Posted on

From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump’s phone calls alarm US officials

The calls caused former top Trump deputies — including national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials — to conclude that the President was often “delusional,” as two sources put it, in his dealings with foreign leaders. The sources said there was little evidence that the President became more skillful or competent in his telephone conversations with most heads of state over time. Rather, he continued to believe that he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will, and often pursued goals more attuned to his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers considered the national interest.

By far the greatest number of Trump’s telephone discussions with an individual head of state were with Erdogan, who sometimes phoned the White House at least twice a week and was put through directly to the President on standing orders from Trump, according to the sources. Meanwhile, the President regularly bullied and demeaned the leaders of America’s principal allies, especially two women: telling Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom she was weak and lacked courage; and telling German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she was “stupid.”

Trump incessantly boasted to his fellow heads of state, including Saudi Arabia’s autocratic royal heir Mohammed bin Salman and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, about his own wealth, genius, “great” accomplishments as President, and the “idiocy” of his Oval Office predecessors, according to the sources.

In his conversations with both Putin and Erdogan, Trump took special delight in trashing former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and suggested that dealing directly with him — Trump — would be far more fruitful than during previous administrations. “They didn’t know BS,” he said of Bush and Obama — one of several derisive tropes the sources said he favored when discussing his predecessors with the Turkish and Russian leaders.

The full, detailed picture drawn by CNN’s sources of Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders is consistent with the basic tenor and some substantive elements of a limited number of calls described by former national security adviser John Bolton in his book, “The Room Where It Happened.” But the calls described to CNN cover a far longer period than Bolton’s tenure, are much more comprehensive — and seemingly more damning — in their sweep.

Like Bolton, CNN’s sources said that the President seemed to continually conflate his own personal interests — especially for purposes of re-election and revenge against perceived critics and political enemies — with the national interest.

To protect the anonymity of those describing the calls for this report, CNN will not reveal their job titles nor quote them at length directly. More than a dozen officials either listened to the President’s phone calls in real time or were provided detailed summaries and rough-text recording printouts of the calls soon after their completion, CNN’s sources said. The sources were interviewed by CNN repeatedly over a four-month period extending into June.

The sources did cite some instances in which they said Trump acted responsibly and in the national interest during telephone discussions with some foreign leaders. CNN reached out to Kelly, McMaster and Tillerson for comment and received no response as of Monday afternoon. Mattis did not comment.

What we learned from John Bolton's eye-popping tale of working with Trump

The White House had not responded to a request for comment as of Monday afternoon.

One person familiar with almost all the conversations with the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia and western Europe described the calls cumulatively as ‘abominations’ so grievous to US national security interests that if members of Congress heard from witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts and contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would no longer be able to retain confidence in the President.

Attacking key ally leaders — especially women

The insidious effect of the conversations comes from Trump’s tone, his raging outbursts at allies while fawning over authoritarian strongmen, his ignorance of history and lack of preparation as much as it does from the troubling substance, according to the sources. While in office, then- Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats expressed worry to subordinates that Trump’s telephone discussions were undermining the coherent conduct of foreign relations and American objectives around the globe, one of CNN’s sources said. And in recent weeks, former chief of staff Kelly has mentioned the damaging impact of the President’s calls on US national security to several individuals in private.

Two sources compared many of the President’s conversations with foreign leaders to Trump’s recent press “briefings” on the coronavirus pandemic: free form, fact-deficient stream-of-consciousness ramblings, full of fantasy and off-the-wall pronouncements based on his intuitions, guesswork, the opinions of Fox News TV hosts and social media misinformation.

In addition to Merkel and May, the sources said, Trump regularly bullied and disparaged other leaders of the western alliance during his phone conversations — including French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison — in the same hostile and aggressive way he discussed the coronavirus with some of America’s governors.

Next to Erdogan, no foreign leader initiated more calls with Trump than Macron, the sources said, with the French President often trying to convince Trump to change course on environmental and security policy matters — including climate change and US withdrawal from the Iranian multilateral nuclear accord.

Macron usually got “nowhere” on substantive matters, while Trump became irritated at the French President’s stream of requests and subjected him to self-serving harangues and lectures that were described by one source as personalized verbal “whippings,” especially about France and other countries not meeting NATO spending targets, their liberal immigration policies or their trade imbalances with the US.

But his most vicious attacks, said the sources, were aimed at women heads of state. In conversations with both May and Merkel, the President demeaned and denigrated them in diatribes described as “near-sadistic” by one of the sources and confirmed by others. “Some of the things he said to Angela Merkel are just unbelievable: he called her ‘stupid,’ and accused her of being in the pocket of the Russians … He’s toughest [in the phone calls] with those he looks at as weaklings and weakest with the ones he ought to be tough with.”

The calls “are so unusual,” confirmed a German official, that special measures were taken in Berlin to ensure that their contents remained secret. The official described Trump’s behavior with Merkel in the calls as “very aggressive” and said that the circle of German officials involved in monitoring Merkel’s calls with Trump has shrunk: “It’s just a small circle of people who are involved and the reason, the main reason, is that they are indeed problematic.”

Trump’s conversations with May, the UK Prime Minister from 2016 to 2019, were described as “humiliating and bullying,” with Trump attacking her as “a fool” and spineless in her approach to Brexit, NATO and immigration matters.

“He’d get agitated about something with Theresa May, then he’d get nasty with her on the phone call,” One source said. “It’s the same interaction in every setting — coronavirus or Brexit — with just no filter applied.”

Merkel remained calm and outwardly unruffled in the face of Trump’s attacks —”like water off a duck’s back,” in the words of one source — and she regularly countered his bluster with recitations of fact. The German official quoted above said that during Merkel’s visit to the White House two years ago, Trump displayed “very questionable behavior” that “was quite aggressive … [T]he Chancellor indeed stayed calm, and that’s what she does on the phone.”

Prime Minister May, in contrast, became “flustered and nervous” in her conversations with the President. “He clearly intimidated her and meant to,” said one of CNN’s sources. In response to a request for comment about Trump’s behavior in calls with May, the UK’s Downing Street referred CNN to its website. The site lists brief descriptions of the content of some calls and avoids any mention of tone or tension. The French embassy in Washington declined to comment, while the Russian and Turkish embassies did not respond to requests for comment.

Concerns over calls with Putin and Erdogan

The calls with Putin and Erdogan were particularly egregious in terms of Trump almost never being prepared substantively and thus leaving him susceptible to being taken advantage of in various ways, according to the sources — in part because those conversations (as with most heads of state), were almost certainly recorded by the security services and other agencies of their countries.

In his phone exchanges with Putin, the sources reported, the President talked mostly about himself, frequently in over-the-top, self-aggrandizing terms: touting his “unprecedented” success in building the US economy; asserting in derisive language how much smarter and “stronger” he is than “the imbeciles” and “weaklings” who came before him in the presidency (especially Obama); reveling in his experience running the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, and obsequiously courting Putin’s admiration and approval. Putin “just outplays” him, said a high-level administration official — comparing the Russian leader to a chess grandmaster and Trump to an occasional player of checkers. While Putin “destabilizes the West,” said this source, the President of the United States “sits there and thinks he can build himself up enough as a businessman and tough guy that Putin will respect him.” (At times, the Putin-Trump conversations sounded like “two guys in a steam bath,” a source added.)

In numerous calls with Putin that were described to CNN, Trump left top national security aides and his chiefs of staff flabbergasted, less because of specific concessions he made than because of his manner — inordinately solicitous of Putin’s admiration and seemingly seeking his approval — while usually ignoring substantive policy expertise and important matters on the standing bilateral agenda, including human rights; and an arms control agreement, which never got dealt with in a way that advanced shared Russian and American goals that both Putin and Trump professed to favor, CNN’s sources said.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has touted the theme of “America First” as his north star in foreign policy, advancing the view that America’s allies and adversaries have taken economic advantage of US goodwill in trade. And that America’s closest allies need to increase their share of collective defense spending. He frequently justifies his seeming deference to Putin by arguing that Russia is a major world player and that it is in the United States’ interest to have a constructive and friendly relationship — requiring a reset with Moscow through his personal dialogue with Putin.

Putin leverages coronavirus chaos to make a direct play to Trump

In separate interviews, two high-level administration officials familiar with most of the Trump-Putin calls said the President naively elevated Russia — a second-rate totalitarian state with less than 4% of the world’s GDP — and its authoritarian leader almost to parity with the United States and its President by undermining the tougher, more realistic view of Russia expressed by the US Congress, American intelligence agencies and the long-standing post-war policy consensus of the US and its European allies. “He [Trump] gives away the advantage that was hard won in the Cold War,” said one of the officials — in part by “giving Putin and Russia a legitimacy they never had,” the official said. “He’s given Russia a lifeline — because there is no doubt that they’re a declining power … He’s playing with something he doesn’t understand and he’s giving them power that they would use [aggressively].”

Both officials cited Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria — a move that benefited Turkey as well as Russia — as perhaps the most grievous example. “He gave away the store,” one of them said.

The frequency of the calls with Erdogan — in which the Turkish president continually pressed Trump for policy concessions and other favors — was especially worrisome to McMaster, Bolton and Kelly, the more so because of the ease with which Erdogan bypassed normal National Security Council protocols and procedures to reach the President, said two of the sources.

Erdogan became so adept at knowing when to reach the President directly that some White House aides became convinced that Turkey’s security services in Washington were using Trump’s schedule and whereabouts to provide Erdogan with information about when the President would be available for a call.

On some occasions Erdogan reached him on the golf course and Trump would delay play while the two spoke at length.

Two sources described the President as woefully uninformed about the history of the Syrian conflict and the Middle East generally, and said he was often caught off guard, and lacked sufficient knowledge to engage on equal terms in nuanced policy discussion with Erdogan. “Erdogan took him to the cleaners,” said one of the sources.

The sources said that deleterious US policy decisions on Syria — including the President’s directive to pull US forces out of the country, which then allowed Turkey to attack Kurds who had helped the US fight ISIS and weakened NATO’s role in the conflict — were directly linked to Erdogan’s ability to get his way with Trump on the phone calls.

The US is more alone than ever, just at the moment the world needs its leadership

Trump occasionally became angry at Erdogan — sometimes because of demands that Turkey be granted preferential trade status, and because the Turkish leader would not release an imprisoned American evangelical pastor, Andrew Brunson, accused of ‘aiding terrorism’ in the 2016 coup that attempted to overthrow Erdogan. Brunson was eventually released in October 2018.

Despite the lack of advance notice for many of Erdogan’s calls, full sets of contemporaneous notes from designated notetakers at the White House exist, as well as rough voice-generated computer texts of the conversations, the sources said.

According to one high-level source, there are also existing summaries and conversation-readouts of the President’s discussions with Erdogan that might reinforce Bolton’s allegations against Trump in the so-called “Halkbank case,” involving a major Turkish bank with suspected ties to Erdogan and his family. That source said the matter was raised in more than one telephone conversation between Erdogan and Trump.

Bolton wrote in his book that in December 2018, at Erdogan’s urging, Trump offered to interfere in an investigation by then-US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman into the Turkish bank, which was accused of violating US sanctions on Iran.

“Trump then told Erdogan he would take care of things, explaining that the Southern District prosecutors were not his people, but were Obama people, a problem that would be fixed when they were replaced by his people,” Bolton wrote. Berman’s office eventually brought an indictment against the bank in October 2019 for fraud, money laundering and other offenses related to participation in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade the US sanctions on Iran. On June 20, Trump fired Berman — whose office is also investigating Rudy Giuliani, the President’s personal lawyer — after the prosecutor refused to resign at Attorney General William Barr’s direction.

Unlike Bolton, CNN’s sources did not assert or suggest specifically that Trump’s calls with Erdogan might have been grounds for impeachment because of possible evidence of unlawful conduct by the President. Rather, they characterized Trump’s calls with heads of state in the aggregate as evidence of Trump’s general “unfitness” for the presidency on grounds of temperament and incompetence, an assertion Bolton made as well in an interview to promote his book with ABC News last week: “I don’t think he’s fit for office. I don’t think he has the competence to carry out the job,” Bolton said.

Family feedback and grievances fuel Trump’s approach

CNN spoke to sources familiar with the President’s phone calls repeatedly over a four-month period. In their interviews, the sources took great care not to disclose specific national security information and classified details — but rather described the broad contents of many of the calls, and the overall tenor and methodology of Trump’s approach to his telephone discussions with foreign leaders.

In addition to rough, voice-generated software transcription, almost all of Trump’s telephone conversations with Putin, Erdogan and leaders of the western alliance were supplemented and documented by extensive contemporaneous note-taking (and, often, summaries) prepared by Fiona Hill, deputy assistant to the President and senior NSC director for Europe and Russia until her resignation last year. Hill listened to most of the President’s calls with Putin, Erdogan and the European leaders, according to her closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last November.

Breaking down Bolton's account of a White House in turmoil

Elements of that testimony by Hill, if re-examined by Congressional investigators, might provide a detailed road-map of the President’s extensively-documented conversations, the sources said. White House and intelligence officials familiar with the voice-generated transcriptions and underlying documents agreed that their contents could be devastating to the President’s standing with members of the Congress of both parties — and the public — if revealed in great detail. (There is little doubt that Trump would invoke executive privilege to keep the conversations private. However, some former officials with detailed knowledge of many of the conversations might be willing to testify about them, sources said.)

In one of the earliest calls between Putin and Trump, the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were in the room to listen — joining McMaster, Tillerson, Hill, and a State Department aide to Tillerson.

“The call was all over the place,” said an NSC deputy who read a detailed summary of the conversation — with Putin speaking substantively and at length, and Trump propping himself up in short autobiographical bursts of bragging, self-congratulation and flattery toward Putin. As described to CNN, Kushner and Ivanka Trump were immediately effusive in their praise of how Trump had handled the call — while Tillerson (who knew Putin well from his years in Russia as an oil executive), Hill and McMaster were skeptical.

Hill — author of a definitive biography of Putin — started to explain some of the nuances she perceived from the call, according to CNN’s sources — offering insight into Putin’s psychology, his typical “smooth-talking” and linear approach and what the Russian leader was trying to achieve in the call. Hill was cut off by Trump, and the President continued discussing the call with Jared and Ivanka, making clear he wanted to hear the congratulatory evaluation of his daughter and her husband, rather than how Hill, Tillerson or McMaster judged the conversation.

McMaster viewed that early phone call with Putin as indicative of the conduct of the whole relationship between Russia and the Trump administration, according to the sources — a conclusion subsequent national security advisers and chiefs of staff, and numerous high-ranking intelligence officials also reached: unlike in previous administrations, there were relatively few meaningful dealings between military and diplomatic professionals, even at the highest levels, because Trump — distrustful of the experts and dismissive of their attempts to brief him — conducted the relationship largely ad hoc with Putin and almost totally by himself. Ultimately, Putin and the Russians learned that “nobody has the authority to do anything” — and the Russian leader used that insight to his advantage, as one of CNN’s sources said.

The Kushners were also present for other important calls with foreign leaders and made their primacy apparent, encouraged by the President even on matters of foreign policy in which his daughter and her husband had no experience. Almost never, according to CNN’s sources, would Trump read the briefing materials prepared for him by the CIA and NSC staff in advance of his calls with heads of state.

“He won’t consult them, he won’t even get their wisdom,” said one of the sources, who cited Saudi Arabia’s bin Salman as near the top of a list of leaders whom Trump “picks up and calls without anybody being prepared,” a scenario that frequently confronted NSC and intelligence aides. The source added that the aides’ helpless reaction “would frequently be, ‘Oh my God, don’t make that phone call.'”

“Trump’s view is that he is a better judge of character than anyone else,” said one of CNN’s sources. The President consistently rejected advice from US defense, intelligence and national security principals that the Russian president be approached more firmly and with less trust. CNN’s sources pointed to the most notable public example as “emblematic”: Trump, standing next to the Russian President at their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, in June 2018, and saying he “didn’t see any reason why” Russia would have interfered in the 2016 presidential election — despite the findings of the entire US intelligence community that Moscow had. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said.

The common, overwhelming dynamic that characterizes Trump’s conversations with both authoritarian dictators and leaders of the world’s greatest democracies is his consistent assertion of himself as the defining subject and subtext of the calls — almost never the United States and its historic place and leadership in the world, according to sources intimately familiar with the calls.

In numerous calls with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany, Australia and Canada — America’s closest allies of the past 75 years, the whole postwar era — Trump typically established a grievance almost as a default or leitmotif of the conversation, whatever the supposed agenda, according to those sources.

“Everything was always personalized, with everybody doing terrible things to rip us off — which meant ripping ‘me’ — Trump — off. He couldn’t — or wouldn’t — see or focus on the larger picture,” said one US official.

The source cited a conspicuously demonstrable instance in which Trump resisted asking Angela Merkel (at the UK’s urging) to publicly hold Russia accountable for the so-called ‘Salisbury’ radioactive poisonings of a former Russian spy and his daughter, in which Putin had denied any Russian involvement despite voluminous evidence to the contrary. “It took a lot of effort” to get Trump to bring up the subject, said one source. Instead of addressing Russia’s responsibility for the poisonings and holding it to international account, Trump made the focus of the call — in personally demeaning terms — Germany’s and Merkel’s supposedly deadbeat approach to allied burden-sharing. Eventually, said the sources, as urged by his NSC staff, Trump at last addressed the matter of the poisonings, almost grudgingly.

“With almost every problem, all it takes [in his phone calls] is someone asking him to do something as President on behalf of the United States and he doesn’t see it that way; he goes to being ripped off; he’s not interested in cooperative issues or working on them together; instead he’s deflecting things or pushing real issues off into a corner,” said a US official.

“There was no sense of ‘Team America’ in the conversations,” or of the United States as an historic force with certain democratic principles and leadership of the free world, said the official. “The opposite. It was like the United States had disappeared. It was always ‘Just me’.”

CNN’s Nicole Gaouette contributed to this report.

Posted on

White House briefs Republicans on Russian bounties

The White House’s decision to bring in only Republican son Monday followed demands from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer for briefings for all members of Congress, pointing to those news reports and conflicting statements by President Donald Trump on the matter. That left Democrats decrying an effort to manipulate intelligence for Trump’s benefit.

“It’s hard to say the Trump Administration isn’t politicizing the military when only members of their party get invited to the briefing,” tweeted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

The issue of partisan intelligence briefings flared in January, when Trump acknowledged that Republicans had received advanced notifications about his order to strike Iranian general Qasem Soleimani without notifying Democrats, a break from the typical bipartisan intelligence sharing that has occurred on military matters.

It’s unclear if any lawmakers had previously been briefed on intelligence related to the Russian bounties. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) declined to comment on the recent reports but said, “the targeting of our troops by foreign adversaries via proxies is a well established threat.”

The New York Times reported over the weekend on the intelligence assessment, which indicated that senior White House and intelligence officials knew about the bounty allegations since at least March but took no action. The Times reported that Trump was briefed on the matter and that it was included in his Presidential Daily Brief, but Trump denied ever learning of the intelligence and late Sunday said his leaders in the intelligence community told him it wasn’t credible.

“The questions that arise are: was the President briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed. Congress and the country need answers now,” Pelosi wrote in her letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel. “I therefore request an interagency brief for all House Members immediately. Congress needs to know what the intelligence community knows about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable.”

During a CNN interview, Pelosi said it was “clear that the intelligence is real.”

“The question is whether the president was briefed. If he was not briefed, why would he not be briefed?” she said, “Were they afraid to approach him on the subject of Russia? And were they concerned that if they did tell him, that he would tell [Russian President Vladimir] Putin?”

Since the news reports emerged, Democrats and some Republicans have been demanding details from the administration. Early Monday, congressional aides indicated no briefing had been set up for the House intelligence, armed services or foreign affairs committee. It’s unclear if the Gang of Eight — the leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the intelligence committee — will be briefed, but as of Monday morning there was no meeting scheduled, per a congressional source.

Democrats have long accused Trump of being soft on Russia and its president Vladimir Putin, despite the country’s well-documented attempts to interfere in U.S. elections, its aggression in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, and its support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s brutal civil war. Those allegations were inflamed anew earlier this month with the publication of a memoir by former Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who accused the president of cozying up to autocrats, including Putin, for political gain.

The new allegations — which the New York Times and Washington Post reported may have led to the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan — have once again brought Trump’s relationship with Russia under scrutiny.

Senior House Democrats were furious with the reports, which first surfaced Saturday. Pelosi told ABC ‘s ‘This Week” on Sunday: “This is as bad as it gets.”

“If reports are true that Russia offered a bounty on U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Trump wasn’t briefed, that’s a problem,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tweeted Sunday. “What will it take to get Trump to abandon the fiction that Putin is our friend?”

Some Republicans, too, have vowed to investigate the reports. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close confidant of Trump who spent part of the weekend golfing with the president, called it “imperative” that Congress learn the details.

“I expect the Trump Administration to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports,” Graham tweeted.

Trump retweeted Graham’s comment late Sunday to downplay the new reports.

“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” Trump said. “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”

Democrats, however, hammered the president over the bounties.

“It’s sickening that American soldiers have been killed as a result of Russian bounties on their heads, and the Commander in Chief didn’t do a thing to stop it,” said Max Rose (D-N.Y.), a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this story.

Posted on

Coronavirus News: Live Global Tracker

43 percent of U.S. virus deaths are tied to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

At least 54,000 residents and employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities have died from the coronavirus, according to a New York Times database, accounting for 43 percent of virus-related deaths in the United States.

Relying on reports from states, counties and individual facilities, as well as some data from the federal government, The Times has tracked 282,000 known coronavirus cases at some 12,000 facilities.

Most of the country’s largest clusters have emerged in nursing homes, prisons and food processing facilities — all places where social distancing is difficult or impossible, and where shutting down because of the pandemic was not an option. While many of the prison and food processing clusters involved more total cases, the country’s deadliest outbreaks have been largely in nursing homes, where older residents with underlying health problems are uniquely vulnerable to the virus.

In nursing homes with large outbreaks, The Times found that about 17 percent of people with the virus died, compared to about five percent of all known coronavirus patients. In Minnesota, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, more than three-quarters of all coronavirus deaths have been tied to long-term care facilities. At least six nursing homes, all in the Northeast, have reported 70 or more coronavirus deaths.

A searchable list of all nursing homes known to have had at least 50 coronavirus cases is available here.

Vice President Mike Pence made a point of wearing a face mask during public events over the weekend as he and top public health officials said face coverings were critical to reversing recent spikes in coronavirus cases.

His actions stood in stark contrast to those of President Trump, who has steadfastly refused to wear a mask as a way of modeling behavior for the public — even as the nation’s top doctors have said they increasingly believe doing so is a critical step in containing the spread of the virus.

In a speech at a Dallas church on Sunday and later at a briefing with the governor of Texas, cameras captured Mr. Pence wearing a black mask as he walked up to the lectern, taking it off only moments before he began speaking.

A few hours later, he wore the same mask as he walked into the briefing room with Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, who also wore a mask. Both men kept the masks on — with the cameras rolling — until the briefing began.

One of the central messages of the briefing — from Mr. Pence, Mr. Abbott and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force — was to encourage everyone in Texas and other states with a high number of new cases to wear masks to stop the disease from accelerating.

“If your local officials, in consultation with the state, are directing you to wear a mask, we encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas. And where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea,” Mr. Pence said. “And it will, we know, from experience, will slow the spread of the coronavirus.”

The vice president, who was tapped to be the point person on the White House coronavirus task force in February, has worn face masks in public in the past. He wore one in early May at an Indiana manufacturing plant after being criticized for failing to wear one during a tour of the Mayo Clinic.

And on Friday, during a high-profile briefing of the task force, he took his mask off as he was walking up the stage and did not follow the lead of the others on the stage, who put their masks back on when they were not speaking at the lectern.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York called on President Trump on Monday to sign an executive order directing everyone to wear a mask. “We know it works, we’ve proven that it works in the state of New York,” he said.

Gilead will charge up to $3,120 per treatment course of remdesivir, which has shown modest benefits in some patients.

After weeks of donating the antiviral drug remdesivir to hospitals with severely ill patients, the drug’s maker, Gilead Sciences, announced today that it has settled on a price — $390 per vial, which works out to $2,340 per treatment course.

Gilead also said it would charge more to private insurers in the United States: $520 per vial, or $3,120 for a treatment course. Uninsured patients also would be charged that price.

Until recently, remdesivir was the only drug shown to help severely ill Covid-19 patients, but the benefits were modest, and the drug did not improve survival in those patients.

The company said this price, which it will charge in all developed nations, is far below the drug’s value. A large federal study found that remdesivir shortened recovery time in severely ill patients by four days on average. Four days in the hospital would cost about $12,000 per patient, Gilead’s chief executive, Daniel O’Day, said in a statement on Monday.

The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, a nonprofit group that calculates fair prices for drugs, estimated that Gilead would need to charge $1,600 per regimen to recoup its costs, but that as much as $5,080 per treatment course would be still be cost-effective, given that patients would be able to leave the hospital sooner.

Critics have long accused Gilead of overcharging for groundbreaking drugs, including Harvoni, a hepatitis C treatment that lists for as much as $100,000. In a statement on Monday, I.C.E.R. warned, “Gilead has the power to price remdesivir at will in the U.S., and no governmental or private insurer could even entertain the idea of walking away from the negotiating table.”

But since many Wall Street analysts were expecting the drug to cost about $5,000 for a course of treatment, the lower price “can be viewed as a responsible decision from Gilead,” I.C.E.R. added.

The Department of Health and Human Services said on Monday that the Trump administration had struck “an amazing deal” with Gilead. The company would supply 500,000 vials of the drug through September, enough to treat 232,000 patients. Hospitals would pay the wholesale price of $520 per vial.

Gilead’s last shipment of 120,000 treatment courses of donated drug is going out today.

The new supply will be distributed to hospitals based on need. After September, however, H.H.S. will no longer be involved in remdesivir’s distribution.

China imposes a broad lockdown near Beijing to halt a second wave of infections.

The Chinese authorities have imposed a strict lockdown on nearly half a million people in a county near Beijing in the latest effort by the government to stamp out a small but stubborn second wave of infections in and around the capital.

Authorities in Anxin County, about 90 miles south of Beijing in the central province of Hebei, announced on Saturday that all residential areas would be sealed off immediately. In restrictions reminiscent of those that were imposed earlier this year in Wuhan, the city where the virus first emerged, only one member from each family is allowed to leave the compound to buy essential items like food or medicine, officials said.

Sealing off the county was a necessary preventive measure following the discovery of a cluster of 13 infections in the area, officials said. State media said that most of the cases in Anxin have been traced back to the Xinfadi wholesale market in Beijing, which is thought to be the source of an outbreak that has infected more than 300 people in recent weeks.

The fresh wave of infections has been a wake-up call for China, which had earlier proclaimed victory over the virus. Before the recent outbreak, Beijing had not registered any new locally acquired cases for 56 days. Not long after the flare-up, schools in Beijing were shut down and high-risk neighborhoods sealed off, and officials embarked on an ambitious testing drive. State media reported that as of Sunday, more than 7 million people had been tested in the city. On Monday, China reported 12 new cases of the virus, seven of which were in Beijing.

Half a million people are dead as confirmed virus cases top 10 million.

The global total of deaths from the coronavirus has passed 500,000, according to a New York Times database, while the number of confirmed cases surpassed 10 million.

The grim markers were hit on Sunday as countries around the world struggled to keep new infections from reaching runaway levels while simultaneously trying to emerge from painful lockdowns.

In April, roughly a month after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, deaths topped 100,000. In early May, the figure climbed to 250,000.

More than a quarter of all known deaths have been in the United States.

The number of confirmed infections — which took about 40 days to double — may be substantially underestimated, public health officials say. Data released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the actual figures in many regions are probably 10 times as high as reported.

The Times has also found that the actual death toll in the United States and more than two dozen other countries is higher than has been officially reported. Limited testing availability has often made it difficult to confirm that the virus was the cause of death.

In the United States, early hot spots emerged in the Northeast, particularly the New York metropolitan area, but the recent surge has occurred primarily in the South and the West, forcing some states to retreat from reopening plans.

Other countries, particularly Brazil and India, are also being hit with a large wave of new infections.

And while dozens of countries that took early steps to contain and track the pandemic have been able to control the virus within their borders, experts fear that fatigue with lockdowns and social distancing has allowed the virus to spread with renewed intensity.

At a Houston hospital bracing for a virus peak, new patients are often young.

Coronavirus cases are rising quickly in Houston, as they are in other hot spots across the South and the West. Harris County, which includes most of Houston and is one of the largest counties in the nation, has been averaging more than 1,100 new cases each day, among the most of any American county. Just two weeks ago, Harris County was averaging about 313 new cases daily.

Measures to cope with the surge and to plan for its peak were evident over the weekend at Houston Methodist Hospital, which called nurses to work extra shifts, brought new laboratory instruments on line to test thousands more samples a day and placed extra hospital beds in an empty unit about to be reopened as patients filled new coronavirus wards.

Melissa Estrada was among those being treated. She said she had tried to be careful about the virus, keeping her three children at home and always wearing a mask at the grocery store.

But over the weekend Ms. Estrada, 37, was fighting the virus at the hospital. She probably contracted the virus while attending a dinner with relatives who had also been cautious, she said. Within days, all four adults and several children who had been at the gathering tested positive.

“It was really, really scary,” Ms. Estrada said of her illness. She worried constantly about leaving her children motherless. “You hear about it and you think it’s the older people or the people with underlying issues,” she said. “And I’m healthy. I don’t understand how I got this bad.”

During the virus’s first peak in April, the majority of patients testing positive in the Methodist hospital system were older than 50. Now the majority are, like Ms. Estrada, relatively young.

“What I’m seeing is that they’re pretty sick — the younger ones are pretty sick,” said Tritico Saranathan, a charge nurse on one of Methodist’s virus wards. “They’re struggling a lot with respiratory issues. They’re having a hard time breathing,” she added, “just feeling like death.”

As new coronavirus cases surge in Florida, the city of Jacksonville said on Monday that face masks will now be required in any indoor public place where social distancing is not possible. The city is scheduled to host the Republican National Convention in August.

Jacksonville is one of several cities and counties across the state that are moving to reimpose restrictions and closings in response to the surge, which has followed the reopening of beaches, bars, restaurants and other social activities. South Florida counties said they would close their beaches for the Fourth of July holiday weekend, and on Friday, state officials ordered bars to stop selling alcohol for on-premises consumption.

The mask requirement is a reversal of course for Jacksonville, where the Republican mayor, Lenny Curry, had previously resisted issuing such a mandate. He was not at the news conference where it was announced on Monday; a spokeswoman said he had a prior family obligation.

Over the weekend, Florida crushed its previous daily record for new cases, reporting 9,585 infections on Saturday. An additional 8,530 were reported on Sunday, and over 5,200 more on Monday. All told, the state has now had more than 146,000 confirmed cases, and six-hour lines formed in Jacksonville over the weekend as thousands of people flocked to get drive-through tests.

On Monday, the Republican National Committee said it was “committed to holding a safe convention that fully complies with local health regulations in place at the time.”

Elsewhere around the United States:

  • Even Hawaii, which has the fewest deaths linked to the virus and gained a reputation for imposing some of the toughest restrictions for visitors, is seeing a resurgence of infections. On the state’s most populous island, Oahu, an uptick in cases was reported on Sunday by the Honolulu mayor, Kirk Caldwell, who called the spike alarming but said the infections were detected quickly and that the people who tested positive were isolated.

  • Officials in Montana announced more than 50 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, a single-day record. Montana and Hawaii are the only states with fewer than 1,000 known cases of the virus.

  • Black people account for more than 22 percent of the virus cases in Maine, but make up 1.6 percent of the state’s population, Sara Gideon, the speaker of the state House, said in a video posted on Twitter. Ms. Gideon, a Democrat who is running for the U.S. Senate against the Republican incumbent Susan Collins, said it was a reminder of the structural inequities and institutional racism in the health care system.

  • A Pennsylvania company that sold bottles of hand sanitizer at an extreme markup on Amazon must refund customers nearly $14,000 and pay a $1,900 fine as part of a price gouging action, the state attorney general said. The retailer, Goods And More Inc., which is based in Scranton, charged as much as $109.99 for 24-packs of two-ounce bottles of sanitizer and as much as $39.00 for 12-ounce bottles of Purell, Josh Shapiro, the state attorney general said.

Two friends in Texas were tested for the virus. One bill was $199. The other? $6,408.

Throughout the pandemic, the cost of coronavirus testing across the United States has varied greatly, often by location. In one extreme case, two Texans who were recently administered the same test at the same Austin drive-through location saw a more than $6,000 between their bills.

With the virus raging in the state, they wanted to get screened ahead of a camping trip with friends even though they were not experiencing symptoms. The two friends, Jimmy Harvey and Pam LeBlanc, both tested negative.

Mr. Harvey paid $199 out of pocket for his test, and Ms. LeBlanc, who went through her insurance, was charged $6,408. Ms. LeBlanc was able to negotiate that cost down to $1,128, $928 of which she had to pay. (Ultimately, the insurance company dropped all charges).

Researchers say these discrepancies exist because the U.S. government does not regulate health care costs.

Another person tested at the Austin site was told he was only getting a coronavirus test, but when he saw the explanation of costs on his $5,649 bill, it listed tests for other contagious conditions including Legionnaires’ disease, herpes and enterovirus.

The New Jersey-based Genesis Laboratory processed the samples from the Austin location. Another Dallas-based medical laboratory, Gibson Diagnostic Labs, has run some of the most expensive coronavirus tests in America, in one case charging insurers $6,946 for one test.

For the last decade, Africa’s middle class has been pivotal to the educational, political and economic development across the continent. New business owners and entrepreneurs have created jobs that, in turn, gave others a leg up as well.

Educated, tech-savvy families and young people with money to spare have fed the demand for consumer goods, called for democratic reforms, expanded the talent pool at all levels of society, and pushed for high-quality schools and health care.

About 170 million out of Africa’s 1.3 billion people are now classified as middle class. But about eight million of them could be thrust into poverty because of the coronavirus and its economic fallout, according to World Data Lab, a research organization.

“We have been working hard to build better lives,” James Gichina, a tour van driver, said of his colleagues in the tourist sector. Now, he said, “We have nothing.”

Other world news:

  • A coronavirus vaccine candidate has received approval from the Chinese government for use by the country’s military, its maker said on Monday. CanSino Biologics, a pharmaceutical company based in Tianjin, says it has seen promising results in early trials.

  • Britain is set to lift restrictions on pubs, restaurants, hotels, barbershops and salons and other venues on Saturday, but the city of Leicester, in central England, might not be included after a regional outbreak of the virus, the city’s mayor said.

Voters in Texas began casting ballots in person on Monday, the opening day of early voting in the state’s July 14 primary runoff, amid an alarming surge in new coronavirus cases.

Primary runoffs in the state are usually a low-interest affair, with turnout below 10 percent. But with Texas now one of the hottest pandemic hot spots in the U.S. hotspots, this runoff poses special problems.

All the state’s major metropolitan areas have set fresh records for new infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks, prompting Gov. Greg Abbott to abruptly roll back his economic reopening plan last week, ordering bars to close and restaurants to cut back how many patrons they seat.

Familiar pandemic precautions are expected to be in use at polling places across the state. Election administrators and voters will be expected to wear face masks and maintain at least six feet of distance.

The voting will decide more than 30 Democratic and Republican nominating contests for the November general election, including races for Congress, seats in the state legislature and various state and county offices. Top of the list statewide is the choice of a Democratic challenger to run against Senator John Cornyn, the Republican incumbent.

The runoff had originally been scheduled for May 26, but Mr. Abbott postponed it to July 14 to give election officials more time to prepare and the coronavirus more time to taper off. Instead, the pandemic has sharply worsened. Early voting continues until July 10.

Texas law limits mail-in balloting to people who are away from home and unable to vote in person, or who are 65 or older. Texas Democrats, citing the dangers caused by the coronavirus, waged an unsuccessful legal effort to allow all voters to cast mail-in ballots in the runoff; they are still trying to do so for the November election.

Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said concerns about the virus will undoubtedly have an impact on voting. “It can’t help but suppress the early in-person vote, at least marginally.”

CULTURE AND SPORTS ROUNDUP

Broadway will stay dark for the rest of the year.

Broadway will remain closed for at least the rest of this year, and many shows are signaling that they do not expect a return to the stage until late winter or early spring.

The Broadway League said Monday that theater owners and producers are ready to refund or exchange tickets previously purchased for shows through Jan. 3. But, given the unpredictability of the pandemic, the League said it was not yet ready to specify a date when shows will reopen.

Broadway shows went dark on March 12, and already this has been the longest shutdown in history. Thus far three shows, the Disney musical “Frozen,” a new Martin McDonagh play called “Hangmen,” and a revival of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” both of which were in previews, have announced that they will not resume performances when Broadway reopens.

Several producers have indicated that they are looking several months into 2021 for a resumption of their productions.

“Birthday Candles,” a new play by Noah Haidle that had been scheduled to open this spring, will not open until the fall of next year.

In other sports and culture news:

  • Cirque du Soleil announced that it had filed for bankruptcy protection in Canada and would seek to do the same in the United States. With productions shuttered, the famed circus said that it had lost its entire revenue stream. The company, which this year temporarily laid off 5,000 employees, nearly 95 percent of its work force, said that it had entered into a “stalking horse” purchase agreement for existing shareholders to restart the business.

  • Brazilian soccer players are openly objecting to their return to play. Botafogo, one of the top teams, came out to its first game back carrying a banner protesting the game, and its players laid out their objections on social media. The chairman of another top team has also expressed his reservations.

Stocks rallied Monday, rebounding from a week of losses, even as a resurgence in coronavirus cases that had alarmed Wall Street last week continued to grow.

The S&P 500 rose more than 1 percent, after having fallen nearly 3 percent last week. A jump in shares of Boeing helped lead the Dow Jones industrial average to a gain of nearly 2 percent. Shares in Europe had also ended higher, after rebounding from a decline earlier in the day.

Companies that have come to reflect investor sentiment toward the return of normal spending by American consumers — retailers and airlines — were among the best performing stocks in the S&P 500. Southwest Airlines rose nearly 9 percent, and Simon Property Group, which operates shopping malls, jumped more than 8 percent.

And oil prices rose, with West Texas intermediate futures approaching the $40 a barrel mark.

Top Democratic leaders renewed calls for negotiations to begin on another pandemic relief package, as coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket across the country and a number of existing relief measures, including a $600 expanded unemployment benefit, near expiration without congressional action.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, slammed Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, for his unwillingness to begin another round of talks, writing in a letter to Mr. McConnell that “now is the time for action, not continued delays and political posturing.”

“As Americans struggle to make rent payments and face evictions and as our health care and child care systems face unprecedented burdens, Senate Republicans have been missing in action at your direction,” the two leaders wrote. “We have overcome larger problems than the Covid-19 pandemic but not without powerful and effective actions by our government.”

Though there is widespread acknowledgment on Capitol Hill that another relief package is needed, Mr. McConnell and top Senate Republicans have pushed to delay any negotiations or legislation until after the chamber returns from a two-week July 4 recess. House Democrats in May already approved what amounts to their opening offer: a sweeping $3 trillion stimulus package that builds on previous legislation.

Republicans, however, have repeatedly stressed that Congress should wait to see the impact and implementation of the $2.2 trillion stimulus package that became law in March, before doling out another round of taxpayer aid. Even as several economists have pleaded with Congress to continuing spending and maintain the unemployment extension, the Republican conference remains divided over how to balance the economic need for relief with calls to cut down more spending.

Does remote work have a bright future? A decade of setbacks suggests otherwise.

Three months after the pandemic shut down offices, corporate America has concluded that working from home is working out. Many employees will be tethered to Zoom and Slack for the rest of their careers, their commute accomplished in seconds.

Richard Laermer has some advice for all the companies rushing pell-mell into this remote future: Don’t be an idiot.

A few years ago, Mr. Laermer let the employees of RLM Public Relations work from home on Fridays. This small step toward telecommuting proved a disaster, he said. He often couldn’t find people when he needed them. Projects languished.

“Every weekend became a three-day holiday,” he said. “I found that people work so much better when they’re all in the same physical space.”

IBM came to a similar decision. In 2009, 40 percent of its 386,000 employees in 173 countries worked remotely. But in 2017, with revenue slumping, management called thousands of them back to the office.

Even as Facebook, Shopify, Zillow, Twitter and many other companies are developing plans to let employees work remotely forever, the experiences of Mr. Laermer and IBM are a reminder that the history of telecommuting has been strewn with failure.

Apart from IBM, companies that publicly pulled back on telecommuting over the past decade include Aetna, Best Buy, Bank of America, Yahoo, AT&T and Reddit. Remote employees often felt marginalized, which made them less loyal. And creativity, innovation and serendipity seemed to suffer.

How to safely return to your exercise routine

Now that stay-at-home restrictions are easing, some are heading to the nearest reopened park or playground for exercise. Here’s how to do so safely.

Reporting was contributed by Ian Austen, Pam Belluck, Emily Cochrane, Abdi Latif Dahir, Sheri Fink, David Leonhardt, Gina Kolata, Iliana Magra, Patricia Mazzei, Dave Montgomery, Christina Morales, Michael Paulson, Daniel Politi, Amy Qin, Austin Ramzy, Frances Robles, Mitch Smith, David Streitfeld, Neil Vigdor, Mihir Zaveri and Karen Zraick.

Posted on

Supreme Court clears way for federal executions to resume

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for the Trump administration to resume federal executions for the first time in 17 years.

The justices denied a challenge from four convicted murderers who argued that federal executions must adhere to the specific protocols used by the states where each man  was sentenced, including the method of execution. Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have heard the challenge.

Attorney General William Barr announced last year that the federal government would conduct its first executions since 2003 using the single drug pentobarbital. The drug is used in many but not all states.

Federal District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that the executions would conflict with provisions of a 1994 federal law, under which the federal government is supposed to follow protocols used by the states in which the prisoners were sentenced. That ruling was upheld by a three-judge federal appeals court panel.

Fourteen states led by Arizona had sided with the Justice Department, telling the high court that pentobarbital “is a fast-acting barbiturate that can reliably induce and maintain a coma-like state that renders a person insensate to pain.”

The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the executions in December but said it expected the challenge would be handled by the appeals court “with appropriate dispatch.”

Three conservative associate justices – Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – indicated at the time that they expected the Trump administration to prevail within 60 days, and the executions could go forward. 

Attorney General William Barr is sworn in before giving his opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee hearing about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and his handling of the investigation.

A three-judge appeals court panel including two of President Donald Trump’s nominees allowed the executions to proceed, prompting the latest Supreme Court petition. Barr then directed the federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule four executions, including for three of the inmates involved in the ongoing litigation. They are slated for July 13-17 at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The four inmates seeking the court’s intercession were unanimously convicted more than 15 years ago of crimes including murder, torture and rape. Children were among the murder victims in each case.

Only three men have been executed by the government since the federal death penalty was restored in 1988. The first was Timothy McVeigh, executed in 2001 for the 1995 bombing of an Oklahoma City federal building in which 168 people died.

Among the 62 federal death row prisoners are Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and Dylann Roof, who killed nine people inside a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015.

Overall, more than 1,500 prisoners have been executed since the 1970s, nearly 40% of them in Texas. But the number of executions in the states has declined steadily for the past two decades and now averages fewer than 25 a year. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Federal death penalty: Supreme Court allows executions to resume

Posted on

Joseph James DeAngelo admits he’s the Golden State Killer, pleads guilty to murders, rapes

Forty-five years after committing his first murder, Joseph James DeAngelo admitted Monday he was the Golden State Killer, serial killer and rapist and author of one of the worst crime sprees in California history.

Looking frail and speaking in a halting voice, the disgraced former policeman entered a string of guilty pleas in a Sacramento State ballroom that was converted into a courtroom for the day.

DeAngelo, 74, admitted to a 12-year binge of murder and sexual assaults from the Sacramento area to Orange County that captivated the world’s attention and spawned a multitude of nicknames for the former police officer: Golden State Killer, East Area Rapist, Visalia Ransacker, Original Night Stalker and more.

DeAngelo, who has been confined to the Sacramento County Jail since his arrest in April 2018 at his home in Citrus Heights, arrived at the makeshift courtroom at the University Union about 20 minutes before the hearing began. He was trucked to the campus’ University Union in a burgundy van that was backed up to a loading dock.

Wearing a jailhouse orange jumpsuit, and a face shield to guard against the spread of the coronavirus, DeAngelo agreed to plead guilty to a total of 13 counts of murder and 13 counts of kidnap for robbery, starting with the Nov. 11, 1975, shooting death of college professor Claude Snelling in Visalia in 1975. He also was scheduled to admit to 62 rapes and other crimes for which he wasn’t formally charged.

He admitted to Snelling’s death, and the other crimes, with a simple but feeble, “Guilty.” When the uncharged counts were read aloud, he said, “I admit.”

Prosecutors from around the state read aloud the excruciating and sometimes bizarre circumstances of each case, including DeAngelo’s rummaging through the refrigerator of a Santa Barbara County couple he he had just killed in December 1979, Debra Manning and Robert Offerman.

Under a plea bargain deal reached two weeks ago, DeAngelo is expected to be sentenced in August to life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors agreed to forego seeking the death penalty in order to save the cost of taking DeAngelo to trial in what would have been one of the largest and costliest prosecutions in California history. Given DeAngelo’s advanced age, the advances ages of witnesses and investigators, and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s imposition of a moratorium on executions, prosecutors decided it was time to accept a plea deal and not conduct a death penalty trial.

“The familiy members of murder victims have waited decades for justice,” said Amy Holliday, Sacramento County’s assistant chief deputy district attorney. “The time for justice stands in front of us now.”

More than 150 people attended, including DeAngelo’s victims and relatives of victims, media representatives and prosecutors from all over the state, forcing courtroom officials to seek a large enough venue that could allow for social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the lawyers, family members and others wore masks; boxes of Kleenex were stacked up for victims and next of kin.

The Sacramento State ballroom, which can accommodate up to 2,000 people, was configured for a court hearing, with plastic chairs spaced far apart and a stage set up at one end. Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman sat in the middle of the stage, with DeAngelo and his public defenders at the right and a succession of district attorneys, led by Sacramento’s Anne Marie Schubert, at the left.

In a perverse testament to the statewide sweep of DeAngelo’s crimes, prosecutors from multiple counties read aloud the facts underlying each of the murders, rapes and other charges to which he pleaded guilty, as well as the 62 uncharged counts.

Law enforcement personnel swept the building and the area outside with search dogs at 6 a.m. More than 20 sheriff’s deputies arrived at the ballroom a little more than an hour later, more than two hours before the hearing began.

These are the crimes DeAngelo will plead guilty to in Golden State Killer case

Among those savoring the moment was Margaret Wardlow, who was 13 when she was attacked by the man known as the East Area Rapist at her home on La Riviera Drive, just minutes from Sacramento State.

It was Nov. 10, 1977. Wardlow was DeAngelo’s youngest victim. Now, nearly 43 years later, Wardlow waited to see her attacker and hear his plea.

“He’s going to plead guilty to my crimes as well as others,” she said, relishing a bit of irony. DeAngelo had attended Sacramento State for a time. “He went to university here. I bet he had no idea that this is the way he’d visit his alma mater. Hopefully, this will give some closure.”

Wardlow remembered how the East Area Rapist’s reign of terror gripped – and – changed the Sacramento region. As a 13-year-old living in Sacramento, she followed accounts of the crimes obsessively, preparing in her mind how she would fight back if the time came. It did and she would.

“I was very defiant. I read every single article. I was always reading the newspaper,” she said. “By the time he got to my house, I told him I didn’t care. I don’t think he enjoyed visiting my home.

“All of Sacramento was a victim of that man,” Wardlow said. “Everyone was in a fit of panic. It was a time of sheer terror.”

Among the very few people who gathered outside the building was Todd Jearou, a retired law enforcement chaplain, who as a teenager in the 70s had just moved to a Carmichael neighborhood with his family when the East Area Rapist attacked one of his neighbors.

“He struck seven houses down,” Jearou said. “We believe he was in our front yard for sure.”

Jearou said the fear of the East Area Rapist was a “very huge deal” during his childhood and young adulthood, and completely changed the way his family lives their lives.

“We couldn’t go anywhere by ourselves anymore,” he said. “Everybody knew he was very very violent.”

Jearou said he’s been “hooked” on the case ever since.

Everything about the DeAngelo case has been extraordinary, including his arrest. Schubert, the Sacramento district attorney, made finding a suspect a priority. She spearheaded the use of DNA evidence from old crime scenes, including semen found inside Charlene Smith, a woman he killed in Ventura County in 1980, to create a new investigative technique that plugged that evidence into genealogical websites looking for a match.

Eventually, investigators found a potential relative on a website called GEDmatch.com and began building out a family tree that led them to Citrus Heights. DeAngelo had been living in the suburb for years after being fired from the Auburn Police Department and becoming a truck mechanic.

Thienvu Ho, a Sacramento deputy DA, recalled that DeAngelo was living a vigorous life, racing around town on a motorcycle, as he was being tracked by investigators. But when they arrested him, “he feigned feeble incoherence.”

The case has spawned a best-selling book and a six-part documentary series on HBO that debuted Sunday.

Posted on

Congress Demands Answers From Trump About Afghanistan Bounties : NPR

U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers trained in Afghanistan in 2009. Members of Congress want answers about reported Russian bounties paid to target American troops.

Maya Alleruzzo/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Maya Alleruzzo/AP

U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers trained in Afghanistan in 2009. Members of Congress want answers about reported Russian bounties paid to target American troops.

Maya Alleruzzo/AP

Updated at 12:08 p.m. ET

Members of Congress in both parties demanded answers on Monday about reported bounties paid by Russian operatives to Afghan insurgents for targeting American troops.

The stories appeared to have taken even the most senior lawmakers off guard, and they said they wanted briefings soon from the Defense Department and the intelligence community.

“I think it is absolutely essential that we get the information and be able to judge its credibility,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The story is unfolding along two parallel tracks in Washington, based on two key questions:

First, what actually has taken place — and have any American troops been killed as a result of Russian-sponsored targeted action? And second: Who knew what about the reporting on these allegations that has flowed up from the operational level in Afghanistan?

The White House tried to defend itself over the weekend on both counts, arguing that senior intelligence officials aren’t convinced about the reliability of the reports and that they never reached President Trump or Vice President Pence personally.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who usually receives some of the most sensitive intelligence briefings as a member of the so-called Gang of Eight leaders in Congress, said she too hadn’t been informed and sent a letter Monday requesting a briefing for all members of the House soon.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for a briefing for all members of the Senate.

Pelosi cited reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post that suggested that Trump has been aware of the bounty practice since earlier this year but he and his deputies haven’t acted in response.

“The administration’s disturbing silence and inaction endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners,” she wrote.

Another top House lawmaker demanding more information was Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Republicans’ No. 3 leader in the chamber.

Custody of the information

Although Trump and John Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence, both said the president hasn’t been briefed about the alleged bounty practice, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not address whether aspects of the reporting had been included in written briefings submitted to the president.

Past accounts have suggested that Trump doesn’t read many of his President’s Daily Briefs and prefers to hear from in-person intelligence presenters — but even then, according to the recent book by former national security adviser John Bolton, Trump does more talking than listening.

This has added to questions about practices within the administration for passing intelligence to the president that he might not like or wish to hear about.

For example, former officials have said they learned not to talk with Trump about Russian interference in U.S. elections, about which the president has been critical and skeptical.

Another example included reports that suggested Trump had received warnings about the coronavirus in his daily briefing but hadn’t absorbed them; the White House has detailed two specific briefings Trump received about the virus early this year.

Richard Grenell, the former acting director of national intelligence who temporarily held the post before Ratcliffe’s confirmation, said on Twitter that he wasn’t aware of any reporting about the alleged bounty practices.

Tension with intelligence services

The game of who knew what when is an old one in Washington but which is further complicated now by Trump’s longstanding antipathy with the intelligence community.

The president has feuded with his aides and advisers over their assessments about Russia and other issues such as North Korea’s nuclear program.

There have been reports for years about Russian paramilitary or intelligence activity in Afghanistan with implications for American forces. A top general said Russian operatives were helping the Taliban with weapons or supplies. Former Defense Secretary James Mattis also said he worried about it.

The full picture never emerged, but as the situation on the ground in Afghanistan evolved, so did the practices in Washington to ingest, process and brief intelligence in a capital that has endured a number of tense episodes involving the spy agencies.

It isn’t yet clear what practices the intelligence agencies may have adopted to process intelligence like that connected to the alleged bounty program and whether they were continuing to evaluate it or different agencies might have reached different conclusions, as sometimes happens.

In other words, did the Defense Intelligence Agency or one of the military services find evidence about the bounty practice in Afghanistan, but there hasn’t yet been confirmation about the intentions of Moscow from the eavesdropping National Security Agency or human spy-operating CIA?

The involvement of overseas allies also might complicate the processing and reporting. Britain’s Sky News reported that British military forces also may have been targeted in exchange for bounties paid by Russian forces and that members of Parliament want clarity from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

What was clear Monday is that members of Congress want to resolve these questions fast. The House Armed Services Committee’s Thornberry said that the safety of American and allied troops could depend on it.

“When you’re dealing with the lives of our service members, especially in Afghanistan — especially these allegations that there were bounties put on Americans deaths, then it is incredibly serious,” he said. “We in Congress need to see the information and the sources to judge that ourselves, and it needs to happen early this week. You know, it will not be acceptable to delay.”

NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales contributed to this report.

Posted on

Supreme Court clears Trump administration plan to resume federal executions

In December, the Supreme Court issued a surprise ruling halting the executions so that the prisoners could pursue their legal arguments in a federal appeals court. Three justices — Samuel Alito Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh —signaled that they went along with the delay reluctantly, and that they considered the arguments being leveled by the inmates to be weak.

In April, the D.C. Circuit issued a splintered ruling that overturned a lower court’s decision granting an injunction against the plan to resume lethal injections for federal inmates.

The two Republican appointees on the appeals panel agreed that the district court’s ruling was flawed, although they differed about the degree. The sole Democratic appointee said the federal government was obliged by law to follow every aspect of a state’s execution protocol, if it had one, or to turn the execution over to the state to carry out.

Earlier this month, Attorney General William Barr ordered the Bureau of Prisons to set the plan in motion once again.

Three executions have been set for July and one for August, all at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

The case involving the four inmates remains pending in the district court in Washington, where lawyers could pursue other legal arguments to block the executions, but those efforts face long odds.

Posted on

‘Intel’ did not find Russia-Taliban bounty plot report ‘credible’

President Trump said late Sunday night that he had just been briefed by intelligence officials about reports of an alleged Russian plot offering bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers, and “intel” told him they did not assess the intelligence to be “credible.”

“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” Trump tweeted, adding that it was “possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News” New York Times “wanting to make Republicans look bad.”

The New York Times reported on Friday that a U.S intelligence assessment concluded that a Russian spy unit paid Taliban-connected militants in Afghanistan to kill U.S. and other coalition troops, even as the Trump administration sought to reach a peace deal involving the Taliban and the Afghan government. The New York Times further reported Trump was briefed about the bounties during an interagency meeting late in March and that officials developed a list of options to respond, but the outlet’s sources said the administration had yet to authorize any of the actions.

Prior to Trump’s tweet, a senior Trump administration official had told the Washington Examiner on Sunday evening that Trump had not been briefed on the issue because there was a lack of consensus within the intelligence community about the accuracy of the intelligence. National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot told the Washington Examiner on Sunday night that “the veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be evaluated.”

Earlier Sunday, Trump claimed that “nobody briefed or told” him, Vice President Mike Pence, or chief of staff Mark Meadows “about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians” and argued that “nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told ABC she didn’t believe Trump’s denial that he was briefed on the alleged bounty plot. The California Democrat said she believes Russia is holding something over Trump and causing him to “ignore” Russia-related intelligence briefings.

“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score — denies being briefed,” Pelosi said on This Week. “Whether he is or not, his administration knows, and our allies, some of our allies who work with us in Afghanistan have been briefed and accept this report. Just as I have said to the president, with him, all roads lead to Putin.”

John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser who has become a harsh critic of his old boss, pushed back against this line of thinking on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“Do you think that the president is afraid to make Putin mad because maybe Putin did help him win the election — and he doesn’t want to make him mad for 2020?” moderator Chuck Todd asked Bolton.

Bolton replied: “Honestly, I don’t think there’s evidence for that, and I think it’s a mistake on the one hand to say the Russia collusion theory was true which some opponents of Trump still can’t let go of.”

The United Kingdom-based Sky News reported Sunday that “British security officials” told them that the reports about the alleged bounty plot were accurate. And the Washington Post reported on Sunday that the alleged Russian bounties are thought to have resulted in deaths of a number of U.S. service members, citing “several people familiar with the matter” who said the intelligence resulted from recent detainee interrogations.

Two dozen U.S. service members have been killed in combat in Afghanistan since the start of 2019. The U.S. and the Taliban struck a shaky peace agreement in February.

John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, denied reports that Trump had been briefed on the alleged bounty plot, saying on Saturday that “I have confirmed that neither the President nor the Vice President were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times.”

Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the U.S. “receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny” and that “the CIA Director, the National Security Adviser, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”

Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted that it is “imperative Congress get to the bottom” of the bounty reports. Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the chair of the House Republican Conference, also called for answers. “If reporting about Russian bounties on US forces is true, the White House must explain: 1. Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the PDB? 2. Who did know and when? 3. What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?” she said.

Richard Grenell, the former acting director of National Intelligence, said the New York Times story wasn’t true when Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, tweeted at Grenell daring him to confirm whether he did not tell Trump about the alleged plot.

“I never heard this,” Grenell said. “And it’s disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence. You clearly don’t understand how raw intel gets verified. Leaks of partial information to reporters from anonymous sources is dangerous because people like you manipulate it for political gain.”

The Taliban denied accepting such bounties from Russia, and the Russian Embassy in the U.S. called the reporting “fake news.” Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Saturday that Trump’s “entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale.”

The New York Times reported that officials briefed on the matter said the bounty operation was run by Russian military intelligence’s Main Directorate of the General Staff, known as the GRU, and specifically by its Unit 29155. That GRU unit is also believed to be behind the 2018 Novichok nerve agent poisoning of former Russian military officer and British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation named two other GRU units, Unit 26165 and 74455, as being behind Russia’s election interference efforts during the 2016 presidential election.

Posted on

Greenfield: ‘Blitz’ — How Trump Will Smash the Left and Win

As the country seems to be spinning into chaos with cities burning and businesses shutting down, one question is on the minds of the media, the establishment, and the nearly 36 million Americans whose votes made history in the 2016 election.

Can President Donald J. Trump pull off a win one more time — in 2020?

That’s the question of the year that bestselling author David Horowitz tackles in his latest book, “Blitz: Trump Will Smash the Left and Win.” In his previous book, “Big Agenda: President Trump’s Plan to Save America,” Horowitz had laid out the strategy and the stakes for the struggle consuming the last three years. Now, in “Blitz,” he tackles the climactic battles for the next four years — and the future of America.

“Blitz” refers to both the war waged against President Trump by foreign and domestic adversaries, from Communist China to Marxist mobs in the streets, as well as his relentless defense of the Republic.

[Editor’s Note: “BLITZ” is available in bookstores everywhere or check out the Free Offer — Click Here Now.]

This is the year our commander in chief was emergent as a “wartime president,” defending not just the moral integrity of the White House, but its very physical structure against radicals determined to burn it to the ground.

As the threat to this nation has reached unprecedented levels, so has Trump’s defense of it.

From Obamagate to impeachment to leftists bringing fire and fear to within sight of the White House, the material attacks on the Trump presidency have escalated from surveillance to lawfare to violence.

Meanwhile the moral attacks, the character assassinations and 24/7 defamation, have been used to license this unprecedented campaign to bring down our nation’s 45th president by any means.

What the left fears is no secret.

The media has spoken the dreaded word again and again — Populism.

The forces that have run this country into the ground are terrified of a man who fights for the people, instead of implementing the radical agenda of leftist think tanks, activists, and their media mouthpieces.

As Horowitz writes in “Blitz,” “Trump was not only not one of them, he was their worst nightmare — disrespectful toward everything they stood for — politically incorrect.”

The information war waged by the media seeks to convince the public that President Trump is politically incorrect because he’s a bad man.

The truth is that the media sees him as an evil man because he is politically incorrect.

“Blitz” delves into the media’s determination to destroy President Trump by spinning and smearing his efforts to reach out to African-Americans, to heal the wounds of a divided nation, because it feared that a new revolutionary Republican leader might succeed in undermining Democratic racial divisiveness.

“As soon as Trump became the Republican nominee, he showed that his candidacy posed an existential threat to the Democrats’ inner-city monopolies,” Horowitz writes.

As one of the visionaries who had advocated for just this kind of Republican outreach to inner cities, the former leftist understands exactly what is at stake in the struggle for the soul of the inner-city constituencies on the Democratic plantation.

Trump’s unexpected maneuver panicked Democrats who responded by calling Trump a racist. This was not an offense, but a defense against any effort to liberate voters trapped in failed Democratic systems.

“That is the dirty secret that Democrat campaigns and slanders are designed to protect. If Democrats were to lose their control of these cities,” Horowitz notes, “they could not win another election.”

Both in and out of office, Trump expertly zeroes in on the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of his political opponents. He knows the Achilles heels of Democratic Party ruling elites and moves quickly to exploit them. That is the quality that has infuriated and frightened those elites into launching the “resistance.”

As Horowitz sums up in one title in his book, “the impeachable offense is Trump himself.”

Trump’s tactics are not unprecedented. As Horowitz understands better than anyone else, these are the tactics of the left. A refusal to take prisoners, a keen eye for vulnerabilities, and a determination to win at all costs by taking the fight to the enemy have been the qualities that are the hallmarks of the left.

They are what we are seeing on the streets, not just in 2020, but in the generations of national decline.

Leftists have fought ruthlessly and been opposed fecklessly by a Republican opposition that all too often fought only to secure a short-term compromise instead of a long-term victory. President Trump frightened the radicals because, for the first time in a very long time, Republicans were playing their way.

The rush of judicial nominations and executive orders were not unprecedented.

They were how the Obama administration had done business on everything from nuking the filibuster to Obamacare. But the Democrats had assumed that no future Republican occupant of the White House would start playing the game by their rules.

But that is President Trump’s strength. He doesn’t pull his punches either, as Horowitz details, on Twitter, or when it comes to the bare-knuckled brawls of policymaking:

“Trump will not ignore the left’s war on America,” Horowitz boldly concludes. “By his actions over the course of his first White House term, Donald Trump has shown Americans that in the war the Democrats have declared on him—and through him, on their country —he can lead them to victory and secure a better future for all.”

Reflecting the vigor of the man who is its subject, Horowitz’s book is both a stirring call to action and a ringing defense of President Trump’s quest to both Make America Great Again and to keep it that way.

As our nation approaches the pivotal crisis of a national election, the radical forces that turned federal law enforcement into their own private Watergate spy system sending mobs into the streets last time around, are pulling out all the stops in a campaign to bring Trump and America to their knees.

But, as “Blitz” documents, Donald J. Trump has not given up and is not about to abandon the fight.

2020 is a year of promise and peril, of fear and hope, of aspiration and violence —nationally.

“Blitz: Trump Will Smash the Left and Win,” more than successfully captures that promise and peril as our nation’s 45th president and the nearly 36 million men and women, of all races and creeds, who stood by him, face the fury of the storm.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.

[Editor’s Note: “BLITZ” is available in bookstores everywhere or check out the Free Offer — Click Here Now.]


© 2020 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Posted on

Trump denies briefing on reported Russian bounties against US troops

By ZEKE MILLER, JAMES LAPORTA and DEB RIECHMANN

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Sunday denied that he was made aware of U.S. intelligence officials’ conclusions that Russia secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops in Afghanistan. The Trump administration was set to brief select members of Congress on the matter on Monday.

The intelligence assessments came amid Trump’s push to withdraw the U.S. from Afghanistan, and suggested that Russia was making overtures to militants as the U.S. and the Taliban were holding talks to end the long-running war. The assessment was first reported by The New York Times and then confirmed to The Associated Press by American intelligence officials and two others with knowledge of the matter.

There were conflicting reports about whether Trump was aware of Russia’s actions. The intelligence officials told the AP that the president was briefed on the matter earlier this year; Trump denied that, tweeting on Sunday that neither he nor Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed.

The intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the highly sensitive matter.

The White House National Security Council would not confirm the assessments, but said the U.S. receives thousands of intelligence reports daily that are subject to strict scrutiny.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who golfed with Trump on Sunday, tweeted a day earlier that it is “Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region.”

Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, called for the White House to share more information with Congress, saying if true, lawmakers need to know “Who did know and when?” and, referring to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, “What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”

Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden said reports that Trump was aware of the Russian bounties would be a “truly shocking revelation” about the commander in chief and his failure to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan and stand up to Russia.

Russia called the report “nonsense.”

“This unsophisticated plant clearly illustrates the low intellectual abilities of the propagandists of American intelligence, who instead of inventing something more plausible have to make up this nonsense,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

A Taliban spokesman said the militants “strongly reject this allegation” and are not “indebted to the beneficence of any intelligence organ or foreign country.”

John Bolton, a former national security adviser who was forced out by Trump last September and has now written a tell-all book about his time at the White House, said Sunday that “it is pretty remarkable the president’s going out of his way to say he hasn’t heard anything about it. One asks, why would he do something like that?”

Bolton told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he thinks the answer “may be precisely because active Russian aggression like that against the American service members is a very, very serious matter and nothing’s been done about it, if it’s true, for these past four or five months, so it may look like he was negligent. But, of course, he can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one of the few congressional leaders briefed on sensitive intelligence matters, told ABC’s “This Week” that she had not been informed about the reported bounties and requested a report to Congress on the matter.

“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed. Whether he is or not, his administration knows and our allies — some of our allies who work with us in Afghanistan had been briefed and accept this report,” she said.

While Russian meddling in Afghanistan is not a new phenomenon for seasoned U.S. intelligence officials and military commandos, officials said Russian operatives became more aggressive in their desire to contract with the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network, a militant group that is aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan and that was designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012. Russian operatives are said to have met with Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar and inside Afghanistan; however, it is not known if the meetings were to discuss bounties.

The officials the AP spoke to said the intelligence community has been investigating an April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three U.S. Marines after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they were traveling back to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan. Three other U.S. service members were wounded in the attack, along with an Afghan contractor. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. The officials the AP spoke to also said they were looking closely at insider attacks — sometimes called “green-on-blue” incidents — from 2019 to determine if they are also linked to Russian bounties.

In early 2020, members of the elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group, known to the public as SEAL Team Six, raided a Taliban outpost and recovered roughly $500,000. The recovered funds further solidified the suspicions of the American intelligence community that the Russians had offered money to Taliban militants and other linked associations.

One official said the administration discussed several potential responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step.

Trump responded to Biden on Twitter, saying “Russia ate his and Obama’s lunch during their time in office”

But it was the Obama administration, along with international allies, that suspended Russia from the Group of Eight after its unilateral annexation of Crimea from Ukraine — a move that drew widespread condemnation.

Biden criticized Trump for “his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself” before Putin. Trump tweeted that “nobody’s been tougher” on Russia than his administration.

___

Associated Press writer Lynn Berry contributed to this report.