Donald Trump meanwhile spent the day travelling to a fundraiser in Texas to support oil drilling efforts, raging against Democrats in a campaign-style speech before signing a series of pipeline permits.
The president claimed in a new interview that he “never discussed” reports of Russian bounties on the heads of US troops in Afghanistan with Vladimir Putin, as the US announced it will be withdrawing troops from Germany.
Mr Trump claimed the issue of Russian bounties never reached his desk in an interview with Axios, despite reports indicating he received the intelligence in a daily briefing back in February.
This comes as the administration moves forward with plans to pull forces out of Germany after Mr Trump alleged the country was "delinquent in their payments" to the NATO security alliance.
Asked whether he reads his briefings, Mr Trump responded: “I do. I read a lot. You know, I read a lot. They like to say I don’t read. I read a lot. I comprehend extraordinarily well. Probably better than anybody you’ve interviewed in a long time. I read a lot.”
Justice Department officials also announced that the administration will surge federal officers into three more American cities in electoral battleground states – Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee – as the president prioritises a "law and order" agenda in his 2020 campaign.
Oregon's governor also announced that federal agents in Portland will be withdrawn, per an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, though director Chad Wolf has said that their departure depends on whether the safety of federal properties can be assured amid Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.
Trump complains 'nobody likes me' with 150,000 Americans dead from Covid-19
Donald Trump has lamented his lack of popularity compared to members of his White House Coronavirus Task Force like Dr Anthony Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx in an extraordinary press conference, apparently overlooking the fact that more than 150,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 on his watch.
This astonishing remark, which only served to underline how removed this president is from reality outside of his right-wing media echo chamber (he may spend many hours on Twitter and have 84m+ followers, but he follows just 50 accounts himself), at least prompted one of the all-time great chyrons from CNN:
President defends doctor who cautions against alien DNA and sex with demons
That was just the beginning.
After declaring parts of the country “corona-free” zones (a dangerous and false notion)...
...the president went on to deny retweeting attacks on Fauci (he had), liken a black journalist to (white) former presidential candidate and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and to defend Texas doctor Stella Immanuel, after a video he retweeted in which she alleges a cure for the virus exists and is being suppressed was taken down by Twitter (his son Don Jr’s account was also temporarily suspended for promoting the clip yesterday).
Trump described the physician and pastor - who believes that alien DNA is being used in pharmaceuticals and who counsels against sex with demons - as “very impressive”.
He then walked out without taking further questions.
Don Lemon on CNN was not the only one left utterly bemused.
Here’s Griffin Connolly’s report.
Trump again pushes 'extremely successful' hydroxychloroquine as Covid cure
Arguably the other big development from yesterday’s frankly weird White House briefing was the president’s return to pushing his favourite quack cure, which has not helped his friend Jair Bolsonaro avoid being taken ill with coronavirus in Brazil.
Many high-quality studies have found no evidence that hydroxychloroquine, when used with or without the antibiotic azithromycin - as touted many times by Trump - helps treat coronavirus infection or prevent serious disease from it.
They include studies commissioned by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the World Health Organisation and universities in the US and abroad.
Because of the lack of benefit and the risks of serious side effects such as heart rhythm problems, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently revoked its brief authorisation of emergency use of the drug for Covid-19. NIH treatment guidelines also specifically recommend against hydroxychloroquine's use, except in formal studies.
Still, at Tuesday's briefing, Trump said of the drug: "Many doctors think it's extremely good and some people don't. Some people... I think it's become very political. I happen to believe in it. I would take it. I took it for a 14 day period. And I'm here. Right?"
Here’s John T Bennett’s report.
Bill Barr claims no systemic racism in US policing in fiery House session
US attorney general William Barr was put to the sword by Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives yesterday as he sought to champion his tenure and answer criticism of the Justice Department’s handling of heated Black Lives Matter protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd on 25 May.
In a frequently heated session, Barr denied systemic racism existed within US police departments and that African Americans are treated differently by law enforcement. The assembled congressmen and women enjoyed getting their teeth into him on that one, none more so than Pramila Jayapal, who was on ferocious form:
Barr also excused the pardoning of ex-Trump adviser Roger Stone by saying he’d been charged with an “esoteric made-up crime” not a “meat and potatoes” offence and admitted he had discussed the upcoming election with the president and said, effectively, that in his opinion it is fine for the US government to accept foreign “assistance” in an election and to teargas peaceful protesters, also joining in on Trump’s attack on mail voting, which is surely unavoidable in this pandemic.
The AG further denied paying attention to the president’s hectic tweets and got up lawmakers’ noses by calling the late civil rights hero John Lewis a “champion of rule of law”, despite his being arrested no fewer than 40 times for disobeying it in the interests of protesting racism.
Here’s Griffin Connolly’s report.
Nancy Pelosi accuses AG of acting like Trump's 'criminal defence lawyer'
Barr’s irritable performance drew exactly the sort of partisan response you might have expected.
While Florida congressman and ageing frat boy Matt Gaetz said he was so “fantastic” the US military should name a base or at least a tank after him…
...House speaker Nancy Pelsoi called him variously a “henchman”, “a blob” (!) and a “criminal defence lawyer for president”.
As the pundits chewed over the fallout, CNN anchor Jake Tapper deserves particular credit for taking apart a dishonest video montage screened at the session by ranking Republican Jim Jordan, taking comments by the network’s reporters out of context to accuse them of bias in their coverage of the George Floyd protests.
Tapper demanded an apology from Jordan, knowing full well the Ohio congressman and ex-wrestling coach is unlikely to offer one.
Here’s John T Bennett on the day’s key takeaways.
Donald Trump Jr appears visibly upset as he bemoans temporary Twitter suspension to Tucker Carlson
The president’s son only had certain features of his account blocked by the social media giant for 24 hours yesterday for tweeting the same dodgy Dr Immanuel video as his old man but wasted no time in using it to cry censorship, appearing on the verge of tears as he did so.
His Fox host just looked bemused.
Trump campaign making illegal secret payments to his family, democracy watchdog alleges
The president’s campaign group has been accused of violating federal election law, by funnelling $216m (£166.6m) through private companies to hide payments to family members and other organisations.
His re-election team has been accused of funnelling payments to family members, including $180,000 (£139,037) to Don Jr’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and to Lara Trump, the wife of his other adult son Eric Trump, according to The Huffington Post.
Non-profit watchdog the Campaign Legal Centre claims that Mr Trump’s re-election campaign alongside a related fundraising group, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, funnelled the money through the president’s former campaign manager Brad Parscale’s businesses and through American Made Media Consultants, which buys and places ads for the Trump campaign.
James Crump picks up the story.
Trump’s refusal to pay respects to civil rights leader John Lewis leaves aides ‘frustrated’
With Joe and Jill Biden visiting the Capitol to honour the memory of the legendary activist and congressman, the president’s obstinate refusal to follow suit is increasingly looking like a very avoidable publicity own goal to his advisers.
Graig Graziosi reports.
‘Sort of semi-irrelevant’: Trump dismisses Republicans’ £1trn coronavirus rescue plan
In another eyebrow-raising exchange from yesterday’s press conference, the president dismissed the GOP’s plans for a $1 trillion (£776bn) economic stimulus package aimed at easing the impact of the coronavirus crisis as “semi-irrelevant”, as he sought to big up a deal with Kodak to manufacture medical products.
Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, on Monday proposed a package that would make payments of $1,200 (£925) to most Americans, with $100bn (£77m) set aside to help schools struggling amid the pandemic.
But the proposal means around 32m citizens could see their unemployment payments slashed from $600 (£466) to $200 (£155).
Trump lambasted the proposals yesterday, telling reporters there were elements of the deal he did not agree with.
“It’s sort of semi-irrelevant because the Democrats come with their needs and asks and the Republicans go with theirs,” he said. “We’ll be talking about it.”
Matt Mathers reports.
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