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Whistleblower Reports Grave Missteps In Virus Outbreak

A senior Health and Human Services official alleged in a whistleblower complaint this week that federal workers tasked with assisting potential COVID-19 patients did so without proper protective gear and did not receive adequate medical training until days after those patients arrived at government quarantine facilities.

Some of the workers then departed into the general population not knowing they had potentially been exposed to the disease.

The complaint was first obtained by the Washington Post and New York Times on Thursday. It alleged that the workers were "improperly deployed" to two military bases in California and Texas now being used as quarantine stations for Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan, China, amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak, the virus strain responsible for causing the COVID-19 disease.

It also claimed workers were "not properly trained or equipped to operate in a public health emergency situation."

The complaint alleged that the workers may have been exposed to the disease due to the oversight.

According to the Post, "appropriate steps were not taken to protect them and staff were not trained in wearing personal protective equipment, even though they had face-to-face contact with returning passengers." The workers were not trained on safety protocols until five days after the patients arrived at the bases.

As the Times noted Thursday, due to the lack of training, "some of the exposed staff members moved freely around and off the bases, with at least one person staying in a nearby hotel and leaving California on a commercial flight."

The whistleblower, who oversees employees in the Administration for Children and Families, a unit within HHS, alleged that officials and staffers in the field quickly became concerned about the potential threat of infection to both the workers and the public and relayed those concerns to the whistleblower's office.

"I soon began to field panicked calls from my leadership team and deployed staff members expressing concerns with the lack of H.H.S. communication and coordination, staff being sent into quarantined areas without personal protective equipment, training or experience in managing public health emergencies, safety protocols and the potential danger to both themselves and members of the public they come into contact with," she wrote.

Approximately 14 staffers were deployed to March Air Force base in Riverside County, California, while an addition 13 were sent to Travis Air Force in Fairfield.

The Administration for Children and Families typically dispatches staff in the wake of natural disasters and do not tend to health emergencies like the current coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 80,000 people worldwide and killed thousands.

The whistleblower said she was told in late January that the unit would be supporting "repatriation of the evacuated Americans," according to her lawyer, and agreed with the deployment at the time because it appeared to be "within ACF's scope." However, according to the Post, she later discovered the staffers had been "dispatched without her knowledge by other senior officials at HHS."

According to the complaint, the whistleblower raised concerns about worker safety with other HHS officials, including those within Secretary Alex Azar's office, and was reassigned shortly thereafter. The Post noted that she was given 15 days, starting from Feb. 19, to accept her new position or face termination.

News of the complaint comes hours after Azar faced questioning from lawmakers at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing.

Earlier on Thursday, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) appeared to reference the complaint directly, pressing Azar on the matter.

"To your knowledge, were any of the ACF employees exposed to high-risk evacuees from China?" Gomez asked.

Azar responded, "They should never have been, without appropriate [protective gear]. If you were anyone in quarantine, to maintain quarantine, that should be the case."

He added that he was "not aware of any violation of quarantine or isolation protocols."

The Trump administration has faced pressure over its uncoordinated response to the outbreak. Trump himself has repeatedly claimed things were well under control, blaming the media for hyping up the threat to Americans, even as his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that those in the United States faced imminent danger.

On Wednesday, Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence to lead the response efforts, prompting outcry from those who said he was unfit for the role due to his mishandling of a previous HIV outbreak in his home state of Indiana, when Pence was still governor.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Fails To Address Nation After Iraq Airstrike, Tweets Instead

Donald Trump declined to formally address the nation on Thursday, in the hours following an unprecedented airstrike in Iraq that left top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani dead, choosing to give a punctuated statement to reporters from his resort in Mar-a-Lago instead the following afternoon.

The Defense Department first announced Soleimani had been killed on Thursday evening.

Unlike his predecessors, Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, who have paused to address the country following pivotal U.S.-led strikes in the past, Trump spent much of Friday attacking political rivals on Twitter, boosting book sales for his allies, and boasting about the Thursday night hit on Soleimani, a brutal commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which took place near the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq.

Finally, just after 3 p.m. on Friday, Trump spoke to reporters from a podium at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, announcing the news, but taking no questions.

“Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” Trump claimed.

“We took action last night to stop a war,” he added. “We did not take action to start a war.”

Trump’s affinity for self-promotion and desire to paint his administration as tough on terror seemed at odds with his apparent reluctance to provide a more formal address to the nation. The decision also breaks with past presidents who have traditionally documented important moments through official channels, intended to inform the American public of crucial matters.

In the late evening hours on May 2, 2011, shortly after a targeted operation at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Obama took his place at the lectern in the East Room of the White House and informed the country that Osama bin Laden, then the leader of al-Qaida and the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, had been killed.

“Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice,” he said.

He gave “thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country,” noting that they were “part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.”

Other presidents have used their official platform at the White House to inform the nation of major military developments as well.

Eight years before Obama’s East Room address, on March 19, 2003, Bush spoke from the Oval Office to confirm that U.S. and coalition forces were engaged “in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”

The announcement marked the beginning of the Iraq War and a contentious multi-year armed conflict, which continues today and has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and service members.

“These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign,” Bush said at the time, in a live broadcast to the country. “… To all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces now in the Middle East, the peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well placed.”

Bush’s predecessor, Clinton, delivered his own addresses to the nation on multiple occasions throughout his tenure, including following the bombing of Iraq in December 1998, which was carried out ostensibly with the intent of “degrading” the country’s ability to produce weapons of mass destruction, according to then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

“Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq,” Clinton said, noting their mission was to “attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.”

“Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons,” he said, adding that the address was intended to “explain” his decision, as well as “why we have acted now and what we aim to accomplish.”

Given that history, it’s unclear why Trump this week chose not to formalize the attack in Iraq, especially considering the significance of his actions and the fact that he has chosen to address the nation on similar matters before.

As recently as October last year, Trump spoke to the American people from the White House to announce that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been killed hours earlier in an overnight military operation in Syria. “He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place,” he said at the time.

Soleimani was perhaps an even more ruthless leader responsible for, among other things, allegedly training Iraqi militants in producing roadside bombs that have killed thousands of troops and U.S.-led coalition soldiers, and for propping up Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal regime in Syria.

The decision to assassinate Soleimani, then, who the BBC notes is “widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei” and retains popularity among many Iranians for facing down U.S. policy, carries great weight. Already, Soleimani’s allies have vowed revenge on the United States for the attack and experts fear the move could carry the region into a new phase of armed conflict, or, some believe, war.

Trump has often been praised by his supporters for his bare-knuckle, breakneck style of addressing the press and the American people — both through on his personal Twitter account and in over-the-top news conferences or press gaggles from the White House lawn — which may best explain his decision to avoid a formalized setting to deliver the Soleimani news.

However, it’s more than likely Trump will use the stage at a campaign rally at a Miami megachurch on Friday night to address the attack, using Soleimani’s death to stir up his raucous crowd of fervent supporters into a frenzy.

But the delay in Trump’s decision to address the strike in Iraq, as well as the potential fallout, was a break from precedent — and certainly comes at a time when the American people expect reassurance the most.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Federal Task Force To Address Crime Epidemic Against Native Women And Girls

Reprinted with permission from The American Independent.

Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday creating a White House task force on missing and slain American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The task force will be overseen by Attorney General William Barr and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. It will develop protocols to apply to new and unsolved case and create a multi-jurisdictional team to review cold cases.

Trump called the scourge facing American Indian women and girls “sobering and heartbreaking.”

“We will leverage every resource we have to bring safety to our tribal communities, and we will not waver in this mission,” Trump said. “We’re taking this very seriously.”

Trump’s announcement comes days after Barr said the Justice Department would invest $1.5 million to hire specialized coordinators in 11 U.S. attorney’s offices with significant caseloads from Indian Country to come up with ways to better respond to missing persons cases and committed FBI resources. Barr said the agency also would do an in-depth analysis of federal databases and its own data collection process.

The National Institute of Justice estimates that 1.5 million American Indian women have experienced violence in their lifetime, including many who are victims of sexual violence. On some reservations, federal studies have shown women are killed at a rate over 10 times the national average.

The executive order also directs the Justice Department to make grant funding available to improve public safety in tribal communities.

Trump was joined by representatives of the Navajo Nation, which extends into New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah; the Crow Nation in Montana; and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Minnesota.

Fond du Lac Chairman Kevin DuPuis highlighted women as caretakers of children and tribal villages and said it’s imperative that they be protected and not treated as second-class citizens.

“It’s very, very important that we, as a people, have a true identity,” he said. “And when we lose our women and we lose our children, that goes with them.”

The Seattle Indian Health Board urged the Trump administration to keep in mind that a majority of American Indians live off reservations.

“This action is a step in the right direction, but we look forward to seeing additional steps that are inclusive of urban Indian people,” the board’s chief research officer, Abigail Echo-Hawk, said in a statement.

The task force expires after two years. It is expected to report on its work in a year.