Official claims pressure to alter Homeland Security intel
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Department of Homeland Security official said in a whistleblower complaint released Wednesday that he was pressured by more senior officials to suppress facts in intelligence reports that President Donald Trump might find objectionable, including information about Russian interference in the election and the rising threat posed by white supremacists.
The official, Brian Murphy, alleged that senior DHS officials also pressed him to alter reports so they would reflect administration policy goals and that he was demoted for refusing to go along with the changes and for filing confidential internal complaints about the conduct.
Murphy, a former FBI agent and Marine Corps veteran, was demoted in August from his post as principal deputy under secretary in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis. He is seeking to be reinstated in a complaint filed with the DHS Office of Inspector General.
Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, released the complaint, which he said contained “grave and disturbing” allegations. He said Murphy has been asked to give a deposition to Congress as part of an investigation into intelligence collection by DHS related to its response to protests in Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere.
“We will get to the bottom of this, expose any and all misconduct or corruption to the American people, and put a stop to the politicization of intelligence,” the California Democrat said.
Book: Trump said of virus, ‘I wanted to always play it down’
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump talked in private about the “deadly” coronavirus last February, even as he was declaring to America it was no worse than the flu and insisting it was under control, according to a new book by journalist Bob Woodward. Trump said Wednesday he was just being a “cheerleader” for the nation and trying to keep everyone calm.
His public rhetoric, Trump told Woodward in March, was part of a strategy to deliberately minimize the danger. “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said. “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”
Trump, according to the book, acknowledged being alarmed by the virus, even as he was telling the nation that it would swiftly disappear.
Coming less than eight weeks before Election Day, the revelations in the book — accompanied by recordings Woodward made of his interviews with Trump — provide an unwelcome return of public attention to the president’s handling of the pandemic that has so far killed about 190,000 Americans. He is currently pushing hard for a resumption of normal activity and trying to project strength and control to bolster his political position in his campaign against Democrat Joe Biden.
In a Feb. 7 call with Woodward, Trump said of the virus: “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”
3 dead as wildfire explodes in Northern California
OROVILLE, Calilf. (AP) — Three people have died in a Northern California wildfire that has forced thousands from their homes, authorities said Wednesday.
Two people were found dead in one location and a third person was discovered elsewhere, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea announced. He didn’t provide details but California Highway Patrol Officer Ben Draper tells the Bay Area News Group that one person was found in a car and apparently had been trying to escape the flames.
The fire northeast of San Francisco is threatening several communities. Stoked by high winds, it’s burned a 25-mile path through mountainous terrain and parched foothills.
Hundreds of homes and other buildings are believed to have been damaged or destroyed, fire officials said at an evening news conference.
The fire even threatened the town of Paradise that was devastated just two years ago by the deadliest blaze in state history, causing a panic that led to a traffic jam as residents tried to escape.
Think 2020’s disasters are wild? Experts see worse in future
A record amount of California is burning, spurred by a nearly 20-year mega-drought. To the north, parts of Oregon that don’t usually catch fire are in flames.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic’s 16th and 17th named tropical storms are swirling, a record number for this time of year. Powerful Typhoon Haishen lashed Japan and the Korean Peninsula this week. Last month it hit 130 degrees in Death Valley, the hottest Earth has been in nearly a century.
Phoenix keeps setting triple-digit heat records, while Colorado went through a weather whiplash of 90-degree heat to snow this week. Siberia, famous for its icy climate, hit 100 degrees earlier this year, accompanied by wildfires. Before that Australia and the Amazon were in flames.
Amid all that, Iowa’s derecho — bizarre straight-line winds that got as powerful as a major hurricane, causing billions of dollars in damages — barely went noticed.
Freak natural disasters — most with what scientists say likely have a climate change connection — seem to be everywhere in the crazy year 2020. But experts say we’ll probably look back and say those were the good old days, when disasters weren’t so wild.
Vaccine by Nov. 3? Halted study explains just how unlikely
WASHINGTON (AP) — The suspension of a huge COVID-19 vaccine study over an illness in a single participant shows there will be “no compromises” on safety in the race to develop the shot, the chief of the National Institutes of Health told Congress on Wednesday.
AstraZeneca has put on hold studies of its vaccine candidate in the U.S. and other countries while it investigates whether a British volunteer’s illness is a side effect or a coincidence.
“This ought to be reassuring,” NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said before a Senate committee. “When we say we are going to focus first on safety and make no compromises, here is Exhibit A of how that is happening in practice.”
Scientists have been scrambling to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus since the outbreak began, and the U.S. has launched the world’s largest studies — final-stage testing of three leading candidates, with three more trials set to come soon that will each recruit 30,000 test subjects.
Public health experts are worried that President Donald Trump will pressure the Food and Drug Administration to approve a vaccine before it is proven to be safe and effective, a concern senator after senator echoed on Wednesday.
Teacher deaths raise alarms as new school year begins
O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Teachers in at least three states have died after bouts with the coronavirus since the dawn of the new school year, and a teachers’ union leader worries that the return to in-person classes will have a deadly impact across the U.S. if proper precautions aren’t taken.
AshLee DeMarinis was just 34 when she died Sunday after three weeks in the hospital. She taught social skills and special education at John Evans Middle School in Potosi, Missouri, about 70 miles (115 kilometres) southwest of St. Louis.
A third-grade teacher died Monday in South Carolina, and two other educators died recently in Mississippi. It’s unclear how many teachers in the U.S. have become ill with COVID-19 since the new school year began, but Mississippi alone has reported 604 cases among school teachers and staff.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said schools need guidelines such as mandatory face coverings and strict social distancing rules to reopen safely.
“If community spread is too high as it is in Missouri and Mississippi, if you don’t have the infrastructure of testing, and if you don’t have the safeguards that prevent the spread of viruses in the school, we believe that you cannot reopen in person,” Weingarten said.
High alert: Deadly Northwest fires burn hundreds of homes
ESTACADA, Ore. (AP) — Deadly windblown wildfires raging across the Pacific Northwest destroyed hundreds of homes in Oregon, the governor said Wednesday, warning it could be the greatest loss of life and property from wildfire in state history.
The blazes from the top of the state to the California border caused highway closures and smoky skies and had firefighers struggling to contain and douse flames fanned by 50 mph (80 kph) wind gusts. Officials in some western Oregon communities gave residents “go now” orders to evacuate, meaning they had minutes to flee their homes.
Fires were burning in a large swath of Washington state and Oregon that rarely experiences such intense wildfire activity because of the Pacific Northwest’s cool and wet climate.
Flames trapped firefighters and civilians behind fire lines in Oregon and levelled an entire small town in eastern Washington. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown warned that the devastation could be overwhelming from the fires that exploded Monday during a late-summer wind storm.
“Everyone must be on high alert,” Brown said. The blazes were thought to be extremely destructive around Medford, in southern Oregon, and near the state capital of Salem.
Justice Dept. push into Trump case could prompt dismissal
WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday defended the Justice Department’s move to intervene in a defamation lawsuit against President Donald Trump, even as experts were skeptical of the federal government’s effort to protect the president in a seemingly private dispute.
The Justice Department’s action is “a normal application of the law. The law is clear. It is done frequently,” Barr said at an unrelated news conference in Chicago.
He added, “The little tempest that is going on is largely because of the bizarre political environment in which we live.”
But experts said it’s far from clear that the conduct at issue — whether Trump defamed E. Jean Carroll, a writer who accused him of raping her at a New York luxury department store in the 1990s — has anything to do with the scope of his White House duties. The department’s move is likely to have an ancillary benefit for Trump in delaying the case, but administration lawyers have a tough task at hand trying to argue that the president was acting in his official capacity when he denied Carroll’s allegations last year, experts say.
“I wouldn’t make such an argument, and if a president approached me to do it, I would say, ‘Don’t,’” said Stuart Gerson, who led the Justice Department’s Civil Division in President George H.W. Bush’s administration when Barr was attorney general for the first time.
AP Exclusive: Pence to attend event hosted by QAnon backers
WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice-President Mike Pence and top officials from President Donald Trump’s campaign are slated to attend a Montana fundraiser next week hosted by a couple who have expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to an event invitation obtained by The Associated Press and a review of social media postings.
The hosts of the fundraiser, Caryn and Michael Borland, have shared QAnon memes and retweeted posts from QAnon accounts, their social media activity shows. The baseless conspiracy theory posits that Trump is fighting entrenched enemies in the government and also involves satanism and child sex trafficking.
Beyond Pence, the Sept. 14 fundraiser in Bozeman, Montana, is expected to draw influential figures in the president’s orbit including Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top Trump fundraising official who is dating Donald Trump Jr., GOP chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Republican National Committee finance chairman Todd Ricketts and RNC co-chairman Tommy Hicks Jr., the event invitation shows.
While many Republicans have dismissed QAnon, the fundraiser is another sign of how the conspiracy theory is gaining a foothold in the party. Trump has hailed Georgia congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene, another QAnon supporter, as a “future Republican star.” The president has refused to condemn QAnon, recently telling reporters that the conspiracy theory is “gaining in popularity” and that its supporters “like me very much.”
Representatives for Pence declined to comment on the fundraiser, though the vice-president has previously called QAnon a “conspiracy theory.”
Big drop reported in vaping by US teenagers
NEW YORK (AP) — Vaping by U.S. teenagers fell dramatically this year, especially among middle schoolers, according to a federal report released Wednesday.
Experts think last year’s outbreak of vaping related illnesses and deaths may have scared off some kids, but they believe other factors contributed to the drop, including higher age limits and flavour bans.
In a national survey, just under 20% of high school students and 5% of middle school students said they were recent users of electronic cigarettes and other vaping products. That marks a big decline from a similar survey last year that found about 28% of high school students and 11% of middle school students recently vaped.
The survey suggests that the number of school kids who vape fell by 1.8 million in a year, from 5.4 million to 3.6 million, officials said.
But even as teen use declined, the report shows a big bump in use of disposable e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration earlier this year barred flavours from small vaping devices like Juul and others that are mainly used by minors. The policy did not apply to disposable e-cigarettes, which can still contain sweet, candylike flavours.
The Associated Press