January 15, 2020

Lev Parnas said he was "in shock" when he saw Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) participating in President Trump's impeachment hearings late last year, because he knew Nunes was linked to the very scandal that launched the inquiry.

Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, has been charged with campaign finance violations. He told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday he did not have "much of a relationship" with Nunes, but they did meet "several times" at a Trump hotel. Nunes had "something to do with the Ethics Committee, so he couldn't be in the spotlight," so he introduced Parnas to his aide, Derek Harvey. Nunes, Parnas explained, "was looking into this Ukraine stuff also, wanted to help out. And they gave me Derek Harvey to deal with."

Parnas told Maddow he did not have to brief Harvey on Giuliani's attempts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, because Harvey "knew about it already. He had a lot of information already."

Nunes is the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, which led the impeachment investigation. Parnas said he was "in shock when I was watching the hearings and I saw Devin Nunes sitting up there. There was a picture of Derek Harvey back there, sitting. I texted my attorney because I couldn't believe this was happening." They were "involved in getting all of this stuff on Biden," Parnas said, adding that he set up Skype interviews between Harvey and Ukrainian prosecutors who claimed to have damaging information about Biden. It was "hard to see them lie like that," Parnas said. "It's scary. [Nunes] knew very well that he knew what was going on, what was happening. He knows who I am."

Nunes previously said he couldn't "recall" having a phone conversation with Parnas, but during an interview with Fox News conducted at the same time the Parnas interview was airing on MSNBC, Nunes said he "remembered that call, which was very odd and random." Catherine Garcia

8:08 a.m.

An independent audit has blasted Facebook for its "vexing and heartbreaking" policy decisions.

A lengthy report on Facebook's policies was released on Wednesday after the company commissioned an independent audit in 2018, and it determined that Facebook has not done enough to crack down on hate speech, Variety and The New York Times report.

"Unfortunately, in our view Facebook's approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal," the report says.

Facebook's "prioritization of free expression over all other values, such as equality and nondiscrimination, is deeply troubling," the report also says, and the auditors express "considerable alarm" that Facebook decided to recently leave up controversial posts by President Trump that they believe "clearly" violated the platform's policies, including one that Twitter flagged for glorifying violence.

"These decisions exposed a major hole in Facebook's understanding and application of civil rights," the report says of leaving up Trump's posts. "While these decisions were made ultimately at the highest level, we believe civil rights expertise was not sought and applied to the degree it should have been and the resulting decisions were devastating."

Facebook has made some "positive and consequential steps," the report says, but "the auditors are concerned that those gains could be obscured by the vexing and heartbreaking decisions Facebook has made that represent significant setbacks for civil rights."

This report was released after on Tuesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a meeting with the organizers of an ad boycott against Facebook, which calls for the company to do more against hate speech. The boycott organizers came away from the meeting unhappy, saying "the company's leaders delivered the same old talking points." Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on Wednesday called the independent audit the "beginning of the journey, not the end," adding it has become "increasingly clear" that "we have a long way to go." Brendan Morrow

7:32 a.m.

At least 56 intensive care units in Florida hospitals have reached capacity, another 35 Florida hospital ICUs are at least 90 percent full, and 17 more hospitals have run out of regular beds, Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) said Tuesday night. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said the state is sending 100 nurses and nearly 50 more beds to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital, though he also said in a news conference Tuesday that Florida hospitals have "abundant capacity." In Florida overall, AHCA says, 21 percent of hospital beds and 16 percent of ICU beds are open.

A nurse at West Palm Beach's Good Samaritan Medical Center told The Washington Post some nurses there are working 18-hour days due to staffing shortages and patients are being treated in curtained open areas of the hospital. "We're overfilled and understaffed," the nurse said. "It's really bad." (Hospital spokesman Ryan Lieber said no employees are being asked to work 18-hours shifts and "patients are being treated in areas of the hospital which are considered appropriate for their care, and respectful of their privacy at all times.")

The U.S. topped 3 million COVID-19 cases Tuesday and the death toll surpassed 131,000, and Florida isn't the only state to see a sharp rise in cases and hospitalizations. Arizona is rapidly approaching full ICU capacity, too, as are hospitals in Houston and San Antonio, Texas.

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation coronavirus model often cited by the White House raised its projected U.S. death toll Tuesday to 208,000 fatalities by November, though it said up to 45,000 of those lives could be saved if 95 percent of Americans wore a face mask in public. Peter Weber

5:48 a.m.

In Mary Trump's forthcoming book on her famous family, Too Much and Never Enough, she describes her involvement in helping The New York Times obtain tax documents uncovering decades of financial malfeasance and tax dodging by President Trump, his company, and his siblings.

That "has always struck me as one of the great overlooked jaw-droppers of the scandal-ridden Trump era," Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC Tuesday night. "His older sister, federal Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, really did have to give up her lifetime seat on the federal bench in order to avoid a judicial ethics inquiry into a massive, multi-million-dollar alleged years-long tax fraud scheme that she reportedly engaged in with her family, including with her brother, who is the sitting president. I mean, we don't even think of that as one of the Trump scandals, but, like, that's bigger than any other presidential scandal of my lifetime." Trump Barry denied any willing part in the scheme, Mary Trump writes in her book.

Mary Trump also says her Aunt Maryanne called Donald Trump "a clown" in 2015 and expressed astonishment evangelicals Christians would support her brother, saying, "The only time Donald went to church was when the cameras were there. ... He has no principles. None," CNN's Erin Burnett reported. Trump biographer David Kay Johnston explained why Trump paying someone else to take his SATs is so plausible.

Vanity Fair's Emily Jane Fox told MSNBC's Brian Williams she thinks Trump will be most upset by his niece's clinical analysis of Trump's relationship with his father, Fred Trump, though overall the book "hits at the specific fleshy part of Trump: the part that is very concerned with the branding of the Trump family and the myth-making surrounding them" and the part that "hates leakers and people who are disloyal to him." Each of those "really irks this president," she sadi. "Combining the two of them feels potentially explosive to him as he heads into an election year."

Mary Trump definitely provides "a psychological analysis of the president and his father and how he became the type of person that he is," Maddow said, but her "every anecdote" about Donald Trump also highlights "just how easily he lies" and how it appears to brings him pleasure — a quality Maddow found "unsettling" in a president during a global pandemic.

Fox News didn't have much to say about Mary Trump's book Tuesday night. Peter Weber

3:26 a.m.

In the messy panoply of global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden stands out. Unlike its Nordic and European peers, Sweden decided early on for a "soft" approach, foregoing lockdowns for subtle changes to commerce and entertainment, voluntary mitigation guidelines, and encouraging working from home. "This is what has happened," economic correspondent Peter S. Goodman reports in The New York Times: "Not only have thousands more people died than in neighboring countries that imposed lockdowns, but Sweden's economy has fared little better."

"They literally gained nothing," Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, tells the Times. "It's a self-inflicted wound, and they have no economic gains." Sweden did see slightly less contraction in the first quarter, but now its economic pain is essentially equal to its Nordic neighbors. And Norway, which "was not only quick to impose an aggressive lockdown, but early to relax it as the virus slowed," is actually "expected to see a more rapid economic turnaround," Goodman reports.

Ironically, Bloomberg News reports, the social distancing requirements in Sweden are now more stringent than in Denmark, Norway, and Finland, all of which opted for strict lockdowns early on. Sweden's 5,420 COVID-19 deaths may not seem like much compared with 130,000 in the U.S., but per capita that works out to 40 percent more fatalities than in the U.S. and 12 times more than Norway, seven times more than Finland, and six times more than Denmark, the Times notes.

Johan Carlson, the head of Sweden's public health agency, said Tuesday that his country's declining rate of infections and patients in intensive care "is an effect of us keeping up the social distancing," though herd immunity "could definitely be playing a part in areas where we've had contagion." And Sweden's state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, maintains that his strategy is still more sustainable and will pay off in the long run.

And maybe it will. But three months into the pandemic, "Sweden's grim result — more death, and nearly equal economic damage — suggests that the supposed choice between lives and paychecks is a false one," Goodman writes. "It is simplistic to portray government actions such as quarantines as the cause of economic damage. The real culprit is the virus itself," and "a failure to impose social distancing can cost lives and jobs at the same time." Peter Weber

1:57 a.m.

One thing kept Corey Cappelloni motivated during his 218-mile run from Washington, D.C., to Scranton, Pennsylvania: knowing that his grandmother would be waiting for him at the end of his trek.

In early June, Cappelloni's 98-year-old grandmother, Ruth Andres, tested positive for the coronavirus. Not being able to visit with friends and family made her sad, and to try to boost her spirits, Cappelloni, an endurance athlete who has raced around the world, sent Andres books with photos from his travels. Cappelloni had been training for an ultramarathon, and his girlfriend suggested he run to see Andres.

He turned the journey into a fundraiser called Run for Ruth, earning $24,000 to buy smartphones and tablets to keep elderly adults isolated because of the virus connected with the outside world. Cappelloni told The Associated Press he wanted to show Andres "that I'm here for her and that I really care for her, because she has always been there for me from when I was born."

Cappelloni arrived at his grandmother's nursing home on June 19, not long after he received word that she had made a full recovery. Cappelloni had to stay outside, but Andres was able to see him from her window, and he relayed a very important message to her from his cellphone. "Nana, you're a strong person," he told her. "You're going on 99, and you still have many more miles." Catherine Garcia

1:31 a.m.

Amy Kennedy, a former school teacher, won New Jersey's hard-fought 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary Tuesday, setting up a contest against Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), a first-term congressman who left the Democratic Party after the House impeached President Trump, offering Trump his "undying support." The state's primary election, held almost entirely by mail, had originally been scheduled for June 3.

"My message to Jeff Van Drew tonight is we have had enough and we demand better," Kennedy said. "We have had enough division and hate and selfishness. We have had enough of being abandoned and mistreated and forgotten. We have had enough of you and Donald Trump."

Kennedy, the wife of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and daughter-in-law of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), defeated Brigid Callahan Harrison, a college professor and political commentator backed by South New Jersey Democratic party boss George Norcross, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D), Sens. Cory Booker (D) and Bob Menendez (D), and six of the district's eight counties. Gov. Phil Murphy (D), progressive groups, and the district's Atlantic City Democrats supported Kennedy.

"State officials had said they could not recall Norcross' operatives losing a primary in this part of New Jersey," The Washington Post reports. "Candidates backed by Norcross and Sweeney don't typically suffer losses on their South Jersey turf," Politico confirms. Harrison and Norcross both quickly offered their support for Kennedy against Van Drew, a former Norcross protégé.

The race is expected to be highly competitive. Before the 2018 elections, New Jersey's congressional delegation was split evenly between six Democrats and six Republicans; after the election, only one Republican was left standing, until Van Drew switched parties. Peter Weber

12:57 a.m.

After nearly a decade, Southwest Airlines Captain Bob Halicky was back in the cockpit, and this time, he was making history.

In July 2011, Halicky, 59, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At the time, Federal Aviation Administration rules prohibited pilots with insulin-treated diabetes from flying commercial airliners, saying it was too high risk. The American Diabetes Association and other organizations urged the FAA to reconsider, and they did, deciding in November that due to "the advancement of medical technology," pilots with insulin-treated diabetes could apply for the first-class medical certificate needed to fly commercially.

Halicky received his certificate in April, and quickly completed a requalification course. On June 22, he became the first U.S. airline pilot with type 1 diabetes to captain a commercial flight, traveling from Las Vegas to Seattle. Halicky told CNN he was "super pumped" about flying again, and called his accomplishment "a huge uplift to the diabetes community." Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads