Trump’s pandemic failing is now directly impacting his campaign

The test results cast Trump’s risky decision to go ahead with an indoor rally that doctors fear turned into a super-spreader infectious event in an even worse light. They also show how the virus — now marching through southern and western states despite Trump’s insistence that the US has already “prevailed” in the fight — is having a disastrous impact on the “Great American Comeback” narrative at the heart of his reelection bid.

Far from easing the political damage caused by the virus, Trump keeps exacerbating it. On Monday, he gave new life to a controversy caused by his remark on Saturday that he told his staff to slow testing for the virus to avoid discovering new cases, which in itself reflected his negligence in responding to a pandemic that has now killed more than 120,000 Americans.

Trump, who described his remark as “semi-tongue in cheek,” continued to argue that the problem in the United States is not that the virus is so widespread, but that testing keeps discovering how deeply it has penetrated in the community.

“Instead of 25 million tests, let’s say we did 10 million tests, we’d look like we were doing much better because we’d have far fewer cases. You understand that. I wouldn’t do that, but I will say this: ee do so much more than other countries it makes us in a way look bad but actually we’re doing the right thing,” Trump said.

The comments seem to set off yet another new political storm that will further complicate attempts by the President’s campaign team to rebound after Saturday’s embarrassment. The campaign team is now considering smaller venues for Trump events — a move that would surely bruise the commander in chief’s ego, or outdoor locations where supporters might feel more comfortable.

Limits on campaigning would be intolerable for any President seeking reelection. For Trump, such a crimping of his style would be even worse, given the centrality of his big rallies to his political id and the morale boosting role they fulfill for a president who is an outsider in Washington.

A strong base

There is no doubt that the President has a tight hold on Republican voters — the unwillingness of GOP senators to rebuke him over his latest racist comment– when he called the coronavirus that originated in China “the kung flu” — is proof of that.

And Fox News said that Trump’s return to the trail secured its biggest Saturday night television audience in its history, suggesting that while some Trump fans might have been concerned about the virus, their absence from Tulsa was not down to diminished enthusiasm.

Trump has always defied political gravity — and the effect of months of stay-at-home orders and lockdowns makes it even more difficult than usual for political analysts to get a solid assessment on how much of the country now views the President.

But the rally controversy points to more fundamental political challenges facing Trump as he trails former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden in the polls and the virus tightens its grip on nearly half the country.
View Trump and Biden head-to-head polling

Saturday night’s event was meant to send a signal that the worst of the danger from the pandemic has expired and that America is on the comeback trail. Instead, it suggested that even Trump’s supporters who elected not to show up in an indoor event that brought the risk of infection, may not yet believe the core message of their hero’s campaign.

With every chance that thousands more Americans die before Election Day, Trump must face the prospect that his denial and mismanagement of the pandemic that left the country ill prepared for a deadly public health crisis is becoming a millstone that his campaign may never be able to shake off.

Searing attacks

Trump spreads new lies about foreign-backed voter fraud, stoking fears of a 'rigged election' this November

The President’s response to a miserable 48 hours was typical — an all-out attack. His targeting of Biden and the Democrats, demonstrating his ferocious tenacity in a way that also hinted at concern in his inner circle.

Trump fired off a series of searing claims on Twitter — that have no basis in fact — that mail-in voting being considered by many states will lead to massive fraud and foreign interference in November’s election.

The President’s team followed up with a new offensive against Biden’s health and mental faculties. They claimed that the former vice president’s decision to stick to convention and only sign up for the three official presidential debates in the fall — and not the extra encounters Trump is demanding — shows the former vice president has trepidation about taking on the President. The tactic was a return to the effort to define Biden as unfit to serve as President — that does not appear to be working, if battleground state polls are anything to go on.

Trump also returned to the safe place to which he often returns when he’s in political trouble — hardline immigration policy, signing an executive order that further restricts legal immigration.

On Tuesday, Trump will head to Arizona to tour a section of his border wall that was so fundamental to his appeal to conservative base supporters in his first presidential election campaign.

The President’s actions were all aggressive gambits that might appeal to his keenest supporters. Taken together with Saturday’s campaign rally that contained meandering diversions, lavish self-praise, casual racism and disinformation, it was difficult to see how they would appeal to wavering voters who do not belong to Trump’s base.
The Arizona trip — while it will provide fodder for Trump’s conservative media cheering section — will surely be overshadowed by the state’s increasingly intense battle with the virus. The Grand Canyon state was among 10 other mostly Trump-won states that saw their highest seven-day average of daily new coronavirus cases on June 21, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

While the President is out of town, two of his top public health officials, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield and the government’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, will testify before a House committee on the increasingly grave situation in many states.

Trump will attempt to put the embarrassing scenes of Saturday night behind him when he addresses a “Students for Trump” event in Arizona.

Attendees have been told to bring face masks to the event but will not be forced to wear them.

Democrats are already seeking to exploit Trump’s remark about slowing testing in Oklahoma, portraying it as emblematic of a mismanaged effort to tackle a virus that caused a shutdown of the economy.

“Two nights ago in his diatribe, he told them to stop testing because the numbers were going up … I mean, my God,” Biden told a fundraising event, according to a pool report on Monday.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.

What we learned from John Bolton’s eye-popping tale of working with Trump

Bolton described a conversation between the two world leaders at the June 2019 G-20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, where Trump told Xi that Midwestern farmers were key to his reelection in November 2020. Trump urged Xi to buoy his political fortunes by buying American agricultural products, linking a promise to waive some tariffs on China in exchange. Trump “stressed the importance of farmers and increased Chinese purchases of soybeans and wheat in the electoral outcome,” Bolton wrote.

Bolton also says that it’s hard for him to think of a single decision Trump made during his stint at the White House “that wasn’t driven by reelection calculations.”

Trump had no problem with China’s concentration camps

Bolton describes several instances where Trump waffles on China-related issues after conversations with Xi, notably on the mass concentration camps Beijing was using to imprison and “re-educate” Uyghur Muslims. Bolton writes that according to the US interpreter in the room during a conversation between Xi and Trump at the G-20 meeting in June 2019, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was “exactly the right thing to do.”

Bolton adds that Trump didn’t want to sanction China for their crackdown on the Muslim minority because of ongoing trade negotiations. “Religious repression in China was also not on Trump’s agenda; whether it was the Catholic Church or Falun Gong, it didn’t register,” Bolton writes.

Pompeo, famously loyal to the President, may have trash-talked him

Bolton describes a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un in which the North Korean despot blamed troubled relations between his country and the US on the actions of prior administrations. Emphasizing the meetings he and Trump had held, Kim told the President that they could dispel mistrust and work quickly toward a nuclear agreement. After Trump told Kim that he would seek Senate ratification of any agreement with North Korea, Bolton writes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo passed him a notepad. On it was scribbled the message, “he is so full of shit.”

“I agreed,” Bolton writes, going on to note that Kim promised no further nuclear tests. The State Department has not responded to CNN’s request for comment about Pompeo’s alleged note.

Trump offered to help Turkey’s leader avoid a Justice Department probe

Bolton writes that in December 2018, Trump offered to help Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a Justice Department investigation into a Turkish bank with ties to Erdogan that was suspected of violating US Iran sanctions. When the Turkish leader presented Trump with a memo from the law firm representing Halkbank, Trump flipped through it and then declared he believed the bank was totally innocent of violating US sanctions related to Iran.

Trump told Erdogan he would “take care of things,” and explained that the Southern District prosecutors “were not his people, but were Obama people,” and the problem would be fixed when they were replaced by his people.

Bolton notes that “this was all nonsense” because the Justice Department prosecutors were career employees who would have taken the same path with the Halkbank probe regardless of who was president.

The Israeli prime minister didn’t understand why Kushner led on Middle East peace

Before joining Trump’s White House, Bolton says he had a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who questioned Jared Kushner’s role in developing a Middle East peace plan.

Netanyahu “was dubious about assigning the task of bringing an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict to Kushner, whose family Netanyahu had known for many years. He was enough of a politician not to oppose the idea publicly, but like much of the world, he wondered why Kushner thought he would succeed where the likes of Kissinger had failed.”

The White House decision-making process was like a ‘food fight’

Bolton says the weekly meetings to discuss issues, chaired by Trump in the Roosevelt Room or the Oval Office, more closely resembled college food fights than careful decision-making, with no lower-level effort or involvement by the relevant agencies to sort out the issues and the options. “After these sessions, had I believed in yoga, I probably could have used some,” Bolton wrote.

It’s a theme Bolton returns to more than once, describing a mercurial President who has little interest in learning how the federal government worked. Instead, he describes Trump as very focused on how decisions will play in the media.

Trump didn’t like sanctions on Russia

Bolton claims that Trump privately complained about sanctions and other punitive measures imposed on Russia with “extended grumbling and complaining,” even as he touted them in public.

After the US announced a first round of sanctions on Russia for poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, Bolton said Trump wanted to rescind the penalties and thought they were being too tough on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Trump told Pompeo to call Lavrov and say ‘some bureaucrat’ had published the sanctions — a call that may or may not have ever taken place,” Bolton wrote.

Bolton also claimed Trump stopped the issue of a statement criticizing Russia on the tenth anniversary of its invasion of Georgia. The former national security adviser writes that these actions were a reflection of Trump’s “difficulty in separating personal from official relations.”

Trump’s revealing questions: Is Finland a part of Russia?

Before the summit with Putin in Helsinki, Trump asked his advisers if Finland was a part of Russia, or whether it was a “kind of satellite of Russia.”

On his way to the Helsinki meeting, Trump stopped to see then-British Prime Minister Theresa May in the UK. During that meeting, May’s national security adviser, speaking about the Skripal poisoning, referred to the attack as one on a nuclear power. “Trump asked, ‘oh, are you a nuclear power?,’ which I knew was not intended as a joke,” Bolton wrote.
And on multiple occasions, Bolton said Trump repeatedly mixed up Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with former President Hamid Karzai.

Trump told people that Venezuela is ‘really part of the US’ and wanted to invade

Bolton writes that in discussions about toppling the regime of Nicolas Maduro, Trump “insisted on military options for Venezuela,” telling advisers that the country “is really part of the United States.” During a March 2019 meeting at the Pentagon, Trump grilled military leaders about why the US was in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not in Venezuela.

Trump’s repeated insistence that military options be considered to oust Maduro often shocked aides, lawmakers and advisers, Bolton writes. In a meeting with Florida Republicans, “Trump still wanted a military option,” leaving Sen. Rick Scott and Gov. Ron Desantis “plainly stunned,” while Sen. Marco Rubio, who had heard Trump on the subject before “knew how to deflect it politely.”

Trump wanted Attorney General Bill Barr to make CNN reporters ‘serve time in jail’

When news leaked about a hush-hush meeting on Afghanistan at Trump’s Bedminster resort, Trump complained that CNN had reported the summit was taking place, Bolton writes. The President told White House counsel Pat Cipollone to call Attorney General Bill Barr about his desire to “arrest the reporters, force them to serve time in jail, and then demand they disclose their sources.”

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Jeremy Herb, Nikki Carvajal, Kevin Liptak, Holmes Lybrand, Zachary Cohen, Sarah Westwood, Maegan Vazquez, Jamie Crawford, Michael Conte and Marshall Cohen contributed to this report

Mutation could make coronavirus more infectious, study suggests

They say more research is needed to show whether the change has altered the course of the pandemic, but at least one researcher not involved in the study says it likely has, and the changes may explain why the virus has caused so many infections in the United States and Latin America.

It’s a mutation that scientists have been worried about for weeks.

The researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida said the mutation affects the spike protein — a structure on the outside of the virus that it uses to get into cells. If the findings are confirmed, it would be the first time someone has demonstrated that changes seen in the virus have significance for the pandemic.

“Viruses with this mutation were much more infectious than those without the mutation in the cell culture system we used,” Scripps Research virologist Hyeryun Choe, who helped lead the study, said in a statement.

Just this week, the World Health Organization said the mutations seen so far in the new coronavirus would not affect the efficacy of vaccines under development. Last week, WHO said mutations had not made it more easily transmissible, nor had they made the virus more likely to cause serious illness.

A more stable spike protein

Choe and colleagues ran a series of experiments in lab dishes that show a mutation called D614G gives the virus many more spikes, and makes those spikes more stable. That in turn make it easier for it to get into cells. The researchers will post their findings on a preprint server called BioRxiv. That means the work has not been reviewed by other experts in the field.

But Choe and colleagues did send their paper to William Haseltine, a virologist, biotechnology entrepreneur and chairman of Access Health International. Haseltine believes the findings explain the easy spread of the coronavirus across the Americas.

Coronavirus Outbreak Timeline Fast Facts

“It is significant because it shows the virus can change, does change to its advantage and possibly to our disadvantage,” Haseltine told CNN. “It has done a good job so far of adapting to human culture,” he added.

“You can see in some places it doesn’t get very far and in other places it has a field day.”

Scientists have been freely sharing the sequences of the virus which, like all viruses, mutates constantly. “Sometime in the middle of January, there was a change that allowed the virus to become more infectious. It doesn’t mean it’s more lethal,” Haseltine said. “It makes it about 10 times more infectious.”
Other researchers have suspected this. In April, Bette Korber of Los Alamos National Laboratory and colleagues published their concerns, also on BioRxiv, calling the D614G mutation “of urgent concern” because it had become by far the most common strain spreading in Europe and the US.

Dominant strain

“It began spreading in Europe in early February, and when introduced to new regions it rapidly becomes the dominant form,” they wrote.

But more work was needed to show that it just wasn’t an accident that caused viruses with the D614G mutation to become the most common forms.

Haseltine said the Scripps team showed this in three separate experiments.

Coronavirus may not be mutating, but experts say there is still potential for danger

“They measured this in three very elegant ways, not just one,” he said.

The mutation allows the virus not only to attach to cells more easily, but to enter them more easily.

When viruses infect, they hijack their victim’s cells and turn them into viral factories, pumping out copy after copy of viruses. They first must find a way into cells to do this.

Korber, who has a different analysis under consideration for publication, said “it was nice to see the result,” but did not comment further to CNN.

Haseltine said the implications are important. Other researchers had hoped that the coronavirus would not prove to be as prone to mutation as other viruses that use RNA instead of DNA as their genetic material. Influenza, notorious for its mutations, is an RNA virus.

“It means that we have to be on the alert for constant change,” Haseltine said.

“This virus is going to respond to whatever we do to control it. We make a drug, it is going to resist it. We make a vaccine, it is going to try to get around it. We stay at home, it is going to figure out how to hang around longer,” he said.

Pressure mounts on Trump to project unity

Trump has been painting a dire picture of a country teetering on the edge of lawlessness, accusing leftist anti-fascist group Antifa of orchestrating looting and trying to create the appearance of a scenario that only a strongman leader could solve.

In reality, increasingly violence-free nationwide protests with peaceful crowds braving the implications of a pandemic are providing exactly the opposite impression Trump is trying to portray with his dystopian rhetoric.

But Trump’s team is beginning to signal a shift that might see the President tone down the rhetoric in a bid to win back independents and moderate suburban Republicans that he needs to win in November.

“I believe you’re going to be hearing from the President this week on this topic in some detail. And I would ask you maybe to reserve judgment until after that time,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
White House officials are debating a plan for Trump to potentially address the nation on race and national unity, sources told CNN’s Kristen Holmes and Sarah Westwood on Sunday.
They believe that the largely peaceful protests over the weekend validate the President’s tough line, the sources said, and he plans to exploit the calls by some liberals for defunding the police to put Biden on the spot.
Trump’s apparent bid to turn around perceptions of his leadership on race and policing follows a series of polls showing him trailing Biden, outside the margin of error, ahead of November’s matchup.

But any effort by Trump to address racial issues and police brutality in the wake of the death of Floyd with a police officer’s knee on his neck is likely to face a huge credibility test given his own recent conduct, a long history of using racial rhetoric to advance his political career — and his habit of undermining scripted speeches with his own inflammatory asides and tweets.

Donald Trump's chaos presidency has turned on him
In recent days, Trump’s hardline stance and vow to “dominate” protesters in a “law and order” crackdown has included the use of federal forces to clear a peaceful demonstration ahead of his bizarre photo-op outside an iconic Washington church. And on Friday, and in the poorest of taste, Trump invoked Floyd’s name during a bill signing ceremony touting a surprise dip in jobless figures.

Over the weekend, the President retweeted a post critical of Floyd’s character. And Trump’s campaign team sent out a text reading: “Liberal THUGS are destroying our streets.”

All this has prompted a cadre of senior former generals, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis and, on Sunday on CNN, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, to accuse Trump of deliberately dividing the country for political gain and threatening the basic founding principles of American democracy.

“We have a Constitution. And we have to follow that Constitution. And the President has drifted away from it,” Powell said.

Protests, despite Trump’s rhetoric, are mostly peaceful

Days of protests appear to have evolved into peaceful affairs that seem little influenced by Trump’s demands for states to deploy active duty troops. Instead, the protests have taken on the trappings of a mass and diverse political movement that is now sweeping the globe.

“I want LAW & ORDER!” Trump wrote on Sunday in a tweet that was characteristic of his attempts to construct an alternative reality to boost his political goals.

Most protests, apart from some in New York City, have been peaceful for days. Curfews in cities including New York, Buffalo and Philadelphia are being lifted. DC hasn’t had a curfew since Wednesday.

In reality, a flurry of cellphone footage of violence perpetrated by police officers has undermined Trump’s accusations against protesters. And the sense of a public order crisis and the fear that the President needs to perpetuate for his strategy to work has noticeably ebbed in recent days, while calls for police reform and solidarity with black Americans who say they are victims of institutionalized racism has grown.
White House is considering a Trump speech to the nation on race and unity

Trump’s apparent bid for a reset comes as Biden seeks to project the empathy and leadership that the President has failed to summon in the last few weeks in a way that could shape their suddenly transformed duel in November.

The former vice president will make his most expansive move yet out of lockdown when he travels to Houston Monday. Biden will offer solace and likely share the lessons of his own life rocked by personal tragedy. But he will also be making an unmistakable political stand as he seeks to harness the power of protest to energize his campaign and to showcase the moral, calming leadership Trump has failed to offer.

Barr misleads on Washington protests

As Trump considers a rhetorical shift, his closest aides are trying to rewrite the history of the most jarring events of last week.

On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr again strongly defended the administration’s decision to turn federal forces on peaceful protesters.
He made a series of claims that appeared to be contradicted by evidence, saying that pepper spray is not a chemical irritant and that security forces in Lafayette Square last Monday were the subject of violent attacks.

“They were not peaceful protesters. And that’s one of the big lies that the media is — seems to be perpetuating at this point,” Barr claimed Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“The Park Police was facing what they considered to be a very rowdy and non-compliant crowd. And there were projectiles being hurled at the police.” CNN reporters in the area at the time saw no evidence to support such accusations.

The building showdown over race and policing between Biden and Trump comes at a signature moment in 21st century history in America. Large, diverse crowds chanting “Black Lives Matter” have given some veterans of long civil rights struggles optimism that the country may be reaching a tipping point.

“This moment is incredibly inspiring to see people all across the country saying enough is enough,” Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“In many cities, you look at the protesters and there are very few African Americans, so the solidarity with what is happening in our community … is very inspiring.”

While Trump is using the crisis as an opportunity to double down on his political base strategy, there is also a sense that a President who has walled himself off behind a fence in the White House may be missing a seminal political moment.
Political leaders, NFL bosses, corporations and people from all walks of life have called for change and pledged to reject racism and to work to understand the historic agony of African Americans. On Sunday, former Republican presidential nominee and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney joined evangelical Christians marching in Washington, DC, and tweeted “Black Lives Matter.”

Democrats in Congress are meanwhile gathering behind a policing reform bill that they will lay out on Monday. The measure includes improved police training, greater accountability for police in the courts, bans on choke holds and carotid holds, and limits on the the use of military-grade equipment by state and local governments.

Joe Biden hits a milestone Hillary Clinton never did: 50%

Republicans haven’t signaled any support for the legislation and may be reluctant to support any national effort to set local policing policy.

But in not heeding the protesters’ cries for change, the President — and some of his ever-loyal Republicans in Congress — may be missing a chance to catch the national mood.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on Sunday found that 80% of registered voters believed things are out of control in the United States. And 59% said that they’re more troubled by Floyd’s death than the fact that some of the protests have turned violent.
George Floyd: Demonstrators defied curfews but there were fewer clashes and less chaos on a night of mostly peaceful protests

The eighth night of protests saw less violence, fewer police clashes and more acts of civil disobedience.

Unprecedented curfews are in place in Washington DC, Atlanta, New York City, Cleveland, and several California cities to dissuade gatherings after a weekend of sometimes violent confrontations and looting.

But that didn’t stop thousands of people from showing up to call for justice following the death of George Floyd, who died last week after he was pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.

In Philadelphia on Tuesday, protests culminated in a nine-minute “moment” of silence.

In Los Angeles, a group of protesters knelt with their hands up in peace signs outside the home of Mayor Eric Garcetti as they waited to be arrested.

In Atlanta, where days ago a police car was lit on fire, a large crowd marched peacefully through the same streets.

And after what New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called “coordinated criminal activity” and looting in parts of the city just the night before, protests over Tuesday night looked completely different, de Blasio said.

People marched through Manhattan, with some store owners, residents and supporters lining the sides of the streets and cheering on demonstrators.

Though there were some instances of looting, it was nowhere as widespread or chaotic on Monday night.

At one point, protesters trying to cross the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan were blocked off by police, who closed the Manhattan side of the bridge. There were fears of a confrontation, but police allowed the protesters to turn around and walk off the bridge back into Brooklyn without arrests.

“We want peace,” Joseph Haynes, a demonstrator in Los Angeles, told CNN’s Kyung Lah. “Look at all these wonderful people out here. Look at us. And this is not just black people.”

Peaceful protests have been spurred on by Floyd’s family: both his brother who called for an end to violence Monday and Roxie Washington, the mother of his 6-year-old daughter, who called for justice for Floyd on Tuesday.

“He will never see her grow up, graduate. He will never walk her down the aisle. If there is a problem she’s having and she needs her daddy, she does not have that anymore,” Washington said of Floyd’s daughter, Gianna. “I am here for my baby and I’m here for George because I want justice for him.”

Floyd's daughter, Gianna, and her mother Roxie Washington.

Where Floyd’s case stands

Floyd’s death sparked what has been more than a week of protests, calling for justice in his case and an end to police brutality.

George Floyd's memorial and funeral services will take place in Minneapolis, Houston and North Carolina
Last week, the 46-year-old died after Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee pressed to Floyd’s neck, according to a prosecutor’s statement of probable cause.

Chauvin has been arrested in his death and Floyd’s family attorney Ben Crump said he expects the other three officers at the scene will be charged before Floyd’s funeral next week.

“We think all of them should be charged with some type of felony murder for participating in the horrific killing of George Floyd,” Crump said.

An independent autopsy showed that the knee on Floyd’s neck as well as two other officers’ knees holding him down contributed to his death.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced Tuesday that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights is launching a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, which will look into practices from the last 10 years.

A news release says the inquiry will try to determine whether police engaged in “systemic discriminatory practices towards people of color and ensure any such practices are stopped.”

Chauvin is expected to make his first appearance in court on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on June 8. Floyd’s funeral is planned for June 9 in Houston.

Atlanta police prepare to enforce a 9:00 pm curfew with gas as demonstrators chant, Tuesday.

Conflict and confrontations

A night marked by more peaceful displays of civil disobedience was not without confrontation between law enforcement and protestors.

This man sheltered dozens of protesters in his Washington, DC, home to protect them from arrest

As Atlanta reached its 9 p.m. curfew, law enforcement deployed tear gas at protesters gathered near the CNN Center who through the day had been marching peacefully.

Hundreds of protestors were arrested in Los Angeles, LAPD spokesman Tony Im told CNN. By 10 p.m. Tuesday the NYPD had arrested 40 protestors and expected that number to grow.

After rocks and glass were thrown at officers Tuesday, according to the Milwaukee Police Department, officers used tear gas on the crowds.

And after President Donald Trump called for tougher efforts against protests earlier this week, 1,600 active duty troops moved to the Washington, DC area to assist civil authorities if needed, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.

Spokesperson Anne Bettesworth said Tuesday that the Seattle Office of Police Accountability received about 14,000 complaints concerning the conduct of Seattle police officers during demonstrations over the weekend.

Protesters gather at a memorial for George Floyd where he died outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis.

Maintaining the peace and making change

Measures are starting to be enacted to ensure the safety of the demonstrations as well as to address the concerns at the heart of the protests.

Facebook said Tuesday that it had shut down pages and accounts whose members were discussing bringing weapons to the protests.

The activity was tied to a group called American Guard, according to Facebook. The Anti-Defamation League says American Guard “has a background with connections to anti-immigrant extremism, hatred, and violence.”

Police brutality prompted the protests. In some cities, the police response only proved the protesters' point

To provide relief for businesses that have been harmed during protests, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a $10 million fund on Tuesday.

Lightfoot also put forward a police accountability reform measure for “some immediate necessary next steps on our journey toward reform.”

Measures “critical to resolving our crisis” will be implemented within the next 90 days, Lightfoot said.

“I stand with those who are sick and tired of the lack of fundamental change,” Lightfoot said. “Change that results in the respect, dignity, and freedom that Black people deserve in this country.”

CNN’s Eric Levenson, Steve Almasy, Laura Ly, Dave Alsup, Raja Razek, Jamiel Lynch and Adrienne Winston.

George Floyd’s death: Minnesota sends 500 National Guard soldiers

“Our mission is to protect life, preserve property and the right to peacefully demonstrate,” the Minnesota National Guard tweeted. “A key objective is to ensure fire departments are able to respond to calls.”

Angry crowds have gathered in cities nationwide to demand justice after the death of George Floyd following his arrest Monday over a counterfeit bill. The outrage grew after a video emerged showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck during the arrest. He was unarmed and handcuffed, and cried that he couldn’t breathe before he died later.

In Minneapolis, buildings were burned, stores looted and a police precinct set ablaze Thursday night. Smoke and orange flames filled the night sky as people gathered nearby and shot video on their phones.

The Minneapolis Police Department has fired the four officers involved in Floyd’s arrest.

The incident is being investigated by local, state and federal authorities, and prosecutors urged residents to be patient.

“We need to wade through all of that evidence and come to a meaningful decision and we are doing that to the best of our ability,” Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman said.

Federal prosecutor Erica MacDonald told reporters that the priority is ensuring justice is served.

“We are going to investigate it as expeditiously, as thoroughly as justice demands,” Freeman said. “That video is graphic, horrific and terrible. And no person should do that. I am pleading with individuals to remain calm and let us conduct this investigation.”

All four officers involved in the death have invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, Freeman told CNN following the news conference.

“I am absolutely sorry for the pain, devastation and trauma Mr. Floyd’s death has left on his family, his loved ones, Minneapolis and the world,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said.

The latest on the George Floyd case

“I know there is currently a deficit of hope in our city … and I know our department has contributed to that deficit as a whole.”

In Minneapolis, protests transitioned to rioting and looting south of downtown, with people smashing their way into stores and setting businesses and other buildings ablaze. There was more looting Thursday in St. Paul, the state capital, next door.

“I want everybody to be peaceful right now, but people are torn and hurt, because they’re tired of seeing black men die,” said Philonise Floyd, the victim’s brother.

Protesters have gathered in other cities too, including Denver and New York.

CNN’s Sara Sidner and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

After Arkansas swim party, several coronavirus cases reported

“A high school swim party that I’m sure everybody thought was harmless. They’re young, they’re swimming, they’re just having activity and positive cases resulted from that,” Hutchinson said.

The governor declined to provide further details on the swim party but noted the incident was “just an encouragement for us to be disciplined in our activities.”

“During this Memorial (Day) weekend, we want to be out and we want to enjoy ourselves, we want to remember this holiday and those that have served our country and given their lives in service of our country. But let’s be safe and let’s be disciplined at the same time,” Hutchinson said.

Before you go to the pool, beach or lake this summer, read this

The case described by the governor highlights the threats of community spread in the United States as cities and states continue relaxing social distancing measures and businesses reopen.

Earlier this month, at least 180 people were exposed to the novel coronavirus in California when a person who tested positive for Covid-19 attended a religious service on Mother’s Day. Meanwhile in Missouri, as many as 91 people were exposed to the virus when a hairstylist with coronavirus worked for eight days while symptomatic.

On Saturday, Hutchinson said Arkansas is seeing an increase of Covid-19 cases in what the governor calls a second peak.

Health officials reported 163 new cases of the virus on Saturday. There are at least 5,612 cases in the state, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Unlike other states, Arkansas has not been under a stay-at-home order to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Last month, Hutchinson said he didn’t believe the state needed a statewide order because of its low density in population.

He pointed to his actions in declaring a public emergency when Arkansas had its first confirmed case of coronavirus, closing the state’s schools and increasing testing.

The mystery behind the data aggregation site Worldometer

MADRID — On April 28, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez stood alone on the stage of a bright but empty briefing room. As a CNN reporter asked a question via video link, the prime minister looked deep in concentration, scribbling notes and pausing to look at the monitor only once. As he launched into his answer, he looked directly into the camera to boast about Spain’s Covid-19 testing volume.

“We are one of the countries with the highest number of tests carried out,” Sánchez said.

Initially, the prime minister cited data from a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranking that had placed Spain eighth in Covid-19 testing among its members.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez takes reporters’ questions during a press teleconference on April 28, 2020. Credit: Palace of Moncloa

“Today,” he added, “we have found out about another study, from the Johns Hopkins University, that […] ranks us fifth in the world in total tests carried out.”

There were just two problems: The OECD data had been wrong. And while some sources had ranked Spain fifth in total testing volume, Johns Hopkins was not one of them; the study Sánchez cited does not exist.

Yet two weeks later, the Spanish government is standing by the substance of its prime minister’s claim. Instead of citing Johns Hopkins, Spanish officials are now pointing to testing rankings from a data aggregation website called Worldometer — one of the sources behind the university’s widely cited coronavirus dashboard — and prompting questions about why some governments and respected institutions have chosen to trust a source about which little is known.

The Covid-19 pandemic has boosted Worldometer’s popularity. In the past six months, its pages have been shared about 2.5 million times — up from just 65 shares in the first six months of 2019, according to statistics from BuzzSumo. Credit: Worldometer

Before the pandemic, Worldometer was best known for its “counters,” which provided live estimates of numbers like the world’s population or the number of cars produced this year. Its website indicates that revenue comes from advertising and licensing its counters. The Covid-19 crisis has undoubtedly boosted the website’s popularity. It’s one of the top-ranking Google search results for coronavirus stats. In the past six months, Worldometer’s pages have been shared about 2.5 million times — up from just 65 shares in the first six months of 2019, according to statistics provided by BuzzSumo, a company that tracks social media engagement and provides insights into content.

Accessible icon title
Questioning the reliability of this coronavirus statistics site 03:36

The website claims to be “run by an international team of developers, researchers, and volunteers” and “published by a small and independent digital media company based in the United States.”

But public records show little evidence of a company that employs a multilingual team of analysts and researchers. It’s not clear whether the company has paid staff vetting its data for accuracy or whether it relies solely on automation and crowdsourcing. The site does have at least one job posting, from October, seeking a volunteer web developer.

Once known as Worldometers, the website was originally created in 2004 by Andrey Alimetov, then a 20-year-old recent immigrant from Russia who had just gotten his first IT job in New York.

“It’s a super simple website, there is nothing crazy about it,” he recently told CNN.

Within about a year, Alimetov said, the site was getting 20,000 or 30,000 visits every day but costing him too much money in web-hosting fees.

“There was no immediate fast way to cash out,” he said, so he listed the site on eBay and sold it for $2,000 sometime in 2005 or 2006.

Changing hands

When Reddit’s homepage featured Worldometer in 2013, its founder emailed the new owner, a man named Dario, to congratulate him. Dario said he bought the site to drive traffic to his other websites.


Source: Andrey Alimetov

When Reddit’s homepage featured his old site in 2013, Alimetov emailed the buyer, a man named Dario, to congratulate him.

In his reply, Dario said he bought the site to drive traffic to his other websites.

As those businesses “started to decline, I decided to invest on Worldometers, bringing in resources and people until eventually it took a course of its own,” Dario wrote.

Worldometer no longer bears its trailing “s” except in its URL. Beyond that, not much has changed.

Today, the Worldometer website is owned by a company called Dadax LLC.

Representatives for Worldometer and Dadax did not respond to CNN’s requests for interviews, but state business filings show Dadax was first formed in Delaware, in 2002. The filing lists a PO box as the company’s address. From 2003 to 2015, business filings in Connecticut and New Jersey listed Dadax’s president as Dario Pasqualino. Addresses on the filings tied the company and Pasqualino to homes in Princeton, New Jersey, and Greenwich, Connecticut. The company is still actively registered in Delaware and has been in good standing since 2010.

The company shares the Dadax name with a Shanghai-based software firm. In March, both companies issued statements denying a connection. The Chinese Dadax said it issued its statement after receiving “many calls and emails” about the stats site. Worldometer, in a tweet, said it’s never had “any type of affiliation with any entity based in China.”

IDs in the source code for Worldometer and the US Dadax’s websites link them to at least two dozen other websites that appear to share ownership. Some appear to be defunct. Others, such as usalivestats.com, italiaora.org and stopthehunger.com, share the same premise: live stats counters. Most of the sites have a rudimentary aesthetic, reminiscent of a 1990s or early 2000s internet. Some seem quite random. One Italian site displays Christmas poems and gift suggestions, like a bonsai plant (for her), or a plot of land on the moon (for him). Another site is dedicated to Sicilian puppet shows.

A person with Pasqualino’s name and birthday is also registered as a sole proprietor in Italy. That business manages and sells “advertising space,” according to an Italian registration document filed last year. Its address leads to a tidy, three-story apartment building on a leafy street in an upscale neighborhood in Bologna.

A person named Dario Pasqualino is registered as a sole proprietor in Italy. The listed address leads to a tidy, three-story apartment building on a leafy street in an upscale neighborhood in Bologna. Credit: Google

CNN was unable to reach Pasqualino through contact information listed on Worldometer and in public records.

According to Worldometer’s website, its Covid-19 data comes from a multilingual team that “monitors press briefings’ live streams throughout the day” and through crowdsourcing.

Visitors can report new Covid-19 numbers and data sources to the website – no name or email address required. A “team of analysts and researchers” validate the data, the website says. It may, at first, sound like the Wikipedia of the data world, but some Wikipedia editors have decided to avoid Worldometer as a source for Covid-19 data.

“Several updates lack a source, do not match their cited source or contain errors,” one editor, posting under the username MarioGom, wrote on a discussion page for Wikipedia editors working on Covid-19-related content last month. “Some errors are small and temporary, but some are relatively big and never corrected.”

The editor, whose real name is Mario Gómez, told CNN in an email, “Instead of trying to use a consistent criteria, [Worldometer] seems to be going for the highest figure. They have a system for users to report higher figures, but so far I failed to use it to report that some figure is erroneous and should be lower.”

Edouard Mathieu, the data manager for Our World in Data (OWID), an independent statistics website headquartered at Oxford University, has seen a similar trend.

“Their main focus seems to be having the latest number wherever it comes from, whether it’s reliable or not, whether it’s well-sourced or not,” he said. “We think people should be wary, especially media, policy-makers and decision-makers. This data is not as accurate as they think it is.”

Virginia Pitzer, a Yale University epidemiologist focused on modeling Covid-19’s spread in the United States, said she’d never heard of Worldometer. CNN asked her to assess the website’s reliability.

“I think the Worldometer site is legitimate,” she wrote via email, explaining that many of its sources appear to be credible government websites. But she also found flaws, inconsistencies and an apparent lack of expert curation. “The interpretation of the data is lacking,” she wrote, explaining that she found the data on active cases “particularly problematic” because data on recoveries is not consistently reported.

Pitzer also found few detailed explanations of data reporting issues or discrepancies. For Spain, it’s a single sentence. For many other countries, there are no explanations at all.

She also found errors. In the Spanish data, for instance, Worldometer reports more than 18,000 recoveries on April 24. The Spanish government reported 3,105 recoveries that day.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez delivers a speech during question time at the Lower House in Madrid on May 13, 2020. Credit: Andres Ballesteros/AFP/Pool/Getty Images

When Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez boasted of Spain’s high rankings, he didn’t pull his numbers out of thin air. On April 27, the OECD wrongly ranked Spain eighth in testing per capita. Initially, the OECD had used data from OWID to compile its statistics. But it sourced the Spanish numbers independently because OWID’s data was incomplete. The mixed sourcing skewed Spain’s position in the ranking because it counted a broader category of tests than the other countries’ numbers. The organization corrected itself the next day, two hours before Sánchez’s press conference, bumping Spain to 17th place.

In its statement, the OECD said “we regret the confusion created on a sensitive issue by any debate on methodological issues” and stressed that increasing the availability of testing in general is more important than knowing where any particular country ranks.

Sánchez’s later reference to a Johns Hopkins study, in which he said Spain ranked fifth for testing worldwide, appears to have been a case of mixed-up attribution by the prime minister. JHU has not published international testing figures. Jill Rosen, a spokeswoman for the school, told CNN the university couldn’t identify a report that matched Sánchez’s description.

At a press conference on May 9, Sánchez evaded a CNN question pressing him on the JHU study’s existence and listed the government’s numbers on testing totals instead. In comments made to a Spanish reporter the next day, health minister Salvador Illa continued to insist the testing data had been released by JHU, though he pointed to Worldometer as the underlying source. Since Johns Hopkins gets its data from Worldometer, he argued, it’s just as good.

“It is data given by the John Hopkins University […] taken from as a fundamental source of information, the website Worldometer,” Illa said. “You can check it.”

It is true that on April 28, Worldometer’s data had ranked Spain fifth when it came to total testing volume. At the time, OWID data also ranked Spain fifth, but as more countries began reporting larger testing volumes, it became clear how Worldometer’s data is flawed. Its Spain figure includes both polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which show if patients are currently infected, and antibody tests, which indicate if patients were ever infected. For most countries besides Spain, Worldometer’s data appears to only count PCR tests.

Because so few countries report antibodies testing data and to ensure an apples-to-apples comparison, OWID says it only tracks PCR tests. By that measure, as of May 17, Spain ranks sixth, behind the US, Russia, Germany, Italy and India. Worldometer ranked Spain fourth.

But relying on the ranking by the raw number of tests performed is still misleading because it doesn’t account for population differences between countries.

OWID’s data manager, Edouard Mathieu, says a much fairer way to compare testing data is to account for population size. As of May 10, OWID placed Spain 19th in testing per 1,000 people. Worldometer placed Spain 15th by a similar measure.

Tale of two rankings

Worldometer’s data does rank Spain fifth in terms of total testing volume. But relying on raw numbers is misleading because it doesn’t account for differences between countries. When adjusted for population, Spain’s ranking falls to 16th. Experts say this data, from Worldometer, is further flawed beacuse its Spain figure counts a broader category of tests than most other countries’.

Top 20 countries by…

Tests performed per 1 million residents

Data as of May 18, 2020

Source: Worldometer

Roberto Rodríguez Aramayo, a research professor at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)’s Institute of Philosophy and a former president of a Spanish ethics association, said Spain is reporting data from both the most and least reliable types of tests.

“Unfortunately, there seems to be certain [political] interests in the readings that are given of these data, when they are shown,” he said.

What does Worldometer have to do with Johns Hopkins University?

Johns Hopkins has not published international data on Covid-19 testing, but it does list Worldometer as one of several sources for its widely-cited coronavirus dashboard.

The university has declined to say what specific data points it relies on Worldometer for, but issues with the counter site’s data have caused at least one notable error.

On April 8, JHU’s global tally of confirmed Covid-19 cases briefly crossed 1.5 million before dropping by more than 30,000. Johns Hopkins later posted an explanation for the incident on its GitHub page. At the time, JHU told CNN the error appeared to come from a double counting of French nursing home cases. But French officials told CNN there had been no revision, not even to nursing home data. Johns Hopkins’ data appeared to come directly from Worldometer. The website listed no source for its figure.

One Wikipedia editor, James Heilman, a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of British Columbia, said Wikipedia volunteers have noticed persistent errors with Worldometer, but also with “a more reputable name with a longer history of accuracy,” referring to Johns Hopkins. “We hope they also double check the numbers.”

Johns Hopkins’ response

Read Johns Hopkins University’s full response to CNN’s questions for this story.


Source: Johns Hopkins University

In an article published in February, JHU said it began manually tracking Covid-19 data for its dashboard in January. When that became unsustainable, the university began scraping data from primary sources and aggregation websites. Laura Gardner, the associate engineering professor who runs the university’s Covid-19 dashboard, told CNN in a statement that the university uses a “two-stage anomaly detection system” to catch potential data problems. “Moderate” changes are automatically added to the dashboard but flagged so staff can double-check them in real time. Changes beyond a certain threshold require “a human to manually check and approve the values before publication to the dashboard,” Gardner said.

The university’s reliance on Worldometer has surprised some academics.

Phil Beaver, a data scientist at the University of Denver, seemed at a loss for words when he was asked what he thought of JHU citing Worldometer.

“I am not sure, that is a great question, I kind of got the impression that Worldometer was relying on [Johns] Hopkins,” he told CNN after a lengthy pause.

Mathieu also seemed taken aback.

“I think JHU has been under a lot of pressure to update their numbers,” he said. “Because of this pressure they have been forced to or incentivized to get data from places that they shouldn’t have, but in general I would expect JHU to be a fairly reliable source.”

Johns Hopkins has not published international data on Covid-19 testing, but it does list Worldometer as one of several sources for its widely cited coronavirus dashboard. Credit: Johns Hopkins University

In the university’s response to CNN, Gardner said Worldometer was one of “dozens” of sources and that “before incorporating any new source, we validate their data by comparing it against other references.”

“We try not to use a single source for any of our data,” Gardner added. “We use reporting from public health agencies and sources of aggregation to cross-validate numbers.”

The Spanish government and Johns Hopkins are not alone in citing Worldometer. The website has been cited by Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News and CNN.

The British government cited Worldometer data on Covid-19 deaths during its daily press conferences for much of April, before switching to Johns Hopkins data.

“Both Worldometers and John Hopkins provided comprehensive and well-respected data. As the situation developed, we transferred from Worldometers to John Hopkins as John Hopkins relies more on official sources,” read a statement from a UK government spokesperson.

‘Contaminating public opinion’

In Spain, Sánchez’s apparent Johns Hopkins misattribution has become a major controversy. In parliament on Wednesday, center-right People’s Party MP Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo called the government the party “of the lies to CNN and the Spanish people.”

On May 10, a spokeswoman for Spain’s embassy in London complained to CNN about its coverage of the matter.

“Back in April Mr. Sánchez mentioned analysis of statistical data carried out by Johns Hopkins University that are based upon data published by Worldometer,” the spokeswoman wrote in an email sent to the network’s diplomatic editor just after 4 a.m.

“Even if Mr. Sánchez did not mention Worldometer as a primary source in his remarks, [CNN] could have known that most of the comparisons and analysis on Covid-19 in the world use [Worldometer’s] tables.”

In remarks to CNN, a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office acknowledged that Worldometer counts PCR tests and antibodies tests together and rejected critics’ call to adjust testing numbers for population, calling it a “trap that the OECD and the Spanish press […] has fallen into” and arguing that Spain should not be compared with small countries like Malta, Luxembourg or Bahrain.

It’s not clear, though, why the Spanish government continues to insist that the testing data published by Worldometer was put out by Johns Hopkins University.

Its refusal to acknowledge its attribution error comes just a month after Spain’s Justice Minister Juan Carlos Campo said the government was considering changes to the law, seeking to crack down on those peddling misinformation.

“I believe, it is more than justified — with the calm, tranquility needed for any legal changes — that we review what our legal instruments are to stop those contaminating public opinion in a serious and unjustified way,” Campo said.

At the time, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth told CNN in an email, “If the justice minister is suggesting penalizing speech that contaminates public opinion, that would be very dangerous.”

“Turning the government into a censor would undermine that public accountability precisely at the moment when it is most needed,” Roth warned.

In her letter to CNN, the embassy spokeswoman was emphatic that Spain was — and still is — fifth in the world in Covid-19 testing, attaching screenshots of Worldometer tables as proof.

“Figures speak louder than words,” she wrote. “And not willing to acknowledge the truth of reality […] is very worrying, to say the least.”

Black light experiment shows how quickly a virus like Covid-19 can spread at a restaurant

The video shows 10 people coming into the restaurant, with one singled out as the “infected” person. Each participant goes about the buffet as they normally would, not considering a potential contamination.

At the end of the video, the participants are cast under black lights illuminating where the “infection” has spread.

The substance, used to signify the germs, can be seen on food, serving utensils and platters, and even on the faces of some of the participants.

Here’s what the experts have to say

While these kinds of experiments are not new, John Nicholls, a clinical professor in pathology at Hong Kong University, said they demonstrate how quickly a virus can spread, especially when hand washing is not performed.

“What the video demonstrated, is that it will spread to surfaces and to people very efficiently,” Nicholls told CNN, “and I think it really highlights the need of what people have been saying about hand hygiene to stop the spread of disease.”

This nurse demonstrates just how fast germs spread even if you're wearing gloves

However, Nicholls said that the situation is “artificial” because so much emphasis is placed on the touching alone.

Kentaro Iwata, an infectious disease specialist at Kobe University, agreed.

“The experiment just described the possibility of the spread by contact, and that is not proof of what happened, so the distinction has to be clearly made between what could happen and what did happen,” Iwata told CNN.

But both experts said the experiment is a good way to show the importance of hand washing.

For the sake of science, Nicholls said it would be even more effective to see the experiment done after the “infected” person washes their hands for five and then ten seconds.

“So the general public gets some concept of the mechanism of how much the use of hand washing can actually reduce the transmission of potentially infectious material,” Nicholls said.

CNN’s Bex Wright contributed to this report.

Allies despair as Trump abandons America’s leadership role at a time of global crisis

The US — usually at the head of the table helping to coordinate in global crises — has declined to take a seat at virtual international meetings convened by the World Health Organization and the European Union to coordinate work on potentially lifesaving vaccines.

On Friday the US blocked a vote on a UN Security Council resolution that called for a global ceasefire aimed at collectively assisting a planet devastated by the outbreak. The US did not want any reference to the WHO in the text and rejected a compromise version that didn’t directly mention the organization — and instead cited the UN’s “specialized health agencies,” according to two diplomats familiar with the process.

The US has similarly blocked expressions of global unity at G7 and G20 meetings due to anger about China and the WHO.

Incredulity and sadness

And where US presidents have in the past offered a steadying voice, observers from the Asia Pacific to Europe expressed incredulity, amusement and sadness at President Donald Trump’s briefings on the virus, saying they are deeply damaging to the US image abroad.

US officials push back, touting both funding to fight Covid-19 as well as work Trump is doing through the Group of Seven and bilaterally — leading more than 50 calls with world leaders. But experts say funding without full global coordination can slow overall progress.

Coronavirus pandemic could contribute to surge of other deadly diseases, experts warn

At a time when nearly 4 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus, diplomats say many countries are yearning for the firm US leadership they’ve seen at historic moments and in prior epidemics, citing President Barack Obama’s response to Ebola and President George W. Bush’s work on HIV/AIDS.

“They want the US to lean in more,” said one European diplomat. “We know they’re doing a great deal with countries, including developing countries, bilaterally … but a lot of countries hanker after the decisive US effort that we saw when the Berlin Wall came down. A lot of countries believe this is one of those pivotal moments in history and the US has always led at those times.”

Critics say the Trump administration’s approach to the coronavirus hasn’t just hampered the fight against the pandemic, it has increased uncertainty, eroded respect for the US and deepened concern that the international system no longer functions effectively.

“The world is looking for global leadership. It’s a global problem — it affects literally everyone on the planet. This is a time when you expect the leaders of superpowers in a very constructive way to help coordinate and structure the response,” said Robert Yates, director of the Global Health Program at Chatham House, a British think tank. “One would expect the US to have a leading role in trying to coordinate global efforts. That’s been completely lacking.”

Global health officials found Trump’s move to cut funding for the WHO in the middle of a pandemic “absolutely breathtaking,” Yates added. “It’s worse than a lack of coordination, it almost seems destructive.”

Twitter disputes State Department claims China coordinated coronavirus disinformation accounts

A senior State Department official told reporters Tuesday that the President “has concerns” about the WHO, which Trump has accused of being biased in China’s favor. The official repeatedly stressed that the US “is the single largest health and humanitarian donor in the world” and said the US “and President Trump are leading the global effort to combat this pandemic,” in part through the US presidency of the G7.

But the machinery of a US-led international response isn’t kicking into gear this time, said Gayle Smith, president and CEO of the nonprofit ONE Campaign.

By and large, she noted, “we’ve not seen the kind of summitry, urgency of meetings at the UN Security Council, heads of state coming together to organize, to figure out how we manage, for example, global supply chains.”

Skipped meetings

“Everybody in the world is looking for the same goods. How do we make sure that the global economy stays where it needs to be?” asked Smith, a former administrator of the US Agency for International Development. And while she notes the G7 and G20 have held virtual meetings, “I would very much like to see the United States taking the kind of extra effort to mobilize the world at multiple levels.”

US officials say Trump has convened regular virtual meetings with G7 ministers to coordinate assistance to other countries, but the White House has skipped international meetings to coordinate on the hunt for a vaccine, leaving experts disconcerted. One meeting was organized by WHO, while another meeting Monday of more than 40 countries and several organizations raised $8 billion in pledges and yielded a commitment that whoever produces an effective vaccine first will share it with the rest of the world.

The US absence was “really, really unfortunate” said Smith, not just “because the US has historically been a leader,” but because the US has a national interest in being part of the group “that is trying to accelerate the development of vaccines and therapeutics, because obviously we’re going to need a vaccine here. … I think it would be wise, and in our interest, to be involved on the ground floor.”

Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “It’s a very crazy and disturbing thing that [the US] would be going its own way and sitting this out. It’s the country with the greatest financing capacity, biggest foundational interest, greatest R&D capacity.”

Coronavirus has created a rift between the US and China that may take a generation to heal

He noted that the Trump administration has started its own “warp speed” effort toward developing a vaccine, pointing to the complicated web of interests that’s required to develop one, including manufacturing and testing issues. “I don’t know that it’s conceivable to have a go-it-alone effort,” he said.

Questioned repeatedly on Tuesday about the US absence from the vaccine meetings, the State Department official stressed how much funding the US is giving to the Covid fight. A day later, the State Department issued a statement stressing the US funding and its work with organizations such as the Global Alliance on Vaccines and said the US saw the vaccine conferences as “complementary to our ongoing efforts.”

It added that “as we make progress in this global fight against Covid-19, we count on our Allies and partners joining the United States to ask the hard questions that are needed of China, as well as the WHO.”

The US push to punish China has unsettled allies, who see it as a White House political move to insulate Trump from blame for the uneven US response to the pandemic in an election year — and as a stressful demand for countries to choose sides.

“I am afraid everything is political,” said a German diplomat discussing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s insistence that intelligence indicates the virus originated in a Chinese lab, though he has not provided evidence. “It is just pretty obvious that it is part of the campaign.”

‘Stranger than fiction’

A French diplomat said bluntly that “we cannot turn our back on China. It is a big partner. Nobody can. We need to keep partnership.”

Former British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke more directly to allied concerns about the US campaign against China, warning in a Times op-ed that “it would be a mistake to allow this to become a fault line in international relations.”

The European diplomat said that a number of countries feel that “at the moment, the priority has to be getting on top of the pandemic globally that requires a lot of cooperation. … China needs to be a part of that and the WHO has to be involved. … Anything that might detract from that effort at the moment makes people a little nervous.”

The US President’s behavior has also made many international observers a little nervous.

Pompeo admits the US can't be certain coronavirus outbreak originated in Wuhan lab
They and other experts say that the sense of the US as a steadying force in troubled times is fading, in large part because of Trump’s televised coronavirus briefings, which Yates called a “tremendous embarrassment.” Some observers pointed to Trump’s apparent suggestion to look into whether people might be able to inject disinfectant to counter Covid — a dangerous idea that left health officials worldwide scrambling to counter and had some, like Australia’s chief medical officer, laughing incredulously on camera.

Thomas Gomart, director of the Paris-based French Institute of International Relations, said that Europe was watching Trump’s response to the pandemic in amazement, calling his behavior “stranger than fiction.”

“He provides for us a very mixed balance of amusement and a sadness, which is just not what is expected from a US president,” Gomart said, an assessment that Spain’s Javier del Pino, a leading journalist, shared.

“The way we look at Trump, it was a lot of fun at first,” del Pino said. “It’s not funny anymore.”