Trump’s pick for coronavirus inspector general faces questions about independence by Alexander Nazaryan
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s nominee for inspector general overseeing billions in Treasury Department coronavirus relief funds is facing skepticism from Democrats who fear that he will not show sufficient independence.
Even so, that nominee, Brian D. Miller, stands to be confirmed as the special inspector general for pandemic recovery by a Republican-controlled Senate. In that position, he would monitor the disbursement of $500 billion in loans to businesses and corporations. Those funds were appropriated in last month’s CARES Act, a $2 trillion package meant to stimulate an economy paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Democratic skepticism during the hearing of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, came in part because Miller currently serves as a White House attorney. Miller fought back by citing his legal mandate to investigate fraud and abuse related to coronavirus spending.
“If I am unable to do my job, I will resign,” he vowed.
Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., asked if he would look to “gain presidential approval before investigating contacts, issuing reports or communicating with Congress.”
Miller promised that he would not.
His supporters on the Republican side pointed to an investigation Miller did as an inspector general in the George W. Bush administration, when he faulted top federal administrator Lurita Doan for abusing her position. Doan, who had been a military contractor before joining the Republican administration, was forced to resign.
Most recently, his job was to defend Trump on charges related to abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. During the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s withholding of military aid to Ukraine, Miller rebuffed a request from the Government Accountability Office.“The White House does not plan to respond separately to your letters,” Miller wrote on Dec. 20 of last year.The impeachment has receded in the national imagination, overtaken by a pathogen that has killed some 70,000 Americans. Still, Miller’s rejection of the information request returned as a point of contention on Tuesday, as Democrats wondered if he could ever assert independence from a president he has been representing.
Facility near Pyongyang airport linked to North Korea’s missile programme, U.S. think-tank says by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith•Pompeo: Shots fired by North Korea ‘accidental’ says that shots fired by North Korea across its borderBy Sangmi Cha and Josh SmithSEOUL (Reuters) – A new facility near Pyongyang International Airport is almost certainly linked to North Korea’s expanding ballistic missile programme, according to a report from a Washington-based think-tank.The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) cited commercial satellite imagery it says shows the facility and a nearby underground structure have the capacity to accommodate North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that experts believe are able to strike anywhere in the United States.The facility has been under construction since 2016, and includes a number of notable features, including an unusually large covered rail terminal and buildings that are linked by drive-through access, according to the CSIS report, published on Tuesday. The facility is also relatively close to ballistic missile component manufacturing plants in the Pyongyang area.
„Taken as a whole, these characteristics suggest that this facility is likely designed to support ballistic missile operations,” the report said, calling it the Sil-li Ballistic Missile Support Facility.
The North Korean embassy in Beijing could not immediately be reached for comment on the report.
When asked about the report at a regular briefing in Seoul on Wednesday, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it would be inappropriate to comment.
Negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes have been at a standstill after working-level meetings with the United States collapsed last year.
In 2018, North Korea said it closed its Punggye-ri nuclear test site, and last year it offered to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for the revocation of five key U.N. resolutions during a failed summit between leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam.
But experts and U.S. officials say in the absence of a denuclearisation deal, North Korea has continued to expand its arsenal of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
In recent months, North Korea has also warned it could rethink its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons tests and ICBM launches.
Located on the southwest corner of Pyongyang International Airport – approximately 17km (10 miles) northwest of the North Korean capital – the Sil-li facility encompasses approximately 442,300 square metres (4.76 million square feet), according to CSIS.
„A high-bay building within the facility is large enough to accommodate an elevated Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile and, therefore, the entirety of North Korea’s known ballistic missile variants,” the report said.
„The facility has been constructed next to an underground facility whose likely size is also large enough to easily accommodate all known North Korean ballistic missiles and their associated launchers and support vehicles.”
The buildings are connected by a wide surfaced road network that could help move large trucks and ballistic missile launchers, the report said.
North and South Korea on Saturday exchanged gunfire around a rural guard post, raising tension a day after North Korean state media showed Kim visiting a factory, the first report of him making a public appearance since April 11.North Korea launched multiple short-range anti-ship cruise missiles into the sea and Sukhoi jets fired air-to-surface missiles on April 14.(Reporting by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)
The Wuhan lab at the heart of the US-China virus spat by Beiyi SEOW•The Wuhan Institute of Virology in central China has been accused by top US officials of being the source of the coronavirus, but no evidence has been released to back the claims (AFP Photo/Hector RETAMAL)The Chinese laboratory accused by top American officials of being the source of the coronavirus pandemic conducts research on the world’s most dangerous diseases.US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have both claimed that there is evidence the pathogen came from the lab in Wuhan — the city where the disease was first detected late last year.But the World Health Organization said Washington had offered no evidence to support the „speculative” claims, and scientists believe the coronavirus jumped from animals to humans, possibly at a Wuhan market selling wild animals.The top US epidemiologist Anthony Fauci has echoed the WHO’s statement, telling National Geographic that all evidence so far „strongly indicates” a natural origin.China has strongly denied the allegations, but speculation and conspiracy theories have persisted.Here are some key questions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology- What do its researchers do? -Work by the lab’s scientists helped to shed light on the COVID-19 pathogen in the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan.In February, they published work concluding that the new virus shared a 79.6 percent sequence identity to the SARS coronavirus, and that it was 96 percent identical at the whole-genome level to a coronavirus found in bats.
The lab’s researchers had already conducted extensive investigations on the links between bats and disease outbreaks in China, and had highlighted the need to prepare for viruses potentially spreading out of their natural reservoirs into human communities.
Scientists think COVID-19 originated in bats and could have been transmitted to people via another mammal like a pangolin, but there is no definitive answer so far.
– What does it handle? –
The Wuhan institute houses the largest virus bank in Asia which preserves more than 1,500 strains.
The complex contains Asia’s first maximum-security lab equipped to handle Class 4 pathogens (P4) such as Ebola.
The 300-million-yuan ($42 million) P4 lab opened in 2018. A P3 lab has been in operation since 2012.
While the US intelligence community said it had concluded the coronavirus was not human-made, it added that it would continue to investigate if the outbreak started from contact with infected animals or from „an accident” at the Wuhan lab.
– Could there be a leak? –
US diplomatic cables seen by The Washington Post earlier said that officials were concerned about inadequate safety standards related to researchers’ handling of SARS-like bat coronaviruses in the high-security lab.
The institute has said it received samples of the then-unknown virus on December 30, determined the viral genome sequence on January 2 and submitted information on the pathogen to the WHO on January 11.
Shi Zhengli, one of China’s leading experts on bat coronaviruses and deputy director of the Wuhan P4 lab, said she would „bet her life that (the new coronavirus) had nothing to do with the lab”, according to Chinese state media.
And in an interview with Scientific American, Shi said the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequence did not match any of the bat coronaviruses her laboratory had previously collected and studied.
– What do scientists know about the virus? –
Researchers have noted that while there is no proof for the lab accident theory, there is also no clear evidence that the virus came from the Wuhan market.
A study by a group of Chinese scientists published in The Lancet in January found that the first COVID-19 patient had no connection to the market, and neither did 13 of the first 41 confirmed cases.
Professor Leo Poon of The University of Hong Kong said the scientific community’s consensus was that the virus is not human-made.
„We need to look at the origin of this virus. It is important, because from a public health point of view, we want to know how it happened, and (if we can) learn from this,” he said.David Heymann, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, added: „We have a hypothesis that it came from a live animal market, and I haven’t seen anybody provide evidence that shows to the contrary.”
Putin awards commemorative WWII medal to Kim Jong Un •In this photo released by Russian Embassy in the DPRK/Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, Russian Ambassador to Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Alexander Matsegora, left, and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon, foreground right, both wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, attend a ceremony of awarding North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with Russia’s 75th anniversary Victory medal for his major contribution in commemorating Soviet soldiers, who died in 1945 during Korea’s liberation, at the Mansudae Palace of Congress in Pyongyang, North Korea. Russian President Vladimir Putin has awarded Kim Jong Un a commemorative war medal marking the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. (Russian Embassy in the DPRK/Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP)MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has awarded Kim Jong Un a commemorative war medal marking the 75th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, the Russian embassy in Pyongyang said Tuesday.The medal was awarded to the North Korean leader for his role in preserving the memory of Soviet soldiers who died on North Korean territory, the statement said.Russia’s ambassador in North Korea, Alexander Matsegora, presented the award to the country’s Foreign Minister Ri Son-gwon on Tuesday. Kim, who was rumored earlier this month to have fallen ill, didn’t attend the ceremony.
Photos of the meeting in Pyongyang showed Russian and North Korean officials wearing face masks despite the fact that North Korea so far has not reported a single case of the new coronavirus.Last year Russia invited Kim to visit Moscow on May 9 and attend the military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the victory. Putin announced the decision to postpone the parade indefinitely last month because of the coronavirus pandemic.In 2015, the North Korean leader rejected a similar invitation to the 70th anniversary, citing domestic affairs.
Trump set to travel for first time in weeks as U.S. death toll nears 70,000
Here’s what we’re watching this Tuesday morning.
Trump to take first trip outside D.C. in weeks as more states open up
President Donald Trump will travel outside the D.C. area for the first time in more than a month later today when he visits a Honeywell mask manufacturing facility in Phoenix, Arizona.
His travels outside the Beltway come as more states began to partially reopen and lift some social distancing restrictions Monday.
For many businesses across the country, reopening means managing a high-wire balancing act between serving customers and maintaining safety.
Meantime, a new draft report from the federal government predicted that by June 1, the daily death toll could nearly double to 3,000 per day.
So far nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the United States by COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
Globally, COVID-19 has now killed more than a quarter of a million people, according to Johns Hopkins University’s count.
- Check out our live blog for the latest updates.
- See maps of where the virus has spread in the U.S. and worldwide.
- Listen to our podcast Into America. The latest episode digs into the team racing to create a COVID-19 vaccine.
‘Is this permanent?’ Recovering COVID-19 patients report weeks of ongoing illness
Kate Porter has had a fever nearly every day for 50 days. She can’t shake the extreme exhaustion that hit when she became infected with the coronavirus nearly two months ago.
The longevity of her symptoms are unlike anything she’s ever experienced. „I know it sounds crazy,” Porter said, „but is this permanent?”
She’s not alone. COVID-19 patients who are not sick enough to be hospitalized have little guidance on how to recover. There is no specific drug or treatment, other than rest, fluids and fever-reducing medicine such as Tylenol.
Many recovering COVID-19 patients have reported weeks of fever, fatigue, fear and uncertainty.
Did the coronavirus escape from a Chinese lab? Experts suspect a different, more likely source
There has been a barrage of contradictory claims in recent days about how U.S. officials believe the coronavirus emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan, what evidence they have and when Trump was first briefed about it.
Here is what we actually know.
Higher fares, longer waits and no booze: How coronavirus will change the way we fly
Higher ticket prices, temperature checks before boarding, and no inflight alcohol: Airline travel in the post-coronavirus era will look very different from the low-cost „getaway” trips of the past — and it ain’t pretty.
But airlines are keen to see passenger volume return, and have been making significant changes to prevent the spread of the disease.
In an industry that has seen a decline in traffic by 95 percent, and two airlines already forced into bankruptcy, the pressure to get it right is enormous.
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- A Michigan security guard was killed in a dispute over the need to wear a mask before entering a store.
- NBC News Chairman Andy Lack will step down and leave the company at the end of the month.
- Greg Zanis, an Illinois carpenter known as the „The Cross Man” for his tireless effort to memorialize victims of mass shootings, died at 69.
- Senate office said it lacks „discretion” to release possible Biden complaint.
THINK about it
Kim Jong Un’s disappearance raised many questions. And we still don’t have answers, retired U.S. Army colonel and former member of the National Security Council Jeff McCausland writes in an opinion piece.
Can’t go out to celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Make this healthy (and super easy) guacamole at home.
Feeling like your roots could use some love? Here are the best hair color and hair dye kits, according to experts.
Quote of the day
„We fall into the category of not critical and dying, but not asymptomatic. That’s a very lonely, unclear place to be.”
— Andrew Dumont, a 32-year-old who is still suffering from COVID-19 symptoms two months since he first got ill.
One fun thing
It’s a whole new world out there for the graduating class of 2020.
The Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University announced that it will be using robots to stand in for students at its graduation ceremony.
And a „virtual prom” hosted Saturday on Instagram Live gave more than 500 high school seniors a chance to celebrate and participate in a rite of passage, albeit remotely.
The prom „gave teens an opportunity to pull themselves out of the gloom, put on some red lipstick and heels and dance the night away,” said one attendee.
Thanks for reading the Morning Rundown.
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Be safe and stay healthy, Petra Cahill
The raid resulted in the arrests of two U.S. citizens and roughly a dozen Venezuelans by local authorities. The Americans were later identified as two former Army Green Berets by a third former Green Beret whose company, Silvercorp USA, was purportedly behind the incursion.
“The United States government had nothing to do with what’s happened in Venezuela in the last few days,” Esper said during a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday afternoon.
Former Green Beret turned private contractor Jordan Goudreau used his company’s Twitter account to announce the raid Sunday, tagging President Donald Trump’s own Twitter account in the process.
An Associated Press investigation published Friday reported that Goudreau worked with retired Venezuelan military Maj. Gen. Cliver Alcalá — who separately was indicted by U.S. prosecutors on narcotics charges — to train Venezuelan defectors at secret camps in Colombia.
The two U.S. citizens now in Venezuelan custody were identified as Luke Denman and Aaron Berry. Maduro held up what appeared to be an expired military ID with Denman’s name on it and a Veterans Affairs ID with Berry’s name during a televised address to Venezuelans on Monday.
Trump also denied any connection to the incident and told reporters before departing the White House on Tuesday that he had only just learned of Denman and Berry’s detention by Venezuelan authorities.
“Whatever it is, we’ll let you know,” Trump said. “But it has nothing to do with our government.”
Goudreau, who is based in Florida, has said he’s working to help his detained colleagues. He alleged that he signed a contract with U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to overthrow Maduro, an agreement Guaidó denies.
The United States has been at odds with Maduro’s government, sanctioning and indicting officials there, as it attempts to pressure the leader to step aside and allow Guaidó to take control.
“Our view remains that Maduro is a brutal, corrupt leader who has oppressed the people of Venezuela,” Esper said during the briefing. “They deserve better and we will continue to make the case that he should step aside and allow an elected government to form and take that country in the rightful direction that it should go, a very democratic prosperous path that it was on many years before.”
Goudreau provided to Miami-based journalist Patricia Poleo an eight-page “general services agreement” he said Guaidó and his advisers signed in October 2019 with Silvercorp USA. Though the contract was for $213 million, Goudreau said Guaidó never paid.
Due to the diplomatic row between the two countries, there is no U.S. embassy operating in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas that could immediately assist the detained U.S. veterans. All consular services were suspended in March 2019 as crime, civil unrest and the economic outlook of Venezuela declined dramatically, according to the State Department.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday that the Taliban were not living up to their commitments under an agreement signed this year, amid signs the fragile deal is under strain by a political deadlock and increasing Taliban violence.
After lengthy talks behind closed doors, the Taliban and Washington signed an agreement in February for reduced violence and a move toward talks with the Afghan government, but attacks by the group have increased since then.
„I don’t think they are,” Esper told reporters when asked if the Taliban were living up to their commitment.
He added that he believed the Afghan government was also not living up to its commitment. The Afghan government was not part of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban.
Esper said the Afghan government and the Taliban „both need to come together and make progress on the terms that (are) laid out.”
Progress on moving to negotiations between the militant group and the Afghan government has been delayed, in part by the political feud between President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who both claimed to be Afghanistan’s rightful leader following September’s disputed election.
The political deadlock comes as the Taliban has increased the pace of violence.
The Taliban have mounted more than 4,500 attacks in Afghanistan in the 45 days since signing a deal with the United States that paves the way for a U.S. troop drawdown, according to data seen by Reuters.
The United States is continuing it’s drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, which are expected to reach about 8,600 troops in this summer.
Senior Western, Afghan and independent officials tracking the ground situation say that the increase in attacks shows the insurgent group’s wilful disregard of a pledge to reduce violence made as part of the accord signed in late February.
The violence in the war-damaged nation has coincided with the rapid spread of the coronavirus infection.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by David Gregorio)