November 29, 2018

"You know, today's the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office," CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told Anderson Cooper Thursday night, after a week of revelations about the Trump campaign and Russia. "Really?" Cooper asked. "I mean, I think this thing is enormous," Toobin said. He laid out a series of "preposterous" positions now being staked by President Trump, including that lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen negotiated Trump Organization deals in Russia for six months without telling Trump, that Trump and Roger Stone never discussed WikiLeaks, and that Don Jr. never talked to his father about the Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

"All of these are complementary to each other, and all of the stories that Trump is telling about them are preposterous," Toobin said. "And when you combine them all, the question becomes: When do Republicans start to turn on Trump? Because that's the only thing that's going to get Trump out of office, it's not going to be Democrats. And it's certainly not now, but there may be a point where it's too much."

Democratic strategist Paul Begala said he's "not there yet" on believing Trump won't finish out his term, because Trump needs to keep only 34 senators on his side and House Democrats say they won't impeach Trump unless Republicans ask them to. At the same time, he added, "I do worry, honestly, for our country that the president, this president, is too distracted, is too obsessed," and is "having a presidential panic attack" over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. When he worked for Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation, Begala said, Clinton "found the work therapeutic, he would lose himself in the work."

Toobin also spells out the motive Cohen's plea deal reveals for Trump to make nice with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and you can watch that below. Peter Weber

12:54 p.m.

After the coronavirus pandemic slowed the momentum of anti-government, pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, the protest movement picked up steam again Sunday after Beijing signaled it would directly impose national security laws on the city. Now, many of the young protesters believe the only two outcomes are either independence or the loss of autonomy promised in China's 1997 territorial exchange with the United Kingdom.

If the latter takes place, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien expects an economic fallout. Hong Kong, he said, has emerged as Asia's financial center because financial service firms and other businesses flocked to the city thanks to its democracy, free enterprise, and rule of law. If Hong Kong loses those defining characteristics, in O'Brien's view, because of a Beijing takeover, he can't envision how those companies can remain.

He also predicts that many Hong Kong citizens would seek a way out. "I think you're also going to have a terrible brain drain," he said. "I think Hong Kong citizens, many of whom can travel under certain circumstances to the United Kingdom or seek refuge in other places, they're not going to stay in Hong Kong to be dominated by the People's Republic of China and the Communist Party." Tim O'Donnell

12:15 p.m.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday that the coronavirus outbreak hasn't been "contained yet," but he did tell CBS's Margaret Brennan that he believes there will be a "seasonal effect" that may allow Americans to "enjoy some semblance of the lives they want to enjoy" particularly in the summer months of July and August as cases go down. Of course, people will need to continue practicing good hygiene and modified social distancing.

That said, he also anticipates that the virus will continue to circulate and eventually present a risk of causing epidemics in certain places in the U.S. during the fall and winter, so whatever reprieve comes in the summer may be short-lived.

As for what happens during that potential resurgence in the fall? Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the prominent members of the White House coronavirus task force, said it's "difficult to tell" if the U.S. economy will have to shut down again, but she said the government is trying to learn how to keeping things open safely. She said that "proactive" testing, including testing asymptomatic people, will prove key in developing a coherent strategy. Tim O'Donnell

11:52 a.m.

President Trump and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions are back at it.

The pair went after each other over Twitter on Saturday, with Trump — who is backing Sessions' Alabama GOP Senate opponent Tommy Tuberville — saying Sessions showed "no courage" when he recused himself from investigations into 2016 Russian election interference.

Sessions fired back by refusing to apologize for "following the law and serving faithfully and with honor," though he also reiterated that he, not Tuberville, is the one actually fighting for Trump's agenda. So, despite his apparent dissatisfaction with Trump's words, he hasn't backed away from the president politically.

Before the Twitter sparring, Trump recorded an interview Friday with Sharyl Attkisson airing Sunday. During the interview, Trump similarly blasted Sessions, arguing that he was not "mentally qualified" to serve as attorney general and never should have gotten the job. Tim O'Donnell

11:07 a.m.

Wang Yanyi, the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, told Chinese state media Sunday the lab was working on three live strains of bat coronavirus, but the closest genetic match to the virus that causes COVID-19 and sparked a global health crisis was only 79.8 percent. Therefore, Wang said, claims by the likes of President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the virus may have escaped from the facility are "pure fabrication."

As tensions between the U.S. and China have heightened since the outbreak, Trump and Pompeo have leaned into the lab-origin theory. But the scientific consensus remains that the pathogen was passed from bats to humans through an intermediary species at a wet market in Wuhan last year, although it's becoming more challenging to pinpoint the animal.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday that some political forces in the U.S. are trying to push the two global powers "to the brink" of "a new Cold War" and endangering global peace. Wang's concerns were broader than just the back and the forth over pandemic blame, however; he also criticized the U.S. for slowing nuclear negotiations with North Korea and warned Washington not to cross Beijing's "red line" on Taiwan. Wang did say foreign interference concerning Hong Kong's renewed anti-government protests was unwelcome, but he didn't single the U.S. out in that regard. Read more at The Guardian and Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

10:37 a.m.

Just days ago, scientists leading the University of Oxford's coronavirus vaccine development expressed optimism about their progress — more than 1,000 people in the United Kingdom have been inoculated already, and 10,000 more will be given the vaccine in May and June. But there's some cause for concern, The Telegraph reports.

Professor Adrian Hill, director of the University's Jenner Institute, said what was formerly an 80 percent chance of developing an effective vaccine by September — possibly in time for a potential second wave of infections — has dwindled to 50 percent. That's not because the team no longer believes in its work, which is reportedly still going well. Instead, the U.K.'s infection rate decline may make it tough to gauge the vaccine's efficacy. "It's a race against the virus disappearing, and against time," Hill said.

Hill only expects fewer than 50 of the 10,000 trial volunteers to catch the virus, which has faded since the U.K. and other countries implemented strict lockdowns, and if it turns out that fewer than 20 test positive, the study's results may be useless.

The vaccine showed promise when it was tested in six rhesus macaque monkeys earlier this year, but it will obviously need to show that it provides the same protection in humans before it can be distributed. Tim O'Donnell

10:17 a.m.

Hong Kong's pro-democracy, anti-government protests were back in full force Sunday for the first time since COVID-19 lockdowns began, while riot police fired tear gas on the crowds for the first time in weeks.

Thousands of mostly young people took to the streets just days after China signaled it planned to directly impose national security laws against subversion, sedition and terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces on the city. The demonstrators believe Beijing's plan to bypass Hong Kong's local government and legislature violated the "one country, two systems" agreement it signed with the United Kingdom during a territorial exchange in 1997. The plan is backed by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam but faced international condemnation.

China has denied the move will affect Hong Kong's autonomy, but many of the protesters now think independence — considered a red line by Beijing — is the only way forward. "I think this is the termination of one country, two systems," one protester told The Wall Street Journal. "Hong Kong is lost. The most important thing is to fight back against the Communist Party." Read more at The Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

7:48 a.m.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is reportedly reaching back into her old toolbox in an attempt to help former Vice President Joe Biden.

Warren has agreed to host a gathering of big money donors for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, The New York Times reports. The event, which will take place online because of the coronavirus pandemic, is scheduled for June 15, three people with knowledge of the plans told the Times on condition of anonymity.

During Warren's own presidential campaign, which ended shortly after Super Tuesday in March, the senator progressive Democratic senator vowed not to attend private events or call wealthy potential donors for contributions. She subsequently relied heavily on grassroots donations for the rest of her run.

But Warren, considered a possible vice presidential candidate who has shown a willingness of late to move a little closer to some of Biden's more centrist policy ideas, built a network of high-dollar donors during her Senate campaigns, so she's no stranger to that world. Now, she'll reportedly turn back to that group to aid Biden in his battle against President Trump.

A spokeswoman for Warren declined to comment, and Biden's campaign did not respond to the Times' request. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

See More Speed Reads