December 19, 2019

President Trump may have gotten his opinions on Ukraine from a very biased source.

In an attempt to defend himself against impeachment, Trump has claimed that he was right to be skeptical of Ukraine because it interfered in the 2016 election. There's no credible proof of that claim, which has left current and former White House officials thinking Trump got it from Russian President Vladimir Putin himself, The Washington Post reports.

Trump was impeached Wednesday on charges of obstructing Congress and abusing power in the course of his dealings with Ukraine. Trump withheld security aid from the country because, as he directly told Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky, he wanted an investigation into the 2016 election. U.S. intelligence has repeatedly concluded that Russia, not Ukraine, was the force behind presidential election interference, and yet Trump and the GOP have attempted to deflect blame toward Ukraine.

This mindset, multiple former officials tell the Post, started back in July 2017 after Trump met with Putin at the G7 summit. That's when Trump began claiming Ukraine interfered in the election in an attempt to defeat him, leading "many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability," the Post writes. Trump reportedly even said "Putin told me" about the Ukraine interference, one former senior White House official recalled. Two other officials remembered that senior official relaying Trump's comment to them, per the Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

6:23 p.m.

It's official: Salesforce has unveiled plans to acquire Slack in a $27.7 billion deal.

The company on Tuesday announced the Slack acquisition, the biggest deal since Salesforce's founding, The New York Times reported. The news came after The Wall Street Journal reported that the deal for the software company was in advanced discussions.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff described the purchase of Slack as "a match made in heaven," while Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield called this the "most strategic combination in the history of software."

Salesforce's acquisition of Slack will still need to receive approval from regulators and Slack shareholders, the Journal notes. But should it go through, the Journal writes that it would "turn the combined company into one of the biggest players in the competitive business-software market." Slack has said there has been a "significant increase in demand and usage" due to increased working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the three months that ended in October, its revenue rose 39 percent, the Times reports.

But analysts note this deal comes as Slack "faces heavy competition from Microsoft's Teams product," The Washington Post reports.

"When you're a scrappy start-up going against an 800-pound gorilla that's one of the most well-capitalized companies in existence, it's tough to compete," analyst Logan Purk told the Times. "This is more or less saying, 'We can't compete with Microsoft Teams anymore. We need more firepower.'" Brendan Morrow

5:55 p.m.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will advise health care workers and long-term care facility residents receive COVID-19 vaccinations first, if and when Food and Drug Administration approval is granted.

The decision was reached by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which is advising the CDC on vaccine distribution practices. As vaccine approval for emergency use becomes increasingly likely in the coming weeks, the panel voted 13-1 in favor of a motion elevating two groups to the front of the line. Health care workers are frequently exposed to the virus and are essential to keeping hospitals running throughout the pandemic, while nursing homes have faced some of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks across the country.

The lone vote against the priority recommendation came from Dr. Helen Kiepp Talbot, who clarified that she has no reservations about health care workers receiving the vaccines, but is concerned there is not enough data on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine candidates nearing approval in older adults, who are more likely to live in long-term care facilities. Tim O'Donnell

5:12 p.m.

President Trump's campaign lawyers have an unexpected new enemy.

Attorney General William Barr took a surprising step away from Trump on Tuesday, telling The Associated Press the Justice Department has so far not found any major instances of voter fraud. Trump's legal team, including Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, quickly fired back, claiming Barr just doesn't have enough evidence to clear every fraud allegation.

"With all due respect to the attorney general, there hasn't been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation" into the allegations of voter fraud Trump's team has gathered. If Barr just looked at Giuliani's "many witnesses" and "audited" some voting machines, the legal team insists he'd find some fraud; Election officials across the U.S. say there's been no evidence of widespread fraud that would change the election outcome.

In an interview with AP, Barr said the department had "not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome" in the presidential election last month. President-elect Joe Biden beat Trump, but the president and most of his team has yet to acknowledge that, levying legal challenges and furthering conspiracy theories in a longshot attempt to overturn the election results. Judges have almost universally knocked down the Trump campaign's challenges and voter fraud allegations. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:54 p.m.

A few hours after a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a $908 billion coronavirus relief bill proposal Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) circulated his own plan among Republican lawmakers. Several news organizations obtained a copy of the outline.

McConnell's plan, Bloomberg notes, appears to be a tweaked version of his previous $500 billion proposal (although the full price tag is not yet known), with funds earmarked for a second round of the Payroll Protection Program and coronavirus vaccine distribution and development. It doesn't seem likely to serve as an overture to Democrats and instead caters to several Republican senators by including measures like COVID-19 liability shields for businesses, which the other side of the aisle opposes.

Unlike the bipartisan framework from earlier in the day, McConnell's bill does not include any money for state, local, and tribal governments, another nod toward Republicans who remain staunchly opposed to the notion. It does extend the deadline for enhanced unemployment benefits, but only by a month, whereas the other bill proposal would push end date to April.

McConnell said he was bearish on his colleagues' framework because the clock is ticking, and he seems to believe the White House will sign off on his version. Tim O'Donnell

4:46 p.m.

Attorney General William Barr announced Tuesday he has appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham, who was previously tasked with investigating the 2016 Russia probe's origins, as special counsel.

Barr told The Associated Press that he appointed Durham as special counsel in October, explaining that ahead of the 2020 presidential election, "I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Mueller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they'd be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election."

An order obtained by AP states that Durham is authorized to "investigate whether any federal official, employee or any person or entity violated the law in connection with the intelligence, counter-intelligence or law enforcement activities" while probing allegations of cooperation between Trump's campaign and Russia. Documents show that Barr "made the appointment on October 19 and kept it secret so as not to interfere in the election," CNN writes.

Durham will now have additional protection, as a special counsel can only be fired by the attorney general for certain reasons, AP notes. Barr's announcement of his October appointment came on the same afternoon that he told AP the Justice Department has found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the results of the 2020 election. Brendan Morrow

4:28 p.m.

One of Georgia's top election officials has a harsh message for President Trump and his continued conspiracy theorizing.

Trump has yet to acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden won Georgia and the whole presidential election a month ago, preferring to doubt the accuracy of the vote and rail against Georgia officials of his own party. And in a Tuesday press conference, Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and Georgia's voting system implementation manager, made it clear Trump has gone too far.

In a direct message to Trump, Sterling said that "it looks like you likely lost the state of Georgia," though the president "has the rights to go through the courts" and wait for a formal recount before conceding. "But what you don't have the ability to do, and you need to step up and say this, is stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence," Sterling forcefully said. "Somebody's going to get hurt, someone's going to get shot, someone's going to get killed."

Sterling went on to bring up Joe diGenova, a Trump campaign lawyer who called on fired cybersecurity official Chris Krebs to be "taken out at dawn and shot." Election workers in Georgia have also had death threats, with one in Gwinnett County told he should be "hung for treason," Sterling added. He once again turned to call out Trump and Georgia's Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for failing to "condemn this language" and "these actions." "This has to stop," Sterling finished. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:01 p.m.

Attorney General William Barr is the latest ally of President Trump to refute his allegations of widespread voter fraud, The Associated Press reports.

In an interview with AP, Barr said the Justice Department, to date, has "not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the" presidential election last month, which resulted in President-elect Joe Biden defeating Trump.

Trump and his legal team have continued to pursue unfounded claims that the Democratic Party illegally tampered with the voting process to seal Biden's win over the last few weeks. Initially, some of the president's supporters either backed his efforts to look more deeply into the situation — Barr issued a directive to U.S. attorney generals allowing them to investigate any "substantial" allegations of voter fraud, for example — but many have hopped off the bandwagon recently with the campaign unable to produce any evidence to support their claims, and courts continually striking down Trump's lawsuits across the country.

Barr didn't necessarily suggest his department was done following up on the matter, but AP notes that as one of Trump's most ardent loyalists, his comments are particularly meaningful. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

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