August 29, 2017

Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday offered up an explanation for why on Earth President Trump's attorney would email Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson during the presidential election about a proposed Trump Tower project in Moscow. Scarborough put it simply: "Donald Trump never thought he was going to win the presidency."

"This was all a money-making scam. He thought Jeb Bush was going to beat him," Scarborough said. "He was going to take the money and run. 'So let me use the position I'm in right now and try to get that tower in Moscow.'"

Senior contributor Mike Barnicle agreed that Trump's presidential bid, at least at first, seemed to be "a branding exercise." "They did not think that they were going to win the presidency because he was more interested in his business assets, and promoting them in Russia," Barnicle said.

Even so, political analyst Mark Halperin pointed out that this sort of communication with the Kremlin doesn't seem "that common." "I don't know a lot about international real estate deals, but I don't think too many Americans email Vladimir Putin's spokesperson to try to get help with deals," Halperin said.

Watch the discussion below. Becca Stanek

3:22 p.m.

More than 1,000 worker deaths from COVID-19 that were linked to workplace transmission were never investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at the state or local level, a Wall Street Journal investigation found. The Journal notes that the number is probably underestimates that actual toll.

Many of those fatalities weren't reported to OSHA agencies by employers in the first place, but David Michaels, the OHSA director in the Obama administration, told the Journal the coronavirus pandemic still "exposed OSHA's great weaknesses."

Indeed, the Journal reports, OHSA records and state health care data show the agencies often took limited steps when they did respond to safety complaints. For example, the Journal identified 180 COVID-19 deaths among workers that occurred four weeks or more after complaints to OSHA agencies. In those cases, the investigation didn't extend beyond corresponding with employers. And despite an increase in complaints during the pandemic, OSHA agencies actually conducted fewer inspections in response than they did in the previous year, before the pandemic.

But, aside from a lack of action, it seems there were also built-in inefficiencies that left the OSHA unprepared to respond to pandemic. The agency's rules, the Journal reports, are "designed to minimize chemical-exposure risks and injuries such as falls and electric shocks," not infectious disease. The OSHA did start drafting rules centered on preventing the spread of such diseases in healthcare facilities after the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, but it never completed the process. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

2:28 p.m.

The ratings for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey have arrived, and they're royally impressive.

CBS said Monday an average of 17.1 million people tuned into Winfrey's jaw-dropping interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in the U.S. on Sunday night, CNN reports. That's over twice as big of an audience as last Sunday's Golden Globes Awards, which drew a disappointing 6.9 million viewers.

In fact, Deadline notes that more people watched Harry and Meghan's interview than watched the most recent Golden Globes and Emmys combined, and the interview attracted the "largest non-sports audience of the 2020-2021 TV season so far." This was also the "largest primetime audience for any entertainment special since" last year's Academy Awards, according to Entertainment Weekly.

The Oscars in February 2020 drew 23.6 million viewers, the ceremony's smallest audience ever. Now, the question remains whether the upcoming Academy Awards in April will actually manage to attract a bigger audience than the Harry and Meghan's sit-down. Former Hollywood Reporter editorial director Matthew Belloni argued the awards show will probably fall short, writing, "Oprah likely just ensured the Oscars won't be the most-viewed entertainment program of 2021." Brendan Morrow

1:23 p.m.

More than nine months after the killing of George Floyd, the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is getting underway, though with a delay in jury selection.

Chauvin, the police officer who kneeled on Floyd's neck for over eight minutes while he said that he couldn't breathe, is facing charges of second-degree unintentional murder and second-degree manslaughter. Jury selection in his trial was set to begin on Monday, but was delayed until Tuesday, CNN reports.

The delay came after an appeals court ordered Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to reconsider his dismissal of a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin, with prosecutors saying they'll file an appeal to "halt the selection process until the charges are set," NPR writes. The jury selection process was called off for the day on Monday pending a ruling on whether an appeals court will issue a stay in the case, The Washington Post reports.

After Floyd's death was captured on video and sparked nationwide protests last summer, former top prosecutor Susan Gaertner told The New York Times it's "going to be extremely difficult to pick a jury," noting that "there have been few incidents in our state that have had as much impact on the community," and it's "hard to imagine finding a juror who is enough of a blank slate to really give both sides a fair hearing."

But former chief Hennepin County public defender Mary Moriarty explained to CNN that the aim won't be to find jurors who don't know about Floyd's killing, but rather to ask, "No matter what a potential juror has seen or heard, can they set that aside and base their decision on evidence in court and the law the judge gives them?"

According to CNN, the jury selection process is expected to last around three weeks, with opening statements beginning "no earlier than March 29." Brendan Morrow

12:29 p.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has unveiled guidelines explaining which activities are safe to resume for Americans who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The CDC on Monday released interim recommendations explaining that those who have been fully vaccinated can visit with others who have been fully vaccinated "indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing." A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they've received a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two weeks after receiving one dose of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine.

Additionally, fully vaccinated people can "visit with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing," the CDC said. As an example, CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a briefing that "if grandparents have been vaccinated, they can visit their daughter and her family, even if they have not been vaccinated, so long as the daughter and her family are not at risk for severe disease."

The CDC also said that those who have been fully vaccinated can refrain from quarantining and getting tested should they become exposed to COVID-19 and not have any symptoms.

However, the CDC said that fully vaccinated people should still continue to practice social distancing and wear masks in public, and they should also avoid medium or large gatherings. Plus, fully vaccinated people should still wear masks and practice social distancing around unvaccinated people at high risk for COVID-19.

Walensky called these guidelines an "important first step in our efforts to resume everyday activities," while warning there's still a "small risk" vaccinated people "could become infected with milder or asymptomatic disease and potentially even transmit the virus to others who are not vaccinated." Brendan Morrow

12:08 p.m.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) announced Monday that he won't be seeking re-election in 2022, meaning yet another Senate seat will be without an incumbent defender during next year's mid-terms.

The early sense among political analysts is that a candidate backed by former President Donald Trump will have the inside track to replace Blunt, given Trump's popularity in Missouri, a state he won by a commanding 15 percent in the 2020 presidential election. That was the highest share of the vote a Republican candidate had won in Missouri since former President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Old guard Republican senators are also stepping down in North Carolina, Ohio, Alabama, and Pennsylvania, which means the GOP could run as many as five Senate candidates from the so-called "Trump wing" of the party next year.

Democrats aren't hopeless in some of those states, but it seems likely Blunt's seat will stay within the GOP. In previous years, an open Missouri Senate seat might have suggested a more competitive inter-party contest was on the horizon, but that's probably not the case in a post-Trump world, The Appeal's Daniel Nichanian tweeted Monday. Indeed, it may be telling that Jason Kander, who gave Blunt a surprising run for his money in 2016, quickly announced he isn't looking to launch another campaign.

So, all things considered, it appears Blunt's retirement is another sign the GOP will continue to push itself closer to Trump. Tim O'Donnell

11:10 a.m.

If there was anything more shocking for Britons than Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's bombshell Oprah Winfrey interview, it might have been learning what American television is actually like.

Harry and Meghan sat down with Winfrey for an interview that aired on Sunday in primetime, drawing worldwide attention. And on Monday, Ayesha A. Siddiqi compiled a Twitter thread of British people's shocked reactions — not to what was actually said, but to the experience of watching pharmaceutical ads that ran during the special.

"Totally forgot about MEDICINE being advertised out there," one gobsmacked user wrote, while another simply asked, "How are the side effects of the medicine in American ads more lethal than the thing they're treating?" Others described these ads, which American viewers may not have given a second thought to after growing accustomed to them for years, as "surreal," "post-apocalyptic," and "unhinged."

The surprise was understandable, as Thrillist notes that "the United States is the only country, besides New Zealand, that legally permits 'direct-to-consumer' pharmaceutical advertising." And Tom Gara observed that the onslaught of pharmaceutical ads consisting essentially of "speed readings of lengthy lists of side effects" is "easily the craziest thing about American TV when you move here from abroad." Next time, perhaps these viewers should ask their doctor if watching American television is right for them. Brendan Morrow

10:44 a.m.

"If there was a smoking gun" on the origin of the novel coronavirus that sparked the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party "buried it along with anyone who would dare speak up about it," a U.S. official told Josh Rogin in a Politico piece.

Rogin published a column in The Washington Post in April 2020 after someone leaked him cables sent in 2018 from American diplomats who visited the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They were concerned about lab safety and the fact that the lab's work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.

Following up on the column a nearly year later for Politico, Rogin reports that U.S. officials grew increasingly convinced an accidental lab leak was a possible coronavirus origin story that at least deserved further investigation (Rogin writes that many politicians and journalists conflated this theory with the false notion that the virus was a Chinese bioweapon.) The WIV was open about their research on coronaviruses, but a senior Trump administration official told Rogin many officials in the State Department and National Security Council came to believe Chinese coronavirus researchers had been taking more risks than previously thought.

Of course, as tensions between the Trump White House and Beijing rose, the matter of the coronavirus' origins became increasingly politicized, so finger-pointing narratives should be viewed with scrutiny. But Rogin notes an under-the-radar study from a group of Beijing researchers released in July 2020 did lead U.S. officials to consider, after consultations with experts, that the Beijing lab was conducting coronavirus experiments on mice fitted with humanlike lung characteristics long before the outbreak began, suggesting similar practices may have taken place in at the WIV.

But it seems unlikely that the speculation will clarify anything. "We'll probably never be able to prove it one way or the other," the official told Rogin. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

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