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GOP closes ranks, Trump fires Esper and cautious optimism over Covid-19 vaccine

The Department of Justice election crimes chief resigned after Attorney General Barr allows prosecutors to probe voter fraud claims.
Image: Mitch McConnell, Washington
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not acknowledge Biden's win Monday, instead saying the "Constitution gives no role in this process to wealthy media corporations."Susan Walsh / AP

Good morning, NBC News readers.

While President Donald Trump refuses to accept the outcome of the election, senior Republicans have backed his push for investigations, despite no evidence of voter fraud.

Here's what we're watching this Tuesday morning.

Trump aides fret about damage from refusal to accept loss, but GOP leaders back legal fight

As President Donald Trump continues to fight the presidential election results, numerous people close to him are expressing concern that he's spiraling into rage and hurting his own legacy, as well as the Republican Party.

"There needs to be a candid conversation with the president. There is no path to victory," one person close to Trump told NBC News. The person said Trump "deserves his day in court" but added that continuing to cast doubt on the election results "destroys his legacy."

Many of those close to the president recognize the legal battles aren’t going to change the outcome, but few, if any, are telling him that.

For now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other senior elected Republican officials are sticking with their man.

On Monday McConnell hailed Republican victories in last week's election before saying Trump was right not to concede the presidential race.

"President Trump is 100 percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options," McConnell said Monday, echoing a line used by other top Republicans in recent days.

Meantime, the head of the branch of the Justice Department that prosecutes election crimes resigned Monday hours after Attorney General William Barr issued a memo to federal prosecutors to investigate "specific allegations" of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race are certified.

Richard Pilger, who was director of the Election Crimes Branch of the DOJ, sent a note to colleagues that suggested his resignation was linked to Barr's action.

Barr's memo signaled a change of Justice Department policy, which had previously advised prosecutors that "overt investigative steps ordinarily should not be taken until the election in question has been concluded, its results certified, and all recounts and election contests concluded."

Barr was not asked or directed by the president, any lawmaker, or anyone in the White House to issue this memo to federal prosecutors, according to a Department of Justice senior official. Barr, however, met with McConnell earlier Monday and did not respond to questions when he left the Kentucky senator's office.

Esper's firing raises concerns about national security during Trump's final days in office

Trump's decision to abruptly fire his defense secretary underscores the national security concerns posed by what is shaping up to be the most volatile and uncertain presidential transition in modern American history, former officials and experts say.

The firing of Mark Esper is raising fears that Trump will fire other key national security officials over the next 10 weeks and use his enormous power in the military and intelligence realm to act rashly before he leaves office.

Speculation is rampant inside and outside the government about whether Trump will also remove FBI Director Christopher Wray or CIA Director Gina Haspel, two experienced security hands who have displeased Trump by resisting some of his demands.

"This particular move today creates concern and uncertainty because there are already concerns about the president's decision-making style and what he might do in the remaining days of his presidency," Nick Rasmussen, a former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, told NBC News.

Trump appointee slow-walks Biden transition. That could delay action on the pandemic.

The head of the General Services Administration has yet to recognize the incoming Biden administration — a delay that could have consequences for the president-elect's plan to move swiftly on the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 48 hours after media outlets projected that Joe Biden had won the election, GSA chief Emily Murphy had not yet signed the letter of "ascertainment" — a previously mostly noncontroversial process since the passage of the Presidential Transition Act of 1963.

Signing the paperwork when a new president is elected triggers the release of millions of dollars in transition funding and allows an incoming administration access to current government officials.

With the ascertainment delayed, the Biden transition team has been prevented from meeting with officials heading Operation Warp Speed and other Trump administration coronavirus efforts.

On Monday, Biden pleaded with Americans to wear masks, kicking off his presidential transition with a message declaring the practice the most effective tool to control the Covid-19 pandemic until a vaccine is distributed.

"It doesn't matter your party, your point of view, we can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democrat or Republican lives, American lives,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware, on Monday.

FDA authorizes Covid-19 antibody treatment for emergency use

The Food and Drug Administration has granted an emergency use authorization for Eli Lilly's Covid-19 monoclonal antibody treatment.

The move vastly expands doctors' ability to use the antibody treatment, which is similar to one of the treatments Trump received when he was hospitalized with Covid-19.

Previously, physicians were limited to trying the drug in clinical trials.

The action "provides health care professionals on the frontline of this pandemic with another potential tool in treating Covid-19 patients," Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, acting director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.

The move comes on the heels of the drug company Pfizer's announcement Monday that early analysis showed its vaccine candidate for Covid-19 is more than 90 percent effective at preventing infection.

Doctors expressed cautious optimism about the Pfizer's vaccine on Monday, while the drug company said it is preparing for the "Herculean effort" it will take to distribute the drug.

"With 1,000 people dying every day in the U.S., there’s no time to lose," Pfizer's CEO said.

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THINK about it

I fled Iran so my vote would count. Biden's win proves it did, Parnaz Foroutan writes in an opinion piece.


Zoom "cookalongs" brought the world (and friends) happily back into one writer's kitchen.


Home Depot is offering early Black Friday sales and deals on furniture, home improvement tools, appliances and more.

Quote of the day

"He was one of the first people I 'met' in this country."

Asmae Toumi, one of many immigrants paying tribute to "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek for helping them to learn English.

One fun thing

The election results were announced on Saturday, but Monday was the first opportunity for many late-night TV hosts to weave it into their monologues.

See how Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and James Corden all react to President-elect Joe Biden’s win and President Trump’s refusal so far to concede.

We apologize, this video has expired.

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Thanks, Petra