US politics: Russian bounty payments claim sparks Trump briefing row – live updates

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This is Joanna Walters in New York taking over from my colleague .....ardian.com

This is Joanna Walters in New York taking over from my colleague Martin Belam in London on what is unfolding as a busy morning in US political news on many fronts.

Soon the group of Democratic members of Congress will emerge to let us know what the White House had to say earlier this morning about the Russian US military bounty scandal.

The Democrats are being briefed a day after their Republican colleagues (using the word colleagues may be an exercise in hope over recent experience but, nevertheless, we persist with optimism for bipartisan efforts).

Two things are happening at 10am ET: the US supreme court will announce its latest decision or decisions - you never know exactly what you’re going to get until the rulings start spilling into the public domain. We’re waiting for a decision concerning Donald Trump’s tax returns, among others.

Also at 10am, the top federal public health experts are testifying to the Senate health committee. That’s infectious diseases specialist Anthony Fauci, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Robert Redfield, assistant health secretary Brett Giroir and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn. They recently testified to a House committee, where Redfield said Covid-19 has brought the nation “to its knees”.

The president appears to have been ignoring his own experts’ warnings that coronavirus is nowhere near under control in the US and currently running wild in new hotspots across the south and west. If Trump could think of them as the four horsemen of the apocalypse he might be rightly scared into paying attention and following their recommendations on testing, tracing, mask-wearing, social distancing, caution on reopening, etc.

We’re hoping for a result to day in last week’s Kentucky Democratic primary, where it’s on a knife edge between moderate Amy McGrath and progressive Charles Booker - but hard to know as we wait for the mail-in ballots to be counted.

Television crews setting up outside the US Supreme Court earlier today.
Television crews setting up outside the US Supreme Court earlier today. Photograph: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

One of the results of the Black Lives Matter push for change that has swept across the US in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police has been a reappraisal of national monuments and racist symbolism in the country.

Alexandra Villarreal has been looking at this movement, and talking to historians about the history and meaning of these symbols.

A different logic has been used to justify the Confederate shrines that commemorate men who committed treason in an effort to uphold slavery. Defenders, including Donald Trump, decry “the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart”. But the monuments they are trying to protect aren’t usually civil war artifacts; they were instead erected decades after the conflict ended, as “a reminder for Black and brown people to remember their place”, said Alvita Akiboh, an assistant professor of history at the University of Michigan.

From money to street names to the man who penned the national anthem, Villarreal examines how tributes to a checkered past exist all over the US, even as Confederate statues are removed and brands reconsider the racial stereotypes on their packaging.

Read it here: ‘The worshipping of whiteness’: why racist symbols persist in America

We also have another piece today looking at one specific monument. Atlanta urban designer and author Ryan Gravel and historian Scott Morris have a proposal for Stone Mountain’s 150ft Confederate carving.

The sculpture is an irreparable scar on an ancient mountain with a long history of habitation and use by indigenous people. More blatantly offensive, however, is the sculpture’s undeniable reverence for hate and violence and the honor it bestows on the generals, who, by definition, were American traitors.

They suggest, rather than actively destroy it, which would violate State law, it should no longer be tended, allowing nature to reclaim the space and the carving to fade from view.

Politico have a useful wrap here about the eight Democratic party representatives who are to be briefed this morning over the ‘Russian bounty’ controversy.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will lead the group that includes Adam Schiff and Eliot Engel.

Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger will also be there - she tweeted out earlier something that has irked the party over the process - that Republicans were briefed separately earlier.

Read it here: Politico - House Dems headed to White House for briefing on Russian bounties

Carol E. Lee and Kristen Welker for NBC have a piece up this morning looking at the scramble at the White House to get Donald Trump to take down a tweet that appeared to feature a supporter shouting “White power”

In their piece they claim that two White House officials told them:

The video remained on the president’s Twitter page for more than three hours because White House officials couldn’t reach him to ask him to delete it. The president was at his golf club in Virginia and had put his phone down.

Read it here: NBC - Trump’s ‘white power’ retweet set off ‘five-alarm fire’ in White House

Google removes misleading voter registration ads

Reuters are reporting that Google has said it has removed ads for companies that charge people large fees to register to vote or harvest their data, which appeared when users searched for voter information.

A Google spokeswoman told Reuters that the company’s misrepresentation policy barred such ads, which were found by the nonprofit watchdog Tech Transparency Project (TTP) when searching for terms such as “register to vote,” “vote by mail,” and “where is my polling place.”

A TTP report that nearly a third of the more than 600 ads generated by its Google searches took users to sites that try to charge large fees for voter registration services, extract personal data for marketing purposes, install deceptive browser extensions, or serve other misleading ads.

The report said: “Some people may find it difficult to distinguish Google ads from other kinds of content because as of January, search ads on Google feature the same type face and colour scheme as organic search results.”

A Google spokeswoman said the company did not yet know how the ads had got through its approval process, which uses a combination of automated and manual review.

“We have strict policies in place to protect users from false information about voting procedures, and when we find ads that violate our policies and present harm to users, we remove them and block advertisers from running similar ads in the future,” the spokeswoman said.

The move comes with social media and internet companies under increasing pressure to act over misleading and hateful content in the run-up to the November election.

Yesterday Reddit and Twitch became the latest social media companies to ban or suspend pro-Donald Trump accounts over hate speech.

Facebook, meanwhile, is coming under commercial pressure as big brands withdraw advertising money over the issue of hate speech on the platform.

Rep. Spanberger describes administration inaction over 'Russian bounty' intel as 'Shameful'

Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger is one of eight Democrats due to be briefed on the ‘Russian bounty’ controversy by the administration today. She’s has been on television this morning describing the episode as “Shameful”.

I am beyond words at times over this. The role of the commander-in-chief, of our entire intelligence community, is to keep our nation, our service members, our infrastructure, our people, our citizens safe. I represent hundreds of thousands of Virginians, and I represent service members. I represent people whose family members are deployed, and the idea that they now have the added worry, not just that their family members are in a war zone, but that they’re in the war zone with a bounty on their head, and we’re not doing anything about it. It’s just shameful.

Of whether she believed Donald Trump had personally been briefed, she said:

The fact that he didn’t take the time to read the document is not an excuse. What comes next? That’s my question, what comes next? He maybe didn’t know it, he maybe didn’t read the brief, but now he knows it. Now everyone knows it. What are we going to do about it?

You can watch the full clip here:

Jacob Knutson writes for Axios this morning about the sheer volume of anti-transgender legislation currently being proposed across the US. Human Rights Campaign state legislative director Cathryn Oakley has identified 66 anti-transgender bills that have been introduced in state legislatures so far in the legislative session — the most filed in one year.

14 state legislatures are considering bills that would limit transgender students’ participation in athletics. While most legislation is currently stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic, these bills are still likely to be picked up or re-proposed at a later date.

Read it here: Axios - 14 states would limit the participation of transgender students in athletics

Sanders proposes 10% military budget cut to fund coronavirus response

Washington is going to be busy today talking about the Trump administrations pandemic response. Coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, CDC Director Robert Redfield and other top health officials will testify before a Senate Committee later today on the latest efforts to contain the pandemic. Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell will testify before the House financial services committee about their respective agency’s response.

Bernie Sanders has written for us this morning to put his proposal down on the table for re-establishing the US economy after the impact of Covid-19 - a 10% cut to the US military budget.

As Sanders puts it: “Incredibly, after adjusting for inflation, we are now spending more on the military than we did during the height of the Cold War or during the wars in Vietnam and Korea.”

He is proposing to cut funding by 10%. He quotes Republican President Dwight D Eisenhower, who said in 1953:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

You can read the Sanders proposal in full here: A 10% cut to the US military budget would help support struggling Americans

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy was on the All In with Chris Hayes show last night talking about the ‘Russian bounty’ controversy. He raised what he saw as a key issue, which is that regardless of whether Donald Trump was personally briefed or not - National Security Advisor O’Brien insists that he was not - the administration as a whole still appears to have done nothing about the allegations.

We didn’t even ask them to stop, and that does beg the question, what on earth could Russia to do us that this administration would actually take seriously?

We sent the exact opposite signal. We could have tried a number of different means to affect their decision-making in Afghanistan, and save the lives of brave young American soldiers. But instead we invited them back into the G7, we engaged with them on multiple occasions without even mentioning the fact that we apparently knew they were putting bounties on these American soldiers. And so we effectively green-lit their assassination campaign against American soldiers which is, of course, in many ways, worse than doing absolutely nothing at all about it.

You can watch the full clip here: Sen. Murphy - What on earth could Russia do to us that Trump would take seriously?

Also talking to the media last night on the topic was Felicia Arculeo, whose son Robert Hendriks was killed in an attack in Afghanistan on 8 April, 2019 that has, according to reports, been linked by intelligence agencies to the Russian bounty offer.

She told CNBC that she had not been contacted by the administration or the military, but instead “just happened to randomly see” the reports about her son’s death becoming embroiled in the row. “I got pretty upset” she said.

Arculeo suggested that the claims should be fully investigated, saying “the parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible.”

“At the end of the day, my son is still gone. He’s still not coming home.”

Aurora police investigating officers over 'inappropriate photos' at Elijah McClain memorial

Overnight another development emerged with the Elijah McClain case. McClain, 23, was killed in Aurora, Colorado, in August last year, after being put in a chokehold by police and injected with ketamine by paramedics. At the weekend police used pepper spray to disperse a largely peaceful event featured violin-playing in honour of McClain.

Denver investigative reporter Brian Maass broke the news that three officers in the Aurora police department were under investigation for taking inappropriate photos at a memorial for McClain.

The department’s interim police chief, Vanessa Wilson, then released the following statement:

Thursday afternoon, I was apprised of allegations reported to Internal Affairs by an Aurora Police Officer alleging multiple Aurora Police officers were depicted in photographs near the site where Elijah McClain died. All involved officers were immediately placed on administrative leave with pay in non-enforcement capacities.

I immediately ordered Internal Affairs to make this investigation their top priority. This accelerated investigation was completed this evening.

This investigation will be publicly released in its entirety promptly upon its conclusion. This will include reports, photographic evidence obtained, officer’s names, and my final determination which can rise to the level of termination.

Miranda Bryant has been looking at the tributes to McClain for us, and speaking to friends and colleagues who described him as changing their lives on a daily basis. One of his colleagues said:

He just wanted to be better every day. And when he wasn’t down playing guitar or violin for the baby kittens, he was running, exercising outside … He was always fully booked and it was a massage that you couldn’t get again. Just his energy and his spirit, it just put you in a better mood. He truly was just a healer.

Read the full tributes here: ‘He was inspired by everything’: friends and family pay tribute to Elijah McClain

National Security Advisor O’Brien insists Trump was not briefed

National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien has issued a statement over the ‘Russian bounty’ controversy, insisting Donald Trump had not been briefed on the intelligence. He says:

Over the past several days, the New York Times and other news outlets have reported on allegations regarding our troops in Afghanistan. While we do not normally discuss such matters, we constantly evaluate intelligence reports and brief the President as necessary. Because the allegations in recent press articles have not been verified or substantiated by the Intelligence Community, President Trump had not been briefed on the items. Nevertheless, the Administration, including the National Security Council staff, have been preparing should the situation warrant action.

O’Brien’s statement then goes on to warn officials over the leaking of information to the media, and to re-state his belief in Donald Trump’s commitment to security.

To those government officials who betray the trust of the people of the United States by leaking classified information, your actions endanger our national security. No matter the motivation, there is never a justification for such conduct.

Let me be clear that there is nothing more important to President Trump than America’s security and the safety of our men and women in uniform. He has demonstrated this commitment time and again.

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of NAACP has written for us this morning, arguing that the George Floyd uprising has brought hope, but that campaigners must now turn protest into policy. It is a passionate rallying cry - but one that also cautions that there is much that needs to be done:

Since Floyd’s murder, police have killed Black and brown men in Georgia and California. Around the country, six Black people have been found hanging from trees, supposed suicides that chillingly resemble lynchings and have sparked demands for investigation. As of now, no charges have been filed against the Louisville police officers who broke into Breonna Taylor’s home last March (using a no-knock warrant that has since been banned) and shot her dead as she slept.

The changes triggered by the protests are crucial, but more is needed to uproot the racism so thoroughly embedded in our nation’s social, economic, and political systems. Public policies of the past helped create our current practices of exclusion and disinvestment. For instance, today’s residential segregation is the direct result of 20th century mortgage lending policies and restrictive housing covenants that limited where Black people could live. Time has not much altered these discriminatory patterns; only policy change can do so. Now is our chance to escalate the energy of the moment and move from protest to power to policy change. We have done it before.

Read it in full here: Derrick Johnson - The George Floyd uprising has brought us hope. Now we must turn protest to policy

David Ignatius at the Washington Post is one of several op-ed columnists to tackle this story, in an overnight piece asking “Were Trump’s aides too afraid to tell him about the Russian bounties?”. He writes:

A basic truth about Russian President Vladimir Putin, which President Trump evidently doesn’t understand: Putin is in the payback business. He believes the United States destroyed his former country, the Soviet Union. He likes the United States to feel pain, in Afghanistan and everywhere else.

Trump has his own, much rosier take on Putin. And I can’t help wondering whether that explains why, assuming his account is true, the American president was never briefed about intelligence reports early this year that Russia was offering bounties to Taliban fighters to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

In the piece, he examines how Russian policy shifted in the last couple of years from allowing the US to operate freely in Afghanistan, to seemingly helping the Taliban. And Ignatius finishes with a damning indictment of the president.

Trump is an obstacle to good policy. Either people don’t tell him the truth, or he doesn’t want to hear it. Whichever way, he’s defaulting on his most basic responsibility as commander in chief.

Read it here: Washington Post - Were Trump’s aides too afraid to tell him about the Russian bounties?

Tom McCarthy was reporting for us in New York in the early hours about the new claims surrounding the mystery of whether Donald Trump was briefed about Russia offering bounties for attacks on US troops in Afghanistan.

He explains how multiple US media outlets have claimed that Donald Trump was given a written briefing months ago about the intelligence.

The New York Times quoted two sources as saying details were included in a daily intelligence briefing the president received in late February. CNN said an official with direct knowledge told them it was included in the briefing – a written document – briefing “sometime in the spring”.

Senior White House officials were aware as far back as early 2019 and the intelligence assessment was included in at least one of the president’s written daily briefings, the Associated Press reported, according to multiple officials.

There has predictably been strong reaction on social media to the reports from US officials and politicians. It is believed that Trump prefers oral briefings several times a week rather than to read the daily written document prepared for US presidents.

You can read Tom’s full report here: ‘Russian bounties’ intelligence was in Trump written daily briefing – reports

Good morning and welcome to our live US politics coverage for Tuesday. Here are some of the key points from yesterday and overnight, and what we are expecting today

The president’s diary is empty today save for his intelligence briefing at 3:30pm this afternoon. Donald Trump maintains he didn’t get briefed earlier in the year on the Russian bounty issue - reports say otherwise

Late last night the White House put out a statement praising the Supreme Court for rejecting the appeals of four death row inmates whose executions have been scheduled for the coming weeks. These would be the first federal death penalties carried out since 2003. The Supreme Court also upheld abortion rights in Louisiana yesterday.

The number of people currently in hospital infected by coronavirus is reported to be rising fast in Arizona, California, Georgia, Nevada, Montana, South Carolina and Texas. Arizona is ditching plans to re-open the economy.

Jerome Powell, chair of the Federal Reserve, is expected to speak to Congress today about the painful road to economic recovery after the impact of Covid-19.

I’ll be running this live blog for the next couple of hours - you can get in touch with me by emailing [email protected]

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