February 7, 2018

Last March, a man purporting to be Andriy Parubiy, the speaker of Ukraine's parliament, reached Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, on the phone. The caller offered Schiff recordings of two minor Russian celebrities talking about compromising material they'd gathered about Donald Trump during a 2013 trip to Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's promise that this "kompromat" would never emerge if Trump canceled all Russian sanctions.

"And what's the nature of the kompromat?" Schiff asked soberly. "Well, there were pictures of naked Trump," the caller replied. Schiff said he'd "be in touch with the FBI about this," and "I think it probably would be best to provide these materials both to our committee and to the FBI." The caller was actually Vladimir Kuznetsov, a Russian prankster who, along with partner Alexey Stolyarov, are known as Vovan and Lexus, The Atlantic's Julia Ioffe reports. The two Russians' previous victims include Sen. John McCain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Elton John.

"Before agreeing to take the call, and immediately following it, the committee informed appropriate law-enforcement and security personnel of the conversation, and of our belief that it was probably bogus," a Schiff spokesman told The Atlantic. "Obviously, it was bogus — which became even more evident during the call — but ... we have to chase any number of leads, many of which turn out to be duds," the spokesman told Britain's Daily Mail, which reported Tuesday that Schiff staffers followed up twice with Vovan and Lexus.

Whether Schiff was actually fooled wasn't the point, Ioffe notes. "Kuznetsov and Stolyarov immediately sent the recording to Kremlin-friendly media, which gleefully made hay of it: another dumb American, ready to believe the most-ludicrous stories about a Russia run by sneaky, evil spies." You can read more about Vovan and Lexus, and the many ways Putin is getting what he wants, at The Atlantic. Peter Weber

2:51 a.m.

As the world creeps toward 1 million confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus and surpasses 47,000 deaths, the U.S. hit a grim milestone on Wednesday, reporting more than 1,000 deaths tied to the coronavirus for the first time. As of Thursday morning, according to a widely cited count from Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. has 216,721 cases and 5,138 coronavirus deaths, including 1,374 in New York City. The number of deaths reported Wednesday, 1,040, is more than twice the previous U.S. high mark, 504 deaths, registered Tuesday, USA Today reports.

The U.S. now has the largest confirmed outbreak of COVID-19 in the world, though there are serious doubts about the numbers reported from China and other nations. Only Italy (13,155 deaths) and Spain (9,387) have higher official death counts. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said the administration believes "Italy may be the comparable area to the United States at this point," citing models of the pandemic. In Italy, the strain on the hospitals from the spike in COVID-19 cases has blocked other ill people from getting care.

The death tolls in the U.S. and other hard-hit countries don't reflect "the untold stories of people who don't go to see overburdened doctors, delaying treatment for illnesses that turn terminal, or of those who languish as they wait for treatment at emergency rooms flooded with COVID-19 patients," Josh Kovensky writes at Talking Points Memo. "Meanwhile, the lack of testing has meant that people may have died of COVID-19 itself without ever having been diagnosed."

Some researchers predict that the U.S. death toll will top 2,200 a day by mid-April, USA Today reports. The No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., heart disease, currently kills about 1,772 Americans a day, according to CDC figures, while lung cancer kills 433 people a day, breast cancer kills about 166 people a day, and the 2017-18 flu — the worst outbreak in the last decade — killed an estimated 508 people a day. Peter Weber

1:48 a.m.

Until Wednesday night, the Internal Revenue Service said that Social Security recipients, veterans, low-income citizens, and others who don't typically have to file tax returns will have to do so this year if they want to receive the $1,200 checks Congress authorized to help get the U.S. through the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. That policy didn't last long.

After members of Congress pressed the Trump administration to find a way to get payments to seniors who already receive monthly checks from the government and don't file tax returns, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Tuesday night: "Social Security recipients who are not typically required to file a tax return need to take no action, and will receive their payment directly to their bank account." The law Congress wrote encouraged the IRS, in charge of issuing the one-time checks, to get payment information from other agencies.

Now, Social Security retirement and disability recipients will likely get their check without filling out IRS forms, but the IRS still faces a huge challenge to get checks to the rest of the 18 million to 30 million eligible Americans who don't file tax returns, The Wall Street Journal reports. The IRS "has said it would create simple forms so people who have legitimate reasons for not filing returns can supply information such as bank account details for direct deposits. That information is important because people who need paper checks will need to wait much longer." The IRS is hoping to start sending out payments in about three weeks. Peter Weber

1:44 a.m.

It won't be easy, but if conservation efforts are doubled around the world, scientists believe the world's oceans could be restored by 2050.

Oceans have been hurt by centuries of overfishing and pollution, but a new scientific review published in the journal Nature found that the oceans are also resilient, and successful conservation techniques have resulted in several types of marine life rebounding. In 1968, there were just a few hundred humpback whales left, but now there are more than 40,000. There are once again thousands of sea otters off of western Canada, and globally, mangroves and seagrass meadows are rarely being disturbed. Scientists also found that slowly, fishing is becoming more sustainable worldwide.

For the oceans to make a full recovery in 30 years, climate change must be fully addressed, so coral reefs don't die and the ocean doesn't become too acidic, and there has to be a renewed focus on keeping farm pollution and plastic out of the water.

"Overfishing and climate change are tightening their grip, but there is hope in the science of restoration," Callum Roberts, a professor at the University of York and member of the review team, told The Guardian. "One of the overarching messages of the review is, if you stop killing sea life and protect it, then it does come back. We can turn the oceans around and we know it makes sense economically, for human wellbeing, and of course, for the environment." Catherine Garcia

12:43 a.m.

All 800 of Greg Dailey's customers received the same note stuffed in their newspaper: if they needed anything picked up from the grocery store, he was happy to do it for them, free of charge.

Dailey is a newspaper carrier, and delivers the Star-Ledger every morning to homes in central New Jersey. After New Jersey's governor told residents to stay at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, Dailey learned that one of his elderly customers was too afraid to even go outside to pick up the paper, and that got him thinking about others who might have difficulty navigating this new world. He typed up a note to customers offering his services, and soon the calls came flooding in.

Dailey's wife, children, and mother-in-law help him with taking orders and doing some of the shopping. When he's done delivering his papers for the day, Dailey hits the grocery store, then brings the items back to his house for disinfection before dropping them off. "This isn't something that we're just going to do for a few days — we're in this for the duration," he told The Washington Post.

Sandy Driska thought his offer was too good to be true, but because she was overcoming bronchitis and her husband has Parkinson's disease, she decided to give Dailey a chance. He did exactly as promised, delivering her much-needed groceries without asking for an extra penny. "What a godsend this man has been," she said. Catherine Garcia

12:35 a.m.

Ellis Marsalis Jr., the New Orleans jazz pianist and teacher whose sons have become jazz stars in their own rights, died Wednesday. He was 85, and the cause of death was pneumonia brought on by the new coronavirus, according to sons Branford and Ellis. "Pneumonia was the actual thing that caused his demise," Ellis III told The Associated Press. "But it was pneumonia brought on by COVID-19." The senior Ellis was tested for COVID-19 but hadn't received the results before he died, a family member told WWL-TV.

Along with Branford, a prominent jazz saxophonists, and Ellis III, a photographer and poet, Marsalis is survived by sons Wynton, the jazz trumpeter and jazz spokesman who serves as artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center; Delfeayo, a trombonist, performer, and producer; Jason, a drummer; and Mboya. Marsalis' wife, Dolores, died in 2017.

Marsalis spent most of his life in his native New Orleans, skipping out on Los Angeles after a few months backing Ornette Coleman there in 1956. He started performing jazz in high school and began teaching jazz at Xavier University and the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts in the 1970. He moved to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond in 1986, then returned home in 1989 to teach at the University of New Orleans until 2001. He performed until the end, officially retiring from his three-decade-long Friday night gig at the New Orleans club Snug Harbor in December, but continuing to sit in as a special guest.

"Ellis Marsalis was a legend" and "the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz," New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Wednesday night. "He was a teacher, a father, and an icon." Tulane folklorist and public radio host Nick Spitzer called Marsalis "the coach of jazz." His students included Harry Connick Jr., trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Nicholas Payton, bassist Reginald Veal, and his own sons. Peter Weber

April 1, 2020

Stephen Colbert's Late Show knows what you — or at least some of you — have been doing while sheltering in place to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Other notable actors and comedians may try to cajole you into staying at home, but Colbert repurposed the theme song from the tippling-themed sitcom Cheers to persuade you — and if you watch to the end, one of the regulars makes a cameo to drive the point home, for better and worse. Drink responsibly, drink at home, and watch below. Peter Weber

April 1, 2020

A financial disclosure filed Tuesday shows that from mid-February to mid-March, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and her husband, New York Stock Exchange Chairman Jeff Sprecher, invested in DuPont, a company that makes personal protective equipment used by first responders fighting the COVID-19 coronavirus, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Loeffler, worth an estimated $500 million, came under fire last month when it was discovered that she dumped millions in stock after receiving confidential briefings on the coronavirus pandemic and before she publicly downplayed the threat from the virus; 15 of the stocks had, on average, lost more than a third of their value by late March. Loeffler has denied using insider knowledge to influence her decisions to buy and sell stock, and her campaign says an investment firm manages her stocks and she does not have any control over day-to-day decisions.

The disclosure filed Tuesday shows that the largest transactions made between mid-February and mid-March involved $18.7 million in sales of Intercontinental Exchange stock. ICE owns the New York Stock Exchange, and Loeffler is a former company executive. Loeffler's campaign said the sales were prearranged as part of Loeffler's and Sprecher's compensation package. Read more about Loeffler's stock sales at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Catherine Garcia

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