Before mob stormed the Capitol, days of security planning involved cabinet officials and President Trump

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. President Donald Trump met with top military officials and gave his approval to activate the D.C. National Guard three days before he encouraged a mob of angry protesters to take their grievances to the U.S. Capitol. A Pentagon memo released Friday offers these insights, as well as the first detailed timeline of the bungled law enforcement response to Wednesday’s insurrection. The timeline shows that the planning started at least as far back as Dec.

Domestic terrorism: A more urgent threat, but weaker laws

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. In the days leading up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the FBI received intelligence that extremists were planning violence as lawmakers gathered in Washington to certify the electoral victory of President-elect Joe Biden. FBI officials managed to dissuade people in several places from their suspected plans, a senior FBI official said — but there was not enough evidence to issue arrest warrants. “Prior to this event, the FBI obtained information about individuals who were planning on potentially traveling to the protests, individuals who were planning to engage in violence,” said the senior FBI official.

Capitol rioters planned for weeks in plain sight. The police weren’t ready.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. The invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday was stoked in plain sight. For weeks, the far-right supporters of President Donald Trump railed on social media that the election had been stolen. They openly discussed the idea of violent protest on the day Congress met to certify the result.

“We came up with the idea to occupy just outside the CAPITOL on Jan 6th,” leaders of the Stop the Steal movement wrote on Dec.

Rapid testing is less accurate than the federal government wants to admit

The promise of antigen tests emerged like a miracle this summer. With repeated use, the theory went, these rapid and cheap coronavirus tests would identify highly infectious people while giving healthy Americans a green light to return to offices, schools and restaurants. The idea of on-the-spot tests with near-instant results was an appealing alternative to the slow, lab-based testing that couldn’t meet public demand.

By September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had purchased more than 150 million tests for nursing homes and schools, spending more than $760 million. But it soon became clear that antigen testing — named for the viral proteins, or antigens, that the test detects — posed a new set of problems. Unlike lab-based, molecular PCR tests, which detect snippets of the virus’s genetic material, antigen tests are less sensitive because they can only detect samples with a higher viral load. The tests were prone to more false negatives and false positives. As problems emerged, officials were slow to acknowledge the evidence.

The enraging deja vu of a third coronavirus wave

There’s a joke I’ve seen circulating online, over and over during this pandemic, that goes along the lines of, “Months this year: January, February, March, March, March, March, March…”

My lips pull into a smile, but my heart’s not in it.

I was on the phone two weeks ago with a nurse who lives in Missouri, where cases have risen from 1,100 per day in August to about 3,400 daily in November. Her husband works in the ER of a rural hospital. Every time a patient suspected of having COVID-19 walks in, the sample is sent to be tested in St. Louis, an hour and a half away. Results take eight hours or more to process.

Inside the fall of the CDC

At 7:47 a.m. on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Jay Butler pounded out a grim email to colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Butler, then the head of the agency’s coronavirus response, and his team had been trying to craft guidance to help Americans return safely to worship amid worries that two of its greatest comforts — the chanting of prayers and singing of hymns — could launch a deadly virus into the air with each breath.

DOJ frees federal prosecutors to take steps that could interfere with elections, weakening long-standing policy

The Department of Justice has weakened its long-standing prohibition against interfering in elections, according to two department officials.

Avoiding election interference is the overarching principle of DOJ policy on voting-related crimes. In place since at least 1980, the policy generally bars prosecutors not only from making any announcement about ongoing investigations close to an election but also from taking public steps — such as an arrest or a raid — before a vote is finalized because the publicity could tip the balance of a race.

A real vaccine before the election? It’d take a miracle.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Despite President Donald Trump’s promises of a vaccine next month and pundits’ speculation about how an “October surprise” could upend the presidential campaign, any potential vaccine would have to clear a slew of scientific and bureaucratic hurdles in record time. In short, it would take a miracle. We talked to companies, regulators, scientific advisers and analysts and reviewed hundreds of pages of transcripts and study protocols to understand all the steps needed for a coronavirus vaccine to be scientifically validated and cleared for public use.

Now in government food aid boxes: A letter from Donald Trump

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Millions of Americans who are struggling to put food on the table may discover a new item in government-funded relief packages of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and meat: a letter signed by President Donald Trump. The message, printed on White House letterhead in both English and Spanish, touts the administration’s response to the coronavirus, including aid provided through the Farmers to Families Food Box Program, a U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative to buy fresh food and ship it to needy families. The letter is reminiscent of Trump’s effort to put his signature on stimulus checks and send a signed letter to millions of recipients.

Facebook’s political ad ban also threatens ability to spread accurate information on how to vote

Facebook this week said it would bar political ads in the seven days before the presidential election. That could prevent dirty tricks or an “October surprise” and give watchdogs time to fact-check statements. But rather than responding with glee, election officials say the move leaves them worried.

Included in the ban are ads purchased by election officials — secretaries of state and boards of elections — who use Facebook to inform voters about how voting will work. The move effectively removes a key communication channel just as millions of Americans will begin to navigate a voting process different from any they’ve experienced before.

“Every state’s elections office has a very small communications office that is doing everything that they can to get the word out about the election,” said Gabe Rosenberg, the communications director for Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill (who is not related to this reporter). “This just makes it a little bit harder, for, as far as I can see, no real gain.”