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“I don’t feel bad about what I’ve done. I think I’m being vindicated right now,” Johnson said in an interview this week, referring to his myriad investigations. “It’s a record I’m proud of. … Time will prove me right. It will vindicate what I’ve tried to do here.”

It’s a risky political gamble for Johnson, who is betting that his embrace of Trump through his prior probes and his upcoming election hearing will energize the president’s base, which remains strong in Wisconsin despite Democratic wins statewide in 2018 and 2020. Still, Johnson’s decision to hold Wednesday’s hearing is drawing bipartisan ire as Trump’s allegations of voter fraud continue to crumble in federal court. It also comes two days after the Electoral College sealed Biden’s victory.

But Johnson is used to going it alone. In 2016, the national GOP apparatus all-but abandoned him, believing that he would lose his bid for a second term against Democrat Russ Feingold, largely leaving him to fight an uphill reelection battle on his own.

Johnson’s shock win that year made him more confident in his own instincts — and he’s unapologetic about his investigative pursuits that have drawn angry rebukes from Democrats, who have accused him of aiding a foreign influence campaign, and even some Republicans who have sought to distance themselves from him.

Johnson, like all GOP committee chairs, is term-limited on the panel and is slated to give up his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee gavel in January. His likely successor, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), is less inclined to continue the Johnson-era probes; but Johnson is expected to chair the panel’s permanent subcommittee on investigations — a position he is certain to use to go after the Biden administration on a range of subjects.

“I’m just doing everything I can because I think it’s important, when people go into an election and say, ‘I’m going to vote for that guy,’ they ought to know he has all kinds of foreign financial entanglements, and he’s lied to you bold-faced about them,” Johnson said about the Biden family.

Indeed, Johnson pointed to the recent revelation of a federal investigation targeting Biden’s son Hunter — though that probe centers on his taxes and business dealings. Johnson’s investigation was largely focused on efforts to leverage Hunter Biden’s position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company to influence the Obama-era State Department. Hunter Biden has maintained that he acted within the bounds of the law, both in defending himself against the tax investigation and his position on Burisma, the Ukrainian energy firm. There is scant evidence to back up Johnson’s Burisma claims.

Democrats believe Johnson’s strategy, if he intends to run for reelection, is clear: He’s trying to hold onto Trump’s base to power him to a third term. Trump has led his supporters to believe that the 2020 election was rigged against him, and Johnson is feeding that narrative with his recent statements as well as his intention to hold a hearing on the subject.

Meanwhile, Democrats are itching to throw Johnson out of power — perhaps more so than any other Senate Republican who is on the ballot in 2022. Even before the 2020 election was over, a Democratic opponent stepped forward to challenge Johnson, and the party is betting that Johnson’s full-on embrace of Trumpism will fare poorly in Wisconsin.

“Of all the Trump apologists, he stands out as number one,” Tom Nelson, the first prominent Democrat to jump into the race against Johnson, said in an interview. “People were upset at Johnson before the election, but it has — I mean, I would use the word contempt. Because he’s not doing his job.”

Nelson, a county executive and the former majority leader in the state Assembly, said that despite Wisconsin’s electoral trends, he fully expects the race to be a competitive one, noting that Democrats’ margins of victory in 2018 and 2020 — and Trump’s margin there in 2016 — were all razor thin.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), incoming chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, agrees. Scott joked he has been “bugging” Johnson about his forthcoming decision.

“2022 should be a good year for us. We’ve got to talk about the issues that are important to people. We’ve got to talk to everybody,” Scott said, noting that he himself won three times in a perennial swing state. “We can win Wisconsin.”

Johnson’s posture is especially perplexing to Charlie Sykes, a conservative former radio host in Wisconsin who helped launch Johnson’s first Senate campaign in 2010. Sykes, who has since denounced Trump and the GOP, noted that Johnson outperformed Trump in the state in 2016, receiving 70,000 more votes.

“To watch him become drawn so dramatically into Trumpworld was just something that I think was unexpected for a lot of people who watched his early career,” Sykes said. “If you walked into a coffee shop in Oshkosh, you’re not going to find people wanting their senior United States senator to spend his time focusing on Hunter Biden’s laptop.”

Mark Becker, a former GOP official in Wisconsin who opposes Trump, recently detailed a November conversation he had with Johnson in which, according to Becker, Johnson acknowledged that Biden won the election legitimately but said it would be “political suicide” to go against Trump, who has been stoking the conspiracy theories that have animated his political base for the past month.

“[Johnson] said that ‘Yes, Donald Trump is an ass—-,’ but the votes that Trump received, especially in Wisconsin, cannot be overlooked,” Becker wrote.

“The senator understands Joe Biden’s victory. The problem is he refuses to live in that reality publicly, because of political considerations.”

Johnson’s office did not respond to questions about Becker’s post.

Johnson has routinely dismissed these and other criticisms that seek to paint him as aloof, out of touch and worse.

“My efforts, I think, have been very upfront and honest and forthright. I mean, people are tweeting all kinds of nasty names at me. I don’t engage in that stuff. I’m just very straightforward,” Johnson maintained. “I don’t engage in this invective and personal attacks.”

Johnson defended his decision to hold Wednesday’s hearing on the election, noting that a large swath of the tens of millions of Americans who voted for Trump do not trust the election result — a dynamic he called “unsustainable.” He did not, though, say that Trump himself is stoking the unsubstantiated fraud claims.

“So now you’ve got President Trump’s supporters seeing some real problems. There are some irregularities here that need to be explained,” said Johnson, who previously challenged Attorney General William Barr’s assertion that there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. “These issues have to be highlighted and hopefully corrected so that, in the next election, people have, just going into it, greater assurances.”

The hearing, which Democrats have derided as a dangerous waste of time, will feature former independent counsel and Trump ally Kenneth Starr. Democrats invited Christopher Krebs, the former top cybersecurity official whom Trump fired after Krebs publicly debunked the president’s fraud claims in the aftermath of the Nov. 3 election.

“I am appalled by many of my colleagues’ choice to help spread the president’s lies and false narratives about the outcome of the 2020 election,” said Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on Johnson’s committee, who has often found himself in the awkward position of sparring with Johnson atop what historically has been a bipartisan committee.

It’s not just Democrats who have condemned Johnson’s investigative pushes. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who chaired the Intelligence Committee, privately warned Johnson that his Biden probe could aid Russian disinformation campaigns, POLITICO previously reported.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) has said he will not attend Wednesday’s hearing because it’s not “productive,” and he previously dismissed Johnson’s efforts to probe the Biden family as political in nature. Romney said in a brief interview that he hopes Wednesday’s hearing focuses on the security of future elections, rather than on the 2020 campaign.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)

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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers


Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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