos of it make clear, violated so many of the recommendations that everyone else has been told to adopt this year.

There’s Mike Lee, the Republican senator from Utah, hugging people. There’s former White House aide Kellyanne Conway having close conversations with others. There are more than 150 people, most maskless, sitting crowded in together and glad-handing. Some of them, like University of Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins, traveled there from other places and would return back to their communities.

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Five to six days later, those three, along with the president, first lady Melania Trump, and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, were attendees all diagnosed with Covid-19 — a time frame that fits with how long it takes for the virus to build up enough in someone’s system to the point that it can cause symptoms and be detected by tests.

As public health sleuths investigate how and when the pathogen infiltrated the inner circle of U.S. leadership, the Barrett event offers a case study in what experts say has been the administration’s recklessness over the months in creating settings that could abet the spread of SARS-CoV-2, including other White House events and campaign rallies. It underscores the limitations of the White House’s strategy of largely relying on testing to create a sense of security around the president without embracing other safety measures. In a way, experts said, the fact that a president who has dismissed the seriousness of the pandemic and mocked certain precautions contracted the coronavirus felt like it was his administration’s laxness catching up to him.

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“Why are we having SCOTUS nominations in person?” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “These in-person, especially indoor events, but even outdoor events, should not be taking place, especially not from our leaders who are trying to set good examples for this, or who should be trying to set good examples.”

He added: “This is just befuddling and dumbfounding how they are not taking this seriously and being the leaders that they should be.”

The actual announcement of Barrett took place outside in the Rose Garden, but there were also gatherings inside the White House that day. It’s not clear who was inside with whom and for how long. And while experts say that staying outdoors or at least in well-ventilated areas is safer than packing into stuffy rooms, other precautions — like masks and distancing and limiting the size of gatherings — are emphasized as ways to reduce the risk of transmission.

“If you’re outdoors and you’re sitting next to people for an hour, and

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What Is The ‘Rose Garden Massacre?’ Amy Coney Barrett Announcement May Have Been Super Spreader Event

As President Donald Trump and several other key members of the Republican Party and his staff continue to test positive for COVID-19, all eyes are turning to an event last weekend which all of the parties now ill were present at—the President’s Rose Garden ceremony to announce Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

According to the Washington Post, at least seven people who were in attendance at the Sept. 25 event—including the President, Republican senators Thom Tillis and Mike Lee, former counselor Kellyanne Conway and Notre Dame President John Jenkins—have all since tested positive for the coronavirus. Mask use was not common at the event, with several people forgoing facial coverings, as social distancing was also largely ignored. Since then, speculation has grown that someone in attendance was positive for the virus, and then spread it to the others who have all since become infected.

Thus far, symptoms have reportedly been mild for most of those infected, though the President has been hospitalized at Walter Reed Medical Center put of precaution.

Barrett has tested negative after attending the event, though she was previously diagnosed with the virus during the late summer and recovered, CNN reports.

Since news of many who attended the event getting sick broke, critics have taken to Twitter to deem it the “Rose Garden Massacre,” which trended on Saturday as more names of attendees were released as people who tested positive.

Others used the news to criticize the President and his family for their generally refusing to wear masks—pointing out the President’s family for all taking off their masks after being seated at Tuesday’s debate in Ohio with Joe Biden.

Some also took the news to poke fun at the last time the Rose Garden made news—which was over the summer after Melania Trump caught criticism for changing the look of the space and ripping out plants put in by Jackie Kennedy ahead of the Republican National Convention.

In a press conference Saturday, Dr. Sean Conley stated the President is “doing very well,” though he remains hospitalized. 

White House Rose Garden The White House Rose Garden is pictured on August 22, 2020 after renovations. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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Top Trump officials seen not wearing masks or social distancing at White House Supreme Court announcement

Many of the guests for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nomination announcement arrived at Saturday’s event with masks on, but as the Rose Garden event got underway, masks were virtually non-existent.



Alex Azar, Eugene Scalia are posing for a picture: From right, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie greet people after President Donald Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House, on Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)


© Alex Brandon/AP
From right, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie greet people after President Donald Trump announced Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee to the Supreme Court, in the Rose Garden at the White House, on Sept. 26, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Some of the Trump administration’s top health officials, as well as other attendees, were seen not wearing masks or social distancing at the highest-profile event at the White House since the Republican National Convention in August.

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Seats for guests in the White House Rose Garden at the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett also did not appear spaced apart the recommended six feet, CNN reporters observed, as US deaths from the coronavirus pandemic has surpassed 200,000.

The event stood in striking contrast with the ceremonies earlier this week at the Supreme Court and US Capitol honoring the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, where many attendees at both events wore masks and were careful interacting with one another. Trump, who went mask-less for Saturday’s event, wore a face covering when he paid respects to Ginsburg this week.

Alex Azar, the head of the Health and Human Services Department, put on a mask at one point during Trump’s speech announcing the President is nominating Barrett as the nominee.

But as he left the ceremony, the nation’s top health official fist-bumped without a mask on — going against the health recommendations he has espoused during the pandemic. Azar has repeatedly encouraged Americans to wear a facial covering and to practice social distancing.

CNN has reached out to HHS for comment.

Top administration officials, including Attorney General William Barr and Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist who is the latest addition to the White House coronavirus task force, were also seen without masks, shaking hands and interacting closely with other attendees.

Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Saturday that “for one of the leaders of our country, of our Health and Human Services, walking around without a mask just sends the wrong message.”

“It is essential for all of us who hold positions of influence in healthcare and government, or just in media to wear masks when we’re out in public, to send that right message because that’s the only way that, right now, that we’re going to combat and succeed against this virus,” she said.

Ahead of the event, White House spokesman Judd Deere told CNN Saturday that anyone in close proximity to the President will be tested for Covid-19, and that there will be social distancing measures.

But two of Barrett’s colleagues at Notre Dame, who attended the Rose Garden event and were seated toward the front of the audience, said they were not tested

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White House touts unusual Justice Department announcement about ‘discarded’ Trump ballots in Pennsylvania

The Justice Department said Thursday that it is investigating “potential issues with mail-in ballots” in the swing state of Pennsylvania and, in a highly unusual disclosure, revealed that several ballots marked for President Donald Trump were “discarded.”



Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera: President Donald Trump listens to a question during a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington.


© Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump listens to a question during a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington.

US Attorney David Freed said a preliminary inquiry determined that nine “military ballots were discarded” and that seven of them “were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump.” The incident occurred in Luzerne County, a swing county in northeastern Pennsylvania that is home to Wilkes-Barre. Trump flipped the county in 2016 after years of narrow Democratic wins.

The statement was highly unusual because it highlighted the fact that the ballots were marked for Trump — which immediately raised suspicions that the Justice Department was trying to furnish material that Trump could promote for political gain. Indeed, Trump and other White House aides used the information, even before it was made public, to attack mail-in voting.

Election officials go to extraordinary lengths to protect ballot secrecy. It’s unclear how investigators figured out who the votes were for, and why they made that information public.

Additionally, the Justice Department typically does not comment about ongoing investigations, though there are rules allowing it when there is a public interest at stake, like election integrity.

The federal probe was apparently triggered by a request from Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis, a Republican who announced Tuesday that federal investigators were assisting with an election issue. Freed, also a Republican, was appointed by Trump in 2017. A spokesperson for Salavantis told CNN that the nine affected ballots are for the general election. Many military and overseas ballots were sent out last weekend.

“It seems worth investigating, but I think it is really weird that they say who the votes were cast for,” CNN election law analyst Rick Hasen said in response to the announcement. “I think it will become fodder for the President to claim that people are messing with ballots in Pennsylvania.”

While any missing ballots can cause a problem, the issue appears to be miniscule, based on statements from investigators. More than 6.1 million Pennsylvanians voted in the 2016 election.

Trump uses news to criticize mail-in voting

In an interview earlier on Thursday morning, before the Justice Department announcement, Trump seized on the Pennsylvania situation to question the legitimacy of the 2020 election. It wasn’t clear at the time what he was referring to, and there had been local reports of an inquiry, but his comments generally align with the information released by Freed on Thursday afternoon.

Trump, who had apparently been briefed, told Fox News Radio, “They found six ballots in an office yesterday, in a garbage can. They were Trump ballots. Eight ballots, in an office yesterday in a certain state. … This is what’s going to happen. And we’re investigating that.”

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White House, Trump campaign push unusual DOJ announcement about 7 ‘discarded’ military votes

The Trump campaign on Thursday accused the Democrats of “trying to steal the election” after seven military ballots cast in favor of the president were found “discarded” in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania — despite no immediate allegations of any malfeasance.

“BREAKING: FBI finds military mail-in ballots discarded in Pennsylvania. 100% of them were cast for President Trump. Democrats are trying to steal the election,” Matt Wolking, deputy communications director for the Trump campaign, tweeted Thursday afternoon, linking to a press release from David Freed, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Freed said his office had begun “an inquiry into reports of potential issues with a small number of mail-in ballots at the Luzerne County Board of Elections.”

“At this point we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded. Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time. Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot. All nine ballots were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump,” the statement said.

Freed’s office put out a revised statement hours after the first saying the number of Trump ballots was actually seven.

“Two of the discarded ballots had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne elections staff prior to recovery by the FBI and the contents of those 2 ballots are unknown,” the updated statement said.

Both statements were highly unusual as U.S. Attorneys typically do not publicly announce they’ve opened an inquiry. The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to give further comment about the probe, except to say the general election ballots were improperly opened by county staff.

The second statement noted that Freed’s office had been investigating the case with the FBI since Monday at the request of Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis.

Salavantis is a Republican, and Trump won the county by almost 20 points in 2016. Salavantis was told about the find last week by the county’s elections director, the county solicitor said in a statement.

While the nature of the inquiry, including whether there’s a criminal component, is unclear, the Justice Department’s 2017 guidelines for “Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses” says that, “Because the federal prosecutor’s function in the area of election fraud is not primarily preventative, any criminal investigation by the Department must be conducted in a way that minimizes the likelihood that the investigation itself may become a factor in the election.”

In the evening, DOJ released a letter Freed sent to the county board of elections, reporting his initial findings — including that at least part of the problem appeared to be bureaucratic.

“The FBI has recovered a number of documents relating to military ballots that had been improperly opened by your elections staff, and had the ballots removed and discarded, or removed and placed separately from the envelope containing confidential voter information and attestation,” the letter said.

It noted, “the appropriate method for processing received military ballots is to securely store the ballot, unopened” until Election Day, but that some elections staffers said

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