Politics OnPolitics: Why is Putin declaring victory in Mariupol?

OnPolitics: Why is Putin declaring victory in Mariupol?

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Justice Department officials announced charges Wednesday against 21 people accused in connection with $ 149 million in false billings and theft from federal programs related to the government’s COVID-19 response.

The sweep of suspects from across the country included physicians, marketers and manufacturers of fake vaccination cards along with purveyors of phony cures.

Among the defendants: a 53-year-old Colorado man was charged in an alleged scheme to forge hundreds of fake vaccination cards. Some of the cards, the suspect allegedly told an undercover agent, were sold to people headed to the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games last August, including three Olympians.

While the suspects were allegedly linked to schemes valued at $ 149 million, officials said the actual loss to the government totaled about $ 20 million.

It’s Amy and Chelsey with today’s top stories out of Washington.

Putin has declared victory in Mariupol. But there’s no evidence the fighting is over.

After reducing Ukraine’s eastern port city of Mariupol to rubble, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Thursday the military campaign there a successsomething he desperately needs as the war grinds into its third month.

It’s anything but.

Russia stopped short of routing hundreds of Ukrainian fighters from the strategic city’s giant steel plant. Both Ukraine and President Joe Biden have rejected Putin’s claim of victory.

What is clear is that Mariupol’s residents have endured some of the worst atrocities committed by the Russians even as Russia has lost an estimated quarter of its combat forces in Ukraine – troops, aircraft, tanks ships and other equipment – since the war began Feb. 24.

Though Putin was forced to retreat from his goal of taking Kyiv, he’s pushing for territorial gains in eastern Ukraine. Military victories could give him the stronger hand he needs to wrest concessions in a peace negotiation, or at least allow him to save face at home.

Biden announces new aid package: Biden committed $ 800 million in additional military aid to Ukraine on Thursday and rolled out a process to welcome Ukrainian refugees displaced by the war, beginning next week.

The latest infusion of security assistance, which matches the amount committed last week, includes 72 howitzers, 72 trucks to tow them, 121 Phoenix Ghost drones, other heavy artillery and 144,000 rounds of ammunition. Biden said the aid would “further augment Ukraine’s ability” to fight Russian attacks in the eastern Donbas region.

“We’re in a critical window now of time, where they’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war,” Biden said.

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Real quick: stories you’ll want to read

DOJ will appeal mask mandate decision

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has come out against a ruling by a federal judge in Florida who said the Biden administration could not extend the federal mask mandate on public transit until May 3.

“It is CDC’s continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health,” the agency said in a Wednesday statement. “CDC will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine whether such an order remains necessary. CDC believes this is a lawful order, well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”

The decision has prompted the Justice Department to immediately file a notice of appeal in line with its promise Tuesday to appeal the judge’s ruling based on the CDC’s decision.

US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said this week that the CDC failed to justify the order and did not follow proper rulemaking procedures. In response, the CDC said Monday it would no longer enforce its mask requirement on mass transportation systems, though masks were still recommended in indoor public settings.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said an appeal is needed not just to preserve the 15-day extension of the mandate but to preserve “CDC authority over the long-term” in case the pandemic worsens again. “Because as we’ve noted from here, we expect there to be ups and downs of the pandemic. And we certainly want the CDC to continue to have this authority.”

Great Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has been honored with a Barbie doll in her likeness to commemorate her 96th birthday. The doll also marks 70 years on the throne for the queen. – Amy and Chelsey

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