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Obama’s office excoriated a GOP-led congressional probe into Joe Biden and Ukraine as giving ‘credence to a Russian disinformation’



  • The office of former President Barack Obama excoriated a Republican-led congressional investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and purported Ukrainian election interference as giving “credence to a Russian disinformation campaign,” according to a March letter obtained by BuzzFeed News.
  • The letter said the investigation, led by GOP Sens. Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley, “arises out of efforts by some, actively supported by Russia, to shift the blame for Russian interference in the 2016 election to Ukraine.”
  • It also said that in addition to legitimizing Russia’s disinformation campaign in the US — which has been promoted by Republican lawmakers — Johnson and Grassley’s request is legally unprecedented.
  • Nonetheless, Obama’s office will provide the committees access to the records they’d requested “in the interest of countering the misinformation campaign underlying this request,” the letter concluded.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The office of former President Barack Obama excoriated a Republican-led congressional investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and purported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election as giving “credence to a Russian disinformation campaign,” according to a March letter obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Anita Decker Breckenridge, a records representative for Obama, sent the letter to the National Archives and Records Administration on March 13. The letter was sent in connection to a November request from Republican Sens. Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley to NARA requesting Obama administration records “related to certain meetings connected to Ukraine.”

The two senators launched their investigation into Biden and alleged Ukrainian election meddling last year, while the House of Representatives was investigating President Donald Trump’s efforts to strongarm Ukraine into delivering political dirt against Biden in exchange for vital security assistance and a White House meeting for Ukraine’s president. Biden is now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

The US intelligence community concluded with high confidence in early 2017 that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election to propel Trump to the presidency. There is no evidence that the Ukrainian government engaged in a similar effort to help Democrats, as Trump and Republicans have alleged.

NARA is authorized to provide “special access to presidential records to a Committee of either House of Congress before their scheduled release date, provided the information in the records ‘is needed for the conduct of its business’ and ‘is not otherwise available,'” Breckenridge wrote.

She also highlighted that incumbent and former presidents are allowed to review and potentially withhold documents to protect the “confidentiality of presidential communications,” and that Obama has “consistently supported the nonpartisan administration of presidential records and the commitment to transparency core to NARA’s mission.”

However, the letter continued, Johnson and Grassley’s request is an improper use of the NARA exceptions and “arises out of efforts by some, actively supported by Russia, to shift the blame for Russian interference in the 2016 election to Ukraine.”

Breckenridge pointed to impeachment testimony from Fiona Hill, the White House’s former senior director for Russian and Eurasian affairs. Hill was one of several witnesses who testified last year about her knowledge of  an “irregular” foreign policy channel that Trump’s allies used to force Ukraine to cave to the president’s demands.

In her opening remarks, Hill skewered several Republican lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee for suggesting Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 race.

“Based on questions I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country and that, perhaps, somehow for some reason Ukraine did,” Hill said. “This is a fictional narrative that is being perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

David Hale, the US’s undersecretary of state for political affairs, also testified that he had not seen any “credible evidence” showing Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to help Democrats.

Breckenridge’s letter continued to take aim at Republicans conducting the Ukraine congressional probe, saying their request for the early release of presidential records “in order to give credence to a Russian disinformation campaign — one that has already been thoroughly investigated by a bipartisan congressional committee — is without precedent.”

However, Breckenridge concluded the letter by saying that Obama’s office would provide the committees access to the records they’d requested “in the interest of countering the misinformation campaign underlying this request.”


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Texas Republican lawmaker says he won’t wear a mask on the House floor unless he tests positive for coronavirus



  • Texas Republican Louie Gohmert said he doesn’t wear a mask on the House floor because he doesn’t have the coronavirus but would wear one if he tested positive.
  • Gohmert told CNN that he keeps “being tested” and doesn’t have COVID-19, so he doesn’t wear a mask, adding he’s “not afraid.”
  • Vice President Mike Pence earlier this week at a press conference listed ways Americans could protect themselves from catching the coronavirus but did not mention mask usage or social distancing. 
  • Despite the polarization surrounding facial coverings, experts agree their widespread adoption could help communities control the spread of COVID-19.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert said on Friday that he doesn’t wear a mask on the House floor because he’s tested negative for the novel coronavirus. He said he would wear one should he test positive for it. 

“I keep being tested and I don’t have it. So I’m not afraid of you, but if I get it I’ll wear a mask,” the 66-year-old lawmaker told CNN. 

As CNN noted, Gohmert is one of several Republicans who have been seen on the House floor sans a mask. Minority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, and Florida Republican Rep. Ted Yoho have also been spotted on the House floor without masks, according to the report. 

While masks aren’t required on the House floor, according to the Washington Post, but have been required in committee meetings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended the wearing of facial coverings in public settings, particularly when it is not possible to maintain a distance of six feet.

“I don’t have the coronavirus, turns out as of yesterday I’ve never had it. But if I get it, you’ll never see me without a mask,” Gohmert told CNN on Friday. Gohmert did not say when he had last been tested for the virus, CNN reported.

His comments come as the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas continue to increase.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday, also a member of the GOP, said he reopened bars in the state too soon and ordered them to close and ordered restaurants to reduce their dine-in capacity to 50%. On Friday, Texas officials reported 5,707 new cases of COVID-19 — just shy of its all-time record 5,996 set the day prior.

While cases in New York, once an epicenter of COVID-19 in the US, have continued to decline since the end of April, cases in the US as a whole have reached record highs. According to NBC News, there were 45,942 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Friday — the largest single-day increase in the US so far.

While some, like the president and vice president, have suggested the increase in COVID-19 cases is due to the increase in testing capacity, experts have refuted these claims in hardest-hit states like Florida

“We want the American people to understand that it’s almost inarguable that more testing is generating more cases,” Pence said Friday at a press conference where he falsely claimed the US had flattened the curve

At the same conference, in which Pence did not wear a face mask, the vice president did not include social distancing or facial coverings when he listed ways the public could reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19, as USA Today noted. 

Deaths from the virus have not seen a similar spike, though as experts have previously warned, the COVID-19 death rate is a lagging indicator, meaning it could take two to three weeks for it to reflect new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

As Business Insider’s Aria Bendix noted, despite the polarizing opinions from politicians Americans about the implementation of facial coverings, a growing body of research suggests that the widespread adoption of masks would be effective in enabling communities to control the spread of the virus

Part of the polarization began earlier this year when US leaders urged against the panic buying of masks over fears it would deplete supplies for medical personnel, but since April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that masks are a useful tool in curbing the spread. 

President Trump has refused to wear a mask in public even during a tour of a factory that was producing face masks. Last month he shared a tweet that argued face masks represent “silence, slavery, and social death.”

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President Trump’s home county is sending 2 reusable masks to all of its households as coronavirus cases spike in Florida



  • Every household in Florida’s Palm Beach County will receive two reusable masks as coronavirus cases in the state rise, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported on Friday.
  • Florida set its single-day record for new coronavirus cases on Friday.
  • The state reported just under 9,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday, a single-day record for the state and the highest number for any state since April 15.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Florida’s Palm Beach County will send two reusable masks to each of its households as coronavirus cases in the state rise, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported on Friday.

The county will reportedly send out 1.3 million of the 1.5 million masks it ordered, while holding the rest for households that need more than two or did not receive their initial shipment. While Mayor Dave Kerner said he wasn’t sure when residents would begin receiving the masks, he said he would be “pushing the pedal to the metal” in an effort to distribute them quickly, according to the Sun Sentinel’s report.

Kerner cited the county’s high proportion of senior citizens as a reason for the initiative, the Sun Sentinel reported. The county began requiring that residents wear masks on June 24.

In 2019, President Donald Trump moved his residency from New York’s Trump Tower to his Mar-a-Lago golf club in Palm Beach County. The decision was made “primarily for tax purposes,” The New York Times reported in October, citing a person close to Trump.

Florida reported just under 9,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday, a single-day record for the state, and the highest number for any state since April 15. The state began to reopen on May 4 and was allowing restaurants, bars, concert venues, movie theaters, and similar businesses to operate at half their capacity.

“More people are out and about,” Mary Jo Trepka, an epidemiologist at Florida International University, told CNN on Wednesday. “That has most likely contributed to it.”

The US also hit its single-day record for new coronavirus cases on Friday, passing 40,000 for the first time. The virus has so far killed over 124,410 people in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.


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As coronavirus cases surge to a record, the Trump administration’s top doctor says some places likely opened up too early



  • Many states are experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases. This week, the US reached an all-time one-day high of 40,000 new cases. 
  • Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in an interview that some part of the country may have opened too early, but stressed it’s important to look at each part of the US individually. 
  • The nation’s top doctor said some states are only now starting to see a “first wave” of the virus, so it was understandable that some people might not grasp the danger of the disease.
  • He praised Texas for pausing elective medical procedures and other reopenings as the state faces a surge of cases.
  • For more stories like this, sign up here for our healthcare newsletter Dispensed.

New coronavirus infections in the US shot to an all-time high of 40,000 in a single day this week, leading many critics to say governors were re-opening their states too early.

But in an interview with Business Insider, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said that the surge shouldn’t be attributed to a single reason. He said that while official decisions to reopen are contributing to the surge in some places, individuals’ decisions to stop social distancing or to not wear masks are playing a big role, too.

“In some places it may be because they did in fact reopen too early,” he said. “In other cases it may be that they reopened right on time and that the governmental institutions and public health institutions did everything right, but that the citizens did not have the will or desire or the follow through to do the social distancing that we have recommended, and to wear coverings as we have recommended.” 

As the nation’s top doctor, Adams is responsible for getting the word out about how people can improve their health. He also oversees 6,000 public health service members that work throughout the government. 

Localized outbreaks or a widespread surge

Asked which states he thought opened too early, Adams wouldn’t name any. Coronavirus cases are climbing in more than half of states, and many decided to begin reopening without meeting the criteria set out by the White House, Business Insider’s Aria Bendix previously reported.

Adams stressed that the Trump administration is looking at outbreaks at the county level. 

On Friday, the Coronavirus Task Force, which is overseen by Vice President Mike Pence, held its first press conference in two months. Officials showed reporters a map of outbreaks by county, which the vice president said was the best way to find and curb hotspots.

While the Trump administration has stressed that the recent outbreaks are localized, congressional Democrats and some prominent epidemiologists have urged the White House to enact a nationwide plan to stomp out the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert who is also on the coronavirus task force, warned at the same press conference Friday that localized outbreaks can still become bigger problems elsewhere. 

“The only way we’re going to end it is by ending it together,” he said.

Adams, who is a member of the task force, also stressed addressing outbreaks locally. He told Business Insider that the bulk of the surge in Arizona, for instance, came from one county. Some states could attribute their outbreaks to specific workplaces, such as meatpacking plants, he said. 

“It’s different everywhere, and we are digging into the causes in each of those particular areas,” he said. 

Pence said Friday that 16 states were seeing worrisome coronavirus increases. The US is conducting about 500,000 tests a day, which is helping to identify people with the virus even if they don’t have symptoms. Young people are accounting for much of the surge.

Read more: Trump is counting on states to figure out how to fight the coronavirus. We got an exclusive look at how 8 states are laying plans for widespread testing to halt the pandemic and reopen businesses.

The surgeon general said people are getting tired of shutdowns

Adams said part of the reason the surge is happening in young people is that for months the pandemic hadn’t been as obvious in some parts of the US. Even though there was a nationwide shutdown, not every community experienced a severe outbreak. As more states reopen, some communities are experiencing that “first wave” only now, he said. 

“A lot of people never really saw that first wave in any part of their country, but they were putting in the work,” Adams said, referring to businesses being shut down and people being asked to stay at home. “And so now they both don’t really feel that this is something that’s meaningful and tangible in their life as a risk, but they also were tired of doing it.”

He said some people have become sick of coronavirus-related restrictions, and want to resume their normal lives.

“If you’re in middle America and you never really experienced the first wave, all you know is that you were locked down and had to cancel your spring break and miss school and miss your graduation and no one around you got COVID-19 — and now you’re sick and tired of it and you didn’t see a bit of tangible benefit from it in your day-to-day life, and you just want to get back to normal,” he said. 

Adams said it’s important for public health officials to get the word out about how following public health measures would get the US back to normal sooner. He said that because the virus is better understood now than a few months ago, each states could evaluate how much to tighten or loosen restrictions. 

He said that approach — pointing out the benefits of wearing masks and social distancing — is more effective than shaming people for their behavior.

Adams praises Texas pause

In Texas, the outbreak became so severe this week that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott decided to pause the state’s reopening.

Adams praised Abbott for taking action to curb the state’s outbreak. He said the actions in Texas were “exactly what we would want to happen from a response standpoint,” specifically honing in on how the governor asked hospitals to put off elective surgeries. 

But he also said there needs to be a balance in certain areas, because other healthcare needs had gone unmet during widespread shutdowns. People had put off prenatal care, vaccines, and cancer screenings, he said.  

Read more: Doctors are getting creative about how they care for their patients amid the pandemic. 3 physicians share what they’re doing — and the challenges they still face.

“Initially, it was shut down, no matter the cost, because the cost of COVID was too great based on what we saw in Italy and people dying in hallways and people not being able to get on a ventilator,” he said. “We’re now starting to see the cost. Every 1% increase in unemployment results in a 1.3% increase in people taking their life by suicide. 4.2 million children have missed vaccinations because of the shutdown.”

“And so we want to reopen, but we want to reopen safely and strategically, and we’re in a better position to reopen safely and strategically now and get people, those other services that we previously were willing to trade off for the sake of COVID,” he added.  

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Major car shows have been struggling for years. But, COVID-19 may mean their ultimate demise.



  • The coronavirus pandemic threatens the future of traditional car shows as attendance dwindles and sponsorship weakens.
  • Car shows face competition as automotive manufacturers turn to the internet and off-site media previews to debut new vehicles.
  • Experts don’t expect traditional car shows to disappear completely but suggested that car shows must innovate if they are to stay relevant.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Last week would have been a big week in Motown, the North American International Auto Show opening its doors to the public for the first time since abandoning its traditional winter timetable in January 2019.

The move aimed to revitalize what long was considered one of the world’s most important car shows, typically drawing over 700,000 visitors through its turnstiles while, in its heyday, as many as 70 new cars, trucks, crossovers and concepts would make their debut. The last few years saw sharp declines at NAIAS, however. What was once three hectic days of product debuts shrinking to barely five hours. Sponsors had hoped a new spring timetable, allowing the show to spread to surrounding park space, would give it a kick-start. But the pandemic forced cancellation of the debut event.

The Detroit auto show isn’t the only one struggling. Attendance at the Frankfurt Motor Show, once the biggest global events, was so weak last year sponsors called it their last. Now, as the coronavirus scrubs most major public events, the question is whether car shows can survive the pandemic.

“The auto show was certainly on life support already,” said Jeff Schuster, lead auto analyst with consultancy LMC Automotive. “With the rolling cancellation of one show after another, the coronavirus may be speeding up their demise.”

This year may see only one significant global car show, February’s gathering in Chicago. Since the last-minute decision to halt the Geneva Motor Show later that month one event after another has been scrubbed, including big shows in New York and Paris, and smaller gatherings around the world. The Los Angeles Auto Show, still on the books for November, is widely expected to postpone until 2021, say numerous industry planners, though there’s been no formal announcement.

The coronavirus has hit everything from baseball games to amusement parks. But it’s coming at a particularly tough time for car shows already struggling with weakening public attendance and declining industry support for much of the past decade.

Attendance at the Frankfurt Auto Show peaked at 931,000 in 2015, when there were so many new models debuts organizers scheduled two simultaneous news conferences every 20 minutes for 10 hours. Last fall, public turnout was 40% lower, while manufacturers including Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Ferrari, Infiniti, Jeep, Nissan, Tesla, and a half-dozen other brands skipped out entirely.

High costs are a major factor. Even the smallest stands in New York, Paris or Los Angeles “will come in at $1 million, bare minimum,” said Schuster, adding it’s “easy” to get to $10 million, especially when a carmaker brings in a big name entertainer, as Mercedes-Benz often does.

Today, however, budgets are getting squeezed, and manufacturers want ways to get more for their dollars, said Mark Wakefield, head of AlixPartners’ automotive practice. There also is more competition making classic car shows “just not as useful.”

A major reason for Detroit’s move to June was the emergence of January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as the go-to place for automakers debuting increasingly high-tech products and digital features. This year, more than a dozen staged events at CES.

Automakers are turning to places like the Texas State Fair to reveal new trucks, such as the latest-generation Chevrolet Silverado, and the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance as a backdrop for new luxury products.

Then there’s the internet which, this year has seen dozens of web debuts for products like the Honda Civic Type R, the Nissan Rogue, the Toyota Venza, Ford’s F-150, and the Mercedes E-Class. 

Even when they do turn up at for traditional events like last November’s Los Angeles Auto Show, many automakers have switched to off-site media previews. That not only can save money but give manufacturers more time with journalists who might otherwise have to run from one event to another every 20 minutes, explained a Volkswagen planner who asked not to be identified by name.

There’s no question “It’s time for auto shows to make an adjustment,” said Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, which sponsors the NAIAS. “If shows learn to adapt, I think they’ll stay around.”

The original plans for the 2020 event called for NAIAS to spread out from the confines of Detroit’s TCF Center, setting up exhibits not only on the roof of the convention hall, but in the adjoining riverfront park land, “something we couldn’t do in winter,” said Alberts.

The DADA also was setting up an off-site event for luxury brands, like Ferrari and Rolls-Royce, that otherwise saw little value in setting up stands at TCF Center. And, rather than stick with the traditional, static displays, automakers were invited to offer potential buyers short rides in some of their news products.

Auto shows are “becoming more focused on how to get people into dealerships,” said David Sloan, the president of the Chicago Auto Trade Association, which sponsors that city’s event.

Organizers are wont to quote data showing car shows generate sales.

“In 2019, 72% of New York Auto Show attendees said they will buy or lease a new vehicle in the next 12 months, and 36% of them added brands to their consideration lists after visiting the Show,” stated a May release by organizers of the 120-year-old event.

But such numbers are being greeted with increasing skepticism, especially as manufacturers experiment with alternatives they feel are proving at least as effective at reaching and motivating potential buyers, said LMC Wakefield.

And the coronavirus pandemic will add impetus to a shift away from car shows, along with other large public gatherings, he said, adding that, “We’re expecting to see, post-coronavirus, a step-level change in people’s comfort level with doing things online.”

Car shows won’t go away entirely, Wakefield and other experts believe, but those that can’t adapt to changing realities might fail, as did Frankfurt. Those that do survive are likely to be smaller, less lavish, and far more focused as they square off against others competing for the attention of potential car buyers.

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