November 21, 2020

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who last year won the Nobel Peace Prize after reaching a pact with Eritrea and helped lead mediation efforts to curb violence in Sudan, has rejected the African Union's attempt to mediate talks between his own government and Tigray, a rebel-held northern Ethiopia region, Reuters reports.

Abiy reportedly plans to begin peace talks only after the government's forces capture leaders of the Tigray People's Liberation Front. Until then, the army will reportedly continue its march toward Tigray's capital city, Mekelle, which it says it will reach soon.

The fighting broke out earlier this month and has increasingly intensified. Hundreds of people are estimated to have died in the conflict, and more than 30,000 refugees have fled to Sudan since the violence began, with perhaps 200,000 more possibly crossing the border before too long, per Reuters. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee representative in Ethiopia, Ann Econtre, said she was "deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Tigray, which is compounded by the lack of access and our current inability to bring in food and supplies to those in need." Read more at Reuters and Al Jazeera. Tim O'Donnell

9:55 a.m.

The U.S. has seen more than 275,000 people die of COVID-19 as of Friday, with cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from the virus all reaching record highs across the country.

This week alone, 12 states and Puerto Rico hit daily death records, Axios notes. The U.S. itself hit a daily death record on Wednesday, when around 3,100 people died of the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top coronavirus expert, warned Thursday that the U.S. hasn't even seen its expected post-Thanksgiving case surge yet.

While vaccine developments could bring an end to the pandemic next year, researchers predict there are still several dismal months ahead. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projected in mid-November that 470,000 people in the U.S. would die of the virus by March 1. The institute's director Christopher Murray told The Washington Post that researchers are currently revising that estimate to project even more deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meanwhile rolled out an aggregated forecast of 37 coronavirus models on Thursday that projected anywhere from 303,000 to 329,000 people will die of COVID-19 by Dec. 26. Around 9,500 to 19,500 people are projected to die of the virus the week of Christmas alone. Hospitals across the country are struggling to keep up with the record hospitalizations, trying to bring back retired nurses and doctors and recruit nursing students who don't even have their licenses yet, The Associated Press reports. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:43 a.m.

The last jobs report to be released this year has arrived, and it's a major disappointment.

The Labor Department on Friday said the U.S. economy added 245,000 jobs in November, which was down from the 440,000 jobs economists were expecting, CNBC reports. It was also "by far the lowest monthly total since the economy started its halting recovery," NBC News reports. In October, 610,000 jobs were added, the Labor Department says. The unemployment rate in November also dipped from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent.

"Today's report is a firm reminder that we're not out of the woods yet," Glassdoor economist Daniel Zhao said, per CNBC. “Even with a vaccine on the horizon, many are bracing for a long winter ahead."

This disappointing report comes as COVID-19 cases spike around the United States, prompting states to implement new restrictions. The jobs numbers offered a "red flag that momentum is waning," The Washington Post's Heather Long wrote, while former White House deputy press secretary and CNBC contributor Tony Fratto said that although the addition of 245,000 jobs "would be a very good normal jobs day," this "isn't a normal jobs day and so it's quite a horrible number."

Politico's Ben White echoed that sentiment, writing that "the pace of jobs coming back is heading toward zero" and adding that "it's quite possible, given the pace we are on, that we could return to net job losses in December, especially with no new stimulus." Brendan Morrow

8:20 a.m.

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning "we're in a very precarious situation," even before the country experiences the "full brunt" of a post-Thanksgiving surge.

Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, spoke to NBC's Today after the U.S. on Thursday set another new record by reporting almost 213,000 COVID-19 cases in a single day, per The Washington Post. But when asked by Savannah Guthrie whether the U.S. is seeing a surge in recent days as a result of Americans traveling and holding gatherings for Thanksgiving, Fauci said there may be a "little bit of a blip" but warned there will be "more of a surge" in the coming weeks.

"We don't expect to see the full brunt of it [until] between two and three weeks following Thanksgiving," Fauci said. "So I think we have not yet seen the post-Thanksgiving peak. That's the concerning thing because the numbers in and of themselves are alarming, and then you realize that it is likely we'll see more of a surge as we get to two to three weeks past the Thanksgiving holiday."

Fauci added that this is particularly concerning because this would mean the COVID-19 surge would be occurring in December as Americans prepare to celebrate Christmas. Earlier this week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel for the holidays, a warning also previously issued before Thanksgiving.

During the interview on Today, Fauci also confirmed he accepted an offer to serve as President-elect Joe Biden's chief medical adviser "right on the spot," and he added that he approves of the president-elect urging all Americans to wear masks for his first 100 days in office.

"I discussed that with him, and I told him I thought that was a good idea," Fauci said, though he added that "it might be that" wearing masks will still be necessary beyond those 100 days. Brendan Morrow

2:07 a.m.

The Bureau of Land Management said on Thursday that it will hold an auction in early January for drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As part of tax legislation passed by the GOP-led Congress in 2017, the Bureau of Land Management is required to hold two lease sales for drilling rights in the refuge's coastal plain within seven years, with the first one having to take place by December 2021. The auction is set for Jan. 6, just a few weeks before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration. Biden has said he will take steps to ensure the 19.64-million-acre refuge, the pristine home to migrating caribou and polar bears, is permanently protected.

NPR reports that the Trump administration has accelerated the sale, with the Bureau of Land Management not waiting the required 30 days for oil companies to tell the government the land they want included in the lease sale. The coastal plain covers 1.6 million acres, and is believed to hold billions of barrels of oil.

Conservation groups say drilling in the area could cause irreparable damage to the refuge and wildlife, with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune telling CBS News auctioning off the leases is "a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate." Six banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citi, have told the Sierra Club they will not finance drilling in the refuge. Catherine Garcia

1:17 a.m.

Mahinda Dasanayaka wants all kids to have access to books, and to make this happen, he turned his motorbike into a library on two wheels.

Dasanayaka, a 32-year-old father of two, is a child protection officer for the Sri Lankan government. Three years ago, he launched a program called Book and Me, and once or twice a week he travels to about 20 villages across Kegalle, a mountainous region northeast of Sri Lanka's capital, to distribute books. He goes to villages that do not have libraries, and Dasanayaka told The Associated Press kids are "always eagerly waiting for me, always looking for new books."

He brings everything from biographies to detective stories, which he carefully packs in a steel box attached to his bike. His collection has grown to about 3,000 books — some he bought with his modest salary, others donated. Dasanayaka said there are "some kids who hadn't seen even a children's storybook until I went to their villages," and he continues the program because he wants to bring people together and "change the way kids look at society, to change their perspectives and broaden their imagination."

Dasanayaka talks to the kids about the books, and hopes to soon form reading clubs in the villages. He told AP seeing the children read brings him joy, and he is "delighted to hear the kids say that books helped them to change their lives." That, he added, is "my ultimate happiness." Catherine Garcia

12:31 a.m.

Juan Williams, one of the co-hosts of the Fox News talk show The Five, confirmed to The Hill on Thursday that he has tested positive for COVID-19.

Williams said he has been tested weekly, and on Thursday, he was notified that his Monday test came back positive. A second test conducted on Thursday also came back positive. Williams told The Hill he is experiencing flu-like symptoms, including chills and headaches, and is isolating at a hotel in Washington, D.C.

On Wednesday, Williams taped a live episode of The Five from the studio in New York, with the co-hosts all sitting about seven feet apart. A Fox News spokesperson told The Hill that the network "will continue to take all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our staff, including broadcasting The Five via home studios for the foreseeable future."

The spokesperson added that Fox News has implemented "strict company-wide protocols adhering to all CDC and state guidelines, including regular testing of all in-studio, on-air personalities, mask mandates, and daily health assessments for all employees entering the building." Catherine Garcia

December 3, 2020

As recently as this summer, the Department of Justice investigated the roles of Elliott Broidy, a Republican fundraiser, and Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, in an alleged scheme to pay a bribe in exchange for a pardon, two people familiar with the matter told The New York Times.

On Tuesday, redacted court documents were unsealed that showed the existence of the investigation into possible unregistered lobbying and bribery. People familiar with the case told the Times that Sanford Diller, a billionaire real estate developer from the San Francisco area, solicited help from Broidy and Lowell in an attempt to get clemency for Hugh Baras, a psychologist from Berkeley who received a 30-month prison sentence after being convicted of tax evasion and improperly claiming Social Security benefits.

The Times reports that Diller was set to make "a substantial political contribution" to an unspecified recipient in order for the pardon to be made, and the court documents state that as part of the effort, the White House Counsel's Office was approached by someone who wanted to make sure the "clemency petition reached the targeted officials." Diller died in February 2018, and the Times says there is no evidence that the plan moved ahead following his death.

No one has been charged in this inquiry, and a Justice Department official said no member of the government is "currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in this filing." Reid Weingarten, a lawyer for Lowell, confirmed to the Times that his client did represent Baras, who never received clemency. Broidy's attorney, William Burck, told the Times his client was asked by Diller to assist on a clemency petition, and it was not a lobbying effort. Both Weingarten and Burck downplayed the investigation, with Weingarten saying it was "much ado about precious little."

Broidy was a top fundraising official for Trump's inauguration and later became the deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee. In October, he pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act in connection with another case involving an attempt to influence the Trump administration on behalf of Chinese and Malaysian interests. Catherine Garcia

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