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2020 election influence operations target journalists

Foreign and domestic actors looking to influence the 2020 election are trying to trick real reporters into amplifying fake storylines. This tactic differs from 2016, when bad actors used fake accounts and bots to amplify disinformation to the population directly.

Why it matters: The new strategy, reminiscent of spy operations during the Cold War, is much harder for big tech platforms to police and prevent.


Driving the news: Facebook on Thursday said it uncovered and took down three coordinated misinformation campaigns originating from Russia.

How it works: Often, these meddling operations will themselves write fake stories that can be fed to real media outlets, or hire freelancers to do so.

"Hack and leak" campaigns, where bad actors strategically pilfer sensitive materials and then release them to influence public debate, are becoming more prevalent leading up to the election, and are a part of the overall strategy to target journalists.

Be smart: "An example from the world of foreign influence operations: The hack and leak operation by Russia in 2016 was more effective in dominating national discourse than the coordinated activity on social media that amplified it," says Brookie.

Tech platforms are racing to get ahead of the problem, but that's hard when misinformation is spread unwittingly by real journalists with good intent. The issue is not easily identified and prevented using machine learning or other automated processes.

The big picture: Efforts to target and trick reputable journalists and news outlets not only sow confusion amid an already challenging election, but undermine long term confidence in journalism as an institution.

Bottom line: "Media are the front-line targets," tweeted Renée DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge, policy lead at Data for Democracy and media fellow at Mozilla.

Mon, 28 Sep 2020 09:00:09 +0000


Coronavirus dashboard: Catch up fast

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 33,081,725 — Total deaths: 997,777 — Total recoveries: 22,926,896Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 7,115,338 — Total deaths: 204,758 — Total recoveries: 2,766,280 — Total tests: 101,298,794Map.
  3. States: 3 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week
  4. Health: The long-term pain of the mental health pandemic
  5. World: India the second country after U.S. to hit 6 million cases

What should I do? Axios asked the experts:

Other resources:

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Mon, 28 Sep 2020 07:14:58 +0000


Democrats demand Trump release his tax returns after explosive NYT report

Democrats called on President Trump to disclose his tax returns following a New York Times report alleging he paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and nothing in 10 of the past 15 years.

Details: Trump said the report was "total fake news," that he's unable to release the returns as they're "under audit" by the IRS, "which does not treat me well." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement the report "provides further evidence of the clear need" for a House lawsuit to access the tax returns and "ensure the presidential audit program is functioning effectively, without improper influence."


What they're saying:

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign team released an ad on Twitter late Sunday with the comment, "Teachers paid $7,239 Firefighters paid $5,283 Nurses paid $10,216 Donald Trump paid $750."

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez said in a statement, "Trump’s business ties represent a dangerous conflict of interest with his job. And now, with enormous debts soon coming due, he is using the presidency to line his pockets instead of helping the American people.

Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who's spearheading the House lawsuit, said in a statement, "Donald Trump is the boss of the agency he considers an adversary.

"It is essential that the IRS's presidential audit program remain free of interference. Today’s report underscores the importance of the Ways and Means Committee’s ongoing lawsuit to access Mr. Trump’s tax returns and ensure the presidential audit program is functioning effectively, without improper influence."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted, "In 2016 & ‘17, I paid thousands of dollars a year in taxes *as a bartender.* Trump paid $750. He contributed less to funding our communities than waitresses & undocumented immigrants. Donald Trump has never cared for our country more than he cares for himself. A walking scam."

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted, "Donald Trump paid just $750 in income taxes in 2016 and 2017. He knows better than anyone that there’s one set of rules for the wealthy and giant corporations and another for hardworking Americans — and instead of using his power to fix it, he's taken advantage of it at every turn."

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) tweeted, "Trump’s refusal to divest has made him vulnerable to foreign influence and blackmail."

🙋‍♂️ if you paid more in federal income tax than President Trump. https://t.co/4Q1nQmHSWa

— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) September 27, 2020

Go deeper: Key findings from NYT report on Trump's taxes

Mon, 28 Sep 2020 03:42:27 +0000


Former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale hospitalized

Fort Lauderdale police arrived at former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale's home on Sunday after his wife called and said he was threatening to harm himself, Florida officials confirmed to Axios.

Details: Fort Lauderdale Police Sgt. DeAnna Greenlaw told Axios officers responded to a report of "an armed male attempting suicide" just before 4 p.m. local time.


Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh told Axios: "Brad Parscale is a member of our family and we all love him. We are ready to support him and his family in any way possible."

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free and confidential support for anyone in distress, in addition to prevention and crisis resources. Also available for online chat.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with a comment from the police.

Mon, 28 Sep 2020 02:28:00 +0000


Wine country blaze prompts evacuation orders as California endures "critical" fire conditions

Firefighters in the western U.S. were facing "critical fire weather conditions," as a rapidly spreading new wildfire in Northern California prompted fresh evacuations Sunday.

Why it matters: Wildfires have burned a record 3.6 million acres in California this year, killing 26 people and razing over 7,600 structures, per Cal Fire. Utility provider Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to 11,000 customers early Sunday and planned outages for 54,000 others later in the day because of fire risks.


Strong offshore winds associated with building high pressure will produce temperatures 15 to 25 degrees above normal across much of the West Coast into this week. Heat Advisories are in effect for the Bay Area in California, and southwestern Oregon. pic.twitter.com/MLlztTRT8I

— National Weather Service (@NWS) September 27, 2020

What's happening: The Glass Fire prompted mandatory evacuation orders for Napa County communities in California's wine country after the blaze broke out Sunday morning and quickly spread across 1,500 acres with 0% containment.

The big picture: 69 large fires were burning across the U.S. on Sunday — including 20 in California, 14 in Idaho, 11 in Oregon and 10 in Montana, per the National Interagency Fire Center.

Threat level: Cal Fire noted red flag warnings were in effect until Monday, affecting most areas from Trinity County down through the Diablo Range and Central Sierra Mountains, with low humidity bringing critical fire weather conditions.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the more information on the weather and the fire threat.

Mon, 28 Sep 2020 00:50:15 +0000


Judge temporarily blocks Trump's TikTok ban

A federal court judge on Sunday granted TikTok's request for a temporary restraining order against a ban by the Trump administration.

Why it matters: Americans will be able to continue downloading one of the country's most popular social media and entertainment apps — at least for now.


What TikTok is saying: "We're pleased that the court agreed with our legal arguments and issued an injunction preventing the implementation of the TikTok app ban. We will continue defending our rights for the benefit of our community and employees.

What the White House is saying, via a statement from the U.S. Commerce Department: “The E.O. is fully consistent with the law and promotes legitimate national security interests. 

The judge's reasoning was sealed, but here is the actual order via DocumentCloud:

Go deeper: White House pushes to uphold TikTok ban

Mon, 28 Sep 2020 00:21:51 +0000


New York Times: Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017

The New York Times has obtained more than two decades' worth of tax-return data from Trump and the companies that make up his business, writing in an explosive report that the documents "tell a story fundamentally different from the one [the president] has sold to the American public."

Why it matters: The Times' bombshell report, published less than seven weeks before the presidential election, lays bare much of the financial information Trump has long sought to keep secret — including allegations that he paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, and has over $300 million in personal debt obligations coming due in the next four years.


Key findings:

What they're saying: Asked about the Times report on Sunday, the president called it "fake news" and insisted that he pays "a lot" in taxes. He again refused to release his own tax returns because they are "under audit" and the IRS treats him "very badly."

Worth noting: The Times writes that with the term "personal taxes," Garten "appears to be conflating income taxes with other federal taxes Mr. Trump has paid — Social Security, Medicare and taxes for his household employees. Mr. Garten also asserted that some of what the president owed was 'paid with tax credits,' a misleading characterization of credits, which reduce a business owner’s income-tax bill as a reward for various activities, like historic preservation."

New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet wrote in an editor's note accompanying the report:

A team of New York Times reporters has pored over this information to assemble the most comprehensive picture of the president’s finances and business dealings to date, and we will continue our reporting and publish additional articles about our findings in the weeks ahead. We are not making the records themselves public because we do not want to jeopardize our sources, who have taken enormous personal risks to help inform the public.
We are publishing this report because we believe citizens should understand as much as possible about their leaders and representatives — their priorities, their experiences and also their finances. Every president since the mid-1970s has made his tax information public. The tradition ensures that an official with the power to shake markets and change policy does not seek to benefit financially from his actions.

What to watch: Additional stories on the documents obtained by the Times are expected in the coming weeks, according to reporter Suzanne Craig.

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 22:06:25 +0000


How Trump, Biden plan to score at Tuesday's debate

President Trump has been practicing with flashcards and prepping with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before Tuesday's presidential debate.

Behind the scenes: Top aides tell Axios he's been testing his attacks on the campaign trail for weeks, seeing what ignites his crowds or falls flat. One of the biggest themes Trump plans to drive home is his "tough guy" persona, which advisers see as an advantage with voters in key states.


Joe Biden has blocked off portions of days for mock debate sessions ahead of the Tuesday debate in Cleveland.

Trump's team sees Judge Amy Coney Barrett as a vehicle to bait Biden into turning off centrist voters — if the president can goad Biden into attacking her.

Biden will counter Trump on the Supreme Court by focusing on how a 6-3 conservative court could be disastrous for the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tells Axios it's important for Biden not to "demoralize" the base with a swipe at progressives:

Between the lines: Here's what keeps the strategists up at night ...

For Trump:

Overconfidence. Many people close to the president say they're worried he hasn't taken the debates seriously or prepared enough.

Policy. One of Trump's big misses of the summer was his failure to lay out what his second-term agenda would look like. He did that during his convention speech, but this time he won't have a prewritten speech or teleprompter to rely on.

Attacks on the moderator. Many Republicans still shudder at the memory of Trump's vicious attacks on Megyn Kelly, then of Fox News — something that stuck with viewers for months.

Downplaying the coronavirus. Trump's team recognizes that the president's biggest weakness is his handling of the coronavirus and the casual way in which he has seemingly minimized the number of people who have died.

For Biden:

Gaffes. Confidants believe the main risk for Biden is misspeaking, transposing numbers or seeming to lose his train of thought.

Temper. In some of his interactions with voters on the trail, Biden has shown flashes of anger.

Verbosity. Biden, who overcame stuttering as a child, well knows — and frequently chides himself — for going too long.

Deference to the moderator — something Biden did during primary debates.

Taking the bait. Trump's preferred ways of getting under Biden's skin include suggesting he's lost a mental step because of his age (Biden is 77; Trump is 74) or going after Biden's son, Hunter. 

Go deeper ... Debate commission co-chair: We don't expect moderators to fact-check candidates

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 21:20:31 +0000


GOP fears Democrats will attack Amy Coney Barrett as insensitive to “the little guy"

White House aides and Senate Republicans have spent the past week readying binders full of messaging and rebuttals to guide Judge Amy Coney Barrett to a pre-Nov. 3 confirmation. "We knew for days it was going to be Amy," a Senate GOP aide involved in her confirmation process told Axios.

What we're hearing: Beyond the expected questions about her views on religion, abortion and health care, Republicans worry about Democrats painting Barrett as someone who is insensitive and unfair to “the little guy,” one source involved in the talks told Axios.


Republicans expect Democrats to bring up Barrett’s support of the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule restricting immigration for those receiving public benefits and a Title IX case in which she argued Purdue University may have discriminated against a male student accused of sexual assault.

What's next: Opening statements at Barrett's confirmation hearings are expected Oct. 12, Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham said on Fox News.

What to watch: President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell are so confident they'll confirm Barrett that they're already thinking about who to tap to replace her on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, based in Chicago.

Among the names being floated is Kate Todd, a White House lawyer who was included on Trump's Supreme Court shortlist.

An administration official says no one has been formally considered yet.

Go deeper: U.S. Chamber to launch widespread lobbying effort for Barrett fight

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 20:51:14 +0000


Debate commission co-chair: We don't expect moderators to fact-check candidates

Presidential Debate Commission co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said Sunday he doesn't expect Fox News anchor Chris Wallace or any of the other moderators to fact-check President Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden at the debates.

What he's saying: "There's a vast difference between being a moderator in a debate and being a reporter who is interviewing someone," Fahrenkopf said on CNN's "Reliable Sources."


Worth noting: Fahrenkopf dismissed the idea of the commission drug-testing either of the candidates, which President Trump said on Twitter he would be "strongly demanding."

What to watch: The debate will air 9pm to 10:30pm ET. Topics will include Trump and Biden's records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, economic policy, racism and the integrity of the election.

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 19:07:11 +0000


3 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week

Data: Compiled by Axios; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Utah, North Carolina and Wyoming set new highs last week for coronavirus infections recorded in a single day, according to the COVID Tracking Project (CTP) and state health departments. Utah and Wyoming surpassed records set the previous week.

Why it matters: Record case highs have usually meant that more hospitalizations and other serious outcomes are on the way, CTP's latest weekly update notes.


Records broken:

Zoom in: In Wyoming, the majority of cases have been confirmed in 19-29 year olds. Hospitalizations in the state saw a sustained spike this week and have been rising since mid-September.

The big picture: Coronavirus cases increased in 22 states last week and testing increased by nearly 22%, according to a seven-day average tracked by Axios.

Go deeper: We're numb to the coronavirus

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include COVID Tracking Project (CTP) data, in addition to data taken directly from state health departments. CTP began reporting non-resident cases as part of Alaska's total case count on July 16.

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 18:23:32 +0000


Biden on Supreme Court fight: "This is about whether or not the ACA will exist"

Joe Biden made health care the overwhelming focus of his remarks from Wilmington, Delaware, on Sunday, stressing that the Senate confirmation battle over Judge Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court is about preserving the Affordable Care Act in the midst of a pandemic.

Why it matters: Democrats are aggressively pushing the message that Barrett, who has previously criticized Chief Justice John Roberts for his 2012 ruling salvaging the ACA, will seek to invalidate the law when the Supreme Court hears a Trump administration-backed lawsuit against it on Nov. 10.


What he's saying: "The clear focus is, this is about your health care. This is about whether or not the ACA will exist. This is about whether or not pre-existing conditions will continue to be covered. This is about whether or not a woman can be charged more for the same procedure as a man. This is about people's health care in the middle of a pandemic," Biden said.

The big picture: Biden said he has not reached out to Senate Republicans to ask them to reconsider holding a confirmation vote before the election, but argued that the consequences will be seen at the ballot box. He declined to address whether he would support expanding the Supreme Court if Democrats take control of the Senate and White House.

Go deeper: Inside the Democrats' strategy for Barrett's confirmation fight

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 16:52:11 +0000


H.R. McMaster: Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transition is a "gift to our adversaries"

President Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses November's presidential election is a "gift to our adversaries," Trump's former national security adviser H.R. McMaster said Sunday.

The big picture: McMaster, a retired three-star general, said that the American people must understand that the military will have "no role" in a presidential transition and that it's "irresponsible" to even talk about it as a possibility.


What he's saying: "What I think is it’s a gift to our adversaries who want to shake our confidence in who we are, shake our confidence in our democratic principles and institutions and processes,” McMaster told NBC’s “Meet the Press" about Trump's comments.

The bottom line: "I think it’s so important for us to come together for civil discussions about the greatest challenges we face," McMaster said.

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 16:13:11 +0000


Trump says Supreme Court ending Obamacare would be "a big WIN"

President Trump on Sunday tweeted that the Supreme Court invalidating the Affordable Care Act would be "a big WIN for the USA!"

Why it matters: Democrats have argued that confirming a Trump-appointed justice to the Supreme Court would put the Affordable Care Act, which protects pre-existing conditions, in jeopardy. Trump's Supreme Court pick, Amy Coney Barrett, has written that she disagreed with Chief Justice John Roberts when he ruled to uphold the law.


What he's saying: "Obamacare will be replaced with a MUCH better, and FAR cheaper, alternative if it is terminated in the Supreme Court. Would be a big WIN for the USA!"

The other side: "President Trump just admitted his nominee will strike down the Affordable Care Act," tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in response.

Reality check: Trump has said that he is protecting pre-existing conditions, despite the fact that they are only at risk because of a Republican lawsuit (supported by the Trump administration) to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

What to watch: The Supreme Court is expected to hear the ACA case the week after the election.

Go deeper:

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 15:11:38 +0000


Trump sees Supreme Court fight as a coronavirus respite

At a rally in Pennsylvania last night, President Trump basked in adulation for Judge Amy Coney Barrett and said, "She should be running for president!"

Why it matters: She might as well be. The Trump campaign is thrilled to be talking about something besides the president's handling of COVID, and it's going all-in to amp up the court conversation.


The RNC and Trump campaign are planning local events and protests across the country to support Barrett’s confirmation.

A top Republican strategist tells Axios that the court fight could help most of the party's endangered senators — including Thom Tillis (N.C.), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Steve Daines (Mont.), plus probably David Perdue (Ga.) and possibly Martha McSally (Ariz.)

The fight also gives a massive spotlight to Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (S.C.), who's in an unexpectedly tight re-election race.

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 15:01:00 +0000


Democrats feel boxed in on strategy for Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation fight

Democrats privately fear that going too hard on Judge Amy Coney Barrett in her confirmation hearings could wind up backfiring if senators are perceived as being nasty to an accomplished woman.

Driving the news: Yesterday afternoon, NBC posted a video of Barrett outside her house in South Bend, Indiana, loading four of her seven children — two of the seven adopted from Haiti, and another with Down syndrome — into her Honda Odyssey minivan, then driving them all to her Air Force ride to Washington. "Good luck, Democrats," a Republican tweeted.


Between the lines: Senate Democrats recognize the danger. A top Democratic strategist pointed to three pitfalls: "liberals mishandling this by boycotting or treating her with disrespect; [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein [top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee] screwing it up; someone looking like a religious bigot."

A top Senate Democratic aide said the party has a three-part plan for avoiding those traps: "Health care, health care, health care."

That's the Dem playbook:

Democrats also feel boxed in by the calendar and the realities of the Senate.

Democrats know there's little they can do to stop any of that: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the votes.

The Democratic base is pressuring senators "to go as far as boycotting the confirmation hearing," the WashPost reports.

Some Democrats on the committee may refuse the traditional courtesy calls with Barrett, however.

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 15:00:48 +0000


Top Senate Democrat on Amy Coney Barrett confirmation: "We can’t stop the outcome"

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday that Senate Democrats can “slow” the process of confirming Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett “perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at the most," but that they "can’t stop the outcome."

Why it matters: Durbin confirmed that Democrats have "no procedural silver bullet" to stop Senate Republicans from confirming Barrett before the election, especially with only two GOP senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — voicing their opposition. Instead, Democrats will likely look to retaliate after the election if they win control of the Senate and White House.


What he's saying: "We can slow it down, perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at the most, but we can't stop the outcome. What we should do is to address this now respectfully," Durbin said.

What to watch: Durbin addressed calls by some Democrats to eliminate the legislative filibuster and expand the Supreme Court if they take control of the Senate, saying that "a conversation about the future of the Senate rules is on the table" because of McConnell's "destruction and denigration" of the institution.

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 13:29:25 +0000


The top Republicans who aren't voting for Trump in 2020

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge announced in an op-ed Sunday that he would be voting for Joe Biden.

Why it matters: Ridge, who was also the first secretary of homeland security under George W. Bush, joins other prominent Republicans who have publicly said they will either not vote for Trump's re-election this November or will back Biden.


Not voting for Trump:

Voting for Biden:

On the fence:

Undecided publicly, but skeptical, via a New York Times report:

Worth noting: While former top military leaders like Mattis and John Kelly are technically non-partisan, they both served in Trump's administration and have publicly expressed skepticism about the president's standing ahead of the 2020 election.

Go deeper: These Senate seats are up for election in 2020

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the latest Republicans to back Biden.

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 13:05:43 +0000


Former GOP governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge endorses Joe Biden

Tom Ridge, the former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, will vote for Joe Biden, he announced in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed on Sunday.

Why it matters: Ridge, who also served under George W. Bush as the first secretary of Homeland Security, said this would be his first time casting a vote for a Democratic candidate for president. He's now the third Republican former governor from a swing state to endorse Biden and reject Trump — joining John Kasich from Ohio and Rick Snyder from Michigan.


What he's saying: "Donald Trump has proven over these last four years he is incapable of such leadership. It is not within him. He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect and maturity to lead," Ridge wrote.

Go deeper: The top Republicans who aren't voting for Trump in 2020

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 12:55:29 +0000


Poll: Majority of voters say election winner should fill Supreme Court vacancy

A majority of voters believe the winner of the next presidential election should fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a new poll from the New York Times and Siena College finds.

Why it matters: President Trump and Senate Republicans have vowed to swiftly confirm his nominee Amy Coney Barrett, in part hoping for a political boost as the conservative base is extremely motivated by issues concerning the court. The poll indicates that moving fast may not help them with voters they also need to win over: women, independents and college-educated white voters.


Driving the news: Trump said in an interview with "Fox & Friends" on Sunday that he believes the Senate will "easily" confirm Barrett before the election, and he insisted that Democrats would do the same if they were in the GOP's position.

Details: 56% of likely voters said they wanted the winner of the November election to pick the next Supreme Court justice, compared with just 41% who thought Trump should nominate someone before the election. Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett on Saturday.

The big picture: Biden is leading Trump nationally in voter preference, 49% to 41%, according to the NYT/Siena poll. A second poll out Sunday from the Washington Post and ABC News found Biden is leading Trump 54% to 44% nationally.

Methodology: The NYT/Siena poll was taken the week before Trump nominated Barrett and is based on interviews with 950 voters with a margin of error of 3.5%.

Sun, 27 Sep 2020 12:22:59 +0000


Page created: Mon, Sep 28, 2020 - 09:05 AM GMT