☕ Cover: Public Domain
Good Morning. Here’s what you need to know to start the day, along with perspective from both sides for calmer coffee conversations with your family, friends, colleagues, and co-workers. Plus, a bit of good news: Locked down neighbors let loose at ‘Quaranchella’ concerts
📰 TOP STORY
Setting the Stage: “In 2016, Obama administration officials received intelligence reports that were concerning, but incomplete,” the AP writes. “Surveillance of Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. revealed he had interacted with an unnamed American who may have been undercutting efforts to pressure Vladimir Putin’s government. Using a common process known as ‘unmasking,’ they asked intelligence agencies to reveal the American’s name. It was Michael Flynn, an adviser to President-elect Donald Trump.”
Fast Forward to Today: “On Wednesday, two Republican senators, Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson, released a declassified list from acting Director of National Intelligence, Richard Grenell, naming Obama administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, who asked to ‘unmask’ the identity of Michael Flynn when he was under surveillance,” Axios’ Zachary Basu writes.
First of all, what exactly is unmasking? Per the AP: “During routine, legal surveillance of foreign targets, names of Americans occasionally come up in conversations. Foreigners could be talking about a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent resident by name, or a foreigner could be speaking directly to an American. When an American’s name is swept up in surveillance of foreigners, it is called “incidental collection.” In these cases, the name of the American is masked before the intelligence is distributed to administration officials to avoid invading that person’s privacy.” Here’s why this saga continues to be contentious:
On the Right: Trump and his allies believe that this is further evidence that the president was the victim of “deep-state” espionage and a plot to subvert his incoming administration. In an opinion piece for The Hill, Jonathan Turley expresses that, unlike the “Russia collusion story”, the real conspiracy is “the use of national security power to investigate an opposing political party and opponents.” Turley also criticizes the mainstream media for not bothering to seriously report on what he believes are legitimate allegations of the Obama administration surveilling the Trump campaign. Instead, they focused on the “Russia Hoax.” Furthermore, Trump supporters also believe that the release of these names implies that the Obama administration leaked details about Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak to the Washington Post. The Editorial Board at the Wall Street Journal states, “While unmasking isn’t illegal, leaking intelligence is.” Finally, Republican Representative Matt Gaetz is also calling out the apparent inconsistency of Biden claiming to have no involvement in the Investigation of Flynn, even though his name was included among the other officials.
On the Left: Liberal outlets and voices believe this is an effort by President Trump and his associates to undermine the Russia investigation, and create a revised history of the events. Jeremy Herb and Marshall Cohen at CNN assert that the ultimate objective of this coordinated effort would be to discredit Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Herb and Cohen noted that upon Grenell’s release of the Obama administration officials’ names, the Trump campaign did not take long to attack Biden for being included. Brian Beutler, at Crooked Media, also dubbed Trump’s actions as his “final authoritarian push.” He chastises Attorney General Bill Barr for enabling Trump’s “recent assault on the rule of law” by dropping the charges against Flynn. Under the assumption that the Russian investigation was legitimate, Beutler further argues that “springing Flynn from justice both buys his continued silence and advances the lie that the whole Russia investigation was a deep-state plot to sabotage the Trump campaign and administration.”
Flag This: As the AP outlines, “The memo released by the Republican senators notes that it was approved through the NSA’s standard process, and so far there’s no evidence the unmasking of Flynn was illegal. On one hand, Trump and his base claim the unmasking proves that the Obama administration unfairly — and maybe illegally — targeted Flynn and other Trump associates. Democrats believe this is Trump’s attempt to divert attention away from his handling of the COVID-19 crisis. There are 172 days until the 2020 election. Looks like we better buckle up.
🦅 US NEWS
‘The Window Is Closing’: Dr. Rick Bright’s Testimony to Congress
Dr. Rick Bright, the whistle-blower who was ousted as head of a federal medical research agency, charged on Thursday that top Trump administration officials failed to heed his early warnings to stock up on masks and other supplies to combat the coronavirus, and Americans died as a result. President Trump and his health secretary, Alex M. Azar II dismissed Dr. Bright as a “disgruntled employee” and said “Everything he was complaining about was achieved.”
- Meanwhile in Wisconsin bars were packed with patrons almost immediately after court strikes down stay-at-home order.
Sen. Richard Burr steps down as Senate intel chair during probe of coronavirus stock sale
Sen. Richard Burr stepped down as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee amid a federal investigation into his stock sales. The announcement came hours after FBI agents seized Burr’s cellphone as part of a criminal probe of 33 stock sales Burr made on Feb. 13, a week before the markets dived on coronavirus fears. Burr received classified intelligence briefings throughout January and early February that contained dire warnings about the virus. Here’s how it’s playing:
- On the right: FBI questions Dianne Feinstein about coronavirus stock sales New York Post
- On the left: “A very, very big deal”: FBI Escalates Senator Burr Probe With Cell Phone Seizure Vanity Fair
🌎 WORLD NEWS
Americans will likely get Sanofi’s Covid-19 vaccine before the rest of the world if the French pharmaceutical giant can successfully deliver one, Bloomberg reports. Chief Executive Officer Paul Hudson said: “The U.S. government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk.”
- Flag This: The debate over a coronavirus vaccine is shifting from biology to borders. Public-health advocates are concerned about the potential for vaccine nationalism, where wealthier countries aiding industry research, development and production could monopolize the global supply of forthcoming shots.
The United Kingdom’s four countries take a divided approach to coronavirus crisis
The UK’s coronavirus crisis has reignited one of the country’s most bitter political debates, Luke McGee writes for CNN: Can the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland survive as a union of four nations? What’s happening: On Sunday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the country from 10 Downing Street in a recorded message, announcing his plan for the UK to emerge from lockdown. The thing is, just before Johnson’s message, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivered her own address. In doing so, she revealed the uncomfortable reality that Johnson has little practical power over the people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
- Flag This: The “red state vs. blue state” divide we see playing out in the US is happening elsewhere as well, including in the UK. If we zoom out, the decentralized organization of countries like the US and UK is often compared to countries with more centralized power like China. We’ll continue to hear about which “form of government” is better equipped to handle crises like the coronavirus. China’s ability to impose draconian lockdown measures may have helped them stem the spread of the virus, but it comes at a heavy cost to personal freedom and civil liberties.
🗞️ BIZ, SPORTS, & TECH
Facebook Wants More Friends
Facebook is moving ahead with its plans to build an enormous underwater internet cable circling Africa with help from partners in China, Saudi Arabia, and Europe. The 2Africa internet project will link 16 African countries with cable routes to the Arabian Peninsula and Europe.
And the (Fake) Crow Goes Wild!
Joe Buck — Fox Sports’ lead play-by-play announcer for football — believes Fox and other networks might add CGI fans and crowd noise to NFL broadcasts. And the (fake) crowd goes wild!
See You Later San Francisco
Both Facebook and Google have announced that most people won’t need to come in this year, and Twitter Inc. has told some workers that if they wish to work from home permanently, they can. Employees are now considering the thousands of dollars they could save living somewhere else—maybe even permanently. This could create a mass exodus from Silicon Valley.
📢 PRESENTED BY VINCERO
🗳️ FLAG POLLS
Results From Last Week’s Flag Poll
If the federal government created a contact-tracing app to help eliminate the coronavirus and it meant the US could open its economy faster, would you download it? 36% said Yes, 64% said No. Final results and comments.
This Week’s Flag Poll
If there is a “second wave” of coronavirus infections, do you think the United States should implement the same lock down measures? Click here to vote.
On This Day in 1937: Madeleine Albright, America’s first female secretary of state, is born
How to Avoid Burnout in the Middle of a Pandemic (Life Hacker)
Black light experiment shows how quickly a virus like Covid-19 can spread at a restaurant (CNN)
‘I Live Alone at Sea. Here’s How to Be Happy in Isolation’ (The Guardian)
Thinker: Here’s how much Americans may be willing to “spend” to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Answer here…