Election 2020 Politics

The Daily 202: Donald Trump, the Houston Astros and the fear of the asterisk

Former White House communications director Hope Hicks told the FBI that President Trump viewed the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered on his behalf in the 2016 election as his “Achilles heel” because, even if it had no impact on the outcome of the election, people would think Russia helped him win.

Hicks, who will soon rejoin the White House, is one of multiple senior people quoted in former special counsel Bob Mueller’s 2019 report to make the point that Trump was deeply concerned that acknowledging Russian interference would pock his electoral college triumph with an asterisk.*

Sean Spicer, Trump’s first White House press secretary, said “the president thought the Russia story was developed to undermine the legitimacy of his election,” according to Mueller. Former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates said, “the president viewed the Russia investigation as an attack on the legitimacy of his win.” And former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus recalled, “when the intelligence assessment came out, the president-elect was concerned people would question the legitimacy of his win.”

Trump’s enduring fear of the asterisk came to mind on Thursday in West Palm Beach, Fla., as the owner of the Houston Astros and his players insisted adamantly that they would have still won the World Series in 2017 without knowing in advance what pitches the opposing team was going to throw when playing at home.

As pitchers and catchers reported for spring training, the 10 remaining players of the 2017 Astros appeared for a news conference at their Florida ballpark, which they share with the Washington Nationals and happens to be 10 miles from the president’s Mar-a-Lago club. 

Astros owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow last month after Major League Baseball released a report detailing its investigation into the electronic sign-stealing scheme the Astros were found to have used in 2017 and 2018. But Crane got defensive when asked whether what the team did amounted to cheating. “We broke the rules. You can phrase that any way you want,” he told reporters. 

“Our opinion is that this didn’t impact the game,” the owner added. “We had a good team. We won the World Series, and we’ll leave it at that.” Asked whether he should have been held accountable himself as the team’s top official, Crane said: “No, I don’t think I should be held accountable.” When asked whether players should have been disciplined for knowingly participating in the scheme, he said: “Our players should not be punished. These are a great group of guys who did not receive proper guidance from their leaders.”

“Crane’s absolution of everyone except those who already have paid for the Astros’ sins underscored the glaring limits of the apologies offered Thursday. The lack of specifics and the lack of introspection made it sometimes seem as if the Astros were reading from a list of talking points,” Dave Sheinin reports. “They would admit what they did — stealing signs from opposing catchers using a center field camera and a video monitor — was wrong. Some would even acknowledge they gained an advantage through it. But they would accept no insinuation that their 2017 championship was in any way tainted.”

Outfielder Josh Reddick, for example, would not admit that sign-stealing gave him an edge — “I can’t really say it did [or] it didn’t,” he said — and said he felt no need to reach out to teams the Astros beat along the way. “I think it goes back to it not being a tainted championship. We were still a good team. [The scheme] wasn’t the necessary point of us winning. We still won on the road as well.”

What Reddick didn’t say was that, in fact, Houston went 8-1 at Minute Maid Park that postseason. That’s the stadium where they used an illegal camera to decipher the signs being used by opposing teams to relay them to batters by banging on a garbage can.

Trump’s fear of the asterisk helps explain why he has continued to suggest, against all evidence to the contrary, that the Russians may not actually have done what an overwhelming mountain of evidence makes clear they did. “I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump told Time magazine in December 2016. “That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.’”

“This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” Trump told NBC in May 2017 after firing Jim Comey as FBI director. “It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.” 

After meeting with Vladimir Putin in November 2017, Trump said he believed the Russian president’s denials: “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I really believe that, when he tells me that, he means it.”

Mueller wrote in his report that Trump’s fixation on the perceived legitimacy of his victory influenced some of his behavior, including the termination of Michael Flynn as national security adviser after The Washington Post broke the story about his conversation with the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions.

The impeachment inquiry, along with the rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, also established that part of Trump’s interest in that country was trying to cast doubt on the story line that Russia actually interfered in 2016.

In contrast to the Houston baseball team, the president has never apologized for anything related to Russia. He’s not expressed regret for his own team’s contacts in 2016 with Russians nor his false public statements about his knowledge of them.

As Mueller outlined 10 possible instances of obstruction of justice by Trump, he offered this analysis: “In this investigation, the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference. But the evidence does point to a range of other possible personal motives animating the President’s conduct. These include concerns that continued investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and potential uncertainty about whether certain events, such as advance notice of WikiLeaks’s release of hacked information or the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians, could be seen as criminal activity by the President, his campaign, or his family.”

The Mueller report concluded that the Trump campaign expected to “benefit electorally” from information stolen and released by Russia. Don’t forget, Trump even expressed this sentiment publicly. On July 27, 2016, he said at a campaign event: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Hours later, according to Mueller, Russian military intelligence attempted to hack Hillary Clinton’s private email server for the first time. 

Trump’s asterisk fears weren’t entirely misplaced. In the fourth year of his presidency, some of the president’s critics continue to cite Russian interference to speculate that he would have lost the election had it not been for a boost from the Kremlin.

“There’s no doubt that the Russians did interfere in the election, and I think the interference, although not yet quantified, if fully investigated would show that Trump didn’t actually win the election in 2016,” former president Jimmy Carter said last summer. “He lost the election, and he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf.” Asked by historian Jon Meacham whether he considers Trump to be “an illegitimate president,” Carter replied: “Based on what I just said, which I can’t retract.”

Clinton herself dismissed Trump as an “illegitimate president” in September, suggesting that “he knows” he stole the 2016 election from her. “I believe he understands that the many varying tactics they used, from voter suppression and voter purging to hacking to the false stories — he knows that — there were just a bunch of different reasons why the election turned out like it did,” the former secretary of state said on CBS. “There were many funny things that happened in my election that will not happen again.”

A definitive answer is unknowable because so many other factors were at play in the election, including the FBI reopening – and then closing – the Clinton email investigation in the final weeks. But that won’t stop people from arguing about it for generations.

Trump continues to attack the Russia probe, nearly a year after its conclusion. “The Mueller investigation was a shakedown and a disgrace,” he told Geraldo Rivera for his “Roadkill” podcast on Thursday. “It probably should be expunged.”

Like how Clinton and Democrats remain embittered toward Trump, teams and players who lost to the Astros in 2017 will also always feel wronged.

Crane’s assertion that his team’s sign-stealing did not affect the outcome of games, and therefore did not taint the World Series, perturbed Houston’s rivals. “Clearly, on what level did it impact things, I guess we’ll never know, and that’s for people to draw their own conclusions on,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone told reporters. “But clearly when we’re talking about some of the things that went on, those things have an effect on games, clearly.”

Just like with the question of whether Russian involvement changed the outcome of the election, no one will ever be able to definitively prove either way that the Astros would have lost the American League Championship Series or the World Series in 2017 had they not stolen signs.

New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman said that he believes the Astros’ cheating cost them the 2017 World Series because the Astros beat the Yankees in Game Seven in the ALCS. “It was very close, and everything, all the details that come out, I think it was the extra edge that allowed them to move on,” Chapman told Adam Kilgore.

Brett Anderson, who competed against the Astros with the A’s in the American League West the past two seasons, responded to Crane’s assertion with a GIF of Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” character Ron Burgundy saying, “I don’t believe you.”

And Texas Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun quipped:

Kurt Suzuki, the Nationals catcher who gave complex signs this past October when Washington defeated the Astros to win the World Series, told Thomas Boswell that he thinks Houston was still cheating through the end of the 2019 season. “Oh, yeah, no question,” he said. “We could hear it from their dugout. We heard their whistling. What are you going to do?”

“Nats reliever Sean Doolittle recalled two of his blown saves against the Astros in 2017 on homers by George Springer and José Altuve when he pitched for Oakland,” Boswell reports. “‘I was wondering what that did to my trade value. … I got hit around a bunch by the Astros,’ said Doolittle, who was soon traded to the Nats, along with Ryan Madson. … ‘I landed on my feet. I ended up in a great spot. But for some guys, their bad outings, that was the end of the road for them. They got sent down. They never got called back up again. I think about those guys a lot.’”

Tying these story lines together: The president shows grace for gamblers.

Trump endorsed Pete Rose’s appeal to end his lifetime ban. The president, a former casino owner, tweeted over the weekend that the all-time leader in hits “paid a decades long price” for gambling on games in which his team was playing. Rose submitted a petition for reinstatement to Major League Baseball last week, citing the fact that Houston’s players were not punished for sign-stealing to argue that his punishment was “disproportionate.”

Meanwhile, the White House announced Thursday that Trump’s former body man John McEntee will take over as the head of the office of presidential personnel. “McEntee lost his White House job in March 2018 because an investigation found he was a frequent gambler whose habit posed a security risk,” Josh Dawsey reports. “A background investigation found that McEntee bet tens of thousands of dollars at a time, making him unsuitable for a sensitive position close to the president … There was no indication his gambling was illegal, but there was concern that he could be vulnerable to outside influence … McEntee will replace Sean Doocey, who some aides, including deputy chief of staff Emma Doyle, tried to keep from losing his job. But Trump is infuriated over what he believes are so many people around him who are not loyal, and that some 2016 campaign aides have not been able to get jobs, that he replaced Doocey with McEntee, according to two administration officials.”

Programming note

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All the president’s men

Quote of the day

“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Attorney General Bill Barr said in an interview with ABC News, adding that such statements “make it impossible for me to do my job and to assure the courts and the prosecutors and the department that we’re doing our work with integrity.” He added: “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

Why the attorney general really rebuked the president

While the coverage has focused on Roger Stone’s sentencing, the president’s rage stems more from the fact that his appointees at the Justice Department have not been more aggressive about trying to prosecute his perceived enemies. “People close to Barr said that in recent months he has become increasingly frustrated with Trump’s tweets about the Justice Department,” Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey report:

Behind that public fight … is a deeper tension between Trump and Barr’s Justice Department over the lack of criminal charges against [Jim Comey] and those close to him. … Trump has repeatedly complained about FBI Director Christopher A. Wray in recent months, saying that Wray has not done enough to … purge the bureau of people who are disloyal to him … Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz referred Comey’s handling of the memos [about his conversations with the president] to prosecutors for possible criminal prosecution, but lawyers quickly determined it was not a close call and did not seek to build a case. That sent Trump into a rage … He complained so loudly and swore so frequently in the Oval Office that some of his aides discussed it for days … Trump repeatedly said that Comey deserved to be charged … ‘Can you [expletive] believe they didn’t charge him?’ Trump said on the night of the decision … 

Trump has also wanted charges filed against Comey’s former deputy, Andrew McCabe. A separate inspector general investigation concluded that McCabe lied to investigators about his role in authorizing disclosures for a Wall Street Journal story in October 2016 about internal FBI tensions over an investigation of the Clinton Foundation. A grand jury in Washington seemed poised to make a decision on the case last year before fizzling into inaction.

Trump’s anger over the lack of charges against FBI personnel flared again in January, prompted by two unrelated developments … First, prosecutors updated their position in the case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying a sentence of some prison time would be appropriate. Around the same time, The Washington Post reported that U.S. Attorney John Huber in Utah — tapped years earlier to reinvestigate several issues related to vague allegations of corruption against Hillary Clinton — had quietly wound down his work after finding nothing of consequence. … In the president’s mind, it is unacceptable that people such as Comey and McCabe have not been charged, particularly if people such as Stone and Flynn are going to be treated harshly … 

The president’s anger has focused increasingly on Jessie Liu, the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, whose office has been handling many of the cases related to Comey and other former FBI officials. That office has recently conducted interviews in a leak inquiry, eyeing senior FBI officials over news stories in 2017 that discussed a top-secret Russian intelligence document that influenced Comey’s decision-making in 2016. Many of investigators’ questions have seemed focused on the former FBI director.

“Separately, Barr tapped U.S. Attorney John Durham in Connecticut to investigate whether any crimes were committed by FBI and CIA officials in the pursuit of allegations in 2016 that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump’s campaign. After learning that the Huber investigation is not likely to produce charges, Trump has become more insistent that Durham finish his work soon[Trump] wants to be able to use whatever Durham finds as a cudgel in his reelection campaign.”

Investigators keep fishing for a pretext to charge Obama-era intelligence officials. 

Questions being asked by Durham suggest he may be “pursuing a theory that the C.I.A., under its former director John O. Brennan, had a preconceived notion about Russia or was trying to get to a particular result — and was nefariously trying to keep other agencies from seeing the full picture lest they interfere with that goal,” the New York Times reports. 

The White House’s muted response prompted theories that Barr’s comments were choreographed.

“Barr, while complaining about the impact of the tweets on the department’s mission, didn’t take issue with the substance of Trump’s comments, including one suggesting that the judge in Stone’s case was biased,” Fred Barbash and Allyson Chiu report. “And Barr’s comments didn’t elicit the expected flurry of backlash from Trump and his allies. Instead, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement saying, ‘The President wasn’t bothered by the comments at all.’ She added that Trump ‘has full faith and confidence in Attorney General Barr to do his job and uphold the law.’

“There were plenty of plausible and practical reasons for Barr’s comments and their timing. The chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington has expressed concern about judges being pressured in the wake of Trump’s tweets and Barr’s statement allows government lawyers to disown the president’s comments when they appear in court. Barr is also facing unrest from lawyers within and outside of the department, including from the New York City bar, over the handling of the Stone case.”

“Barr isn’t objecting to Trump’s political interference with the Justice Department to undermine the rule of law,” observed Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). “He’s saying Trump shouldn’t tell everyone about it.”

Trump admits he sent Rudy Giuliani to find dirt on Joe Biden. 

Geraldo Rivera, in a podcast interview, asked Trump, “Was it strange to send Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine, your personal lawyer? Are you sorry you did that?” Trump responded, “No, not at all.” He then praised the former New York mayor, who remains under investigation, as a “crime fighter.”

Trump’s latest nominee to the Federal Reserve could be in trouble.

Three GOP senators on the Senate Banking Committee said last night they are undecided about whether to support Judy Shelton after sitting through her confirmation hearing: Pat Toomey (Pa.), Dick Shelby (Ala.) and John Neely Kennedy (La.). Any one of them could torpedo her nomination since Republicans only have a one-seat advantage on the panel. Toomey said he “didn’t know” if Shelton would uphold the Feds’ independence. Shelby said Shelton sounded like she “could be an outlier” whose views are outside the mainstream. “I’m undecided,” Kennedy said after the hearing, adding “nobody wants anybody on the Federal Reserve that has a fatal attraction to nutty ideas.”

Shelton “is known as an outspoken critic of the Federal Reserve and for advocating that the United States return to something akin to the gold standard, which the nation fully abandoned in 1971,” Heather Long reports. “She has alarmed many in the financial world by calling for more coordination between the Fed and the White House. She has also altered some of her views to appear more in line with Trump’s aggressive push for lower interest rates … The White House said it stands fully behind Shelton, who said several times during her confirmation hearing she would bring ‘intellectual diversity’ to the Fed. …

“Trump’s prior two picks — businessman Herman Cain and conservative pundit Stephen Moore — both had to withdraw because of dicey personal issues. … Two of Trump’s other Fed nominees were also passed over. … Trump has made no secret he regrets picking Jerome H. Powell to be Fed chair, and there’s concern that Trump would quickly elevate Shelton to the top job at the central bank when Powell’s term expires in early 2022.”

The Senate passed a resolution to limit Trump’s power to start a war with Iran. 

Trump plans to veto the measure once it passes the House, and neither chamber of Congress has the votes to override that veto. But eight Republicans joined all Democrats in voting 55 to 45 for the measure, “despite sharp warnings from Trump that challenging his war powers would ‘show weakness’ and send ‘a very bad signal’ to Tehran,” Karoun Demirjian reports.

Mitch McConnell told Fox News he would fill a Supreme Court vacancy if one opens this year.

If you were alive in 2016, you will recall this was the excuse the Senate majority leader used to deny giving Merrick Garland a hearing. The Kentucky senator said back then it would be totally inappropriate for the Senate to put someone on the Supreme Court in an election year. But that was when his party didn’t control the White House. 

Meanwhile, Garland yesterday formally stepped down from his role as chief judge of the D.C. Circuit, the second most powerful court in the country. He passed the gavel to Sri Srinivasan, the first person of South Asian descent to lead a federal circuit court. Garland will continue to serve on the court he joined three decades ago, per Ann Marimow.

Ignoring the will of Congress, Trump diverted $3.8 billion more from the Pentagon to his border wall.

In a letter to Congress, the administration said money appropriated for the purchase of aircraft will instead be spent on wall construction. “The Pentagon is moving the money using a counternarcotics law that allows the Defense Department to build fencing for other federal, state and local agencies in known drug-smuggling corridors,” Paul Sonne and Nick Miroff report.

During the State of the Union, Trump touted a veteran’s comeback story. It was not true. 

“Tony Rankins, a formerly homeless, drug-addicted Army veteran, got a standing ovation at the [speech] after [Trump] described how he turned his life around thanks to a construction job at a company using the administration’s ‘Opportunity Zone’ tax breaks targeting poor neighborhoods,” the Associated Press scoops. “Rankins, who indeed moved out of his car and into an apartment since landing a job refurbishing a Nashville hotel two years ago, doesn’t work at a site taking advantage of the breaks and never has done so. In fact, he started that job four months before the Treasury Department published its final list of neighborhoods eligible for the breaks. And the hotel where he worked couldn’t benefit even now because it’s an area that didn’t make the cut.”

2020 watch

Trump allies are starting to focus attention on Pete Buttigieg’s sexual orientation.

Rush Limbaugh, a week after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, questioned whether Americans are ready for a gay candidate who kisses his husband onstage. The Federalist, a conservative web site, defended Limbaugh. On his own radio show Wednesday, Seb Gorka, a former deputy assistant to the president and a Trump campaign surrogate, questioned “what right” Buttigieg had to talk about abortion rights if he’s never going to impregnate a woman. “Why is a homosexual man lecturing us about the sanctity of life in the womb? Just a little curious there. Strange, strange,” Gorka said. Conservative radio host Ben Ferguson seemed to imply Buttigieg is less masculine because he is gay. A video that went viral last week showed an Iowa woman who caucused for Buttigieg asking whether she could change her vote after finding out he’s gay. “He’d better read the Bible,” the woman said.

“The attacks are prompting blunt responses from Buttigieg’s allies and even his Democratic rivals, who call the remarks inappropriate and offensive,” Amy B Wang and Chelsea Janes report. Pro-LGBTQ “Victory Fund staffers deliberated internally on whether to respond to the comments since they did not want amplify them. But given Limbaugh’s high profile, the group decided it needed to respond. ‘The real question is who wants to kiss Rush Limbaugh,’ the group tweeted Thursday. … 

“Previous candidates have sometimes decided to confront identity issues directly: Barack Obama delivered a highly personal talk on race in 2008, and John F. Kennedy gave a major speech about his Catholicism in 1960 to a group of Protestant ministers. So far the Buttigieg campaign has evidently concluded that ignoring the remarks is the best course, but that could change if the attacks become louder and more frequent, or show signs of resonating more widely. … 

“Since Buttigieg’s strong performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, journalists have begun raising the issue of his sexuality more frequently, prompting responses like his recent comment to People magazine that he was excited to start a family ‘soon’ with his husband Chasten. ‘No matter what happens, I think the next chapter in our personal lives is going to be about kids,’ Buttigieg said.” 

The Benefits of Being Joe Biden’s Brother.

That’s the headline of a new ProPublica review of the relationship between Jim Biden’s business ventures and the former vice president’s political capital: Jim often “turned to Joe’s political network for the kind of assistance that would have been almost unimaginable for someone with a different last name. Campaign donors helped him face a series of financial problems, including a series of IRS liens totaling more than $1 million that made it harder to get bank financing. … [O]n occasion, as Jim pursued opportunities, Joe met with his potential clients or partners, at Jim’s request.”

Nevada’s most powerful union won’t endorse before next week’s caucuses. 

“The Culinary Union, which represents 60,000 hotel and casino workers across Nevada and is considered an organizing behemoth in Democratic politics here, said it would instead flex its power to get its members out to vote in the caucuses,” report Holly Bailey and Felicia Sonmez. “The decision came after months of aggressive courting from candidates eager to win the support of the politically powerful group, whose endorsement has long been viewed as a major advantage in mobilizing Latinos and women, who make up most of its membership and have been a decisive political force in the state.” The decision comes after the union claimed Bernie Sanders followers “viciously attacked” it for standing against Medicare-for-all. In response to that kerfuffle, Sanders released a statement condemning online harassment and urging supporters of all campaigns “not to engage in bullying or personal attacks.” 

Nevada Democrats are trying to clarify how their caucuses will work as concerns grow. 

“The Nevada State Democratic Party announced Thursday that it will use a Web-based calculator designed to complete caucus math and report results on an iPad,” report Elise Viebeck and Isaac Stanley-Becker. “Precinct chairs will receive preconfigured iPads, purchased by the party, and will access the calculator through a ‘secure Google web form,’ the state party said in a memo to presidential campaigns. Results will be transmitted through a secure hotline and verified either through the online calculator or with paper reporting sheets.” 

Elizabeth Warren said she’s raised $6 million since Iowa. 

“Hours later, during a raucous evening rally at a high school gym in Washington’s Virginia suburbs, Warren didn’t seem like a candidate worried about leaving the race,” the AP reports. The $6 million, though respectable, pales in comparison to Sanders, who raised more than $25 million in January.

For his part, Trump will headline a $580,600-per-couple fundraiser in Palm Beach on Saturday, per Dawsey and Michelle Ye Hee Lee.

More candidates are stepping up attacks against a rising Mike Bloomberg. 

“Struggling to recover from poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, [Warren] and [Biden] took the lead in attacking Bloomberg. [Biden] said on ABC’s ‘The View’ that ‘I don’t think you can buy an election,’ while Warren took Bloomberg to task for his 2008 comments that ending redlining, a discriminatory housing practice helped trigger the economic meltdown,” the AP reports.

The coronavirus crisis

The economic fallout is growing around the world.

Singapore’s leader warned of a possible recession as the virus and travel curbs slam the regional economy. Asian and European auto plants are running short of parts, Chinese tourists are staying home and American companies are bracing for unpredictable turbulence. And that’s just the start. The financial hangover will linger for months, even if the illness is soon brought under control.

“The Chinese epidemic’s aftereffects will probably cause the global economy to shrink this quarter for the first time since the depths of the 2009 financial crisis, according to Capital Economics in London,” David Lynch reports. “Caterpillar this week said most of its Chinese suppliers have returned to work. But Foxconn, a major electronics producer for Apple, said it will be the end of the month before even half of its facilities are operating. The ripple effects of China’s shutdown are spreading, with the auto industry especially hard-hit. Nissan temporarily closed one of its factories in Japan after running short of Chinese components, one week after Hyundai in South Korea did the same. Fiat Chrysler warned that it may shutter one of its European plants. Some U.S. manufacturers could face parts shortages in one to two weeks.”

One corner of China’s economy has been particularly hard-hit: Flower sellers. 

“Forget red roses. Broccoli, cauliflower, masks and hand sanitizer are now the way to prove you love your partner this Valentine’s Day in China,” Wang Yuan reports. “Flower delivery platforms are reporting a massive drop in online flower sales, as health fears dissuade people from ordering anything online or picking up deliveries. Zhong’ai Flower, an online flower delivery platform based in Wuhan, the epicenter of coronavirus outbreak, reported a sales drop of 90 percent. Ma Yingzi, a flower supplier in Beijing, also estimated a 95 percent drop in flower sales this Valentine’s Day.”

Another 5,000 cases of coronavirus were reported, bringing the count in mainland China past 63,000. 

“More places in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, are enacting ‘wartime’ measures, such as sealing off residential complexes and only allowing essential vehicles on the roads. Authorities in Yunmeng county, where the new steps kicked in on Friday morning, said that anyone attempting to breach the lockdown ‘at compounds, buildings or road connections’ would be detained,” Shibani Mahtani and Miriam Berger report. “Apps are being used to track citizens who must provide their information before entering and exiting key Chinese cities, allowing authorities to collect a huge amount of data. … China’s National Health Commission said more than 1,700 medical workers have been infected with coronavirus, six of whom have died, citing the latest available figures as of Feb. 11.” 

Japan said 10 people were evacuated from the quarantined cruise ship in serious condition. 

Eight were confirmed to have the virus, Simon Denyer reports. “Amid persistent criticism of its approach, the government said it would start allowing some people who have tested negative for the virus to disembark from the ship early and finish their quarantine at a facility on land. Priority will be given to passengers over the age of 80 and those with existing medical problems, as well as people in windowless cabins, health minister Katsunobu Kato said. So far, 218 people on board the ship have tested positive for the virus.”

Social media speed read

Trump attacked Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) before a White House meeting to discuss the state’s feud with federal immigration authorities, hinting the Empire State should drop lawsuits against him to get what it wants from the federal government. The lead House impeachment manager likened these hardball tactics to the alleged scheme to coerce Ukraine that got him impeached:

Trump attacked his former chief of staff after he spoke out against the president’s retaliation against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman:

You picked up the tab for the president’s staffers drinking at Trump’s private club:

A former federal prosecutor shined a light on why so many DOJ alumni are disgusted with Trump meddling in the cases of Stone and others:

Videos of the day

It may still be a couple of weeks away, but Stephen Colbert is already excited for the South Carolina primary: 

Seth Meyers said Trump is turning the Department of Justice into a political weapon: 

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