September 26, 2020

The Daily 202: Trump faces fresh criticism over coziness with Russia

The Trump team’s MIG miscue, which was first reported by Politico and has since been taken down, is ironic considering the lengths to which the president and his aides have gone to reject any ties to Russia. The president has mused in his stump speech lately that he’s “probably entitled” to serve a third term because he lost so much time over the past three-and-a-half years defending himself against what he angrily denounces as “the Russia hoax,” a reference to the various investigations into him and his 2016 campaign. 

This comes amid a cascade of new books, fresh accusations and press reports that are shining a spotlight on the president’s record of softness toward a revanchist Russia and the Kremlin’s attempts to interfere, again, in the U.S. presidential election.

The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward reports in his new book, which goes on sale today, that Trump’s former director of national intelligence Dan Coats, previously a Republican senator from Indiana, “continued to harbor the secret belief, one that had grown rather than lessened, although unsupported by intelligence proof, that [Vladimir] Putin had something on Trump.” Woodward writes in “Rage”: “How else to explain the president’s behavior? Coats could see no other explanation.”

Former FBI counterespionage chief Peter Strzok reveals in his new memoir, “Compromised,” that federal investigators believed there was a possibility that Trump might be a modern-day “Manchurian candidate.” Strzok opened the FBI’s 2016 investigation into whether Trump’s campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to help his election. He was ultimately removed from former special counsel Bob Mueller’s team because of private text messages with FBI lawyer Lisa Page that disparaged the president.

“We certainly had evidence that this was the case: that Trump, while gleefully wreaking havoc on America’s political institutions and norms, was pulling his punches when it came to our historic adversary,” Strzok writes in the book. “Given what we knew or had cause to suspect about Trump’s compromising behavior in the weeks, months, and years leading up to the election, moreover, it also seemed conceivable, if unlikely, that Moscow had indeed pulled off the most stunning intelligence achievement in human history: secretly controlling the president of the United States — a Manchurian candidate elected.”

Ultimately, Mueller said his investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” “We did not address ‘collusion,’ which is not a legal term,” Mueller explained last year. “Rather, we focused on whether the evidence was sufficient to charge any member of the campaign with taking part in a criminal conspiracy. It was not.” But the former FBI director said his findings do not explicitly exonerate the president, which Trump has continued to claim. The president continues to characterize the FBI’s investigation into his campaign and advisers as “spying.”

Strzok has been promoting his book far and wide, from “Meet the Press” on NBC to “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central. “I don’t think that Trump, when he meets with Putin, receives a task list for the next quarter,” Strzok told the Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum. “But I do think the president is compromised, that he is unable to put the interests of our nation first, that he acts from hidden motives, because there is leverage over him, held specifically by the Russians but potentially others as well.”

Strzok elaborates in the book: “Trump’s apparent lies — public, sustained, refutable, and damaging if exposed — are an intelligence officer’s dream. For that very reason, they are also a counterintelligence officer’s nightmare.”

Trump’s longtime former lawyer Michael Cohen also released his own memoir last week, “Disloyal,” that highlights the president’s efforts to cultivate Russian investors. “A large part of the posturing and praising of Putin was a way to keep the Trump Organization’s options open with the Russian leader,” Cohen writes in the book, referring to the 2016 campaign, which he said Trump “assumed he would lose.” Cohen also alleges that when Trump sold a mansion to a Russian buyer in 2008 for an inflated price, making a $54 million profit, he assumed Putin was secretly behind the deal. “He believes that Putin controls all of Russia and all of its wealth, and anything like the purchase of this home had to have been through or with the permission of Vladimir Putin,” Cohen explained to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Cohen went to jail for lying under oath during a congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman (Ret.) has not written a book, but he has started giving interviews. The Purple Heart recipient left the Army in July after Trump ordered his removal as the National Security Council’s director for European affairs in the wake of his damning testimony during the House’s impeachment inquiry. Vindman arranged that infamous July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during which Trump asked for the “favor” of investigating Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden when his counterpart brought up a desire to buy Javelin antitank missiles to counter Russia’s ongoing occupation in eastern Ukraine.

During a lengthy interview with The Atlantic that published on Monday, Vindman explained why he agreed to appear publicly before the House Intelligence Committee despite pressure not to do so. “I just had a visceral reaction to what I was hearing,” he said. “I suspected it was criminal, but I knew it was wrong. … Trump was putting the squeeze on this leader to conduct a corrupt investigation. Trump knew he had them over a barrel. I found it repulsive and un-American for an American president to try to get a leg up by pressuring a foreign leader to get dirt on an American politician.”

Jeff Goldberg, the magazine’s editor in chief, asked Vindman whether he believes Trump is an asset of Russian intelligence. “President Trump should be considered to be a useful idiot and a fellow traveler, which makes him an unwitting agent of Putin,” said Vindman. “They may or may not have dirt on him, but they don’t have to use it. They have more effective and less risky ways to employ him. He has aspirations to be the kind of leader that Putin is, and so he admires him. He likes authoritarian strongmen who act with impunity, without checks and balances. So he’ll try to please Putin.”

Vindman said Trump does not operate within the traditional boundaries of Russia policymaking. “In the Army, we call this ‘free chicken,’ something you don’t have to work for—it just comes to you. This is what the Russians have in Trump: free chicken,” the retired lieutenant colonel said. “With previous Democratic and Republican administrations, there have been left and right guardrails that helped define what was acceptable in terms of Russia policy. I thought we were operating within those boundaries. With Democrats, it might have been more engagement; with Republicans, it could have been more hard power. I didn’t know precisely what Trump’s boundaries would be, but I did think we would be operating within boundaries.”

Trump has repeatedly ripped into Vindman before and after having him escorted from the White House. He has accused him of having “problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information.” The president maintains that his July 25 call was “perfect.”

Vindman explained that he’s coming forward before the election because he believes “it’s important for me to tell people that I think the president has made this country weaker,” and that “we’re mocked by our adversaries and by our allies, and we’re heading for more disaster.” The Soviet-born Vindman is now studying for his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University and serving as a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania this academic year. 

“Truth is a victim in this administration,” Vindman told the Atlantic. “I think it’s Orwellian. The ultimate goal of this president is to get you to disbelieve what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard. My goal now is to remind people of this.”

Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department placed sanctions on a member of Ukraine’s parliament for running an “influence campaign” against Biden, describing Andriy Derkach as “an active Russian agent for over a decade” who has maintained “close connections with Russian intelligence services.” Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has met at least three times with Derkach since late last year and publicized the Ukrainian lawmaker’s unfounded claims on his podcast and elsewhere, per Paul Sonne, Josh Dawsey and Karoun Demirjian:

“The Treasury Department said Derkach had ‘directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election.’ In addition to Derkach, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three individuals from the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg-based troll factory that created fake accounts on social media during the 2016 campaign in attempt to influence the election. The sanctions come a day after a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security alleged in a whistleblower complaint that he was told to stop providing intelligence reports on the threat of Russian interference in the 2020 election in part because it ‘made the President look bad.’

“Derkach, a former member of Ukraine’s Russia-leaning Party of Regions, was educated at the Higher School of the KGB in Moscow … His father was a longtime KGB officer … Since last year, Derkach has been running a full-fledged campaign against Biden … Derkach’s allegations were seized upon by One America News, a favorite network of the president that has featured pro-Trump conspiracy theories. One America News conducted interviews with Derkach and publicized his allegations against Biden … Giuliani said he met Derkach for the first time when the Ukrainian lawmaker came to the One America News studio in Washington in November 2019 … 

“In an interview with The Post earlier this year, Giuliani said that he knew Derkach ‘quite well’ and that the Ukrainian lawmaker ‘has been very helpful to me.’ Asked if Derkach, had provided him with materials, Giuliani said, ‘Oh, my God, yeah.’ Giuliani, who has been trying to spark Justice Department investigations into Biden, spoke extensively about the documents he received from Derkach. He said Derkach had reviewed and shared prosecutor files from Ukraine. Giuliani denied he was being used as pawn in a Russian influence campaign, saying Derkach didn’t seem pro-Russian.” 

William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said last month that Russia is “using a range of measures” to interfere in the 2020 election. Trump has pointed to the part of the same report that said China and Iran do not want to see him reelected. “Some U.S. officials criticized Evanina for appearing to equate the efforts of China and Russia when the Kremlin was interfering much more directly,” Shane Harris, Ellen Nakashima and Dawsey report. “In his statement, China is listed first, followed by Russia and then Iran, which he described as motivated to interfere in the election but not yet taking any actions. ‘Between China and Russia, only one of those two is trying to actively influence the outcome of the 2020 election, full stop,’ said a senior U.S. official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.”

The Trump world figure everyone in Washington was buzzing about on Monday was Michael Caputo, installed by the president this spring as the assistant secretary of health and human services to oversee pandemic-related communications, despite lacking any background in health care. After news reports over the weekend highlighted how Caputo and an aide have been trying to edit scientific reports that are supposed to be free from political influence, the Trump aide posted a video on Facebook Live. In it, he urged Trump’s supporters to prepare for an armed insurrection after a contested election, accused government scientists of “sedition” and peddled a litany of other conspiracy theories. Caputo boasted in his Facebook talk “that the president had personally put him in charge of a $250 million public service advertising campaign intended to help America to get back to normal,” the New York Times reports.

Caputo was passed over for jobs in the Trump administration at the beginning of the administration but remained in the public eye during the Mueller probe. “Caputo himself drew the attention of Mueller’s investigators in part because he had had contact with a Russian who offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign,” Yasmeen Abutaleb, Lena Sun, Dawsey and Roz Helderman report in today’s newspaper. “In May 2016, Caputo said, a Russian man approached his then-business partner, Sergey ‘George’ Petrushin at an art gallery opening in Florida, claiming to have information that could be helpful to Trump’s campaign. Petrushin connected him with Caputo, who arranged for him to meet with political operative Roger Stone, a longtime friend. According to the Mueller report, which described the episode, investigators found no link between the Russian man’s outreach and the broader effort by Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

“As a political adviser and public relations specialist, Caputo also had lived for a time in Moscow in the 1990s, where he worked on a campaign reminiscent of ‘Rock the Vote’ on behalf of then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin,” my colleagues note. “Returning to the United States, Caputo took a contract in 2000 working for the Russian conglomerate Gazprom Media to improve Vladimir Putin’s image in the United States. He later told the Buffalo News that he was ‘not proud of the work,’ adding, ‘at the time, Putin wasn’t such a bad guy.’”

Speaking of Roger Stone, a Justice Department spokeswoman said Monday that the inspector general has begun reviewing Attorney General Bill Barr’s controversial intervention in the sentencing recommendation for the longtime political adviser to the president. Stone was convicted of lying to the House Intelligence Committee during its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

“Earlier this year — when Stone was still awaiting his sentence — Barr personally intervened to overrule the sentencing recommendation career prosecutors had offered to the court, prompting all four of them to withdraw from the case. Two have since publicly criticized the move as being politically motivated, with one testifying under oath before Congress about it,” Matt Zapotosky reports. “Prosecutors had recommended Stone deserved a sentence of seven to nine years in prison, which is what federal sentencing guidelines had called for. But Barr thought otherwise, and — after career prosecutors withdrew — the Justice Department proposed a less severe penalty. Stone was sentenced in February to serve three years and four months in prison for impeding the congressional investigation. Trump commuted that penalty in July, before Stone was to begin serving his term.”

Finally, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – an outspoken critic of Putin and his regime – posted a picture of himself on Instagram today from his hospital bed in Germany. It is the first image we have seen of the 44-year-old since he was poisoned with a nerve agent and fell ill during an Aug. 20 flight in Russia. “Hi, this is Navalny,” he wrote in Russian. “I have been missing you. I still can’t do almost anything on my own, but yesterday I managed to breathe on my own for the entire day.”

“A German military lab has determined that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that Britain said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018. On Monday, the German government said independent tests by labs in France and Sweden backed up its findings,” the AP reports from Berlin. “The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also is taking steps to have samples from Navalny tested at its designated labs, Germany has said. The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to answer questions about the poisoning, denying any official involvement.”

Earth in the balance

Visiting the burning West, Trump questioned the scientific consensus that climate change is making the fires worse.

“In California, Trump sought to pin the blame for the fires on another culprit — forest management — while shrugging off warnings that human-caused climate warming will continue to make Western states a tinderbox with annual fires that destroy communities. ‘It will start getting cooler. You just watch,’ he said during a briefing with state and local leaders in McClellan Park,” Seung Min Kim and Brady Dennis report. “California leaders focused on climate change during their briefing with Trump. … Wade Crowfoot, the secretary of the state’s Natural Resources Agency, pushed the issue more aggressively after the president dismissed concerns that temperatures were on the rise, telling Trump, ‘I wish science agreed with you.’ The president responded: ‘Well, I don’t think science knows, actually.’ … He claimed Monday that he had spoken to a foreign leader — whom he did not name — who insisted that his or her country has ‘trees that are more explosive [than] they have in California, and we don’t have any problem because we manage our forests.’” 

In Wilmington, Del., Biden excoriated Trump as a “climate arsonist” for ignoring the “undeniable, accelerating, punishing reality.” He likened the president’s stewardship of natural disasters to his handling of the pandemic and racial tensions. “If he gets a second term, these hellish events will continue to become more common, more devastating and more deadly,” the Democratic presidential nominee said. Biden promoted climate policies with wide support and avoided more politically thorny topics like the Green New Deal. He did not take questions after his speech.

Quote of the day

“You know what is actually threatening our suburbs – fires.” Joe Biden

At least 35 have died in the Western wildfires.

“Oregon fire crews continued to battle the more than 30 fires raging across the state, where more than 1 million acres have been scorched and, according to Gov. Kate Brown (D), at least 10 people have been killed. More than 3,000 people were staying in shelters run by local counties, Oregon officials said, which are also following protocols to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus as residents face overlapping crises. In California, officials say at least 24 people have been killed. Fire crews are still fighting 28 major wildfires in the state, where more than 3.2 million acres have burned and more than 4,200 structures have been destroyed since the middle of August. One death has been reported in the state of Washington,” Paulina Firozi and Andrew Freedman report. “The U.S. Postal Service announced it is temporarily shuttering post offices in the three states because of high winds and the continued fires. At a Monday news conference, Brown said she sent a letter to Trump requesting that he declare a major disaster in the state of Oregon.”

Oregon residents are struggling to live with the relentless smoke. 

“It’s been a week since Deborah Stratton breathed clean air. The 54-year-old and her friend evacuated their homes in Estacada, Ore., last week as flames approached. They spent days sleeping in their cars in a Walmart parking lot, using their last $12 on showers at a truck stop,” Samantha Schmidt reports. “But the smoke followed them, hanging heavy in the air, sticking to the back of Stratton’s throat. ‘It burns your chest,’ Stratton said … As white, thick clouds hover over buildings and highways, a miserable reality is setting in for Oregonians: They can flee from the fires, but they can’t escape the smoke. … In hospitals across the state, health officials already are seeing the impact of the hazardous air. Ten percent of all emergency-room visits in Oregon are for asthma-like symptoms …State officials said they plan to send 250,000 N95 respirator masks to agricultural workers and Native American tribes to protect them from the smoke. And they do not expect to see somewhat clearer skies until late in the week.”

Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are bracing for Hurricane Sally. 

“Sally continued to gather strength as it meandered off the Gulf Coast, an oaf of a storm that could linger with hard rain and 100-mph winds threatening to shove massive amounts of storm water onto the shores of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana,” Darryl Fears, Maria Sacchetti and Freedman report. “The thud of nail guns pierced the air as residents boarded up houses at the last minute or fled the low-lying coast to higher ground. ‘I blocked the windows off and hope for the best,’ said Tyrone Adams, a part-time courier whose 57th birthday is two days after Sally is expected to make landfall Tuesday. … In yet another sign of a dangerous and troubling time, Sally is one of at least five tropical systems that swirled across the Atlantic on Monday, the most since 1971, when there were six. In an era of human-caused climate change and warming waters, September has set a record for the most named storms to date in the Atlantic, said Colorado State tropical weather researcher Phil Klotzbach. The season has seen a record year for tropical activity in the Atlantic, with 20 named storms forming and obliterating the typical average of 11.  … 

“Even more storms are possible this week, as disturbances move off the coast of Africa and take advantage of ocean temperatures that are warmer than average. After the next storm, forecasters will be forced to dip into the Greek alphabet for names, which would be the earliest this rare occurrence has happened. … Sally is expected to strike the Mississippi coast Tuesday morning as a Category 2 hurricane. With its slow forward speed, the National Hurricane Center expects the storm to be a lingering unwelcome guest, producing heavy rains that could deluge parts of the Gulf Coast with more than two feet of rain. This would cause widespread flooding. If torrential downpours continue for hours in New Orleans, the capacity of the city’s pumping system would be greatly challenged.” 

Two major Atlantic glaciers are tearing loose from their restraints.

“Located along the coast of the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica, the enormous Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers already contribute around 5 percent of global sea-level rise. The survival of Thwaites has been deemed so critical that the United States and Britain have launched a targeted multimillion-dollar research mission to the glacier. The loss of the glacier could trigger the broader collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which contains enough ice to eventually raise seas by about 10 feet,” Chris Mooney reports. “It’s just the latest in a flurry of bad news about the planet’s ice. Arctic sea ice is very close to — but likely to not quite reach — a record low for this time of year. Last month, Canada lost a large portion of its last major Arctic ice shelf. And in Greenland, the largest still-intact ice shelf in the Northern Hemisphere … just lost a large chunk of ice, equivalent in size to roughly two Manhattan islands, according to the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland. Experts there blamed the fracture on a strong general warming trend and temperatures that have been ‘incredibly’ high in the northeast of Greenland in recent years.”

Scientists spotted potential signs of life in the Venus atmosphere.

“An international team of astronomers has detected a rare molecule in the atmosphere of Venus that could be produced by living organisms, according to a study published Monday. The discovery instantly puts the brightest planet in the night sky back into the conversation about where to search for extraterrestrial life,” Marisa Iati and Joel Achenbach report. “The researchers made clear this is not a direct detection of life on Venus. But the astronomical observations confirmed the highly intriguing presence of the chemical phosphine near the top of the acidic clouds that blanket the planet. Phosphine is a simple molecule produced on Earth by bacteria and through industrial processes. As a result, it is on the list of molecules — oxygen being another — considered by scientists to be potential ‘biosignatures’ of life on Earth-sized planets whose atmospheres can be viewed through telescopes.”

The coronavirus

Medicaid rolls are swelling amid the pandemic. It will only get worse. Nevada is Ground Zero.

“By the most recent count, the roster of Nevadans on Medicaid has climbed from fewer than 644,000 in February, the month before the state reported its first case of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, to about 731,000 through August. That 13.5 percent increase places Nevada among at least three states, along with Kentucky and Minnesota, where the cadre of people on Medicaid has spiked that much,” Amy Goldstein reports. “If the past is a guide, this is merely the beginning. During the Great Recession from late 2007 to mid-2009 and previous bad economic spells in the history of Medicaid, Americans have turned to the program more gradually than to unemployment benefits, food stamps and other aid for people sliding out of comfortable lives. …

With Nevada’s tourism-fueled economy stalled, the unemployment rate soared to 30.1 percent in April, the highest ever recorded for any state in any month. … Some casinos’ lights are back on, but fewer than one-third of workers have returned to their jobs … Even Nevada’s most recent reported unemployment rate — 14 percent for July — is higher than the nationwide rate at the Great Recession’s worst. … The spiraling demand for Medicaid is colliding with a diminished ability by the state to pay for it. With Nevada confronting a $1.2 billion deficit and a requirement to balance its budget, the legislature has taken steps to slow the program’s spending — notably, curbing payments to doctors, hospitals and others who care for Medicaid patients to save $53 million through next summer. That 6 percent rate cut is the largest so far in the nation.” 

More cities and states are opening bars and restaurants, despite mounting evidence of potential danger. 

“States that have reopened bars experienced a doubling in the rate of coronavirus cases three weeks after the opening of doors, on average. The Post analysis — using data provided by SafeGraph, a company that aggregates cellphone location information — found a statistically significant national relationship between foot traffic to bars one week after they reopened and an increase in cases three weeks later,” Rachel Weiner, Chris Alcantara and Andrew Ba Tran report. “A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of nearly 300 adults who tested positive for the coronavirus found that they were more than twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant in the two weeks before getting sick than people who were uninfected. Those who tested positive and did not have close contact with anyone sick were also more likely to report going to a bar or coffee shop. The same effect was not seen in visits to salons, gyms and houses of worship, or in the use of public transportation. … Few states make their contact-tracing data available, but in two that do — Colorado and Louisiana — bars and restaurants are responsible for about 20 percent of cases traced to a known source. San Diego traced nearly one-third of community outbreaks to restaurants and bars, more than any other setting. But Louisiana’s experience suggests bar patrons contribute more to the spread of the virus than restaurant diners.”

  • The World Health Organization reported the highest one-day increase in global cases since the pandemic began: more than 308,000 new cases on Sunday. India, the U.S. and Brazil logged the largest numbers of new infections. (Post Live Blog)
  • New York City’s lockdown this spring reduced the spread of the virus by 70 percent, but more consistency with mask-wearing would have brought it down even further, according to a forthcoming Columbia University study. (Antonia Farzan)
  • According to England’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, more than 8.4 million people in that country were drinking excessively in June compared to 4.8 million people in February to cope with stress sparked by the pandemic. (Jennifer Hassan)
  • Midwestern universities are canceling their spring breaks, citing fears students could spread the virus in their travels. (Farzan)
  • Mecklenburg County, N.C., erroneously notified 6,700 people they’d tested positive for the virus. Officials are blaming the false alarm on a “technical glitch.” (Antonia Farzan)
  • Cases have jumped at two of the D.C. area’s largest universities – Georgetown and Maryland. Still, U-Md. will forge ahead with in-person classes for a small number of students. (Lauren Lumpkin
  • The Smithsonian will reopen four more museums on Friday, two months after it successfully reopened the National Zoo and the Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. The American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Renwick Gallery will open with social distancing guidelines. (Peggy McGlone)
  • A majority of the D.C. region’s workers are unlikely to return to the office before next summer, according to a study led by the Greater Washington Partnership. (Luz Lazo)

A federal judge said Pennsylvania’s shutdown restrictions are unconstitutional. Trump rejoiced.

“Shutdown restrictions ordered by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus were unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Monday — a decision that was quickly celebrated by Trump, who said he hopes the decision is followed by similar pronouncements in other states,” Meryl Kornfield reports. “The state’s limits on gatherings and closure of nonessential businesses violated the First Amendment and the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment, according to a 66-page opinion by U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV, a Trump appointee. The governor’s office confirmed it will appeal the decision. … Trump retweeted nearly two dozen posts about the blow to the Democratic governor’s oversight of his state. … At a ‘Latinos for Trump’ roundtable Monday night, the president claimed, without evidence, states will open everything Nov. 4 and said he hopes other judges will strike down coronavirus mandates.”

Trump’s first rally in months was staged as a rebuke to coronavirus restrictions. 

“The Sunday night gathering came as the pandemic has caused at least 190,000 deaths in the United States, with the number expected to pass 200,000 sometime before Trump holds his next official campaign events on Friday,” Anne Gearan and Josh Dawsey report. “On Monday, Trump held another indoor campaign event at a luxury hotel in Phoenix that was billed as a roundtable with Latino supporters. The White House pool reporter traveling with Trump described the scene as looking much like a rally, with more than 100 people crowded closely together inside a ballroom. Television footage showed mask-free supporters waving campaign signs. ‘I know this was supposed to be, you know the fake news, they said that this is supposed to be a roundtable, but it looks like a rally,’ Trump said. ‘But it is a rally because we love each other.’ … 

“Many around the president are acutely aware that a potential surge in coronavirus cases and deaths close to the election could be disastrous, according to campaign and White House aides, but they are mostly bowing to Trump’s desire to pack the house. … According to campaign documents reviewed by The Post, campaign officials presented Trump and other top aides with a proposal for drive-in rallies in the early months of the pandemic. Supporters could then stay in their cars and watch Trump from the stage … Two advisers close to Trump … said the return to indoor rallies may not be a permanent one. ‘I wouldn’t expect to see one of those every week,’ one of the officials said. ‘It’s not an ideal situation.’”

  • The Nevada company that hosted Trump’s Sunday rally will be fined $3,000 for violating the state’s coronavirus guidelines. (CNN)
  • After Trump pressed for the use of hydroxychloroquine and plasma therapy without enough scientific evidence, health officials are concerned that an unvetted vaccine may be next. (NYT)
  • Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham, who is running against Sen. Thom Thillis (R-N.C.) said during a debate that he would be “hesitant” to get the coronavirus vaccine if it were developed by the end of the year, saying he would have questions about the “political and financial corruption” in Washington. Tillis called Cunningham’s stance irresponsible. (Charlotte Observer)

More on the elections

Tommy Fisher, a North Dakota contractor, scored $2 billion in Trump border contracts. 

“Fisher had been trying to land a border wall contract for two years, without success, when the group We Build the Wall called him in April 2019 about a project in New Mexico. We Build the Wall had raised more than $20 million telling donors it would put up barriers on private land along the U.S. southern border. The group’s board members were well-connected right-wing celebrities led by former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon. Now they needed a contractor to do some actual wall-building,” Nick Miroff reports. “Eighteen months later, Bannon and three others from We Build the Wall have been arrested and accused of fraud for allegedly siphoning more than $1.3 million away from the project. … Fisher’s fortunes have been going in the opposite direction. … Altogether, the Trump administration has bestowed $2 billion in wall contracts on Fisher during the past nine months, a lucrative streak for a company that earlier had been repeatedly passed over by the Army Corps of Engineers in favor of larger and more established firms.

“Through ties to GOP figures close to the president, including Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), and the partnership with We Build the Wall, Fisher has upended the federal procurement process to become Trump’s go-to builder at the border. Fisher’s ascent is as much the result of hustle and self-promotion as the highly personalized way Trump has managed the construction of his $15 billion steel-and-concrete barrier, one of the most expensive federal infrastructure projects in U.S. history. … The fencing he put up in New Mexico for We Build the Wall is too short for government specifications, according to a Customs and Border Protection memo published last month by the Nation that laid out the agency’s concerns about the structure. It was built too far back from the international border line, it lacks hydrology studies and permits, and its sensor cables were installed on the wrong side of the fence, leaving them more vulnerable to vandalism, according to the memo.”

A federal appeals court gave Trump the greenlight to deport hundreds of thousands of TPS holders. “The 2-1 ruling by the California-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted a block on Trump’s ending of temporary protected status, or TPS, for more than 300,000 people. The administration could expel people from Sudan, Nicaragua and Haiti as soon as March and from El Salvador by November 2021,” NBC News reports. “The appeals court ruling means that those immigrants will be required to find other ways to remain in the U.S. legally or depart after a wind-down period of at least six months, longer in the case of El Salvador. However, the case is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which could delay the outcome. … The Biden campaign has called the TPS decisions ‘politically motivated,’ and it has said Biden would protect enrollees from being returned to unsafe countries.”

A nurse-turned-whistleblower says an immigration detention center for ICE in Georgia performed questionable hysterectomies, refused to test detainees for covid-19 and shredded medical records. “The complaint to the Homeland Security Department’s internal watchdog relies on accounts of Dawn Wooten, who worked full-time as a licensed practical nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center until July, when she was demoted to work as needed,” the AP reports.

Homeland Security said it won’t make officials available for questioning in the House’s investigation of the department’s response to the Portland, Ore., protests. A department spokeswoman argued that the House Intelligence Committee had unreasonably broadened its investigation’s scope after receiving a whistleblower complaint from Brian Murphy, who until recently was in charge of the department’s intelligence office. Murphy alleged that senior DHS officials, acting on White House orders, tried to color intelligence reports in ways that favor Trump’s campaign rhetoric. (Shane Harris

A judge ruled that Chad Wolfe is likely unlawfully serving as DHS secretary and temporarily blocked asylum restrictions. Judge Paula Xinis found that former acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan’s appointment was invalid under the agency’s order of succession, so he lacked the authority to ensure Wolf’s installation as Acting Secretary, CNN reports. Xinis found that, by extension, Wolf filed the role without authority and promulgated the challenged asylum restrictions “in excess” of authority.

A bug in Biden’s campaign app gave anyone access to millions of voter files. 

“Vote Joe” allows Biden supporters to encourage others to vote in November by uploading their phone’s contact lists to see if their friends and family members are registered to vote. “The app uploads and matches the user’s contacts with voter data supplied from TargetSmart, a political marketing firm that claims to have files on more than 191 million Americans. When a match is found, the app displays the voter’s name, age and birthday, and which recent election they voted in,” TechCruch reports. “While much of this data can already be public, the bug made it easy for anyone to access any voter’s information by using the app. The App Analyst, a mobile expert who detailed his findings on his eponymous blog, found that he could trick the app into pulling in anyone’s information by creating a contact on his phone with the voter’s name. Worse, he told TechCrunch, the app pulls in a lot more data than it actually displays. By intercepting the data that flows in and out of the device, he saw far more detailed and private information, including the voter’s home address, date of birth, gender, ethnicity and political party affiliation, such as Republican or Democrat. The Biden campaign fixed the bug and pushed out an app update on Friday.”

  • The Biden campaign added 13 people to its staff in Texas, where polls continue to point to a close race. (Texas Tribune)
  • A new Monmouth University poll found that neither Trump nor Biden has a decisive advantage on law-and-order issues. While Trump has sought to cast himself as the law-and-order candidate, 52 percent of Americans say they are very or somewhat confident Biden can maintain law and order. Meanwhile, 48 percent say the same thing about Trump if he is reelected. (John Wagner)
  • New analysis from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School – Trump’s alma mater – found Biden’s economic proposals would create a faster-growing economy, higher wages for American workers and reduce the debt compared to where the country is headed under Trump. (CBS News)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the Green Party presidential ticket is ineligible for the state ballot. 

“The decision comes after the Wisconsin Elections Commission declined on Aug. 20 to put presidential contender Howie Hawkins and his Green Party running mate, Angela Walker, on the Nov. 3 ballot because their signature petitions featured two different addresses for Walker. State election officials had argued that the campaign failed to fix the discrepancy according to state requirements,” Amy Gardner reports. “A reversal of that decision would have triggered a scramble across the state among election officials, who would have had to order new ballots — and find the money to pay for them — while facing imminent state and federal deadlines to send them to voters.” 

  • Kentucky began printing absentee ballots, but a coronavirus case temporarily shut down the election office in Fayette County, the state’s second-largest county. Officials hope to reopen the department on Sept. 28. (Michelle Lee)
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) unveiled the GOP’s election-year agenda in an effort to win back the House. Plans include broad calls for defeating the virus, supporting law enforcement and rebuilding the economy. Though the GOP is trying to present as a united front to help the president’s chances, some of its agenda directly contradicts part of Trump’s own rhetoric and actions, including calls for finding bipartisan solutions to tackle the U.S. debt and protect Medicare. (Politico)
  • In a letter, 235 retired military leaders said they support Trump and called the November election “the most important election since our country was founded.” Retired generals and admirals were among those who signed the endorsement, which was released by the Trump campaign. (Fox News)

South Dakota’s attorney general fatally hit a man in a car crash. 

“South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) was driving home from a GOP fundraiser in Redfield, S.D., around 10:30 p.m. Saturday when his Ford Taurus hit a large figure in the dark. He phoned the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office to report that he though he’d hit a deer. But the next morning, he went back to check, he said — and found a man’s body lying dead in the ditch along Highway 14 near the scene of the accident. Officials identified the victim as 55-year-old Joseph Boever of Highmore, S.D.,” Katie Shepherd reports. “At a news conference Monday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) said the South Dakota Highway Patrol is overseeing the investigation, with help from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation..”

  • Noem, who wants to run for president in 2024, plans to visit New Hampshire on Oct. 15 as a featured speaker at a Republican fundraiser. In recent weeks, Noem has also traveled to Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina. Infections are rising in her state faster than almost anywhere else, with high positive testing rates, but Noem refuses to require residents to wear masks. (WMUR)
  • Andrew Gillum, the failed 2018 Florida Democratic nominee for governor, announced that he identifies as bisexual. In March, he was found intoxicated and unconscious in a hotel room with two men, including one who works as a male escort. The former Tallahassee mayor, 41, appeared on Tamron Hall’s syndicated talk show with his wife, R. Jai. They have three young children. (AP)

A Facebook whistleblower said the company ignored global political manipulation. 

“The 6,600-word memo, written by former Facebook data scientist Sophie Zhang, is filled with concrete examples of heads of government and political parties in Azerbaijan and Honduras using fake accounts or misrepresenting themselves to sway public opinion. In countries including India, Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador, she found evidence of coordinated campaigns of varying sizes to boost or hinder political candidates or outcomes, though she did not always conclude who was behind them,” BuzzFeed News reports. “‘I have personally made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight, and taken action to enforce against so many prominent politicians globally that I’ve lost count,’ she wrote. The memo is a damning account of Facebook’s failures. It’s the story of Facebook abdicating responsibility for malign activities on its platform that could affect the political fate of nations outside the United States or Western Europe. It’s also the story of a junior employee wielding extraordinary moderation powers that affected millions of people without any real institutional support, and the personal torment that followed.”

  • TikTok proposed to add a new U.S. headquarters and create 20,000 jobs in a bid to win Trump’s support and address his security concerns in order to keep the short-form video app operating here. The proposed arrangement would allow Chinese tech giant ByteDance to retain ownership of the social media platform but outsource management of data to Oracle, an American company. (Jay Greene)
  • The Trump administration blocked the importation of more Chinese goods it says are made with forced labor from the Xinjiang region. The newly banned entities include manufacturers of hair products, cotton, apparel and electronics. Previous targets have included producers of toys, peeled garlic and artificial sweeteners. (Jeanne Whalen)
  • The U.S. issued a sweeping travel advisory warning against China and Hong Kong, citing the risk of “arbitrary detention” and “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” in a move likely to increase tensions on both sides. (AP)
  • A proposed sale of U.S. F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates is raising concerns among Israeli security experts that the Middle East could be on the verge of an arms race, even though those two countries will sign a peace deal today at the White House. (Ruth Eglash and Karen DeYoung)

Social media speed read

Sign of the times: The A’s Ramón Laureano, who happens to be on the roster of my fantasy baseball team, made a slick catch while wearing an N95 mask in a smoky Oakland ballpark:

And here is some good Earth news, for a change: 

Paul Rudd also encouraged the youth to wear face masks in a slightly bizarre New York ad: 

Videos of the day

Seth Meyers said Trump is falling deeper into lawless authoritarianism: 

Trevor Noah thinks college students can’t grasp the meaning of “quarantine”:

Bob Woodward shared a new clip of his Trump interviews in which the president acknowledges how dangerous the virus is long before he started taking it seriously in public. “It’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it,” Trump says in the tape from April 13: 

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