with Mariana Alfaro

President Trump’s campaign manager demanded Monday afternoon that the Commission on Presidential Debates change the topics that will be covered during the final showdown between the candidates.

NBC News’s Kristen Welker announced last week that she plans to devote 15 minutes apiece to these six areas on Thursday night in Nashville: fighting the coronavirus, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

In an open letter, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien argued that this will mean there is insufficient discussion about foreign policy, which in normal times has been a focus of one of the three presidential debates. Stepien wrote, without evidence, that Joe Biden, who served eight years as vice president and chaired the Foreign Relations Committee during his 36 years in the Senate, is “desperate to avoid conversations about his own foreign policy record.”

As the United States recorded more than 58,000 new coronavirus infections on Monday, and the death toll passed 220,000, Stepien’s letter sure made it sound like Trump is desperate to avoid conversations about his own coronavirus record. It came as the president suggested to a packed rally in Arizona, where supporters were crowded shoulder to shoulder, that Americans are no longer interested in or willing to take precautions to slow the spread of the contagion as he falsely claimed that the country is “rounding the turn.”

“They’re getting tired of the pandemic — aren’t they? You turn on CNN. That’s all they cover: ‘Covid, covid, pandemic. Covid, covid, covid,’” the president said. “They’re trying to talk people out of voting. People aren’t buying it, CNN, you dumb bastards.”

Trump spent the weekend attacking Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) over her coronavirus lockdowns in a battleground state where she is more popular than him. The president spent Monday going after Anthony Fauci after the government’s top infectious-disease expert said during an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he was “absolutely not” surprised that the president contracted covid-19 based on the way he was behaving.

During a conference call for campaign staffers that was intended to be a pep talk, which he dialed into from his hotel room in Nevada and which reporters were invited to join, Trump called Fauci a “disaster.”

“People are tired of covid,” Trump said. “People are saying, ‘Whatever, just leave us alone.’ People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots. … He’s been here for, like, 500 years. … Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him.”

Polls show that Fauci is far more trusted than Trump as a source of information about the coronavirus, and most Americans remain quite worried about getting it and disapprove of the president’s handling of the crisis. It seemed like what Trump meant is that he personally is “tired of covid.” 

But Trump, always eager to be a counterpuncher, wound up spending most of the day attacking Fauci. This only drew more attention to how much the government’s key scientists disagree with his approach and spotlighting the den of dissent that exists inside the White House coronavirus task force. With Election Day two weeks away, it is difficult to see how picking such a fight will help the president turn the tide of a race in which he continues to trail. 

Trump mocked Fauci on Twitter for throwing an embarrassingly off-base ceremonial first pitch at Opening Day for the Washington Nationals. The 74-year-old made a dated reference to the late Bob Hope to complain that Fauci is on television too much. When he landed in Arizona for the first of two events, he held court with reporters about Fauci on the tarmac. “I like him, but he’s called a lot of bad calls,” the president said.

Quote of the day

“I’m not running scared,” Trump told reporters in Arizona. “I think I’m running angry.”

Trump is expected to do three or four rallies a day starting this weekend, Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey report. “Senior advisers to the president say they still want the closing message to be about the economy and what they say would be the negative effects of a Biden victory, with a campaign focus on Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina and Florida. They see the coronavirus — and the president’s handling of the pandemic — as their biggest political weakness, and Biden’s top advisers agree. But Trump continues to call attention to the outbreak.”

Even if Trump could maintain message discipline, four polls illuminate why he cannot change the subject: 

1) Approval for Trump’s handling of the virus is closely tied to his share of the vote.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll of North Carolina, released this morning, shows Biden at 49 percent and Trump at 48 percent. The head-to-head numbers are closely linked to perceptions of the president’s job performance and handling of the pandemic. Trump’s approval rating is 47 percent. “Registered voters in North Carolina disapprove of the way the president has dealt with the crisis, by 53 percent to 45 percent, with 47 percent saying they strongly disapprove. But overall, they are notably less critical of the president on this issue than the country as a whole. Among likely voters in North Carolina who approve of how Trump is handling the coronavirus outbreak, 95 percent support Trump; among those who disapprove, the same percentage support Biden,” per Dan Balz, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin.

2) Fauci is far more trusted than Trump.

A large national poll released Monday by the Public Religion Research Institute asked Americans how much they trust eight potential sources of information about the pandemic. Reflecting the country’s polarization, only one is trusted “a lot” by a majority of Americans. Fauci is second on the list, trusted a lot by 49 percent of the country. Trump was last: Only 14 percent said they trust Trump a lot to provide accurate information and advice regarding the pandemic.

Also reflecting polarization, only 39 percent of Republicans said they consider the coronavirus a “critical issue,” compared with 85 percent of Democrats. “Republicans and Democrats seem to be living in different countries,” said PRRI chief executive Robert Jones.

3) The trust deficit has taken a toll. People don’t accept Trump’s claims about the virus. 

A New York Times-Siena College poll out this morning shows Biden leading Trump by nine points among likely voters. Biden is favored to lead on combatting the coronavirus by 12 points. A 51 percent majority of voters said they believe that the worst of the pandemic is yet to come, compared with 37 percent who say they think the worst is over. 

“Among voters over 65, a bloc that has drifted away from Mr. Trump, the difference was even starker: Fifty-six percent said they worried the worst was still to come, and only 29 percent said the opposite,” Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin report. “Even more striking was the disconnect between Mr. Trump’s cavalier approach toward wearing a mask to guard against the virus and the broad support to mandate the practice in public. Voters supported mandatory mask-wearing, 59 percent to 39 percent over all, and among women support for a mandate grew to 70 percent. Among voters over 65, 68 percent favored it, and even about 30 percent of Republicans said they backed a nationwide requirement. There was also hesitation on taking an eventual vaccine for the coronavirus, with 33 percent saying they would definitely or probably not take a vaccine after it was approved by the F.D.A.”

4) The pandemic is taking an emotional toll on Americans that jobless rates cannot pick up.

A new poll by the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Associated Press, in collaboration with the software company SAP, found that 7 in 10 workers American workers cite juggling their jobs and other responsibilities amid the contagion as a source of stress. “Fears of contracting the virus also was a top concern for those working outside the home,” the AP notes. “Fifty percent of women call the pandemic a major source of stress in their lives, compared to 36% of men. Sixty-two percent of Black workers and 47% of Hispanic workers say it is, compared to 39% of white workers. 

“Jamelia Fairley, a single mother who works at a McDonald’s in Florida, said managers initially told her to make masks out of coffee filters and hairnets. Although she now gets protective gear, she said workers often have to serve customers who refuse to wear masks. … Federal labor figures point to a trend of working-age women, particularly Black and Hispanic women, increasingly dropping out of the labor force amid a child care crisis caused by school and daycare closures. … The poll finds 28% of workers report working fewer hours since the pandemic hit, which could be because they are juggling responsibilities or because employers have cut back their hours. Among Black workers, the number rises to 38%.”

A few hours after the Trump campaign released its letter calling for the debate to focus on foreign policy, the bipartisan commission announced that it will mute Trump’s and Biden’s microphones during parts of Thursday’s debate at Belmont University. Each man will get two minutes to speak uninterrupted at the start of each of the six segments. Their opponent’s mic will be cut in that window to minimize the sorts of Trump interruptions that made the Cleveland debate so messy. There will then be an 11-minute period of “open discussion” where Trump and Biden can mix it up until the start of the next segment.

High school debaters do not need this sort of enforced timekeeping, but apparently the president does. The Trump campaign strongly opposes doing it this way, but the president has little leverage. He already pulled out of the second debate after the commission announced it would be virtual in the wake of his three-day hospitalization at Walter Reed. Trailing in the polls, Trump needs this debate to take place more than Biden does. It’s his last big opportunity to change the trajectory of the race. Stepien responded with a statement saying Trump is “committed” to debating Biden “regardless of last minute rule changes.” 

Politically, the president’s attack on Fauci makes little sense. Substantively, it doesn’t really add up either. Trump claims that hundreds of thousands of more people would have died if he had listened to Fauci, suggesting that he wanted to be more aggressive than the public health experts, while simultaneously arguing that Fauci wanted too many restrictions to mitigate the spread of the disease, which he claims would have been a cure worse than the disease that pushed the country into a depression. Both cannot be true.

Biden seized on Trump’s attacks against Fauci:

A few Republicans rallied to the doctor’s defense, as well, including retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Health committee. “Dr. Fauci is one of our country’s most distinguished public servants. He has served six presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan,” Alexander said in a statement. “If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we’d have fewer cases of covid-19, and it would be safer to go back to school and back to work and out to eat.”

More on the coronavirus

Since May, 8 million Americans have plunged into poverty. 

That's according to Columbia University researchers. They found that the Cares Act, which gave Americans a one-time stimulus check of $1,200 and unemployed workers an extra $600 each week, helped offset growing poverty rates in the spring, but its effects were short-lived. The federal government defines the poverty line as when a family of four earns $26,200 a year or less. The Columbia researchers say that the number of Americans in this category is now 55 million. “After aid diminished toward the end of summer, poverty rates, especially those among minorities and children, rebounded,” NBC News reports. “The results of the Columbia study are underscored by another recent study published by the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame, which found that within the last three months alone, 6 million Americans entered poverty.” 

Nancy Pelosi cites some progress in talks, as her self-imposed deadline looms.

The House speaker said on MSNBC that the Trump administration had agreed to language the Democrats demanded relating to addressing racial disparities in the virus’s impact. “Her chief interlocutor from the Trump administration is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is traveling in the Middle East. He and Pelosi spoke for roughly and hour on Monday and are expected to talk again. Trump seemed to downplay chances for an outcome,” Erica Werner and Jeff Stein report.

A majority of Senate Republicans would likely vote against a Pelosi-Mnuchin deal in the ballpark of $2 trillion if the legislation comes to the floor. “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said only the Senate would ‘consider’ any such agreement, with no promise of a floor vote or whether it would have his support,” per Politico. “Republicans’ ‘natural instinct, depending on how big it is, and what’s in it, is probably going to be to be against it,’ said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). ‘I think we’re going to have a hard time finding 13 votes for anything.’” 

The Fed is sitting on a mountain of untapped funds.

“Hundreds of billions of dollars already set aside by lawmakers to support the Federal Reserve’s emergency aid programs may never be touched, illustrating the unevenness of Congress’s bailout decisions from earlier this year,” Rachel Siegel and Stein report. “In March, Congress allotted $454 billion to the Treasury Department to support the central bank’s emergency lending programs, including those for struggling businesses and local governments. Of that pot, only $195 billion has been specifically committed to cover any losses the Fed might take, including through loans that companies fail to repay. … Federal Reserve and Treasury Department officials say there are ways the money could be repurposed to more directly reach businesses and workers but say they cannot do so without congressional approval.”

The CDC finally recommends that passengers wear masks on planes, buses and public transit.

The guidance was issued in response to pressure from the airline industry, but the recommendations fall short of what transportation industry leaders and unions have sought. The CDC previously drafted an order under the agency’s quarantine powers that would have required all passengers and employees to wear masks on all forms of public transportation, but that order was blocked by the White House, per Lena Sun, Michael Laris and Lori Aratani.

  • TSA screened 1,031,505 travelers on Sunday, the first time since March 17 that airport security nationwide has seen more than 1 million daily passengers. (Shannon McMahon
  • A Texas woman in her 30s died of covid-19 on a plane scheduled to go from Arizona to Texas in July. She passed away while the plane sat on the tarmac. (BuzzFeed)
  • D.C. public health officials added eight states – including Arizona, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania – to the city’s list of locations considered “high-risk” for travel, raising the total number of states under the designation to 39. (Michael Brice-Saddler, Rachel Chason and Dana Hedgpeth)
  • Consumer masks could soon come with labels saying how well they work. But first, industry players must overcome fierce disagreements that have resembled cats and dogs fighting. (Yeganeh Torbati and Jessica Contrera)
  • The New Yorker suspended writer Jeffrey Toobin after he inadvertently exposed himself during a Zoom call with colleagues. “The magazine, which has employed Toobin since 1993, did not comment further about the nature of the incident or the length of the suspension. He will also be absent from his longtime television home, CNN, which employed him as chief legal analyst, amid the incident,” Jeremy Barr reports.
Large school districts are opening their doors again. 

“In many cities, coronavirus infection rates are rising, which could prompt school leaders to change their plans. Some classrooms and even entire schools have opened and had to close again in response to outbreaks. In some cities, opposition from teachers unions has slowed efforts to open buildings. But overall, the trend is now toward more in-person school. Of the 50 biggest school districts, 24 have resumed in-person classes for large groups of students, and 11 others plan to in the coming weeks,” Laura Meckler and Valerie Strauss report. "Four more have opened, or plan to open, for small groups of students who need extra attention. Many are in Florida and Texas, where Republican governors are requiring in-person classes, but schools are also open in New York City, Greenville, S.C., and Alpine, Utah, the state’s largest district. Returns are planned in Charlotte, Baltimore and Denver. Just 11 of the largest 50 school districts are still fully remote, with no immediate plans to change that.” 

  • Data show a surprisingly small number of positive cases among staff and schoolchildren in New York City three weeks into their in-person school year. “Out of 16,348 staff members and students tested randomly by the school system in the first week of its testing regimen, the city has gotten back results for 16,298. There were only 28 positives: 20 staff members and eight students,” the New York Times reports.
  • Turkey farmers fear they’ve bred too many big birds. The pandemic will entail smaller Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings – and more anxious first-time cooks – which means the Butterball hotline is primed to field a flock of queries and demands for lighter turkeys. (Laura Reiley)
British scientists will launch the world’s first human challenge trials for covid-19.

They will infect healthy volunteers with the virus in the hope of further speeding the way to a vaccine. The research, led by Imperial College London scientists, is a gutsy gambit, given that people will be submitting themselves to the virus with no surefire treatment. Volunteers will be given a laboratory-grown strain of the live virus while quarantined in a secure unit at the Royal Free Hospital in London, where they will undergo daily, even hourly, tests. The initial phase of the study will seek to determine the minimal amount of virus necessary to cause an active, measurable infection. (William Booth and Carolyn Johnson)

  • California will not distribute any coronavirus vaccine approved by the federal government until it has conducted its own independent review, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said. (Antonia Farzan)
  • Moderna’s CEO said the federal government could authorize emergency use of his company’s experimental vaccine in December if it gets positive interim results next month from a large clinical trial. (WSJ)
  • “Researchers have been presenting their results online or sending them directly to media outlets rather than awaiting publication in prestigious academic journals. And the stodgy process of peer review has evolved into forthright — and sometimes acrimonious — assessments in the unbridled atmosphere of the Internet,” Frances Stead Sellers reports. “The need for speed has put a spotlight on the messiness of the scientific process, in which breakthroughs are rare and single studies are typically just starting points or contributions to an evolving body of knowledge.”
  • Argentina became the fifth country to surpass 1 million cases, joining the United States, India, Brazil and Russia. (Farzan)

The voting wars

The Supreme Court denies a GOP request to stop an extended deadline for mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania.

“The justices’ action involved an arcane voting practice but carried outsize importance because of Pennsylvania’s pivotal role in the presidential election. It prompted a fierce battle between the state’s Democrats and Republicans. It also showed a precariously balanced Supreme Court, which has only eight members after the death last month of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the potential importance of Trump’s nominee to replace her, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. The court was tied on the Republican request, which means the effort failed,” Robert Barnes reports. “The court’s four most conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh — said they would have granted the stay. But that takes five votes, which means Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. sided with liberal Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Neither side explained its reasoning, which often is the case with emergency requests. But the outcome underscored the decisive role Barrett could play if she is confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate — with a vote there expected as soon as next week. Trump has said he wants his nominee on the court in case it is split on litigation arising from the election.”

  • The Department of Justice is expected to charge Google today with violating federal antitrust law, Tony Romm reports, alleging after a year-long investigation that the tech giant wrongfully wielded its digital dominance to the detriment of corporate rivals and consumers.
  • The Justice Department continues insisting that Trump was doing his job when he denied a rape accusation from former Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll. Last month, Attorney General Bill Barr intervened in the case by arguing that the Federal Tort Claims Act means the government, not the president personally, should be the defendant in the defamation case. Carroll’s lawyers argue that the DOJ’s legal argument is “inconceivable” because not even the president has a job description that includes “slandering women who they sexually assaulted.” (Barrett)
  • Trump said he will take Sudan off the government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism in a pre-election gambit to get them to recognize Israel and pay millions of dollars to U.S. families of terrorism victims. (John Hudson and Max Bearak
Legal wrangling continues in lower courts.

“Thousands of voters flocked to the polls throughout Florida on the state’s first day of in-person voting Monday despite heavy rain across the state, adding to evidence that Americans are unusually eager to cast ballots in this year’s presidential election,” Amy Gardner, Michael Majchrowicz and Lori Rozsa report. “In Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Sarasota, St. Petersburg and many other Florida communities, voters lined up before polls opened to cast their ballots in person at the first available moment. … With early voting underway across the United States and Americans casting ballots by mail at historic numbers, nearly 30 million have already voted with two weeks to go before Election Day, according to a tally by political scientist Michael McDonald of the University of Florida. That represents more than a fifth of the total turnout in 2016. … In North Carolina, a weeks-long dispute over mail ballots returned without a witness signature came to an end Monday, allowing county election administrators to resume the process to fix, or ‘cure,’ thousands of deficient ballots left in limbo as the state continues its early-voting period."

  • A federal appeals court ruled that Texas can reject mail-in ballots over mismatched signatures without giving voters a chance to appeal. (Texas Tribune)
  • Firefighters in Baldwin Park, Calif., said someone purposely tossed a burning newspaper into a ballot box. Investigators are now looking for the person who set the drop box on fire, which potentially compromised dozens of votes. (ABC7)
The Postal Service benches police officers responsible for protecting ballots.

“The agency’s unilateral order ended daily patrols meant to prevent robberies of blue collection boxes and mail vehicles, and has left letter carriers without escorts on unsafe routes in some of the nation’s biggest cities, according to interviews with police officers and union representatives opposed to the change and a copy of the directive,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Mail thieves, in the past, often targeted mail for credit cards and checks. Now, the postal police officers said the fear is that thieves also will get ballots, which could be ditched.”

Some workers feel their boss is trying to coerce them into voting for Trump.

George Daniels, the president of Orlando-based Daniels Manufacturing Corporation, wrote a letter placed in pay stub envelopes that said some employees might lose their jobs if Trump loses the election, WESH 2 News in Orlando reported. “The incident prompted mixed reactions among the employees and raised questions over the appropriateness of the message. It was seen by some workers as an attempt to coerce their votes. Several of the company’s employees told the local TV channel that they felt intimidated and offended by the letter,” Paulina Villegas reports“Federal campaign finance records show Daniels has made contributions of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump’s campaign and the political action committees supporting him … In July, for instance, Daniels donated $100,000 to the super PAC Club for Growth Action … A Trump 2020 flag can be seen flying at the entrance to the Daniels Manufacturing facility."

  • Black women are running for office in historic numbers, but they’re not getting the financial support they need. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that the 113 active Black women candidates running on all tickets raised nearly $81 million in the first three quarters compared to the nearly $811 million raised by their 379 active White women counterparts. (The Lily)
  • Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called for an investigation into the Virginia Military Institute. “The governor, who graduated in VMI’s Class of 1981, co-wrote a letter to the college’s Board of Visitors informing it that the state will fund an independent probe into the school’s treatment of its Black students,” Ian Shapira reports. “His action followed a Post story detailing a lynching threat, Klan reminiscences and Confederacy veneration at the Lexington school, whose cadets fought and died for the slaveholding South during the Civil War.”
  • A trial will determine the fate of Northam’s effort to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. The suit hinges on a deed the state legislature accepted in 1889 promising to protect the memorial forever. The state attorney general argued that the case is moot because the General Assembly adopted language in the state budget Friday night that sets aside money to take down the statue and repeals the original resolution accepting the deed, Gregory Schneider reports.
  • White communities and private companies prospered off George Floyd’s imprisonment while he withered. (Cleve Wootson)
House Republicans are acting increasingly desperate in their ads.

“In Pennsylvania, where Democrat Eugene DePasquale is poised to oust Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the National Republican Congressional Committee put up an ad on Oct. 13 attacking DePasquale — for his Italian name. ‘Eugene DePasquale: Tough to spell,’ the announcer intones,” columnist Dana Milbank reports. “In Nebraska, where Democrat Kara Eastman is positioned to defeat a Republican incumbent, an ad by the Congressional Leadership Fund — the House GOP super PAC — shows the Democrat’s head superimposed over a raw steak. It accuses her of plotting to ‘get rid of farting cows’ … Eastman, in a meeting with supporters, had said Republicans are ‘attacking me like crazy. There’s fliers going out to everybody in the district that I’m a radical socialist.’ The CLF cut out all the words except ‘I’m a radical socialist’ and uses that phrase in the ad. …

“In Texas, where Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni has a good shot to flip a Republican seat, the CLF attacks him for attending ‘notorious desert drug parties.’ The ‘drug party’ in question? The annual Burning Man arts festival, attended by tens of thousands. One Republican congressional nominee in Virginia slams his son to a wrestling mat and repeatedly pins him to show he’ll ‘put liberal ideas in a headlock.’”

Adm. Bill McRaven (Ret.), who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as head of U.S. Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014, voted for Biden: “The world no longer looks up to America,” McRaven writes in an op-ed for the WSJ. “Truth be told, I am a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, small-government, strong-defense and a national-anthem-standing conservative. But, I also believe that black lives matter, that the Dreamers deserve a path to citizenship, that diversity and inclusion are essential to our national success … Most important, I believe that America must lead in the world with courage, conviction and a sense of honor and humility."

  • USA Today broke with tradition and endorsed Biden, giving him the newspaper’s first-ever presidential endorsement. 
  • Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele also endorsed Biden during an appearance this morning on MSNBC.

There's a bear in the woods

The U.S. charges six Russian intelligence officers in several high-profile cyberattacks.

These include the disruption of Ukraine’s power grid and the release of a mock ransomware virus that caused billions of dollars in damage, Ellen Nakashima and Devlin Barrett report. The alleged hackers are members of the GRU – the same military intelligence agency previously charged in connection with efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Authorities allege that the group also leaked hacked emails of individuals involved in French President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 campaign, targeted the organizations investigating the poisoning of Russian operative Sergei Skripal and hacked computers supporting the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea in retaliation for the Russian doping scandal being exposed. (Read the indictment.)

  • “No country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously and irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented collateral damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in announcing the indictment.
  • “Time and again, Russia has made it clear they will not abide by accepted norms and instead they intend to continue their destructive and destabilizing cyber behavior," said FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich.
The Trump administration may be covering up Russian attacks on CIA officers and U.S. diplomats.

If you read only one story today, make it this bone-chilling piece in the New York Times: “The strange sound came at night: a crack like a marble striking the floor of the apartment above them. Mark Lenzi and his wife had lightheadedness, sleep issues and headaches, and their children were waking up with bloody noses — symptoms they thought might be from the smog in Guangzhou, China, where Mr. Lenzi worked for the State Department. But air pollution could not explain his sudden memory loss, including forgetting names of work tools. What began as strange sounds and symptoms among more than a dozen American officials and their family members in China in 2018 has turned into a diplomatic mystery spanning multiple countries and involving speculation about secret high-tech weapons and foreign attacks. One of the biggest questions centers on whether Trump administration officials believe that Mr. Lenzi and other diplomats in China experienced the same mysterious affliction as dozens of diplomats and spies at the American Embassy in Cuba in 2016 and 2017, which came to be known as Havana Syndrome. … 

“While the officers in Cuba were placed on administrative leave for rehabilitation, those in China initially had to use sick days and unpaid leave, some officers and their lawyers say. And the State Department did not open an investigation into what happened in China. The administration has said little about the events in China and played down the idea that a hostile power could be responsible. But similar episodes have been reported by senior C.I.A. officers who visited the agency’s stations overseas, according to three current and former officials and others familiar with the events. That includes Moscow, where Marc Polymeropoulos, a C.I.A. officer who helped run clandestine operations in Russia and Europe, experienced what he believes was an attack in December 2017. Mr. Polymeropoulos, who was 48 at the time, suffered severe vertigo in his hotel room in Moscow and later developed debilitating migraine headaches that forced him to retire.

“The cases involving C.I.A. officers, none of which have been publicly reported, are adding to suspicions that Russia carried out the attacks worldwide. Some senior Russia analysts in the C.I.A., officials at the State Department and outside scientists, as well as several of the victims, see Russia as the most likely culprit given its history with weapons that cause brain injuries and its interest in fracturing Washington’s relations with Beijing and Havana. … Critics say disparities in how the officers were treated stemmed from diplomatic and political considerations, including the president’s desire to strengthen relations with Russia and win a trade deal with China. … (Russia's) intelligence operatives have seeded violence around the world, poisoning enemies in Britain and fueling assaults on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union bombarded the American Embassy in Moscow with microwaves. In a 2014 document, the National Security Agency said it had intelligence on a hostile country using a high-powered microwave weapon to ‘bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves,’ causing nervous system damage. The name of the country was classified, but people familiar with the document said it referred to Russia. Several of the cases against the C.I.A. affected senior officers who were traveling overseas to discuss plans to counter Russian covert operations with partner intelligence agencies, according to two people familiar with the matter. Some C.I.A. analysts believe Moscow was trying to derail that work.”

Fox News passed on the Hunter Biden story because of credibility concerns.

“Fox News was first approached by Rudy Giuliani to report on a tranche of files alleged to have come from Hunter Biden’s unclaimed laptop left at a Delaware computer repair shop, but the news division chose not to run the story unless or until the sourcing and veracity of the emails could be properly vetted,” Mediaite reports. “Giuliani ultimately brought the story to the New York Post, which shares the same owner, Rupert Murdoch. The tabloid has been exhaustively covering the contents of the laptop — which include everything from emails regarding Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian company to personal photos of the recovering addict — with each morsel being amplified in the conservative media world, including on Fox News’ top-rated opinion programs."

The FBI is examining the younger Biden’s laptop as part of a possible foreign disinformation operation. The investigation is at odds with Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe’s claims that the dissemination of materials from the computer was not part of a Russian disinformation campaign. Ratcliffe told Fox Business that “the intelligence community doesn't believe that because there is no intelligence that supports that.” But a congressional source told the Daily Beast that the FBI has the laptop and is looking into the provenance of the material and whether the laptop dump was part of a disinformation effort.

More than 50 former senior intelligence officials have signed on to a letter outlining their belief that the recent disclosure of emails allegedly belonging to Joe Biden’s son ‘has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation,’Politico reports. “While the letter’s signatories presented no new evidence, they said their national security experience had made them ‘deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case’ and cited several elements of the story that suggested the Kremlin’s hand at work. … The former Trump administration officials who signed the letter include Russ Travers, who served as National Counterterrorism Center acting director; Glenn Gerstell, the former NSA general counsel; Rick Ledgett, the former deputy NSA director; … Cynthia Strand, who served as the CIA’s deputy assistant director for global issues.”

The state of Colorado will combat election misinformation online by running ads on social media to help voters identify it. States like California and Ohio are operating similar programs, but not all states have set up operations to battle misinformation, partly because state election offices are among the most underfunded agencies in America. (NYT)

FEMA disposed of 45 faulty ventilators sent by Russia. 

Trump asked Russian President Vladimir Putin in a March phone call for help. “In response, Moscow sent 45 ventilators and other medical supplies in crates stamped ‘From Russia, With Love.’ They were part of a lopsided aid deal between the countries that would ultimately see Russia delivering a little more than $1 million worth of supplies to the US in April, followed by the US sending about $5.6 million to Russia over the following two months,” BuzzFeed News reports. “The Russian ventilators were received by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in New York on April 1 and divided up between hospitals there and in New Jersey. But there were problems with the Aventa-M ventilators from the moment they landed and they were never used. Now, according to FEMA, they have essentially been tossed in the trash.”

Social media speed read

Maine’s Democratic Party is paying for signs to link Sen. Susan Collins (R) with Trump:

ExxonMobil said its executives have not spoken with Trump after the president described a hypothetical situation in which he could shake down their CEO to get campaign contributions in exchange for drilling permits. The president said he could raise a billion dollars if he was willing to do that, but he insisted that he is not:

Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, laying the groundwork to run for president in 2024, campaigned in Montana with the Republican congressman who once assaulted a reporter on camera. Greg Gianforte is running for governor in what the Cook Political Report considers the only toss-up gubernatorial contest of the year:

Videos of the day

Seth Meyers is excited about Trump's campaign promise to leave the country if he loses the election:

Stephen Colbert promised to help Trump pack: