January 22, 2020

A United Nations report to be released Wednesday concludes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) personally infected Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' phone with malware, allowing a massive amount of data to be stolen from his phone, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, confirming a report in The Guardian. The crown prince reportedly sent the world's richest man an infected video link over WhatsApp after the two exchanged contact information on MBS's tour of the U.S. in early 2018.

Things evidently soured between Bezos and MBS when The Washington Post, owned by Bezos, hired Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi to write a column, and after the Post strongly criticized Saudi Arabia for murdering and dismembering Khashoggi in October 2018, the National Enquirer reported in January 2019 that Bezos was having an extramarital affair, publishing photos apparently hacked from his phone. At the time, Bezos' security consultant Gavin de Becker said "our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos' phone."

The Saudi Embassy dismissed the new reports that Saudi Arabia hacked Bezos' phone as "absurd," calling "for an investigation on these claims so that we can have all the facts out." Many of the responses slammed Saudi Arabia for its belatedly acknowledged murder of Khashoggi.

But there's a lot you could investigate about how MBS is running Saudi Arabia, if the Saudis were open to independent investigations.

Read more on how President Trump and Amazon Web Services fit in to this saga at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

5:23 p.m.

Florida is now leading much of the world in new coronavirus cases, and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Florida reported 9,194 new coronavirus cases in the past day on Tuesday afternoon, bring its total case count to 291,629. A total of 132 new deaths were reported, bring that count to 4,409, per the Miami Herald.

Miami-Dade County led the new case count at 2,090, leading one infectious disease expert to deem Miami the new "epicenter of the pandemic," CNN reports. "What we were seeing in Wuhan six months ago, five months ago — now we are there," said Lilian Abbo, of the Jackson Health System, during a Monday news conference held by the Miami-Dade County mayor.

The county has seen coronavirus hospitalizations grow by 68 percent and and the number of ICU beds used go up by 69 percent in the past two weeks. The number of ventilators in use has also more than doubled during that time. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:33 p.m.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced a "return to the status quo" on international student visas.

Following several schools' decisions to go fully remote to stem COVID-19 spread, ICE announced foreign students could not access essential F and M visas they'd need to study in the U.S. But facing opposition from more than 50 colleges and universities, the Trump administration rescinded that rule change, a federal judge in Boston announced Tuesday.

ICE's initial decision came after Harvard University and other schools announced all their classes would be fully online in the fall, though most schools said they'd house students who could not learn effectively in their homes. That included students in countries wracked by civil unrest.

Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology specifically cited those students in suing ICE for its decision, and said it "would bar hundreds of thousands of international students at American universities from the United States." Dozens of universities joined the suit, which went to court Tuesday. That's where a judge announced ICE would "return to the status quo" and effectively drop its rule change. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:29 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, on Tuesday unveiled his $2 trillion energy and climate plan, and he got a big pat on the back from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), who briefly ran for president himself this cycle in the hopes of bringing climate change to the center of American politics.

Inslee would seemingly make for a tough critic since he's made climate change such a big part of a platform, but he had nothing but praise for Biden's plan, telling the New York Times it's a "triple-A rated clean energy" and "visionary" policy. "This is not a status quo plan," Inslee told the Times. "It's comprehensive. This is not some sort of, 'Let me just throw a bone to those who care about climate change.'"

The governor expanded on his approval during an appearance on MSNBC, where he explained he was pleased the plan was focused heavily on job creation.

Biden's plan consists of investing $2 trillion in carbon-free power and grid infrastructure, mass transit, efficient buildings, and sustainable housing, among other things, while shooting for 100 percent carbon-free power generation by 2035. Read more about Biden's at Axios and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

4:24 p.m.

Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell has been denied bail.

In a hearing on Tuesday, Judge Alison Nathan ordered Maxwell, who was arrested earlier this month for allegedly conspiring with Epstein to sexually abuse minors, to be jailed until her trial, which is now set to begin in July 2021, Axios reports. She pleaded not guilty.

Maxwell's attorneys had asked for her to await trial outside of jail, saying that "COVID-19-related restrictions on attorney communications with pre-trial detainees significantly impair a defendant's ability to prepare her defense." But prosecutors said she's an "extreme" flight risk, and on Tuesday, the judge agreed, saying Maxwell "poses a substantial actual risk of flight," The New York Times reports. The judge denied Maxwell's request "to be allowed to stay in a luxury New York City hotel — instead of federal lockup — until her trial," The New York Post writes

Accuser Annie Farmer at the hearing urged the judge to deny Maxwell bail, saying that she is a "sexual predator who groomed and abused me and countless other children and young women," CNBC reports. Prosecutor Alison Moe also read a statement from another woman who wasn't identified by name saying that "without Ghislaine, Jeffrey could not have done what he did." Brendan Morrow

3:44 p.m.

A pair of prominent writers announced they're leaving their prominent publications Tuesday. The resignations appear to be related to recent debates within the wider media landscape about the alleged stifling of public discourse.

Bari Weiss, a former op-ed staff editor and writer for The New York Times, resigned from the newspaper today, while prominent New York writer Andrew Sullivan announced this would be his last week at the magazine.

In a lengthy resignation letter addressed to Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, Weiss said she made her decision because she became the "subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree" with her "centrist" views and that "intellectual curiosity" has become a "liability" at the Times.

Sullivan, meanwhile, tweeted his news, noting that he has "no beef" with his colleagues, but hinted he's leaving over ideological differences and will explain more fully in his final New York column slated for Friday. Tim O'Donnell

3:18 p.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden in a speech on Tuesday blasted President Trump's "failed response" to the coronavirus pandemic, saying the crisis has gotten so dire that "even" the president is wearing a mask now.

Biden spoke about the pandemic in a speech about his new $2 trillion climate plan, which calls for zero-carbon electricity by 2035. At the top of the address, the presumptive Democratic nominee discussed the surge in COVID-19 cases in states like Florida and about Trump recently being seen wearing a mask in public for the first time during the crisis.

"It's gotten bad enough that even Donald Trump finally decided to wear a mask in public," Biden said. "I'm glad he made the shift. Mr. President, it's not enough."

Biden went on to plea for "presidential leadership," arguing that Trump has been "pushing the false choice between protecting our health and protecting our economy" and calling on him to "listen to your public health experts" rather than "denigrating them." These comments from Biden come as the White House has recently sought to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and after Trump retweeted a claim that the CDC and doctors are "lying" about COVID-19.

In his speech, Biden also pledged that with his climate plan, he won't "just tinker around the edges" but will "make historic investments that will seize the opportunity and meet this moment in history." Brendan Morrow

2:25 p.m.

The Trump administration may be caving to criticism — and lawsuits — over a newly-unveiled U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement rule that would bar international students from remaining in the U.S. if their college instruction remained solely online in the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reports.

ICE hasn't formally published the rule, so there's still time for the White House to amend it, and people familiar with the matter told the Journal that's a real possibility. The administration may not scrap the idea completely, but could instead scale it back following pressure from students, universities, tech companies, and states. Dozens of colleges and universities have already sued the administration.

Currently, the rules would mean foreign students at schools planning to rely only on online courses next semester, like Harvard University, would have to leave the U.S. Per the Journal, if a school switches to remote classes amid a worsening pandemic, those students would have to up and leave.

If the White House does go through with the changes, however, one new iteration of the rule under consideration would allow returning students to remain in the U.S., while still preventing newly-enrolling students from entering, an official told the Journal. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

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