Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 20, 2020

Harold Maass
Anthony Fauci in Washington


Trump attacks Fauci as 'disaster'

President Trump called Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, a "disaster" during a conference call with campaign staffers that reporters heard. "People are tired of COVID," Trump said. "People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong. ... Every time he goes on television, there's always a bomb, but there's a bigger bomb if you fire him. This guy's a disaster." Trump's attack came a day after the airing of a 60 Minutes report in which Fauci said he wasn't surprised that Trump caught COVID-19 after a mostly mask-free White House gathering that health officials suspect was a "superspreader" event. Fauci also recently said a Trump campaign ad depicting him as praising the administration's coronavirus response used his words "completely out of context." [The New York TImes]


Supreme Court lets Pennsylvania extend mail-in voting

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Pennsylvania election officials could count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day. Pennsylvania Democrats had to extend the Nov. 3 ballot deadline by three days to accommodate mail-in voting by people avoiding the polls due to the risk of coronavirus infection. Republicans tried to block the change in the crucial swing state. The Supreme Court considered the case for nearly two weeks, suggesting a search for a compromise. The short-handed court split 4-4, with conservative Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court's three liberals in support of the balloting extension, so a lower court's decision upholding it was allowed to stand. Neither side explained its position on the emergency request. [The Washington Post, USA Today]


6 Russians charged over global hacking campaign

Federal prosecutors on Monday unsealed grand jury indictments against six Russian intelligence officers accused of involvement in a series of damaging cyberattacks around the world. The Russians worked for the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU, which operated the hacking unit that the United States has linked to 2016 election interference, "for the strategic benefit of Russia." The Justice Department said the six officers charged were involved in numerous attacks conducted from 2015 through 2019, including one that knocked out Ukraine's power grid and another that exposed emails from the French president's party. The alleged hackers used "destructive malware attacks that infected computers worldwide" and led to nearly $1 billion in losses, officials said. [The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post]


DOJ: Trump's denial of rape accusation was an official act

Department of Justice lawyers argued on Monday that President Trump should not be personally sued for denying an allegation that he raped writer E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s, because he refuted the claim to defend "his fitness for office as part of an official White House response to press inquiries." In 2019, Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a department store decades ago. Trump responded by accusing Carroll of lying to sell her new book. Carroll then filed a defamation suit against him. Last month, Attorney General William Barr intervened in the lawsuit, and government lawyers argued on Monday that Trump didn't slander Carroll and that he was acting in his official capacity when he denied her allegations. [The New York Times]


White House increases coronavirus-stimulus offer to $1.9 trillion

The White House announced Monday that it has increased its coronavirus-relief offer to nearly $1.9 trillion ahead of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) Tuesday deadline for a deal on a new stimulus package. "[The president] is willing to give some additional money in terms of direct payments" to individuals, and paycheck support for small businesses, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters. Pelosi said over the weekend that the two sides must strike a deal by Tuesday for Congress to have a shot at approving the legislation before the Nov. 3 election. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are leading negotiations on resolving differences between the $2.2 trillion House-approved package and the White House's counterproposal. Sticking points include testing, unemployment benefits, and funding for states and cities. [Yahoo Finance]


France cracks down on suspected Muslim extremists after teacher's murder

France on Monday launched a crackdown on suspected Muslim extremists in response to Friday's decapitation of a high school teacher for showing controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in class. French authorities conducted dozens of raids and threatened a rare mass expulsion of more than 200 allegedly radicalized Muslims, most of them already in prison. Fifteen people have been detained over the attack, including four students suspected of helping the killer. The suspect is an 18-year-old Chechen refugee. The government response demonstrated that the killing of Samuel Paty, a teacher in a Paris suburb, had renewed tensions over a series of deadly terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists in 2015, starting with an attack on staff at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which published the cartoons Paty showed his class. [The New York Times, AFP]


Microphones to be muted to avoid some interruptions at presidential debate

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Monday that it would mute the microphone of the candidate not speaking in parts of the second and final debate between Democrat Joe Biden and President Trump to avoid interruptions like those Trump was widely criticized for in the first forum. Trump said Monday that he would take a coronavirus test before the Thursday debate. Trump fell ill with COVID-19 and was hospitalized for several days shortly after the first debate. He declined to participate in the next scheduled meeting, which had been scheduled for last Thursday, after the organizers said the two candidates would appear remotely to avoid the risk of spreading the virus. Trump's doctors have since declared him to be free of the virus. He and Biden are due to meet Thursday at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, less than two weeks before Election Day. [CNBC, CNN]


CDC recommends all plane, train passengers wear masks

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday strongly recommended that all passengers and employees on airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-share vehicles wear face coverings to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The guidance also urged mask use at airports, train stations, and other transportation hubs. "Broad and routine utilization of masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel more safely even during this pandemic," the CDC said. Airlines already require masks, as does Amtrak. Most public transit systems and airports do, too. Still, the White House in July opposed wording in a bill that would have required masks on trains, planes, and buses. The White House did not immediately respond to the CDC's new guidance. [Reuters]


Earthquake prompts Alaska tsunami warning

Authorities issued a tsunami warning that prompted evacuations on the Alaska Peninsula Coast on Monday after a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck in the North Pacific Ocean. The National Tsunami Warning Center said the quake created two 4-foot waves, although observers on shore said they were about 2 feet high. The earthquake's epicenter was about 62 miles southeast of Sand Point, which is 575 miles southwest of Anchorage. The temblor shook coastal communities. "It was a pretty good ride — I couldn't tell you for how long — maybe 15-30 seconds," said Michael Ashley of Cold Bay. "All the couches, recliners, and bookcases were moving around, and I had to pretty much hold one of them up." School buses were used to evacuate workers from a Trident Seafoods processing plant to a shelter in a school. Patrick Mayer, superintendent of Aleutians East Borough School District, said officials didn't immediately spot any structural damage, "and we don't believe there is any." [Anchorage Daily News, CNN]


Maxwell loses fight to keep Epstein deposition secret

A U.S. appeals court on Monday rejected Ghislaine Maxwell's effort to prevent the release of her deposition on her relationship with the late financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the public had a right to see Maxwell's deposition. The court also said another Manhattan federal court "did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Maxwell's meritless arguments that her interests superseded the presumption of access" to her testimony, which she gave in April 2016 in a now-settled civil lawsuit regarding Epstein, who died in jail after being accused of sex trafficking. Maxwell was arrested over the summer and is awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Maxwell's lawyers argued the documents' "intimate, sensitive, and personal" information could jeopardize Maxwell from having a fair trial. Maxwell has denied the charges against her. [The Miami Herald, Reuters]