It’s Monday, December 20th, and this is your Morning Wire. Listen to the full podcast:
1) Ghislaine Maxwell Trial Draws To A Close
The Topline: Ghislaine Maxwell’s defense team rested its case after just two days, setting up closing arguments to begin today.
The Ghislaine Maxwell trial was expected to last up to six weeks, but the defense rested its case on Friday, ending testimony after 12 trial days – the defense took only 2. On Monday, closing arguments will be made by both sides, and the outcome could be known as early as Tuesday.
Maxwell is accused of trafficking underage girls across state lines for deceased businessman Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell declined to testify on her own behalf. The judge asked her why, explaining that it was her choice, and she claimed that since the prosecution had not proven their case beyond reasonable doubt, there was no reason for her to testify.
The case has been considered by most legal experts to be a toss-up and closing arguments are likely to be consequential for both sides. Each side introduced a slew of documentary evidence, flight logs, school records, photos, and emails, but didn’t explain why many of these elements had been introduced. Witness testimony largely failed to present a clear narrative, so it will be up to the attorneys in closing to tie up all the loose ends.
Since the defense only presented a handful of witnesses, they likely agree with Maxwell that the prosecutors did not prove their case. The defense called an ex-girlfriend of Epstein’s who was friendly with him and Maxwell for decades, and a former employee who praised Maxwell as a boss. Both women said they never saw or participated in any inappropriate behavior. There was also expert and technical testimony, which will possibly be fleshed out in closing arguments.
2) Manchin Kills Biden’s Social Spending Bill
The Topline: On Sunday, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced on Fox News he will vote “No” on the Build Back Better Act, effectively putting an end to the legislation as it currently stands.
Quote Of The Day: “… I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there. … This is a ‘no’ on this legislation. I have tried everything I know to do and the president has worked diligently. …”
– Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)
White House Responds
By defecting from his party on the bill, Manchin has effectively ended negotiations on the current version of the Democrats’ expansive social spending bill.
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden reportedly told aides that Manchin might be leaning towards voting against the bill, but it was still a surprise when he announced it on Fox News Sunday. Manchin reportedly reached out to the White House about half an hour before appearing on Fox, so they weren’t entirely blindsided, but one senior aide still described it as “a total surprise.” There appeared to be a feeling in the White House that Manchin was still more on the fence at this stage.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki released a written statement shortly after the announcement which characterized Manchin’s announcement as a “sudden and inexplicable reversal” and a “breach of his commitments.” Psaki’ also said the White House will “continue to press [Manchin] … to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.” She also suggested he’s being dishonest about his reasons for rejecting the bill.
The main issue for the moderate senator from West Virginia has been the price of the bill.
Manchin has said he’s concerned about inflation, and the legislation would cost trillions of dollars. The official price tag is $1.9 trillion, but experts say it would likely end up being two or three times that amount. Manchin also said he’s hesitant to sign a large and complex bill that isn’t clear and transparent to his constituents. In his statement, Manchin said “If I can’t go back home and explain it, I can’t vote for it.”
What’s Next: It seems increasingly unlikely there will be another version of the bill. Manchin has been firm about not wanting to exacerbate inflation, and if inflation continues to rise, as is expected, he may become even more resolute. The upcoming election year will also present further complications.
3) Google Enacts Company Vaccine Mandate
The Topline: Google, which employs more than 140,000 people, has announced a vaccine mandate for their employees.
Quote Of The Day: “We expect that almost all roles at Google in the US will fall within the scope of the executive order. Anyone entering a Google building must be fully vaccinated or have an approved accommodation that allows them to work or come onsite.”
– Google memo
Following the push to mandate COVID vaccines on a federal level, several large corporations have moved to mandate vaccinations for their employees.
Last week, Google told it’s U.S.-based staff that they must get the COVID-19 vaccine by the middle of January, or face repercussions, such as pay cuts and termination, according to internal documents uncovered by CNBC.
A company-wide memo said employees had until December 3rd to provide proof of their vaccination status, or apply for a religious or medical exemption. Employees who fail to follow these instructions, or whose exemption requests are denied, would be “reviewed” after that date.
Unlike most of the tech industry, which is prioritizing remote work, Google is pushing to get their workforce back into the office. At some point in 2022, Google is going to require its workforce to come into the office three days a week.
Meanwhile, other tech companies are pushing back their in-office work plans. Facebook is looking to reopen their U.S. offices by the end of January, but is giving their employees the option to delay returning until the summer.
According to the documents, employees who haven’t complied with Google’s vaccine rules by January 18th will be placed on “paid administrative leave” for 30 days. After that, presumably if they have still refused to get vaccinated, they’ll be put on “unpaid personal leave” for up to six months. Then, they’ll be fired.
CNBC reported that a Google spokesperson said in a statement their “vaccination requirements are one of the most important ways we can keep our workforce safe and keep our services running,” and added that the company stands behind their vaccination policy.
Google referenced President Biden’s executive order in the memo, even though a federal court issued a stay on the order in November.
In the memo, they also said “frequent testing is not a valid alternative to vaccination.”
Other Stories We’re Tracking
Dr. Fauci On Plane Mandates
In an interview with ABC on Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested mask mandates on planes should continue indefinitely, despite evidence that plane filtration systems are effective at preventing spread of the virus.
Fauci was asked, “Are we gonna get to the point where we won’t have to wear masks on airplanes?” He answered, “I don’t think so. I think when you’re dealing with a closed space, even though the filtration is good, that you want to go that extra step.”
Over the weekend, former Covington Catholic high school student Nicholas Sandmann announced he’s reached a confidential settlement agreement with NBC News over his $275 million defamation lawsuit against the network. Sandmann has also reached settlements with CNN and The Washington Post, which he also sued for defaming him over a viral video from January 2019.
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