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Government scientists push back on Trump’s agenda



And Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator who no longer sees Trump regularly, travels the country urging state and local officials to adopt mask mandates, close down bars and restrict large gatherings — measures antithetical to Trump’s contention that the virus has been defeated and people should return to their lives.

The officials taking these stands have been emboldened by a worsening pandemic, an adrift White House and growing indications that Trump’s first term may be his last, say several administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss these issues.

“We’re really fighting to get the right information out and to get people to understand what needs to be done,” said one senior health agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “None of us at the agencies are wavering on that, I can assure you. We’re definitely at a place where we know what we want to do, we know how we’re going to do it, and we’re going to stick to it.”

Several administration officials described an unfocused White House, saying the coronavirus task force has fewer meetings, and Trump spends little time now thinking about how to handle the virus — instead mocking it at political rallies. Many of the administration’s top doctors, including Birx, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, are beside themselves over the growing influence of presidential adviser Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no infectious-disease experience whose disputed views about herd immunity have gained currency with Trump, the officials said.

Birx has argued fiercely with Atlas in task force meetings, challenging his assertions of a receding threat from the pandemic by bringing charts and graphs demonstrating otherwise, according to two people familiar with the situation who requested anonymity to reveal private discussions. She has also insisted that the scientists Atlas often cites are outliers on issues ranging from masks to whether herd immunity is an effective strategy.

The White House insisted Trump continues to listen to all of his medical and health advisers.

“President Trump relies on the advice and counsel of all of his top health officials every day and any suggestion that their role is being diminished is just false,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere. “For months in the midst of a global pandemic, the media has celebrated large gatherings of so-called ‘peaceful protesters’ some of whom have burned down, looted, and rioted in cities across the country. It can’t be the case that one group is allowed to assemble but those who support President Trump are not.”

With the election days away, scientists and agency heads are also focused on trying to preserve the integrity of their agencies during a potentially unstable and critical lame-duck period — and in some cases burnish their own tarnished reputations for a post-Trump era, say agency insiders and outside experts.

“I think each person has their own kind of breaking point, where you can give the president the benefit of the doubt to a certain point but then there comes a point of no return,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease doctor and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. “It becomes futile to try to make things work.”

The scientists’ efforts to set their own agendas could be short-lived, however. Many of the people overseeing the pandemic response are expected to change even if Trump wins reelection. CDC Director Robert Redfield is likely to leave, or be asked to resign shortly after the election, no matter the result, according to several senior administration officials. He has always said he planned to step down at the end of this term, regardless of the election’s outcome.

Rumors are also rife that FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn may be asked to leave or quit, and the future of their direct boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, remains uncertain if Trump were to win a second term. Some senior career scientists are also considering a departure if Trump is reelected, according to officials who talked on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue.

How big a difference the scientists’ pushbacks make in the larger pandemic response is unclear. Some public health officials say the changes have been too little, too late — and fall far short of repairing the erosion of public trust caused by a White House that has devalued scientific expertise during a pandemic that has claimed more than 228,000 lives in the United States. Some have urged the CDC’s Redfield to take more dramatic steps to spotlight the interference — for instance, to quit as he released all of his correspondence showing how the White House has pressured the agency to change public health guidance.

“Trust is the cornerstone to a response,” said Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “When you lose trust, you are essentially crippled.”

Much of the focus has been on Hahn and the CDC’s Redfield, both of whom Trump has excoriated on Twitter and in public briefings. For months, they have faced pressure not only from him and top White House aides, but also from Azar, who has criticized both subordinates to Trump and his staff, and blamed them for numerous missteps in the response. People close to Hahn and Redfield said the result has been an extraordinarily difficult work environment.

Critics of Hahn and Redfield say they made mistakes on handling the pandemic and gave into White House pressure, angering career scientists and outside experts. Their lack of experience also was a problem, these experts said.

A senior administration official noted Azar “has high standards for anyone who works with or under him, and he holds people accountable.” HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said Azar has briefed Trump alongside the government’s top doctors.

At odds with the White House

Within the CDC, much of the pushback has come from career scientists fed up with the White House’s repeated blocking or watering down of guidelines that tell the public how to minimize the risk of getting sick.

At times, Redfield, a former Army physician, has backed them — for instance, when he reversed course in September on heavily criticized guidelines for coronavirus testing for asymptomatic individuals imposed this summer by the White House coronavirus task force. Redfield sought the reversal after an outcry from experts who said the new guidelines would have resulted in less testing of people believed to be a major source of spread, according to an agency official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal deliberations.

Last week, the CDC also took another step at odds with the White House agenda by expanding the number of people at risk of contracting the coronavirus by changing the definition of who is a “close contact” of an infected individual. The move could make it more difficult for schools and workplaces to reopen, a top Trump priority.

CDC civil servants also refused to sign off on an HHS request to endorse the use of hotels to house migrant children to protect them from the spread of the coronavirus. The request was sent to Redfield, and it is not known whether he will sign the declaration himself. In the spring, when White House officials asked the CDC to produce a public health justification for sweeping border controls, career officials balked but Redfield agreed.

And career staff describe being frustrated about the time they’ve spent responding to data requests from the White House and HHS to demonstrate the United States is doing better than other countries — and then having to refute the White House’s misinterpretations of that data, according to one official. When staff have pushed back, saying the data comparisons don’t show U.S. superiority, they’ve been asked to redo them — comparing the United States to Europe as a whole, for instance, rather than to individual countries. Even so, the United States looked worse in comparison, one official said.

Redfield was not available to comment. Oakley said that the HHS “has never tried to force any conclusion on the CDC’s data and under President Trump, HHS has always provided public health information based on sound science. Throughout the covid-19 response, science and data have driven and will continue to drive the decisions at HHS.”

A turning point

Like Redfield, Hahn had no Washington experience when he was tapped to lead the FDA. The 60-year-old radiation oncologist, a former top official at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, was confirmed as FDA commissioner last December, just weeks before the pandemic hit. Initially, he seemed to enjoy going to the White House and getting attaboys for prodding a supposedly sluggish agency, according to three senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the issue.

“He was star-struck,” one of the officials said.

But Hahn took heavy criticism this spring after his agency granted, then revoked, emergency clearance for hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug touted as a “game-changer” by Trump but later found to be ineffective and potentially dangerous for covid-19 patients. In August, he was roundly denounced by outside experts after he sharply exaggerated the benefits of convalescent plasma at a White House news conference to announce the FDA’s authorization of the treatment.

He called Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who had written a blistering column about his missteps and called on Hahn to resign. The FDA chief was “quite distraught, there was deep pain,” Topol said of their conversation. Based on that and subsequent discussions, Topol said he now has confidence Hahn will protect career scientists deciding whether and when a coronavirus vaccine should be made available.

Many believe Hahn’s disastrous handling of the convalescent plasma announcement was a turning point for him.

“The convalescent plasma experience was very painful,” said a senior administration health official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. “He’s always seen himself as a good doctor. … You get the sense he felt like he was letting his patient down.”

“If you are sitting where Hahn is, you are weighing having the president and the president’s people pissed off at you versus your reputation and place in history,” said Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco who has known Hahn from the 1980s, when they were co-chief residents at UCSF. “There aren’t many bigger and more important decisions than the vaccine. That is the central issue right now, the game-changer.”

FDA career officials have also stepped up to insist on an independent vaccine process, worried the politicization of the issue would drive down public acceptance of the eventual product. In August, Peter Marks, the FDA official who oversees vaccines, said he would resign if the administration cleared a coronavirus vaccine that was not ready. Earlier this week, he wrote a column for USA Today pledging that any authorized vaccine will be safe and effective. It’s highly unusual for senior FDA career staff to go public to try to rebuild trust in their agency.

Hahn has also tried to shield FDA employees from White House pressure on vaccines and treatments, directing the president’s aides to call him, not career officials, according to agency insiders.

“He has become more clear-eyed about the traps that can be set for him and realizes that if he walks into them, it’s not just him — it’s also the agency and it affects big issues like public trust,” a senior health agency official said. “I give him credit for being more thoughtful about the position of the agency and trying to build a wall” around career staff.

That said, another senior health official said Hahn’s transformation should not be overstated. “He’s an accidental hero,” said the official, who credited Hahn for making changes in the communications office after the convalescent plasma incident. Before that, he said, HHS was getting reports of internal FDA activities, “creating incredible chaos.”

Robert Califf, an FDA commissioner during the Obama administration, noted the commissioner’s job is largely to buffer the career officials from political pressures. “Perhaps,” he said, “Hahn has finally figured that out.”

An FDA spokesman said the agency “has been collaborating with all levels of government through well-established coordination channels, including HHS and the White House,” which continue to support the agency’s career professionals. He also said Hahn enjoys a good relationship with Azar and speaks with him regularly.

‘The least use of masks’

The other doctors on the White House task force have also become more forceful advocates of steps they see as crucial to combating the virus in the growing number of hot spots enveloping the country. Always outspoken, Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, has become blunter still, saying the surging infections might require a national mask mandate and warning against the controversial strategy pushed by Atlas that healthy people should go about their lives and not worry about spreading the virus to the more vulnerable.

“He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in,” Fauci said of Atlas.

Birx, a longtime associate of Fauci’s, started traveling to states a few months ago and, after Atlas arrived, ramped up her efforts to help states and localities in the throes of the pandemic. In the “doctors’ group” — a subset of the task force she started months ago — Birx, Fauci, Redfield and Hahn discuss the latest developments and what messages should be sent to states and localities. She delivers them frequently in regional television and radio appearances.

“Over the last 24 hours, as we were here and we were in your grocery stores and in your restaurants and frankly, even in your hotels, this is the least use of masks that we have seen in retail establishments of any place we have been,” Birx told reporters Monday, according to The Bismarck Tribune.

A White House official described Birx’s work is part of the administration’s so-called “Embers Strategy,” which presumes there are small outbreaks across the country that need to be stamped out, even as new daily infections approach a record 100,000.



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UK Government Questioned Over FinCEN Files Revelations


A powerful British lawmaker is demanding answers from the UK government about “deeply troubling” findings in the FinCEN Files, a global investigation based on a huge trove of documents BuzzFeed News shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The investigation revealed how the giants of Western banking move trillions of dollars in suspicious transactions, enriching themselves and their shareholders while facilitating the actions of terrorists, kleptocrats, and drug kingpins. The documents have spotlighted failings inside a number of Britain’s largest banks, including HSBC, Standard Chartered, and Barclays.

“Some of the information coming from the release of the FinCEN papers is deeply troubling,” Mel Stride, the conservative chair of Parliament’s Treasury Committee, said in a statement released Wednesday.

He said he had sent a series of formal questions to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration asking whether the government is doing enough to stop money laundering and expressed particular concern about HM Revenue and Customs, the British government’s tax collection agency, and Financial Conduct Authority, its financial crime watchdog. “The Treasury Committee wants to know whether Ministers, HMRC and the FCA are on top of this,” he wrote.

Stride demanded to know whether HMRC is “an effective money laundering supervisor.” He also asked whether UK law enforcement agencies are “following up on the information in the FinCEN papers,” and whether the FCA will “take enforcement action.”

At the heart of the FinCEN Files are more than 2,000 “suspicious activity reports,” which banks are required to file to the US Treasury when they spot transactions that bear the hallmarks of money laundering or other financial misconduct. While SARs are not by themselves evidence of a crime, they can support investigations and intelligence gathering.

British companies were named in the suspicious activity reports more than 3,000 times — more than any other country. And a US Treasury report in the FinCEN Files described the UK as a “higher-risk jurisdiction,” comparing it to notorious financial centers “such as Cyprus.” Stride demanded to know whether the government considered this “higher-risk jurisdiction” status “a cause for concern.”

In a letter to the FCA, Stride asked what action was being taken by the UK’s financial regulator following the findings. He also asked for clarity on what more needs to be done to “further secure the financial system from Economic Crime, given the information in the FinCen files.”

In another letter, this time to the UK’s Home Office, Stride asked if UK law enforcement was “following up” on the information from the FinCEN Files to see if “more could be done to combat economic crime.” UK law also requires banks to file suspicious activity reports to the National Crime Agency, and he asked about the implementation of an improved system to help UK law enforcement better deal with SARs.

“With various roles to play in combatting economic crime,” Stride said in his statement, “it’s vital that the appropriate parts of the system are ready to act, if required.”



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U.S. Government and Tech Firms Push Back on Russia (and Trump)


Over the past two weeks, United States Cyber Command and a group of companies led by Microsoft have engaged in an aggressive campaign against a suspected Russian network that they feared could hold election systems hostage come November.

Then, on Monday, the Justice Department indicted members of the same elite Russian military unit that hacked the 2016 election for hacking the French elections, cutting power to Ukraine and sabotaging the opening ceremony at the 2018 Olympics. And in Silicon Valley, tech giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google have been sending out statements every few days advertising how many foreign influence operations they have blocked, all while banning forms of disinformation in ways they never imagined even a year ago.

It is all intended to send a clear message that whatever Russia is up to in the last weeks before Election Day, it is no hoax. The goal, both federal officials and corporate executives say, is to disrupt Russia’s well-honed information-warfare systems, whether they are poised to hack election systems, amplify America’s political fissures or get inside the minds of voters.

But behind the scenes is a careful dance by members of the Trump administration to counter the president’s own disinformation campaign, one that says the outcome on Nov. 3 will be “rigged” unless he wins.

So while President Trump continues to dismiss the idea of Russian intervention, a combination of administration and industry officials are pushing a different narrative: that U.S. intelligence agencies, Facebook, Twitter, Google and others are avoiding the mistakes of four years ago, when they all had their radars off.

But there is also no assurance it will work.

“We don’t like to admit it, but the Russians may not be deterrable,” said James A. Lewis, the director of the technology and public policy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “How far do we have to go? Is this far enough? We are still scoping that out.”

Keep up with Election 2020

No one will be able to assess the effectiveness of the counteroffensive until after Election Day, when Washington circulates the cyberequivalent of battle-damage reports. But even now there are reasons to question whether the efforts to take on Russia, some of which began in the 2018 midterm elections, have been too timid.

It is hardly a coincidence that the indictments announced on Monday against hackers with Russia’s G.R.U. were unsealed 15 days before the election. But it is unclear what deterrent effect indictments can have when the G.R.U.’s officers are unlikely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom.

One of the hackers named in the indictment was previously charged with hacking U.S. election administrators four years ago. That did not stop him from a brazen hack on the country of Georgia last year. Likewise, even after Russia was outed for hacking the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, that apparently did nothing to dissuade it from hacking the postponed 2020 Tokyo games, British officials revealed Monday.

John P. Carlin, the former assistant attorney general for national security who developed much of the Justice Department’s strategy for indicting foreign hackers, and later wrote about it in the book “Dawn of the Code War,” said Mr. Trump’s denial of what happened four years ago gave Russia lots of leeway.

“The details in the indictment are stunning and reveal Russian operatives at the direction of the state attacking the whole world,” he said, adding that “the conspicuous absence of leadership from President Trump” on the issue was all the more striking given the efforts “to expose and disrupt this activity.”

“These attacks on countries and civilian behavior won’t stop until the commander-in-chief calls it out and works with the rest of the victimized world to deter future indiscriminate attacks,” Mr. Carlin said.

If the indictments are the public face of the offensive against the Russians, the effort to dismantle Trickbot — a vast network of infected computers used by ransomware groups — is the more covert element.

Late last month, the military’s Cyber Command started neutralizing Trickbot with a series of attacks. Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit secured federal court orders to shut down Trickbot’s infrastructure around the world.

On Tuesday, Microsoft said the operation had been largely successful. It has taken down over 90 percent of Trickbot’s command-and-control servers. The idea is to keep the Russians on the run, so distracted that they are unable to use those systems for ransomware attacks that could hold the election hostage.

“These guys are really good and really move fast, and we knew they would react to rebuild their systems,” said Tom Burt, the Microsoft executive who is running the team. “We were prepared to follow them, and tear down whatever they build up.”

But as Cyber Command and Microsoft were taking aim at Trickbot, a new hacking threat emerged.

Over the past two months, a different group of Russian hackers — known as “Energetic Bear” or “Dragonfly,” and believed to be operating within the country’s Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the successor to the Soviet-era K.G.B. — has been targeting American state and local networks, according to government and private security researchers.

Their goal is still unclear, but the timing — so close to the election — and the actor, which was previously caught hacking American nuclear, water, and electric plants, has sent alarm bells ringing at Cyber Command and at security firms like FireEye. CyberScoop earlier published details of a leaked FireEye report on the campaign on Tuesday.

Officials worry that even if those hacks do not amount to much, the Russians’ very presence inside U.S. state and local systems could be used to support the president’s baseless allegations that the election is “rigged.”

That was part of the motivation behind an unusual nine-minute video posted online this month — titled “Safeguarding Your Vote”— featuring senior American law enforcement, intelligence and cybersecurity officials.

“We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, assured voters.

Mr. Wray and his counterparts have been contradicted at every turn by the president, who continues to assail mail-in voting as an avenue for fraud, for which there is no evidence. Mr. Trump’s claims are often amplified by the Russians, whose main interest is to cast doubt about the credibility of free elections.

“Trump has been a godsend to Russia,” Mr. Lewis said.

In Silicon Valley, executives believe a “perception hack” may pose the greatest threat to the election and have been mounting their own counternarrative.

Facebook, Twitter and Google have all talked up coordination with one another and the government. The companies were credited, with Cisco’s Talos cybersecurity unit, as having played a role in the indictments of the six G.R.U. officers announced on Monday.

Twitter has talked up its takedown of state-backed influence campaigns from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Cuba and Iran, and has slapped more overt warning messages on tweets that violate its policies, including those from the president.

Facebook has advertised its takedowns of foreign influence campaigns from China and the Philippines and 300 Russian assets. It has also lowered its tolerance for disinformation.

After years of allowing Holocaust deniers a place on its platform, Facebook started censoring that content this month and stepping up its crackdown of QAnon, which promotes a conspiracy that the world is run by Satan-worshiping pedophiles plotting against Mr. Trump.

The question is whether these efforts, so late in the election cycle, will have the intended effect, since the president has already primed his supporters, and others, to distrust the “fake news,” the “deep state” and now, the election.



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Detention of Government Critic in Poland Raises Fears of a Crackdown


A prominent lawyer and outspoken critic of Poland’s government was detained on accusations of money laundering on Thursday — and was later taken to the hospital after a fall, in circumstances that remain unclear — raising concerns that the government is stepping up its efforts to stifle dissent.

The lawyer, Roman Giertych, who has been involved in a series of high-profile cases against members of the governing Law and Justice party, was placed in handcuffs by a special anticorruption unit outside a Warsaw court. He has also represented prominent opposition figures, including Donald Tusk, the former president of the European Council.

Later, during a search of his home, Mr. Giertych fell unconscious on his bathroom floor and was rushed to the hospital. Further details about the incident were not immediately available from the authorities, but his daughter, Maria Giertych, said he had scuffled with an officer.

Stanislaw Zaryn, a spokesman for the authorities, said late Thursday that Mr. Giertych was in “good condition” and undergoing medical examinations. But Jacek Dubois, a lawyer who has worked with Mr. Giertych, contradicted that assessment and said he had been told by the family that Mr. Giertych’s condition was “very serious.”

The authorities denied accusations that the detention was politically motivated.

A government spokesman, Piotr Müller, said he was unfamiliar with the details of the case. But, he added, “I understand the anticorruption services had grounds for detention.”

Mr. Giertych was expected to be charged with “appropriating company funds and inflicting upon them financial losses of great proportions, as well as of money laundering,” said Anna Marszalek, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office.

The Polish Bar Council expressed its “greatest concern” over the detention.

“Regardless of the grounds for the detention of Roman Giertych and for searching his house, these actions are exceptional because of his professional involvement in cases in which politicians of the ruling party are involved,” the head of the council said in a statement.

In recent years Mr. Giertych has become one of the most vocal critics of the government in Poland, taking special aim at judicial changes pushed through by Law and Justice and its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

The actions have been condemned by international observers and have been at the heart of tensions between Poland and the European Union, which views the changes as a threat to the rule of law and the bloc’s democratic values.

Mr. Kaczynski, who has also been trying to quell a rebellion in his governing coalition as he faces growing public anger over the government’s handling of the coronavirus, took a new post this month as deputy prime minister. The position gives him authority over the nation’s security apparatus, and some observers fear that he is using that power to target critics.

Few critics of the government have been more vocal than Mr. Giertych. Most recently he accused it of mismanaging the pandemic, writing on Twitter that there was “blood on their hands.”

Poland reported a record number of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations this week. There is increasing concern that the country’s health care system will be overwhelmed, and critics of the government say it has not done enough to prepare for the virus’s current second wave.

Mr. Giertych was also involved in cases that threatened to touch on the dealings of high-ranking government officials.

Mr. Dubois, who worked with Mr. Giertych on the case of Leszek Czarnecki, a high-profile businessman at odds with Law and Justice, said the timing of the detention was not coincidental.

“Mr. Giertych told me last week he got hold of documents discrediting important members of the government,” Mr. Dubois said in an interview. “They wanted to eliminate him one day before the trial of Mr. Czarnecki was supposed to take place.”

Mr. Czarnecki was a central figure in a corruption scandal in 2018, when he accused a government financial regulator of soliciting a bribe.

Adam Bodnar, Poland’s official ombudsman, said the manner of the arrest raised the “highest concerns and demanded explanations.” He declined to comment on the merits of the case, but said he wanted to know “what circumstances justify this kind of course of action.”

Mr. Giertych’s wife, Barbara, who is also a lawyer, said she had been given little information about her husband’s detention.

“For the first time in my life, in my professional career, I’m experiencing a situation where I don’t know what is the context of the detention,” she told TVN 24, a local media outlet.

Anatol Magdziarz contributed reporting.



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Trump’s appointees sought to censor what government scientists said about the coronavirus, emails show



Schuchat’s comments came as cases were surging across several southern and western states — even as the president and his top advisers were intent on reopening the country and boosting the economy. But Alexander wrote to his boss, Michael Caputo, assistant secretary for public affairs at HHS, reprimanding Schuchat and writing a seven-point takedown of her assessment.

“Her comments are in contrast to those of senior members of the Trump administration — notably Vice President Pence, who said on Friday, ‘we have made truly remarkable progress,’” Alexander wrote.

“Importantly, having the virus spread among the young and healthy is one of the methods to drive herd immunity,” Alexander added. “She is duplicitous.”

Both Caputo and Alexander are now gone. But their emails offer new insight into how they created their own power center at the agency overseeing the pandemic response and used it to censor, and even humiliate, top scientists and health officials in an effort to sideline them or make them conform to White House-sanctioned messages. The tone of the emails is often emotional and accusatory, and they put more emphasis on the political import of the messages than on their medical or scientific substance, even as the virus raged out of control.

Caputo, a Trump loyalist engulfed in controversy, left this week on a 60-day medical leave earlier this week after a bizarre Facebook rant in which he accused government scientists of “sedition,” and warned supporters to take up arms to prepare for violence after the election. Alexander, a Canadian PhD he had hired on contract, was permanently let go this week, HHS said in a statement.

When asked for comment on the emails via text, Caputo responded with a thumbs down emoji. Alexander did not respond to a request for comment.

An HHS spokeswoman said Caputo was trying to ensure proper protocols were followed for interviews with public health officials — protocols that the spokeswoman said predate the Trump administration. HHS is the parent agency of CDC, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Caputo, a longtime Buffalo political consultant who had worked on behalf of people in Russia and Ukraine, as well as in the U.S., had previously remarked on how critical the virus was to Democratic hopes of defeating President Trump in November.

On a March 13 episode of his podcast, “Still Standing,” shortly before he was hired to work at HHS, Caputo suggested that Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s only assets against Trump would be the coronavirus pandemic and the tanking economy that resulted.

“It’s very clear they’re counting on two things: fatalities, of course. Fatalities,” Caputo said in the podcast. “Because the more people that die, the more personal tragedy there is. And that’s emotional and it gives Democrats a chance to harvest, let’s just say, waning enthusiasm in the president. A lot of people die, the Democrats win.”

Alexander’s attempts to order career civil servants to rewrite CDC guidance, or instruct them on what they should or shouldn’t say quickly caused friction after he joined HHS this spring as Caputo’s adviser. He also instructed Anthony S. Fauci — the top government infectious-disease expert who has led the U.S. response to numerous epidemics — that he should refrain from advocating that children wear masks. Fauci disregarded his advice.

Caputo and Alexander also sought more control over the CDC’s weekly scientific missives, called the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Caputo told The Washington Post he was frustrated they could only see summaries ahead of publication, rather than full drafts.

In an unusual step, Schuchat authored a report in May that described how the virus first arrived in January, then began spreading rapidly in multiple parts of the country by mid-March. Schuchat does not often author reports by herself, and the report took senior HHS leaders by surprise.

Azar called CDC Director Robert Redfield shortly after the report’s publication in a heated exchange to express frustration over procedural issues at CDC, including the way Schuchat’s report took senior leaders by surprise, according to a senior HHS official. In the call, Redfield echoed Azar’s frustrations that they did not have more notice ahead of publication, the official said.

But Caputo and Alexander went much further than Azar and other senior HHS leaders by seeking full control over the reports, several agency officials said.

Alexander also criticized Schuchat for saying in the JAMA interview that for most people, covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in two to three weeks. But she noted that in older adults and people with preexisting health conditions, including children, it could cause more severe illness and death.

“It also causes no symptoms as it is so mild … you don’t even know you have it,” Alexander wrote in his critique. “Many people never know they had it. Not one indication. It is very false her statement that it causes death in children … Based on CDC’s own data, the risk of death in children 0-19 years of age is basically 0 (zero) … PERIOD … she has lied here.”

In fact, several studies have shown that children can develop severe complications from the virus which can cause life-threatening and lasting complications, and a small number have died.

Schuchat, who could not be reached for comment, has more than three decades of experience at the CDC, and is well regarded inside the agency, within HHS and by lawmakers. She has played key roles in many public health emergencies, including the 2009 swine flu epidemic, the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States.

Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said Alexander has no real-world experience responding to a health crisis on this scale. “It is complete nonsense for someone who has not worked on preparing for, or responding to epidemics or pandemics before … to say he knows better than Fauci and CDC when it comes to the response to this pandemic,” he said.

Alexander, who was previously a caller to Caputo’s onetime Buffalo radio show, holds a doctoral degree in health research methodology from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, according to his résumé. His doctoral dissertation looked at ways to use data to make effective recommendations for clinicians and public health officials when confidence in the data is low.

An unpaid assistant professor at McMaster, he has previously worked for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and consulted for the World Health Organization. On his résumé, he calls himself an “expert in evidence-based, evidence informed medicine.” McMaster distanced itself from Alexander this week.

Inglesby said responding in real time to a pandemic is much different than the academic application of health guidelines.

“In this pandemic, there are many new things happening for the first time,” he said, “many decisions that need to be made in the setting of uncertainty, perhaps on the basis of unfolding information, research that is in progress or at a time when we don’t yet have the complete story.”

The Washington Post first reported on Alexander’s attacks on the CDC in July.

“The CDC is undermining the President by what they put out, this is my opinion and sense, and I am reading it and can see the subtle and direct hits,” he wrote in one email.



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Government Offers Reward For Election Interference Info


KYIV — When Artyom Vysokov received a text message offering him as much as $10 million for information on Russian election interference from a number used mainly for distributing spam and phishing messages, he thought it was “some type of fraud.”

But then he saw reports from several Russian news outlets about other people receiving similar messages on their cellphones and realized they were coming shortly after the US State Department announced a new campaign to defend the American presidential election from foreign attackers.

“I realized that I was wrong and this is really true,” Vysokov, who runs a blog about monetizing websites, told BuzzFeed News. “But sending such text messages through a service that usually sends spam was not the best idea.”

On Thursday, Russians shared screenshots of SMS messages apparently sent by the State Department with the offer of huge monetary rewards for information on hackers trying to interfere with the November presidential election. Many of them — from residents of Vladivostok in the far east and Yekaterinburg at the foot of the Ural Mountains to Vysokov in Volzhskiy in the southern Volgograd region — were rounded up and shared by Russian tech news site TJournal.

And they weren’t the only ones. According to Reuters, Iranians were sent the same messages to their cellphones. Written in Russian and Farsi the text messages say: “The United States pays up to $10 million for any information on foreign interference in American elections.” They include a link to the US Rewards for Justice (RFJ) Program, which offers cash bounties in return for information about threats to American national security. For the Russians, the link jumps to a verified Twitter account with the State Department logo that was created in February. There, Russian-language tweets provide readers with more information about the program.

The texts came after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the US was now offering up to $10 million “for information leading to the identification or location of any person who, acting at the direction or under the control of a foreign government, interferes with U.S. elections by engaging in certain criminal cyber activities.”

While many people who received the texts questioned their legitimacy, a State Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that they were in fact real. “This is a worldwide campaign in multiple languages,” the spokesperson said. “RFJ has used this and a variety of other messages to inform the public about its rewards and program.”

In a Facebook post, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova poked fun at Pompeo’s announcement, joking that many people would want to cash in on the offer. “Now the State Department’s site will go down from denunciations about its neighbors,” she wrote.

As news of the texts spread on Thursday, she posted another statement. “By calling on people to talk for money about interference in American elections, the American special services are unceremoniously interfering in our life,” Zakharova wrote. She accused Washington of targeting Russians in a manner similar to what American intelligence officials have accused Moscow of doing. “What is this if not a real hybrid attack?” she said.

The State Department’s blanket text message campaign comes after Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election, which cast a shadow over the presidency of Donald Trump.

Ahead of the November election, Democratic lawmakers have raised the alarm about what they say are active attempts by Russia to interfere and called for the FBI to share information about the effort.

Of particular concern to Democrats is an inquiry being led by Republican Ron Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which is looking at the work that Joe Biden’s son Hunter did in Ukraine while Biden was the Obama administration’s point person in the country.

Democrats allege Johnson is using disinformation from pro-Russian Ukrainians to in his inquiry, an accusation that the Republican senator denies.





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Politics

Trump and the corrupt lackeys in his government need to know they will be prosecuted


Trump has surrounded himself with self-interested sycophants and corrupt grifters who have wielded enormous power within our government structure. The entire tenure of Betsy DeVos, Andrew Wheeler, Ryan Zinke, and Wilbur Ross (to name just a few), whom Trump placed in charge of our federal agencies over the past four years, has been dedicated to siphoning as much as possible from the taxpayer’s coffers and redirecting it for their own benefit or the benefit of interests they represent.

There will be no thought whatsoever by these people as to what type of future they are leaving the American people, or what kind of condition the country will be in after their loot-fest is completed. These are not people who entered public service out of any sense of responsibility or altruism; that is simply not the way they think. Trump carefully and deliberately constructed a kakistocracy—a government of the worst, most unscrupulous, most unqualified people—for which destruction of the government agency to which they were appointed was their primary qualification. Most of them could have drawn far greater salaries in the private sector, but they agreed to participate in government insofar as it served their own financial (or in some cases, purely ideological) interests, both during and after their tenures. So assuming Trump loses on Nov. 3, in addition to a spree of looting we can expect massive deletions of data from hard drives, probably outright destruction or theft of government property, shredding of documents, and more as they try to cover up what they’ve done.

In 2018, The New York Times compiled a comprehensive list of the administration’s corruption and conflicts of interest as of then—a list now rendered so incomplete that it seems quaint. 

Compiling the list made us understand why some historians believe Trump’s administration is the most corrupt since at least Warren Harding’s, of 1920s Teapot Dome fame. Trump administration officials and people close to them are brashly using power to amass perks and cash. They are betting that they can get away with it. So far, Congress has let them.

Two years later, the Trump administration has become a systematic web of conflicted interests and blatant theft more prevalent than any administration in history. Its tentacles have now enveloped the Department of Justice in the persona of William Barr, who is now utilized as a willing tool to conduct sham investigations, pressure foreign states to manufacture false evidence to serve Trump’s political interests, and reward Trump’s loyalists such as Michael Flynn and Roger Stone with sentence reductions and outright dismissals of their criminal convictions.

Because Trump’s corruption of our federal government is pervasive at this point, and because it has gone almost entirely unpunished and unexamined, the question of accountability on the part of members of the administration should be addressed now, before the final looting begins. Up to this point, any attempt to unveil this morass of corruption was stymied by a complicit Republican Congress for the first two years of Trump’s tenure. Now that the House is in Democratic hands, the favored response of the administration is to stonewall and “run out the clock.” His appointees engaged in the actual corruption—Barr, for example—are similarly insouciant, in effect thumbing their noses at attempts to investigate or punish their behavior.

Like all criminals, they clearly believe they’ll “get away with it.” It’s our duty to make them understand they won’t.

Michelle Goldberg, writing for The New York Times, frames the issue as one of accountability, which is simply vital if this country is to move forward. She observes that although former Vice President Biden has not ruled out criminal prosecution of Trump himself, he has deliberately avoided the subject. Goldberg also acknowledges that it would be highly unwise for Biden himself to be leading the charge.

Biden’s reticence is understandable, because a president who runs the White House as a criminal syndicate creates a conundrum for liberal democracy. In a functioning democracy, losing an election should not create legal liability; there was a reason Trump’s “Lock her up” chant was so shocking.

But you can’t reinforce the rule of law by allowing it to be broken without repercussion. After four years of ever-escalating corruption and abuses of power, the United States cannot simply snap back to being the country it once was if Trump is forced to vacate the White House in January. If Biden is elected, Democrats must force a reckoning over what Trump has done to America.

Senator and vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have both expressed the view that criminal prosecutions of Trump officials and Trump himself are likely unavoidable. While Trump officials will enjoy qualified immunity in the performance of their job functions, there are limits to that immunity when the conduct impugns the Constitution, or otherwise consists of acts not officially contemplated or made discretionary by their employment in government. The law itself, therefore, is not an impediment to prosecutions for gross corruption or other blatant acts of criminal behavior on the part of Trump’s appointees and their hires.

The much thornier question is whether pursuing criminal charges against these officials will be perceived as so political that it will create a precedent for whichever party is in charge to conduct investigations and criminal prosecutions, however frivolous, of the opposing political party. As pointed out in this report, prepared by the Center for American Progress (CAP), the issue of “creating a precedent” is actually moot. The fact is, as William Barr has amply demonstrated, that abuse of the nation’s law enforcement power against political opponents is now our current reality.

[T]he concern that law enforcement could be used to target political opponents is not a future hypothetical—it’s the current reality. The problem is how to respond to the way the Trump administration has used law enforcement to protect its friends and target its enemies. The precedent has been set; what is still to be determined is the nature of the response.

Any investigations should be driven by career officials following the facts where they lead. The only way to address the politicization of law enforcement is by eliminating it, which means that people in the Trump administration, or those with connections to the administration, do not receive special treatment.

Importantly, the authors of the CAP report point out that failure to hold these criminals accountable will set a far worse precedent: “If a free pass is provided to those who broke the law and subverted democracy, it will embolden them and any illiberal politicians or administrations in the future to show even greater disregard for the rule of law.” Further, a failure to insist on accountability will inhibit people who do have integrity—career, non-political employees—to stand up against corruption in the future.

The CAP report also addresses the  objection that such prosecutions will be “divisive.” Essentially the rejoinder is that the entire administration has been divisive—it is in fact completely predicated on dividing Americans. But all Americans (including even Republicans, presumably) are—or should be—united in their fealty to the rule of law.

But one of those shared ideals is the primacy of the rule of law: that people in the United States should be treated equally, and that there should not be one justice system for the politically well-connected and one for everyone else. Having a rule of law means that it applies at all times and in all places—not only when an administration chooses to enforce it. The law applies right now to the Trump administration; that the administration refuses to acknowledge that fact is all the more reason that a future administration must reassert it. That means holding people accountable for their wrongdoing.

The report also emphasizes that the investigations should be conducted without any White House involvement by career DOJ officials selected for their integrity and experience rather than their ideological and political leanings.

Goldberg quotes Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island to make the point that a Truth Commission of sorts was warranted after the Bush administration took our country to war in Iraq based on lies and phony, manufactured evidence, resulting in a geopolitical disaster from which that region has failed to recover, not to mention the massive loss of life.

Whitehouse was one of the Democrats who, in 2009, called for some sort of Truth Commission to examine the legacy of the last Republican to wreck the country. George W. Bush’s presidency left America “deeply in debt, bleeding jobs overseas, our financial institutions rotten and weakened, an economy in free fall,” Whitehouse said then. His administration took the country to war based on lies and authorized torture. There was a “systematic effort to twist policy to suit political ends; to substitute ideology for science, fact, and law; and to misuse instruments of power.”

But no Truth Commission was ever created. There was no accountability for Iraq, or for Guantanamo, or waterboarding, or “renditions,” just as there was no accountability for the Wall Street banks and financial behemoths that caused the financial crisis of 2007-2008. As a result, as former Obama senior adviser Ben Rhodes, quoted by Goldberg, states:

The “lack of accountability that people felt around the financial crisis and around torture didn’t go away,” said Rhodes. “It metastasized.” A generation of Republicans learned that there was no price for flouting the rules.

The point is that there is a direct line between the failure to hold Bush and Cheney accountable and the widespread, systematic corruption of the Trump administration. People like Stephen Miller, like Bill Barr, honestly believe they’re going to skate away and live happily ever after—perhaps, like Sean Spicer, even being invited to go Dancing with the Stars. They feel they are untouchable, and that’s why they continue with their corruption and illegality. After all, no one has ever been held to account; why would they be the first? 

With regard to Trump himself, in his mind, assuming he can somehow escape the prosecutions pending in the Southern District of New York, he clearly believes he has a future that doesn’t involve a jail cell for the rest of his life, possibly in some country without an extradition treaty with the U.S. The Trump crime family is now far more than Trump himself—it consists of his branding and the coercive power he has exerted by virtue of his office to benefit himself, clearly with a view towards pursuing additional ventures after he leaves office. If we allow that to happen, we’ll simply be setting ourselves up for another Trump.

The list of Trump’s crimes, grifting, and self-dealing, is of course inexhaustible. But Goldberg has a few suggestions on how to deal with this criminal. For starters:

The administration’s failure to contain the coronavirus — exacerbated, according to reporting in Vanity Fair, by Trump’s hostile indifference to hard-hit blue states — deserves something akin to a 9/11 commission. So does the wholesale corruption of American diplomacy, only a small part of which was addressed by impeachment. Just last month, The New York Times reported that Trump instructed America’s ambassador to Britain to press the British government to hold the British Open golf tournament at Trump Turnberry, the president’s money-losing golf resort in Scotland. But we have little visibility into how fully American foreign policy has been perverted to serve Trump’s personal interests.

It’s also certainly worth considering the prosecutions of Miller, ICE, and Border Patrol officials, if applicable, as proposed by Sen. Warren during the Democratic primary. As reported in Pacific Standard last year:

Warren states correctly that, as president, she could ask the Department of Justice to investigate and consider bringing charges against individuals from the Trump administration who violated the laws by detaining and criminally abusing immigrants,” says Margaret Russell, a constitutional law professor at Santa Clara University. “This is within a president’s authority even if the past administration defended its actions as permissible under the immigration laws.”

As Goldberg points out, holding these people accountable does not simply mean “airing” or “exposing” their criminality. There is no benefit to that other than to encourage others by letting them know what they can get away with. What she is calling for are explicit legal sanctions—prison time for Trump’s criminal cabal. Of course, the right will call it a political vendetta. Fox News and every right-wing media outlet will call their minions into the street to protest, screaming at the top of their lungs. So? Just another reason to restore the Fairness Doctrine. It certainly couldn’t be much worse than what we’re experiencing right now.

Of course, the Biden administration—like any Democratic Administration coming out of this nightmare—will want to look forward, particularly since it will be attempting to rebuild what is likely to be the most damaged economy in American history. They will consider it a secondary matter to prosecute these people, secondary to saving the country itself from the disaster that Trump is leaving them to clean up. But in this circumstance, they may have no choice. As pointed out by Andrew Feinberg, writing for the Independent, Trump is a special case:

[G]ood government advocates, legal experts, and some prominent Democrats say the broad range of alleged violations of law by Trump administration officials and allies, ranging from misuse of government resources for personal gain; to the abuse and mistreatment of persons — including minors — in immigration detention; to obstruction of justice and making false statements to Congress; means a Biden administration effort to simply “turn the page” on the Trump years would be a dangerous concession to lawlessness.

It is a near certainty that Trump will contest any election result that goes against him, but assuming that our governmental institutions manage to thwart any attempts by Trump to evade that outcome, the timeframe between Nov. 3 and Jan. 20 will become the last opportunity for Trump’s cadre of appointees to indulge in a final spate of looting the public coffers.

The only way they are going to be deterred is by knowing that they will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.

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Health

Bipartisan group of former government officials demand science-based approach to pandemic



“Sidelining science has already cost lives, imperiled the safety of our loved ones, compromised our ability to safely reopen our businesses, schools, and places of worship, and endangered the health of our democracy itself,” the officials wrote.

The statement’s signatories include Luciana Borio, acting chief scientist under Obama and Trump who left the administration in 2019; Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration; Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under Bush; Peter Lurie, associate commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under Obama and Trump; and Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency administrator under Bush.

While the officials do not criticize specific administration policies, they call for a number of actions to guide the response. Among those is that research and data inform production and allocation decisions for personal protective equipment and ventilators, and the release of data on new cases, deaths and hospitalizations that would be easy for outside experts to use and analyze.

Even as cases have surged, the administration has not significantly changed its strategy in fighting the outbreak. Trump himself has regularly flouted his own administration’s guidelines by holding indoor political events where most attendees do not wear masks and refusing to wear a mask in public. Last week, he reiterated his belief that the virus would simply “disappear” on its own despite rising deaths and nearly 3 million confirmed infections in the United States.

The president’s top aides have also put forth a garbled message by contradicting each other and downplaying recent rises in infections.

The statement also calls on Congress to conduct more rigorous oversight of the pandemic response and “any attempts at political [interference] in scientific decision-making.” It states that inspectors general must be able to do their jobs without fear of retaliation, that data collection methods from federal agencies must be more transparent and easily accessible to outside experts and that federal employees who speak about interference in science must be better protected.

Rick Bright, a former top vaccine official, filed a whistleblower complaint after he was reassigned in April stating that he was reassigned to a less prestigious role because he tried to “prioritize science and safety over political expediency” and raised health concerns over an unproven antimalarial drug repeatedly pushed by President Trump as a possible cure for coronavirus.

The administration has also fought over how to count deaths from coronavirus, a process overseen by the CDC. Some key White House aides have expressed frustration that the CDC has included likely deaths from coronavirus in its tally — which is standard public health practice — arguing that the process is inflating death statistics.

“To the federal employees working on the front lines of this pandemic, preparing our country for any resurgence of covid-19, we say: keep speaking out. We support you,” the officials write. “You stand as a bulwark against the spread of misinformation and the diversion of public health policies and programs to suit political goals.”



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Three Chinese nationals sentenced to prison for taking pictures of a government installation in Key West


Chinese national Liao Lyuyou, 27, was sentenced to 12 months in prison after pleading guilty to illegally entering the restricted area within Naval Air Station Key West in December and taking photographs and video, according to the US Attorney’s office of the Southern District of Florida.

In a separate case, Jielun Zhang, 25, and Yuhao Wang, 24, were sentenced to 12 months and nine months in prison, respectively. Both men pleaded guilty to illegally entering a restricted area within the same naval base as Liao. They were also taking pictures, according to the US Attorney’s office of the Southern District of Florida.

Chinese national arrested for taking photos at Florida naval base

Liao was arrested on December 26 for entering the restricted area and taking photos of an annex and other government buildings near sensitive military facilities. He was verbally warned not to but did it anyway, according to court documents.

Liao had circumvented a security fence with “numerous warnings posted” on it, the documents said, and continued to walk in the restricted area and take photos after “witnesses verbally warned him.” He later told officials that he reads and understands English better than he can speak it.

According to the documents, Liao stated he was trying to take photos of the sunrise after US military police approached him. He gave them permission to look at his camera where they saw images of the Truman Annex at the facility as well as photos of other government buildings in the area.

A week later, Jielun and Yuhao approached the guard station in a blue Hyundai on January 4 at the Sigsbee Annex at the Naval Air Station in Key West, according to the criminal complaint.

When Jielun and Yuhao could not provide a military identification, a navy security officer told them to make a U-turn and exit the facility.

Jielun and Yuhaog did not follow instructions and instead stayed at the facility for approximately 30 minutes, according to the complaint.

Navy security officers obtained consent to look at the cell phones and the camera in their possession and observed photos of the Sigsbee Annex property, including US military structures on Fleming Key.

The incidents happened shortly after two Chinese Embassy officials were “secretly expelled” by the US last year after they entered a “sensitive” military base near Norfolk, Virginia, according to The New York Times.
The Times said half a dozen people with knowledge of the expulsions said US officials believe “at least one of the Chinese officials, who were with their wives, was an intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover.”



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Fauci stresses need for ‘productive partnership’ between states and federal government



“We can’t just leave them on their own, on the one hand, and the federal government can’t do it by itself, on the other hand,” Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” Tuesday in regard to large-scale testing.

“So we really got to be having a productive partnership, and I believe most of the governors have resonated with that. We haven’t gotten it perfectly for sure, we know that,” he continued. “Obviously, you call around, a lot of people feel OK about what’s going on but others still need to connect those dots.”

Governors have been pleading for federal help with testing for more than a month, as a shortage of supplies and a backlog in private labs have made it nearly impossible for the states to reach the level of testing needed to reduce social distancing guidelines.

And while President Donald Trump has attempted to paint states’ requests for help with testing as a partisan issue, it hasn’t been only Democrats who have asked for federal assistance. Governors on both sides of the aisle have said that without greater testing capabilities, businesses in their states will not be able to reopen.

Asked about those pleas, Fauci posited that with “people like that who in good faith are calling out for help, I tend to believe them and resonate with them.”

The country, he said, is “going in the right direction, but we need to continue to partner in a very active, collaborative way with the states.”

“We need to help them the same way they need to do the execution. And we’re going to get there.”

Speaking at a National Academy of Sciences Covid-19 Update webcast on Saturday, Fauci estimated that the US is conducting about 1.5 million to 2 million Covid-19 tests per week and said that “we probably should get up to twice that as we get into the next several weeks, and I think we will.”
In a new set of documents unveiled by Trump on Monday, the administration offered a blueprint for coronavirus testing, laying out where it sees the boundaries between federal and state responsibilities.

But the White House said the federal government should act as the “supplier of last resort” for the tests as it works with states to ramp up a regime that health experts say is necessary before a national reopening.

Instead, states should “develop testing plans and rapid response programs” and “maximize the use of all available testing platforms and venues,” according to the copy of the blueprint.

States are also instructed to “identify and overcome barriers to efficient testing,” including “misallocation of supplies” and “logistical failures.”



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