Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Sabotage At Emergent Biotech Solutions

WASHINGTON — More than eight years ago, the federal government invested in an insurance policy against vaccine shortages during a pandemic. It paid Emergent BioSolutions, a Maryland biotech firm known for producing anthrax vaccines, to have a factory in Baltimore always at the ready.

When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, the factory became the main U.S. location for manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, churning out about 150 million doses as of last week.

But so far not a single dose has been usable because regulators have not yet certified the factory to allow the vaccines to be distributed to the public. Last week, Emergent said it would destroy up to 15 million doses’ worth of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after contamination with the AstraZeneca vaccine was discovered.

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Emergent and government health officials have long touted their partnership as a success, but an examination by The New York Times of manufacturing practices at the Baltimore facility found serious problems, including a corporate culture that often ignored or deflected missteps and a government sponsor, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, that acted more as a partner than a police officer.

Previously undisclosed internal documents and interviews with current and former federal officials and former company employees depict a factory operation that was ill-equipped to take on such a mammoth manufacturing task, despite Emergent’s having received a $163 million federal contract to improve the facility and prepare it for high-volume production.

The loss of the Johnson & Johnson doses was not the first time the company threw out coronavirus vaccine for fear of contamination. Between early October and January, Emergent discarded five lots of AstraZeneca vaccine — each the equivalent of 2 million to 3 million doses — because of contamination or suspected contamination, according to internal logs, a government official and a former company supervisor.

Audits and investigations — including ones conducted in 2020 by Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, two federal agencies and Emergent’s own quality evaluators — found that Emergent had not followed some basic industry standards at the Baltimore plant, and identified repeated shortcomings in efforts to disinfect and prevent contamination.

While audits always find problems, federal officials and outside experts said that the pattern of lapses suggested deeper quality issues.

“These are the fundamental steps,” said Dr. Ajaz Hussain, a pharmaceutical quality expert who oversaw efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure quality in drug development and manufacturing from 2000 to 2005. “If you are making mistakes or errors in the fundamentals, what else is wrong with your system? That would be my question.”

An audit conducted for AstraZeneca specifically highlighted the risks of viral cross-contamination, which experts believe was responsible for tainting the millions of Johnson & Johnson doses, according to a review of the confidential document by The Times. The audits and investigations also flagged a persistent problem with mold in areas required to be kept clean, poor disinfection of some plant equipment leading to growth of bacteria, the repeated approval of raw materials that had not been fully tested, and inadequate training of some employees.

Because other manufacturers are now churning out so many COVID-19 vaccine doses, it does not appear that the disruptions in Baltimore will upend the Biden administration’s expedited timetable for vaccine supplies and availability. But health experts worry the revelations could heighten safety concerns and make some people more wary about getting shots.

Emergent is a longtime government contractor that has spent much of the last two decades cornering a lucrative market in federal spending on biodefense. The Times reported last month that sales of its anthrax vaccines to the Strategic National Stockpile accounted for nearly half of the stockpile’s half-billion-dollar annual budget throughout most of the last decade, leaving the federal government with less money to buy supplies needed in a pandemic.

In response to questions about the Baltimore plant, an Emergent spokesman, Matt Hartwig, said in a statement that the company had been cooperating with the federal government “to address issues” and “resolve them in support of the federal COVID response.”

He added, “Any allegation that our safety, quality and compliance systems are not working or that we do not take these responsibilities seriously is false.”

But four former company officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements or feared retaliation, described an environment where top Emergent leadership tolerated and even encouraged the flouting of federal standards for manufacturing and marketing products.

One of the former officials said that as the company scrambled to meet the heavy demands of vaccine production, a senior manufacturing supervisor often responded to reports of quality errors by asking: “Do you want me to make drugs or fix issues? I don’t have time to do both.”

Federal officials said that as the coronavirus swept across the country, they had little choice but to turn to Emergent because few companies based in the United States were able to make the type of vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

“There weren’t a lot of alternatives,” said Dr. Robert Kadlec, who oversaw the agency that awarded the manufacturing contract under the Trump administration. “We even looked at veterinary vaccine facilities around the country. We couldn’t find the capacity.”

Emergent’s stock has suffered in the last week, closing Monday just under $79, down from $94 before news broke that the doses had been ruined. Still, the COVID-19 work has been lucrative for the company.

After Emergent struck separate deals with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca worth roughly $875 million, investors flocked to Emergent’s stock, pushing it to a record high. But out of public view, internal monitors and auditors from the company’s new partners, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, were finding the Baltimore factory’s procedures deficient, especially in disinfecting the plant and preventing contamination.

Internal logs show that Emergent had to toss out one batch of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in early October because of suspected contamination, and four more in December. Those four were spoiled by bacterial contamination of equipment, a former company official said.

In November, production of a batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccine was discarded after workers “hooked up” the wrong gas line and accidentally “suffocated” the cells where the virus for the vaccine is grown, the logs show.

Multiple audits underscore how poorly the company was prepared for the huge workload it accepted.

Another internal investigation in August found that Emergent approved four raw materials used to produce AstraZeneca’s vaccine without first fully testing them. That type of shortcut, called a conditional release of material, occurred on average twice a week in October, internal logs show. The measure was deemed necessary because the company was working with shortened production times, testing backlogs and the needs of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s crash vaccine development program. And while a manager “knowingly deviated” from standards, the report said, the batches of vaccine would be not released without quality and safety tests.

62 Million Doses in the Balance

Shortly before 6:20 p.m. on March 25, an urgent email landed in the inboxes of top officials at the Department of Health and Human Services. “Developing Situation _ Emergent Bayview,” the subject line read.

What followed was even more alarming: “Viral cross-contamination confirmed in the control cells for JANSSEN GMP Lot #8.”

The message, referring to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine production at Emergent’s Baltimore factory, set off a series of hurried nighttime telephone calls, according to officials familiar with the situation.

The Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines use the same technology: A harmless version of a virus — known as a viral vector — is transmitted into cells to make a protein that stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies.

Sometime in February, Emergent workers had unknowingly contaminated Johnson & Johnson’s viral vector with AstraZeneca’s. The error was not discovered for weeks, until, in one of the final checks before release, Johnson & Johnson sampled a batch of 13 million to 15 million doses’ worth of vaccine for purity.

In short order, top Biden administration health officials directed a hold on shipments from the Baltimore facility and instructed Johnson & Johnson executives to take charge of its operations. Days later, they quietly told AstraZeneca officials their vaccine would no longer be made at the Baltimore plant, to avoid a repeat of that error.

But quality-control managers are now required to test anew every lot of Johnson & Johnson vaccine made at the plant — 62 million doses in all — to make sure they weren’t also contaminated. Another roughly 70 million doses of AstraZeneca’s may also need to be tested.

After the administration announced Saturday that Johnson & Johnson would take control of the COVID-19 manufacturing from Emergent, the company issued its own statement Sunday night noting that it “continues to own and operate” the plant while also suggesting it welcomed “the additional oversight and support.”

The Biden team was apparently displeased. Hours later, sometime past midnight, the statement was amended to acknowledge that Johnson & Johnson now has “final signoff of manufacturing” its vaccine at the Baltimore plant.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

Fat Bastard's Op Ed:

First off, you can start by telling the truth Emergent and CEO Robert C Cramer. Second you can start naming names and calling for an FBI investigation.

Even the general public knows of the unholy alliance between big pharma and its FDA lapdogs. The general public is fed up with the theft, incompetence and corruption of the corporate criminal elite.

More than a few people at Emergent knows who is responsible for this sabotage of the vaccines. I have a pretty good idea the the people who ordered the sabotage and why. The people who orchestrated it are already talking

For the people reading this: Some of you know of the corruption at Emergent and other big pharma companies and are frustrated that there is little being done about it.  Some of you maybe in on it. Americans are sick to death of the greed, corruption and lawlessness of 1%. You know that the game is rigged by the corrupt corporate criminal elite. In spite of that there is something you can do about it. You can contact a whistle blower law firm with the evidence of the corruption and get rich in the process. Don't expect to see corporate thugs criminally charged. The only time the filthy rich go to prison in America is when they fuck over another rich bastard. What does happen when corporate thugs commit crimes the corporation "pays" a "fine" aka bribe to the government and the peasants pay that "fine" via higher prices. CEO's may get "fired" aka rewarded with a golden parachute and the workers/peasants get fucked in the ass.

It's disheartening that the banksters on the boards of these companies never go to prison for their crimes but that's how things work in the oligarchy. Mussolini said it best, "Better word for fascism is corporatism." That's about to change. Members of the Trump mob are slowly figuring out that it's not your errand boys in the capital who are fucking them.  Times are changing. Even the stupid are becoming less ignorant and starting to see the big picture. Next time they attack it won't be the US Capitol. It may very well be corporate boardrooms the mansions of the 1%.

  • Emergent Securities Litigation

    Emergent BioSolutions, Inc., et al., Case No. 8:16-cv-02625-RWT (the "Litigation"), pending before the United States District Court for the District of Maryland (the "Court"). The capitalized terms used on this website, and not otherwise defined, shall have the same meanings ascribed to them in the Stipulation of Settlement (the "Stipulation") dated October 16, 2018, which can be found and downloaded by …

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    Apr 01, 2021 · Emergent BioSolutions, a little-known company vital to the vaccine supply chain, was a key to Johnson & Johnson’s plan to deliver 100 million doses of …

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    Apr 04, 2021 · Workers at the Emergent BioSolutions plant several weeks ago conflated ingredients for the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, the Times said earlier in the week. ... cue up the lawsuits

  • Johnson & Johnson: Corporate Rap Sheet | Corporate ...

    Aug 01, 2020 · In 2013 the Justice Department announced that J&J and several of its subsidiaries would pay more than $2.2 billion in criminal fines and civil settlements to resolve allegations that the company had marketed its anti-psychotic medication Risperdal and other drugs for unapproved uses as well as allegations that they had paid kickbacks to physicians and pharmacists to encourage off-label usage. …

    Last updated: April 07, 2021, 20:49 GMT

     United States

    Coronavirus Cases:




    Monday, April 5, 2021


     Molly Jong-Fast

    Bill Clark/Getty
    Bill Clark/Getty

    It’s always the ones you most suspect.

    So far, Gaetzgate is the most unsurprising scandal since it came out that Matt’s hero Donald Trump was paying off porn stars to shut up about sleeping with him.

    Elements of Gaetz’s story have been out there for a while, the “sleeping with staff for points” part was reported in January by Solomon Gustavo in Orlando Weekly and years before that by Marc Caputo but the Times was able to put the whole thing together. And when the whole thing came together, it sounded a lot like Qanon with men trafficking girls except that in the real-life version it always seems to be Republicans allegedly committing these crimes.

    Of course, Gaetz is far from the first fervent Trump supporter in Congress to have his own legal or ethical ethical issues. The first House member to back Trump, Chris Collins, was later charged with insider trading, and huge Trump booster Duncan Hunter used campaign money for bunny plane tickets—among other things. Both of them did their crimes in time to eventually get pardoned by Trump; Gaetz can’t even get a word of support from him so far.

    Trump Isn’t Coming to Matt Gaetz’s Rescue—for Now

    But Gaetz has built an enormous profile for himself, in his short time in office, because he spends most of his time on rightwing TV—from where he’s been conspicuously absent since this scandal broke, save for one incredibly strange, sad and sweaty appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show. On that show, he tried to drag the host into his scandal and talked up a storm about how he was supposedly being blackmailed by a former DOJ attorney in an interview that was so addled even the Fox host called it “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”

    Since then, Fox News has pretty much disappeared the previously rising party star pretty boy who allegedly like to pop Molly (no relation) with underage party girls, with the propaganda network going a full 30 hours at one point without so much as a mention of him, even as CNN and MSNBC were all over the scandal, with CNN reporting Thursday that Gaetz was showing videos and photos of naked women and bragging about his exploits on the floor of Congress and The New York Times reporting that “The Justice Department inquiry is also examining whether Mr. Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and whether she received anything of material value, according to four people familiar with the investigation”—and all that’s not to mention the photo of the condoms in a trashcan outside his office that a colleague of his shared with The Daily Beast.

    There’s also the inconvenient truth that right after getting to Congress in 2017, Gaetz was the only, yes, the ONLY lawmaker to vote against a bill giving more resources to the federal government to fight, yes, you guessed it, the very thing he may be charged with now, human trafficking.

    Matt Gaetz Tries to Rope Tucker Into His FBI Teen Sex Case Defense

    The congressman might seem more like a frat boy who appears to have crossed moral and perhaps legal lines—but that doesn’t mean this is any sort of joke. A grown man and a member of Congress reportedly paying teenagers under the age of consent for sex is deadly serious, which perhaps is why Gaetz released a statement as more allegations broke Thursday. The statement used his full name again and again, and flatly denied the charges:

    “Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex. Matt Gaetz refutes all the disgusting allegations completely. Matt Gaetz has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever. Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life,” a reference to his fiancée Ginger Lucky. If Ginger is smart, she’s halfway to Istanbul by now. Also, Matt Gaetz’s communications director resigned on Friday for some reason.

    Gaetz may be issuing blanket denials but the reports of bad behavior and worse keep pouring in, a lot of them tied to his friend Joel Greenberg, the local tax collector in Florida now charged with 33 counts ranging from wire fraud to sex trafficking and who allegedly used his position to stalk women he was paying on Seeking Arrangements, a “sugar daddy” website. Gaetz, incidentally, has stressed that he’s always taken good care of women he’s been involved with.

    In the meantime, the on-the-record silence from Republicans has been deafening, even as many have been dumping on their unpopular, showboating young colleague on background. On CNN Friday morning, former Beast editor John Avlon pointed out that “It doesn’t exactly seem like his Republican colleagues are rallying to his defense.” Dana Bash replied that, “If you could see my text messages from some of his current and former colleagues, I actually can’t repeat what some of them say on morning television.” And earlier in the week Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News, “If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him. Those are serious implications.”

    Matt Gaetz Keeps Digging Deeper Holes for Himself

    But perhaps the worst sign for Gaetz is that Trump and his large adult fail son have replied to the allegations with silence, on the record and on background. “The ex-president has remained on the sidelines, waiting to see what comes out next. So has his son, Don Jr., who is an influential Gaetz ally, too. He has tweeted numerous times since Tuesday evening, but offered no defense of the congressman.”

    In fact, the only people speaking up to defend Gaetz are Marjorie Taylor Greene, who got to Congress by promoting Qanon conspiracy theories accusing Democrats of abusing children and who said what’s happening to her friend now was all a “witch hunt” and Jim Jordan, who historically has been pretty good at ignoring other people’s sex crimes.

    Read more at The Daily Beast.

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    Half Of The Trump's Male Trumpanzees Will Not Get Vaccinated

    They don't call them Trumpanzees for nothing.  While they will spread the virus most of the victims of their spreading will be other MAGAts. The deaths from the Spring break surge is a week or so away.  The current US COVID-19 death toll of 568,895 will climb past 570,000 by the end of the week. COVID will become endemic among humans but it will remain epidemic among MAGAts,

    The current mortality rate, based on reported cases, is 2.5%, according to Johns Hopkins. The CDC estimates this percentage would be far lower if it included people who are infected but unaware. Asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 are very common, and if those cases were included, the CDC predicts the mortality rate would be closer to 0.65%.

    Even if we go with the lower figure we can be happy knowing that more than 1 in 200 people die from COVID-19. Given the fact that MAGAts are often swag-bellied gluttonous smokers the death rate for them will be closer to 1 in 100. 

  • Why 41 percent of Republicans don’t plan to get the COVID ...

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    Mar 21, 2021 · In a recent NPR/PBS/Marist survey, fully 49% of Republican men said they do not plan to get vaccinated — a higher share of refusers than any …

  • Sunday, April 4, 2021

    Time To Call BS On The Left Wing Hypocrites

     Francesca Gariano

    Cher has issued an apology following backlash for a tweet she shared regarding the death of George Floyd. Fans of the singer accused her of having a "white savior complex."

    On Saturday, the 74-year-old singer shared two tweets following a controversial tweet she wrote then promptly deleted that suggested if she had been there when Floyd died, she would have been able to help.

    Cher (Mike Marsland/WireImage)
    Cher (Mike Marsland/WireImage)

    In her first tweet, Cher said she struggled with whether she wanted to share the now-deleted tweet, writing, “Wrestled With This Twt, Because I Thought some ppl wouldn’t understand, Or Believe an Entertainer Could have Honest emotions about a human Being,suffering & Dying,even if It’s Only Shown On tv.”

    “You Don’t Know What I’ve Done,Who I Am,Or What I Believe.I CAN,I HAVE,& I WILL..HELP,” she continued.

    Two hours later, she tweeted an apology writing, “I Just got off phone With Friend Karen.Told her what Happened,& Realized,You Can Piss Ppl Off,& Hurt Them By Not Knowing Everything That’s’NOT Appropriate’To Say.”

    “I know Ppl Apologize When They’re In a Jam,BUT🤚🏼TO GOD🙏🏼,IM TRULY SORRY If I Upset AnyOne In Blk Community,” she added. “I Know My❤️”

    The apology comes after a now-deleted tweet from the singer caused controversy online amid the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, for the charges of third-degree murder, second-degree manslaughter, as well as second-degree murder.

    “Was talking With Mom & She Said ‘I Watched Trial Of Policeman Who Killed George Floyd,& Cried’,” she wrote. “I Said ‘Mom, I Know This Is Gonna Sound CRAZY,But.. I Kept Thinking …..Maybe If I’d Been There,…I Could’ve Helped😔.”

    While some fans understood the singer’s intentions from the tweet and accepted her apology, others tried to educate her on why the tweet was perceived negatively.

    “Cher, I love u, but it wasn't just some people who didn't understand,” one user tweeted. “It was thousands of people who saw something wrong with what you said. No one is arguing the intention wasn't good, but maybe you should try to see why it was problematic? Even if your 💚 was in the right place”

    Another person added, “Sometimes you can accidentally hurt people’s feelings even if it wasn’t your intention & if you’re in the limelight, you’ve got a bigger crowd listening when you speak. Not sure if the witnesses saw the tweet, but maybe reach out to them too.”

    Days before her controversial tweet, Cher shared a tweet while seemingly watching the trial, writing, "Feel So Unbelievably Sad For The Brave Ppl Who Stood Their Ground To Bear Witness,& Chronicle The Murder Of George Floyd For All The World To See."

    She continued, adding, "😔These Were Americans Who Didn’t/Couldn’t WalkAway From a Fellow Human Being Having His Last Breath...Crushed Out Of His Body."

    OpEd: Some self-righteous asshole who should have their lying hypocritical politically correct lie hole smashed with a brick is criticizing Cher for her sincere non offensive comment about the murder of George Floyd by the police. Some asshole who deserves a session with a flame thrower accused Cher of having a "White Savior Complex".  

    Maybe if Cher was there she could have helped. As a celebrity Cher has a lot of clout. Maybe she would have gone after the cop who was pretending to hold back the "angry crowd that stood there and watched Derek Chauvin kill George Floyd. Maybe had she charged the cops the crowd would have followed and pulled the other three pigs off of George Floyd. 

    Here's a fact you fuckers will call racist. In NYC most of the attacks Asians were committed by Blacks. That fact doesn't fit your narrative. Cher has probably done more for civil rights causes than the assholes who criticized her. 

    Maybe Cher would not have charged the cops but maybe if someone had George Floyd would be alive today. What if this happened in Texas where lots of Texans carry guns including AR-15 assault rifles? Maybe to cops killing George Floyd would have backed off for fear of rounds from an AR-15 ripping through their bullet proof vests and rendering them dead in seconds.

    What do you think would have happened if Cher was there and got the crowd to charge the cops? A lot of the bystanders regret not doing just that. I think what would have happened if the bystanders attacked the cop "keeping the crowd back" Chauvin would have gotten up and off Floyd's neck. 

    Cops murdered a handcuffed man in broad daylight and politically correct do nothing assholes criticize Cher. Fuck you America. You deserve COVID-19!

    How Trump Defrauded His Donors

     Shane Goldmacher

    Then-President Donald Trump throws campaign hats during a campaign event in Avoca, Penn., Nov. 2, 2020. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
    Then-President Donald Trump throws campaign hats during a campaign event in Avoca, Penn., Nov. 2, 2020. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

    Stacy Blatt was in hospice care last September listening to Rush Limbaugh’s dire warnings about how badly Donald Trump’s campaign needed money when he went online and chipped in everything he could: $500.

    It was a big sum for a 63-year-old battling cancer and living in Kansas City on less than $1,000 per month. But that single contribution — federal records show it was his first ever — quickly multiplied. Another $500 was withdrawn the next day, then $500 the next week and every week through mid-October, without his knowledge — until Blatt’s bank account had been depleted and frozen. When his utility and rent payments bounced, he called his brother, Russell Blatt, for help.

    What the Blatts soon discovered was $3,000 in withdrawals by the Trump campaign in less than 30 days. They called their bank and said they thought they were victims of fraud.

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    “It felt,” Russell Blatt said, “like it was a scam.”

    But what the Blatts believed was duplicity was actually an intentional scheme to boost revenues by the Trump campaign and the for-profit company that processed its online donations, WinRed. Facing a cash crunch and getting badly outspent by the Democrats, the campaign had begun last September to set up recurring donations by default for online donors for every week until the election.

    Contributors had to wade through a fine-print disclaimer and manually uncheck a box to opt out.

    As the election neared, the Trump team made that disclaimer increasingly opaque, an investigation by The New York Times showed. It introduced a second prechecked box, known internally as a “money bomb,” that doubled a person’s contribution. Eventually its solicitations featured lines of text in bold and capital letters that overwhelmed the opt-out language.

    The tactic ensnared scores of unsuspecting Trump loyalists — retirees, military veterans, nurses and even experienced political operatives. Soon, banks and credit card companies were inundated with fraud complaints from the president’s own supporters about donations they had not intended to make, sometimes for thousands of dollars.

    The sheer magnitude of the money involved is staggering for politics. In the final 2 1/2 months of 2020, the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared accounts issued more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors. All campaigns make refunds for various reasons, including to people who give more than the legal limit. But the sum the Trump operation refunded dwarfed that of Joe Biden’s campaign and his equivalent Democratic committees, which made 37,000 online refunds totaling $5.6 million in that time.

    The recurring donations swelled Trump’s treasury in September and October, just as his finances were deteriorating. He was then able to use tens of millions of dollars he raised after the election, under the guise of fighting his unfounded fraud claims, to help cover the refunds he owed.

    In effect, the money that Trump eventually had to refund amounted to an interest-free loan from unwitting supporters at the most important juncture of the 2020 race.

    Political strategists, digital operatives and campaign finance experts said they could not recall ever seeing refunds at such a scale. Trump, the RNC and their shared accounts refunded far more money to online donors in the last election cycle than every federal Democratic candidate and committee in the country combined.

    Donors typically said they intended to give once or twice and only later discovered on their bank statements and credit card bills that they were donating over and over again. Some, like Stacy Blatt, who died of cancer in February, sought an injunction from their banks and credit cards. Others pursued refunds directly from WinRed, which typically granted them to avoid more costly formal disputes.

    Jason Miller, a spokesperson for Trump, downplayed the rash of fraud complaints and the $122.7 million in total refunds issued by the Trump operation. He said internal records showed that 0.87% of its WinRed transactions had been subject to formal credit card disputes. “The fact we had a dispute rate of less than 1% of total donations despite raising more grassroots money than any campaign in history is remarkable,” he said.

    A Small Yellow Box and a Flood of Fraud Complaints

    The small and bright yellow box popped up on Trump’s digital donation portal around March 2020. The text was boldface, simple and straightforward: “Make this a monthly recurring donation.”

    The box came prefilled with a checkmark.

    Even that was more aggressive than what the Biden campaign would do in 2020. Biden officials said they rarely used prechecked boxes to automatically have donations recur monthly or weekly; the exception was on landing pages where advertisements and emails had explicitly asked supporters to become repeat donors.

    But for Trump, the prechecked monthly box was just the beginning.

    By June, the campaign and the RNC were experimenting with a second prechecked box, to default donors into making an additional contribution — called the money bomb. An early test arrived in the run-up to Trump’s birthday, June 14. The results were tantalizing: That date, a seemingly random Sunday, became the biggest day for online donations in the campaign’s history.

    The two prechecked yellow boxes would be a fixture for the rest of the campaign. And so would a much larger volume of refunds.

    Until then, the Biden and Trump operations had nearly identical refund rates on WinRed and ActBlue in 2020: 2.18% for Trump and 2.17% for Biden.

    But from the day after Trump’s birthday through the rest of the year, Biden’s refund rate remained nearly flat, at 2.24%, while Trump’s soared to 12.29%.

    Around the same time, officials who fielded fraud claims at bank and credit card companies noticed a surge in complaints against the Trump campaign and WinRed.

    “It started to go absolutely wild,” said one fraud investigator with Wells Fargo. “It just became a pattern,” said another at Capital One. A consumer representative for USAA, which primarily serves military families, recalled an older veteran who discovered repeated WinRed charges from donating to Trump only after calling to have his balance read to him by phone.

    The Trump operation was not done modifying the yellow boxes. Soon, the fact that donations would be withdrawn weekly was taken out of boldface type, according to archived versions of the president’s website, and moved beneath other bold text.

    As the campaign’s financial problems became increasingly acute, the yellow boxes became dizzyingly more complex.

    By October there were sometimes nine lines of boldface text — with ALL-CAPS words sprinkled in — before the disclosure that there would be weekly withdrawals. As many as eight more lines of boldface text came before the second additional donation disclaimer.

    The ‘Gary and Gerrit’ Operation

    By last summer, the Biden campaign had begun outraising Trump’s team, and the president was hopping mad. For months, years even, his advisers had been telling him how he had built a one-of-a-kind financial juggernaut. So why, Trump demanded to know, was he off the television airwaves just months before the election in critical battleground states like Michigan?

    “Where did all the money go?” he would lash out, according to two senior advisers.

    Inside the Trump reelection headquarters in Northern Virginia, the pressure was building to wring ever more money out of his supporters.

    Perhaps nowhere was that pressure more acute than on Trump’s expansive and lucrative digital operation. That was the unquestioned domain of Gary Coby, a 30-something strategist whose title — digital director — and microscopic public profile belied his immense influence on the Trump operation, especially online.

    A veteran of the RNC and the 2016 race, Coby had the confidence, trust and respect of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, who unofficially oversaw the 2020 campaign, according to people familiar with the campaign’s operations. Kushner and the rest of the campaign leadership gave Coby, whose talents are recognized across the Republican digital industry, wide latitude to raise money however he saw fit.

    That meant almost endless optimization and experimentation, sometimes pushing the traditional boundaries. The Trump team repeatedly used phantom donation matches and faux deadlines to loosen donor wallets (“1000% offer: ACTIVATED…For the NEXT HOUR”). Eventually it ratcheted up the volume of emails it sent until it was barraging supporters with an average of 15 per day for all of October and November 2020.

    Coby declined an interview request for this article.

    Coby’s partner in fundraising was Gerrit Lansing, president of WinRed, which had been created in 2019 as a centralized platform for GOP digital contributions after prominent Republicans feared they were falling irreparably behind Democrats and ActBlue.

    Top Trump officials said they did not know specifically who had conceived of using the weekly recurring prechecked boxes — or who had designed them in the increasingly complex blizzard of text. But they said virtually all online fundraising decisions were a “Gary and Gerrit” production.

    Unlike ActBlue, which is a nonprofit, WinRed is a for-profit company. It makes its money by taking 30 cents of every donation, plus 3.8% of the amount given. WinRed was paid more than $118 million from federal committees the last election cycle; even after paying credit card fees and expenses like payroll and rent, the profits are believed to be significant.

    WinRed even made money off donations that were refunded by keeping the fees it charged on each transaction.

    All told, the Trump and party operation raised $1.2 billion on WinRed and refunded roughly 10% of it.

    And after Trump’s first public speech of his post-presidency at the end of February, his new political operation sent its first text message to supporters since he left the White House. “Did you miss me?” he asked.

    The message directed supporters to a WinRed donation page with two prechecked yellow boxes. Trump raised $3 million that day, according to an adviser, with more to come from the recurring donations in the months ahead.

    This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

    © 2021 The New York Times Company

    Friday, April 2, 2021

    Matt Gaetz In More Trouble

     Jose Pagliery


    In late January 2020, U.S. Secret Service agents received information that Rep. Matt Gaetz had accompanied a Florida county tax official they were already investigating on an unusual nighttime visit to a government office—where the local official was allegedly making fake IDs, a source close to the investigation told The Daily Beast.

    That tip to the feds came in a text message conversation that Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg had with an employee explaining why they were both in the office one weekend two years earlier, according to this person.

    A timestamp visible in the text message thread indicated the conversation took place on Monday, April 16, 2018.

    The Creepy, Disturbing Case That Ensnared Matt Gaetz

    According to three people with direct knowledge of the incident: Greenberg visited the Lake Mary, Florida branch of his tax collection agency that weekend. Grainy surveillance footage captured Greenberg standing near a manager’s desk with another man. Greenberg forgot to set the alarm on the way out, which concerned the assistant branch manager when she walked into the office Monday morning. That employee was surprised to find that drivers' licenses—which are normally turned in when expired at the tax office for shredding—were scattered all over the desk instead of in the appropriate disposal basket. She reviewed the camera footage and alerted her boss, who in turn contacted Greenberg via text.

    “Did you happen to visit the Lake Mary Office on the weekend?” the text message read.

    The image obtained by The Daily Beast shows that Greenberg allegedly responded, “Yes I was showing congressman Gaetz what our operation looked like. Did I leave something on?”

    <div class="inline-image__credit"> handout</div>

    The Daily Beast obtained images of additional text messages that purport to show Greenberg helping Gaetz get duplicate IDs—outside of proper channels on a Sunday afternoon. On Sept. 2, 2018, Greenberg directly asked an employee to quickly create a new card that complies with the heightened security standards of “REAL ID,” a process that would normally require providing additional documentation, according to the images.

    “Amy- is there anyway to assist one of our Congressmen in getting an emergency replacement ID or DL by Tuesday 2pm? His was lost yesterday and he’s got a flight Tuesday. Doesn’t have any other form of ID currently on him. Sorry to bother you on Sunday,” Greenberg wrote.

    Greenberg then confirmed that the favor was for “Matthew Louis Gaetz II,” born on May 7, 1982.

    <div class="inline-image__credit"> handout</div>

    When Greenberg later came under investigation by the Secret Service for identity theft and stalking, agents approached former employees at the tax office to obtain proof of the public official’s activities. That’s when they were suddenly directed to Gaetz.

    According to the source who provided the text message conversation, who spoke on condition of anonymity to guarantee their safety, Secret Service agents directed them in the final days of January 2020 to print out the full text message conversation with Greenberg from online AT&T records. That source said those text messages were delivered to the Secret Service, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and most recently, another federal agency.

    Gaetz, a Florida Republican, is now the target of a Justice Department investigation that is focusing on allegations that the Republican congressman and Greenberg recruited young women and paid them for sex, according to The New York Times.

    CNN first reported the existence of text messages on Thursday. The Orlando Sentinel confirmed their existence as well.

    On Wednesday, The Daily Beast attempted to file a public records request to obtain a copy of the video surveillance that is believed to show Gaetz with Greenberg on that weekend in April 2018. However, a Seminole County representative indicated that the video is unavailable because the government agency has a policy of deleting all surveillance footage after 60 days. County officials would not comment on what exactly employees have told federal investigators about their recollection of the incident.

    The Daily Beast also attempted to reach the former employee who interacted with Greenberg via text message, but was unsuccessful. That employee eventually signed a $50,000 settlement with the Office of the Seminole County Tax Collector over claims of unfair retaliation at work after Greenberg allegedly used a circle of personal friends he hired at the agency to harass and intimidate her and her family. That settlement bars her from “false or defamatory statements” about her former employer but importantly does not prevent her from speaking to government investigators, according to a copy obtained by The Daily Beast.

    Republicans Have Been Waiting for a Matt Gaetz Scandal to Break

    Her attorney, Daniel A. Pérez, declined to comment on any current efforts to assist federal law enforcement.

    The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida would not confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation into Gaetz.

    Prosecutors there do have an ongoing case against Greenberg, who came under federal scrutiny after he repeatedly angered fellow county officials with his bizarre, erratic behavior.

    According to people familiar with the investigation, Secret Service agents were initially interested in Greenberg’s failed attempt to allow Seminole County residents to pay their taxes in Bitcoin. Attorneys have revealed in court that the federal probe quietly began by April 2019. That began to heat up when Greenberg ran for re-election and faced political opposition from a fine arts teacher at Trinity Preparatory School.

    Federal agents arrested him at his Lake Mary home on June 17, 2020, and the case initially hinged on accusations that Greenberg had set up fake online profiles to defame the teacher and had sent several letters to the school with lurid accusations that his opponent had engaged in sexual misconduct with a student.

    As of Tuesday, that case has now vastly expanded to a 33-count indictment that includes a diverse list of crimes that range from wire fraud to sex trafficking. Investigators say Greenberg recruited at least one teenager between 14 and 17 years old to engage in a “commercial sex act” between May and November 2017 in Central Florida and elsewhere.

    Matt Gaetz Keeps Digging Deeper Holes for Himself

    Investigators also say that Greenberg used his privileged access to Florida’s drivers' license database to look up private information on “individuals” with whom he “was engaged in ‘sugar-daddy’ relationships.”

    Additionally, Greenberg is also accused of making fake IDs—potentially explaining why the 2018 surveillance footage raised concerns that led to that text message conversation handed to investigators.

    The Daily Beast obtained text messages handed to federal investigators that allegedly show Greenberg acknowledging that he visited the office on the weekend of August 4, 2018, where there were drivers' licenses “scattered across the desks and not put away in an organized manner.”

    Greenberg has maintained a close relationship with Gaetz for several years. Both were rising stars in Florida’s Republican Party in 2016. They have taken selfies together with political operative Roger Stone in 2017, at AIPAC in 2018, and at the White House in 2019. Gaetz publicly lent his support to Greenberg, cheering him as “a disrupter” who should run for Congress.

    They were also together in the Florida panhandle region on July 5, 2019 when they called a state legislator, Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, and left her a peculiar voicemail that has been obtained by The Daily Beast.

    “My dear Anna, this is your favorite tax collector. I’m up in the panhandle with your favorite U.S. congressman, Mr. Gaetz,” Greenberg starts to say.

    “Hi Anna!” Gaetz jumps in.

    “And, uh, we were just chatting about you, and talking about your lovely qualities,” Greenberg continued.

    “We think you’re the future of the Democratic Party in Florida!” Gaetz said.

    On Thursday, Eskamani told The Daily Beast that she kept Greenberg at arm’s length for years. Their interactions started when she called him out over Islamaphobic comments and then helped him connect with the Muslim community to recover from that. Eskamani said she cautiously entertained “weird” contacts from Greenberg and Gaetz that made her uncomfortable.

    “We were not friends. We never hung out. We didn't talk ever, really. I just played nice. For so many women you're either very blunt and be called a bitch, or you try to play nice and pivot and deflate,” she said.

    Read more at The Daily Beast.

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