NASA Awards US Companies Contracts for Human Moon Landing

The U.S. space agency NASA has awarded contracts to three American companies to develop spacecraft to land humans on the moon by 2024. In a remote news conference Thursday, NASA announced it had selected Blue Origin, the space exploration company owned by Jeff Bezos, owner of The Washington Post, and owner and founder of Amazon; Dynetics, a subsidiary of research company Leidos that is based in the city of Huntsville, Alabama; and SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, California, and owned by businessman Elon Musk. NASA says the companies will compete to design and develop systems for the agency’s Artemis program, which has the goal of landing men and women on the surface of the moon for the first time since the 1970s. The project would also develop systems by 2028 that could be used for people to explore the solar system. NASA’s statement says the three commercial partners will refine their moon lander concepts through February 2021. The agency will evaluate which of the contractors will perform initial demonstration missions, and from those missions, NASA will select the final lunar lander. The Washington Post reports both NASA and the White House must still convince Congress to fund the program, which is projected to cost $35 billion through 2024. 

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Trump Tweets Raise Speculation About Potential Flynn Pardon

President Donald Trump on Thursday tweeted his support for his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, raising speculation that a pardon may be coming after Flynn’s lawyers released internal FBI documents they claim show the FBI was trying to entrap him.
Trump has long said he is considering pardoning Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in early 2017 about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. The president spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning retweeting supportive statements and a video Flynn tweeted of an American flag flapping in the wind.
“What happened to General Michael Flynn, a war hero, should never be allowed to happen to a citizen of the United States again!” Trump wrote Thursday morning as his counselor Kellyanne Conway was on Fox News Channel responding to the case.
Conway said it would be up to Trump to make any announcement, but called Flynn’s treatment a “disgrace.”
Trump “has made very clear that he feels people around him are treated very unfairly, and in this case worse,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also called into Fox to react to the release of the FBI documents, saying, “if true, it is extremely troubling.”
“If all this proves to be true, you will have, certainly, a major, major error on the part of top leadership at the FBI, which could well warrant additional charges against them,” he said.
Lawyers for Flynn released internal FBI emails and handwritten notes on Wednesday documenting internal correspondence among FBI officials before Flynn’s interview with the bureau. They contend the documents bolster their allegations that Flynn was set up to lie when he was questioned at the White House three years ago. The notes show the officials grappling with how best to approach Flynn, how much information to provide him during an interview and what to do if he made a false statement.
Flynn, who was among the first of the president’s aides charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, is now seeking to withdraw his guilty plea and makes broad assertions of law enforcement misconduct. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan has rejected many of the defense arguments but has yet to rule on whether Flynn can take back his guilty plea.
Meanwhile, a federal prosecutor from Missouri is reviewing the Justice Department’s handling of the case at the direction of Attorney General William Barr. The department said the notes were provided to the defense as part of that ongoing review.
It remains unclear what bearing the documents will have on the case or how significant the judge will determine them to be. But Flynn has emerged as something of a cause celebre in recent months for supporters of the president, who have rallied around the retired Army lieutenant general and seized on the findings of a harshly critical watchdog report on the Russia investigation to try to cast doubt on the entire probe.
Prosecutors haven’t filed anything in response to Wednesday’s action by Flynn’s lawyers. But Trump has made clear he is considering a pardon.
In FBI emails dated Jan. 23, 2017, the day before agents interviewed Flynn at the White House, officials pondered at what point in the conversation Flynn should be reminded that it is against the law to lie to the FBI — at the outset of the conversation or after he makes a suspected false statement.
Flynn’s attorneys have said he was never given such a warning.
Also released was a page of handwritten FBI notes, dated the following day, in which an official appears to recap an internal debate inside the bureau about the interview.
“What’s our goal? Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?” the notes say.
At another point, the notes say, “If we get him to admit to breaking the Logan Act, give facts to DoJ and have them decide.” That is a reference to a centuries-old, esoteric law that makes it a crime for a private citizen to conduct foreign policy with another government.
The notes also say: “If we’re seen as playing games, WH will be furious. Protect our institution by not playing games.”
The handwritten notes bear the initials “EP,” which is likely a reference to E.W. Priestap, the senior FBI official who in the summer of 2016 approved the opening of an investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Flynn acknowledged lying to the FBI about having discussed sanctions against Russia during the presidential transition period with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time. Flynn provided such extensive cooperation that prosecutors said he was entitled to a sentence of probation instead of prison.
But his sentencing hearing was abruptly cut short after Flynn, following a stern rebuke from Sullivan, asked to be able to continue cooperating and earn credit toward a more lenient sentence.
Since then, Flynn has hired new attorneys — including Sidney Powell, a conservative commentator and outspoken critic of Mueller’s investigation — who have taken a more adversarial stance to the government.  
The lawyers have accused prosecutors of withholding documents and evidence they said was favorable to the case and repeatedly noted that one of the two agents who interviewed Flynn was fired from the FBI for having sent derogatory text messages about Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump also tweeted Thursday about his longtime political adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted last year as part of the Russia investigation and is awaiting a date to surrender to federal prison.
“Does anybody really believe that Roger Stone, a man whose house was raided early in the morning by 29 gun toting FBI Agents (with Fake News @CNN closely in toe), was treated fairly,” he asked, adding: “Same scammers as General Flynn!”

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China ‘Not Interested’ in Meddling in US Election

China said Wednesday it has no desire to meddle in this year’s U.S. presidential election, despite claims to the contrary by President Donald Trump.
 
Trump told Reuters Wednesday that “China will do anything they can do to have me lose this race” in favor of Democratic Party opponent Joe Biden. Trump said China prefers a Biden win, believing he would ease the pressure Trump has put on Beijing through trade tariffs and other means.
 
“We have reiterated many times that the U.S. election is the U.S.’s own internal affair. China is not interested in interfering,” said China Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. “At the same time, we hope the people of the U.S. will not drag China into its electoral politics.”
 
The Trump administration has blamed China for the coronavirus pandemic, which has thrown the U.S. into a deep recession and infected more than 1 million people in the U.S., more than any other country by far.  
 
Trump said during the interview he was exploring various options to penalize Beijing over the pandemic, despite China’s insistence it effectively addressed the outbreak.
 
“The international community shares a common view on China’s handling of the epidemic and China’s contributions to international cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus,” Shuang said.
 
Relations between the world’s two largest economies were strained before the coronavirus outbreak. Trump began intensifying a trade dispute with Beijing two years ago that deteriorated into retaliatory tariffs and ballooned into a trillion-dollar trade war.
 
The pandemic-triggered U.S. economic slowdown has Trump’s campaign concerned about his reelection chances, given that it planned to make the previously robust economy a key selling point in Trump’s reelection bid.
 
Polls show Biden leading Trump in the race for the White House.  Real Clear Politics’ polling average, which includes data from dozens of pollsters, has Biden leading Trump 48% to 42%.
 
A new Emerson College poll shows Trump’s approval rating for how he has managed the pandemic has dropped 10 points from last month. The results show 39% of the poll’s respondents now approve of his handling of the crisis, a decline from 49% in March. 

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Trump Erupts at Campaign Team as His Poll Numbers Slide 

President Donald Trump erupted at his top political advisers last week when they presented him with worrisome polling data that showed his support eroding in a series of battleground states as his response to the coronavirus comes under criticism.  As the virus takes its deadly toll and much of the nation’s economy remains shuttered, new surveys by the Republican National Committee and Trump’s campaign pointed to a harrowing picture for the president as he faces reelection. FILE – President Donald Trump points to a reporter to ask a question as he speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, in Washington, April 16, 2020.While Trump saw some of the best approval ratings of his presidency during the early weeks of the crisis, aides highlighted the growing political cost of the crisis and the unforced errors by Trump in his freewheeling press briefings.  Trump reacted with defiance, incredulous that he could be losing to someone he viewed as a weak candidate. “I am not f—-ing losing to Joe Biden,” he repeated in a series of heated conference calls with his top campaign officials, according to five people with knowledge of the conversations. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.  Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden smiles as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorses him for president in a video screengrab made during an online town hall, in Wilmington, Delaware, April 28, 2020. (Biden For President/Handout)The message to the president was sobering: Trump was trailing the former Democratic vice president in many key battleground states, he was told, and would have lost the Electoral College if the election had been held earlier this month. On the line from the White House, Trump snapped at the state of his polling during a series of calls with campaign manager Brad Parscale, who called in from Florida; RNC chair Ronna McDaniel, on the line from her home in Michigan; senior adviser Jared Kushner; and other aides. Echoing a number of White House aides and outside advisers, the political team urged Trump to curtail his daily coronavirus briefings, arguing that the combative sessions were costing him in the polls, particularly among seniors. Trump initially pushed back, pointing to high television ratings. But, at least temporarily, he agreed to scale back the briefings after drawing sharp criticism for raising the idea that Americans might get virus protection by injecting disinfectants. Trump aides encouraged the president to stay out of medical issues and direct his focus toward more familiar and politically important ground: the economy. Even as Trump preaches optimism, the president has expressed frustration and even powerlessness as the dire economic statistics pile up. It’s been a whiplash-inducing moment for the president, who just two months ago planned to run for reelection on the strength of an economy that was experiencing unprecedented employment levels. Now, as the records mount in the opposite direction, Trump is feeling the pressure. “We built the greatest economy in the world,” Trump has said publicly. “I’ll do it a second time.” Trump’s political team warned that the president’s path to reelection depends on how quickly he can bring about a recovery.  “I think you’ll see by June a lot of the country should be back to normal, and the hope is that by July the country’s really rocking again,” Kushner told “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday morning. But other aides, business leaders and economists predict a far longer road toward recovery. Representatives for the RNC and the Trump campaign did not comment on the polling or last week’s phone calls. In a tweet just after midnight Wednesday, Trump denied that he had recently shouted at his campaign manager and said that “he is doing a great job.” According to people familiar with the incident, Trump vented much of his frustration at Parscale, who served as the bearer of bad news. FILE – Brad Parscale, campaign manager to President Donald Trump, speaks to supporters during a panel discussion, Oct. 15, 2019, in San Antonio.Trump has long distrusted negative poll numbers — telling aides for years that his gut was right about the 2016 race, when he insisted that he was ahead in the Midwest and Florida. At the same time, Parscale and other Trump aides are talking up the sophistication of their data and voter outreach capabilities this time. The president and some aides have had simmering frustrations with Parscale for a while, believing the campaign manager — a close Kushner ally — has enriched himself from his association with Trump and sought personal publicity. Trump had previously been angered when Parscale was the subject of magazine profiles. This latest episode flared before the campaign manager was featured in a New York Times Magazine profile this week.  Aides have grown particularly worried about Michigan — which some advisers have all but written off — as well as Florida, Wisconsin and Arizona.  Trump announced Wednesday that he will visit Arizona next week — his first trip outside Washington in a month — as he looks to declare that much of the nation is ready to begin reopening after the virus.  The president has mocked Biden, his presumptive general election rival, for being “stuck in his basement” in his Delaware home during the pandemic. Trump said Wednesday that he hopes to soon visit Ohio, a battleground state that Trump carried handily in 2016 but that aides see as growing slightly competitive in recent weeks. Aides acknowledged that the president’s signature rallies would not be returning anytime soon. Some have privately offered doubts that he would be able to hold any in his familiar format of jam-packed arenas before Election Day, Nov. 3.   

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Biden Assault Allegation Prompts GOP Attacks, Dem Worries

A sexual assault allegation is raising Joe Biden’s first big challenge as the Democrats’ presidential nominee, fueling Republican attacks and leaving many in his own party in an uncomfortable bind. Biden’s campaign has denied the allegation from his former Senate staffer Tara Reade, who has said Biden assaulted her in the basement of a Capitol Hill office building in the 1990s. But the story garnered fresh attention this week after two of Reade’s associates said she previously told them about elements of her allegations. Republicans who are worried about President Donald Trump’s increasingly precarious political standing are seizing on the allegation to portray Democrats as hypocrites who only defend women who allege wrongdoing against conservatives. They are digging in despite the fact that it could renew attention on the multiple sexual assault allegations lodged against Trump. Democrats, meanwhile, are in an awkward position of vigorously validating women who come forward with their stories while defending the man who will be their standard-bearer in what many in the party consider the most important election of their lifetimes. The tension is heightened because Biden himself is saying nothing about the allegation. Like many Americans, he has spent the past several weeks at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Biden has participated in a handful of local and national interviews, during which he wasn’t asked about the allegation. But he hasn’t held a press briefing for the broader press corps that covers him since April 2, before multiple news organizations reported Reade’s story. The public appearances he has made, such as fundraisers or events alongside prominent Democrats, have been controlled. Some Democrats say that approach isn’t working and are urging a more forceful response.  “The campaign has issued statements, but he hasn’t issued any statements in his own voice,” said former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile. “It’s not helping, it’s just damaging — not only to the person who has come forward, but it’s also damaging the candidate.” Former Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Donna Brazile.Lis Smith, who worked as a top strategist on Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, also called on the Biden campaign to speak up. “These accusations have not been found to be credible, so it’s in the Biden campaign’s interest to nip this in the bud directly and do it quickly,” she said. The November contest between Biden and Trump will be the first presidential race of the #MeToo era, which has led numerous women to come forward with allegations of sexual assault. Trump himself has been accused of assault and unwanted touching by numerous women, allegations he denies. He was forced to apologize during the 2016 campaign after he was heard on a recording bragging about using his fame to assault women. Women are a core constituency for Democrats, and Biden has a mixed history. While he wrote the Violence Against Women Act as a senator, he also came under heavy criticism for his handling of Anita Hill’s Senate testimony in the 1990s. Just before he launched his 2020 campaign, several women accused him of unwanted touching, behavior for which he apologized. Biden has pledged to pick a woman as a running mate, and the allegation has left those thought to be in contention in a tough spot.  Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia Democratic governor candidate, said, “Women deserve to be heard, and I believe they need to be listened to, but I also believe that those allegations have to be investigated by credible sources.” “The New York Times did a deep investigation and they found that the accusation was not credible,” she added. “I believe Joe Biden.” That echoed talking points issued by the Biden campaign to surrogates last week that were obtained by The Associated Press. They pointed to investigations by The New York Times, The Washington Post and the AP that found no other allegation of sexual assault and no pattern of sexual misconduct. Some Democratic donors and fundraisers say the issue has not come up in calls with party financiers. Others worry that it could be used against Biden, much as Hillary Clinton’s private email server and the activities of the Clinton Foundation were wielded against her by Trump. Some, most notably women, say they are paying close attention to the allegations, which gave them pause.  Alex Sink, a donor and former Democratic nominee for governor of Florida, said she was “not happy” to read about the allegations against Biden. While she still plans to vote for him, she worried his campaign was too quick to categorically deny Reade’s story.  “They put themselves immediately out on a limb by saying, ‘It didn’t happen, we categorically deny it, it’s not true,'” Sink said. “That’s a dangerous position to be in because they aren’t leaving any room for themselves.” Some female Democratic operatives expressed concerns the allegation is particularly damaging because it’s an indictment of Biden’s central campaign rationale: that he provides a moral counter to Trump and that the election is a “battle for the soul of America.” “I think the stakes could not be higher for defeating Donald Trump — but at the same time, I think we have to apply a consistent standard for how we treat allegations of sexual assault, and also be clear-eyed about how Donald Trump will use these allegations in the general election campaign,” said Claire Sandberg, who worked as Bernie Sanders’ organizing director this cycle. The silence from the Biden campaign has given Republicans an opening on an issue that was, in 2016, far more fraught for the GOP, when Trump was asked to answer for the more than two dozen women who alleged varying levels of sexual assault and harassment from him. The GOP argues Democrats aren’t being consistent, pointing to the aggressive questioning and coverage of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when he faced an allegation of sexual assault. “The left, and their media allies, has one standard for Republicans and another standard for Democrats like Joe Biden,” said Steve Guest, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. “The double standard is appalling.”  Trump himself has yet to address the issue, but Donald Trump Jr. has spent weeks highlighting the allegation on Twitter, as has Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale. Even some Trump antagonists within the GOP say the opportunity for the president and his allies is obvious. Rick Tyler, a former spokesman for Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and a prominent Trump critic, noted that the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent economic crash have “ruled out any prospect that Republicans could run on great economic times.” “And so what’s left? What’s left is scorched earth, and that means digging up anything they can about Biden,” he said. “They’re trying to make Joe Biden into something that’s worse than Donald Trump.” 

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Trump says China Wants Him to Lose Reelection Bid

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he believes China’s handling of the coronavirus is proof that Beijing “will do anything they can” to make him lose his re-election bid in November.In an interview with Reuters in the Oval Office, Trump talked tough on China and said he was looking at different options in terms of consequences for Beijing over the virus. “I can do a lot,” he said.Trump has been heaping blame on China for a global pandemic that has killed at least 60,000 people in the United States according to a Reuters tally, and thrown the U.S. economy into a deep recession, putting in jeopardy his hopes for another four-year term.The Republican president, often accused of not acting early enough to prepare the United States for the spread of the virus, said he believed China should have been more active in letting the world know about the coronavirus much sooner.Asked whether he was considering the use of tariffs or even debt write-offs for China, Trump would not offer specifics. “There are many things I can do,” he said. “We’re looking for what happened.””China will do anything they can to have me lose this race,” said Trump. He said he believes Beijing wants his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, to win the race to ease the pressure Trump has placed on China over trade and other issues.”They’re constantly using public relations to try to make it like they’re innocent parties,” he said of Chinese officials.’I don’t believe the polls’Trump went on to say during the interview Wednesday that he does not believe opinion polls that show Biden leading in the 2020 race for the White House.He said he did not expect the election to be a referendum on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and added he was surprised the former vice president was doing well.”I don’t believe the polls,” Trump said. “I believe the people of this country are smart. And I don’t think that they will put a man in who’s incompetent.”He said the trade deal that he concluded with Chinese President Xi Jinping aimed at reducing chronic U.S. trade deficits with China had been “upset very badly” by the economic fallout from the virus.A senior Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that an informal “truce” in the war of words that Trump and Xi essentially agreed to in a phone call in late March now appeared to be over.The two leaders had promised that their governments would do everything possible to cooperate to contain the coronavirus. In recent days, Washington and Beijing have traded increasingly bitter recriminations over the origin of the virus and the response to it.However, Trump and his top aides, while stepping up their anti-China rhetoric, have stopped short of directly criticizing Xi, who the U.S. president has repeatedly called his “friend.”’We had the greatest economy in history’Trump also said South Korea has agreed to pay the United States more money for a defense cooperation agreement but would not be drawn out on how much.”We can make a deal. They want to make a deal,” Trump said. “They’ve agreed to pay a lot of money. They’re paying a lot more money than they did when I got here” in January 2017.The United States stations roughly 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, rather than a peace treaty.Trump is leading a triage effort to try to keep the U.S. economy afloat through stimulus payments to individuals and companies while nudging state governors to carefully reopen their states as new infections decline.Trump sounded wistful about the strong economy that he had enjoyed compared with now, when millions of people have lost their jobs and GDP is faltering.”We were rocking before this happened. We had the greatest economy in history,” he said.He said he is happy with the way many governors are operating under the strain of the virus but said some need to improve. He would not name names.Trump’s handling of the virus has come under scrutiny. Forty-three percent of Americans approved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll from April 27-28.But there was some good coronavirus news, as Gilead Sciences Inc said its experimental antiviral drug remdesivir was showing progress in treating virus victims.Trump has also seeking an accelerated timetable on development of a vaccine.”I think things are moving along very nicely,” he said.At the end of the half-hour interview, Trump offered lighthearted remarks about a newly released Navy video purportedly showing an unidentified flying object. “I just wonder if it’s real,” he said. “That’s a hell of a video.” 

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