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Trump takes no responsibility for riot, visits Texas

ALAMO — President Donald Trump on Tuesday took no responsibility for his part in fomenting a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week, despite his comments encouraging supporters to march on the Capitol and praise for them while they were still carrying out the assault.

“People thought that what I said was totally appropriate,” Trump said.

He made the comments during his first appearance in public since the Capitol siege, which came as lawmakers were tallying Electoral College votes affirming President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Trump arrived in Texas on Tuesday to trumpet his campaign against illegal immigration in an attempt to burnish his legacy with eight days remaining in his term, as lawmakers in Congress appeared set to impeach him this week for the second time.

In Alamo, a city in the Rio Grande Valley near the U.S.-Mexican border — the site of the 450th mile of the border wall his administration is building, Trump brushed off Democratic calls on his Cabinet to declare him unfit from office and remove him from power using the 25th Amendment.

“The 25th Amendment is of zero risk to me, but will come back to haunt Joe Biden and the Biden administration,” Trump said. “As the expression goes, be careful of what you wish for.”

The rampage through the halls of Congress sent lawmakers of both parties and Trump’s own vice president into hiding, as crowds called for Mike Pence’s lynching for his role overseeing the vote count. The scene also undermined the hallmark of the republic — the peaceful transition of power. At least five people died, including one Capitol Police officer.

“It’s time for peace and for calm,” Trump said Tuesday, less than a week after egging on the mob that descended on the Capitol. He added, “Respect for law enforcement is the foundation of the MAGA agenda,” referencing his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

In the days leading up to the Jan. 6 certification vote, Trump encouraged his supporters to descend on Washington, D.C., promising a “wild” rally in support of his baseless claims of election fraud, despite his own administration’s findings to the contrary. Speaking for more than an hour to a crowd on the Ellipse, Trump encouraged supporters to “fight like hell” and suggested that Republican lawmakers would need “more courage not to step up” and overturn the will of voters to grant him another term in office. He also suggested he would join them in marching on the Capitol.

As Trump wrapped up, thousands of his supporters were already heading to the Capitol, where lawmakers convened to count the electoral votes. As rioters were still in the building and lawmakers sheltered in secure locations, Trump, at the urging of aides who were shocked by the violence, released a video seemingly excusing the events, saying of the rioters: “We love you. You’re very special. Go home.”

Speaking Tuesday, Trump said the “real problem” was not his rhetoric, but the rhetoric that Democrats used to describe Black Lives Matter protests and violence in Seattle and Portland this summer.

“Everybody to the ‘t’ thought it was totally appropriate,” Trump said of his own comments.

Trump angrily lashed out at lawmakers’ push for his second impeachment this week, claiming, “It’s causing tremendous anger and division and pain far greater than most people will ever understand, which is very dangerous for the USA, especially at this very tender time.”

Alamo is named after the San Antonio mission where a small group of Texan independence-fighters fended off Mexican forces during a 13-day siege. Most of them died, but the mission became a symbol of resistance for Texans, who eventually defeated the Mexican army.

Trump’s visit there — no doubt a symbol of the president’s defiance — comes as he spends the final days of his presidency isolated, aggrieved and staring down the prospect of a second impeachment.

While Trump was traveling, Pence assured the nation’s governors that outgoing administration is working “diligently” with President-elect Joe Biden’s team. He thanked the governors for their leadership on the coronavirus and promised them a “seamless transition.”

Trump aides have been urging the president to spend his remaining days in office highlighting what they see as the chief accomplishments of his presidency: a massive tax cut, his efforts to roll back federal regulations and the transformation of federal courts with the appointment of conservative judges. But Trump has been consumed by baseless allegations of voter fraud and conspiracies.

In Texas, he delivered remarks highlighting his administration’s efforts to curb illegal immigration and the progress made on his signature 2016 campaign promise: building a “big, beautiful wall” across the length of the southern border — an imposing structure made of concrete and reinforced steel. But over time, Trump demanded modifications that have been largely rejected: He wanted it painted black to burn the hands of those who touched it; he wanted it adorned with deadly spikes; he even wanted to surround it with an alligator-filled moat. While he promised that it would be funded by Mexico, U.S. taxpayers ended up footing the bill.

In the end, his administration has overseen the construction of roughly 450 miles of border wall construction — likely reaching 475 miles by Inauguration Day. The vast majority of that wall replaces smaller barriers that had already existed, though the new wall is considerably more difficult to bypass.

Over the last four years, Trump and his administration have taken extreme — and often unlawful — action to try to curb both illegal and legal immigration. Their efforts were aided in his final year by the coronavirus pandemic, which ground international travel to a halt. But the number of people stopped trying to cross the southern border illegally has been creeping back up in recent months. Figures from December show nearly 74,000 encounters at the southwest border, up 3% from November and up 81% from a year earlier.

A few dozen Trump supporters rallied hours before his visit to the Rio Grande Valley near the Harlingen airport, where he was scheduled to land. They planned to stage a caravan of vehicles flying flags that support the president and far-right causes like the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Trump warned that a reversal of his policies by Biden would bring about a “tidal wave of illegal immigration.” He added, “To terminate those policies is knowingly to put America in really serious danger.”

Biden has said he’d halt construction of the border wall and take executive action where possible to reverse some of Trump’s restrictions on legal immigration and asylum seekers. But Biden and his aides have acknowledged the possibility of a new crisis at the border if they act too quickly, and Biden has said it could take six months for his administration to secure funding and put in place the necessary infrastructure to loosen Trump-era restrictions.

Beyond touting the wall, Trump rapidly listed his massive changes on the border aimed at discouraging asylum. He cited his “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which more than 65,000 asylum-seekers have been forced to wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. immigration court since January 2019, and agreements struck with Central American countries for them to offer asylum to people seeking protection in the United States.

He credited his wall for a drop in illegal border crossings from a 13-year high in 2019, but the Government Accountability Office has found the administration lacks measures to correlate drops in illegal crossings to wall construction.

Trump said, falsely, that he inherited “open borders” from his predecessor, Barack Obama. He leaves office with about the same number of Border Patrol agents than when he began, despite a pledge to add 5,000, and the monthly number of migrants stopped at the border exceeds totals during much of Obama’s tenure.

'The beginning of the end of a pandemic': Denton County administers COVID-19 vaccines
  • Updated

Denton County Public Health hosted the first of two vaccination clinics for the week Tuesday morning, administering hundreds of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses to county residents. Here’s what their experience was like.

Only those who fall within Texas’ Phase 1A (health care personnel) or 1B groups (anyone over 65, or anyone over 16 with a chronic medical condition) are eligible for this week’s clinics, which will continue to be the case until the state reaches the next step in its vaccination timeline.

Five hundred doses of DCPH’s 3,500-vaccine allocation were dedicated to Tuesday’s clinic, with the majority of recipients falling into the 1B group due to age or health conditions. For all of DCPH’s clinics, eligible recipients must register in advance for the waitlist at dentoncounty.gov/covid19vaccine and arrive at their scheduled appointment.

At Tuesday’s drive-thru clinic, held at the University of North Texas’ Discovery Park, residents remained in their vehicles as they were directed through multiple stations. Those included a check-in, the vaccine tent where nurses administered the shot, and tables where recipients were given a card providing a vaccination record and letting them know when they will need to attend another clinic for their second dose.

Jeff Woo / Jeff Woo/DRC 

A worker shows the front of a COVID-19 vaccination card at Tuesday’s vaccine clinic at UNT’s Discovery Park in Denton. Vaccine recipients must return for a second dose in about a month.

After receiving their card, recipients parked and waited to ensure they didn’t have a reaction to the shot before leaving. The entire process took between 30 and 45 minutes — and even less in some cases.

DCPH spokesperson Jennifer Rainey said Monday that Tuesday’s clinic would serve as somewhat of a test for Thursday’s clinic, when the remaining 3,000 vaccines from the week’s allocation will be administered. Though on a smaller scale, Tuesday’s clinic appeared to pass that test, as staff and volunteers had vaccinated around 300 people a little after an hour into the event, which ran from 7:30 a.m. to noon.

Much of that efficiency was due to recipients arriving early, as nurses started vaccinating before the 7:30 start time. However, Rainey strongly recommended that recipients arrive at their scheduled time slots, as a large number of people showing up early could cause congestion issues with larger-scale clinics like Thursday’s.

Tuesday was a success for the vaccine recipients as well, many of whom had been awaiting it for months. While maximum protection from the coronavirus doesn’t come until after the second dose is received — and even then, officials recommend continued distancing, facial coverings and hand-washing — those who were given the shot said they were relieved the wait was finally over.

Bobby Martin, a resident who falls under the Phase 1B group due to his age, said getting the vaccine is the first step in loosening up some of the restrictions he has followed throughout the pandemic.

“It was very organized and thorough,” Martin said. “For me, it was a relief. This is the beginning of releasing those restrictions for me.”

Jeff Woo / Photos by Jeff Woo/DRC 

After receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, recipients must be monitored by medical staff in case of any adverse reactions. Bobby Martin, right, waits in his car after his shot Tuesday at UNT’s Discovery Park. “It was very organized and thorough,” Martin said of DCPH’s drive-thru vaccine clinic.

Patt Bowles, another resident whose age places her in the 1B group, said she was pleased with DCPH’s adjustments after the county’s initial phone-based registration system failed to keep up with call volume.

“The very first time it became available, it was frustrating,” Bowles said of the phone system. “The web sign-up was very easy and clear, with really good communication.”

Bowles, who trains workers at such places as hospitals and schools to use emergency management systems, said the vaccine will give her peace of mind when entering high-risk areas.

Denton County Judge Andy Eads and DCPH Director Matt Richardson addressed media shortly after the clinic began, with Richardson saying the vaccinations are a vital step in ending the pandemic for good.

“This is an important day and the beginning of the end of a pandemic — here locally, statewide and in the nation,” Richardson said. “We’re going to administer as many as we can as often as we can, based on availability of vaccine.”

Jeff Woo / Photos by Jeff Woo/DRC 

Denton County Public Health Director Matt Richardson speaks to the media during a mass vaccination clinic Tuesday morning at the University of North Texas’ Discovery Park. “We anticipate that if we had enough vaccine, we could do even larger clinics more often,” he said.

Richardson said DCPH doesn’t know yet how large a scale it could push its clinics to, but that it could be much larger than even Thursday’s 3,000-vaccine clinic at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex, which he added will be another test for the department.

“We’re not sure what the ceiling is,” Richardson said. “We anticipate that if we had enough vaccine, we could do even larger clinics more often.”

Later in the morning, as the clinic continued, Richardson addressed the public during his weekly COVID-19 presentation at the Denton County Commissioners Court meeting. While the arrival and administration of vaccines has been an important step, he made it clear that precautions such as social distancing and face coverings must still be used as cases continue to rise, with the county reporting 13,367 active cases as of Monday afternoon.

“While we are all collectively fatigued, they [masks and social distancing] couldn’t be more important than they are this week,” Richardson said. “It is, in fact, a tipping point for COVID-19 transmission. We need to do all we can to prevent further transmission.”

With the start of vaccine clinics, the county’s coronavirus testing webpage changed Tuesday to note that “DCPH is no longer offering COVID-19 testing, as DCPH is now a mass vaccination hub.”

Armintor pushes for recording of closed Denton City Council sessions

Denton City Council members will consider recording closed sessions after Deb Armintor made a request to do so during a council work session Tuesday.

“For the future, the historical record and for open government and to help jog our memories, I encourage you … to have a work session to record our closed meetings,” she said.

Council informally agreed to discuss the measure at a future work session in the coming weeks.

Armintor, the at-large Place 5 member, is in her second term.

Under the Texas Open Meetings Act, recording closed sessions is lawful. Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said it is encouraged for better record keeping and is good to have in the case of a legal dispute.

“They should at least keep minutes,” she said. “But they can also record it because it’s more precise. People will have more precise information and exact knowledge if it ever comes out.”

Paul Meltzer, the at-large Place 6 member, agreed.

“It’s an option provided by law,” he said. “I have no objection to it or having a discussion about it.”

Under Texas law, government entities are allowed to enter executive session to discuss, among other issues, personnel matters, real estate transactions and litigation.

In an email to city staff members, Armintor said that closed meetings should be recorded “to keep us honest.” After the work session, she expressed her gratitude to other council members.

“I’m thrilled and very grateful to my colleagues — council members [Birdia] Johnson, Meltzer and [Mayor Gerard] Hudspeth — for agreeing to have a work session,” she said. “This is a chance for the city of Denton to step up and give the people of Denton the open government they deserve.”

Frisco real estate broker flew to Capitol riot from Denton
  • Updated

A Frisco real estate broker flew privately from Denton to Washington for last week’s pro-Donald Trump rally that turned chaotic and violent, resulting in five deaths.

Multiple outlets reported Jenna Ryan, a real estate broker from Frisco, flew out to Washington, D.C., privately and documented the day’s events on social media in posts that have since been deleted.

In a social media post forwarded by a Twitter user to the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, Ryan posted a photo of herself and four other people in front of U.S. Trinity Aviation, a fixed-base operator in Denton.

Scott Gray, the manager at Denton Enterprise Airport, said the airport doesn’t have passenger or travel location information for the fixed-base operators that operate around the airport. FBOs are organizations that operate at airports to provide services such as fueling, hangar rental and aircraft rental.

“We have no commercial flights,” Gray said. “There are no airlines, no terminals, no TSA like you would see at DFW [International Airport]. … We have people who have private airplanes who come and go as they wish. If they need fuel and things of that nature, they get that from either of the FBOs.”

Damon Ward, the founder of U.S. Trinity Aviation, said Thursday the FBO didn’t provide passengers a plane to fly to D.C. for the rally-turned-riot last Wednesday.

“[Private flyers] operate through here, but I mean it’s like going to QuikTrip,” Ward said. “People buy fuel, and you don’t know what they do.”

In a public statement on Facebook and Twitter, Ryan said she “doesn’t condone the violence” that followed the Trump rally in which he told supporters to go to the Capitol building.

“I was invited to go to Washington D.C. by a friend to witness the march,” she said in the statement. “Unfortunately, what I believed to be a peaceful political march turned into a violent protest. I do not condone the violence that occurred on January 6, 2020 and I am truly heartbroken for the people who have lost their lives.”

Screenshots of now-deleted social media posts show Ryan announcing she and other attendees “just stormed the Capital,” noting it was “one of the best days of my life.”

Ryan is among other North Texans who went to the Capitol on Jan. 6. While she told Spectrum News she didn’t actually enter the building, she added she may have placed a foot inside the building.

Steven D’Antuono, the head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, said in a news conference Tuesday the agency has received more than 100,000 pieces of digital media related to the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, and agents would identify and pursue those who committed a crime at the Capitol that day.