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As US, Europe reopen more, big nations see rising virus toll

By MICHELLE R. SMITH, COLLEEN LONG and JEFF AMY

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Public health officials in some states are accused of bungling coronavirus infection statistics or even using a little sleight of hand to deliberately make things look better than they are.

The risk is that politicians, business owners and ordinary Americans who are making decisions about lockdowns, reopenings and other day-to-day matters could be left with the impression that the virus is under more control than it actually is.

In Virginia, Texas and Vermont, for example, officials said they have been combining the results of viral tests, which show an active infection, with antibody tests, which show a past infection. Public health experts say that can make for impressive-looking testing totals but does not give a true picture of how the virus is spreading.

In Florida, the data scientist who developed the state’s coronavirus dashboard, Rebekah Jones, said this week that she was fired for refusing to manipulate data “to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” Calls to health officials for comment were not immediately returned Tuesday.

In Georgia, one of the earliest states to ease up on lockdowns and assure the public it was safe to go out again, the Department of Public Health published a graph around May 11 that showed new COVID-19 cases declining over time in the most severely affected counties. The daily entries, however, were not arranged in chronological order but in descending order.

For example, the May 7 totals came right before April 26, which was followed by May 3. A quick look at the graph made it appear as if the decline was smoother than it really was. The graph was taken down within about a day.

Georgia state Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Democrat with a doctorate in microbiology, said the graph was a “prime example of malfeasance.”

“Sadly it feels like there’s been an attempt to make the data fit the narrative, and that’s not how data works,” she said.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s office denied there was any attempt to deceive the public.

Guidelines from the Trump administration say that before states begin reopening, they should see a 14-day downward trend in infections. However, some states have reopened when infections were still climbing or had plateaued. States have also been instructed to expand testing and contact tracing.

The U.S. has recorded 1.5 million confirmed infections and over 90,000 deaths.

Vermont and Virginia said they stopped combining the two types of tests in the past few days. Still, health officials in Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has eased up on restrictions, said that combining the numbers caused “no difference in overall trends.”

In Texas, where health officials said last week that they were including some antibody results in their testing totals and case counts, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that the numbers were not being commingled. Health officials did not respond to requests for clarification.

Georgia’s Department of Public Health also regularly publishes a graph that shows cases over time, except new infections are not listed on the day they came back positive, which is the practice in many other states. Instead, Georgia lists new cases on the day the patient first reported symptoms.

That practice can shift the timeline of the outbreak and make it appear as if the state is moving past the peak.

Kemp spokesperson Candice Broce insisted that the governor’s office is not telling the department what to do and that officials are not trying to dress up the data to make Kemp look better, saying that “could not be further from the truth.”

As for the May 11 graph, Broce said public health officials were trying to highlight which days had seen the highest peaks of infections. “It was not intended to mislead,” Broce said Tuesday. “It was always intended to be helpful.”

Thomas Tsai, a professor at the Harvard Global Health Institute, said the way Georgia reports data makes it harder to understand what the current conditions are, and he worries that other states may also be presenting data in a way that doesn’t capture the most up-to-date information.

Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said a lot of these cases are not necessarily the result of any attempt to fool the public. For example, she said, states may not have updated information systems that allow them to tell the difference between an antibody test and a viral test.

Still, if states are mixing a lot of testing numbers together, “you’re not going to be able to make good decisions about reopening and about what level of disease you have in the community,” Nuzzo said.

In other developments, the White House scrambled to defend President Donald Trump’s decision to use the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to fend off the coronavirus. The drug is unproven against the virus, and the president’s move spurred fears that many Americans might start using the medication, which carries potentially fatal side effects.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany emphasized that “any use of hydroxychloroquine has to be in consultation with your doctor.”

About 4.9 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected by the virus, and about 320,000 deaths have been recorded, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts believe is low.

Russia and Brazil are now behind only the United States in the number of reported infections, and cases are also spiking in such places as India, South Africa and Mexico.

New hot spots emerged Tuesday in Russia, and the country recorded nearly 9,300 new infections in 24 hours, bringing the total to almost 300,000, about half of them in Moscow. Authorities say over 2,800 people with COVID-19 have died in Russia, but some say the number is surely higher than that.

President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has sunk to 59%, the lowest in the two decades he has been in power, Russia’s independent pollster Levada Center reported. The plunge reflects growing mistrust and uncertainty among the public, Levada said.

Some experts argue Russian authorities have been listing chronic illnesses as the cause of death for many who tested positive for the virus. Officials angrily deny manipulating statistics, saying Russia’s low death toll reflects early preventive measures and broad screening.

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Long reported from Washington, Amy from Atlanta. Associated Press writers around the world contributed.

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Follow AP pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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Pence’s Doctor Disagrees With Trump’s on Using Hydroxychloroquine to Prevent Coronavirus

Vice President Mike Pence says he is not preemptively taking the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to ward off COVID-19 like President Donald Trump because his doctor does not recommend using the drug.

Trump said Monday that he been taking the drug to prevent the virus for about a week and a half, despite a lack of evidence that it is safe or effective. Pence is not following the president’s example, telling Fox News on Tuesday that his doctor disagrees with Trump’s medical advice, while noting that he supports others making different decisions.

“I’m not [taking hydroxychloroquine], but I would never begrudge any American taking the advice of their physician,” Pence said. “My physician has not recommended that, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take the counsel of my doctor. Any American should do likewise.”

In April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the public to not take the drug outside of a hospital setting, noting that it could cause “potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems ” and had “not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19.”


Vice President Mike Pence departs the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after a meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on May 19, 2020.
Drew Angerer/Getty

Evidence recommending the drug as a treatment for the virus has not been strong. Some early studies showed promise, but several other studies have been less than encouraging. Results from a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suggested that the drug had no benefit and may increase deaths for patients who take it alone.

Recent studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine also found that hydroxychloroquine had no statistically significant effect on the virus, with one noting that it could increase the risk of patients suffering heart attacks.

Trump heavily touted the drug as a “game changer” before announcing he was taking it. On Tuesday he suggested that any unfavorable evidence about the drug is intended to damage his reputation, claiming the researchers that conducted the VA study were “obviously not friends of the administration,” before later describing their conclusion as an “enemy statement.”

“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape, they were very old, almost dead,” Trump told reporters. “It was a Trump enemy statement.”

Although Pence is not taking the drug himself, he noted that the drug had been approved by the FDA for “off-label use,” while suggesting that making as many COVID-19 drugs and remedies available as possible was a priority of the administration.

“This is a time when we wanted to make sure that every American and their doctors had full access to the broadest range of remedies and medicines and that was why the FDA made that approval early on,” Pence told Fox News.

Hydroxychloroquine continues to be studied as a possible treatment for the virus, with a double-blind controlled trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health getting underway last week.

Newsweek reached out to Pence’s office for comment. This article will be updated with any response.

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Trump blasts WHO over China, UN agency has no response

By The Associated Press

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

TOP OF THE HOUR:

—WHO members OK evaluation of virus response.

—Russian prime minister returns to work after bout with coronavirus.

— As United States, Europe reopen more, big nations see rising virus toll.

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DENVER — A man is accused of shooting and wounding a Waffle House employee in suburban Denver the night after being asked to wear a face covering inside the restaurant, authorities said.

Police in Aurora arrested Kelvin Watson, 27, on Monday on a charge of attempted first-degree murder, KDVR reported. Court records show Watson is represented by the Arapahoe County public defender’s office, which did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment Tuesday.

According to an arrest affidavit, employees told investigators Watson came to the restaurant shortly after midnight Thursday, and a waitress told him he needed to wear a mask to be served. The restaurant was only offering carry-out service.

Watson allegedly returned with a mask that he was not wearing and was again told he could not be served. Witnesses said he put a small gun on the counter before telling the cook he could “blow your brains out,” according to the affidavit.

The following night, just after midnight Friday, police said Watson returned and slapped the cook across the face when he was told again he was not going to be served. Watson is accused of shooting the cook in the chest or abdomen outside of the restaurant as the cook ran to get away. The cook was released from a hospital Friday afternoon.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The chief architect of Florida’s coronavirus website was fired after an apparent disagreement over what information should be made public, raising questions about the integrity of Florida’s public health data.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said his decision to begin reopening his state has been driven by science, and federal epidemiologists have praised his administration’s daily release of COVID-19 related data.

But Rebekah Jones, an information systems manager with the Florida Department of Health, announced in an email to researchers Friday that she was no longer in charge of the dashboard that provides daily snapshots of Florida’s COVID-19 infections, testing and deaths. She said she would not expect “the same level of accessibility and transparency” in the data presented there, adding that her “commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it.”

Jones was more pointed in an email to an Orlando television station, CBS12 News, when she said she was removed from her role because she would not “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” It was unclear what data she was asked to change.

Jones could not be reached for comment.

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says a public health order that imposes strict regulation of the country’s borders has been extended.

The new order announced Tuesday by Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf does not put a 30-day limit on the restrictions as before. It says instead that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will review the latest health data every 30 days to ensure the restrictions are still needed.

Homeland Security officials had signaled in recent days that the order should be extended but that the decision would be up to health authorities. It had been scheduled to expire May 20.

The order enables U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to immediately expel anyone stopped trying to enter the country without authorization, including people seeking asylum. DHS officials say the COVID-19 pandemic makes it too dangerous to hold people in their detention facilities.

Immigrant advocates say it deprives people of the legal right to seek asylum under international law.

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NEW ORLEANS — Coronavirus fears closed a Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles location near New Orleans the same morning that it reopened after a two-month pandemic closure.

The office in Harvey was notified that someone in the building might have been in contact with somebody who had COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Deputy Commissioner Keith Neal said Tuesday.

Neal said he did not know whether the notification was from a state Department of Health contact tracer. The health department reported Tuesday that more than 35,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease, 1,004 of them are hospitalized and 2,458 have died. About 26,200 are presumed recovered.

He said the office — one of 11 that reopened statewide Monday after being closed since March 20 — will be sanitized before reopening.

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SALEM, Ore. — Oregon’s unemployment rate soared to 14.2% in April, marking the deepest recession the state has experienced since it began keeping records in 1939.

State officials say the numbers released Tuesday don’t reflect the full effect of the economic downturn brought on by a statewide stay-at-home order and the closure of schools and most businesses.

The state lost 266,600 jobs in the first two months of the pandemic, going from a near-record-low unemployment rate of 3.5% in March to the current 14.2%. More than half of all jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry have dried up.

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MIAMI — A children’s hospital in Miami has reported what could be the first cases in Florida of a rare inflammatory syndrome affecting some children with the coronavirus.

Both patients are in the pediatric ICU but showing signs of improvement, Jackson Health System said in an email statement.

COVID-19 is far less common in children than adults, and doctors say most infected children develop only mild symptoms. But New York State has been seeing more cases of this mysterious syndrome, which affects blood vessels and organs and has symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome.

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CAIRO — Egypt has announced further anti-virus measures to follow Eid al-Fitr, the three-day festival that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly says that starting May 30, the government will require people to wear face masks in public places, with violators fined 4,000 pounds (around $250) by police.

As Egypt’s curve accelerates, calls for tighter movement restrictions in the Arab world’s most populous country are growing. The number of detected cases in the state jumped by 720 on Tuesday to 13,484 infections and 659 deaths, the highest single-day increase.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch prime minister says the country’s bars and restaurants can reopen on June 1, with limited numbers of guests and social distancing.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte says the country can begin the next phase of emerging from what he has called an intelligent lockdown, while stressing people should continue practicing social distancing and work from home whenever possible.

The number of new deaths and coronavirus infections has been falling for weeks in the Netherlands, where the official death toll stands at 5,715, although it is thought to be much higher since it only includes people who have tested positive.

Bars and restaurants will be allowed a maximum of 30 clients inside, and people on terraces outside will have to sit at tables.

Cinemas, theaters and concert halls also will be allowed to reopen with a maximum of 30 visitors and social distancing. Museums also can reopen with the number of visitors based on the size of the buildings.

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FAIRLESS HILLS, Pa. — Six drugmakers that manufacture generic hydroxychloroquine report the drug is in short supply, while three others reported in the last week that their product is available, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s drug shortages website.

The companies cite increased demand as the cause, with some stating they expect to next ship the drug at the end of May.

President Donald Trump said Monday he has been taking hydroxychloroquine and a zinc supplement daily “for about a week and a half now,” after two White House staffers tested positive for the coronavirus. Trump has spent months pushing hydroxychloroquine as a potential cure or preventive drug for COVID-19 against the cautionary advice of many of his administration’s top medical professionals.

One of the companies, Concordia Pharmaceuticals, also makes the brand-name version, called Paquenil. It says that drug is completely unavailable but is expected to be available again at the end of this month.

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ROME — Pressure on Italy’s hospitals has continued to decline, an essential condition for the country to safely continue to eliminate or ease lockdown measures for the coronavirus.

For the first time since mid-March, the number of persons hospitalized in non-intensive care beds has dipped under 10,000. The number of COVID-19 patients occupying intensive care beds also has decreased in recent weeks, down to 716 on Tuesday, according to Health Ministry figures.

Throughout the outbreak, most coronavirus patients in Italy haven’t needed hospitalization but instead stayed isolated at home. There were 813 new cases of infection nationwide in the 24-hour period ending Tuesday evening, raising to 226,699 Italy’s overall known case tally. The daily increase in deaths was registered at 162, increasing the country’s total number of persons who died with confirmed COVID-19 infections to 32,169.

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland is reporting its first pediatric death from the coronavirus.

Baltimore County officials say a 15-year-old resident died after being infected by COVID-19. Officials say the individual had symptoms of an inflammatory syndrome associated with the COVID-19 infection that has been documented in children in New York and other locations.

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HOUSTON — A catholic church in Houston has closed its doors after five of its leaders tested positive for COVID-19, including two priests who helped celebrate public masses after they resumed earlier this month.

The closure and positive tests come after a priest from Holy Ghost parish, 79-year-old Donnell Kirchner, died last week. He was diagnosed with pneumonia, but officials are determining whether he might have contracted the virus before he died May 13.

Kirchner went to an urgent care clinic and later to a hospital emergency room. But after being released, he went back to the home he shared with members of his religious order, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston said.

The members of Kirchner’s religious order are asymptomatic but are being quarantined.

The diocese encouraged anyone who attended masses at Holy Ghost to get tested as a precaution.

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MOSCOW — The United States will send two planes with ventilators to Russia as a donation to help the country tackle the coronavirus outbreak, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says.

The move follows a “whole-hearted and genuine” offer U.S. President Donald Trump made last month to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov adds. According to Russian media, the shipment will include 200 breathing machines, 50 of which may be dispatched to Moscow on Wednesday.

Russia has reported nearly 300,000 infections and 2,837 deaths. Officials have scrambled to secure ventilators and other essential supplies amid an exponential growth in infections.

Russia sent a planeload of medical supplies, including ventilators, to the U.S. last month. Moscow says the U.S. paid for half of the medical supplies, while the other half of the cost was sponsored by Russia’s state investment fund.

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TORONTO — Canada and the United States have extended their agreement to keep the border closed to non-essential travel to June 21 during the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the border is a source of vulnerability so the agreement will be extended by another 30 days. The restrictions were announced on March 18 and were extended in April.

Trudeau says Canada’s provincial leaders clearly wanted to continue the measures. Many Canadians fear a reopening. The U.S. has more confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 than any country in the world, though its per-capita numbers are well below many other nations.

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MADRID — Spain has recorded fewer than 100 deaths from the new coronavirus for the third day in a row.

The Health Ministry said Tuesday that 83 people had died over the previous 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 27,778.

It reported 295 new cases, bringing the total in the outbreak to just over 232,000.

The government is asking parliament to extend the current state of emergency to June 7, saying it is the only legal instrument that allows authorities to order lockdowns.

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GENEVA — Member states of the World Health Organization have unanimously passed a resolution brought by European Union members, African nations and others calling for an independent “comprehensive evaluation” of the international response to the COVID-19 outbreak coordinated by the U.N. health agency.

The United States has sharply criticized the agency and its relationship with China, where the outbreak erupted.

Overnight, U.S. President Donald Trump listed concerns and criticism about the WHO to its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Nations rallied around the resolution that calls on the director-general to initiate “at the earliest appropriate moment” an evaluation that would “review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.”

It was not immediately clear how, when or by whom that evaluation will be conducted.

The resolution pointed to the “role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good,” and called on international organizations to “work collaboratively” to produce safe, effective and affordable medicines and vaccines.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s prime minister has fully resumed his duties after recovering from the coronavirus.

Mikhail Mishustin, 54, announced he was infected on April 30.

On Tuesday, Mishustin’s office says he’s checked out of the hospital and returned to his duties in the Cabinet headquarters. He’s set to take part in a video conference with President Vladimir Putin later in the day.

Several Cabinet ministers and Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov also have been infected. Peskov says he had double pneumonia caused by the virus. He noted he hadn’t met with Putin in person for more than a month.

Putin has limited public appearances and held most of his meetings online during the virus pandemic.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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McConnell’s GOP takes Trump’s election-year cues

It’s all part of the last stage of the GOP’s evolution during Trump’s first term: an apparent end to public disagreements for the next six months until the party is past the election.

“I just think that everybody realizes that our fortunes sort of rise or fall together,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the party whip. “One thing we have to do is to make sure that we are united on our agenda and make sure that there’s not separation between the White House and Republicans in Congress.”

Two hours after McConnell’s floor speech, Senate Republicans hosted Trump for their first party lunch in two months. The gathering was largely an opportunity for the president to present poll numbers, talk about his re-election campaign and tout his handling of the coronavirus crisis, which has ravaged the economy and infected more than a million people.

But Trump also urged Republicans to stick together as the election approaches — and act a little bit more like the opposition party he loathes.

“He very frequently reminds us that we’re not as tough as [Democrats] are, that they play more for keeps, that they stick together better,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “Part of what makes us conservative is our independence, so that is our strength philosophically but sometimes it can be a weakness.”

There was no real agenda for the meeting, but the takeaway was clear to attendees. Trump told senators that “we need to be a team,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.). When asked whether Trump encouraged senators to hammer home on the investigative front, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) replied: “He didn’t need to.”

The moment reflected a new level of political synergy between Trump and the Senate Republicans who once blanched at his Twitter insults, his erratic governing style and his unorthodox economic, immigration and diplomatic policies. These days the Senate GOP majority has become an extended arm of Trumpism, with occasional complaints by a scattered few senators but mostly toothless dissent.

Trump has been on a tear as he seeks retribution against his political enemies, whether it’s on the origins of the Russia investigation, the FBI’s case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, or Hunter Biden’s Ukraine work — and Republicans seem eager to play along. McConnell is defending his majority this fall in increasingly difficult conditions, and the GOP has decided the only way to win is to stick by Trump as closely as possible.

“You’re not crazy or a conspiracy theorist if you see a pattern of institutional unfairness toward this president,” McConnell said earlier on Tuesday. “You would have to be blind not to see one.”

McConnell also used his floor remarks to take a rare public jab at a federal judge for trying to slow the Justice Department’s move to drop the case against Flynn.

When asked whether he spoke with Trump after the president issued a direct appeal to him on Twitter over the weekend, McConnell sidestepped the question and said that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will have “all control on reviewing” the 2016-era investigations. “He has a pretty expansive plan to look into all of that,” McConnell added.

Trump did not directly answer a reporter over whether he was satisfied with how Republican senators were handling the matter. Instead, he reiterated his litany of grievances against the Obama administration.

Since Friday, Trump fired the State Department’s inspector general, went after McConnell on Twitter and revealed he was taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug with uncertain benefits for coronavirus according to officials. Meanwhile the U.S. death toll for the pandemic has shot past 90,000 and the unemployment rate is spiking.

Republicans have largely shrugged at Trump’s self-medication and defended his coronavirus response. They’ve also largely backed down as Trump continues his purge of government watchdogs in the aftermath of his acquittal in the Senate’s impeachment trial, sending stern letters to Trump that have been ignored so far.

And when they had the president in front of him on Tuesday, senators decided it was not the venue to demand the explanation for the ousted inspectors general that they say they want.

“I didn’t ask him about it because I’m tracking down my own questions and trying to be able to work through the process,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “I’ve already started my own follow-up, privately.”

At the beginning of 2019, Republicans grimaced at Trump’s government shutdown and a bipartisan majority voted against his national emergency to build a border wall. GOP senators decried Trump’s tariffs for years and even conceded some tweets targeting progressive women in the House were racist.

But after everyone except Utah Sen. Mitt Romney banded around Trump during the impeachment trial, the party turned the page.

“The impeachment thing clearly brought people together,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).

And Republicans are about to dig in even further behind Trump. On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security Committee will vote on a subpoena as part of the panel’s GOP-run investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

After Graham rebuffed Trump’s calls for the Judiciary Committee to haul in President Barack Obama and question him about the Flynn case, Graham now plans to approve a broad subpoena to compel documents and testimony from a slew of former Obama administration officials.

Graham told reporters he hoped to have his report out before the election and insisted that the subpoenas had nothing to do with Trump’s calls for him to call in Obama.

“We’ve been planning this for a long time,” Graham said.

Like Graham, McConnell had declined to endorse Trump’s push to haul Obama and Biden before the Senate, saying only in a Fox News interview last week that the public deserves to know more about how the 2016-era probes began. That response set off a flurry of criticism from Trump’s allies in the conservative media, which led to Trump’s direct appeal to McConnell on Saturday to “get tough and move quickly.”

The new subpoena action also comes a week after two key Republicans senators released a list of Obama administration officials who might have been involved in efforts that “unmasked” Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but whose criminal case was dropped earlier this month. Biden’s name was on the list, which was compiled by Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell.

These efforts by Republican senators are likely to give Trump a boost with his political base. The president’s reelection campaign unleashed a torrent of criticism against Biden after the “unmasking” list was released.

Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) has said he wants his party to multi-task and also make headway on climate change policy and health care. But for rank-and-file GOP senators, the election-year agenda is now mostly out of their control and focused increasingly on Trump’s targets.

“Personally, I didn’t run for Senate to be involved in that,” said Braun, who won his seat in 2018. “I can see you’re largely along for the ride on most of the stuff you’d like to see done.”

He then made clear that he views Trump’s agenda as his own, too: “For the American public there’s some grave issues that occurred. And we ought to get to the bottom of it.”

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Susan Rice ’email to self’ Reveals Extent Of Obama’s Role In FBI Russia Probe

Email From Susan Rice To Se… by Sara on Scribd

Former Obama National Security Advisor Susan Rice had said in recent interviews that she welcomed the declassification of her January, 2017 ’email to self’ regarding the Oval Office meeting she, along with top Obama Administration officials, attended with President Obama, during the last days of his presidency.

She, however, should be concerned about the email. Numerous Republican congressional officials contend that the email she sent to herself on Jan. 20, 2017 on the last day of the Obama Administration reveals the extent of Obama’s involvement in the FBI’s unscrupulous Russia investigation into President Trump’s campaign and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

Since 2018, GOP Senators have been waiting for the DNI or DOJ declassify and release Rice’s ’email to self.” On Tuesday, acting Director of National Intelligence Rick Grenell declassified the the email and turned it over to the Department of Justice for a full review before it could be released to the public.

Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who originally discovered the email and Ron Johnson, R-Wisconson, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., fought for the declassification of the email since 2018. Grassley and Graham had sent a joint letter to Rice in February, 2018 after discovering the email, and the response from her lawyer alluded to national security concerns among senior Obama officials who attended the meeting at the Oval Office. Those who attended the classified meeting were Rice, President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, then CIA Director John Brennan, former FBI Director James Comey, and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.  Rice’s lawyer specifically noted that there was no discussion of former British Spy Christopher Steele, whose debunked dossier was also used by the FBI in its shoddy investigation of the Trump campaign.

Johnson said the decision to renew the call for the release of the mail several years after the original request was based in part on the Justice Department’s decision to issue a motion to dismiss all criminal charges against Flynn.

“The Senate has maintained a copy of the fully-unredacted email but was unable to share it publicly until it underwent a declassification review, which was completed today,” Johnson and Grassley’s press release Tuesday stated. Both Senators have long pointed out that  Obama’s role in the investigation into Trump and Flynn was more than just ancillary.

For example in Rice’s email she noted that “From a national security perspective, President Obama said he wants to be sure that, as we engage with the incoming team, we are mindful to ascertain if there is any reason we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.” More importantly, it was during that same time frame she sent the email to herself on Jan. 20, 2017  that the Obama Administration’s FBI and its senior administration officials had already been fully immersed into spying against the Trump campaign.

The evidence of these operations have been disclosed in thousands of documents discovered by years of congressional investigations and DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigations.

Those investigations revealed that Flynn’s name was illegally unmasked more than likely by a senior official in the Obama Administration.

Further, it is now public that the contents of Flynn’s highly classified conversation with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was leaked to David Ignatius, a top columnist with the Washington Post, who was known to have top connections to senior officials in the Obama Administration. Those leaks were done to tarnish Flynn’s name and create a disinformation campaign against him because they came after FBI officials had already decided to drop the case against him for lack of evidence that he had committed any crime.

Further, during that same time period the FBI officials had obtained a FISA warrant and subsequent renewals from the secret court to spy on short term campaign volunteer Carter Page. The public is now aware through extensive release of classified documents that the FBI agents involved in the investigation and the bureau lawyers lied to the FISC court and omitted information from the warrant that would’ve changed the courts decision to spy on Page.

Rice’s email is not explosive but it is a rare insiders look at the magnitude of the Obama administrations actions against the Trump campaign.

More interestingly, the reader needs to take into account why Rice would ever send this email to herself. Is it a cover your ass email. I would say yes.

For example, in one email Rice reveals what former FBI Director James Comey discussed with President Obama and the other senior officials about the investigation into Flynn.

Rice states in her email that “Comey said he does have some concerns that incoming NSA Flynn is speaking frequently with Russian Ambassador Kislyak,” Rice wrote in a portion of the email that was only recently declassified.

Comey made these comments a day after FBI agents had submitted a memo to drop the investigation of Flynn because they found no derogatory information against him during the course of their investigation. You wouldn’t know it from reading Rice’s email about the January 5th, 2017 meeting at the Oval Office.

Comey apparently stated his concern and why the Trump administration should be kept out of the loop regarding Flynn.

Rice said Comey told Obama and the group that Flynn’s situation “could be an issue as it relates to sharing sensitive information” with the incoming administration.

“President Obama asked if Comey was saying the NSC should not pass sensitive information related to Russia to Flynn,” said Rice. “Comey replied ‘potentially.’”

“[Comey] added that he has no indication thus far that Flynn has passed classified information to Kislyak, but he noted that ‘the level of communication is unusual,” he said.

A number of lawmakers and intelligence officials interviewed by this reporter suggest that the newly declassified information reveals the magnitude of the Obama administration and the FBI’s investigation to tarnish the Trump campaign and then later the administration.

“It’s evident they would stop at nothing to take down Flynn and President Trump,” stated a former senior intelligence official, familiar with the investigation. “This email from Rice to herself is nothing more than a way of ensuring that there was some documentation of the meeting, a CYA, because it appears to be an attempt by one U.S. president to take down another.”

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Liberals’ Latest Coronavirus Package Shows Why Americans Loathe Congress

In the pantheon of great lines suitable for induction into “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” is Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2010 comment about Obamacare: “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”

While that seemed outrageous and even comical to many at the time, it has become an all-too-familiar pattern for legislators who focus more on TV appearances, fundraising, and their reelections than on the laws they pass without reading them first.

The latest bank-breaking measure to narrowly pass the House (even some Democrats voted against it) is a $3 trillion package styled “coronavirus relief.” It is more than 1,800 pages long.

The disingenuous title is an effort to position it as something that will be more acceptable than honest descriptions such as “boondoggle” and “vote buying.”

The package is supposed to help people struggling due to lost jobs and closed businesses, but it is more favorable to Democrat constituencies and left-leaning interest groups that rely on their party for bailouts.

There have been efforts, especially in recent years, to lengthen the time between when a bill is written (usually by staff members and lobbyists) and when members vote on it, giving everyone plenty of time to read the bill. The latest stimulus bill is only the most recent example of what happens when that doesn’t take place.

Passed by the slim margin of 208 to 199, the measure contains significant amounts of cash for states with Democratic governors and legislatures, which have misspent taxpayer money and now find themselves in deep debt.

Commenting on efforts to allow more time for members of Congress to read bills before voting on them, Quentin Kidd, Department of Political Science professor at Christopher Newport University, has said:

I unfortunately don’t think that members of Congress will use that time reading the bill. They will use that time doing other things, and they will continue to do what most of them do right now, which is to pay attention to their staff or listen to what lobbyists say.

Among the many outrageous components of this latest bill, as if $3 trillion we don’t have and must be borrowed isn’t outrageous enough, is a provision that gives money to Democrats’ newest constituency, noncitizens or undocumented immigrants, which is how Democrats like to refer to them, who now have tax identification numbers.

In saying the bill is “dead on arrival,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., added, “It’s a parade of absurdities that can hardly be taken seriously.”

And yet part of it will be taken seriously. Even McConnell acknowledged the inevitability of more spending when he told The Wall Street Journal another bill is probably necessary.

Whatever the Senate negotiates with the House will certainly add to the previous $2 trillion measure, which didn’t trickle down to some of the neediest individuals and small businesses, but contained horror stories such as checks going to dead people or to multimillion-dollar businesses or millionaires who didn’t need it.

Rapper and reality TV star Maurice Fayne, aka “Arkansas Mo,” received $2 million. According to the U.K. Daily Mail, Fayne spent part of it on a Rolls Royce, a Rolex watch, and child support, rather than retaining workers in his transportation business. He had applied for $3 million, so perhaps the government can claim it saved money. Thankfully, Fayne has been arrested, but will he be forced to return what remains of the money?

Anyone curious as to why in March the Gallup poll found public disapproval of Congress at 74% (it was 64% in April possibly because of the stimulus money) need look no further than the way the professional class operates. In too many instances, it acts more in its own self-interest instead of the long-term public good.

(c) 2020 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Graham Asks Grenell, Barr To Reveal Other ‘Unmasked’ Trump Officials

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-SC, sent a letter Tuesday asking Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell and Attorney General William Barr to reveal any names, in addition to Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, whose identities were ‘unmasked’ by former Obama administration officials.

“Given this extensive list of officials making frequent requests to unmask General Flynn’s identity, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) sent a letter to Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Richard Grenell and Attorney General (AG) William Barr to ask that the Committee be provided with the names of any official who made a request to unmask the identity of individuals associated with the Trump campaign or transition team,” Graham wrote.

Last week, Grenell declassified a list of 39 former Obama administration officials, which included former Vice President Joe Biden and Former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, who unmasked Flynn’s identity between November 8, 2016 and January 31, 2017. “Given the extensive number of requests for the unmasking of General Flynn’s name during this short time period, it raises the question of whether these or other officials sought the unmasking of the identities of other individuals associated with the Trump campaign or transition team,” Graham added in a statement.

In his letter, Graham requested the following:

  1. A list of names of any officials who requested, between November 8, 2016, and January 31, 2017, to unmask the identities of those associated with the Trump campaign or transition team, including but not limited to Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sam Clovis, Chris Christie, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, and the reason given for any such request.
  2. An explanation as to why the list released on May 13th by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not contain a record showing who unmasked General Flynn’s identity for his phone call with Ambassador Kislyak.

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States accused of fudging or bungling testing data

By MICHELLE R. SMITH, COLLEEN LONG and JEFF AMY

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Public health officials in some states are accused of bungling coronavirus infection statistics or even using a little sleight of hand to deliberately make things look better than they are.

The risk is that politicians, business owners and ordinary Americans who are making decisions about lockdowns, reopenings and other day-to-day matters could be left with the impression that the virus is under more control than it actually is.

In Virginia, Texas and Vermont, for example, officials said they have been combining the results of viral tests, which show an active infection, with antibody tests, which show a past infection. Public health experts say that can make for impressive-looking testing totals but does not give a true picture of how the virus is spreading.

In Florida, the data scientist who developed the state’s coronavirus dashboard, Rebekah Jones, said this week that she was fired for refusing to manipulate data “to drum up support for the plan to reopen.” Calls to health officials for comment were not immediately returned Tuesday.

In Georgia, one of the earliest states to ease up on lockdowns and assure the public it was safe to go out again, the Department of Public Health published a graph around May 11 that showed new COVID-19 cases declining over time in the most severely affected counties. The daily entries, however, were not arranged in chronological order but in descending order.

For example, the May 7 totals came right before April 26, which was followed by May 3. A quick look at the graph made it appear as if the decline was smoother than it really was. The graph was taken down within about a day.

Georgia state Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Democrat with a doctorate in microbiology, said the graph was a “prime example of malfeasance.”

“Sadly it feels like there’s been an attempt to make the data fit the narrative, and that’s not how data works,” she said.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s office denied there was any attempt to deceive the public.

Guidelines from the Trump administration say that before states begin reopening, they should see a 14-day downward trend in infections. However, some states have reopened when infections were still climbing or had plateaued. States have also been instructed to expand testing and contact tracing.

The U.S. has recorded 1.5 million confirmed infections and over 90,000 deaths.

Vermont and Virginia said they stopped combining the two types of tests in the past few days. Still, health officials in Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has eased up on restrictions, said that combining the numbers caused “no difference in overall trends.”

In Texas, where health officials said last week that they were including some antibody results in their testing totals and case counts, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday that the numbers were not being commingled. Health officials did not respond to requests for clarification.

Georgia’s Department of Public Health also regularly publishes a graph that shows cases over time, except new infections are not listed on the day they came back positive, which is the practice in many other states. Instead, Georgia lists new cases on the day the patient first reported symptoms.

That practice can shift the timeline of the outbreak and make it appear as if the state is moving past the peak.

Kemp spokesperson Candice Broce insisted that the governor’s office is not telling the department what to do and that officials are not trying to dress up the data to make Kemp look better, saying that “could not be further from the truth.”

As for the May 11 graph, Broce said public health officials were trying to highlight which days had seen the highest peaks of infections. “It was not intended to mislead,” Broce said Tuesday. “It was always intended to be helpful.”

Thomas Tsai, a professor at the Harvard Global Health Institute, said the way Georgia reports data makes it harder to understand what the current conditions are, and he worries that other states may also be presenting data in a way that doesn’t capture the most up-to-date information.

Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said a lot of these cases are not necessarily the result of any attempt to fool the public. For example, she said, states may not have updated information systems that allow them to tell the difference between an antibody test and a viral test.

Still, if states are mixing a lot of testing numbers together, “you’re not going to be able to make good decisions about reopening and about what level of disease you have in the community,” Nuzzo said.

In other developments, t he White House scramble d to defend President Donald Trump’s decision to use the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to fend off the coronavirus. The drug is unproven against the virus, and the president’s move spurred fears that many Americans might start using the medication, which carries potentially fatal side effects.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany emphasized that “any use of hydroxychloroquine has to be in consultation with your doctor.”

More than 4.8 million people worldwide have been confirmed infected by the virus, and about 320,000 deaths have been recorded, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University that experts believe is too low.

Russia and Brazil are now behind only the United States in the number of reported infections, and cases are also spiking in such places as India, South Africa and Mexico.

New hot spots emerged Tuesday in Russia, and the country recorded nearly 9,300 new infections in 24 hours, bringing the total to almost 300,000, about half of them in Moscow. Authorities say over 2,800 people with COVID-19 have died in Russia, a figure some say is surely higher.

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At Fox News, Mixed Message on Malaria Drug: ‘Very Safe’ vs. ‘It Will Kill You’

The stress of the coronavirus pandemic is testing even the closest relationships.

President Trump and Fox News are no exception.

In a dust-up between the top-rated cable news channel and its most prominent loyal viewer, Mr. Trump unleashed a barrage against the Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto, who gave a withering on-air assessment of the president’s announcement that he was ingesting hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that can pose dangers for coronavirus patients.

“.@FoxNews is no longer the same,” Mr. Trump lamented on Twitter. Invoking the name of Fox News’s late founder, the president added: “We miss the great Roger Ailes. You have more anti-Trump people, by far, than ever before. Looking for a new outlet!”

By Tuesday morning, the president had apparently warmed to the network again, congratulating the morning show “Fox & Friends” on its high ratings. But the fissure underscored Mr. Trump’s keen sensitivity to any hint of criticism from his preferred TV network, where star pundits like Sean Hannity and Steve Doocy have made prime-time and morning shows into pro-Trump cheering platforms.

Hydroxychloroquine was already a fraught subject at Fox News. The prime-time host Laura Ingraham has relentlessly promoted the drug as a potential cure for the coronavirus, even pitching Mr. Trump in person in the Oval Office. But many medical experts, including some at the Food and Drug Administration, have warned against its use to treat the disease, citing a risk of serious heart problems.

On Monday, Mr. Cavuto was hosting his 4 p.m. show when Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House that he had begun taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure against the coronavirus. When the camera cut to Mr. Cavuto, the anchor looked stricken.

“That was stunning,” Mr. Cavuto told viewers, going on to cite studies about the potentially fatal effects of hydroxychloroquine on older patients and those with heart conditions.

“If you are in a risky population here and you are taking this as a preventive treatment to ward off the virus — or in a worst-case scenario, you are dealing with the virus and you are in this vulnerable population — it will kill you,” Mr. Cavuto said. “I cannot stress enough: This will kill you.”

Mr. Cavuto is himself part of a vulnerable population. He has multiple sclerosis, underwent emergency heart surgery in 2016, and survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his 20s. Since the coronavirus outbreak, he has regularly warned viewers about the risks of hydroxychloroquine and, more broadly, the medical danger of a premature end to quarantines.

Those views place Mr. Cavuto at odds with many of Fox News’s most prominent conservative stars — and certainly with Mr. Trump, who was so irked by the anchor’s remarks that he blasted out Twitter posts cursing about Mr. Cavuto and calling him “foolish & gullible.”

Fox News declined to comment on Mr. Trump’s attacks. (One network personality, the meteorologist Janice Dean, defended Mr. Cavuto on Twitter, writing: “I agree with Neil. You can’t just throw the drug around like it’s a cure. It’s not.”)

On Tuesday, after Mr. Trump again used a White House appearance to promote the drug, Mr. Cavuto re-upped his rebuttal.

“The issue here is whether it’s advisable to take to ward off Covid-19, and no less than the Food and Drug Administration warned back on April 24 that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing Covid-19,” Mr. Cavuto told viewers.

Mr. Cavuto was not the only Fox News figure to offer on-air criticism of Mr. Trump’s support of the drug. The network’s senior managing editor for health news, Dr. Manny Alvarez, appeared on Bret Baier’s Monday newscast and called the president’s words “highly irresponsible.”

The view was rosier from the conservative voices on Fox News’s most-watched opinion programs.

Minutes after Mr. Cavuto’s Monday broadcast, the talk show “The Five” offered up hosannas to the president. “When you get this drug to people who can tolerate it, I don’t think you can have any kind of heart condition or arrhythmias and things like that,” said the co-host Greg Gutfeld.

Mr. Gutfeld also dismissed a Veterans Affairs study showing a link between the drug and an increased risk of death in coronavirus patients, asserting that the results had been hyped by journalists who “wanted that drug to be a failure because they want Trump to fail.”

On Tuesday’s “Fox & Friends,” the co-host Brian Kilmeade highlighted studies in France and China that are often cited by the drug’s proponents. “Don’t act like he just grabbed it from some witch doctor,” he said of Mr. Trump.

And Ms. Ingraham, who has resumed her frequent promotion of the drug, booked a doctor on her Monday show who called the drug “life-changing.”

“The people of the United States need to know that they have a brilliant president of the United States, and that he wants to keep himself safe and healthy so that he can guide us through this pandemic,” Dr. Ivette Lozano, a Texas clinician, told Ms. Ingraham.

She added: “Doctors need to start prescribing it immediately.”

Hydroxychloroquine has been prescribed by doctors around the country, who often cite the speed and severity of the coronavirus as a reason to try any medicinal tools available. Rigorous studies have failed to produce data showing significant benefits, and the F.D.A. said last month that hydroxychloroquine should not be used outside clinical trials or situations where a patient can be closely monitored.

Ms. Ingraham offered her viewers some caveats, noting that “studies are still coming in.” But she left an impression that skeptics of hydroxychloroquine were fueled by animus toward the president.

“Look, people should be monitored,” Ms. Ingraham said. “But I think people aren’t getting it when perhaps — I say perhaps, I’m not a doctor — it could actually benefit them. And it’s very safe.”