Trump, Macron agree G7 should be held in person and in near future: White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed in a phone call on Thursday that the G7 meeting should be held in person and in the near future, the White House said.

Trump in March canceled the Group of Seven leaders meeting scheduled for June 10 in the United States as the coronavirus outbreak was spreading around the world and international travel was curtailed.

Last week, Trump said he may seek to revive the idea of a face-to-face meeting because he said it would send a message that the world is getting back to normal. He proposed holding the conference at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said on Sunday that if there were to be an in-person meeting, it would be at the end of June.

Macron is open to traveling to the United States for a G7 meeting if the coronavirus epidemic situation allows, an Elysee official said last week.

The G7 is made up of the United States, Italy, Japan, Canada, France, Germany and Britain, as well as the European Union.

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Trump says US topping virus cases is an ‘honour’

US President Donald Trump has argued it is “a badge of honour” that the US has the world’s highest number of confirmed Covid-19 infections.

“I look at that as, in a certain respect, as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better,” he said at the White House.

The US has 1.5 million coronavirus cases and nearly 92,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In second place is Russia, with nearly 300,000 confirmed cases.

What did Trump say?

On Monday, Mr Trump was hosting his first cabinet meeting since the US outbreak began.

“By the way, you know when you say that we lead in cases, that’s because we have more testing than anybody else,” he told reporters.

“So when we have a lot of cases,” he continued, “I don’t look at that as a bad thing, I look at that as, in a certain respect, as being a good thing because it means our testing is much better.”

He added: “So I view it as a badge of honour. Really, it’s a badge of honour.

“It’s a great tribute to the testing and all of the work that a lot of professionals have done.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a federal agency, the US had conducted 12.6m coronavirus tests by Tuesday.

Is the president right?

While the US has conducted more tests by volume than any other country, it is not first in the world on a per capita basis, according to Our World in Data, a scientific publication based at Oxford University.

Its chart ranks the US as 16th globally in terms of tests per 1,000 people, ahead of South Korea, but less than the likes of Iceland, New Zealand, Russia and Canada.

Over the past week, the US has been conducting between 300,000 and 400,000 tests daily, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a volunteer-led effort.

But the Harvard Global Health Institute argues the US needs to be conducting a minimum of half a million tests per day to reopen the economy and stay open.

The US has also reported the most coronavirus deaths in the world, but on a per capita basis it ranks eighth behind the likes of Belgium, Canada and the United Kingdom, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Ex-Trump aide Flynn asks appeals court to toss criminal charges

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn on Tuesday asked a U.S. appeals court to force a judge to dismiss the criminal charges against him.

In an emergency petition, Flynn’s lawyers asked that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit order District Judge Emmet Sullivan to grant a request by the U.S. Justice Department to dismiss the case.

The Justice Department’s May 7 decision to drop its case against Flynn, who pleaded guilty to charges relating to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador in Washington, followed pressure from Trump and the Republican president’s political allies.

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Trump fires State Department inspector general in latest broadside against watchdogs

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick late on Friday, with the ousting leading to heavy criticism from senior Democratic lawmakers, including House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Trump said in a letter to Pelosi that he no longer had confidence in the inspector general’s ability to serve, though he did not give the reason for his loss of confidence.

“This is to advise that I am exercising my power as President to remove from office the Inspector General of the Department of State, effective 30 days from today,” he said.

The letter did not say who would replace Linick, who was appointed to the role in 2013 under the Obama administration and is the latest in a string of government watchdogs to be removed in recent weeks.

However, the U.S. Department of State said that he would be replaced by Stephen Akard, the director of the Office of Foreign Missions.

“On September 11, 2019, Ambassador Akard was confirmed by the Senate, 90-2, to lead the Department’s Office of Foreign Missions and we look forward to him leading the Office of the Inspector General,” a State Department representative told the media.

Democratic lawmakers condemned Linick’s removal, with Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, suggesting it was connected to a probe that the inspector general had opened into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo,” Engel said in a statement. Pelosi described Linick’s ousting as an acceleration of a “dangerous pattern of retaliation” from Trump.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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  • Democrats to probe Trump's firing of State Department watchdog

Last month, Republican President Trump removed a top coronavirus watchdog, Glenn Fine, who was to oversee the government’s COVID-19 financial relief response.

Earlier in May, Trump ousted Christi Grimm, who led the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General (OIG) after accusing her of having produced a “fake dossier” on American hospitals suffering shortages on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak.

In April, the president notified Congress that he was firing the inspector general of the U.S. intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, who was involved in triggering an impeachment probe of Trump last year.

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Trump fires state department inspector general

The US state department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, has become the latest senior official to be fired by US President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump said Mr Linick no longer had his full confidence and that he would be removed in 30 days.

Mr Linick had begun investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for suspected abuse of office, reports say.

Democrats say Mr Trump is retaliating against public servants who want to hold his administration to account.

“It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general. That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general,” Mr Trump is quoted as saying in a letter sent late on Friday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, US media report.

Not long after Mr Linick’s dismissal was announced, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Mr Linick had opened an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“This firing is the outrageous act of a president trying to protect one of his most loyal supporters, the secretary of state, from accountability,” Eliot Engel, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“I have learned that the Office of the Inspector General had opened an investigation into Secretary Pompeo. Mr Linick’s firing amid such a probe strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation.”

Mr Engel did not provide any further details about the content of this investigation into Mr Pompeo.

Congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, have been quoted in different media as saying that Mr Linick was examining complaints that Mr Pompeo may have improperly used staff and asked them to perform personal tasks.

Mr Linick, a former prosecutor, was appointed by Mr Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, to oversee spending and detect mismanagement at the state department.

‘Retaliation’

Democrats have been reacting to the move. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Mr Linick was “punished for honourably performing his duty to protect the constitution and our national security”.

The late-night, weekend firing of State Department IG Steve Linick is an acceleration of the President’s dangerous pattern of retaliation against the patriotic public servants charged with conducting oversight on behalf of the American people. https://t.co/VavmuJpX25

End of Twitter post by @SpeakerPelosi

“The president must cease his pattern of reprisal and retaliation against the public servants who are working to keep Americans safe, particularly during this time of global emergency,” she added in a statement.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said the Senate Foreign Relations Committee needed to learn more about the dismissal.

If Inspector General Linick was fired because he was conducting an investigation of conduct by Secretary Pompeo, the Senate cannot let this stand.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee must get to bottom of what happened here.

End of Twitter post by @ChrisMurphyCT

This is the latest in a series of dismissals of independent government watchdogs.

Last month, Mr Trump dismissed Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community.

Mr Atkinson first alerted Congress to a whistleblower complaint that led to Mr Trump’s impeachment trial.

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U.S. denies acting against Venezuela's Maduro, says would have been "overt"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House National Security Council on Friday denied the United States was involved in a bungled incursion into Venezuela this week, allegedly to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro, adding if it had been, it would have been “overt, direct & effective.”

The NSC issued a statement via Twitter after Maduro said that Venezuelan authorities had detained a pair of U.S. citizens working with a U.S. military veteran who has claimed responsibility for the foiled operation.

President Donald Trump had already denied U.S. involvement in the incident but the NSC took it a step further.

“The U.S. Govt had nothing to do with recent events alleged in Venezuela. Claims to the contrary are not credible. If this had been a U.S.-planned operation as claimed by Maduro, who’s been indicted on narco-terrorism charges, it would have been overt, direct & effective,” the statement said.

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Trump signs order to protect the U.S. electricity system: Energy Dept

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday that seeks to protect the U.S. electricity system from cyber and other attacks, the Energy Department said in a release, in a move that could put barriers on some imports from China and Russia.

“It is imperative the bulk-power system be secured against exploitation and attacks by foreign threats,” Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in the news release. The order will “greatly diminish the ability of foreign adversaries to target our critical electric infrastructure,” he said.

A senior Energy Department official said that the order was not directed at any new threat, but the result of a process to bolster the power system.

The 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment issued by then-U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates said that China and Russia and other countries were using cyber techniques to spy on U.S. infrastructure.

The power system not only delivers electricity to homes and businesses, but supports the military and emergency systems.

The Energy Department said that government rules about buying equipment for the power grid “often result in contracts being awarded to the lowest-cost bids, a vulnerability that can be exploited by those with malicious intent.”   

The order authorizes Brouillette to work with Trump’s Cabinet and the energy industry on protecting the electricity system.

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White House aiming for Trump pivot from coronavirus to economy – The Denver Post

WASHINGTON — After two months of frantic response to the coronavirus, the White House is planning to shift President Donald Trump’s public focus to the burgeoning efforts aimed at easing the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

Days after he publicly mused that scientists should explore the injection of toxic disinfectants as a potential virus cure, Trump has now rejected the utility of his daily task force briefings, where he has time and again clashed with scientific experts. Trump’s aides are aiming to move the president onto more familiar — and safer, they hope — ground: talking up the economy, in tighter controlled settings.

It’s a political imperative as allies have seen an erosion in support for the president. What had been his greatest asset in the reelection campaign, his ability to blanket news headlines with freewheeling performances, has become a daily liability. At the same time, new Republican Party polling shows Trump’s path to a second term depends on the public’s perception of how quickly the economic rebounds from the state-by-state shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the virus.

Some states have started to ease closure orders, and Trump is expected to begin to highlight his administration’s work in helping businesses and employees. Aides said the president would hold more frequent roundtables with CEOs, business owners and beneficiaries of the trillions of dollars in federal aid already approved by Congress, and begin to outline what he hopes to see in a future recovery package.

Trump last left the White House grounds a month ago, and plans are being drawn up for a limited schedule of travel within the next few weeks, aide said. It would be a symbolic show that the nation is beginning to reopen.

The shift comes in conjunction with what the White House sees as encouraging signs across the country, with the pace of new infections stabilizing and deaths declining.

Still, medical experts warn that the virus will remain until at least a vaccine is developed and that the risk of a severe second wave is high if social distancing is relaxed too quickly or if testing and contact tracing schemes aren’t developed before people return to normal behaviors.

The White House is deliberating whether to continue to hold news briefings in a modified form without Trump, potentially at a different location. Before Trump said in a tweet Saturday that they were “Not worth the time & effort,” aides had been eager to use the briefings to highlight positive trends and to overwhelm Americans with statistics. It was an effort to restore confidence in the response so that the public would be comfortable resuming more normal activities.

“We know that’s important,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, told Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” “We understand those messages of science and policy need to be brought forward to the American people in a nonpolitical way.”

Few Americans regularly look to or trust Trump as a source of information on the pandemic, according to a survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released last week.

On Monday, the White House was expected to release a recap of what the federal government has done so far to improve the availability of COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment and ventilators.

Still, governors in both parties say much more is needed, particularly in testing, in the coming months, as they deliberate how and when to reopen their states.

“I want to get our economy back opened just as soon as we can, but I want to do so in a safe way so we don’t have a spike, we don’t cause more deaths, or an overloading of our health care system,” Gov. Larry Hogan, R-Md., told ABC’s “This Week.”

Birx expressed frustration that Trump’s injection comments were still in the headlines, illustrating the tensions that have emerged between the president and his medical advisers.

“As a scientist and a public health official and a researcher, sometimes, I worry that we don’t get the information to the American people that they need, when we continue to bring up something that was from Thursday night,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

As the White House hopes it has turned a corner, it is also beginning to assess responsibility for critical missteps. Two senior administration officials said Trump has begun discussions about replacing Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who led the coronavirus task force during its initial weeks and has been blamed for a culture of bureaucratic infighting during that period. Azar has been largely sidelined since Vice President Mike Pence took charge of the task force in late February.

Trump on Sunday denied that he was going to fire Azar in a tweet, saying “Alex is doing an excellent job!”

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Trump says close to plan to reopen economy possibly, in part, before May 1

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he is close to completing a plan to end the coronavirus shutdown and reopen the battered U.S. economy with some parts of the country likely to be ready to go before May 1.

Standing in the White House Rose Garden, Trump said he would “authorize” governors – despite doubts from some experts that the presidency has such powers – to implement plans in their states at the appropriate time. He said he would speak to all 50 governors about the plan, probably on Thursday by video conference.

Trump’s coronavirus task force has recommended people across the country follow strict social distancing guidelines through the end of April. Opening some states before that would go against the guidelines in their current form.

Trump, facing re-election on Nov. 3 and under pressure to get the economy going again after millions have been made jobless by the shutdown, said some states should be able to reopen soon, based on a low rate of infections.

“We think that some of the governors will be in really good shape to open up even sooner” than the end of April, Trump said. “Others are going to have to take a longer period of time.”

Trump had initially said he hoped to reopen the economy by Easter in mid-April, but the mounting toll of infections and projected deaths forced him to extend federal guidelines for 30 days to the end of April. Some medical experts question whether the country will be ready by then.

The president drew fire from governors for saying on Monday at a contentious briefing that he has “total authority” to order them to reopen. Constitutional experts have doubted he has such authority but Trump has not backed down.

In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would not follow orders from Trump to reopen his state if it would endanger New Yorkers, arguing any such move would create a constitutional challenge that pits states against the federal government.

“And the worst possible thing he could do at this moment – to act dictatorial and to act in a partisan, divisive way,” Cuomo said, referring to the president’s reelection bid. “Keep the politics out of it.”

Trump said he would not press states to re-open, and indicated each state would have its own individual date for starting the process.

“If we’re unhappy with a state, we’re going to let them know we’re unhappy,” Trump said, adding that he would take action if health data changed. If numbers went in the wrong direction, he said, “We’ll have to do something that’s … very serious. We’ll have to maybe close ‘em up and start all over again. But I don’t think we’re going to have to do that.”

Trump said the states should use whatever testing regimen they can to make virus testing more widely available. Testing has been haphazard throughout the country as the need has mounted.

The president suggested coronavirus testing would be necessary at state borders, but offered no details on how that would work.

Trump is battling accusations that he was slow to respond to a pandemic that has come to consume his presidency. Public support for his handling of the crisis has waned in recent days.

On Tuesday, Trump put blame for the global pandemic on the World Health Organization, saying the UN agency had “failed in its basic duty” and that it promoted China’s “disinformation.” He said he would halt funding to the WHO.

Trump announced a long list of companies that will be represented on his advisory council on reopening the economy, including from energy, financial services, food services, health care, and sports and entertainment.

Trump sounded as if he had largely made up his mind on his plan but insisted he would not put undue pressure on any governors who are reluctant to embrace it.

“We’ll open it up in beautiful little pieces as it comes along,” he said.

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White House to announce economic coronavirus task force soon: senior administration official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House is expected to announce soon formation of a second coronavirus task force, this one devoted to getting the U.S. economy going again when the time is right, a senior administration official said on Thursday.

Trump said earlier this week that he was considering the idea as he ponders when to bring back greater economic activity and rebound from a virus-induced collapse in the economy that has left millions jobless.

The task force is expected to include Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House senior economic adviser Larry Kudlow, among others, the official said.

Trump’s original task force, which includes health experts Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, is devoted to slowing the spread of the virus and finding drugs to treat the illness and a vaccine. They are expected to have input on any decision on when broader economic activity should resume.

Trump, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, is eager to bring the economy back to life and said on Wednesday he would like to have a “big bang” reopening but that it might have to be done in phases, starting in areas with fewer infections.

Kudlow said on Tuesday it was possible to resume economic activity in four to eight weeks.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said “this unforeseen, unprecedented crisis has hurt many workers and businesses” but that Trump will be careful regarding when to reopen the economy.

“The president wants to see this economy open again so people can get back to work, but scientific data will drive the timeline on those decisions because his number one priority is to protect the safety and well-being of the American people,” he said.

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