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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Last Updated Jun 30, 2020 at 12:14 am EDT

AP sources: White House aware of Russian bounties in 2019

Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported, according to U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the intelligence.

The assessment was included in at least one of President Donald Trump’s written daily intelligence briefings at the time, according to the officials. Then-national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019.

The White House did not respond to questions about Trump or other officials’ awareness of Russia’s provocations in 2019. The White House has said Trump was not — and still has not been — briefed on the intelligence assessments because they have not been fully verified. However, it is rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of a doubt before it is presented to top officials.

Bolton declined to comment Monday when asked by the AP if he had briefed Trump about the matter in 2019. On Sunday, he suggested to NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump was claiming ignorance of Russia’s provocations to justify his administration’s lack of a response.

“He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,” Bolton said.

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States reverse openings, require masks amid virus resurgence

Arizona’s Republican governor shut down bars, movie theatres, gyms and water parks Monday and leaders in several states ordered residents to wear masks in public in a dramatic course reversal amid an alarming resurgence of coronavirus cases nationwide.

Among those implementing the face-covering orders is the city of Jacksonville, Florida, where mask-averse President Donald Trump plans to accept the Republican nomination in August. Trump has refused to wear a mask during visits to states and businesses that require them.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s order went into effect immediately and for at least 30 days. Ducey also ordered public schools to delay the start of classes until at least Aug. 17. Most Arizona bars and nightclubs opened after the governor’s stay-at-home and business closure orders were allowed to expire in mid-May.

Arizona health officials reported 3,858 more confirmed coronavirus cases Sunday, the most reported in a single day in the state so far and the seventh time in the past 10 days that daily cases surpassed the 3,000 mark. Since the pandemic began, 74,500 cases and 1,588 deaths stemming from the virus have been reported in Arizona.

“Our expectation is that our numbers next week will be worse,” Ducey said Monday.

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Reports: China approves national security law for Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong media are reporting that China has approved a contentious law that would allow authorities to crack down on subversive and secessionist activity in Hong Kong, sparking fears that it would be used to curb opposition voices in the semi-autonomous territory.

The South China Morning Post newspaper and public broadcaster RTHK, both citing unnamed sources, said that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress voted unanimously to approve a national security law for Hong Kong on Tuesday.

There was no official confirmation from the central government in Beijing or Hong Kong officials.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam declined to comment on the law at a weekly meeting with reporters, saying it was inappropriate for her to do so while the Standing Committee was still meeting.

She did say that once the law is passed, “the Hong Kong government will announce it and promulgate it for implementation here, and then I and my senior officials will do our best to respond to everyone’s questions, especially regarding the enforcement of this national law.”

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Roberts a pivotal vote in the Supreme Court’s big opinions

WASHINGTON (AP) — The biggest cases of the Supreme Court term so far have a surprising common thread.

On a court with five Republican appointees, the liberal justices have been in the majority in rulings that make workplace discrimination against gay and transgender people illegal, protect young immigrants from deportation and, as of Monday, struck down a Louisiana law that restricted abortion providers.

As surprising, Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative nominated by President George W. Bush who has led the court for nearly 15 years, has joined his liberal colleagues in all three.

Since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018, Roberts has played a pivotal role in determining how far the court will go in cases where the court’s four liberals and four conservatives are closely divided.

Here’s a look at where Roberts stood in the abortion, immigration and LGBT cases, his history on the court and what’s at stake in coming decisions in which Roberts could play a key role:

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Distancing from Trump? Some Republicans step up critiques

WASHINGTON (AP) — For more than three years, President Donald Trump instilled such fear in the Republican Party’s leaders that most kept criticism of his turbulent leadership or inconsistent politics to themselves.

That’s beginning to change.

Four months before voters decide the Republican president’s reelection, some in Trump’s party are daring to say the quiet part out loud as Trump struggles to navigate competing national crises and a scattershot campaign message.

“He is losing,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump friend and confidant, said Sunday of Trump’s reelection prospects on ABC’s “This Week.” “And if he doesn’t change course, both in terms of the substance of what he’s discussing and the way that he approaches the American people, then he will lose.”

Beyond politics, Trump’s allies — even some in his own administration — are distancing themselves from his policies.

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Fed’s program for loaning to Main Street off to slow start

WASHINGTON (AP) — Michael Haith, owner and CEO of a Denver-based restaurant chain called Teriyaki Madness, is in an unusual position for people like him: He’s making money through food delivery and pickup and wants to borrow funds so he can expand.

Yet so far, a Federal Reserve lending program set up specifically for small and medium-sized businesses like his hasn’t been much help. He can’t find a bank that’s participating in the program, and he isn’t clear on a lot of the details about how it works. For example, he isn’t sure how much he could borrow.

“We are trying to figure it out, and trying to find a bank that is working with the government on this,” Haith said. “The guidance is pretty convoluted, and the banks seem a little wary.”

Haith’s experience underscores banks’ surprising lack of interest in the Fed’s Main Street Lending program, as well as the challenges potential borrowers are having accessing the program. Fed officials say more than 200 banks have signed up to participate since the program began two weeks ago, but that’s a small slice of the nation’s roughly 5,000 lenders. None have made any loans yet.

The sluggish start is in sharp contrast to the reaction that greeted the Treasury Department’s small business lending efforts, known as the Paycheck Protection Program. That facility, launched in early April, set off a frenzied response from millions of desperate small companies seeking a loan. The first $350 billion in PPP funding ran out in just two weeks before being replenished. Congress agreed to forgive the loans if they were mostly spent paying workers.

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Dems push campaign-season health care bill through House

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats pushed a package expanding “Obamacare” coverage through the House on Monday, a measure that’s doomed to advance no further but spotlights how the coronavirus pandemic and President Donald Trump’s efforts to obliterate that law have fortified health care’s potency as a 2020 campaign issue.

While the legislation had no chance of survival in the Republican-led Senate and faced a White House veto threat for good measure, Democrats plunged ahead anyway. It joins a pile of bills they’ve compiled that highlight their priorities on health care, jobs, ethics and voting rights, issues they intend to wield in this year’s presidential and congressional elections.

The bill cleared the House by a mostly party-line, 234-179 vote over solid GOP opposition. Republicans, who’ve never relented since unanimously opposing former President Barack Obama’s 2010 statue, called the measure a blow to the nation’s health care system during a pandemic and a political stunt.

“This bill attempts to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to resuscitate tired, partisan proposals,” the White House wrote in its statement. It said provisions curbing prescription drug costs would cut pharmaceutical company revenues and “undermine the American innovation the entire globe is depending on” by crimping their research on developing vaccines and treatments.

GOP lawmakers’ votes against the House measure seemed certain to pop up in campaign spots this fall. In a taste of those ads, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday’s vote gave lawmakers a choice between strengthening health care protections or being “complicit” in Trump’s effort to dismantle it.

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Winds of change: Mississippi rebel-themed flag fading away

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi flag is fading from public display in many places, even before the governor signs a bill that will retire the last state banner in the U.S. that includes the Confederate battle emblem.

A broad coalition of legislators passed the landmark bill Sunday after a weekend of emotional debate. On Monday, a U.S. flag fluttered outside the state Supreme Court building and a pole for the state flag stood vacant. Several local governments also furled the 126-year-old state banner.

“In the middle of a pandemic, we — the legislators of the state of Mississippi — decided that it was past time to remove the flag,” Democratic state Rep. Oscar Denton of Vicksburg said Monday as he stood on the Capitol steps with other Legislative Black Caucus members.

Widespread protests in the past month have focused attention on racial injustice in the U.S., and Mississippi came under increasing pressure to surrender the flag that has the Confederate emblem — a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars.

A few supporters of the flag marched outside the Mississippi Capitol with it Saturday and Sunday. Inside the building, dozens of spectators cheered and some wept with happiness after legislators voted to change the flag. Senators on opposite sides of the issue embraced.

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AP FACT CHECK: Actually, 20% of US lives in a virus hot spot

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s been a frequent Trump administration talking point on the recent spike in COVID-19 infections: Don’t worry, only a small sliver of U.S. counties is at greater risk.

In offering this reassurance, Vice-President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar have said that only 3% or 4% of counties in the country are seeing a surge in cases. Focus on the “encouraging signs,” Pence told senators last week.

But they and other administration officials are skirting a key fact: More than 20% of Americans live in those relatively few counties.

The White House has repeatedly cited the low county tally, and Pence reaffirmed the point in a televised interview Sunday. He argued that states, not the federal government, should take the lead with reopening guidelines because virus outbreaks are happening in about “4% of all the counties in this country.”

Azar asserted Friday only 3% of counties represent “hot spots” that are “very concerning.”

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A how-to: BET pulls off artistic, virtual, political success

NEW YORK (AP) — You’d think trying to produce the 2020 BET Awards during the coronavirus pandemic would be filled with restrictions, but instead, show producers took another approach: We’re not limited to a single stage, so sky’s the limit and let your creative minds run free.

That’s the model the producers of the show ran with when crafting the special event, which was a major success Sunday night and one of the first virtual awards shows of the coronavirus era. While abiding by safety guidelines and rules set in place by government officials to prevent the virus from spreading, the BET Awards featured highly produced, artsy pre-taped performances from DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion, John Legend and Alicia Keys, while also addressing current issues in the world about the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality and inequality.

“The irony of it is that we are in a situation where we are ‘locked down’ and can’t do this and can’t do that. But the truth is that, in this particular platform, it’s actually very freeing,” Jesse Collins, the longtime BET Awards producer, said in an interview Monday. “Creatively, it’s very freeing.”

Connie Orlando, BET’s executive vice-president of specials, music programming and music strategy, echoed Collins’ thoughts.

“A show with COVID is challenging because of all the regulations and safety. Also, it takes the guardrail off. You’re not limited to just being in a venue on a 100-foot stage. You can kind of let your imagination go wild and really create art and pieces that are epic,” she said.

The Associated Press

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