May 5, 2019

It's looking more and more likely that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify before the House Judiciary Committee regarding the investigation he led into 2016 Russian election interference and the Trump campaign's conduct surrounding the meddling.

During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) told host Chris Wallace that the committee has set May 15 as a tentative date for Mueller's testimony. It was reported last week that Mueller was in negotiations with the committee, The Hill writes. Cicilline told Wallace that a representative for Mueller has agreed to the date, but nothing is guaranteed at this point.

Of course, the Judiciary Committee is still waiting to see if Attorney General William Barr, who did not appear for his scheduled testimony before the House on Thursday, will hand over a fuller version of Mueller's report on the investigation by 9 a.m. on Monday. If he does not, House Judiciary Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) will ask the committee to "move forward with a contempt citation" against Barr, The Hill reports. Tim O'Donnell

12:47 p.m.

Florida keeps breaking records it never wanted to break.

On Sunday, the state reported more than 15,000 new coronavirus cases, shattering its previous record of 11,336 set on Thursday.

If Florida were a country only the United States, Brazil, and India would have recorded more new infections over that same span, Reuters reports. Per Reuters, no European country recorded a daily number that high during the height of the pandemic there, while Florida also broke New York state's previous record of 12,847 new cases on April 10 when it was the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States.

One slight silver lining is that the positivity rate dropped slightly in Florida thanks to an increase in testing even though the number of positive results increased.

Florida and has faced scrutiny during the pandemic, with critics believing the state reopened parts of its economy too quickly. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

11:30 a.m.

The United States has been experiencing a major surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, primarily in the South and West, but deaths continued to fall nationwide despite the explosion. Scientists, however, had been warning that wouldn't last, as fatalities are a lagging factor in this pandemic.

Now, deaths are indeed increasing, although the rate is still well below the heights in April when New York City was in the middle of the worst of its battle with the virus, The Associated Press reports. Still, California, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and South Carolina have seen sizable rises in fatalities. (New Jersey has, as well, although AP notes this is at least partly attributable to its less frequent reporting on probable deaths.).

The rolling average for daily reported deaths in the country was up to 664 on July 10, an increase from 578 two weeks ago, a Johns Hopkins University tally shows, and the increase over the past few days is much sharper than the decline had been over the last few weeks. Tim O'Donnell

11:12 a.m.

The Federal Reserve and Treasury Department disagreed over how easy loan terms should be while crafting their $600 billion Main Street Lending Program meant to help support businesses through the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The differing viewpoints slowed the program's start before it opened this past week, current and former government officials told the Journal. While the disagreements were over narrow design issues, the Journal notes it reflects a broader difference in approach by the two agencies.

Ultimately, the Treasury Department has been more cautious about the lending terms, preferring the government take on less risk, while the Fed supports more generous terms for borrowers.

Some Fed officials have reportedly privately expressed frustration over the situation, but on the record both sides played it cool. "Would the program be exactly the way I would have designed it, or exactly the way someone else would have designed it? No, but we all need to work together, and we have worked together quite effectively," said Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin doesn't even consider the holdup the result of disagreements. Instead, he said the two sides simpyl got into "even more levels of complexity that required considerable thought." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

8:03 a.m.

Iranian investigators on Saturday released a report blaming a misaligned missile battery and miscommunication between soldiers and their commanders for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shooting down a Ukrainian International Airlines passenger jet in January, killing 176 people. Iranian government and military authorities initially denied responsibility for the incident, but eventually admitted the IRGC's fatal error, sparking anti-government protests.

At the time, Iranian troops were on high alert for a U.S. response to an Iranian ballistic missile attack targeting U.S. soldiers at an Iraqi army base, a retaliatory act following a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The report found that while using a relocated surface-to-air missile battery that was not properly reoriented, the operator received erroneous information on the plane's trajectory, mistaking it for a missile, although "human error" received the ultimate blame — the report said the operator still should have been able to identify the aircraft "which was flying at a normal altitude and trajectory."

After the misidentification, those manning the missile battery were unable to communicate with their command center and fired twice without getting approval. "If each had not arisen, the aircraft would not have been targeted," the report said. Read more at The Associated Press and Middle East Eye. Tim O'Donnell

July 11, 2020

Several presidents, including George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, were criticized for pardoning political allies during their tenures in the Oval Office, The New York Times reports, but President Trump's critics think the commutation of Roger Stone's prison sentence stands out.

In 1992, Bush pardoned former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger after Lawrence Walsh, the independent counsel investigating the Iran-Contra affair, filed a new indictment against Weinberger that made public notes contradicting Bush's assertion he was not aware at the time of the arms-for-hostages aspect of the weapons deal. Clinton, meanwhile, stoked bipartisan furor when he pardoned financier Marc Rich in the final hours of his presidency in 2001. Rich fled the country to avoid charges of evading $48 million in taxes, but obtained his clemency after his ex-wife, Denise Rich, contributed money to Clinton's presidential library.

Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who served as a high-ranking Justice Department official during George W. Bush's presidency, said those pardons are parallels to Stone's commutation, but Goldsmith believes Trump's larger pattern of bailing out his friends and allies puts him in his own league. Goldsmith determined that, out of Trump's 36 pardons or commutations, the act advanced Trump's political goals or benefited someone to whom he had a personal connection 31 times. "This has happened before in a way," Goldsmith said. "But there has been nothing like Trump from a systematic perspective."

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin is also troubled by that pattern, but even among those 36 cases, he thinks Stone's is the most concerning. As Toobin writes, even former President Richard Nixon, the modern era's commander-in-chief most synonymous with political corruption, understood granting clemency to someone who could potentially testify against him was "just too hot." Read more at The New York Times and The New Yorker. Tim O'Donnell

July 11, 2020

In Israel, public health officials mandated entire schools should close whenever a single student or staff member tests positive for the coronavirus, but another strategy adopted by Germany may be the model a lot of countries use going forward as they try to get students back in the classroom, The Washington Post reports.

Instead of shuttering schools because of an infection or trying to enforce social distancing in the classroom, Germany is employing "class bubbles." In other words, when a student tested positive, the entire class had to quarantine for two weeks, while the rest of the school went on with business as usual. England is planning on utilizing the strategy in September — elementary schools will be in bubbles of up to 30 students, and high school students will be grouped into a bubble of up to 240 peers.

Schools in the Canadian province of Quebec will take it a step even further when they start again in the fall; students will be in groups of up to six who don't have to social distance, while keeping one meter away from other bubbles and two meters from students.

Otto Helve, a pediatric infectious-disease expert from Finland, told the Post the strategy could work especially well in a place like the United States that still has a high infection rate and, subsequently, a higher chance of experiencing an outbreak at a school. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

July 11, 2020

President Trump's commutation of his friend and confidant Roger Stone's prison sentence on Friday may have been predictable, but that's what actually makes it more corrupt, Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes write for Lawfare.

Jurecic and Wittes argue that clemency was probably a reward Trump promised Stone in exchange for keeping silent about Trump's supposed knowledge of Stone's outreach to WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. In written responses to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office, the president said he had no recollection of "the specifics of any call" he had with Stone during the campaign or any discussions with his friend about WikiLeaks.

But recently unredacted information from Mueller's investigation that came out during Stone's trial suggests the prosecutor suspected Trump was lying. Mueller wrote that Trump's conduct, especially his tweets supporting Stone shortly after he submitted the written answers, "could also be viewed as reflecting his awareness that Stone could provide evidence that would run counter to the president's denials and would link the president to Stone's efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks," adding that the tweets "support the inference that the president intended to communicate a message that witnesses could be rewarded for refusing to provide testimony."

Stone did refuse to testify against Trump and, lo and behold, Trump went on to commute his sentence, which Jurecic and Wittes consider confirmation that Mueller's suspicions were correct. Read the full piece at Lawfare. Tim O'Donnell

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