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COVID vaccine card

Photo by Department of Defense

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

As the country continues to battle the novel coronavirus, fake vaccine cards are surfacing online. While one would assume they are being sold by those unfamiliar with the consequences, the latest reported incident of selling fake COVID-19 vaccine cards involves state troopers. Three state troopers in Vermont resigned after allegations that they had "varying roles" in creating fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards, which has prompted an investigation by the FBI, authorities said.

Shawn Sommers, Raymond Witkowski, and David Pfindel "are suspected of having varying roles in the creation of fraudulent COVID-19 vaccination cards, which may be a violation of federal law," Vermont State Police said in a statement Tuesday. "The details surrounding this incident, reported to supervisors by other troopers, were immediately reported to federal law enforcement authorities. The state police referred the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Burlington."

According to the Vermont State Police, the three officers resigned after colleagues raised questions about their behavior. While Sommers and Witkowski resigned August 10, a day after the concerns surfaced, Pfindel's resignation went into effect Friday. Officials said they were unable to announce the resignations before Tuesday because the FBI is still investigating the matter. Who the cards were made for is still unclear, The Washington Post reported.

The director of the state police noted that he was "embarrassed this situation has occurred" and added that while "it has tarnished the reputation of the Vermont State Police," it does not represent their values.

"The accusations in this case involve an extraordinary level of misconduct — a criminal violation of the law — and I could not be more upset and disappointed," Col. Matthew T. Birmingham, director of the Vermont State Police, said. "If these allegations are proved to be true, it is reprehensible that state troopers would manipulate vaccination cards in the midst of a pandemic, when being vaccinated is one of the most important steps anyone can take to keep their community safe from COVID-19."

While more details on the case have not yet been disclosed, Michael Schirling, the Vermont Public Safety commissioner, said that "as soon as other troopers became aware of this situation, they raised the allegations internally, and commanders took swift and decisive action to hold these individuals accountable and report this matter to federal authorities,"The New York Times reported.

According to officials, Sommers and Witkowski joined the state police in July 2016 and graduated from the academy in January 2017. Pfindel was hired in January 2014.

Although sales of fake vaccine cards have been making news for some time now, this seems to be the first case involving law enforcement.

Multiple incidents have been reported in the last few months in which individuals have sold both authentic and fake COVID-19 vaccination cards, Daily Kos reported. States across the country are now requiring individuals to have proof of vaccination for many indoor activities. As a result, fake vaccine cards are on the rise. In one incident a woman created a fake card and was caught after misspelling the vaccine manufacturer Moderna, as "Maderna."

In a memo last month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced that it had seized more than 3,000 fake vaccination cards that were passing through Memphis daily. The number is expected to be higher nationwide.

The FBI issued a warning regarding fake vaccination cards earlier this year, noting that not only does it increase the risk of COVID-19 but it is illegal to both buy or sell the fraudulent cards, which could be charged as forgery. Making or buying counterfeit vaccine cards violates federal laws and can result in heavy fines and imprisonment.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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