September 4, 2018

On Monday afternoon, President Trump once again criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Twitter, but this time it wasn't for recusing himself in the Russia investigation. In this case, Trump took aim at "Jeff" and "the Jeff Sessions Justice Department" for filing charges against "two very popular Republican congressmen," presumably Reps. Chris Collins (N.Y.) and Duncan Hunter (Calif.), and endangering "two easy wins" in November. Collins and Hunter were two of the first members of Congress to endorse Trump.

Aside from being wrong on the timing — the Collins investigation started during Trump's tenure and the Hunter investigation began in June 2016 — Trump is clearly suggesting that the Justice Department should protect him and the Republican Party's congressional majority, not prosecute crime impartially. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) was one of the few Republicans to interrupt their Labor Day to comment on Trump's tweet, insisting that "the United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority party and one for the minority party."

Lawfare editor in chief Benjamin Wittes saw Trump's tweet as clear proof that for Trump, "the job of the Justice Department in his view is to protect his friends and punish his enemies," while Ken "Popehat" White suggested "it is 100 percent outside his comprehension why this is bad." You can watch more reactions, plus some additional context, on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 below. Peter Weber

10:16 a.m.

The coronavirus appears to have "one big trick," Shane Crotty, a professor in the Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, told Bloomberg.

That trick — avoiding the human body's "initial innate immune response for a significant period of time," and, particularly, the response of a substance called interferon that typically helps orchestrate the defense against viral pathogens — is linked to more severe cases. Indeed, new studies published last week in Science found that an insufficient amount of interferon, the production of which may sometimes be inhibited in people with previously "silent" gene mutations, could signal a more dangerous infection because the lack of interferon can overstimulate the rest of the immune system.

The good news is that, because scientists are catching on to the virus' strategy, they have a better idea of how to prevent it from causing severe infections. Per Bloomberg, the work highlights the potential for interferon-based therapies, which are typically used in in the early stages of a viral infection when it's easier to avoid life-threatening respiratory failure. Now, dozens of studies are focusing on interferon treatments are recruiting COVID-19 patients. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

10:07 a.m.

Amy Coney Barrett has a reasonably clear path to the Supreme Court, and top Republicans reportedly know it.

President Trump formally nominated the 7th Circuit Court judge to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Saturday. And with Republicans firmly in the Senate majority, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are "so confident" in Barrett's confirmation that they're already dreaming up her appeals court replacement, Axios reports.

Republican senators nearly universally said they'd like to vote on Trump's Ginsburg replacement even before he announced it would be Barrett. Just Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) definitively said they would rather not consider a nominee, citing the 2016 precedent in which Republicans refused to consider former President Barack Obama's election year nominee. But two senators won't be enough to keep Barrett off the bench before Election Day.

If Barrett is quickly confirmed after her mid-October hearings, it's possible Republicans could quickly shove her 7th Circuit replacement through the Senate as well. That would be "the cherry on top" of conservatives' Supreme Court victory, and "one that McConnell won't pass up," a GOP Senate aide told Axios. McConnell and Republicans are reportedly considering nominating Kate Todd, a White House lawyer who was also on Trump's Supreme Court shortlist, to fill Barrett's slot. Todd is "a favorite of White House counsel Pat Cipollone," Axios writes, though an administration official said no one is formally in consideration for the appeals court yet. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:35 a.m.

President Trump was reportedly eyeing a potential Trump-Trump ticket in 2016.

According to an upcoming book by former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, Trump suggested naming his daughter Ivanka Trump as his running mate in 2016, The Washington Post and Bloomberg report.

"I think it should be Ivanka," Trump reportedly said. "What about Ivanka as my VP?"

Gates writes that "we all knew Trump well enough to keep our mouths shut and not laugh" at the idea, per Bloomberg, as Trump went on to say that his daughter is "bright, she's smart, she's beautiful, and the people would love her!"

In fact, according to Bloomberg, the book describes how Trump brought up this idea numerous times over the following weeks, and Gates said it became clear to advisers "just how serious he was about putting his politically inexperienced daughter just a heartbeat from the presidency." The campaign reportedly conducted polling on the potential pick, and Gates writes that by July 2016, the idea "started to catch some momentum." Ultimately, though, Ivanka Trump herself shot it down, according to Gates.

"She went to her father and said, 'No, Dad. It's not a good idea,'" Gates writes, per Bloomberg. "And he capitulated."

Other alternative running mates who reportedly were considered include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, but Gates writes that Trump "had already told us, privately, that he thought 'there was something wrong and off' with Newt." While Ivanka would ultimately become an adviser to her father in the White House, the campaign in the end went with then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as the 2016 running mate, despite the fact that, according to Gates, Trump had previously referred to Pence as a "loser." Brendan Morrow

8:13 a.m.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was reportedly overheard sharply criticizing a new White House coronavirus task force member for repeated "false" statements.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, is "concerned" that President Trump is "sharing incorrect information" about the COVID-19 pandemic publicly, and he suggested to a colleague that Dr. Scott Atlas, new White House coronavirus task force adviser, is providing the president with "misleading data," NBC News reports. In fact, NBC reportedly heard Redfield slamming Atlas on a phone call made on a flight, saying, "Everything he says is false."

Redfield, according to the report, subsequently confirmed to NBC that he was talking about Atlas on the call. A CDC spokesperson said in a statement that NBC is "reporting one side of a private phone conversation" and that Redfield "was having a private discussion regarding a number of points he has made publicly about COVID-19." Atlas told NBC that "everything I have said is directly from the data and the science."

The CDC director isn't the first official to reportedly have concerns about the influence of Atlas, who has no background in infectious diseases and has reportedly controversially pushed for a herd immunity strategy, in the White House. Recently, CNN reported that Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force response coordinator, sees Atlas as "an unhealthy influence" on Trump and believes he is "feeding the president misleading information about the efficacy of face masks for controlling the spread of the virus." Birx, that report also said, is unsure "how much longer she can serve in her position."

Additionally, there is "concern" among Redfield and other officials that Atlas "misrepresents what other health experts have said in sworn testimony" when briefing Trump. Read more at NBC News. Brendan Morrow

8:06 a.m.

President Trump paid just $750 in federal income tax in 2017 and also 2016, and paid no income tax at all in 11 of the past 18 years due to huge reported business losses, The New York Times reported Sunday evening. It didn't take the Biden campaign long to throw together some stock footage, pensive music, and figures for what the average teacher, firefighter, registered nurse, and — adjacent to Trump's own business — construction manager paid in income tax last year. None of them paid less than $5,000, and most paid more than $10,000 in federal taxes — or at least six times what the purported billionaire in the White House paid three years ago.

Joe Biden and his campaign are looking to cut into Trump's support among working class voters. "Of course, Trump has repeatedly faced — and survived — devastating turns that would have sunk any other politician," Jill Colvin notes at The Associated Press. But the news he "paid just $750 in federal income taxes the year he ran for office and paid no income taxes at all in many others threaten to undercut a pillar of his appeal among blue-collar voters," because "even today, when asked to explain their support for Trump, voters often point to his success in business as evidence of his acumen." Peter Weber

7:24 a.m.

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Sunday blocked the Trump administration from banning U.S. downloads of TikTok, which is owned by China's ByteDance. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols came hours before the policy was due to take effect. The decision gives ByteDance more time to get the U.S. and China to approve its deal to partner with Oracle and Walmart to form a new company called TikTok Global that would run the short-video app's U.S. operations.

President Trump has preliminarily accepted the arrangement, but it still must get formal approval from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment and from the Chinese government. China has sent mixed signals on the deal, with the editor of an influential Communist Party tabloid praising it while Chinese state media called it "dirty and unfair." Harold Maass

7:05 a.m.

Maybe there's some irony in a British immigrant preaching pro-democracy revolution in America, but these are strange times. The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, "was distressing enough" before President Trump rushed to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by "a liberal icon with an extremely conservative justice who's being called 'the female Antonin Scalia,'" Amy Coney Barrett, 48.

"Look, this has been a very dark week for a lot of people," Oliver said. "The Supreme Court is about to lurch to the right for the foreseeable future. And if things seem hopeless right now, it's because — to be completely honest — they basically are."

"The fact is, when Barrett is confirmed, a president who lost the popular vote will have picked a quarter of the federal judiciary and a third of the Supreme Court, and his choices will have been rubber-stamped by a Senate Republican majority representing 15 million fewer people than the Democratic minority," Oliver said. "And if that sounds absurd to you, it's because it clearly is, especially when those courts have allowed Republicans to set wildly unpopular policy that wouldn't actually pass muster with voters." So what can be done?

If the Democrats manage to win the White House and Congress, they need to go "bold" and enact "significant structural change," Oliver said. That's risky — "expanding the court is a bit like doing yoga naked — one way to dampen your enthusiasm for the idea is to picture Donald Trump doing it, too," he said — but "it is past time for big change." Eliminating the Electoral College and granting statehood to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, he argued, "would actually make our system more democratic."

"The unavoidable truth here is that the system is already rigged, and its rigged in a way that has allowed a party without popular support to drastically reshape an entire branch of government for the foreseeable future by appealing almost exclusively to white voters in some of the least populous regions of the country," Oliver said. "That is not a mandate, and it's not democracy, it's a f---ing travesty. We're at the end of a generational battle, and the heartbreaking thing is, we lost."

"But the next battle has to start right now," he said, and "we must be willing to fight tirelessly and with every tool and tactic at our disposal." Watch below. Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads