Friday morning news – May 15, 2020

Sen. Burr steps down as Senate Intel chairman amid insider trading probe » Republican Senator Richard Burr stepped aside as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. That after the FBI served a search warrant for his phone as part of an ongoing insider-trading investigation.

Burr told reporters that removing himself from the committee was the right thing to do.

BURR: This is a distraction to the hard work of the committee and the members, and I think the security of the country is too important to have a distraction. 

FBI officials showed up at Burr’s home with the warrant on Wednesday. The Justice Department is investigating whether Burr broke the law with a well-timed sale of stocks just before the coronavirus caused markets to plunge.

Burr’s attorney said last month that the law is clear that any senator can participate in stock market trading based on public information “as Sen. Burr did.”

Three million more Americans file jobless claims » Nearly 3 million more laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the viral outbreak led more companies to slash jobs. 

That news comes as Democrats and Republicans remain in a standoff over the next steps. 

House Democrats have proposed another $3 trillion in aid. But GOP leaders want to evaluate the impact of the trillions in aid already approved. And they say the House bill is highly partisan and bloated with “pet projects.” 

Republicans demand answers on Flynn unmasking » Republicans say former members of the Obama administration, including Joe Biden, have a lot of explaining to do. That in light of new documents related to the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. 

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson told Fox News…

JOHNSON: It is, from my standpoint, pretty curious that the vice president of the United States would be requesting unmasking, in this case of General Flynn, eight days before he left office. 

Biden’s name appeared on a list of officials who asked for documents that led to Flynn’s unmasking a list that also includes former White House chief of staff Denis McDonough. 

Unmasking refers to revealing the identities of presumably innocent U.S. citizens named in intelligence reports. 

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden’s presidential campaign said “These documents simply indicate the breadth and depth of concern across the American government” over reports of Flynn’s talks with Russian officials. 

But Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey said GOP leaders plan to “get to the bottom of it.”

TOOMEY: Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which is the committee that has jurisdiction over this, has told us he’s going to have very thorough hearings. 

An investigating agent with the FBI found no wrongdoing by Flynn, but former FBI department head Peter Strzok asked to keep the case open, saying the 7th floor was involved—a reference to top ranking officials. 

Special counsel Robert Mueller later removed Strzok from the Russia probe after finding anti-Trump messages he exchanged with his mistress. 

Flynn eventually pleaded guilty to lying to Strzok and another agent. But he later sought to withdraw that guilty plea after evidence surfaced suggesting agents sought to entrap him and that Strzok heavily edited notes from his FBI interview. The Justice Department has since moved to drop charges against Flynn. 

Immunologist issues dire warning, criticizes response to pandemic » Immunologist Dr. Rick Bright made a sobering prediction in testimony before a House committee Thursday. 

BRIGHT: Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged. There will be likely a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall, and it will be greatly compounded by the challenges of seasonal influenza.

He said he believes the nation lacks a coordinated response to the pandemic. And he added America faces the—quote—“darkest winter in modern history” unless we prevent a rebound of the virus.

Bright was removed last month from his job as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. He said he said that’s because he resisted a push to make the drug chloroquine more freely available to the public without close medical supervision.

And a federal watchdog agency has found “reasonable grounds” to investigate his claims. 

Bright also said top officials at the Department of Health and Human Services ignored his early warnings months ago … about a shortage of critical supplies, like N95 masks. 

BRIGHT: I began pushing urgently in January along with some industry colleagues as well. And those urges, those alarms, were not responded to with action.

But HHS Secretary Alex Azar pushed back Thursday, saying his department was acting to prepare for the pandemic. 

AZAR: Everything he’s complaining about was achieved. Everything he talked about was done.

President Trump dismissed Bright’s testimony, saying he sounded like a “disgruntled” employee.

Wisconsin governor warns of “chaos” after high court struck down stay-at-home order » Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is warning of “massive confusion” after the state Supreme Court tossed out the Democrat’s stay-at-home order on Wednesday. The court said his administration overstepped its authority by going around the legislature to renew the order.  

The court did not block local governments from enforcing coronavirus lockdowns, but Evers said without a statewide standard, the ruling throws his state into “chaos.” He told CNN, with many restaurants and bars now opening…

EVERS: This will cause us to have spikes across the state. There’s no question about it. 

But Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos pushed back, saying “We already know that local health departments have the ability to utilize their power” if they feel it’s unsafe.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., heads to the chamber for a vote, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 20, 2017.

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