October 9, 2019

The Senate Intelligence Committee released its second volume on 2016 election interference Tuesday, and the Republican-led panel bluntly concluded that Russia "sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton's chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin." The Kremlin-directed Internet Research Agency's (IRA) "social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump to the detriment of Secretary Clinton's campaign," the report added.

That conclusion matches the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, but President Trump has downplayed Russia's role and embraced a conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the election to help Clinton. "Russia's targeting of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign," the committee added, and it was "a vastly more complex and strategic assault on the United States than was initially understood."

Messages obtained by the Senate Intelligence Committee showed IRA operatives celebrating Trump's victory. After the elction, one operative wrote, "We uncorked a tiny bottle of champagne ... took one gulp each and looked into each other's eyes. .... We uttered almost in unison: 'We made America great.'"

The Kremlin's social media operation, which began in 2014 and also hit Trump's GOP primary rivals, targeted black voters more than any other group, before and after the election. "Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn't start and didn't end with the 2016 election," Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said. "Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government."

The report recommends that Congress require stricter disclosure of ad buyers, presses social media companies to share information about foreign disinformation among themselves, and asks the White House to publicly and forcefully warn about foreign interference in the 2020 election and develop a plan to deter future attacks. White House spokesman Judd Deere said the administration has made election security a priority. Peter Weber

7:09 p.m.

A hospital director in Wuhan, China, is the country's latest health care worker to die from the coronavirus outbreak.

Liu Zhiming, 51, was a neurosurgeon and director of the Wuchang Hospital. Wuhan's health bureau said he died on Tuesday morning, after making "important contributions in the work of fighting and controlling" the coronavirus, known as COVID-19. More than 1,700 doctors and nurses treating patients with COVID-19 have become sick with the virus, and at least seven have died, The Associated Press reports.

Earlier this month, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist named Li Wenliang died of COVID-19. In December, Li told some of his medical school classmates about a mysterious respiratory illness that was spreading in the area; health authorities soon visited him in the middle of the night, followed by police officers who warned him to stop talking about the virus. He became ill after caring for a woman with glaucoma who unknowingly had COVID-19. As of Tuesday, the Chinese government has confirmed 72,436 cases of COVID-19 on mainland China, as well as 1,868 deaths. Catherine Garcia

5:32 p.m.

Maine's 2020 Senate race is uncharted territory for Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

Colby College released the first poll of this year's Maine Senate race, and it shows the four-term incumbent statistically tied with her Democratic challenger, Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon. While 42 percent of respondents said they'd vote for Collins in the fall, 43 percent said they'd opt for Gideon, marking an unusually tough road ahead for Collins.

"This could be the kind of race Sen. Collins has not had to deal with before," said Dan Shea, Colby College's lead researcher on the poll. Collins secured her first Senate election in 1996 by about six points and won far more easily in her three re-elections since. Yet with Maine's second congressional district flipping to Democrat Jared Golden in 2018, it looks like the rest of the state could follow suit.

Collins infuriated many Democratic voters when she voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018. The tight margin could also stem partly from Collins' vote to acquit President Trump during his impeachment trial. A total of 37 percent of poll respondents said they were disappointed with her role in the impeachment process, while 30 percent said they were proud and 31 percent said they had mixed feelings. When asked if the Senate's acquittal was the right decision, 48 percent said yes and 49 percent said no.

Colby College surveyed 1,008 registered voters from Feb. 10–13 with a margin of error of 3 percent. About 30 percent of surveys were conducted via cell phone and landline, while 70 percent were conducted online. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:25 p.m.

Ben Affleck opened up in a new interview about his struggle with alcoholism and his decision to walk away from Batman.

The actor, who was originally set to direct and star in 2021's The Batman but dropped out of the project, spoke with The New York Times in a profile published Tuesday, in which he revealed his choice to exit the film was related to his battle with alcoholism.

"I showed somebody the Batman script," Affleck said. "They said, 'I think the script is good. I also think you'll drink yourself to death if you go through what you just went though again.''

This was after Affleck had reprised the role of Batman in the critical failure and commercial disappointment Justice League, which followed the movie in which Affleck debuted as Batman, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The Times writes that Affleck's experience on Justice League, which went through heavy reshoots, "sapped his interest" in Batman. After Affleck dropped out of the standalone film, Matt Reeves stepped in to replace him as director, while Robert Pattinson is taking over as the caped crusader.

Affleck further opened up about his struggle with alcoholism throughout the interview, discussing the fact that he "started drinking more and more when my marriage was falling apart" and telling the Times, "It took me a long time to fundamentally, deeply, without a hint of doubt, admit to myself that I am an alcoholic. The next drink will not be different." Read the full interview at The New York Times. Brendan Morrow

5:20 p.m.

Tensions between the United States and China have seeped into the media sphere.

The State Department on Tuesday designated five Chinese media organizations, which are known to be part of the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda apparatus — Xinhua News Agency, China Global Television Network, China Radio International, China Daily, Hai Tian Development — as official government entities.

In practice, it doesn't do a whole lot besides requiring the organizations to get the State Department's approval to purchase or lease any real estate and provide Washington a list of their current staff with individual's personal information. The organizations won't face any journalistic restrictions, meaning they can still report from pretty much anywhere, including State Department briefings. Ultimately, it's more of a symbolic decision, and one that Washington hopes will shed a light on China's media practices.

"It is alerting people to pay attention to the fact that the message that these organizations give out is one that the Chinese Communist Party wants them to hear, not what we consider real, objective journalism," Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Washington Post.

The State Department was mum on one potential fallout, though. Two officials declined to comment on whether there was any consideration Beijing would retaliate against foreign reporters in China for the decision, the Post reports. They did, however, say they "were painfully' aware of the difficult situation "foreign journalists operate under in China." Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

4:36 p.m.

President Trump's clemency philosophy is clearly go big or go home.

After pardoning ex-San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday, Trump turned around added some more high-profile people to the list. Former New York Police Department Commissioner Bernard Kerik and prominent financier Michael Milken are among those Trump pardoned Tuesday, while also bringing nonviolent drug offenders into the mix.

The White House statement announcing Trump's clemency decisions homes in on the positive things these convicted offenders have done. Trump highlights how Kerik "courageously led the New York Police Department’s heroic response to the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001," and how after receiving a 4-year sentence for tax fraud, became a "passionate advocate for criminal justice and prisoner reentry reform." Milken is similarly honored as "one of America's greatest financiers," and the statement characterizes his violations of U.S. securities laws as "innovative financing mechanisms."

Trump also highlights a few lesser-known convicts in his Tuesday clemency spree, namely nonviolent drug offenders Tynice Nichole Hall and Crystal Munoz. They were pardoned with support from Alice Johnson, another drug offender who Trump similarly pardoned in 2018 with backing from Kim Kardashian-West. Former George W. Bush official David Safavian and author Angela Stanton, both advocates for criminal justice reform, were also pardoned. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:11 p.m.

President Trump's own party isn't taking the news that he commuted former Democratic Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's prison sentence Tuesday very well.

After Trump issued the executive order, five House Republicans from Illinois — Reps. Darin Lahood (R-Il.), John Shimkus (R-Il.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.), Rodney Davis (R-Il.), and Mike Bost (R-Il.) — condemned the move in a letter. They called Blagojevich the "face of public corruption in Illinois" and said they believed his 14-year sentence for essentially selling political appointments when he was governor was "appropriate" and "fair."

The news has been received with similar frostiness at the state level. The Republican leader in the Illinois House, State Rep. Jim Durkin, said Blagojevich abused his office, and Trump's decision shows the president isn't concerned about Illinois' vote in the 2020 November election, which — considering Illinois generally leans heavily blue — is probably not far off. Tim O'Donnell

3:59 p.m.

President Trump's search for that anonymous senior administration official has come to an end, or so he claims.

Trump on Tuesday told reporters he now knows the identity of the administration official who in 2018 authored a New York Times op-ed describing a "resistance" inside the administration and later wrote the book A Warning.

"I know who it is," Trump said.

Asked who it is, Trump responded, "I can't tell you that, but I know who it is. But we won't get into it."

This comes after Axios reported that administration officials are discussing reassigning Victoria Coates, deputy national security adviser, amid a whisper campaign that she is the anonymous official, an accusation both she and a literary agent behind A Warning have denied. The Daily Beast also recently reported that Trump's trade adviser, Peter Navarro, has been "conducting his own private investigation into the identity of Anonymous" and has "zeroed in on at least one likely suspect."

Trump on Tuesday also claimed he knows "who some of the leakers are" because "when I want to get something out to the press, I tell certain people, and it's amazing, it gets out there."

Whether Trump ends up outing the anonymous official, we'll know their identity sooner or later, as the person during a Reddit Ask Me Anything last year vowed to come forward before November. "Trump will hear from me, in my own name, before the 2020 election," they wrote. Brendan Morrow

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