Washington (District of Columbia, United States AFP)
The US Secret Service has increased its protective bubble around Joe Biden as chances increased that he will be the next US president, the Washington Post reported Friday.
The Secret Service sent an extra squad of agents to Biden’s campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware as expectations rose that the Democratic candidate would be able to declare victory over President Donald Trump as early as Friday, the Post reported.
The Secret Service, an agency under the Department of Homeland Security, is in charge or protecting the White House and senior government officials, visiting high officials, and others.
It had already deployed some agents to protect Biden around early July after he triumphed in the Democratic Party’s presidential primaries.
As a former vice president, Biden could have requested Secret Service protection before then, but reportedly did not.
If Biden becomes president-elect, Secret Service protection is expected to ramp up to a higher level.
Trump erupts as Biden closes in on US presidency
President Donald Trump launched a tirade of unsubstantiated claims that he had been cheated out of winning the US election, as vote counting across battleground states early Friday showed Democrat Joe Biden closing in on victory.
Biden’s momentum towards the White House built further with major media outlets reporting he had overtaken Trump by a razor-thin margin in the crucial battleground state of Georgia.
“They are trying to steal the election,” an increasingly isolated Trump said in an extraordinary appearance at the White House on Thursday, two days after polls closed.
Providing no evidence and taking no questions from reporters, Trump spent nearly 17 minutes making the kind of incendiary statements about the country’s democratic process that have never been heard before from a US president.
According to Trump, Democrats were using “illegal votes” to “steal the election from us.”
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he claimed. “They’re trying to rig an election. And we can’t let that happen.”
Trump repeated those claims in a tweet early on Friday.
His rhetoric came as his campaign aggressively challenged the integrity of the huge number of ballots mailed in rather than cast in person on Election Day.
The big shift to postal ballots this year reflected the desire of voters to avoid risking exposure to Covid-19 in crowded polling stations during a pandemic that has already killed 235,000 Americans.
Mail-in ballots have tilted heavily to Democrats. In the crucial state of Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign moved to stop the counting of votes, which authorities were forbidden from processing before Election Day.
– Mixed support for Trump –
Several major US television networks cut away from live coverage of Trump’s event over concerns of disinformation and there were signs of cracks in support within his Republican Party.
Representative Will Hurd called Trump’s call to stop vote-counting “dangerous and wrong,” while Rupert Murdoch’s long supportive New York Post called Trump’s allegations “baseless.”
But prominent Republicans rallied behind Trump and signalled that they could challenge the legitimacy of results if the president loses.
I think everything should be on the table,” Senator Lindsey Graham said when asked by Fox News host and Trump loyalist Sean Hannity if Pennsylvania’s Republican-led legislature should refuse to certify results.
Biden, 77, was just one or, at most, two battleground states away from securing the electoral college votes to take the White House.
Trump, 74, needs an increasingly unlikely combination of wins in multiple states to stay in power.
Biden, who has promised to heal a country bruised by Trump’s extraordinarily polarizing four years in power, appealed for “people to stay calm.”
“We have no doubt that when the count is finished, Senator (Kamala) Harris and I will be declared the winners,” he said in comments to reporters in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.
“The process is working,” he said. “The count is being completed. And we will know soon.”
– Biden closes in –
In Georgia, a generally Republican state, Biden pulled ahead with a lead of 917 votes, CNN, Fox News and the New York Times reported.
If Trump loses Georgia, he can not win a majority of electoral college seats.
In Arizona and Nevada, Biden was holding on to slim leads.
If Biden wins two of those three states he would win the presidency.
The biggest piece of the puzzle is Pennsylvania, where Trump’s early lead continued to steadily draining away.
The Democratic hopeful currently is projected to have 253 of the 538 electoral college votes divvied up between the country’s 50 states.
He has 264 with the inclusion of Arizona, which Fox News and the Associated Press have called in his favor but other major organizations have not.
If Biden took Pennsylvania, he would grab 20 more electoral college votes, thereby instantly topping the necessary 270 for overall victory.
The latest results showed Trump’s lead in the state had shrunk to around 18,000 votes, with most ballots yet to be counted coming from Democratic stronghold Philadelphia.
– Protests across country –
Trump’s campaign insisted that the president has a way to win, citing pockets of Republican support yet to be counted and also alleging mass fraud without providing evidence.
Trump’s team fanned out across the battleground states challenging the results in court and his supporters converged outside election offices in several cities.
Outside an election office in Arizona’s capital Phoenix, far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones roused a heavily armed crowd, shouting on a megaphone about Trump’s supposed enemies: “They will be destroyed because America is rising.”
In Las Vegas, Trump backers wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats demanded to see ballots being processed.
Brando Madrigal said he wanted to verify that the votes are “not coming from the people who died with Covid, people who are out of state, people who don’t have the ability to vote because they don’t have the papers.”
But while Trump was demanding that counting be halted in Georgia and Pennsylvania — where his lead is narrowing — his supporters and campaign insisted that it continue in Arizona and Nevada, where he is trailing.
Bob Bauer, a lawyer for the Biden campaign, dismissed the slew of lawsuits as “meritless.”
“All of this is intended to create a large cloud,” Bauer said. “But it’s not a very thick cloud. We see through it. So do the courts and so do election officials.”
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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report
PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.
They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.
Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.
With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.
Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.
Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.
The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.
Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.
Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.
Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.
The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.
JVP picks holes in PCoI report
By Saman Indrajith
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.
Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.
“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”
Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.
TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin
By Saman Indrajith
It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.
The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.
MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.
MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.
Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.