January 15, 2020

Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, says he told Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash that in exchange for information that could discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, he would try to stop Firtash's extradition to the U.S. to face corruption charges.

Firtash, who is believed to have ties to the Russian mob, was in Vienna fighting extradition. During an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday, Parnas said he was told Firtash's camp claimed to have evidence that one of Mueller's prosecutors was doing some "illegal stuff," and he was tasked with securing this evidence. John Solomon, a conservative columnist who pushed conspiracy theories, gave him documentation to show Firtash he "was in the loop," Parnas said.

Parnas conveyed to Firtash that they believed he "was being prosecuted for no reason," and "basically, it could be taken care of," meaning they could stop the extradition. Parnas then worked to get conservative husband-and-wife lawyers Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova on Firtash's legal team. Toensing and diGenova, staunch supporters of President Trump, also represent Solomon. Parnas said he was told to negotiate $1 million for the couple, plus $100,000 a month in expenses. He received $200,000.

Giuliani, meanwhile, was working in Ukraine to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and Parnas said they wanted Firtash to pressure Ukraine into announcing an investigation into the Bidens. Parnas told Maddow he was "involved" in conversations Giuliani and diGenova had with Attorney General William Barr, and Barr "absolutely" knew of the effort to get Ukraine to announce the investigation. "Mr. Barr had to have known everything," he said. "Victoria, Joe, they were all best friends. Attorney General Barr was basically on the team." A Justice Department spokeswoman told Maddow that Parnas' account is "100 percent false." Catherine Garcia

12:18 p.m.

The United States may have increased the number of coronavirus tests conducted daily, but numerous cities are continuing to face major issues keeping up with demand as new cases accelerate across the country.

A new report in The New York Times delves into what it describes as "a new testing crisis" in the United States, as "demand for testing has soared, surpassing capacity" while states experience a spike in COVID-19 cases. The issues with testing arising all over the country stem from three main problems, the Times writes: "a shortage of certain supplies, backlogs at laboratories that process the tests, and skyrocketing growth" in COVID-19 cases.

In particular, the report describes one New Orleans testing site that ran out of tests just five minutes after opening its doors and ended up having to turn people away, while in Phoenix, some people have had to wait "as long as eight hours" to get tested. Plus, certain cities, including San Antonio and Austin, are responding to increased demand by just testing people with symptoms, even though people without symptoms can also contract and spread the virus.

"The United States of America needs a more robust national testing strategy," Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego told the Times, while Johns Hopkins Hospital infectious disease expert Dr. Morgan Katz said these issues are "terrifying" and point to "a failure of the system." Read more at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

11:53 a.m.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said Tuesday that he tested positive for the coronavirus after developing mild symptoms, including a fever. He said the fever has subsided and that he's feeling "well, normal."

Bolsonaro has remained one of the biggest outliers among world leaders when it comes to the pandemic. He's frequently downplayed the risk of the virus, describing it as a "little cold," while often joining large crowds of his supporters and, on occasion, attending gatherings without wearing a mask. On a national level he has pushed back against efforts to shut down aspects of the country's economy.

Meanwhile, Brazil has emerged as one of the pandemic's persistent hot spots. More than 65,000 people in the world's sixth most populous nation have died from COVID-19 complications, while more than 1.5 million have been infected with the virus. Those numbers only reflect the confirmed cases, however — experts believe the true toll is much higher, with some accusing the government of hiding the data. Tim O'Donnell

11:23 a.m.

President Trump has some unfounded complaints about the media fueled by some unfounded interpretations of what recent COVID-19 numbers mean.

In a Tuesday tweet, Trump shared a headline from the conservative news outlet The Washington Times that reported a "tenfold decrease" in death rates from COVID-19, and claimed the U.S. now has the "lowest mortality rate in the world." Trump then complained that "the fake news" wasn't reporting "these most important of facts," seemingly unaware that the number doesn't indicate coronavirus victory.

As it turns out, news outlets Trump has called "fake" were reporting on America's sinking mortality rate long before Trump tweeted his complaint. CNN fact-checked Trump's claim by noting data from Johns Hopkins puts the U.S.'s coronavirus mortality rate at 4.5 percent as of Monday morning, the sixth highest rate in the world.

While it's true that the mortality rate has fallen dramatically in recent weeks, The Washington Post explains why that's not necessarily an indication of success. Mortality rate is the percentage of those who've died compared to cases as a whole, meaning more positive tests, especially among young people, will only drive the death rate down. It also doesn't account for the fact that many people with COVID-19 face severe and debilitating illness even without dying. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:17 a.m.

Did some small businesses get shut out of the initial Payroll Protection Program pool by mistake?

Axios' Dan Primack raised the idea Tuesday while breaking down the Treasury Department's disclosure process Monday. The names of 660,000 small businesses that received loans of at least $150,000 from the program to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic were released, but several companies on the list said they never even applied for one.

Reporters caught a few of these potential data errors, but Axios notes they only called a tiny percentage of the businesses on the lengthy list. If the error rate is representative of the larger sample, that raises questions about how many loans actually went out, leaving open the possibility that small businesses that didn't make the cut — and subsequently had to close shop or lay off employees — because the initial funds were supposedly exhausted actually should have been able to get the assistance they needed.

The Treasury Department hasn't explained the disclosure mistakes yet, and it's possible there's nothing more to it, but Axios suggests a full audit will be needed to pinpoint the problem. Read more at Axios. Tim O'Donnell

10:42 a.m.

America's dad is continuing his push for "common sense" during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tom Hanks spoke to Today on Tuesday morning in his first live TV interview since he and his wife, Rita Wilson, recovered from COVID-19 earlier this year. The actor reflected on his experience having "crippling crackling body aches" and compared the pandemic to World War II, another time when Americans were called upon to do their part.

"There was a sensibility [during World War II] that permeated all of society, which was, do your part," he said. "We're all in this together."

Hanks went on to say that the idea of similarly doing your part during the pandemic by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing your hands "should be so simple."

"It's such a small thing," he said. "It's a mystery to me how somehow that has been wiped out of what should be ingrained in the behavior of us all. Simple things. Do your part."

While Hanks observed that "a huge majority of Americans get it," he decried the "ignorance" of those who don't.

"There is a darkness on the edge of town here, folks," he said. "Let's not confuse the fact: it's killing people. ... I don't know how common sense has somehow been put in question in regards to this."

Hanks previously called out those who don't do their part during the pandemic by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing their hands, saying, "If anybody cannot find it in themselves to practice those three very basic things – I just think shame on you." Brendan Morrow

10:11 a.m.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is still conducting trials on its double-antibody cocktail for COVID-19, but the company will have a head start on distribution should the Food and Drug Administration grant an emergency use authorization for the potential treatment.

Regeneron on Tuesday said the U.S. government signed a $450 million dollar contract with the company to make and supply the cocktail — which consists of two human antibodies binding "non-competitively to the receptor binding domain of the virus' spike protein" hindering its ability "to escape treatment" — as part of "Operation Warp Speed," the initiative aimed at accelerating the development of and access to coronavirus vaccines and treatments during the pandemic.

Pending FDA approval, Regeneron said it expects somewhere between 70,000 and 300,000 treatment doses or 420,000 to 1.3 million prevention doses, with the initial batch ready to go as early as the end of the summer. If that's the case, the government has reportedly committed to making the doses available to Americans at no cost and would be responsible for their distribution. Read more at CNBC. Tim O'Donnell

9:41 a.m.

Democrats have a good chance of reclaiming the Senate this fall if fundraising numbers are any indicator of success.

Challengers to incumbent Republican senators have posted huge gains in the second fundraising quarter, FEC numbers released in the last two days show. Topping that list is Jaime Harrison, who more than doubled his first quarter haul to bring in $13.9 million in his bid to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.

Harrison, the former chair of South Carolina's Democratic Party, raised $7.36 million in the first fundraising quarter of the year to Graham's $3.9 million at that time. Graham hasn't shared his Q2 numbers yet, but has still raised more money in total than Harrison. The Cook Political Report predicts Graham will likely retain his seat.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock meanwhile more than doubled his Q1 fundraising haul to bring in $7.7 million as he challenges Sen. Steve Daines (R). Sara Gideon, challenging Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), brought in $2 million more than Q1 for a total of $9 million. And Cal Cunningham, who's looking to replace Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), set a state record by bringing in $7.4 million.

Democrats need to gain four seats to take the majority in the Senate this fall. Kathryn Krawczyk

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