March 11, 2020

A lack of test kits for the new COVID-19 coronavirus is still obscuring the extent of the outbreak in the U.S., but for a critical period in February, there were no functional federal tests and "local officials across the country were left to work blindly as the crisis grew undetected and exponentially," The New York Times reports. The coronavirus has now infected more than 1,000 people in 36 states and Washington, D.C., according to Johns Hopkins University's count.

The first U.S. outbreak was in Washington state, where authorities confirmed the first patient — suffering from respiratory problems after visiting Wuhan, China — only after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made an exception to strict testing criteria. In Seattle, Dr. Helen Chu, an infectious disease expert who was part of an ongoing flu-monitoring effort, the Seattle Flu Study, asked permission to test their trove of collected flu swabs for coronavirus.

State health officials joined Chu in asking the CDC and Food and Drug Administration to waive privacy rules and allow clinical tests in a research lab, citing the threat of significant loss of life. The CDC and FDA said no. "We felt like we were sitting, waiting for the pandemic to emerge," Chu told the Times. "We could help. We couldn't do anything."

They held off for a couple of weeks, but on Feb. 25, Chu and her colleagues "began performing coronavirus tests, without government approval," the Times reports. They found a positive case pretty quickly, and after discussing the ethics, they told state health officials, who confirmed the next day that a teenager who hadn't traveled abroad had COVID-19 — and the virus had likely been spreading undetected throughout the Seattle area for weeks. Later that day, the CDC and FDA told Chu and her colleagues to stop testing, then partially relented, and the lab found several more cases. On Monday night, they were ordered to stop testing again.

"In the days since the teenager's test, the Seattle region has spun into crisis, with dozens of people testing positive and at least 22 dying," the Times notes. "The scientists said they believe that they will find evidence that the virus was infecting people even earlier, and that they could have alerted authorities sooner if they had been allowed to test." Read more about the red tape at The New York Times. Peter Weber

7:17 p.m.

Department of Justice lawyers argued on Monday that President Trump should not be personally sued for denying a rape accusation because he refuted the allegation while acting in his official capacity as president, The New York Times reports.

In June 2019, writer E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a department store in the 1990s. He publicly rejected this claim and accused her of lying to sell her new book; in return, Carroll filed a defamation suit against him. Last month, Attorney General William Barr intervened in the lawsuit, a highly unusual move, seeing as how the alleged incident took place years before Trump became president.

The government lawyers argued on Monday that Trump didn't slander Carroll and his denial was an official act because he "addressed matters relating to his fitness for office as part of an official White House response to press inquiries. Given the president's position in our constitutional structure, his role in communicating with the public is especially significant."

Earlier this month, Carroll's lawyers filed court papers trying to block the Department of Justice from taking over Trump's case, saying "there is not a single person in the United States — not the president and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted." Catherine Garcia

5:41 p.m.

Jeffrey Epstein's confidante Ghislaine Maxwell has lost her fight to keep testimony about Epstein a secret.

A federal appeals court ruled against Maxwell in two combined cases on Monday, the Miami Herald reports. A lower court had ruled Maxwell's 2016 testimony regarding Epstein could be released, and the Second Circuit court agreed.

In question was a 418-page deposition Maxwell gave in April 2016 in a now-settled civil lawsuit regarding Epstein, the disgraced financier who died in jail after being accused of running a minor sex ring. The suit came from Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre. The transcripts "could shed new light on the Epstein empire," as Maxwell is alleged to have aided Epstein for years, the Miami Herald suggests. The Herald, which has published groundbreaking reporting on Epstein and Maxwell, had sued to get the documents released.

Maxwell was arrested over the summer and is awaiting trial for charges of sexually trafficking minor girls. Maxwell's lawyers argued releasing the documents' "intimate, sensitive, and personal" information could jeopardize Maxwell from having a fair trial. Maxwell has denied the charges against her. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:47 p.m.

After the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, Netflix has just offered a glimpse at his final film performance.

The Black Panther star died in August following a battle with cancer, and the last movie he completed prior to his death was Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which on Monday got its first full trailer.

The film from Netflix is based on the August Wilson play of the same name, and Boseman stars as trumpeter Levee opposite Viola Davis in 1927 Chicago. "Tensions rise between Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), her ambitious horn player (Chadwick Boseman), and the white management determined to control the legendary 'Mother of the Blues,'" Netflix's description reads.

When Boseman's death was announced, his family revealed he had been quietly fighting colon cancer for years in between roles. "A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much," his family's statement said. "From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy."

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom will arrive on Netflix months after Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, in which Boseman drew acclaim for his supporting performance. Both films being released in 2020 opens up the possibility, Variety writes, that Boseman could potentially become the first actor ever nominated for two posthumous Oscars in the same year. Check out the trailer for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which will hit Netflix on Dec. 18, below. Brendan Morrow

3:52 p.m.

Jeffrey Toobin has been suspended by The New Yorker after he exposed himself during a Zoom call in what he's describing as an "embarrassingly stupid mistake."

Toobin, reporter at The New Yorker and author of books like The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, was suspended by the publication after he "exposed himself during a Zoom call last week between members of the New Yorker and WNYC radio," Vice reported on Monday. Toobin acknowledged the incident in a statement to Vice, saying he wrongly thought he wasn't on camera at the time.

"I made an embarrassingly stupid mistake, believing I was off-camera," Toobin said in a statement to Vice. "I apologize to my wife, family, friends and co-workers. I believed I was not visible on Zoom. I thought no one on the Zoom call could see me. I thought I had muted the Zoom video."

A New Yorker spokesperson confirmed to Vice that Toobin is suspended "while we investigate the matter." Toobin is also chief legal analyst at CNN, and the network said that he "has asked for some time off while he deals with a personal issue, which we have granted." Brendan Morrow

3:03 p.m.

The Department of Justice has announced charges against six Russian intelligence officers in connection with a series of majorly "disruptive and destructive" cyberattacks.

The DOJ on Monday said that a federal grand jury had indicted six Russian computer hackers, officers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), for their role in a series of "computer intrusions and attacks" conducted from 2015 through 2019 "for the strategic benefit of Russia." This allegedly included malware attacks against Ukraine's electric power grid, as well as efforts to disrupt France's 2017 elections and the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Officials also said the defendants were responsible for "destructive malware attacks that infected computers worldwide" and led to nearly $1 billion in losses.

The alleged hackers, The Washington Post notes, are a part of the same intelligence agency previously charged over interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, although the indictment unsealed on Monday didn't include charges related to U.S. election interference. NBC News' Kevin Collier wrote that "naming six officers (allegedly) responsible for election meddling and destruction two weeks before the election seems a pretty clear sign." The Post reports that "officials said the announcement was not timed to the current political schedule," however.

Johns Hopkins University professor Thomas Rid also described the indictment as an "incredible document," which suggests intelligence communities "must have stunning visibility into Russian military intelligence operations if today's disclosures are considered dispensable."

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers in a statement on Monday said "no country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite," saying the defendants were charged over the "most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group" and adding, "No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way." Brendan Morrow

1:12 p.m.

As experts voice concern over a surge in COVID-19 cases this fall, President Trump is labeling Dr. Anthony Fauci an idiot and claiming Americans "are tired of hearing" from him.

During a campaign call that journalists were invited to listen into on Monday, Trump attacked Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and member of the White House's coronavirus task force.

"People are tired of COVID," Trump said, The New York Times reports. "People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong. ... Every time he goes on television, there's always a bomb, but there's a bigger bomb if you fire him. This guy's a disaster."

Trump also claimed that Americans want to be left "alone" and are "tired" of COVID-19, days after the U.S. reported the highest number of daily coronavirus cases since July.

"I have the biggest rallies I've ever had," Trump said on the call, NBC News reports. "And we have COVID. People are saying: whatever. Just leave us alone. They're tired of it."

Trump's comments come after Fauci appeared on 60 Minutes and said he's "absolutely not" surprised that the president recently contracted COVID-19 after taking part in a "superspreader event." Fauci reiterated in that interview that there have been "real and credible threats to my life and my safety" and that his wife and children have been subjected to harassment.

Trump also attacked Fauci despite earlier this month including him in a campaign ad, which Fauci said the campaign ran without his permission using a quote from him taken "completely out of context." Brendan Morrow

12:12 p.m.

The Supreme Court is set to hear two key cases involving the Trump administration's border wall spending and its "remain in Mexico" policy.

The court on Monday said it would review President Trump's program of requiring asylum seekers to stay in Mexico as they wait for court hearings, The New York Times reports. Previously, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this policy is "invalid in its entirety," but the Supreme Court stayed a ruling blocking the program and allowed it to continue. The policy has affected at least 60,000 asylum seekers, per the Times, and Politico notes that since hearings conducted near the border under this program were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, "most asylum applicants who arrived at the southwest border are effectively stranded in Mexico."

Additionally, the Supreme Court will consider whether the Trump administration improperly diverted Pentagon money to put toward border wall construction, NBC News reports. The Supreme Court had stayed a lower court injunction and allowed construction to continue last year, Politico reports. This case is expected to be heard in early 2021, although NBC notes that should Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win the 2020 election, "the federal government would probably stop construction anyway."

News that these cases will be heard comes after on Friday, the Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments for next month in a case over whether Trump can exclude undocumented immigrants from the census count used to allocate congressional seats. Those original arguments will begin on Nov. 30. Brendan Morrow

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