On Tuesday, President Donald Trump fired James Comey, director of the FBI. Although Comey had been widely criticized for his handling of investigations related to the 2016 election, his dismissal was a shock to many observers, because he was overseeing an investigation into Russian interference in the election and whether any members of the Trump administration were involved. We're liveblogging the aftermath of the dismissal below; here are some highlights from our ongoing coverage:
The Senate Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Michael Flynn
The Senate Intelligence Committee formally issued a subpoena Wednesday to Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national-security adviser, for “documents relevant to the Committee’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.” In a press release announcing the subpoena, Richard Burr, the committee’s Republican chairman, and Mark Warner, its Democratic ranking member, said they had originally requested the documents in an April 28 letter but Flynn declined to offer them voluntarily.
The subpoena is among the most advanced steps yet in either congressional investigation into Russian electoral interference. While the committee indicated it was the natural outcome of Flynn’s refusal to cooperate, it also sends a signal that the committee’s work will go forward despite FBI Director James Comey’s controversial ouster on Tuesday. NBC News reported that it’s the first of its kind from the Senate Intelligence Committee since the 9/11 attacks investigation and the first subpoena for documents from the committee since the Church Committee in the 1970s, which investigated U.S. intelligence-community abuses.
Was Comey Fired After Asking for More Resources in the Russian Meddling Investigation?
The Department of Justice is denying reports that former FBI Director James Comey was fired just days after he asked for more resources to investigate alleged connections between the Trump administration and Russian election meddling.
The New York Timesfirst reported the news Wednesday morning, saying Comey met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last week, according to three anonymous sources. Rosenstein is the top official in charge of the investigation, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after it was learned he failed to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador. Rosenstein also wrote the memo recommending Comey’s dismissal.
Whether or not Comey asked for more resources and then found himself without a job a few days later is important because it bolsters the narrative that the Trump administration is seeking to undermine the investigation into Russia’s alleged election meddling. In a terse response to The Atlantic, when asked if the reports were true, DOJ spokesman Ian Prior said, “totally false.”
The Times reported that Comey briefed members of Congress after his meeting with Rosenstein, and told them he was frustrated by the lack of personnel and money provided to his agency for the investigation. He said he hoped to speed up the investigation, but in order to do so he needed more resources.
At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Comey’s dismissal had nothing to do with the investigation into Russia. She said Rosenstein and Sessions both told Trump they had concerns about Comey, and that Trump asked them to “put those concerns in writing.” Not long after, Trump fired Comey.
In Full Hockey Gear, Putin Responds to Comey's Firing
While President Donald Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Wednesday morning at the White House, President Vladimir Putin was back in Russia preparing for a hockey game. As he was about to take the ice, CBS News stopped Putin at the rink’s entryway. Putin greeted reporter Elizabeth Palmer with a smirk. Dressed in hockey pads and a jersey, through a translator, Putin played off Comey’s dismissal as a purely domestic issue. Here’s a transcription of the quick conversation, and below it the video.
“Sir,” Palmer said, “how will the firing of James Comey affect U.S.-Russia relations?
“There will be no effect,” Putin replied. “Your question looks very funny for me. Don't be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that. President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence, in accordance with his law and constitution. What about us? Why we?”
“You see,” Putin told Palmer, “I am going to play hockey with the hockey fans. And I invite you to do the same.”
According to Russian media, Putin only learned to ice skate six years ago. He finished the game with seven points.
The Republicans Who Find Trump's Timing Suspicious
Democrats say James Comey’s firing comes conveniently as the investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election ramps up. And while there are plenty of conservatives who’ve rushed to support Trump’s decision, as my colleague Russell Berman notes, some Republicans have also called the timing suspicious. Arizona Senator John McCain, who has long been a critic of Trump, said he was “disappointed” in the decision. McCain acknowledged that the “president does have that constitutional authority. But I can’t help but think that this is not a good thing for America.”
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said it was important the investigation be free of political interference, and that Comey’s “removal at this particular time will raise questions.” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who is also chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee, said the “timing of this firing is very troubling.” And North Carolina Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr also said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning” of Comey’s dismissal.
Dir. Comey has been more forthcoming w/ information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intel committees.
Other Congressional Republicans who are skeptical of Trump’s decision include Michigan Representative Justin Amash, who called part of Trump’s dismissal letter to Comey “bizarre,” because the president thanked the FBI director for assuring him on three occasions that he was not being investigated. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake tweeted Tuesday night that he’d “spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it.”
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?”
The extent of Oscar Health’s work on coronavirus testing hasn’t been previously reported.
On March 13, President Donald Trump promised Americans they would soon be able to access a new website that would ask them about their symptoms and direct them to nearby coronavirus testing sites. He said Google was helping.
That wasn’t true. But in the following days, Oscar Health—a health-insurance company closely connected to Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner—developed a government website with the features the president had described. A team of Oscar engineers, project managers, and executives spent about five days building a stand-alone website at the government’s request, an Oscar spokesperson told The Atlantic. The company even dispatched two employees from New York to meet in person with federal officials in Washington, D.C., the spokesperson said. Then the website was suddenly and mysteriously scrapped.
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.
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 the 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.)*
Across the country, social distancing is morphing from a public-health to political act. The consequences could be disastrous.
For Geoff Frost, the first sign of the coronavirus culture war came last weekend on the golf course. His country club, located in an affluent suburb of Atlanta, had recently introduced a slew of new policies to encourage social distancing. The communal water jugs were gone, the restaurant was closed, and golfers had been asked to limit themselves to one person per cart. Frost, a 43-year-old Democrat, told me the club’s mix of younger liberals and older conservatives had always gotten along just fine—but the guidelines were proving divisive.
At the driving range, while Frost and his like-minded friends slathered on hand sanitizer and kept six feet apart, the white-haired Republicans seemed to delight in breaking the new rules. They made a show of shaking hands, and complained loudly about the “stupid hoax” being propagated by virus alarmists. When their tee times were up, they piled defiantly into golf carts, shoulder to shoulder, and sped off toward the first hole.
The dominant conservative philosophy for interpreting the Constitution has served its purpose, and scholars ought to develop a more moral framework.
In recent years, allegiance to the constitutional theory known as originalism has become all but mandatory for American legal conservatives. Every justice and almost every judge nominated by recent Republican administrations has pledged adherence to the faith. At the Federalist Society, the influential association of legal conservatives, speakers talk and think of little else. Even some luminaries of the left-liberal legal academy have moved away from speaking about “living constitutionalism,” “fundamental fairness,” and “evolving standards of decency,” and have instead justified their views in originalist terms. One often hears the catchphrase “We are all originalists now.”
Originalism comes in several varieties (baroque debates about key theoretical ideas rage among its proponents), but their common core is the view that constitutional meaning was fixed at the time of the Constitution’s enactment. This approach served legal conservatives well in the hostile environment in which originalism was first developed, and for some time afterward.
China warned Italy. Italy warned us. We didn’t listen. Now the onus is on the rest of America to listen to New York.
In the emergency-department waiting room, 150 people worry about a fever. Some just want a test, others badly need medical treatment. Those not at the brink of death have to wait six, eight, 10 hours before they can see a doctor. Those admitted to the hospital might wait a full day for a bed.
I am an emergency-medicine doctor who practices in both Manhattan and Queens; at the moment, I’m in Queens. Normally, I love coming to work here, even though in the best of times, my co-residents and I take care of one of New York City’s most vulnerable, underinsured patient populations. Many have underlying illnesses and a language barrier, and lack primary care.
The president is transmuting his calamitous failures into political gold.
Donald Trump is presiding over one of the worst calamities to befall the nation in living memory, and anyone who has followed his response since the coronavirus morphed from a worrisome outbreak in a Chinese province into a global pandemic knows the truth: Trump’s response has been disastrous. It’s no wonder that just a couple of weeks ago, a writer in this magazine concluded that “the Trump presidency is over.”
It seemed reasonable, logical. But once the polls started coming in, it turned out the American public—at least for now—disagrees. Despite his well-documented incompetence and lies, Trump is now enjoying some of the highest approval ratings of his presidency. Even more baffling, a majority of Americans—as many as 60 percent in one poll—think he’s doing a good job tackling the crisis.
“This time of isolation could be a period of great growth or great struggle in your relationship.”
Humans have evolved with a drive to share life with a partner—just not all day long. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors on the savanna formed pair-bonds, but they parted in the morning to go about their separate tasks. So did our ancestors on the farm. For hundreds of thousands of years, even the most devoted couples have been uttering some version of that basic romantic principle: “I married you for better or for worse, but not for lunch.”
So what happens now that spouses are staying home all day, and many unmarried couples suddenly find themselves quarantined together? The peril facing relationships quickly became obvious to the pioneers of this new intimacy on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where couples were cooped up for two weeks in their cabin during the ship’s quarantine. Ellis Vincent, a retired airline executive from Australia, told a reporter that he and his wife, Kimberly, were passing the time by having long conversations during which she displayed a remarkable memory.
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.
President Trump’s targets have been Democratic leaders. But the outbreak isn’t going to stay confined to Democratic states.
It shouldn’t be all that remarkable when two leaders talk in a crisis. On Sunday morning, President Donald Trump got on the phone with Mayor Bill de Blasio to discuss what New York City needs to survive a white-hot outbreak that is only getting worse. De Blasio asked him to send more ventilators and military personnel, warning that in a week’s time, the health-care system could be overwhelmed.
Yet with these particular leaders at this particular point in history, it is remarkable. Until recently, de Blasio told me, none of his calls to the upper reaches of the White House were returned. Two weeks ago, the Democratic mayor said publicly that Trump was “betraying” his native city by not sending more life-saving medical equipment. Ever sensitive to criticism, Trump said, in turn: “I’m not dealing with him.”