Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: July 12, 2020

Tim O'Donnell
Robert Mueller.
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

1.

Mueller breaks silence after Trump commutes Stone sentence

In a rare move, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller broke his silence Saturday following President Trump's commutation of his friend and confidant Roger's Stone prison sentence. In an op-ed published by The Washington Post, Mueller defended his office's investigation and wrote that Stone, whom he described as a "central figure in our investigation" because of his communications with Russian intelligence officers and WikiLeaks, "remains a convicted felon, and rightly so," despite the president's move. Mueller said that while he believes his office's work "should speak for itself," he felt "compelled to respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office," which is how Trump has repeatedly described his long-time friend. [The Washington Post, The Guardian]

2.

U.S. surpasses 60,000 new coronavirus cases for 3rd straight day

The United States recorded more than 60,000 new coronavirus infections Saturday for the third straight day after setting a record-high for new daily cases the previous day. A Johns Hopkins University tally shows the U.S. has had nearly 3.25 million confirmed cases since the pandemic began. Five states — California, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Georgia — nearly hit their own records for daily cases Saturday, accounting for about 85 percent of the nation's total, while South Carolina and Wisconsin did surpass their previous highs. Outside the U.S., India reported 28,637 new cases, marking the third consecutive day the world's second most populous nation has set a new record. [The Wall Street Journal, CNN]

3.

Press glimpses Trump wearing a mask for first time

For the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, the White House press corps saw President Trump wearing a face mask as he visited wounded service members at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Saturday. Trump has been inconsistent with his stance on masks, at one point saying he is "all for" them, but he's also mocked other people for wearing face coverings and said he believes they only do so because it's "politically correct." On Saturday, though, Trump said he thinks masks are the right call "when you're in a hospital, especially." Trump reportedly wore a mask earlier this year while touring a Ford plant in Michigan, but said he refused to keep it on in front of the press because he didn't want to give in to media criticism. [CNN, Fox News]

4.

Iran releases report on passenger jet shootdown

Iranian investigators on Saturday released a report blaming a misaligned missile battery and miscommunication between soldiers and their commanders for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shooting down a Ukrainian International Airlines passenger jet in January, killing 176 people. Iranian troops were on high alert for a U.S. response to an Iranian ballistic missile attack targeting U.S. soldiers at an Iraqi army base, a retaliatory act following a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The report found that while using a relocated surface-to-air missile battery that was not properly reoriented, the operator received erroneous information on the plane's trajectory, mistaking it for a missile. However, the report said the operator should have still been able to identify the plane. Those manning the missile battery were also unable to communicate with their command center and fired twice without getting approval. [The Associated Press, Middle East Eye]

5.

Voting under way in Polish presidential runoff

The second round of voting in the Polish presidential election is under way Sunday as the incumbent Andrzej Duda, a populist ally of the conservative government, faces off against his challenger Rafal Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw. The race is expected to be close. Duda won a plurality of votes in the first round, but failed to capture the 50 percent he needed to win outright, thus forcing a runoff. Trzaskowski is expected to pick up most of the support from voters who backed other candidates in the previous round. The election is considered a crucial one for Poland, with each candidate likely to take the country in quite different directions. A Duda win would likely bring about controversial changes to the judiciary and continued opposition to abortion and gay rights, while Trzaskowski favors a more progressive, pro-European Union agenda. [BBC, The Guardian]

6.

OPEC countries push to ease restrictions on oil production

Saudi Arabia is leading an alliance pushing to increase oil production amid signs that demand is starting to return to pre-coronavirus lockdown levels, The Wall Street Journal reports. The news comes as key members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its Russia-led allies are set to meet virtually Wednesday to discuss the group's current and future production. Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, led the charge to cut OPEC's collective output in April while the world dealt with the pandemic and demand collapsed. But most participants in the coalition reportedly agree with Riyadh that it's time to begin easing the restrictions. Delegates told the Journal the Saudi plan calls for upping the cap on production from 2 million barrels a day to 7.7 million. [The Wall Street Journal]

7.

Hong Kong opposition primary draws larger-than-expected crowd

Hong Kong's pro-democracy primaries drew a larger-than-expected crowd this weekend as 500,000 Hong Kongers lined up to cast ballots by late afternoon Sunday, despite China passing a national security law that critics say will severely limit Hong Kong's autonomy. A Hong Kong government official warned the primary could be a breach of the law, but the city's opposition movement viewed the vote as a symbolic protest, even if Beijing ultimately disqualifies many of the favored candidates over their anti-government stances. The vote is also considered a "proxy referendum against the national security law," as participants believe a high turnout "will send a very strong signal to the international community" that Hong Kong's citizens oppose the bill and "still stand with the democratic camp." [Reuters, The Wall Street Journal]

8.

UN renews one access point for Syrian aid, shuts another

The United Nations Security Council on Saturday approved a resolution to allow just one border crossing to remain open for aid convoys into Syria. The move is considered a blow to the U.N.'s humanitarian assistance program for millions of people displaced by the country's nine-year civil war. Currently, there are two access points for aid, but the security council caved to pressure from Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and voted to shut one, while the remaining route will last just one year. The United States and several European countries wanted to maintain both border crossings, but eventually 12 of the 15 nations on the council approved the resolution in the fifth and final vote, with China, Russia, and the Dominican Republic abstaining. Russia and China reportedly vetoed a series of resolutions that would have allowed more aid. [Al Jazeera, NPR]

9.

Several cities brace for potentially record heat

Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson are all expected to see high temperatures of at leas 110 degrees Sunday and are likely to break their daily record high temperatures, as heat alerts are in effect from California to Alabama. Several cities in Texas, including Dallas, San Antonio, and Lubbock are also expected to exceed 100 degrees, while Orlando, Florida; Montgomery, Alabama; and Columbia, South Carolina, will hit a high of at least 95 degrees, although they will not be under a heat advisory. Warnings are not just for the South, however. Cities in New England, including Boston and Providence, are under a heat advisory. [CNN]

10.

Disney World reopens after 4 months

Walt Disney World reopened to the public Saturday after remaining closed for four months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The move comes as Florida, where the park is located, has been experiencing a sharp increase in new coronavirus cases over the last several weeks. There are many safety precautions in place, including a face mask mandate and numerous hand-sanitizing stations throughout the park, although journalists reported visitors struggled to follow social distancing guidelines. Only the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom unlocked their gates Saturday, with Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios set to follow Wednesday. [The New York Times, Deadline]