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Trump’s official line in response to the ruling showed no concern over the financial ramifications of it, though some anxiety about how it could impact his ability to communicate with his hordes of followers. He accused Facebook, Twitter, and Google of taking away his free speech, called them “corrupt” and demanded that they “pay a political price.”

But it was clear that money matters were on his team’s mind. Shortly after the official statement was released, the Trump operation blasted out a text message to its list calling the Facebook ban “NONSENSE” but also asking for money. “I want a list of all donors sent to my office,” the text read.

Not everyone in the party felt that Trump would end up in a worse place because of the continued Facebook ban. The president still has one of the biggest email lists in politics even if it will atrophy without access to the country’s largest social media platforms. And in the tech industry, he has a bête noire to rail against. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the Facebook decision would ultimately help Trump by making him a tech “martyr.”

“Do you want a communist Chinese style control over your voice or American style openness? We’ll see whether Biden sides with the Chinese communists or with the American people,” Gingrich said.

Elsewhere, Republicans argued that keeping Trump off Facebook would be good for the party, even if (or perhaps because) it would be “devastating” for Trump.

“It makes it more difficult for him and it gives everyone from Tim Scott to Nikki Haley to Mike Pompeo to Ted Cruz the ability to go out and begin to win over the Trump donors and voters that exist in a vacuum that Trump is not filling,” said one top GOP operative.

Already, GOP groups like the National Republican Senatorial Committee are running Facebook ads keying off Trump’s battle with “Big Tech” — a sign the party sees the flap as a strong opportunity to engage supporters and that Trump’s visage remains one of the best ways to draw in donors on Facebook.

But Trump himself can’t tap that universe, at least for the time being. And other Republicans feared that MAGA fanatics would become less engaged politically as Trump grew more remote in their lives. “Fundraising begets fundraising so him raising money helps,” said a separate top GOP operative who is working on congressional races this cycle.

Trump’s suspension from Facebook came after the Capitol riot in early January. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the president would be indefinitely off the platform because he’d used it to “incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.” But the social media giant also referred its decision to the company’s independent oversight board for a review and allowed for Trump to make his case against a ban.

A statement submitted on Trump’s behalf by the American Center for Law and Justice claimed Trump called for supporters to be “peaceful and law abiding” and went on to say there was a “total absence of any serious linkage between the Trump speech and the Capitol building incursion.”

A content director for the board said the argument from Trump’s team was “replete with falsehoods.” And after the announcement of the oversight board’s decision to punt back to Facebook, a spokesperson for the social media platform said the company stood by the decision to keep Trump accounts offline.

In the absence of Facebook and Twitter, Trump has continued to share his opinions on everything from the Academy Awards to Republican politics on friendly news show interviews and in statements dictated to aides and distributed to the public via email. On Tuesday, he launched a blog on his own website. But aides acknowledge he no longer has the same reach.

Alternative social platforms have been discussed by aides, but so far none have been backed by Trump or shared publicly. Trump’s team had anticipated Facebook would let him back on the site, and a person close to Trump said the company’s decision would only mean a “more aggressive timeline” for the development of a new social media platform.

“The model [for fundraising] that has been used to date has been a Facebook-related model, but Trump has one of the largest databases of emails and phone numbers of any political operation in modern times and so it’s a matter of deploying that in a different way,” the person said. “So while it would be a short term disadvantage it would be a long term advantage.”

With over 32 million followers, Trump had the third-largest political following on Facebook behind former president Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His page was one of the most powerful platforms on the internet. In the final months of last year’s election, the Donald Trump Facebook page dwarfed not just Joe Biden’s page but the pages of many media outlets in total interactions by about a factor of ten.

Trump used his oversize presence on Facebook to not only amplify his message but to tap into a vast network of grassroots, small dollar donors. Advertising on Facebook was a major focus of his 2020 campaign effort, with nearly $140 million spent on the platform.

For Democrats, Facebook was more than a nuisance in 2020; it was a problem — not because of Trump’s ability to tap donors through it but because of the pervasiveness with which disinformation spread on it. The Biden campaign openly clashed with Facebook last fall. Campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in September, calling the social network “the nation’s foremost propagator of disinformation about the voting process.” She added that: “Facebook’s continued promise of future action is serving as nothing more than an excuse for inaction.”

Biden aides felt at liberty to publicly chide the company at will. So too did the boss. “I’ve never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I’ve never been a big Zuckerberg fan. I think he’s a real problem,” Biden told The New York Times editorial board in 2019.

The oversight board’s decision on Tuesday didn’t spark praise among Democrats, who continued to argue that the company itself should have acted far sooner and more decisively. But they did view it as a potentially major development in the political landscape.

“Trump used Facebook to organize his supporters and fundraise, and Twitter to talk to media,” said Nu Wexler, a former Facebook staffer and Democratic operative. “Getting locked out of Facebook ads is a bigger punishment than any restrictions on his political speech.”

For conservatives eager to make tech a bogeyman in upcoming elections, Trump’s suspension from Facebook and permanent ban from Twitter has only escalated their threats — ranging from lawsuits by conservative organizations to antitrust enforcement by Congress.

Trump, too, has argued for going after major tech companies by removing forms of legal shields that they enjoy for the content posted on them. Whether he will be in a position of power to affect that policy is less clear. He has not made any announcements about a run in 2024, and his indecision has held other presidential hopefuls hostage as they try to build out early operations. But Facebook’s decision may have already handicapped Trump’s future plans.

“It’s a huge blow to his fundraising and ability to communicate with the masses,” said Mike Nellis, a Democratic digital strategist who was a senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign. It’s “going to make it very difficult to make a comeback.”

Alex Isenstadt and Alex Thompson contributed to this report.

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Guinea declares end to latest Ebola outbreak

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“I commend the affected communities, the government and people of Guinea, health workers, partners and everyone else whose dedicated efforts made it possible to contain this Ebola outbreak,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“Based on the lessons learned from the 2014–16 outbreak and through rapid, coordinated response efforts, community engagement, effective public health measures and the equitable use of vaccines, Guinea managed to control the outbreak and prevent its spread beyond its borders.” The U.N. said it will continue to provide post-illness care.

The CDC welcomed the news in a statement.

“I commend the government and first responders in Guinea for ending the country’s Ebola outbreak,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “Our heartfelt sympathies are with the people who lost loved ones to this disease. CDC remains committed to supporting survivor programs and helping strengthen global preparedness and response capacities that can prevent or extinguish future Ebola outbreaks.”

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Hard-line judiciary head wins Iran presidency amid low turnout

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In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.

“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

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Apathy greets Iran presidential vote dominated by hard-liner

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“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”

Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders and the lower participation in Western democracies. But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord. Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also blocked from running, said on social media he’d boycott the vote.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades — the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”

“I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.

But few appeared to heed the call. There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no turnout figures Friday, though results could come Saturday.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office. “How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”

For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday. A flyer handed out on the streets of Tehran by hard-liners echoed that and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up by Soleimani’s grave on Friday.

Some voters appeared to echo that call.

“We cannot leave our destiny in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely harmful for us,” said Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.

Also hurting a moderate like Hemmati is the public anger aimed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already-ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.

“It is useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed resident in southern Tehran, about voting. “Anyone who wins the election after some time says he cannot solve problem of the economy because of intervention by influential people. He then forgets his promises and we poor people again remain disappointed.”

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