November 20, 2019

At the center of the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump's Ukraine dealings is the nearly $400 million in congressionally allocated security aid that Trump ordered withheld from Kyiv for still-unclear reasons. House Democrats are investigating whether Trump was using the $250 million in Pentagon funds or $141 million in State Department aid as leverage to force Ukraine's president to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate.

Trump's Republican allies argue that there was no quid pro quo — aid for investigations — because the Trump administration lifted its hold on the money Sept. 11. "Ukraine in fact received the aid and there was no investigation into the Bidens," Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said during Tuesday's impeachment hearings.

"But $35.2 million — earmarked for grenade launchers, secure communications, and naval combat craft — has not left the U.S. Treasury," the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday, citing Pentagon spending documents and lawmakers. And the Pentagon isn't saying why it has not sent Ukraine the money. Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Carla Gleason told the Times only that the remaining $35 million will be disbursed "over the next several weeks."

Democratic lawmakers say the Defense Department is stonewalling them, too. "We've raised the question and we have not received an answer," said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee's readiness subcommittee. "We're going to have to find out why." Senate Democrats wrote Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday arguing that "speeding the delivery of this critical aid, which Congress specifically appropriated to improve the security of Ukraine, is important to affirm our commitment to Ukraine in the wake of the chaotic, undisciplined, and deeply concerning approach the administration has taken toward our important partner."

Congress approved the funds a year ago, but because the White House kept them on ice until right before the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, lawmakers gave the Pentagon another year to spend the $250 million. Peter Weber

2:43 p.m.

Apple and Google are teaming up in a "rare partnership" that could help inform people if they've come into contact with someone who later tests positive for COVID-19, Time reports.

The companies are calling their nifty new program Contact Tracing, and both have stressed that the service is voluntary and will require users to explicitly opt-in. Using Bluetooth on the phones of consenting users, Contact Tracing would automatically track mobile devices and take note of who you come into close proximity with while you're out and about. It would then allow users who test positive for coronavirus to alert the phones of anyone who'd come near enough to them during a 14-day period to potentially have contracted the disease.

If everyone who used an Apple or Google device were to opt in to the program, some 3 billion users, or one third of the world's population, would be able to know if they'd been near another Contact Tracing user who was contagious. Health experts say a large-scale global contact tracing project of this sort will be especially important as governments begin to ease coronavirus restrictions, because such technology can potentially prevent further outbreaks and lockdowns. Such measures, in fact, are already being taken in certain countries, including South Korea.

Others, though, are critical of such a massive project that involves tracking users' locations and sharing, albeit anonymously, their health information. "The sheer amount of information made available by tracing apps will be tantalizing for power-hungry governments and data-hungry corporations to monopolize," cautioned The Atlantic recently. "A tracing app made necessary by the pandemic cannot become an indefinite surveillance system run by some occult government agency." Jeva Lange

2:25 p.m.

Scammers take no days off — not even during a pandemic.

Consumers have filed over 15,000 complaints claiming nearly $12 million in losses from COVID-19 related scams, according to a Federal Trade Commission report.

More than half of the losses were reported in the first nine days of April, Business Insider reports, indicating a startling shift as the coronavirus crisis continues to spread around the globe. Should the current rate of fraudulent claims continue, Americans could reportedly lose more than $100 million by July.

The FTC's report shows California had the highest amount of claims with over 1,700, followed by Florida with 1,057. Travel and vacation scams were the most commonly reported type, followed by online shopping and text message scams.

As the new coronavirus has spread, complaints of price gouging have increased along with it, forcing retailers to come out against the practice and leading some state governments to take action.

It's anyone's guess when the pandemic will lighten up and the economy will reopen, and given the current state of panic and uncertainty surrounding the crisis, the next several months could be especially fertile ground for fraudsters. Marianne Dodson

2:06 p.m.

Poor unfortunate souls who are stuck in quarantine will want to be prepared for The Disney Family Singalong, a one-hour special event coming to ABC. Ryan Seacrest will host the medley, Deadline reports, with celebrities like Christina Aguilera, Kristin Chenoweth, Luke Evans, and Michael Bublé set to go from zero to hero with at-home performances of their favorite Disney tunes.

You'll only need the bare necessities to follow along in your own living room, since the Singalong is going to include "an animated character to guide the on-screen lyrics." Expect to hear all the songs you love from movies like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Frozen, High School Musical, Moana, and more. You can even stay one jump ahead and start studying up now — off to work you go!

Otherwise, a guy like you (or a friend like me) can catch the event on April 16 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Jeva Lange

2:05 p.m.

President Trump has officially abandoned his grand reopening plan for the U.S.

As the COVID-19 pandemic was first spiking in the U.S. a few weeks ago, Trump seemed firm on having the U.S. "open" again come Easter. Pretty much every expert out there warned Easter was far too soon to end social distancing in the U.S., but Trump remained firm on his self-proposed miracle — until in his official Easter message on Friday, where he made no mention of reopening the U.S. or really of the coronavirus at all.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence stood by in the White House on Friday as Bishop Harry Jackson delivered a holiday blessing, and briefly relayed a message of his own. Trump thanked "everyone in our country and beyond," and said "184 countries ... are fighting this enemy and we pray for them all," not actually naming what he was thanking them for or what that enemy was.

ABC News did ask Trump whether he'd tell churches to remain closed through the holiday, but that reporter was told there would be no questions until the White House's daily coronavirus briefing. A little guidance might've been helpful seeing as some churches are bucking social distancing calls, and in some states, they've been exempted from coronavirus regulations altogether. 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

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