Mike Flynn Reportedly Offers to be Interviewed in Exchange for Immunity
Mike Flynn, President Trump’s former national-security adviser, has told the FBI and congressional investigators he is willing to be interviewed in exchange for immunity from prosecution, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Journal, which cited anonymous officials with knowledge of the matter, said Flynn has so far found no takers for his offer. More from the Journal:
It wasn’t clear if Flynn had offered to talk about specific aspects of his time working for Trump, but the fact that he was seeking immunity suggested Flynn feels he may be in legal jeopardy following his brief stint as the national security adviser, one official said.
Flynn resigned as national-security adviser last month following reports he misled Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump administration officials about the nature of his talks in December with Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington. His resignation, just 23 days after Trump named him to the post, made him the shortest-serving national-security adviser in history. The FBI and intelligence committees in both the House and Senate are investigating Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, as well as links between Trump’s top aides and Russian officials. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, have both volunteered to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee. The Journal’s report comes amid revelations Flynn was paid for speeches made to Russian companies before he joined Trump’s campaign; add to this the spectacular claim, also reported by the Journal, that he’d suggested an extrajudicial extradition to Turkey of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric whom the Turkish leadership regards an enemy; Flynn served as a lobbyist for a client representing Turkey’s interests.
Israel Approves New West Bank Settlement for First Time in Over 20 Years
Updated at 11:48 a.m. ET
Israel’s security cabinet unanimously approved Thursday a new settlement in the occupied West Bank, marking the first time the country has established a West Bank settlement in more than two decades. It is unclear when construction of the settlement, which will be located near the existing settlement of Shiloh in the northern West Bank, will begin. Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, reports that the decision stems from a promise Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made following the eviction last month of settlers from the West Bank outpost of Amona, which the Israeli Supreme Court deemed illegal because it was built on private Palestinian land. The Israeli move will almost certainly draw criticism from Palestinians, who claim the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem as part of their future state. Though President Trump asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” during the Israeli premier’s visit last month, the White House did not condemn the move, noting in a statement that Netanyahu “made a commitment to the Amona settlers prior to President Trump laying out his expectations” and that “going forward ... the Israeli government has made clear that Israel's intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes President Trump's concerns into consideration.”
Ex-South Korean President Park Arrested Over Corruption Scandal
South Korea’s recently ousted president Park Geun Hye was arrested Thursday over a corruption scandal that resulted in her impeachment. Park, whose ouster last month caused her to lose her immunity from prosecution, is accused of bribery, abuse of authority, coercion, and leaking government secrets—charges the former leader denies. Park is the third South Korean leader to be arrested over criminal allegations, following former Presidents Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo in 1995 (though both were later pardoned). State prosecutors now have up to 20 days to formally indict Park. In the meantime, South Korea considers the candidates running to be Park’s successor in an election scheduled for May 9.
U.S. State Department Employee Charged for Concealing Ties With Chinese Officials
A U.S. State Department employee has been charged with obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI over her alleged contacts with Chinese foreign intelligence agents, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday. Candace Marie Claiborne, a 60-year-old who began working at the State Department in 1999, is accused of failing to report her contacts with two Chinese agents “who provided her with thousands of dollars of gifts and benefits,” Mary B. McCord, the acting assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement, adding Claiborne “used her position and her access to sensitive diplomatic data for personal profit.” These gifts, according to the affidavit, included an Apple iPhone and laptop computer, international travel and vacations, tuition at a Chinese fashion school, a fully furnished apartment, and cash wired to Clairborne’s bank account. Prosecutors say Claiborne confided to an unnamed co-conspirator she knew the agents were spies, and that she noted in her journal that she could “generate 20k in 1 year” by working with them. Claiborne pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday and, if convicted, faces up to a 20-year sentence for obstruction and a five-year sentence for making false statements to the FBI.
Malaysia Returns Kim Jong Nam's Body to North Korea
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Thursday the return of the remains of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, to North Korea in exchange for nine Malaysian nationals being held in Pyongyang. “I am pleased to announce that the nine Malaysians who had been barred from leaving North Korea have now been allowed to return to Malaysia,” Razak said in a statement. “We will now allow North Koreans to leave Malaysia.” Tensions between the two countries began over the death last month of Kim Jong Nam at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport—an assassination Malaysia accused North Korea of orchestrating, though the North has denied this claim. The dispute led to North Korea barring all Malaysians from leaving the country, and Malaysia soon followed in kind with its own travel ban on North Korean nationals. Though the return of Kim Jong Nam’s body to Pyongyang and the lifting of the travel bans could signal an end in diplomatic tensions between the two countries, Razak reaffirmed that Malaysia’s investigation into Kim Jong Un’s death would continue, adding: “I have instructed for all possible measures to be taken to bring those responsible for this murder to justice.”
Chinese President to Meet With Trump at Mar-a-Lago Next Week
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has confirmed that President Xi Jinping will meet with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Florida, next week—the first meeting between the two leaders since Trump’s election. Trump had complained about China’s trade policies during the campaign trail, and since becoming president he’s added to his litany of grievances against Beijing, citing its military policy in the South China Sea and what he sees as its lack of cooperation on North Korea. The April 6-7 meeting at Mar-a-Lago follows a visit to Beijing this month by Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state. Although this will be the first meeting between Trump and Xi, the two leaders spoke by telephone shortly after Trump’s inauguration as president. Trump had angered China by accepting a phone call from Taiwan’s leader shortly after he was elected president last November. But in his conversation with Xi in February, Trump reiterated U.S. support for the one-China policy, which states the U.S. recognizes the Chinese government in Beijing and has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Hawaii Federal Judge Extends Order Blocking Trump's Travel Order
A U.S. federal judge in Hawaii extended his nationwide order blocking President Trump’s revised immigration order that temporarily bans the entry of visitors from six Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries and suspends the U.S. refugee program—the latest setback to the White House’s attempt to define who enters the United States. The government’s lawyers argued that Trump’s order fell within the president's power to protect national security, but urged U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson to restrict his order only to the ban on travelers—not the restriction on refugees. Watson wasn’t persuaded. He wrote:
National security is unquestionably of vital importance to the public interest. The same is true with respect to affording appropriate deference to the president’s constitutional and statutory responsibilities to set immigration policy and provide for the national defense. Upon careful consideration of the totality of the circumstances, however, the court reaffirms its prior finding that the balance of equities and public interest weigh in favor of maintaining the status quo.
The order comes two weeks after Watson temporarily blocked the order from going into effect, saying Trump’s executive order “violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” In his order Wednesday, Watson repeated that idea, noting “the entirety of the Executive Order runs afoul of the Establishment Clause, where openly available data support a commonsense conclusion that a religious objective permeated the government's action.’” Trump’s revised executive order was an attempt to find a way around successful legal challenges to the previous version of the order. Here’s what I wrote about it two weeks ago:
The president’s first immigration order was blocked by a federal court in San Francisco. That executive order temporarily blocked the entry of the citizens of seven Muslim or predominantly Muslim countries. But the White House revised the order, dropping Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens were temporarily blocked. The first order also suspended the entry of refugees for 120 days and Syrian refugees indefinitely. The new order no longer blocks Syrian refugees indefinitely.
The case in Hawaii was brought by the state and Ismail Elshikh, the imam of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, whose mother-in-law’s application for an immigrant visa was being processed. Elshikh argued that the new order would ban his mother-in-law from entering the country.
Syrian Refugees Top 5 Million for the First Time, UN Says
The international community must do more to help those fleeing the civil war in Syria, as their numbers exceed 5 million for the first time, Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said today. His remarks come a year after a meeting on Syria in which the world’s powers pledged to resettle 500,000 refugees; so far, half those places have been made available, the UN said. The Syrian civil war is in its sixth year with President Bashar al-Assad firmly in control of the country. A cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey is mostly holding, as Syrian forces and their allies—Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah—as well as those supporting rebel groups—Turkey, the U.S., and other allied countries—turn their attention to ISIS and al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria. The humanitarian crisis created by the civil war caused a political crisis across Europe, where many of the refugees fled, but it also strained the resources of Syria’s neighbors—Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and others—where the overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees live.
North Carolina's Lawmakers and Governor Reach a Deal to Repeal H.B. 2
Updated at 1:43 p.m.
Lawmakers in North Carolina have approved a measure to replace the “bathroom bill” and sent it to Governor Roy Cooper for his signature. Cooper is expected to sign the measure despite opposition from LGBTQ groups that say the replacement retains a key part of the original measure.
Original post at 7:10 a.m.
Lawmakers in North Carolina and the state’s governor have reached a deal to repeal H.B. 2, the state’s controversial “bathroom bill.” Among other things, H.B. 2 dictated that transgender people use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificates. The agreement, which has already been criticized by LGBTQ groups, repeals the measure, but keeps a key part of it. Under the deal, the regulation of bathrooms is left to the state; cities and local governments can't pass their own anti-discrimination laws until December 2020, CNN reports. Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled legislature will vote on the measure today. Roy Cooper, the state’s Democratic governor, in a statement late Wednesday said “it’s not a perfect deal, but … it begins to repair our reputation.” Criticism of the bill resulted in businesses, sporting events, and other groups leaving North Carolina, as David Graham wrote in December.
The U.S. may end up with the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the industrialized world. This is how it’s going to play out.
Three months ago, no one knew that SARS-CoV-2 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche.
A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. “What if?” became “Now what?”
How the coronavirus travels through the air has become one of the most divisive debates in this pandemic.
Updated at 7:22 p.m. ET on April 4, 2020.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many people are now overthinking things they never used to think about at all. Can you go outside? What if you’re walking downwind of another person? What if you’re stuck waiting at a crosswalk and someone is there? What if you’re going for a run, and another runner is heading toward you, and the sidewalk is narrow? Suddenly, daily mundanities seem to demand strategy.
Much of this confusion stems from the shifting conversation around the pandemic. Thus far, the official line has been that the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, could be transmitted only through close contact with infected people or contaminated surfaces. But recently, news reports have suggested that the coronavirus can spread through the air. After 60 choir members in Washington State rehearsed together, 45 fell sick, even though no one seemed symptomatic at the time. Now people who were already feeling cooped up are worrying about going outside. Many state guidelines are ambiguous, and medical advice can muddy matters further. When the writer Deborah Copaken came down with COVID-19 symptoms, her doctor chided her for riding her bike through New York City a week earlier. Going outside in the city wasn’t safe, the physician implied, with “viral load everywhere.”
Widespread social-distancing measures have produced some jarring effects across land, air, and sea.
From inside her living room in London, Paula Koelemeijer can feel the world around her growing quieter.
Koelemeijer, a seismologist, has a miniature seismometer sitting on a concrete slab at the base of her first-floor fireplace. The apparatus, though smaller than a box of tissues, can sense all kinds of movement, from the rattle of trains on the tracks near Koelemeijer’s home to the waves of earthquakes rolling in from afar. Since the United Kingdom announced stricter social-distancing rules last month, telling residents not to leave their home except for essential reasons, the seismometer has registered a sharp decrease in the vibrations produced by human activity.
With fewer trains, buses, and people pounding the pavement, the usual hum of public life has vanished, and so has its dependable rhythms: Before the spread of COVID-19 shut down the city, Koelemeijer could plot the seismometer’s data and see the train schedule reflected in the spikes, down to the minute. Now, with fewer trains running, the spikes seem to come at random.
The Trump administration has just released the model for the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. We can expect a lot of back-and-forth about whether its mortality estimates are too high or low. And its wide range of possible outcomes is certainly confusing: What’s the right number? The answer is both difficult and simple. Here’s the difficult part: There is no right answer. But here’s the simple part: Right answers are not what epidemiological models are for.
Epidemiologists routinely turn to models to predict the progression of an infectious disease. Fighting public suspicion of these models is as old as modern epidemiology, which traces its origins back to John Snow’s famous cholera maps in 1854. Those maps proved, for the first time, that London’s terrible affliction was spreading through crystal-clear fresh water that came out of pumps, not the city’s foul-smelling air. Many people didn’t believe Snow, because they lived in a world without a clear understanding of germ theory and only the most rudimentary microscopes.
The coronavirus’s overwhelming toll on jobs and businesses has only just begun.
Editor’s Note:The Atlantic is making vital coverage of the coronavirus available to all readers. Find the collection here.
This is a tsunami, with a number of big waves dead ahead.”
Mark Zandi is not an epidemiologist, and he was not talking about the rapid spread of the coronavirus. He is the chief economist at Moody’s, an analyst highly regarded by both political parties, and generally not prone to hyperbole. Yet when I spoke with him on the phone yesterday, he immediately reached for the metaphor of a devastating natural disaster to describe the toll that the pandemic will take on American commerce—the businesses it will destroy, the jobs it will wipe out, the retirement nest eggs it will crack and shatter.
The shutdowns happened remarkably quickly, but the process of resuming our lives will be far more muddled.
Get your battle rhythm, I keep telling myself, as I put on my oversize sweatpants for the third day in a row. Staying inside, away from our offices, routines, and community, feels jarring even for those who, on a rational level, understand the need for extreme social distancing. The good side is having more family time. But everything seems upended, even to homeland-security professionals who argued for upending everything to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Just as seasickness abates once you can see the shore, the disruptions that the country is now experiencing would be easier to manage if we knew they would end soon. The community-isolation effort happened remarkably fast—within days, whole communities all but closed down, and earlier this week the federal government finally recommended the same. On Thursday, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered the entire state of California to stay home “until further notice.” But the way the crisis ends will be far more muddled. There isn’t going to be one all-clear signal—and certainly not one anytime soon.
The greatest error that geopolitical analysts can make may be believing that the crisis will be over in three to four months.
At this stage in the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty prevails. The greatest error that geopolitical analysts can make may be believing that the crisis will be over in three to four months, as the world’s leaders have been implying. As documented in The Atlantic and elsewhere, public-health experts make a compelling case that COVID-19 could be with us in one way or another until a vaccine comes on the market or herd immunity is achieved—either of which could take 12 to 18 months, unless we get lucky with a cure or an effective treatment before then. A long crisis, which is more likely than not, could stretch the international order to its breaking point. Even after a vaccine is available, life will not go back to normal. COVID-19 was not a black swan and will not be the last pandemic. A nervous world will be permanently changed.
Trump is utterly unsuited to deal with this crisis, either intellectually or temperamentally.
For his entire adult life, and for his entire presidency, Donald Trump has created his own alternate reality, complete with his own alternate set of facts. He has shown himself to be erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious, and devoid of empathy. None of that is new.
But we’re now entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump presidency. The pain and hardship that the United States is only beginning to experience stem from a crisis that the president is utterly unsuited to deal with, either intellectually or temperamentally. When things were going relatively well, the nation could more easily absorb the costs of Trump’s psychological and moral distortions and disfigurements. But those days are behind us. The coronavirus pandemic has created the conditions that can catalyze a destructive set of responses from an individual with Trump’s characterological defects and disordered personality.
More young people in the South seem to be dying from COVID-19. Why?
In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has gone from a novel, distant threat to an enemy besieging cities and towns across the world. The burden of COVID-19 and the economic upheaval wrought by the measures to contain it feel epochal. Humanity now has a common foe, and we will grow increasingly familiar with its face.
Yet plenty of this virus’s aspects remain unknown. The developing wisdom—earned the hard way in Wuhan, Washington, and Italy—has been that older people and sicker people are substantially more likely to suffer severe illness or die from COVID-19 than their younger, healthier counterparts. Older people are much more likely than young people to have lung disease, kidney disease, hypertension, or heart disease, and those conditions are more likely to transform a coronavirus infection into something nastier. But what happens when these assumptions don’t hold up, and the young people battling the pandemic share the same risks?
The coronavirus outbreak may last for a year or two, but some elements of pre-pandemic life will likely be won back in the meantime.
Updated at 4:40 ET on March 30, 2020.
The new coronavirus has brought American life to a near standstill, closing businesses, canceling large gatherings, and keeping people at home. All of those people must surely be wondering: When will things return to normal?
The answer is simple, if not exactly satisfying: when enough of the population—possibly 60 or 80 percent of people—is resistant to COVID-19 to stifle the disease’s spread from person to person. That is the end goal, although no one knows exactly how long it will take to get there.
There are two realistic paths to achieving this “population-level immunity.” One is the development of a vaccine. The other is for the disease to work its way through the population, surely killing many, but also leaving many others—those who contract the disease and then recover—immune. “They’re just Teflon at that point,” meaning they can’t get infected again and they won’t pass on the disease, explains Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine. Once enough people reach Teflon status—though we don’t yet know if recovering from the disease confers any immunity at all, let alone lifelong immunity—normalcy will be restored. (It may also turn out to be the case that people who are immune to the disease can still pass it on under certain circumstances.)*