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CDC’s Redfield in the hot seat as White House looks for someone to blame – CNN

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Trump did not bring up or single out Redfield during his lunch with GOP senators, multiple sources familiar with the discussion told CNN. The director was also at the White House on Monday for a meeting.

The President said Wednesday that Redfield is doing a “very good job” leading the agency and denied ever discussing the CDC at Tuesday’s lunch on Capitol Hill with GOP senators.

“I think he’s done a very good job. I think my whole team has done a very good job,” Trump said, adding that there is “great talent” at the CDC.

As recently as last week, Redfield told colleagues he didn’t think he was in trouble or that his job was on the line. According to a senior administration official, Redfield expressed confidence that the current tension with White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, who Redfield has a decades long relationship with, was fleeting.

Over the weekend, the momentum appeared to have shifted. Redfield grew concerned he may have a target on his back, according to a source familiar with the dynamic. CDC officials dismissed the claims that Redfield was in the hot seat.

“Dr. Redfield is going about his job and his interaction with the White House has not changed,” one CDC official said, adding that the director had been attending White House meetings on a regular basis.

But one senior administration official told CNN the director’s fear is not unfounded.

Informal conversations around “what to do” about Redfield have taken place, as tensions between the CDC and the White House show no signs of abating, according to a senior administration official.

'We've been muzzled': CDC sources say White House putting politics ahead of science

Birx has become increasingly critical of the CDC, making clear in recent meetings that she is more than frustrated with the agency, according to two senior administration officials. Specifically, Birx believes the way the CDC gathers data on the coronavirus is antiquated, causing inaccurate and delayed numbers on both virus cases and deaths. Birx has expressed her agitation during recent task force meetings, where at least one conversation between her and Redfield has grown heated, according to a source close to the task force.

This comes after an interview Sunday, where White House trade adviser Peter Navarro publicly blamed the CDC for the testing failures in the United States. Navarro argued that the top health agency, under Redfield, “let the country down” on testing.

Two senior administration officials told CNN Navarro was just expressing the frustration that many in the administration felt, including the President himself, toward the CDC. After Navarro’s comments blew up and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called them “inaccurate and inappropriate.”

Navarro later expressed concerns to some colleagues that he had gone too far, but was assured by administration officials that he had not — and that Trump would not be speaking up to defend the CDC.

On Wednesday, Trump said he was “not blaming CDC” for “something going wrong with one of the tests” in the study.

One official has pushed back on the idea that Redfield was in immediate trouble, saying there isn’t an appetite within the administration for any seismic staffing changes while the response to coronavirus was ongoing. However, this official said that ultimately the decision was up to Trump.

During Tuesday’s Republican Senate lunch, the President praised his son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner and his team as having solved the testing problem in the US he claimed was botched by the CDC.

A senior CDC official responded to the President’s criticism by pointing to the death toll — at more than 90,000 — and asking how criticizing the agency helps anything at this stage.

“I would urge the President to understand that to prevent spread we must focus on containment and mitigation. He wants to focus on criticism. We will focus on the science, as we have done from the beginning,” the official told CNN.

But according to sources working closely with the White House on the coronavirus response, the CDC and Redfield have been nearly impossible to reach. Officials at the CDC deny this.

Even when trying to present the agency with helpful data or get guidance on various aspects of reopening, these sources said the only way to get what they needed was to go around the organization, and described Vice President Mike Pence and Birx as easier to reach and more responsive than Redfield or anyone at the CDC.

Redfield has also been missing from key conversations about how to advance the CDC’s data collecting methods. The agency has been working around the clock, holding meetings and conference calls with federal officials and members of the private sector to implement a major data modernization initiative.

While a team of CDC employees has been involved in the process, the initiative has lead by Birx, not Redfield, sources familiar with these conversations told CNN.

“She’s clearly the one in charge,” one source familiar told CNN.

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Nick Valencia contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional reporting from CDC officials.

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Coronavirus latest: US death toll tops 100000 – Financial Times

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A cross-border view on trade

Journalists in 50+ countries explore developments in global commerce from every perspective.
For Premium subscribers, we offer our dedicated ‘FT Free Trade’ newsletter every Tuesday and Thursday.

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White House doesn’t detail Trump’s rationale for removing watchdogs to top GOP senator – CNN

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The letter, which Grassley swiftly blasted as having “failed to address” the congressional requirement that there “ought to be a good reason” for such dismissals, comes in response to the Iowa senator’s request that Trump explain why he had ousted State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson.

“President Trump expects that inspectors general, like all other executive officers, will fulfill their proper role as defined by Congress and ultimately as constrained by the Constitution,” the White House letter said. “When the President loses confidence in an inspector general, he will exercise his constitutional right and duty to remove that officer.”

READ: White House letter to Chuck Grassley says Trump acted within his authority in ouster of IGs

Grassley responded in a statement Tuesday night, saying in part, “I don’t dispute the president’s authority under the Constitution, but without sufficient explanation, it’s fair to question the president’s rationale for removing an inspector general. If the president has a good reason to remove an inspector general, just tell Congress what it is.”

“Otherwise, the American people will be left speculating whether political or self-interests are to blame. That’s not good for the presidency or government accountability.”

Grassley, the chamber’s most senior Republican, has been a longtime defender of whistleblowers and government oversight and has broken with Trump on the topic several times during his presidency.

The President had announced his intent to remove Linick earlier this month — a move that drew immediate condemnation from top Democrats, who accused Trump of engaging in a pattern of retaliation against public servants charged with oversight of his administration.
And Linick’s removal came after Trump’s April ouster of Atkinson, who had told Congress about the whistleblower complaint that led to Trump’s impeachment.

“Government Accountability isn’t only a Republican issue or a Democrat issue,” Grassley said Tuesday. “Inspectors general shouldn’t be politically motivated or politically targeted. And those of us in Congress have a duty to promote accountability, regardless of who is in office.”

“Oversight’s been important in past administrations and it will continue to be in the future. I hope the new-found appreciation for inspectors general by some of my colleagues and those in the media doesn’t sunset at the end of this administration,” he continued.

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Schumer, Democrats claim outside Trump advisor helps rig the judicial nomination process – CNBC

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Schumer, Democrats claim outside Trump advisor helps rig the judicial nomination process – CNBC_5ecef97b17a3a.jpeg

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and several of his fellow Democratic lawmakers are scrutinizing one of President Donald Trump’s outside advisors and his multimillion-dollar “dark money” network for its work on the president’s judicial nominations.

Schumer, D-N.Y., along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., published a report on Wednesday that said that Leonard Leo, a conservative activist, and his influential network have rigged the judicial nominating and approval process. 

The report said it is the first of what will be several attempts by congressional Democrats to highlight what they argue are examples of “corruption and conflicts of interests now spreading around the Trump judiciary.” The future efforts will include proposed legislation, although the report didn’t expand upon what those proposed laws will look like. 

Whitehouse told CNBC after publication that one of their goals with future legislation is to focus on revealing anonymous donors that fuel outside groups on both sides of the political spectrum.

“They all have to go, they all have to disclose,” he said. “This is not just for Republican leaning groups that have to disclose,” he explained. 

The move comes as the campaign to take control of the Senate heats up. The GOP has a 53-47 majority, but it is defending more seats than the Democratic Party in this fall’s elections. The Senate approves nominees to the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. Four Republican-held Senate seats — in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Maine — have been deemed toss-ups by political analysts at the Cook Political Report.

The report also comes after Schumer and Whitehouse, along with other senators, co-signed a letter blasting Leo and his aligned group. 

Since Trump became president in 2016, he has turned to Leo to help guide his selections for judicial appointments, including to the Supreme Court. Leo supported Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch during the buildup to their confirmations to the high court. Leo’s guidance has led to close to 200 Trump judicial nominations being confirmed by the Senate. 

The Democrats’ report said Leo and the nonprofit conservative Federalist Society are a key part of an all-out effort to swing the courts toward nominees that are often supported by Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Leo was the executive vice president of the group before he created a new group, CRC Advisors, which is dedicated to promoting Trump’s court appointees going into his reelection fight with Joe Biden.

Leo is still co-chairman of the Federalist Society, which focuses on conservative and libertarian legal theories. Democrats argue, however, that it has become a tool for Republicans and is directly aligned with Trump. 

“While the Federalist Society develops and promotes pro-corporate, pro-Republican donor legal theories, it has also become the linchpin of Republican efforts to select and confirm judges,” the report said. 

Leo responded to Schumer and the Democrats’ claims in a text message to CNBC late Tuesday, suggesting that they should be more focused on responding to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“You know what they say, if you don’t succeed at first, try and try again. Glad to see Senate Democrats are focused on Covid recovery, particularly those from New York,” he said. 

Citing news reports, including one from 2018 by CNBC, the Democrats’ study breaks down how the Federalist Society is funded by organizations linked to the Koch family and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It goes on to show a web of nonprofits and outside groups linked to Leo that have attempted to have an impact on the nomination process either through public relations campaigns or various forms of lobbying. These judicial groups are mainly funded by anonymous donors. 

The report also highlights the political operatives behind the large-scale judicial campaigns, such as the Judicial Crisis Network, and their ties to Leo. 

“JCN spent $7 million opposing President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. It then spent $10 million more to support the confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch (targeting ‘vulnerable Democrat Senators’), and pledged another $10 million in advertising campaigns to support Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination,” the report said. 

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