By Richard Valdmanis CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Reuters) - Hours before the Tennessee shooting that killed five U.S. servicemen, the suspected gunman texted his close friend a link to a long Islamic verse that included the line: "Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, then I have declared war against him." His friend thought nothing of it at the time, but now wonders if it was a clue to Thursday's rampage in Chattanooga, which has re-ignited concerns about the radicalization of young Muslim men. "I didn't see it as a hint at the time, but it may have been his way of telling me something," the friend told Reuters on Saturday. He requested anonymity for fear of a backlash. The suspect, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old Kuwaiti-born naturalized U.S. citizen, was killed in a gunfight with police. The FBI is investigating the attack as an act of terrorism, but said it was premature to speculate on the gunman's motive. While a firm connection between the suspect and radical Islam has not been established, the shooting follows a series of attacks or thwarted attacks in the United States and other countries by Muslims claiming to be inspired by Islamic State or other militant groups. Abdulazeez's friends said he had returned from a trip to Jordan in 2014 concerned about conflicts in the Middle East and the reluctance of the United States and other countries to intervene. He later purchased three assault rifles on an online marketplace and used them for target practice, the friends said. "That trip was eye-opening for him. He learned a lot about the traditions and culture of the Middle East," said the close friend who received the text message. Abdulazeez was upset about the 2014 Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza and the civil war in Syria, he said. "He felt Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia were not doing enough to help, and that they were heavily influenced by the United States." Another friend said, "He had always talked about it, but I'd say his level of understanding and awareness really rose after he came back." U.S. authorities said Abdulazeez sprayed gunfire at a joint military recruiting center in a strip mall in Chattanooga, then drove to a Naval Reserve Center about 6 miles (10 km) away, where he killed four Marines before he himself was shot dead. Three other people were injured, including a U.S. Navy petty officer who died from his wounds on Saturday. The Navy did not give the name of the sailor, but his step-grandmother identified him as Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Smith of Paulding, Ohio, who left behind a wife and three young daughters. "He was an awesome young man," Darlene Proxmire told Reuters. "He loved his wife and children. He loved the Navy." JORDAN TRIP WAS "EYE-OPENING" Abdulazeez, an engineer, went to the Middle East in 2010 and visited several countries, according to his close friend. He then went to Jordan in 2014 to work for his uncle, and lived with his uncle and his grandparents there, he said. After Abdulazeez returned, he seemed more mellow, less interested in partying. "That is part of what drew us closer. He was a guy who wanted to settle down and get his life going. That connected us," he said. The night before the attack, just after 10 p.m., the close friend received a text from Abdulazeez with a link to a Hadith, or Islamic teaching: http://sunnah.com/nawawi40/38. The friend said he had been asking Abdulazeez for job advice, and continued to text him that evening and into Thursday but did not get a reply. The friend said he was interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI declined to comment on Saturday. For jihadists and ultraconservative Salafist Sunni Muslims, the Hadith "is usually understood within the context of al-wala wa-l-bara (or) love for Islam and hatred for its enemies," said David Cook, an associate professor who specializes in Islam in the department of religion at Rice University in Texas. According to Abdulazeez's friends, he had purchased three guns on armslist.com after returning from Jordan, including an AK-74, an AR-15, and a Saiga 12. They said he also owned a 9mm and a .22 caliber hand guns. Armslist.com is an online listing site on which individuals can buy and sell firearms through private transactions. Critics say it enables people to obtain weapons without background checks, though the site has a disclaimer that it requires users to agree to follow all state and federal firearms laws. Emails seeking comment from Armlist.com and Armslist Legal Defense Fund, created to defend Armslist against lawsuits, were not immediately answered. GUNS, FAST CARS Abdulazeez had occasionally smoked marijuana and drank alcohol, and struggled to reconcile that with his faith in Islam, his friends said. At one point, in 2012 or 2013, Abdulazeez received therapy for his drugs and alcohol use, they said. "He used it to de-stress, when things were difficult at home, or whatever," the close friend said, adding that tensions between Abdulazeez and his Palestinian parents had upset him. His parents nearly got divorced in 2009, according to court records. In April, Abdulazeez was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. He was facing a July 30 court date for his DUI charge. Abdulazeez also had problems with local youths that sometimes took on a religious and racial tone, his friend said. "There were rednecks, ignorant people, who sometimes would cause problems. Mo never fought, but he used to get worked up and yell and stuff," he said. "Afterwards he would calm down, and just say it doesn't matter." Over the past few months, Abdulazeez and his friends practiced shooting in the Prentice Cooper state forest near Chattanooga, sometimes two or three times a week. "He was always interested in guns, since he was young. He started with a BB gun and paintball, and went on from there. We would go out shooting quite often," said the close friend. Abdulazeez also liked driving fast in the hills surrounding Chattanooga. Two nights before the attack, he and some friends went joyriding in Abdulazeez's rented gray convertible Ford Mustang, passing through the towns of Whitwell, Dayton and Jasper. "Fast car on a rainy night. We were flying, doing tight turns and drifting," said the friend, adding that they returned home at about 3 o'clock in the morning. "He seemed totally normal. We made plans to hang out on the weekend," he said. He said Abdulazeez had a good paying job and many plans for his life, including possibly starting a computer sales business in Chattanooga. "He wanted to buy a car. He wanted a video console, to make a man cave - every guy's dream." He said it was difficult to understand how his friend became the suspect in the rampage. "The signs just weren't there," he said. "The only thing I can think of is that it was a combination of things - what is happening overseas, his family problems, maybe some of the issues with the less educated people here. I don't know." (Additional reporting by Frank McGurty in New York, Mark Hosenball in Washington, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Tiffany Wu)
A boy who was killed in an alleged murder-suicide by his father has been identified as 9-year-old Pierce O’Loughlin. Family tragedy: The boy and his father, Stephen O'Loughlin, 49, were both found dead at their home on Scott Street, Marina District in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon, SF Chronicle reports. The boy’s mother, Lesley Hu, asked authorities to check on her son after learning that he did not show up for school that day.
- National Review
A senior Biden transition official is warning migrants hoping to cross the southern border into the U.S. during the early days of the new administration that “now is not the time” to come. “There’s help on the way, but now is not the time to make the journey,” an unnamed Biden official said, NBC News reported. The Biden administration is looking to end the Trump administration’s policy of requiring that migrants wait in Mexico as immigration courts consider their asylum applications. Those who have been waiting at the border will be considered first for entry over migrants who only recently arrived. Additionally, the Biden administration will scrap the stricter restrictions the previous administration imposed on asylum seekers, which limit who is eligible for entry. However, any immigration legislation proposed by the Biden administration will address illegal immigrants living in the U.S. rather than new migrants arriving at the border, the official said. “The situation at the border isn’t going to be transformed overnight,” the official explained, saying that migrants seeking to gain asylum right away “need to understand they’re not going to be able to come into the United States immediately.” A caravan of about 2,000 Honduran migrants desperate to reach the U.S. forced their way past Guatemalan authorities Friday night and are expected to reach the southern border within the next few weeks. The caravan “will not find when they get to the U.S. border that from Tuesday to Wednesday, things have changed overnight and ports are all open and they can come into the United States,” the official cautioned. “We have to provide a message that help and hope is on the way, but coming right now does not make sense for their own safety … while we put into place processes that they may be able to access in the future,” the official said. In 2018, just before the midterm elections, a caravan of thousands of Central American migrants headed for America’s southern border. Similarly, in early 2017, just before President Trump took office, a caravan made its way to the border, drawing the ire of Trump.
- The Independent
Trump news – live: Biden team hits back at decision to reopen travel to UK and Brazil despite Covid surge
Follow the latest updates
After a probe found "significant errors of judgment and procedure" in the termination of the employee, GitHub's head of human resources resigned, GitHub Chief Operating Officer Erica Brescia said on Sunday. "In light of these findings, we immediately reversed the decision to separate with the employee and are in communication with his representative," Brescia said in a blog https://bit.ly/2KnkVhI, adding that the company apologized to that employee.
Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sydney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America. * The letter also orders Lindell to "preserve and retain all documents relating to Dominion and your smear campaign against the company." * Lindell also must preserve all communications with any member of the Trump campaign, in addition to communications with Rudy Giuliani, Powell, Jenna Ellis and Lin Wood. The big picture: Lindell met with Trump last week and was caught by photographers with notes referencing martial law and Sidney Powell. The CEO has become known for pedaling election-overturning conspiracies and last year promoted a fake cure to the coronavirus. What they're saying: Dominion's letter reads... "Despite knowing your implausible attacks against Dominion have no basis in reality, you have participated in the vast and concerted misinformation campaign to slander Dominion ... Litigation regarding these issues is imminent."A spokesperson for My Pillow did not immediately return a request for comment. Read the full letter here: Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- The Telegraph
Miners trapped underground in eastern China for more than a week after a blast at a gold mine have managed to send up a note to rescuers, the local government said on Monday. The blast occurred eight days ago on Sunday afternoon at a mine near Qixia city in eastern Shandong province, leaving 22 miners trapped underground more than 600 metres from the mine’s entrance. After a long period without any contact, rescuers were able to drill through the mine on Sunday afternoon and said they heard "knocking sounds". A note was then sent up from the trapped miners saying that 12 were still alive, the local government said in a statement Monday. "We are in urgent need of cold medicine, painkillers, medical tape, external anti-inflammatory drugs, and three people have high blood pressure," the note read.
- Associated Press
Pakistan’s prime minister reacted angrily Monday to media reports of a text exchange between an Indian TV anchor and a former media industry executive that suggests a 2019 Indian airstrike inside Pakistan was designed to boost Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chances for reelection. Imran Khan took to Twitter to respond to Indian media reports of an exchange on the WhatsApp messaging service between popular Indian TV anchor Arnab Goswami and Partho Dasgupta, the former head of a TV rating company.
The officer who may have saved the life of Vice President Mike Pence could now be giving him the side-eye. The cop hailed as a hero for leading a crowd of insurrectionists away from the Senate floor and potentially saving hundreds of lawmakers’ lives has, perhaps, left the vice president on read. Vice President Mike Pence has reportedly reached out to thank Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman for his heroism on Jan. 6, but they have yet to connect.
- National Review
A Russian judge ruled Monday that opposition leader Alexei Navalny must remain in retail detention for 30 days after he was detained on Sunday immediately upon his return to Moscow, where he traveled after recovering in Germany from a near-fatal poisoning attack. “The court arrested Navalny for 30 days. Until February 15,” the judge’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on Twitter. Navalny’s lawyers learned of the Monday morning hearing just minutes before it began at a police station, instead of a normal courtroom, in the outskirts of Moscow. The judge allotted the attorneys just 30 minutes to familiarize themselves with the case and another 20 minutes to speak to their client. Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said the ruling “cannot even be called a parody of the rule of law.” “They detained him at the border, took him to places unknown, his lawyer was not granted access, the hearing was carried out urgently right in the police station and he was detained for 30 days,” Yarmysh said. Navalny was already scheduled to appear at a January 29 hearing on charges that he had violated the parole terms of a previous suspended sentence by staying in Germany while undergoing treatment, the reason for which he was officially detained. He received the earlier suspended prison sentence and probation order in 2014 for embezzlement and money laundering, a case which the European Court of Human Rights in 2018 called politically motivated. He has called the criminal cases against him “fabricated” and said the authorities’ intent is to deter him from returning. After the court’s ruling, Navalny urged people to take to the streets in protest. “Don’t be afraid, take to the streets. Don’t go out for me, go out for yourself and your future,” Navalny said in a video posted to YouTube. Navalny nearly died over the summer after being poisoned by Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. He had been on a flight to Moscow after meeting with supporters in Siberia when he fell ill. The Russian dissident blames Russian President Vladimir Putin for the poisoning, though the Kremlin has denied having any involvement. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday called for the opposition leader’s “immediate and unconditional release,” and said his detention was “the latest in a series of attempts to silence Navalny and other opposition figures.”
The United States called on China on Monday to allow an expert team from the World Health Organization (WHO) to interview "care givers, former patients and lab workers" in the central city of Wuhan, drawing a rebuke from Beijing. The team of WHO-led independent experts trying to determine the origins of the new coronavirus arrived on Jan. 14 in Wuhan where they are holding teleconferences with Chinese counterparts during a two-week quarantine before starting work on the ground. The United States, which has accused China of hiding the extent of its initial outbreak, has called for a "transparent" WHO-led investigation and criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts have done the first phase of research.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) called on his Republican Party to rebuild itself and "repudiate the nonsense that has set our party on fire" in an in an op-ed for The Atlantic Saturday on the QAnon conspiracy theory.Why it matters: Many of the mob involved in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots wore items signaling their support for the far-right QAnon and a prominent member of the cult was among those arrested following the siege.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here. * Several Republicans who ran for Congress last year publicly supported or defended the QAnon movement or some of its tenets — something Sasee noted in his op-ed, headlined "QAnon is Destroying the GOP From Within." * Sasse blames the violence on "the blossoming of a rotten seed that took root in the Republican Party some time ago and has been nourished by treachery, poor political judgment, and cowardice."Driving the news: Sasse wrote in his op-ed that "until last week, many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon." * "They can't," he added. "The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about." * Sasse criticized House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for not denouncing QAnon supporter Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) when she was running for Congress in 2020. * "She's already announced plans to try to impeach Joe Biden on his first full day as president," Sasse wrote. "She'll keep making fools out of herself, her constituents, and the Republican Party."Worth noting: Sasse said before the House impeached President Trump for a second time he'd consider "definitely consider" any articles of impeachment against him over his conduct and comments at a rally before the riots. * The Nebraska senator criticized Trump's embrace of QAnon supporters last August, warning that Democrats could "take the Senate" this "will be a big part of why they won." * Months later, the Democrats went on to win control of the Senate.The bottom line: Sasse wrote that his party faces a choice when Trump leaves office: "We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories."Go deeper: * The Capitol siege's QAnon roots * House freshmen at war after Capitol siegeSupport safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
The US president-elect dismisses a White House order lifting entry bans for much of Europe and Brazil.
- Reuters Videos
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden may end the Keystone XL pipeline project as one of his first acts in office, a source familiar with his thinking told Reuters it could happen as early as day one. Biden, who will be inaugurated on Wednesday, was vice president when Barack Obama rejected the $9 billion project in 2015. Then two years later, Donald Trump issued a presidential permit that allowed the line to move forward. Since then the project has seen opposition by environmentalists seeking to check Canada's oil industry and Native Americans whose land faced encroachment. Construction of the pipeline is well underway and if completed, would move oil from Canada's Alberta province to the U.S. state of Nebraska. In his 2020 run for president, Biden vowed to scrap its permit once elected. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Saturday, the words 'rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit' appeared on his list of Biden's executive actions likely scheduled for his first day. Biden's team did not respond to a request for comment, but Canada's ambassador to the U.S. said she looks forward to a decision that fits both countries' environmental protection plans. In a statement, Ambassador Kirsten Hillman said: "There is no better partner for the U.S. on climate action than Canada as we work together for green transition." Meanwhile Alberta's Premier tweeted he was "deeply concerned" by the report, adding the decision would kill jobs, increase U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and weaken U.S.-Canada relations.
- The Telegraph
A woman identified as having taken part in the storming of the US Capitol is accused of stealing a laptop belonging to top Democrat Nancy Pelosi which she hoped to sell to a Russian spy agency, according to the FBI. There is no indication Riley June Williams, a 22-year-old careworker from Pennsylvania, took a laptop from Ms Pelosi's office. The FBI, which is working off a tip, said in the court record the "matter remains under investigation." The complaint, filed late Sunday in US District Court in Washington, sought the arrest of Williams on grounds including "violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds." Relying on several photos and videos of the chaotic January 6 riot, an FBI agent said Williams was seen near the office of Ms Pelosi, US House Speaker. A witness, identified in the court document only as W1 but who claimed to be "the former romantic partner of Riley June Williams," alleged that Williams planned to send the laptop to a friend in Russia to sell it to the SVR foreign intelligence agency. That sale "fell through for unknown reasons, and Williams still has the computer device or destroyed it," the affidavit says.
"This is also a desire that's shared by other GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries," he told Bloomberg TV https://bloom.bg/369WLz9 in an interview. The Qatari foreign minister added that his government was supporting ongoing discussions between Iran and South Korea to secure the release of an oil tanker seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard early this month.
Kevin McCarthy warned members to not call out colleagues by name, citing potential political violence
Members of the House Republican Conference ignored leader Kevin McCarthy last week when he warned them against criticizing colleagues by name based on intelligence that doing so could trigger more political violence. Why it matters: McCarthy made clear that name-dropping opponents, instead of spelling out complaints in more general terms, can put a literal target on a politician, especially with tensions so high following the events of Jan. 6.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.That's what happened to Rep. Liz Cheney, the GOP conference chairperson, after she said she would support impeaching President Trump. * She and several other members had to increase their security and take extra precautions because of death threats and other alarming warnings after their colleagues singled them out in their complaints.What McCarthy said: The House minority leader issued his warning during a conference call last Monday. He said his concern was driven by the FBI briefings he receives. * "It doesn’t matter which side of the position you were: I respect it, I respect why you did what you did. But what we are saying on television, when we say a member’s name. ... This is not the moment in time to do it." * "You can incite something else. The country is very divided and we know this. Let’s not put any member, I don’t care who they are Republican, Democrat or any person not even in Congress. Watch our words closely. I get these reports on a weekly basis. I’ve seen something I haven’t seen before.”Several minutes later, McCarthy repeated the message: “Emotions are high. What you say matters. Let’s not put other people in danger. Let’s watch what words we’re using and definitely not be using other members' names in any media.”Days later, some GOP members ignored him and openly criticized their colleagues * Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted that the name of his Republican colleague, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, "will be one forgotten by next January." * Rep. Lauren Boebart (R-Colo.) mocked Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the House's new mask fines.One of the most blatant attacks, leading to a media firestorm, was when several members of the House Freedom Caucus went after Cheney for voting to impeach Trump. * On the day of the vote, the members circulated a petition to remove her from her leadership role. * Cheney is now fielding a series of threats against her, many from fiery Trump supporters angered by her vote, a source with direct knowledge of the threat said. * “We don’t comment on security matters,” Cheney’s communications director, Jeremy Adler, told Axios.What we’re hearing: McCarthy's team told Axios he isn't looking for repercussions. Spokesman Matt Sparks said the leader wants to lower the temperature and is encouraging members to be mindful of the current environment.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- The Independent
‘I really can’t keep the ARs on the wall’ gun store manager says as enthusiasts stock up over fears new administration will enact gun-control laws
- The Telegraph
Pfizer vaccine recipients are unlikely to transmit the virus to others, according to the author of an Israeli study. Participants in the survey developed up to 20 times more antibodies within a week of receiving the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The survey, which reviewed data from 102 of about 1,000 of the Sheba Medical Centre’s medical staff who have received both shots, showed that only two subjects have developed low amounts of antibodies - one of the subjects suffered from a compromised immune system. There was no explanation for why the second person did not develop antibodies, and the hospital said it was investigating the matter. The rest - 98 per cent - have developed levels of antibodies that were even higher than patients who have recovered from a serious coronavirus-induced condition, the hospital said in a statement released on Monday.
China's Sinovac Biotech said on Monday that a clinical trial in Brazil showed its COVID-19 vaccine was almost 20 percentage points more effective in a small sub-group of patients who received their two doses longer apart. The protection rate for 1,394 participants who received doses of either CoronaVac or placebo three weeks apart was nearly 70%, a Sinovac spokesman said. Brazilian researchers announced last week that the vaccine's overall efficacy was 50.4% based on results from more than 9,000 volunteers, most of whom received doses 14 days apart, as outlined in the trial protocol.
Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president. Episode 3: The conspiracy goes too far. Trump's outside lawyers plot to seize voting machines and spin theories about communists, spies and computer software.President Trump was sitting in the Oval Office one day in late November when a call came in from lawyer Sidney Powell. "Ugh, Sidney," he told the staff in the room before he picked up. "She's getting a little crazy, isn't she? She's really gotta tone it down. No one believes this stuff. It's just too much."Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.He put the call on speakerphone for the benefit of his audience. Powell was raving about a national security crisis involving the Iranians flipping votes in battleground states. Trump pressed mute and laughed mockingly."So what are we gonna do about it, Sidney?" Trump would say every few seconds, whipping Powell more and more into a frenzy. He was having fun with it. "She really is crazy, huh?" he said, again with his finger on the mute button.It was clear that Trump recognized how unhinged his outside legal advisers were. But he was becoming increasingly desperate about losing to Joe Biden, and Powell and her crew were willing to keep feeding the grand lie that the election could be overturned. They were selling Trump a seductive but delusional vision: a clear and achievable path to victory. The only catch: He'd have to stop listening to his government and campaign staffs, to cross the Rubicon and view them as liars, quitters and traitors.Trump's new gang of advisers shared some common traits. They were sycophants who craved an audience with the president. They were hardcore conspiracy theorists. The other striking commonality within this crew was that all of them had, at one point in their lives, done impressive, professional, mainstream work.Rudy Giuliani once was "America's Mayor," hailed for his handling of 9/11. Powell was a successful attorney who defended Enron. Michael Flynn was a decorated three-star general whom Obama fired and then Trump brought back as his national security adviser, before firing him and ultimately pardoning him. Lin Wood was a nationally known defamation lawyer. Patrick Byrne made a small fortune launching the internet retailer Overstock.com.One exception was Jenna Ellis. She had a thin legal resume, and had in the 2016 campaign season used adjectives like "idiot," "boorish," "arrogant," "bully," and "disgusting" to characterize Trump and his behavior. But during Trump's presidency, she pushed her way into his inner circle, powered by levels of televised obsequiousness remarkable even for Trumpworld.Powell and Wood distinguished themselves with their extremism. Even Giuliani began distancing himself, telling anyone who'd listen that Powell didn't represent the president. But Trump promoted Powell as part of his team, and even though he had privately admitted to aides that he thought she was "crazy," he still wanted to hear what she had to say."Sometimes you need a little crazy," Trump told one official.While Trump's campaign team — experienced attorneys such as Justin Clark and Matt Morgan — were scrutinizing issues such as signature verification and access to room monitoring for vote counting, Powell was appealing to Trump's personal mantra to "Think Big!"She presented the president with a sweeping, multinational conspiracy of foreign interference at a scale never seen before in American history. The fact that she had no evidence that could hold up in court was a minor detail.Powell and Flynn told Trump he couldn't trust his team. That appealed to a paranoid mentality that always lurked beneath his surface: The FBI was corrupt. His CIA was working against him, and his intelligence community was, too. Why else weren't they showing him the evidence that China, Venezuela, Iran and various other communists had stolen his election win?To help him bypass these obstacles, they'd need Trump to give them top-level security clearances so they could get to the bottom of the "stolen" election. Trump liked this idea. Why not make Powell a special counsel in charge of election fraud? Why not give her and Flynn the clearances?Trump's professional staff had learned over time that they had to pick their moments to fight back. On the question of Powell, chief of staff Mark Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone were of one mind: No way was she getting a top secret clearance.Powell and Flynn sent Trump advisers documents they said contained the evidence of this far-reaching conspiracy. To the White House staff, it was gibberish — the rantings of a QAnon devotee. But these documents — perhaps the most deranged materials to reach a modern U.S. president — found their way to the West Wing.According to documents obtained by Axios, Powell and her crew advised Trump that a foreign conspiracy to steal the election involved a coordinated cyberwarfare attack from China, Russia, Iran, Iraq and North Korea.In arguments in front of Trump in the Oval Office, White House officials pushed back aggressively.What Powell was claiming to have uncovered would have been the greatest foreign attack in American history. Yet the U.S. intelligence community had seen no evidence of it.But Powell had an answer for that too: The reason Trump hadn't heard about this from his intelligence officials was because they were actively subverting him and hiding crucial information from him.His dog whistle to QAnon conspiracy theorists — a curiosity prompted once he learned they "love Trump" — dated back to at least the summer. On July 1, 2020, Trump met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Todd Young of Indiana and top political aides in the Oval Office for an update on Senate races. Trump was holding a printed slide deck showing the latest key data points, like polling and cash on hand, for the closely watched Colorado Senate race between Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat John Hickenlooper.Trump looked at the deck and immediately said, "How about that primary last night?" QAnon-enthusiast Lauren Boebert had won the Republican primary for Colorado's 3rd Congressional District. Consensus in the room was that Boebert's victory was a stunner. The president then addressed McConnell. "You know she’s a believer in that QAnon," he said. "Are you familiar with that, Mitch?" McConnell sat there stone-faced. He didn't move a muscle."You know, people say they're into all kinds of bad things and say all kinds of terrible things about them," Trump added. "But, you know, my understanding is they basically are just people who want good government."The room fell silent. Nobody knew how to respond. Then all of a sudden Meadows burst out laughing. "I have heard them described a lot of ways, but never quite like that," he said. The meeting participants broke down laughing. "In terror, quite candidly," said a source in the room.Powell filled the Trumpian Venn diagram between conspiracy theorists and sycophants. She offered the comforting deceptions that Trump was craving in his desperate post-election days and that the people on his team who had actual experience in election law refused to serve him.In the false and baseless theory she crafted, America's enemies had used two CIA programs — a foreign surveillance program called the "Hammer" and a cyberwarfare weapon called "Scorecard" — to steal U.S. elections. Her evidence was based on claims from a California computer programmer with a long track record of hawking fantastic-sounding technology. Powell and Flynn claimed that the CIA had been using these programs nefariously since 2009. Documents her team shared with Trump advisers falsely claimed that top Obama administration intelligence officials John Brennan and Jim Clapper — both enemies of Trump's — had illegally commandeered Hammer to advance Obama's supposed ambition of turning America into a communist client state. They further claimed that Brennan and Clapper had taken the program's source code with them when they left office. China had now mysteriously acquired Hammer, Powell argued.They described this as an act of war during in an Oval Office appearance on Dec. 18. No response should be considered too bold, they said. Trump needed to use the full force of the U.S. government to seize Dominion voting machines and catch the "traitors."That an American president was even entertaining any of this, raised questions about the state of his mind and his capacity to fulfill his duties.The evening before that meeting, Giuliani had phoned his old friend, Ken Cuccinelli, second in command at the Department of Homeland Security, asking him whether DHS could seize voting machines. "No," Cuccinelli told Giuliani, politely but firmly. His department did not have that legal authority.By this point, Trump was mainlining conspiracies. Many of his longest-serving advisers had all but given up trying to reason with him.His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, billed once by Newsweek as the most influential presidential relative since Bobby Kennedy, receded from the discussions when it came to countering the crazies. Once Giuliani took over, Kushner subsided from view, trying to cut last minute deals in the Middle East and burnish his foreign policy legacy. This frustrated some of his colleagues. Serious intervention was required on the domestic front.Whether Trump himself was still in charge, or had ceded decision-making to the bottom feeders, was at least an open question.🎧 Listen to Jonathan Swan on Axios' new investigative podcast series, called "How it happened: Trump's last stand."About this series: Our reporting is based on interviews with current and former White House, campaign, government and congressional officials as well as eyewitnesses and people close to the president. Sources have been granted anonymity to share sensitive observations or details they would not be authorized to disclose. President Trump and other officials to whom quotes and actions have been attributed by others were provided the opportunity to confirm, deny or respond to reporting elements prior to publication. "Off the rails" is reported by White House reporter Jonathan Swan, with reporting and research assistance by Zach Basu. It was edited by Margaret Talev and Mike Allen. Illustrations by Sarah Grillo, Aïda Amer and Eniola Odetunde.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.