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Trump embraces idea behind 'herd immunity' as Fauci calls concept 'total nonsense' - ABC News
President Donald Trump has in recent weeks increasingly aligned himself with ideas espoused by scientists pushing "herd immunity" to combat the novel coronavirus, a concept lambasted by public health experts as "dangerous" and called "ridiculous" by the federal government's foremost infectious disease official, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Since Saturday, the president has repeatedly criticized "unscientific lockdowns" -- falsely portraying public health experts as supportive of harsh restrictions -- and argued against coronavirus-related limits on American society by repeating his months-old mantra, "The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself." And since his own bout with the virus, Trump has made claims about his own supposed "immunity" standard campaign speech fare. "I'm immune and I can't give it to you," he boasted Wednesday" -- even though scientists do not fully understand how strong immunity may be or how long it might last. "Remember, when you catch it, you get better, and youre immune," he said in a Fox News interview last week, despite the lack of conclusive research and the the fact that hundreds of thousands have died after contracting it. While he has largely avoided using the phrase "herd immunity" to describe the policies he has furthered, the president's views reflect those of a small subset of scientists with a powerful ally in the White House, Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases who has supplanted Fauci and other top federal public health officials as one of Trump's top medical advisers. The scientists argue that the United States should seek to achieve "herd immunity" to COVID-19 by allowing the natural spread of the virus through the population, while keeping only "vulnerable" groups -- like the elderly -- protected. Eventually, they say, enough people will get sick and recover -- and potentially become immune to reinfection, at least for some period of time -- that the rate of spread will diminish. In this Sept. 24, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump arrives on stage during his, 'The Great American Comeback Rally', at Cecil Airport on Sept. 24, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. In this Sept. 24, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump arrives on stage during his, 'The Great American Comeback Rally', at Cecil Airport on Sept. 24, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. But a broad consensus of mainstream public health experts flatly rejects this idea, arguing it would lead to many millions of deaths and take an untold toll on an American populace rife with underlying medical conditions, like obesity, that make them more likely to suffer severe symptoms and die. These top experts do, though, widely agree that extreme social-distancing measures can have adverse effects on society -- physically, mentally and financially -- and, when possible, should be avoided. They say that they, too, are against total "lockdowns," but that measures like mask-wearing and limiting the size of gatherings can lower the rate of infection. "This idea that we have the power to protect the vulnerable is total nonsense, because history has shown that that's not the case," Fauci said Thursday in an interview with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America." "And if you talk to anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases, they will tell you that that is risky and you'll wind up with many more infections of vulnerable people, which will lead to hospitalizations and deaths. "So I think that we just got to look that square in the eye and say it's nonsense," Fauci said. The Trump administration has not treated it as nonsense, though. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azarmet last week with Atlas and several researchers who have endorsed the ideas behind a "herd immunity" approach without labeling it as such. Atlas himself is a paid adviser to the president. White House adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, left, met with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, not pictured, and three researchers who support ideas associated with the concept of "herd immunity," on Oct. 5, 2020. White House adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, left, met with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, not pictured, and three researchers who support ideas associated with the concept of "herd immunity," on Oct. 5, 2020. In addition to pushing for an end to coronavirus-related restrictions and insisting the country fully "open up," Trump also has repeatedly emphasized -- often with misleading statistics -- that the virus only impacts the elderly or those with pre-existing conditions. His focus on those groups jibes with "herd immunity" adherents who minimize the risk to others. In reality, thousands of younger Americans have died -- and millions have fallen ill. The White House on Monday convened a conference call for reporters in part to draw attention to the Great Barrington Declaration, an online petition that argues in favor of achieving natural herd immunity while also using "focused protection" to safeguard the most vulnerable. The authors of the open letter boasted thousands of signatories, but Sky News found that among them were "homeopaths, therapists and fake names" like "Dr. Johnny Bananas" and "Dr. Person Fakename." The Infectious Disease Society of America on Wednesday called the petition's ideas "inappropriate, irresponsible and ill-informed." In an open letter published Thursday in the leading medical journal The Lancet, an international group of top medical specialists endorsed a counter-petition called the John Snow Memorandum, which sharply opposes the natural pursuit of "herd immunity." "Uncontrolled transmission in younger people risks significant morbidity and mortality across the whole population," the authors wrote in the memorandum, which has received backing from prominent epidemiologists. "In addition to the human cost, this would impact the workforce as a whole and overwhelm the ability of healthcare systems to provide acute and routine care." No government epidemiologist or infectious disease expert was on the White House call, and when pressed, a senior administration official said the White House was not actually formally "endorsing" the petition. "Were not endorsing a plan," the official, who requested anonymity, told reporters. "The plan is endorsing what the presidents policy has been for months." Fauci told ABC News on Thursday that the Great Barrington Declaration falsely portrayed prominent public health experts as supporting "lockdowns." "That declaration has a couple things in it that I think are fooling people, because it says things that are like apple pie and motherhood," he said. "A, we don't want to shut down the country. I say that all the time. B, we do certainly want to protect the vulnerable." In a statement provided by the White House, Atlas said "we emphatically deny that the White House, the president, the administration, or anyone advising the president has pursued or advocated for any strategy of achieving herd immunity by letting the coronavirus infection spread through the community." He said the Great Barrington Declaration authors "emphasized focused protection of the vulnerable and safely ending the shutdown of schools and society." "Those specific policies are aligned with the president, who has repeatedly stated and pursued a strategy focused on saving lives by the following: aggressively protecting the vulnerable, preventing hospital overcrowding, and safely opening schools and society," Atlas said. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, testifies at a Senate Health, Education, and Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, testifies at a Senate Health, Education, and Labor and Pensions Committee on Capitol Hill, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington. But John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said the Great Barrington Declaration did, in fact, back the idea of letting the virus rip through the community -- as long as the vulnerable were protected. "It's the same thing," Brownstein, an ABC News contributor, said. "I don't see the distinction." Brownstein said the concept of "focused protection" was "theoretically exciting to think about" but was "not achievable in our population" because of the high level of underlying medical conditions in the population -- as well as the interconnectedness of society. "We know that every single person is a bridge to a high-risk person," he said. "It's just not practical to think you could put people who are high risk separate from the population." The president has for months pushed for the end of coronavirus restrictions -- including those recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal health officials -- flouting precautions like mask wearing and ignoring state and local regulations forbidding large gatherings. A close ally, Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, has also embraced the researchers pushing the ideas behind natural "herd immunity." In late September, DeSantis, a Republican, hosted a roundtable discussion with two of those who would later meet with Azar, Stanford University's Jay Bhattacharya and Harvard Medical School's Martin Kulldorff. The next day, DeSantis, a Republican, lifted all coronavirus-related restrictions in the state.
Aviation staffer who has flown with Biden in recent days tests positive for COVID-19 - ABC News
The Biden campaign has announced that someone who flew with former Vice President Joe Biden to Ohio on Monday and Florida on Tuesday has tested positive for COVID-19. The positive result was discovered through contact tracing that the campaign undertook following the positive diagnosis of Sen. Kamala Harris communications director and a non-staff flight crew member. "Around noon on Thursday, October 15th, we learned - as part of our contact tracing of the crew member on Senator Harris plane that tested positive for COVID last night - that an administrative member of the Aviation company that charters Vice President Bidens aircraft tested positive for COVID-19," Campaign Manager Jen OMalley Dillon wrote in a statement. However, the campaign says that Biden and the member who tested positive did not have any passing or close contact during the flight and he is not required to isolate. Vice President Biden was not in close contact, as defined by the CDC, with this individual at any time. In fact, the Vice President did not even have passing contact: this individual was over 50 feet from VP Biden at all times, entered and exited the aircraft from a rear entrance, and both the individual and the Vice President wore masks for the entire flight. Given these facts, we have been advised by the Vice Presidents doctor and the campaigns medical advisors that there is no need for the Vice President to quarantine, she wrote adding that "no additional precautions are indicated for the Vice President." The Biden campaign announced earlier Thursday that he had tested negative for COVID-19, the eighth time the campaign has released negative test results for the former vice president. Harris and her husband also tested negative for coronavirus on Thursday, according to an aide, but she will not return to in-person campaigning until Monday after her communications director tested positive Wednesday night. The campaign's statement said the crew member who tested positive previously tested negative three times since Oct. 4, most recently on Oct.11. "The person was contacted as part of our contact tracing on Thursday morning, reported symptoms, sought a test for COVID-19, and was positive. A second test confirmed the positive result around noon today," according to the statement.
Stocks drop after Trump calls off talks on economic stimulus - ABC News
Stocks dropped on Wall Street Tuesday after President Donald Trump ordered a stop to negotiations with Democrats on a coronavirus economic stimulus bill until after the election. The S&P 500 index slid 1.4% after having been up 0.7% prior to the presidents announcement, which he made on Twitter about an hour before the close of trading. The late-afternoon pullback erased most of the benchmark index's gains from a market rally a day earlier. In a series of tweets, Trump said: I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major stimulus bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and small business. He also accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of not negotiating in good faith. The comments from the president came just hours after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell urged Congress to come through with more aid, saying that too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses. Optimism that Democrats and Republicans would reach a deal on more stimulus ahead of the Nov. 3 elections had helped lift the stock market recently. Now, investors face the prospect that more aid may not come until next year, after the new Congress is seated, said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. This isnt just pushing it off until after the election, this realistically is pushing it off until spring, Delwiche said. "I don't think this is just a one-day financial markets reaction. This really goes to the health of the recovery. The S&P 500 fell 47.66 points to 3,360.97. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 375.88 points, or 1.3%, to 27,772.76. It had been up by more than 200 points. The Nasdaq composite lost 177.88 points, or 1.6%, to 11,154.60. The tech-heavy index had been on pace for a 0.5% gain before Trump cut off the stimulus talks. Small stocks also fell, but less than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks gave up 4.67 points, or 0.3%, to 1,577.29. Stocks had been drifting between small gains and losses for much of the day before gaining momentum into the late afternoon, then Trumps tweets knocked the market into reverse gear. Wall Street had hoped that Democrats and Republicans could overcome the bitter partisanship on Capitol Hill and deliver more aid for the economy, which has been punched into a recession by shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic. Reports on the economy have been mixed recently, as some areas show a slowdown after extra unemployment benefits and other stimulus earlier approved by Congress expired. Powell has repeatedly urged Congress to provide additional aid, saying the Fed cant prop up the economy by itself, even with interest rates at record lows. The expansion is still far from complete, Powell said in a speech to the National Association for Business Economics, group of corporate and academic economists. Without more stimulus, analysts expect that growth will slow significantly in the final three months of the year. Last month, Goldman Sachs slashed its forecast for growth in the fourth quarter to just 3% at an annual rate, down from a previous forecast of 6%, because they no longer expected an aid package to be approved. That would leave the U.S. economy 2.5% smaller at the end of 2020 than a year earlier, even after a large rebound in the July-September quarter. Youre going to see quite a significant drag on growth, said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, a consulting firm. It would really risk a double-dip recession. The stimulus cutoff coincides with a slowdown in hiring, as employers added 661,000 jobs in September, the government said Friday. That was down from 1.5 million in August and 1.8 million in July. The markets slide comes a day after the S&P 500 posted its best day in more than three weeks. Other stock markets around the world made mostly modest gains. Longer-term Treasury yields veered lower after Trump's remarks. They had earlier been hanging close to their highest levels in months. Tuesday's selling was widespread, led by technology stocks and companies that rely on consumer spending. Utilities were the only gainers among the 11 sectors in the S&P 500. A report on Tuesday showed that U.S. employers advertised slightly fewer job openings in August than the prior month. But the number was nevertheless better than economists expected. Several big challenges lie ahead of markets. Chief among them is the still-raging pandemic, as so clearly illustrated by Trumps COVID-19 diagnosis and stay in the hospital. The worry is that a ramp-up in infections could cause governments to bring back some of the restrictions they put on businesses early this year, which sent the economy hurtling into a recession. Were on the eve of earnings season and people are reasonably undecided as to whether the correction that started in September has further to run, said Julian Emanuel, BTIG chief equity and derivatives strategist. The upcoming election also still means a host of uncertainty about tax rates and regulations on businesses, while tensions between the United States and China continue to simmer. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 0.75% from 0.78% late Monday. While thats still very low, the yield has been generally climbing since dropping close to 0.50% in early August. European and Asian markets closed higher. AP Business Writers Christopher Rugaber and Elaine Kurtenbach contributed.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, police Officer Jacob Hancher fatally shot in line of duty - ABC News
A Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, police officer was killed and another was wounded when they responded to a domestic incident and came under attack by a gunman who died at the scene, authorities said. Myrtle Beach Police Chief Amy Prock identified the slain officer as Jacob Hancher, who was sworn in as a police officer less than a year ago after serving as a department community service officer for four years. "He was a dedicated public servant, who upheld his oath to protect this community and made the ultimate sacrifice," Prock said at a news conference early Sunday. "He cared about the people he served (and) served with, and absolutely loved the Myrtle Beach. I ask of you today to please keep Jacob, his family and his fellow officers in your prayers." Myrtle Beach police officials said the shooting erupted around 10 p.m. Saturday in an area of motels and private residences about two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), which is leading the investigation, issued a statement on Sunday saying Hancher and another officer were responding to a domestic call when the shooting erupted. "Following the exchange of gunfire, the suspect was discovered deceased," reads the statement. A second officer was wounded in the gunfight and taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to the statement. It was not immediately clear if the alleged gunman, whose name was not released, was shot by the officers or died from a self-inflicted gunshot. No further information was released about the deadly confrontation. Neighborhood residents told The Sun News of Myrtle Beach that they heard multiple shots fired in the gun battle. Hancher is the first Myrtle Beach police officer killed in the line of duty in 18 years, and the 37th officer involved in a shooting in South Carolina in 2020, according to the statement from SLED. In 2019, there were a total of 45 officer-involved shootings in South Carolina, including one involving a Myrtle Beach police officer, officials said. A preliminary report from the FBI shows that Hancher was the 38th U.S. law enforcement officer feloniously killed in 2020. During the same time period in 2019, 33 officers were feloniously killed. The FBI report shows that at least eight officers killed this year were the victims of an ambush and two others died in unprovoked attacks. Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune posted a statement on Facebook about the shooting, saying, "I am humbly asking for your heartfelt prayers for our MBPD. They need our community to show them love, support and strength." In addition to being a police officer, Hancher served as a volunteer member of the Horry County, South Carolina, Fire Rescue Department, the agency said in a Twitter post. "Our hearts go out to Hancher's family, friends, loved ones, law enforcement colleagues and fellow team members here at HCFR during this difficult time," the fire department's statement reads. Hancher was also a member of the Catholic Church of St. James in Conway, South Carolina, church officials said in a statement posted Sunday morning on Facebook that included a photo of Hancher. Church officials said Hancher was part of a contingent that traveled to Honduras in 2017 to do missionary work. "For those who were able to serve alongside him, they learned of his kindness and selfless service," reads the statement from officials at the church. "We are deeply saddened by his passing. We ask for your prayers for his family, friends, and fellow officers who are mourning his loss." Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also posted a message of condolences on Twitter, saying he was just in Myrtle Beach on Friday speaking with a group of police officers. "The cops need our support now more than ever," Graham said. "I've never known a more difficult time to be a police officer."
Trump family, aides flouted Cleveland hotel mask mandate ahead of debate - ABC News
Hours before they were seen watching Tuesday's presidential debate without masks in violation of safety protocols, members of President Donald Trump's family, campaign staff and White House team also flouted a mask mandate at a hotel frequented by visitors to Cleveland Clinic. Trump and his traveling entourage spent several hours ahead of the debate at Cleveland Clinic at the InterContinental Suites Hotel Cleveland, one of several hotels near or on the campus of the world class medical facility, and used by people traveling to the clinic for work and medical procedures. ABC News spotted Eric and Lara Trump, White House adviser and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien -- who has since tested positive for COVID-19 -- walking around the hotel lobby without masks, perusing the snack shop and a buffet that appeared to be set aside for the White House group. Secret Service officers posted in the building's lobby and elevators during the president's time on site were all wearing masks as well as other campaign officials seen on site earlier in the day. And the hotel had been enforcing its mask requirement and mandatory temperature checks on guests and hotel staff in the days leading up to the debate. Trump arrived at the hotel after his debate walkthrough at 4:46 p.m. on Tuesday, and departed for the debate site at 8:27 p.m., nearly four hours later, according to notes from the White House reporters traveling with the president. A hotel spokesperson told ABC News that the White House group was "in a dedicated space within the hotel and had limited to no interaction with hotel colleagues or other guests." However, one of the dedicated spaces set aside for White House and campaign staff was stationed in the main area near the hotel restaurant and was accessible to hotel guests. "Our thoughts are with all Americans who are impacted by COVID, including the President and the First Lady. While members of this group were not overnight guests at our property and on site only briefly, we have taken the necessary steps to maintain hygiene standards in the hotel, including enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures," a hotel spokesperson said, adding that the hotel is following guidance from "relevant" health authorities and remains open to guests. The hotel did not respond to follow-up questions about why members of the Trump traveling group were allowed to walk around public spaces in the hotel without masks on, or whether any guests or staff have been formally notified about the president's travel, or offered testing in the wake of his positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Its unclear if anyone was infected, or if anyone has self-quarantined. The hotel confirmed to ABC News on Saturday that masks are mandatory in the indoor public areas. Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, two days after the debate, according to the White House. Stepien received his positive diagnosis Friday evening. Senior White House aide Hope Hicks, who traveled with the president to Cleveland, tested positive Thursday morning. A person infected with COVID-19 can be contagious several days before experiencing symptoms, said Dr. Nasia Safdar, an infectious disease expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and medical director of Infection Control at UW Hospital and Clinics. "There's no question that the White House staff should have followed mask-wearing mandates," Dr. Leana Wen, a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and a former Baltimore health commissioner, told ABC News. "That said, there is minimal risk to passing someone or sharing an elevator with them, because of short time of exposure." Cleveland Clinic required debate attendees to obtain a negative PCR test result from the hospital within 72 hours of the debate, though both the Trump and Biden campaigns were responsible for testing everyone traveling to the debate with both candidates on Tuesday, the Clinic said in a statement. "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace, who moderated the debate, said on Fox News on Friday that organizers relied on "an honor system" to ensure the campaigns didn't bring any infected people into the debate site. The Trump campaign and White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
US attorney in battleground Pennsylvania investigating 'small number of mail-in ballots' found in trash - ABC News
As mail-in voting begins in many states, and President Donald Trump continues to question its validity, one of battleground Pennsylvania's three pivotal counties has been thrust into the national spotlight after a small number of mail-in ballots were found in a trash dumpster outside a board of elections office. The U.S. Attorney's Office of the Middle District of Pennsylvania and the FBI's Scranton Office earlier this week said they "began an inquiry into reports of potential issues with a small number of mail-in ballots at the Luzerne County Board of Elections." "At this point we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded. Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time. Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot," the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement. The U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Pennsylvania first announced in an initial press release that all nine ballots were cast for Trump, but later corrected that number to seven and said two were resealed inside the envelope. Pennsylvania utilizes "secrecy envelopes" that cover cast ballots in addition to the larger, mailing envelope. "Of the nine ballots that were discarded and then recovered, 7 were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump," the updated release said. "Two of the discarded ballots had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne elections staff prior to recovery by the FBI and the contents of those 2 ballots are unknown." The situation was cited by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany before the U.S. attorneys statement during Thursday's White House press briefing when she was asked about the president's criticism of mail-in voting. "I can confirm for you that Trump ballots, ballots for the president, were found in Pennsylvania and I believe you should be getting more information on that shortly," she said. "Here In the last 24 hours, they were found cast aside." Former Department of Justice official Justin Levitt criticized the nature of the Justice Department statement, writing on Twitter, "An investigation here may be reasonable. But there is NO legit reason for a DOJ press release on a pending investigation, that announces a partial list of unconfirmed facts, including the identity of one of the candidates on specific ballots." Levitt, who served as the National Voter Protection Counsel in 2008, described the DOJ release to The Washington Post as a baldly political move to announce the probe with partial facts and to name Trump as the candidate who was voted for on the ballots. "It's wildly improper, and its truly unconscionable," he told the paper. ABC News has reached out to the Luzerne County Board of Elections regarding the incident. In a letter provided to ABC News by the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Middle District of Pennsylvania, U.S. attorney David Freed wrote to Luzerne County's Director of Elections, Shelby Watchilla, that the office first began its review in conjunction with the FBI on Monday at the request of Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis. Thus far, Freed wrote, the FBI has recovered a number of documents showing military ballots that had been "improperly opened" by elections staff and "had the ballots removed and discarded, or removed and placed separately from the envelope containing confidential voter information and attestation." Of the nine military general election ballots discovered that were discarded, seven were outside of their envelopes and had been cast for Trump. The other two were previously recovered by staff and reinserted into what appears to be their appropriate envelopes, which is why they are unable to determine which candidate the ballots were cast for. Three of the nine ballots the office said can be potentially attributed to specific voters, but the other six cannot at this time, Freed wrote. Freed continued with some of the office's findings, stating, "In addition to the military ballots and envelopes that were discarded and recovered as detailed above, investigators recovered four (4) apparently official, barcoded, absentee ballot envelopes that were empty. Two (2) of those envelopes had the completed attestations and signatures on the reverse side. One (1) envelope with a handwritten return address was blank on the reverse side. The fourth empty envelope contains basic location information and the words "affirmation enclosed" on the reverse side." In this May 28, 2020, file photo, mail-in primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa. In this May 28, 2020, file photo, mail-in primary election ballots are processed at the Chester County Voter Services office in West Chester, Pa. The documents were all found in a dumpster outside the elections office, Freed said. "Opening a military or overseas ballot, or an absentee or mail-in ballot for that matter, violates the controlling statutes and is contrary to Pennsylvania Department of State guidance," Freed wrote. "The preliminary findings of this inquiry are troubling and the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections must comply with all applicable state and federal election laws and guidance to ensure that all votes-regardless of party-are counted to ensure an accurate election count." Freed added in his letter that there is no guarantee any of the votes discarded in the dumpster will be counted in the general election: "Even though your staff has made some attempts to reconstitute certain of the improperly opened ballots, there is no guarantee that any of these votes will be counted in the general election." In their initial interviews with staff at the office, Freed said they were told that "all or nearly all envelopes received in the elections office were opened as a matter of course." "It was explained to investigators the envelopes used for official overseas, military, absentee and mail-in ballot requests are so similar, that the staff believed that adhering to the protocol of preserving envelopes unopened would cause them to miss such ballot requests," Freed said. "Our interviews further revealed that this issue was a problem in the primary election -- therefore a known issue -- and that the problem has not been corrected." Freed asked in the letter whether Watchilla would be available to meet with him and Salavantis to discuss the matter, but asked that Watchilla work to immediately correct the issues that his office has thus far identified. A spokesperson for Freed's office declined to comment further on the matter or elaborate on the timeline of when this issue was discussed with the main office at the Department of Justice or if they have been in direct contact with the White House. A DOJ spokesperson didn't immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment. In this May 28, 2020, file photo processing work on mail in ballots for the Pennsylvania Primary election is being done at the Butler County Bureau of Elections, in Butler, Pa. In this May 28, 2020, file photo processing work on mail in ballots for the Pennsylvania Primary election is being done at the Butler County Bureau of Elections, in Butler, Pa. The investigation comes as the president continues to rail against mail voting on the trail. "Democrats are trying to steal the election," Matt Wolking, the deputy director of communications and rapid response with the Trump campaign, tweeted, without noting the small number of votes. But there has also been criticism that a U.S. attorney's office would release for whom the ballots were cast, a development that has caught the eye of election experts and former DOJ officials. "This is an ongoing investigation where there is no public interest reason to override the usual policy of not commenting -- and especially not to say for whom the ballots were cast. An unprecedented in kind contribution to the president's campaign," Matthew Miller, the former director of the Justice Department's public affairs office, said on Twitter. ABC News' Will Steakin and Mark Osborne contributed to this report.
Over 330 elephants suddenly collapsed and died. Scientists now have an explanation - ABC News
The mystery surrounding hundreds of sudden elephant deaths in Botswana seems to have been solved and the findings bring an end to months of speculation on why at least 330 elephants were found dead in the northwestern region of the Southern African country earlier this year. Initially, possible explanations over the deaths had ranged from poaching to anthrax to poisoning. Now, however, the country has pointed to toxic blooms of cyanobacteria, a naturally occurring neurotoxin and biological phenomenon which has increased due to climate change, according to Mmadi Reuben, principal veterinary officer at the Botswana department of wildlife and national parks. As in so many other situations, such as the wildfires in California and Oregon and the floods in the U.K., climate change is the threat multiplier, Dr Niall McCann, co-founder of U.K.-based charity National Park Rescue, told ABC News. Climate change and the effect of global warming on the region is increasing both the intensity and severity of harmful algal blooms, making this issue more likely to reoccur. Our latest tests have detected cyanobacterial neurotoxins to be the cause of deaths. These are anaerobe bacteria found in water of seasonal water pans Mmadi Reuben told ABC News by phone from Gaborone, the countrys capital. They spent months studying samples from the carcasses, environmental samples from soil and water as well as samples from the live animals and sent them to specialized regional laboratories as well as laboratories in the U.S., Canada and Europe, according to Reuben. Most carcasses, spotted by aerial surveys, were found clustered around water sources close to the Okavango Delta which, in normal times, is a major tourist safari destination. Some animals were even seen walking dizzily in circles before suddenly dying. The unexplained deaths ceased as these seasonal waterholes and water pans dried up in late June, the beginning of our fall, Reuben explained. We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating. With the exception of one horse, other animal species were not affected by the blue-green algae phenomenon. One working hypothesis is that, unlike other animals, elephants suck water with their trunks from underneath, so they drink from deeper levels in the waterholes, closer to silt where the anaerobe toxins are contained, Reuben explained. Although there are no official indications that the Botswana elephant deaths might be linked to the unresolved deaths of more than 20 elephants near Hwange, a national park in neighboring Zimbabwe, in August, McCann believes a common denominator is climate change. Climate change is the ultimate cause, even if the proximate cause is something different, claims McCann. These type of things are only going to become more common, more frequent and the issue of warming waterholes is going to become worse and worse in time. Because of climate change, Southern Africas temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to CSAG, one of the leading climate research groups in Africa. Botswana is home to about 130.000 elephants -- the world's largest elephant population -- with more than a third of Africa's elephants, according to the latest Great Elephant Census, which Reuben's colleagues at the Department for Wildlife and Natural Parks helped produce. It is also one of the most stable countries in Africa with one of the best wildlife records. Tourism accounts for a fifth of Botswana's GDP. The important thing is that investigations continue into why this happened so that going forward we can stop this from happening again in time, concluded Reuben. The country is already engaged in development of monitoring plan aimed at detecting the blooms early in the water before they cause harm to the animals and taking necessary precautions,
Pelosi says Democrats will 'use every arrow in our quiver' to block Trump's Supreme Court nominee - ABC News
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi paid tribute to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Sunday, calling her a "powerful, brilliant brain on the court" in an appearance on ABC's "This Week," while refusing to take another impeachment inquiry off the table in order to block President Donald Trump's upcoming nominee to the Supreme Court. Trump, who has pledged to nominate a woman, said at a campaign rally in North Carolina on Saturday that he will nominate Ginsburg's replacement in the next week. "We have our options. We have arrows in our quiver that I'm not about to discuss right now but the fact is we have a big challenge in our country. This president has threatened to not even accept the results of the election," Pelosi told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. "Our main goal would be to protect the integrity of the election as we protect the people from the coronavirus." Pressed by Stephanopoulos that she's "not ruling anything out," Pelosi emphasized that the Constitution requires Congress "to use every arrow in our quiver." "We have a responsibility," she said. "We take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. We have a responsibility to meet the needs of the American people." Pelosi, who ordered flags to half-staff on Friday evening in honor of Ginsburg, urged people to turn out to vote to defend health care and the right to choose. "It's really important for everyone to get out there and vote," Pelosi said. "This is about the people. It's about their health, their economic well being, the health of our democracy. We have a great deal at stake here. I think we should be very calm. We should be inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was brilliant. And she was strategic and she was successful. And she did more for equality for women in our country than anyone that you can name." As the country closes in on 200,000 deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic and the impasse continues over another phase of congressional aid for the COVID-19 pandemic. Pelosi told Stephanopoulos that Ginsburg "would want us to move forward to protect the people who are sick." While the House passed the Heroes Act five months ago, proposing $3.4 trillion in relief, Senate Republicans have not acted on the measure, opting instead to craft a bill with targeted relief totaling $300 billion. On Sept. 10, that bill failed to advance through a procedural vote in the Senate, continuing the stalemate while lawmakers turn their focus to a stop-gap funding bill needed to stave off a government shutdown at the end of the month. "None of us has any interest in shutting down government. That has such a harmful and painful impact on so many people in our country. So I would hope that we can just proceed with that," Pelosi said. "We're not going to be shutting down government. I do hope, though, that the focus on health care and what it means in terms of the courts will have public opinion be of such magnitude that the Republicans will finally, finally address the coronavirus crisis." Appropriators are expected to put the final touches on a bill as soon as Monday before a potential shutdown Oct. 1.
Russian opposition leader Navalny able to leave his bed - ABC News
BERLIN -- Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalnys health has improved so that he is now able to leave his bed briefly, the Berlin hospital treating him said Monday, while Germany announced that French and Swedish labs have confirmed its findings that he was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. Navalny, the most prominent opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was flown to Germany two days after falling ill on Aug. 20 on a domestic flight in Russia and is being treated at Berlins Charite hospital. Berlin has demanded that Russia investigate the case. The Charite said Navalny has now been successfully removed from mechanical ventilation. He is currently undergoing mobilization and is able to leave his bed for short periods of time, it added. Mondays statement didnt address the long-term outlook for the 44-year-old Russian politician and anti-corruption investigator. Doctors have cautioned that even though Navalny is recovering well, long-term health problems from the poisoning cannot be ruled out. The Kremlin has bristled at calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders for Russia to answer questions about the poisoning, denying any official involvement and accusing the West of trying to smear Moscow. Earlier Monday, the German government said tests by labs in France and Sweden had backed up earlier findings by a German military lab that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, the same class of Soviet-era agent that British authorities said was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, England, in 2018. The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also is taking steps to have samples from Navalny tested at its reference laboratories, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said. He said Germany had asked France and Sweden for an independent examination of the findings. German officials said labs in both countries, as well as the OPCW, took their own new samples from Navalny. In efforts separate from the OPCW examinations, which are still ongoing, three laboratories have meanwhile independently of one another presented proof that Mr. Navalnys poisoning was caused by a nerve agent from the Novichok group, Seibert said. We once again call on Russia to make a statement on the incident, he added. We are closely consulting with our European partners regarding possible next steps. Seibert wouldnt identify the specialist French and Swedish labs. But the head of the Swedish Defence Research Agency, Asa Scott, told Swedish news agency TT: We can confirm that we see the same results as the German laboratory, that is, that there is no doubt that it is about these substances. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his deep concern over the criminal act that targeted Navalny during a phone call with Putin on Monday, Macrons office said. Macron confirmed that France reached the same conclusions as its European partners on the poisoning, according to the statement. A clarification is needed from Russia within the framework of a credible and transparent investigation, it added. The Kremlin said Putin in the call underlined the impropriety of unfounded accusations against the Russian side and emphasized Russias demand for Germany to hand over Navalnys analyses and samples to Russian experts. Putin also called for joint work on the case by German and Russian doctors. Russian authorities have prodded Germany to share the evidence that led it to conclude without doubt that Navalny was poisoned with Novichok. Berlin has rejected suggestions from Moscow that it is dragging its heels. Asked why no samples from Navalny have been given to Russia, German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr replied that Mr. Navalny was in Russian treatment in a hospital for 48 hours. Once he became ill, Navalny was treated at a hospital in the Siberian city of Omsk, where Russian doctors said no evidence of poisoning could be found and claimed he was too unstable to be transferred. A German charity sent a medical evacuation plane to bring him to Berlin for treatment, which it did after German doctors said he was stable enough to be moved. There are samples from Mr. Navalny on the Russian side, Adebahr said. The Russian side is called on, even after three independent labs have established the result, to explain itself, and Russia has ... all the information and all the samples it needs for an analysis. Navalny was kept in an induced coma for more than a week as he was treated with an antidote before hospital officials said a week ago that his condition had improved enough for him to be brought out of it. Frank Jordans in Berlin, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed to this report.
Trump says he's open to investigation into Postmaster General DeJoy amid alleged campaign finance law violations - ABC News
President Donald Trump said on Monday he'd be open to an investigation into Postmaster General Louis DeJoy amid allegations that DeJoy encouraged his employees to make donations to Republican fundraising causes and then reimbursed them through bonuses. The president, when pressed ABC News Correspondent Kyra Phillips, at first said, "I don't know much about it," at a news conference at the White House on Monday afternoon but that he would support an investigation into the issue, even as he signaled he's not inclined to believe DeJoy engaged in unlawful behavior. According to reporting in the Washington Post and The New York Times, DeJoy, a former GOP fundraiser whose political connections helped garner his position at USPS, encouraged employees of his former company, New Breed Logistics, to write fundraising checks and gave bonuses to offset the costs. DeJoy's background in the private sector has shown significant financial stakes in companies that do business or compete with the Post Office. ABC News has not independently confirmed these reports but has reached out to DeJoy for comment. It is against the law for an employer to reimburse employee campaign contributions. "Let the investigations go. But he's a very respected man," the president continued on Monday from the White House's North Portico. "Again, it was a bipartisan commission. Postmaster General is appointed by a bipartisan commission. We'll see how that goes. I think he's a very honest guy. We'll see." Asked then by Phillips if DeJoy should lose his job if it is shown that he engaged in a campaign finance scheme, Trump said yes but again seemed to express doubt that wrongdoing would be proven by referring to his own scandals. "Yes, if something can be proven, always. They have been looking at me for four years. They found nothing. Four years," he said. A spokesperson for DeJoy told the Washington Post that DeJoy believes that he has always followed campaign fundraising laws and regulations. A spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment. DeJoy has not offered a public reaction to the allegations, but he faced questioning about his possible use of straw donors during his testimony before the House Oversight committee last month. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., asked DeJoy whether he paid back several top executives for contributing to Trump's campaign by providing them bonuses. "That's an outrageous claim sir, and I resent it," DeJoy said. "The answer is no." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over the weekend called for an investigation into DeJoy after the allegations surfaced that he had reimbursed former employees for GOP campaign contributions. "These are very serious allegations that must be investigated immediately, independent of Donald Trump's Justice Department," Schumer said in a statement Sunday. DeJoy's former business, where the alleged activities took place, was based in North Carolina. On Sunday, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein reacted to the Post's reporting in a tweet. "It is against the law to directly or indirectly reimburse someone for a political contribution," Stein tweeted. "Any credible allegations of such actions merit investigation by the appropriate state and federal authorities. Beyond this, it would be inappropriate for me as Attorney General to comment on any specific matter at this time." The Senate minority leader threw his weight behind Stein to lead an investigation into the reported allegation. "The North Carolina Attorney General, an elected official who is independent of Donald Trump, is the right person to start this investigation," Schumer said in a statement. DeJoy has been the focus of several Congressional inquiries in recent months as Democratic lawmakers have sought to understand changes at the postal service that they say has delayed the delivery of mail and could put the security of mail-in ballots at risk. Wide range of topics covered The president covered a wide range of topics in the Labor Day news conference, which was announced Monday morning on Twitter, as the presidential race heats up. Trump also alleged Biden wanted to get the U.S. into "endless wars" and then suggested -- in a striking comment from the commander-in-chief about the nation's top military leaders and their motives -- that "the top people in the Pentagon" aren't happy with Trump because he wants to get the U.S. out of war. "It's one of the reasons the military -- I'm not saying the military is in love with me -- the soldiers are, the top people in the Pentagon probably are, because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy," he said. Trump began by trumpeting economic recovery from the pandemic while threatening a crash "the likes of which you've never seen before" if Democratic nominee Joe Biden were elected president in remarks from an area from the White House usually reserved for greeting foreign leaders. "As you probably see, the numbers are terrific. So, we called some people, wished them a very happy Labor Day, and they told us how they're doing. And we really celebrate the American worker. We are in the midst of the fastest economic recovery in U.S. history," Trump claimed.