January 16, 2020

Federal prosecutors in Washington recently began investigating the 2017 leak of classified information to reporters at The New York Times and The Washington Post, and appear to be focusing on whether former FBI Director James Comey was involved, people with knowledge of the matter told the Times.

The Post and Times articles both mentioned a Russian government document that was obtained by Dutch intelligence officials and passed along to the FBI. The existence of the document and its collection method were both highly classified secrets. The document, which appeared to be part of a Russian disinformation campaign, played a role in Comey's decision to announce in July 2016 that the FBI did not plan on recommending Hillary Clinton face charges for her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

Typically, leaks of classified information are investigated as soon as they appear in the media, not several years later. It's unclear if there is a grand jury, the number of witnesses interviewed, or what prompted the investigation, although the timing raises the question of whether it is motivated by politics, the Times notes. Federal prosecutors in New York already investigated Comey after he asked his personal lawyer and friend Daniel Richman to give a Times reporter contents of the memo he wrote about his interactions with Trump. It was retroactively determined that the memo contained classified information, but prosecutors declined to charge Comey with a crime. Catherine Garcia

4:26 p.m.

At least 50 people were killed and more than 2,700 injured in a blast that rocked Beirut near its port earlier Tuesday, officials said, per The Associated Press. Beirut's governor, Marwan Abboud, said the city is "devastated."

The cause of the blast remains unclear, but Abbas Ibrahim, the chief of Lebanese General Security, said it may have been highly explosive material confiscated from a ship years ago and stored in the port. Indeed, there are reports that Lebanese officials seized 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in 2013 and stored it in the port's warehouses.

Experts also have sought to dispel theories that the blast was the result of a nuclear explosion and regard ammonium nitrate as a much more likely source. Tim O'Donnell

3:57 p.m.

Neil Young is officially taking the president's 2020 campaign to court.

Young has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in New York federal court against President Trump's campaign for using his songs at its rallies, with the complaint saying he "in good conscience cannot allow his music to be used as a 'theme song' for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The rock star has repeatedly expressed his disapproval of the Trump campaign's use of his songs, including "Rockin' in the Free World," which USA Today notes the president has played at events going back to his June 2015 campaign announcement. Young last month said in an open letter to Trump that he wouldn't sue since this would potentially distract "from your important work at hand protecting and saving American lives" during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young later said, however, that he was reconsidering this.

"There is a long history to consider and I originally considered it, deciding not to pursue," Young said on his website in July. "But then President Trump ordered thugs in uniform onto our streets. ... Imagine what it feels like to hear 'Rockin’ in the Free World' after this president speaks, like it is his theme song. I did not write it for that." Brendan Morrow

3:19 p.m.

Four former Census Bureau directors say it's a big mistake to cut counting efforts short.

The Census Bureau said last week it would stop its in-person count on Sept. 30, a month earlier than its scheduled end date of Oct. 31. The move left census workers concerned a "massive undercount" is imminent. The former directors, who worked under nine past presidents, reflected that fear in a Tuesday statement, and called for the count's data delivery date to be extended to April 30, 2021, to avoid "seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country."

In-person census interviews are used to count people who didn't respond to a paper or online census, and are essential for counting underrepresented and hard-to-reach populations. The four former directors acknowledged the in-person count was supposed to happen from May 15 through July 31, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. This rescheduling led the Census Bureau to determine it needed four more months beyond the end of 2020 to tabulate congressional redistricting and apportionment stemming from the count, and the former directors agreed.

"Our expert opinion is that failing to extend the deadlines to April 30, 2021, will result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas across our country," the former leaders said, calling on Congress to make those necessary legal extension. In addition, they asked Congress "to require the Census Bureau to continue data collection operations through Oct. 30, 2020." Kathryn Krawczyk

3:04 p.m.

The antiviral drug remdesivir's effectiveness at combating the coronavirus has been one of the biggest breakthroughs since the pandemic began. The catch is that the Gilead treatment is expensive and in short supply. So, a bipartisan group of state attorneys general are looking to the federal government to step in and change that.

In a letter to the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration, 31 attorneys general asked the agencies to exercise march-in rights granted to them by the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act to increase the supply of the drug and lower the price so it becomes more accessible to Americans.

The bill allows federal agencies to retain patent rights for drugs developed from federal funds, which Gilead received to boost remdesivir during the pandemic, if the manufacturer fails to achieve a reasonable price or "alleviate health or safety needs" of consumers. In this case, the letter argues, "it is clear that Gilead" has not done either of those things. Read the full letter here and more on the issue at USA Today. Tim O'Donnell

2:37 p.m.

Ryan Reynolds has some major regrets about his and Blake Lively's controversial wedding venue.

The actor spoke to Fast Company this week and opened up about criticism he and his wife, Lively, have received for having their 2012 wedding at a former plantation in South Carolina, offering an apology for doing so.

"It's something we'll always be deeply and unreservedly sorry for," Reynolds said. "It's impossible to reconcile. What we saw at the time was a wedding venue on Pinterest. What we saw after was a place built upon devastating tragedy."

Reynolds went on to describe this as a "giant f---ing mistake," which "can either cause you to shut down or it can reframe things and move you into action," also saying that "years ago we got married again at home."

The two actors faced renewed criticism over their wedding earlier this year in light of the nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd. In May, they announced they had donated $200,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, at the time saying, "We're ashamed that in the past we've allowed ourselves to be uninformed about how deeply rooted systemic racism is." Brendan Morrow

1:56 p.m.

Ah, Florida, land of sunshine, beaches, and notoriously competent elections.

That's the picture President Trump painted Tuesday in a tweet where he finally acknowledged absentee voting and voting by mail are the same thing. "Whether you call it vote by mail or absentee voting, in Florida the election system is safe and secure, tried and true," Trump tweeted, despite falsely claiming the two terms were different and also wracked with fraud several times in the past. "Florida's election system has been cleaned up," Trump went on to claim, in an apparent attempt to overlook the hanging chads of past presidential elections.

Trump has explicitly and falsely claimed in the past that absentee voting and voting by mail are different, and that the latter is ripe for fraud; neither of these things are true. His attacks have ramped up as it becomes clear absentee voting will dominate the November election and make it safe for more people to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it's unclear just what sets Florida's election system apart in Trump's mind — perhaps it's because Florida is a swing state that Trump will need a high turnout from elderly voters to win, or the fact that Trump has voted there by mail several times in the past. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:01 p.m.

A massive explosion has just rocked Beirut, as captured in a number of shocking videos from the scene.

The capital of Lebanon on Tuesday was hit by a huge explosion that caused damage for miles and left an unknown number of people injured, The Associated Press reports. Numerous staggering videos quickly emerged on social media showing the blast.

The explosion in central Beirut damaged buildings in "several neighborhoods," and "many roads were blocked by the debris, forcing people wounded in the blast to walk through the smoke to hospitals," The New York Times reports.

Further details about the explosion and the extent of the damage weren't immediately available, but Lebanon Health Minister Hamad Hasan reportedly said there were a "very high number of injuries," per Reuters, and according to CNN, the state-run National News Agency is reporting that the source of the explosion was "believed to be a major fire at a warehouse for firecrackers near the port in Beirut." Brendan Morrow

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