The Justice Department seized records from Apple for metadata of House Intelligence Committee members, their aides and family members.
Katie Benner, Nicholas Fandos, Michael S. Schmidt and
WASHINGTON — As the Justice Department investigated who was behind leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration, it took a highly unusual step: Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members. One was a minor.
All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had subpoenaed.
Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.
But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations.
The zeal in the Trump administration’s efforts to hunt leakers led to the extraordinary step of subpoenaing communications metadata from members of Congress — a nearly unheard-of move outside of corruption investigations. While Justice Department leak investigations are routine, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry said they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers had been seized as part of one.
Moreover, just as it did in investigating news organizations, the Justice Department secured a gag order on Apple that expired this year, according to a person familiar with the inquiry, so lawmakers did not know they were being investigated until Apple informed them last month.
Prosecutors also eventually secured subpoenas for reporters’ records to try to identify their confidential sources, a move that department policy allows only after all other avenues of inquiry are exhausted.
The subpoenas remained secret until the Justice Department disclosed them in recent weeks to the news organizations — The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN — revelations that set off criticism that the government was intruding on press freedoms.
The gag orders and records seizures show how aggressively the Trump administration pursued the inquiries while Mr. Trump declared war on the news media and perceived enemies whom he routinely accused of disclosing damaging information about him, including Mr. Schiff and James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director whom prosecutors focused on in the leak inquiry involving Times records.
“Notwithstanding whether there was sufficient predication for the leak investigation itself, including family members and minor children strikes me as extremely aggressive,” said David Laufman, a former Justice Department official who worked on leak investigations. “In combination with former President Trump’s unmistakable vendetta against Congressman Schiff, it raises serious questions about whether the manner in which this investigation was conducted was influenced by political considerations rather than purely legal ones.”
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, as did Mr. Barr and a representative for Apple.
As the years wore on, some officials argued in meetings that charges were becoming less realistic, former Justice Department officials said: They lacked strong evidence, and a jury might not care about information reported years earlier.
The Trump administration also declassified some of the information, making it harder for prosecutors to argue that publishing it had harmed the United States. And the president’s attacks on Mr. Schiff and Mr. Comey would allow defense lawyers to argue that any charges were attempts to wield the power of law enforcement against Mr. Trump’s enemies.
But Mr. Barr directed prosecutors to continue investigating, contending that the Justice Department’s National Security Division had allowed the cases to languish, according to three people briefed on the cases. Some cases had nothing to do with leaks about Mr. Trump and involved sensitive national security information, one of the people said. But Mr. Barr’s overall view of leaks led some people in the department to eventually see the inquiries as politically motivated.
Mr. Schiff called the subpoenas for data on committee members and staff another example of Mr. Trump using the Justice Department as a “cudgel against his political opponents and members of the media.”
“It is increasingly apparent that those demands did not fall on deaf ears,” Mr. Schiff said in a statement. “The politicization of the department and the attacks on the rule of law are among the most dangerous assaults on our democracy carried out by the former president.”
He said the department informed him in May that the investigation into his committee was closed. But he called on its independent inspector general to investigate the leak case and others that “suggest the weaponization of law enforcement,” an appeal joined by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Soon after Mr. Trump took office in 2017, press reports based on sensitive or classified intelligence threw the White House into chaos. They detailed conversations between the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time and Mr. Trump’s top aides, the president’s pressuring of the F.B.I. and other matters related to the Russia investigation.
The White House was adamant that the sources be found and prosecuted, and the Justice Department began a broad look at national security officials from the Obama administration, according to five people briefed on the inquiry.
While most officials were ruled out, investigators opened cases that focused on Mr. Comey and his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe, the people said. Prosecutors also began to scrutinize the House Intelligence Committee, including Mr. Schiff, as a potential source of the leaks. As the House’s chief intelligence oversight body, the committee has regular access to sensitive government secrets.
Justice Department National Security Division officials briefed the deputy attorney general’s office nearly every other week on the investigations, three former department officials said.
In 2017 and 2018, a grand jury subpoenaed Apple and another internet service provider for the records of the people associated with the Intelligence Committee. They learned about most of the subpoenas last month, when Apple informed them that their records had been shared but did not detail the extent of the request, committee officials said. A second service provider had notified one member of the committee’s staff about such a request last year.
It was not clear why family members or children were involved, but the investigators could have sought the accounts because they were linked or on the theory that parents were using their children’s phones or computers to hide contacts with journalists.
There do not appear to have been similar grand jury subpoenas for records of members or staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to another official familiar with the matter. A spokesman for Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee did not respond to a question about whether they were issued subpoenas. The Justice Department has declined to tell Democrats on the committee whether any Republicans were investigated.
Apple turned over only metadata and account information, not photos, emails or other content, according to the person familiar with the inquiry.
After the records provided no proof of leaks, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington discussed ending that piece of their investigation. But Mr. Barr’s decision to bring in an outside prosecutor helped keep the case alive.
A CNN report in August 2019 about another leak investigation said prosecutors did not recommend to their superiors that they charge Mr. Comey over memos that he wrote and shared about his interactions with Mr. Trump, which were not ultimately found to contain classified information.
Mr. Barr was wary of how Mr. Trump would react, according to a person familiar with the situation. Indeed, Mr. Trump berated the attorney general, who defended the department, telling the president that there was no case against Mr. Comey to be made, the person said. But an investigation remained open into whether Mr. Comey had leaked other classified information about Russia.
In February 2020, Mr. Barr placed the prosecutor from New Jersey, Osmar Benvenuto, into the National Security Division. His background was in gang and health care fraud prosecutions.
Through a Justice Department spokesman, Mr. Benvenuto declined to comment.
Mr. Benvenuto’s appointment was in keeping with Mr. Barr’s desire to keep matters of great interest to the White House in the hands of a small circle of trusted aides and officials.
With Mr. Benvenuto involved in the leak inquiries, the F.B.I. questioned Michael Bahar, a former House Intelligence Committee staff member who had gone into private practice in May 2017. The interview, conducted in late spring of 2020, did not yield evidence that led to charges.
Prosecutors also redoubled efforts to find out who had leaked material related to Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. Details about conversations he had in late 2016 with the Russian ambassador at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, appeared in news reports in early 2017 and eventually helped prompt both his ouster and federal charges against him. The discussions had also been considered highly classified because the F.B.I. had used a court-authorized secret wiretap of Mr. Kislyak to monitor them.
But John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence and close ally of Mr. Trump’s, seemed to damage the leak inquiry in May 2020, when he declassified transcripts of the calls. The authorized disclosure would have made it more difficult for prosecutors to argue that the news stories had hurt national security.
Separately, one of the prosecutors whom Mr. Barr had directed to re-examine the F.B.I.’s criminal case against Mr. Flynn interviewed at least one law enforcement official in the leak investigation after the transcripts were declassified, a move that a person familiar with the matter labeled politically fraught.
The biweekly updates on the leak investigations between top officials continued. Julie Edelstein, the deputy chief of counterintelligence and export control, and Matt Blue, the head of the department’s counterterrorism section, briefed John C. Demers, the head of the National Security Division, and Seth DuCharme, an official in the deputy attorney general’s office, on their progress. Mr. Benvenuto was involved in briefings with Mr. Barr.
Mr. Demers, Ms. Edelstein, Mr. Blue and Mr. Benvenuto are still at the Justice Department. Their continued presence and leadership roles would seem to ensure that Mr. Biden’s appointees, including Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, would have a full understanding of the investigations.
Sanders signals openness to adjusting SALT cap
Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent in charge of the powerful Senate Budget Committee, signaled on Tuesday an openness to adjusting the cap on how much taxpayers can deduct in state and local taxes as he seeks to secure the support of nearly every Democrat in Congress for a multitrillion-dollar economic package.
Some congressional Democrats have warned that they may not support any changes to the tax code that do not also address that provision, put in place during the Trump administration, because of the impact on their constituents.
A draft budget document circulated by staff members on Capitol Hill and obtained by The New York Times included money to address the cap, which primarily increases the tax bills of higher-income residents of high-tax states like New York and California. The funding was not included in Mr. Biden’s original proposals and could amount to a partial repeal of the cap for some taxpayers.
“I have a problem with extremely wealthy people being able to get the complete deduction,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview, though he did not comment on specific details. “I think that’s an issue we’ll have to work on.”
Democrats have begun to move forward to pass some, if not all, of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda through the fast-track budget reconciliation process in order to bypass a Republican filibuster in the Senate. But the openness from Mr. Sanders underscored the breadth of compromises that rank-and-file lawmakers may have to accept to secure the necessary support of all 50 senators who caucus with Democrats and nearly every House Democrat.
Mr. Sanders, who has pushed for as much as $6 trillion in spending should bipartisan negotiations on a narrower infrastructure package collapse, said he had asked Democrats on his committee to outline their priorities as he moves to build consensus around an outline.
“OK, look, what do you think? What kind of numbers you’re comfortable with? And where would you like to cut back?” Mr. Sanders said as he described his approach. “We haven’t heard a lot about the cutting back.”
But he acknowledged the challenge in such maneuvers even as he pushes for various liberal priorities, including expanding Medicare benefits and eligibility and more spending. “We’re going to have to make sure that we end up with numbers that 50 members can agree on,” he said.
Mr. Sanders said he had not yet received a commitment from every senator for a $6 trillion package, even as he warned that a bipartisan infrastructure agreement would clear the Senate only with the promise that every Democrat would also support a reconciliation package.
“We’re going to have to work hard, and, you know, make some trade-offs, and so forth and so on,” he said. “I am more than willing to speak to every member and hear what they have to say.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, were expected to meet with White House officials Tuesday evening to discuss both bipartisan talks and the reconciliation process.
Among those expected to attend the meeting, according to an official familiar with the plans, were Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council; Steve Ricchetti, a top adviser to Mr. Biden; Louisa Terrell, the director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs; Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget; and Susan Rice, the White House domestic policy adviser.
The meeting comes after a series of lengthy huddles on Tuesday between a bipartisan group of centrist senators and White House officials. Those talks, spearheaded by Senators Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, are expected to continue Wednesday.
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Asked about a statement from the Loyalist Communities Council saying Irish government ministers are no longer welcome in Northern Ireland, Lewis says that ministers from Ireland – and indeed from almost all other countries in the world – are welcome in Northern Ireland.
He says if anyone is threatening violence, that is not helpful.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, is giving evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee.
Simon Hoare (Con), the committee chair, opens the questioning.
Should I Hang Out With Someone Whose Political Views I Hate?
The magazine’s Ethicist columnist on whether it’s hypocritical for a liberal to socialize with an increasingly extreme conservative.
I am a liberal in a blue city in a red state. One of my friends is married to a man who has become increasingly conservative over the past year (an “anti-Black Lives Matter, anti-abortion, Democrats are all idiots and socialists are taking over the country” mind-set), and his posts on social media are becoming more and more extreme. We occasionally socialize as couples. When we are together, I am friendly with him, and we avoid overt political talk, but as his social media becomes more and more extreme, I feel conflicted about continuing to accept invitations to socialize with them. Is it hypocritical of me to socialize with them when I find his personal political views so abhorrent? Name Withheld.
When I was 15 and in Britain for school, I came to know a neighbor of my English grandmother’s. Then in his 60s, he was a right-wing member of Parliament whose views on the major issues of the day were utterly remote from mine. All the same, we enjoyed spending time together — when he took me trout fishing, it always involved more talk than trout — and though politics was far from the only thing we discussed, it wasn’t a topic we avoided. Once, when he drove me to visit the college he had attended (and that I would too, just as he hoped), I spent two full hours trying to persuade him to support an upcoming resolution to maintain the abolition of capital punishment for murder. We must have made an odd pair — a reactionary M.P. with the strapping build of the heavyweight boxing champion he was as an undergraduate; a willowy brown teenager who kept up with what was then known as The Peking Review. Still, as we whizzed past the hedgerows and incurious sheep of the Cotswolds, we carried on a vigorous debate over an issue we both cared a great deal about.
I do understand why people prefer to limit their socializing to people who share their view of the world and to steer clear of the maddeningly misguided. In recent years, certainly, America has reshaped itself in ways that accommodate the tendency. With the rise of “assortative mating,” bankers — to paint in broad strokes — no longer marry secretaries; they marry other bankers. Doctors no longer marry nurses; they marry other doctors. And so on, up and down the lines of income and class. (Although social scientists have argued that this trend has deepened economic inequality, it also reflects substantial and welcome gains in gender equality in the workplace.) More to the point, the United States has become politically sorted: Increasingly, your neighborhood will be predominantly red or blue, not mixed. If racial segregation has diminished somewhat over the past generation, partisan segregation has risen.
And so have partisan identities. Your friend’s husband, that is, has the political views of his tribe. These views, as with any tribal shibboleths, will often matter to him because they are signs of his membership. Maybe a few of his views were arrived at by careful reflection, but he probably couldn’t argue effectively for most of his opinions before an open-minded audience. The trouble is that the same is almost certainly true of you. You have the liberal tribal beliefs and commitments. And — as a substantial body of social-science research suggests — you probably did not acquire them by deep and thoughtful analysis, because you are like most of us. Identity precedes ideology: Who you are determines what you believe.
I’m happy to stipulate that your views are enlightened and his benighted. Still, it’s possible that you and this fellow are in one respect allied — that you are both committed, as citizens, to participating together in the governance of this battered republic of ours. Despite the forces that would keep us socially and even geographically isolated from one another, you each have a reason to try to understand the other tribe; to figure out what its members believe and (to the extent that there are arguments involved) why they believe it. Democracy falters not when we disagree about things but when we lose interest in trying to make sense of the other person’s point of view and in trying to persuade that person of the merits of our own.
If you took no pleasure in hanging out with this person, you wouldn’t be asking me whether you can go on doing so. And yet you write as if there are only two options here — tolerating his views in silence or cutting him off. Here’s a third option: Stick with this fellow but speak up for your politics. Encourage him to do the same. When we stop talking even to people we know and like because of political disagreements, we’ve abandoned the deliberative-democratic project of governing the republic together.
Not that we should delude ourselves about our prospects for shifting the other person’s shibboleths. At the end of that car trip, my burly interlocutor got out of the car, stretched his legs and told me, almost ruefully: “You may have won all the arguments today. I’m still voting against the resolution.” It passed anyway. And there were many other topics to discuss, from village gossip to high politics, the next time we went fishing.
My daughter is getting married in the backyard of her fiancé’s parents’ home. The wedding is outside under a tent, and more than 100 people are attending. We have informally been keeping track of who is vaccinated of those who have accepted the invitation.
Nearly all the guests are vaccinated, including the bride and groom. But not the hosts — her fiancé’s parents. They don’t believe in the vaccine; they said they haven’t gotten it yet, which to me is an untruthful way of saying they are not getting it. The vaccine is readily available in their area; they could waltz in today without a wait. They also don’t like wearing masks.
The area is fairly quiet now, as the year-round population is small. Most homes are owned by those who spend only the summer there, and it is still off-season. But when the crowds descend, it will probably be a riskier area from a Covid-19-exposure perspective.
If my daughter’s in-laws agreed to host the wedding in their backyard, shouldn’t they have agreed to be fully vaccinated in consideration for the guests, tent-rental people, caterers, photographers and others? Name Withheld
It makes a big difference that this event is being held outdoors. The C.D.C. tells us that fully vaccinated people can, sans masks, safely attend even a crowded event if it’s outdoors. That rule doesn’t apply to those with compromised immune systems, who will want to take personal protective measures, but I fear the incautious parents of the groom may be the ones at greatest risk. Yes, for reasons both prudential and public-minded, they should get themselves vaccinated, substantially reducing their chance of contracting and transmitting infection and of worrying the newlyweds if they do fall ill. For the sake of harmony between your two clans, though, you might want to express yourself on this matter in a tone of concern rather than judgment. Weddings, after all, arose to celebrate the union of families, not just individuals.
Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include “Cosmopolitanism,” “The Honor Code” and “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.” To submit a query: Send an email to email@example.com; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)
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Boris Johnson a pundit who stumbled into politics, says Cummings
Former aide says in Substack Q&A that No 10 is now ‘just a branch of the entertainment industry’
Last modified on Mon 21 Jun 2021 11.55 EDT
Downing Street under Boris Johnson is “a branch of the entertainment industry” and nothing will get done in terms of serious policy focus until he leaves, Dominic Cummings has said in his latest blast at his former boss.
In a question and answer session with paid subscribers to his Substack newsletter, Johnson’s former chief adviser described the prime minister as “a pundit who stumbled into politics and acts like that 99% of the time”.
Giving evidence to MPs last month, Cummings criticised Johnson as completely unfit to be prime minister, describing him as media obsessed and “like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”.
On Monday, answering a question on the potential cybersecurity threat to the UK if another country develops human-level artificial general intelligence, or AGI, Cummings wrote that this would be huge, potentially giving those with AGI “the power to subdue everyone – and destroy us all”.
Cummings said that if he had stayed at No 10 – he was dismissed in November – he would have ordered a focus on the threat, but this would not happen under Johnson.
“NOTHING like this now will get serious focus in no10 – no10 now is just a branch of entertainment industry and will stay so til BJ gone, at earliest,” he wrote.
“The most valuable commodity in gvt is focus and the PM literally believes that focus is a menace to his freedom to do whatever he fancies today, hence why you see the opposite of focus now and will do til he goes …”
Earlier in the lengthy thread, Cummings was asked if he saw Johnson more as a hedgehog or fox, a reference to a celebrated Isaiah Berlin essay that categorised people into those who inhabit one central idea and those with a broader view.
He replied: “Neither, he’s a pundit who stumbled into politics and acts like that 99% of the time but 1% not – and that 1% is why pundits misunderstand him/underestimate him.”
Among a string of answers covering everything from his admiration for the 19th-century German statesman Otto von Bismarck to lessons from the 2016 Vote Leave campaign, Cummings also talked about what he had learned from proximity to power.
He wrote: “When you watch the apex of power you feel like, ‘If this were broadcast, everyone would sell everything and head for the bunker in the hills’.
“It’s impossible to describe how horrific decision-making is at the apex of power and how few people watching it have any clue how bad it is or any sense of how to do it better, it’s generally the blind leading the blind with a few non-blind desperately shoving fingers in dykes and clutching their heads …”
Cummings found time to further insult Matt Hancock, having claimed during his evidence to MPs that the health secretary lied to colleagues amid the Covid pandemic, later releasing screenshots of a message in which Johnson called Hancock “totally hopeless”.
Asked by one reader about some statements made by Hancock about Covid, and whether these revealed a particular philosophical approach within government, Cummings said: “Hancock just says nonsense things all the time, I would not infer there is some complex moral reasoning going on!”
U.S. Outlines Plan to Send 55 Million Covid Vaccine Doses Overseas
“The Biden-Harris administration announced the distribution list for the remaining 55 million of the 80 million doses of America’s own vaccine supply President Biden has pledged to send out globally and allocate by the end of June in service of ending the pandemic. Already, we have sent millions of doses to the world, including 2.5 million doses that arrived in Taiwan this weekend and in addition, sharing doses — In addition to sharing doses from our own vaccine supply, the Biden-Harris administration is committed to working with U.S. manufacturers to produce more vaccine doses to share with the world. And we’ve purchased, as we announced last week, or the week before that, half a billion Pfizer doses to donate to 92 low- and middle-income countries, and members of the African Union.” “Is there any indication that the red tape in this distribution is costing lives at this point? Why is it taking so long?” “Well, first, let me say, we’re committed to allocating those doses. We’ve done exactly that. What we found to be the biggest challenge is not actually the supply. We have plenty of doses to share with the world, but this is a herculean logistical challenge, and we’ve seen that as we’ve begun to implement. So, you know, as we work with countries, we need to ensure that there’s safety and regulatory information shared. Some supply teams need needles, syringes and alcohol pads. Transportation teams need to ensure that there are proper temperature storage, prevent breakage and ensure the vaccine immediately clears customs. So this has not, as you all know, been done before. Sometimes it’s even language barriers that occur as we’re working to get these doses out to countries. So, we have announced today where these doses are going. We will continue to announce as they land on the ground and as they are being shipped. And we’re looking forward to doing that as quickly as possible.”
Sharon LaFraniere and
The White House outlined a plan on Monday to allocate 55 million doses of coronavirus vaccine around the world, the remainder of 80 million doses that President Biden pledged to send by the end of June to countries desperate for vaccine.
Mr. Biden has a week and a half to meet his deadline, a task made more difficult as the administration tries to change which manufacturers’ vaccines would be included in the 55 million portion. Production problems at an Emergent BioSolutions factory in Baltimore have forced the administration to revise its initial plan to rely heavily on AstraZeneca’s vaccine for that donation. The White House did not specify on Monday which vaccines it would be sharing, but people familiar with the operation have said the administration is working to swap shots made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson for AstraZeneca’s.
The distribution formula closely followed the one that the White House announced earlier this month for the first 25 million doses in the president’s pledge. Three-fourths of the 55 million doses will go to Covax, an international vaccine sharing initiative that helps less wealthy nations. Of those, 14 million will go to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean; 16 million will be distributed to nations across Asia; and 10 million will be sent to countries in Africa.
The remaining one-fourth will be spread among at least two dozen places to help address virus surges, including Colombia, Argentina, Haiti, the Philippines, Vietnam, Iraq, Ukraine, Bosnia, South Africa, the West Bank and Gaza.
The donation of 80 million doses pales in comparison to the Biden administration’s plan, announced in early June, to share 500 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine within the next 12 months. But with many countries unable to vaccinate even a tiny percentage of their populations, global health officials are pressing the United States to move as quickly as possible to share its vaccine supply.
The gap in vaccination rates between rich and poor countries is stark. According to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford, high or upper middle countries account for 86 percent of shots administered worldwide while low-income countries account for less than half of one percent.
The federal government has purchased far more vaccine than the nation can possibly use, and distributed more than states can promptly administer as the pool of people eager to get vaccinated dwindles. More than 60 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are sitting in storage in states across the nation, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The White House said it is still working through a variety of logistical and regulatory issues involved in shipping vaccine overseas, like safely transporting the doses and, at times, having to send related supplies, like syringes and alcohol pads, along with them. It said it will release which specific vaccines are being shared and in what amounts later.
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