November 12, 2019

President Trump's Mueller testimony may not have been all it was written up to be.

The trial of Roger Stone, a Trump associate indicted under Special Counsel Robert Mueller, continued Tuesday with testimony from also indicted ex-Trump campaign official Rick Gates. Gates testified he'd heard Stone tell Trump about the WikiLeaks release of hacked DNC emails before the dump happened — a direct contradiction of what Trump told Mueller in his written testimony, The Washington Post reports.

Gates has cooperated with the Mueller probe's legal fallouts since pleading guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI in 2018, and Stone is currently facing trial regarding his ties to WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign. In his Tuesday testimony, Gates described how he'd seen Trump get a phone call from Stone in summer 2016, and after Trump hung up, told Gates "more information would coming" regarding WikiLeaks, per CNBC. In his written testimony for Mueller's probe last year, Trump contradictorily said he didn't recall hearing about the WikiLeaks dumps in advance or even discussing WikiLeaks with Stone, and that he wasn't aware of anyone on his staff knowing about them either.

Gates testified he didn't hear exactly what was said on the call, but said Trump campaign officials still held "brainstorming sessions" on what they'd do with a favorable WikiLeaks dump, The Wall Street Journal reports from the trial. And after the emails came out, Gates said Trump campaign officials were "in disbelief" and saw it as "a gift." That was apparently enough for government prosecutors, who rested their case after Gates' testimony without Stone ever appearing on the stand. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:11 p.m.

Japanese director Nobuhiko Obayashi has died at the age of 82 after a battle with terminal lung cancer, the Japanese press reported Friday. Obayashi is best known for his 1977 cult horror film House, or Hausu, which has been described as "one of the most 'terrible' films ever made" and "le cinéma du WTF?!" Despite the dreadful reviews from critics, though, House was a hit and a box office success in Japan, and it continues to be shown frequently on the American midnight movie circuit.

Yet Obayashi is more than just House. He made over 40 movies during the course of his life, including most recently Labyrinth of Cinema in 2019, which, like much of his work, was preoccupied with the horrors of war. "Utopian as it may seem, [Obayashi] is determined to continue the trail of peace Kurosawa has set out on and pass it on to the next batch of directors," Japan Times wrote in 2017.

Obayashi firmly believed in the power of cinema. "Movies are not weak," he told The Associated Press last October. "Movies express freedom." Jeva Lange

12:40 p.m.

As COVID-19 spreads throughout the city, New York has seen ridership on its MTA system drop by more than 90 percent. But trains and buses are still running, and that's led to 50 MTA workers contracting and dying from the new coronavirus so far, MTA Chairman Pat Foye said Friday.

So far, nearly 1,900 MTA workers have tested positive for the new coronavirus, and the number of quarantined workers recently hit a peak of 6,000. A total of 50 MTA employees have died of the disease; they're dying at a much higher rate than the rest of the city. Most of those workers who'd died had worked on the city's buses and subways.

To combat disease spread, the MTA is now taking the temperature of everyone who reports to work and sending those with a fever back home. About 1,800 MTA workers who'd self-quarantined after potential exposure to the virus have since returned to work, Foye added. But staffing shortages have still caused over 800 subway delays and led to 40 percent of trips being canceled in a single day, per The New York Times.

Ridership is dramatically down across the entire MTA system, Foye also said. Subway ridership has fallen 93 percent since the coronavirus crisis began, Long Island Railroad traffic has plunged 97 percent, and Metro-North commuter rail has seen ridership drop 95 percent. That resulting deep dive in revenue will surely be a problem for the aging transit system that was struggling to stay afloat even before a global pandemic hit. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:53 a.m.

The recorded global death toll for COVID-19 neared 100,000 on Friday afternoon, with confirmed worldwide cases at more than 1.6 million. The numbers reflect an alarming jump since April 2, a little more than a week ago, when global deaths were still around 50,000, NPR reports.

Italy has the highest number of deaths of any country in the world, with over 18,000, followed by the United States, which has more than 16,500, and Spain, with more than 15,800. New York remains the center of the U.S. outbreak, and on Friday Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced the state had recorded its highest single-day death toll yet, at 779. "That is so shocking and painful and breathtaking, I don't even have the words for it," he said. Jeva Lange

11:03 a.m.

A federal disaster loan program offering up to $2 million in relief is now capping out at $15,000 — and is leaving some borrowers wondering if they'll even get that.

The Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, an offshoot of the Small Business Administration's emergency funds system, has faced an unprecedented number of requests amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and is having trouble keeping up and following through with promised loan amounts, The New York Times reports.

Several applicants reportedly said SBA representatives told them funding for the program was running out. Deb Wood-Schade, a chiropractic wellness business owner, told the Times she had been approved for a nearly $25,000 loan, but was given documents on Wednesday telling her the loan had been cut to less than a third of that amount.

As part of the $2 trillion relief bill signed by President Trump last month, applicants to the program were also supposed to be made eligible for a $10,000 advance in the form of a grant that would not have to be repaid, and the money was reportedly supposed to be distributed within three days of applying. According to the Times, that money has yet to be dispensed.

"I'm afraid I won't see a penny," Virginia Warnken Kelsey, an opera singer who applied on March 29, told the Times.

The sudden onslaught of requests caused by the virus has handed the SBA a "historic influx of loan applications," The Washington Post reports, leading to a major applicant backlog. The $10 billion in federal funding provided by the CARES act would cover the $10,000 advances of around one million businesses. But in three days, the program reportedly received more than three million applicants.

Lawmakers in Washington are still negotiating over a bill that would inject more money to small businesses, with Democrats blocking the latest attempt by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and demanding double the amount. Marianne Dodson

10:50 a.m.

Guess who's back up in the studio with his homies? Usher, Lil Jon, and Ludacris have reunited for the first time since the trio's 2004 hit "Yeah!" in order to bring us the not-so-subtly-named slow jam, "SexBeat." As Entertainment Weekly tactfully puts it, the new track "explores finding satisfaction in the bedroom." In it, the group improves on stale lyrics like "yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" with creative, original ones like "sex-sex-sex-sex-sex-sex."

Notably, it's been a "pretty busy week" for Usher, Vulture explains, seeing as the singer spent "the better part of Thursday R&Beefing with Jim Carrey's friend the Weeknd over whether or not he copied the Weeknd's signature style on his 2012 song 'Climax.' While truly everyone got involved in the feud, Usher must have been sitting pretty all day knowing that he was getting the public’s attention before dropping a new song amid the controversy."

You can listen to "SexBeat" below. Jeva Lange

10:22 a.m.

Social distancing is a must if Americans want to slow the coronavirus pandemic and potentially save thousands of lives. To show just how important it is for everyone to stay a minimum of six feet apart, though, the Ohio Department of Health has released an ad that dramatically illustrates the effectiveness of proper social distancing — using, of all things, ping-pong balls and mouse traps:

"Social distancing works," the health agency wrote, urging Ohioans to "flatten the curve." The state has over 5,000 cases, with a current projected peak of April 19, Fox's Cleveland affiliate, WOIO, reports.

Oh, and if you're still struggling to determine exactly how far apart six feet is, the state of New Jersey can help. Jeva Lange

10:13 a.m.

If the U.S. learned anything from Tuesday's primary in Wisconsin, it's that in-person voting doesn't work in a pandemic.

Yet even though COVID-19 and its mandatory stay-at-home orders will likely last for a while, many Republicans lawmakers have deemed efforts to expand voting by mail a partisan ploy designed to help elect Democrats. There are a few problems with that theory though, beginning with the fact that voting by mail is already incredibly common, even in solidly red states.

Democrats have held out on approving the next phase of coronavirus relief because, among other things, they want increased funding for expanding and securing vote-by-mail for the general election in November. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) claimed Democrats were doing this because they thought it "gives you some political benefit. That's disgusting to me." President Trump has baselessly called voting by mail "very dangerous" and "corrupt," and said it would mean "you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again," even though he votes by mail himself.

Tell that to Utah, which is among five states where mail ballots are automatically sent to every registered voter. Its governor, senators, and three of its four representatives are Republicans. Voters can request a mail ballot in every other state in the nation — albeit in some places they must provide an excuse — and most of them have had no problem electing Republicans. As recently as Thursday, New Hampshire's Republican Gov. Chris Sununu declared everyone in the state could vote absentee this fall if the coronavirus is still a major factor, even though he's objected to widespread vote-by-mail before. Kathryn Krawczyk

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