October 10, 2019

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) got played.

Graham was duped by a prank phone call over the summer, and spent several minutes discussing U.S. foreign policy with someone he thought was Turkey's minister of defense, Politico reported Thursday. Unfortunately for Graham, it wasn't a Turkish official on the other line — it was two Russian pranksters.

Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, who Politico reports are suspected to have ties to the Kremlin's intelligence operations and have previously prank called British officials, called Graham in August. They talked about Turkey's military activity against the Kurds in northern Syria, Russia's anti-aircraft weapon system, and a fraught case involving alleged Iranian money laundering, which is being investigated by the Justice Department.

"Thank you so much for calling me, Mr. Minister," Graham said on the call. "I want to make this a win-win, if we can." As Politico notes, the information Graham disclosed on the call was "relatively harmless," but clearly raises concerns about how easily bad actors can reach lawmakers. Graham in particular is a close ally of President Trump's, a fellow prank call victim. He has pushed more recently against Trump's military pullback in Syria. On the call, Graham, suggested the Kurds were a "threat" to Turkey, though he has in recent days said it was "wrong" for the U.S. to "abandon the Kurds," who are U.S. allies.

A spokesperson for Graham confirmed the Russian pranksters were able to get the senator on the line, even getting through for a second call a few days later. "We have been successful in stopping many efforts to prank Senator Graham and the office, but this one slipped through the cracks," said Graham's spokesman. "They got him."

Listen to the phone call at Politico. Summer Meza

10:49 a.m.

Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara have reportedly welcomed their first child, naming him River in a moving tribute to Phoenix's late brother.

Director Victor Kossakovsky, with whom Phoenix worked on the documentary Gunda, recently revealed as much at the Zurich Film Festival, saying of the Joker star, "He just got a baby by the way," People reports. "A beautiful son called River."

Phoenix and Mara, who reportedly got engaged in 2019, have not confirmed the news. It had previously been reported in May that they were expecting their first child together.

Phoenix's brother, River Phoenix, died at 23 of a drug overdose. When Phoenix took home the Academy Award for Best Actor earlier this year for his performance in Joker, he honored his late brother by quoting one of his lyrics in an emotional speech.

"When he was 17, my brother wrote this lyric," Phoenix said. "He said, 'run to the rescue with love, and peace will follow.'"

At the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival Tribute Gala, Phoenix also recalled his late brother showing him Raging Bull when he was a teenager and telling him, "You're going to start acting again, this is what you're going to do," per Variety.

"He didn't ask me, he told me," Phoenix continued. "And I am indebted to him for that because acting has given me such an incredible life." Brendan Morrow

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. Writes 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 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

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