The Rundown for December 23, 2020

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES… The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has reached 18,197,351 and the nation’s death toll stands at 322,285, according to figures released last night by Johns Hopkins University… The Centers for Disease Control said in an advisory last night that the COVID-19 variant identified in Britain has not yet been seen in the U.S. but cautioned that the sample sizes have been small. The nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says it’s reasonable to assume that the variant has already arrived. Nevertheless, scientists note that there’s no evidence that the variant is a more severe strain or a greater risk of death.

TRUMP WANTS CONGRESS TO AMEND CORONAVIRUS RELIEF BILL… President Trump last night suggested he might not sign the coronavirus relief package passed on Monday without amendments. The president, who was expected to sign the legislation yesterday, called it “a disgrace” and urged Congress to increase direct stimulus checks from $600 to $2000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded enthusiastically on Twitter. “At last the president has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!” she wrote.

TRUMP ROLLS OUT PARDONS… President Trump yesterday handed out pardons to 15 people, including four former U.S. service members convicted of war crimes, two people convicted in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and two former Republican congressmen convicted of corruption. Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and his associate Alex van der Zwaan were pardoned for lying to FBI agents. Also pardoned were former congressmen Duncan Hunter, who was sentenced to 11 months for stealing campaign funds and Chris Collins, who received a 26-month sentence for insider trading. Former Blackwater Worldwide military contractors received pardons despite their roles in the shooting deaths of 14 Iraqis in 2007.

TWO TRUMP PRIVATE BANKERS RESIGN… Two private bankers at Deutsche Bank responsible for lending to President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner abruptly resigned yesterday. The resignations of Rosemary Vrablic and Dominic Scalzi are effective at the end of the year. The 60-year-old Vrablic took on Trump as a client in 2011 and had a VIP seat at his inauguration in 2016. Deutsche Bank has lent Trump about $330 million and the loans are set to come due in 2023 and 2024. Trump provided a personal guarantee to obtain the loans, allowing the bank to pursue his personal assets if they are not paid back. The Trump Organization is under investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and New York Attorney General, both of which have subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for information regarding its lending to the company. Two Deutsche Bank employees not working on the Trump account, were questioned by investigators with the criminal investigation seeking general information about lending practices in recent weeks.

BIDEN FAULTS TRUMP FOR CYBER ATTACK RESPONSE… President-elect Joe Biden said yesterday he had seen no evidence that the Trump administration has the cyber attacks against the U.S. under control and warned that the breach will not go unanswered once he takes office. Biden faulted Trump for stripping U.S. defenses against cyber attacks and urged the president to acknowledge that the attacks are coming from Russia and hold the Kremlin accountable. Both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr have already placed blame on Moscow while Trump has claimed China is behind them.

CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR FILLS VP-ELECT’S SENATE SEAT… California Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday appointed state Secretary of State Alex Padilla to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris when she departs the Senate to become vice president next month. The 47-year-old Padilla, the son of Mexican immigrants, will be the first Latino to represent the nation’s largest state. He will serve the remaining two years of Harris’ term.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SUES WALMART… The Justice Department sued Walmart yesterday, accusing the retail chain of enabling the opioid crisis through filling illegal prescriptions. Government lawyers say a “systematic failure” prevented Walmart from reporting questionable orders and is seeking thousands of dollars in civil penalties for each unlawful prescription filled and each suspicious order placed. If the suit is successful, Walmart could be forced to pay out billions in damages.

ENTERTAINMENT
SPECIAL MERIT HONOREES AT GRAMMYS
… The Recording Academy has announced that Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Lionel Hampton, Marilyn Horne, Salt-N-Pepa, Selena and Talking Heads will be honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards. Ed Cherney, Benny Golson and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds will be presented Trustees Awards. The ceremony is scheduled for January 31, 2021.

HBO BRINGS BACK ‘HIS DARK MATERIALS’ FOR FINAL SEASON… HBO is bringing back the drama series “His Dark Materials” for a third and final season. The network said production would begin in Cardiff, Wales, in 2021. The Season 2 finale which airs Monday at 9 p.m. Eastern. “His Dark Materials” is based on the Philip Pullman fantasy trilogy of the same name.

SPORTS
NBA SEASON OPENERS

BROOKLYN 122, Golden State 99
… The Nets built a big lead early and cruised past the Warriors to open the NBA’s 2020-21 season. Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 26 points. Kevin Durant tossed in 22 points.

L.A. Clippers 116 – L.A. LAKERS 109… The Clippers jumped out to an early 22-point lead and cruised to an opening-night win over the Lakers. Paul George scored 26 of his 33 points in the second half. Kawhi Leonard added 26 points.

TONIGHT’S NBA SCHEDULE
Charlotte is at Cleveland…
Indiana hosts New York…
Miami is at Orlando…
Philadelphia hosts Washington…
Milwaukee is at Boston…
Toronto hosts New Orleans…
Atlanta is at Chicago…
Houston hosts Oklahoma City…
San Antonio is at Memphis…
Minnesota hosts Detroit…
Sacramento is at Denver…
Portland hosts Utah…
Dallas is at Phoenix

TOP 25 COLLEGE BASKETBALL SCORES
No. 1 GONZAGA 95, Northwestern State 78…
No. 3 KANSAS 79, No. 7 West Virginia 65…
No. 4 IOWA 70, Purdue 55…
No. 6 HOUSTON 76, Temple 50…
No. 9 WISCONSIN 67, Nebraska 53…
No. 14 MISSOURI 54, Bradley 53…
No. 15 Texas Tech 69, OKLAHOMA 67…
No. 16 VIRGINIA 76, William & Mary 40…
NORTH CAROLINA STATE 79, No. 17 North Carolina 76

COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWS… Auburn has hired away Boise State’s Bryan Harsin to become its next head football coach. Harsin replaces Gus Malzahn, who was fired earlier this month after eight seasons with the Tigers. The 44-year-old Harsin is 69-19 with three Mountain West titles in seven seasons at Boise State, his alma mater.

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