2020-07-01 00:00:00 ..
2020-10-22 12:45:32 (SPIDs: [1408..1449])
2020-10-23 12:26:21 UTC --martyb
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The acting intelligence community inspector general, Thomas Monheim, has been asked to investigate claims that Edward Snowden, while working as a contractor for the National Security Agency, was able to search a classified database for the private emails of a senior member of Congress.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, Democrat of California, requested the investigation based on statements attributed to Snowden in a book by former Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman released in May. Eshoo says that NSA Director Paul Nakasone dodged questions last month when asked whether NSA analysts have used a powerful surveillance tool to retrieve emails belonging to members of Congress and Supreme Court justices.
What's more, Nakasone did not address whether any technical safeguards exist to prevent analysts from accessing the emails of justices and officials without express legal permission.
President Donald Trump's return to the White House to recover from the coronavirus seems certain to raise the already heightened anxiety level of the journalists assigned to follow him.
Three reporters have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days while covering a White House described as lax, at best, in following basic safety advice like wearing masks. Discomfort only increased Monday with news that press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had tested positive.
Journalists are left to wonder if a still-contagious president will gather them for a public appearance and how their safety will be ensured.
After McEnany's announcement Monday, Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts spent part of his afternoon waiting outside an urgent care center for his own test. He had attended McEnany's briefing last Thursday. She didn't wear a mask, and neither did one of her assistants who later tested positive, and Roberts sat near both of them. He tested negative.
He called it an inconvenience, but stronger emotions were spreading. American Urban Radio Networks correspondent April Ryan said she found it infuriating that Trump and his team had risked the health of her colleagues. CNN's Kaitlan Collins said it was "irresponsible, at best."
"It's frustrating," said Jonathan Karl, ABC News White House correspondent. "Frankly, it makes you angry."
President Trump says he has ordered his representatives to stop talks with Democrats on a new round of COVID-19 aid until after the election.
In a series of tweets, Trump said he has rejected Democrats' latest proposal for a more than $2 trillion relief bill because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "is not negotiating in good faith." Lawmakers had hoped to approve some relief measures before the election amid a recent decline in job growth and fears the economy could worsen without speedy intervention from Congress. Instead the president said any vote on legislation would wait until after the election.
[...] Pelosi, D-Calif., accused Trump of abandoning first responders, teachers, children and people who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus.
"President Trump showed his true colors: putting himself first at the expense of the country, with the full complicity of the GOP Members of Congress," Pelosi said in a statement. "Walking away from coronavirus talks demonstrates that President Trump is unwilling to crush the virus, as is required by the Heroes Act."
Pelosi was in the midst of active talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in hopes of reaching a compromise on COVID-19 relief before the November election. The two continued to disagree on key portions, such as funding for state and local governments, but were set to continue talks. Pelosi also signaled to the airline industry that there were efforts to provide some help in the next bill.
The US Senate's Commerce committee on Thursday voted unanimously on a bipartisan basis to issue subpoenas to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter's Jack Dorsey and Google's Sundar Pichai, as Congress considers changes to liability protections granted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
The three tech CEOs would appear before the committee as witnesses, but the date of the hearing hasn't been determined.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, from Washington and the leading Democrat on the committee, initially opposed the subpoena, which had been introduced by Chairman Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi. But Cantwell changed her position after Republicans included language in the subpoena regarding privacy and "media domination."
"There is a lot we want to talk to tech platforms about, like privacy and anti-competitive media practices," she said in a statement. "I thank the Chairman for broadening the subpoena to cover these issues."
She went on to say that "Section 230 deserves a serious thoughtful discussion. But the hearing should not be used to try to have a chilling effect on social media platforms who are taking down false COVID information or hate speech."
DOJ Unveils Trump Administration's Legislation to Reform Tech's Legal Liability Shield
Democrats Want a Truce With Section 230 Supporters
US Senate Panel OK's EARN IT Act
DOJ Proposes Rolling Back Protections for Tech Platforms Acting like Publishers
U.S. EARN IT Act Could Discourage Adoption of End-to-End Encryption
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act - 20 Years of Protecting Intermediaries
Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.
He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.
As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.
The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.
The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. This article offers an overview of The Times's findings; additional articles will be published in the coming weeks.
[...] "Over the past decade, President Trump has paid tens of millions of dollars in personal taxes to the federal government, including paying millions in personal taxes since announcing his candidacy in 2015," Mr. Garten said in a statement.
With the term "personal taxes," however, Mr. Garten appears to be conflating income taxes with other federal taxes Mr. Trump has paid — Social Security, Medicare and taxes for his household employees. Mr. Garten also asserted that some of what the president owed was "paid with tax credits," a misleading characterization of credits, which reduce a business owner's income-tax bill as a reward for various activities, like historic preservation.
[...] Ultimately, Mr. Trump has been more successful playing a business mogul than being one in real life.
[...] In 2018, for example, Mr. Trump announced in his disclosure that he had made at least $434.9 million. The tax records deliver a very different portrait of his bottom line: $47.4 million in losses.
Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the US Supreme Court comes as little surprise.
[...] Donald Trump - who as sitting president gets to select nominees - reportedly once said he was "saving her" for this moment: when elderly Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and a vacancy on the nine-member court arose.
It took the president just over a week to fast-track the 48-year-old conservative intellectual into the wings. This is his chance to tip the court make-up even further to the right ahead of the presidential election, when he could lose power.
Barrett's record on gun rights and immigration cases imply she would be as reliable a vote on the right of the court, as Ginsburg was on the left, according to Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University.
"Ginsburg maintained one of the most consistent liberal voting records in the history of the court. Barrett has the same consistency and commitment," he adds. "She is not a work-in-progress like some nominees. She is the ultimate 'deliverable' for conservative votes."
And her vote, alongside a conservative majority, could make the difference for decades ahead, especially on divisive issues such as abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act (the Obama-era health insurance provider).
Barrett's legal opinions and remarks on abortion and gay marriage have made her popular with the religious right, but earned vehement opposition from liberals.
But as a devout Catholic, she has repeatedly insisted her faith does not compromise her work.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is facing considerable controversy about his plans to move the nomination forward quickly:
"President Trump could not have made a better decision," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, said in a statement. "Judge Amy Coney Barrett is an exceptionally impressive jurist and an exceedingly well-qualified nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States."
He added: "First, Judge Barrett built a reputation as a brilliant scholar at the forefront of the legal academy. Then she answered the call to public service. For three years on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, she has demonstrated exactly the independence, impartiality, and fidelity to our laws and Constitution that Americans need and deserve on their highest Court... As I have stated, this nomination will receive a vote on the Senate floor in the weeks ahead, following the work of the Judiciary Committee supervised by Chairman Graham."
This is in sharp contrast to McConnell's actions following US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's passing away on February 13, 2016. McConnell waited less than 2 hours to make the first of 5 statements to urging delay in nominating a new Supreme Court justice:
The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president
That statement was made with 342 days (over 11 months) remaining in Obama's term as President. There are 124 days (just over 4 months) remaining before the end of Trump's term.
President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) followed McConnell's lead and never allowed the confirmation process to begin. Thus, no nomination was ever brought to the Senate floor and thereby leaving the vacancy open.
The Pentagon redirected most of its $1 billion in pandemic funding to defense contractors who exchanged the money for jet engine parts, body armor, dress uniforms and other military needs, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
[...] Congress instructed the $1 billion in the CARES Act to go to Defense Production Act (DPA) efforts, which permits President Trump to direct U.S. companies to manufacture necessary products, such as personal protective equipment (PPE).
Months after the funding was allocated, department lawyers concluded the money could be used for defense production, including projects that had little to do with responding to the pandemic, the Post reported. Smaller firms received more than a third of the funding for less than $5 million, but hundreds of millions of dollars went to several large companies.
At least 10 of the about 30 contractors awarded with DPA funding also received money from the Paycheck Protection Program, the Post found.
Jessica Maxwell, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, told The Hill in a statement that the DPA funding and PPP program are not "in conflict or duplicative."
[...] Defense industry groups said the funding was needed to keep certain contractors in business during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Lawyers representing the United States at Julian Assange's extradition trial in Britain have accepted the claim that the WikiLeaks founder was offered a presidential pardon by a Congressman on the condition that he would help cover up Russia's involvement in hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee.
Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer, told the court that she had attended a meeting between Assange, then Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, and pro-Trump troll Charles Johnson at Assange's hide-out, the Ecuadorian embassy in London, on August 15, 2017.
Robinson said the two Americans claimed to be emissaries from Washington and "wanted us to believe they were acting on behalf of the president." The pair allegedly told Assange that they could help grant him a pardon in exchange for him revealing information about the source of the WikiLeaks information that proved it was not the Russians who hacked Democratic emails.
"They stated that President Trump was aware of and had approved of them coming to meet with Mr. Assange to discuss a proposal—and that they would have an audience with the president to discuss the matter on their return to Washington, D.C.," Robinson said.
After Robinson read her testimony in a London courtroom on Friday, lawyers representing the U.S. accepted the witness statement as accurate and confirmed they had no intention of cross-examining the claim. They did dispute, however, that President Donald Trump gave his blessing for the pardon offer.
The president and some of his team, already obsessed with the potential drop-off of various demographic groups that make up his battered coalition, have begun openly worrying that the drive to legalize or decriminalize marijuana might hurt him and fellow Republicans at the ballot box.
According to two GOP strategists who've independently discussed the topic with Trump this year, the president believes that inclusion of marijuana initiatives on state ballots could supercharge turnout for voters who lean toward Democratic candidates and causes. The president, according to one of the sources, asked for updates on critical swing-states that could see such ballot measures in the 2020 elections.
"The president is keenly aware of how presidential elections [nowadays]... can be won at the margins," one of the Republican strategists said. "The pot issue is one of many that he thinks could be a danger... He once told me it would be very 'smart' for the Democrat[ic] Party to get as many of these on the ballot as they could."
Decades ago, Trump had publicly advocated full-on legalization, arguing that "we're losing badly the war on drugs," and that "you have to legalize drugs to win that war. You have to take the profit away from these drug czars." During this iteration of his political identity, he put the blame on politicians who "don't have any guts" to tackle drug legalization.
But by his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had come out "strongly" against legal weed. By the time he reached the Oval Office, he was enthusiastically proposing executing drug dealers by firing squad. And his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, revoked an Obama-era guidance that discouraged the feds from prosecuting marijuana-based criminal cases in states where it was legal.
Facebook spent years preparing to ward off any tampering on its site ahead of November's presidential election. Now the social network is getting ready in case President Trump interferes once the vote is over.
Employees at the Silicon Valley company are laying out contingency plans and walking through postelection scenarios that include attempts by Mr. Trump or his campaign to use the platform to delegitimize the results, people with knowledge of Facebook's plans said.
Facebook is preparing steps to take should Mr. Trump wrongly claim on the site that he won another four-year term, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Facebook is also working through how it might act if Mr. Trump tries to invalidate the results by declaring that the Postal Service lost mail-in ballots or that other groups meddled with the vote, the people said.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, and some of his lieutenants have started holding daily meetings about minimizing how the platform can be used to dispute the election, the people said. They have discussed a "kill switch" to shut off political advertising after Election Day since the ads, which Facebook does not police for truthfulness, could be used to spread misinformation, the people said.
The preparations underscore how rising concerns over the integrity of the November election have reached social media companies, whose sites can be used to amplify lies, conspiracy theories and inflammatory messages. YouTube and Twitter have also discussed plans for action if the postelection period becomes complicated, according to disinformation and political researchers who have advised the firms.
[...] The preparations underscore how rising concerns over the integrity of the November election have reached social media companies, whose sites can be used to amplify lies, conspiracy theories and inflammatory messages. YouTube and Twitter have also discussed plans for action if the postelection period becomes complicated, according to disinformation and political researchers who have advised the firms.
As Democrats and Republicans prepare to hold their national conventions starting next week, YouTube on Thursday announced updates to its policies on deceptive videos and other content designed to interfere with the election.
The world's largest video platform, with more than 2 billion users a month, will ban videos containing information that was obtained through hacking and could meddle with elections or censuses. That would include material like hacked campaign emails with details about a candidate. The update follows the announcement of a similar rule that Google, which owns YouTube, unveiled earlier this month banning ads that contain hacked information. Google will start enforcing that policy Sept. 1.
YouTube also said it will take down videos that encourage people to interfere with voting and other democratic processes. For example, videos telling people to create long lines at polling places in order to stifle the vote won't be allowed.
[...] YouTube has also tried to secure its platform from foreign actors. Last week, the company said it banned almost 2,600 channels linked to China as part of investigations into "coordinated influence operations" on the site. YouTube also took down dozens of channels linked to Russia and Iran that had apparent ties to influence campaigns.