June 28, 2020

After finding a large amount of American cash during a raid on a Taliban outpost, U.S. intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan told their superiors as early as January that they suspected Russia was paying bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops, officials briefed on the matter told The New York Times.

The money got "everybody's attention," one official told the Times, and was a key piece of evidence in uncovering the Russian plot. After interrogating captured militants and criminals, the U.S. intelligence community became confident that Russia offered and paid bounties in 2019, the Times reports. Top U.S. intelligence officials in Afghanistan knew about the information, which was included in reports, and the assessment went up the chain of command until it arrived at the White House, officials said.

The Times first reported about the plot on Friday, saying the Trump administration has been discussing it since at least March, when the assessment was included in the President's Daily Brief. In response, Trump was presented with several options, including issuing a complaint to Moscow or imposing sanctions, but the White House has yet to authorize anything, the Times says.

Military and intelligence officials are reviewing casualties to see if any U.S. or coalition troops killed in combat were victims of the plot. Trump tweeted on Sunday morning that "nobody briefed me or told me ... about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an 'anonymous source' by the Fake News @nytimes." Catherine Garcia

9:23 p.m.

A federal judge on Monday struck down Georgia's six-week abortion ban, calling it unconstitutional.

House Bill 481 was passed by the state's General Assembly last spring and signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp (R), and would have banned most abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, which can be as early as six weeks. After a lawsuit was filed, District Judge Steve Jones in October temporarily blocked the law from going into effect, and he made it permanent on Monday.

"It is in the public interest, and is this court's duty, to ensure constitutional rights are protected," Jones wrote. In response, Kemp said the state will "appeal the court's decision. Georgia values life and we will keep fighting for the rights of the unborn."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia was among the organizations that filed the lawsuit, and its legal director, Sean Young, said in a statement that the ban "violates over 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and fails to trust women to make their own personal decisions. This case has always been about one thing: letting her decide." Under current law, abortions are allowed in Georgia during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Catherine Garcia

8:29 p.m.

A New York Supreme Court judge on Monday lifted a temporary restraining order on Mary Trump, President Trump's niece, giving her the green light to publicize her upcoming tell-all, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man.

The president's younger brother, Robert Trump, tried to block the book by saying Mary Trump was violating a nondisclosure agreement she signed in 2001, after her grandfather's estate was settled. When the temporary restraining order was granted, it prevented Mary Trump from being able to promote Too Much and Never Enough. The book, already No. 1 on Amazon, will be released on Tuesday.

Mary Trump's publisher, Simon & Schuster, said it was "delighted" by the decision, and her attorney, Ted Boutrous, said the court "got it right in rejecting the Trump family's effort to squelch Mary Trump's core political speech on important issues of public concern." Catherine Garcia

7:59 p.m.

American Airlines on Monday said it contacted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) after a photo of him not wearing a mask while on a Sunday morning flight went viral, and affirmed with him "the importance" of the company's face covering policy.

Hosseh Enad, a marketing associate for the Democratic Congressional Campaign, tweeted a picture on Sunday night showing a maskless Cruz sitting in his seat, his cell phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Enad also tweeted a photo he said was of Cruz sitting outside the gate, not wearing a mask.

Since May 12, American Airlines has required that customers wear face masks while on board. In a statement to Reuters, the company said it expects passengers "to comply with our policies when they choose to travel with us," and reviewed the photos of Cruz. While the mask policy "does not apply while eating or drinking," the airline still "reached out to Sen. Cruz to affirm the importance of this policy as part of our commitment to protecting the health and safety of the traveling public."

The Washington Post asked Cruz's office for comment, and representatives have yet to respond. Catherine Garcia

6:54 p.m.

A new study finds that due to job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, an estimated 5.4 million Americans had their health insurance dropped between February and May.

The analysis was conducted by Families U.S.A., a nonpartisan consumer advocacy group, and will be released on Tuesday. During the recession of 2008 and 2009, 3.9 million adults lost their health insurance, and study author Stan Dorn told The New York Times he knew the current numbers "would be big. This is the worst economic downturn since World War II. It dwarfs the Great Recession. So it's not surprising that we would see the worst increase in the uninsured."

The study looked at laid-off adults younger than 65, when Americans become eligible for Medicare, and found that people in California, Texas, Florida, New York, and North Carolina accounted for 46 percent of coverage losses from the pandemic. In 13 states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, 43 percent of laid-off workers became uninsured, nearly double the amount in the 37 states that did expand Medicaid. Catherine Garcia

5:30 p.m.

As the debate about reopening American schools in the fall rages on, a new study conducted by the Dresden University Hospital in Germany could shed some light on the matter.

The study, the largest of its kind in Germany, tested more than 2,000 students and teachers at 13 schools in three different districts in Saxony, the only German state to reopen schools with full class sizes in May. The results showed only 12 participants tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, five of whom had previously tested positive for the active virus, suggesting the schools did not play a major role in spreading the virus. Indeed, they may have even helped curb transmission.

"Children act more as a brake on infection," said Prof. Reinhard Berner, the head of pediatric medicine at Dresden University Hospital and leader of the study. "Not every infection that reaches them is passed on."

There are several caveats, however. For starters, Saxony has had a lower infection rate overall than other parts of Germany during the pandemic, so it's natural the rate would be lower among subgroups, as well. Still, even if areas with larger epidemics are more cautious, the study could be useful for other places with fewer cases.

Another complication is the fact that while Saxony allowed for full classrooms, parents won the right to keep their children home, so it's unclear if schools were really operating at full capacity.

Finally, a new study out of the United Kingdom suggests immunity to the novel virus wanes within months, so while that research warrants its own skepticism, it's possible more students in the German study were at one point infected but no longer produce antibodies. Read more at The Guardian and Yahoo News. Tim O'Donnell

5:25 p.m.

Early this year, reports of people in South Korea testing positive for the coronavirus again after apparently recovering set off alarm bells. The concern largely subsided, however, when the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined the positive tests weren't reinfections.

Now, though, a new study from King's College in London suggests people may lose their COVID-19 immunity within months. The study analyzed the immune response of more than 90 patients and health-care workers, with blood tests revealing 60 percent developed a strong antibody response during their infections, but only 17 percent retained the same potency three months later. In some cases, antibody levels weren't detectable.

Along those lines, Vox reported a case in which a patient tested positive for the virus three months after their initial infection. While the doctor in the case noted it's possible a single infection lasted that long, he's doubtful. Plus, other coronaviruses that cause common colds don't lead to long-term immunity, so some experts think the novel virus is headed down that path.

The results of the study indicate it could be challenging to develop herd immunity or a one-and-done vaccine, but there are several important pieces of information to process. The King's College participants haven't been reinfected, so it's not a sure thing it can even happen. Similarly, the Vox anecdote is a may not be representative, and there haven't been similar reports out of countries hit by the virus earlier than the U.S.

Secondly, Prof. Robin Shattock of Imperial College London said even if reinfection is possible, subsequent cases would likely "be less severe" because people "will still retain immune memory."

Lastly, this wouldn't mean there's no hope for a vaccine, but rather, like the flu, an annual coronavirus booster shot may be necessary for "sustained levels of protective antibodies." Read more at The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

4:43 p.m.

President Trump is blaming his biggest problem on his favorite enemy.

Trump held a press conference Monday where he was asked to explain why he constantly blames surging COVID-19 case counts on more testing. But he refused to acknowledge there simply are more coronavirus cases and hospitalizations out there now, instead asking why the gathered reporters weren't talking about the COVID-19 failures of the Obama administration.

"We have one of the lowest mortality rates anywhere," Trump falsely said Monday when asked how the U.S. will stop COVID-19 spread. Not only is America's coronavirus mortality rate far from the lowest in the world, it's also been deflated due to rampant testing and rising case numbers — not to mention that many people with COVID-19 face severe and debilitating illness without dying.

"Biden and Obama stopped their testing," Trump then said, referring to former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden. "I'm sure you don't want to report it," Trump added to the reporter, which is probably true — the new coronavirus hadn't even infected a person until late 2019, well into Trump's presidency.

Trump also mistakenly said, as he often has, that the 1918 flu pandemic started in 1917. Kathryn Krawczyk

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