Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump’s nomination of John Ratcliffe to replace Dan Coats as the next Director of National Intelligence would launch a lawmaker with less than five years national experience under his belt to the pinnacle of US espionage and sets the stage for what is likely to be a bruising and partisan confirmation battle.The Texas Republican has been a vocal critic of Robert Mueller and his investigation into collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, grilling the special counsel during House hearings last week — a performance that likely earned him the President’s gratitude. The former mayor also contends that there were “crimes committed” during the Obama administration in connection to the events that led to Mueller’s probe and called on Sunday for investigations to get to the truth. “I’m not going to accuse any specific person of any specific crime,” Ratcliffe said on Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures. “I just want there to be a fair process to get there. What I do know, as a former federal prosecutor, is, it does appear that there were crimes committed during the Obama administration.”Trump unveiled the nomination by tweet, saying he was “pleased to announce that highly respected Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas will be nominated by me to be the Director of National Intelligence. A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves.”Another trusted Trump ally — Secretary of State Michael Pompeo — has charted a path from the back benches of the House of Representatives to the senior levels of US power. But the nomination of a staunchly conservative politician to a non-partisan position — one that has little to nothing to do with domestic investigations — along with Ratcliffe’s lack of experience and the serious geopolitical challenges facing the US mean the three-term lawmaker’s confirmation is anything but assured.’Simply not as qualified'”He’s simply not as qualified for the job as his predecessors,” said David Priess, a former CIA intelligence officer who delivered the daily intelligence briefing during the administrations of former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “Do not take confirmation for granted,” Priess added. “The only thing that points to his appointment at this time is the fact that he was strident and energetic in his criticism of Robert Mueller during last week’s hearing.”Priess, now a national security fellow at George Mason University, said the Republican-controlled Senate has in the past pushed back against Trump’s nominees. “Yes, the President has many allies in the Senate, but there have been many nominations and prospective nominations when it was made clear the Senate would not accept it,” he said. Early Republican responses praised outgoing director Coats without mentioning Ratcliffe. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a member of the intelligence committee, tweeted that, “Coats is one of the finest public servants I have ever known. He led the intelligence community with integrity and skill, and his departure is a huge loss to our country.” She made no mention of Ratcliffe and neither did Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who released an extended statement praising Coats for his “deliberate, thoughtful, and unbiased approach.”The Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, focused on the House lawmaker in his own statement. “It’s clear that Rep. Ratcliffe was selected because he exhibited blind loyalty to President Trump with his demagogic questioning of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” Schumer said. “If Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position that requires intelligence expertise and non-partisanship, it would be a big mistake.”But Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism, offered effusive praise, saying “the only thing stronger than his credentials is his character” and adding that he could “think of no one better” for the job. The job in question — Director of National Intelligence — was a Cabinet level position created after the 9/11 attacks to better coordinate intelligence. The director doesn’t have the authority to issue orders. Instead, the position is more about coordinating and overseeing. ‘Serious questions’The director heads the entire US intelligence community, directs and oversees the National Intelligence Program, advises the President and his Cabinet, and produces the President’s Daily Brief, the collection of information from across the agencies that most presidents see every day. The 53-year-old Ratcliffe would come to the job with eight years’ experience as mayor of Heath, Texas, a town of just under 9,000 people. He has been a US Attorney and federal terrorism prosecutor, spent time in private practice as a partner with former Attorney General John Ashcroft at his law firm, and worked as an aide to Sen. Mitt Romney during his 2012 presidential campaign. In the House, Ratcliffe has served on the Intelligence, Homeland Security, Judiciary and Ethics Committees.Priess, the former intelligence officer, said this resume doesn’t compare positively to previous directors, most of whom spent a lifetime in military or foreign service. “One of the reasons there are serious questions here, all we have to do is look at the five men who have served in this position and then look at Ratcliffe,” he said. Former directorsPast directors include John Negroponte, a former foreign service officer and ambassador several times over; Michael McConnell, a former National Security Agency director; Dennis Blair, a former commander of US forces in the Pacific; and James Clapper, who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Agency. Coats had less intelligence experience than the others, but he had been ambassador for Germany and “served on Senate select committee on intelligence for years,” Priess said. “You look at Ratcliffe and there’s no comparison,” Priess continued. “He’s only been in the House a few years, and he’s barely been on the intelligence committee. He doesn’t come close to matching the experience of those other men or the objectivity of those other men in their previous positions.”Gregory Treverton, a former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, echoed Priess’ concerns about Ratcliffe’s partisanship. “I worry about the combination of amateur and political, especially since he seems quite ideological,” he said.Ratcliffe was a key lawmaker in the 2016 Republican-led House investigation into the FBI and Justice Department’s handling of both the Hillary Clinton and Russia investigations, working closely with former Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. When Gowdy retired this year, Ratcliffe took his place on the House Intelligence Committee, in addition to his seat on the Judiciary Committee, putting him in a key position to push back on the panel’s Democratic-led investigations into the President. Ratcliffe’s aggressive questioning and skepticism about the Bureau during the 2016 probes gained him the trust of fellow conservatives in the House GOP Conference, and he played a key role in the Mueller hearings, jumping up in seniority on both committees as the second Republican to question Mueller immediately following the ranking members.Ratcliffe charged that the special counsel had gone beyond his mandate by stating he couldn’t exonerate Trump. But Ratcliffe’s criticisms of the Mueller investigation are also likely to be a key point as Democrats press him on in his confirmation hearing. His push on Fox News’ Sunday program for an investigation into the Obama administration will likely be a factor as well. In his interview, Ratcliffe said that “the Mueller report and its conclusions weren’t from Robert Mueller. They were written what a lot of people believe was Hillary Clinton’s de facto legal team.”‘No accountability’He charged that the crimes committed during the Obama administration included the phone intercepts that led to the investigation into Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. “Someone in the Obama administration leaked that call to The Washington Post. That’s a felony,” Ratcliffe said. “We know that things happened in the Obama administration that haven’t been answered. There’s been no accountability for that yet,” he said. Arguing that the American people have lost trust in the Justice Department, he said the “only way to get that back is, therefore, to be real accountability with a very fair process” and that he has “supreme confidence” in Attorney General Bill Barr’s ability to deliver that. “And at the end of the day, wherever the outcome may be, as long as we know that the process was fair, the evaluation was fair, justice will be done,” he said. CNN’s Jamie Crawford and Alex Marquardt contributed to this report.
New York City’s spike in cases shows coronavirus is still ‘a force to be reckoned with,’ governor says
(CNN)As cases spike in parts of New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that Covid-19 “remains a force to be reckoned with throughout the country.””I urge New Yorkers to keep wearing masks, socially distancing and washing their hands, and local governments must continue to enforce state public health guidance,” Cuomo said in a statement. “By…
(CNN)As cases spike in parts of New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned that Covid-19 “remains a force to be reckoned with throughout the country.””I urge New Yorkers to keep wearing masks, socially distancing and washing their hands, and local governments must continue to enforce state public health guidance,” Cuomo said in a statement. “By staying vigilant and smart, we can beat COVID together.”Experts have cautioned the US could see an explosion of coronavirus cases in the fall and winter as people exercise less caution and spend more time indoors. Already the US has reported more than 7.1 million cases and 204,756 deaths since the pandemic began, and 21 states are reporting more new cases in the last seven days compared with the week before, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.Once the epicenter of the pandemic in the US, New York had boasted a test positivity rate — the percentage of tests being performed that come back positive for the virus — of less than 1% for more than a month. That rate broke 1% on Saturday as Cuomo reminded New Yorkers “we cannot drop our guard.”Though the rate of positive tests is still low relative to other states, neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn are seeing cases “continue to grow at an alarming rate,” according to a news release from the city’s Department of Health.But New York is still among the states with the lowest positivity rate in the US. The World Health Organization advised that the rates of positivity in testing should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days before businesses reopen. Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia meet that recommendation, with Vermont holding the lowest rate at 0.53% positive. Twenty-eight states and Puerto Rico have positivity rates higher than 5%. The territory has a 100% positivity rate. Among US states, the rate is highest, 24.64%, in South Dakota, according to Johns Hopkins University.Public schools in New York City are returning to the classroom for the first time this week, but officials could decide to close schools, limit gatherings and issue fines for not wearing masks.”For the first time in the city’s recovery period, there could be the immediate scaling back of activities in these ZIP codes if progress is not made by Monday evening,” the Department of Health said last week.New York City has reported 237,971 of the state’s 455,626 cases. But with a seven-day average of 224 new daily cases last week, the city is still nowhere near its April peak, when more than 5,000 new cases were reported every day. States reach new highsNew York isn’t the only state to report case counts trending in the wrong direction.Wisconsin reported its highest single-day case increase on Saturday with 2,817 new cases reported, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health. The previous record was 2,533 on September 18, according to the state health department’s website. Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers issued an executive order mandating face coverings in an effort to keep infections down. In a news release, his office attributed rising cases primarily to infections among 18- to 24-year-olds and said the state was “facing a new and dangerous phase” of the pandemic.”We need your help to stop the spread of this virus, and we all have to do this together,” Evers said.Meanwhile, cases in Florida have exceeded 700,000, though it is one of 10 states reporting fewer new cases this week compared to last. It is joined by Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia.The number of new cases reported is holding steady in 19 states. Twenty-one are seeing more new cases reported than last week: Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington state, Wisconsin and Wyoming.Authorities break up large gatheringsTo avoid another surge, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci stressed masking, distancing and avoiding crowds. But authorities have had to intervene as some continue to gather in large groups.On Friday evening, New York City Sheriff’s Office deputies broke up a wedding of about 300 people in Queens, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office told CNN. Both the owner and manager of the venue were issued appearance tickets for multiple misdemeanor offenses. Weddings and other large social gatherings have been the origin of several outbreaks in coronavirus cases in recent months, and authorities have turned their attention to deterring these events and enforcing measures against them.A Maryland man was sentenced to a year imprisonment Friday after holding two large parties in late March against the state’s social distancing rules, which had banned gatherings of more than 10 people, according to the office of Gov. Larry Hogan.The man became argumentative after he was told to disband his first party of about 50 people, the state’s attorney’s office said. And five days later, he held a second party of more than 50 people which he refused to end, saying they had a right to congregate and directing his guests to stay, according to a news release. CNN’s Laura Ly, Sheena Jones, Anna Sturla, Dakin Andone, and Chuck Johnston contributed to this report.
2 new California wildfires burn nearly 10,000 acres in a day and force evacuations
(CNN)Two new wildfires grew by nearly 10,000 acres in a day in California, where more than 3.6 million acres have burned this year.Fueled by dry conditions and high winds, the Zogg Fire in Shasta County and the Glass Fire further south in Napa County had torched 7,000 and 2,500 acres, respectively, by Sunday night after…
(CNN)Two new wildfires grew by nearly 10,000 acres in a day in California, where more than 3.6 million acres have burned this year.Fueled by dry conditions and high winds, the Zogg Fire in Shasta County and the Glass Fire further south in Napa County had torched 7,000 and 2,500 acres, respectively, by Sunday night after starting earlier in the day.The Glass Fire tore through vineyards and structures Sunday evening, roaring over hills and jumping across both the Silverado Trail and the Lodi River, despite fire crews efforts to contain it, according to CNN affiliate KPIX. “It’s a cremation,” Craig Battuello, whose family has raised grapes in St. Helena for more than a century, told the station.There have been more than 8,100 wildfires in the state this year and firefighters continue to fight 25 major blazes, CalFire said in a news release Sunday. “Since August 15, when California’s fire activity elevated, there have been 26 fatalities and over 7,000 structures destroyed,” the release said.’We left with nothing’It took about 14 hours for the Glass Fire to burn through more than 2,000 acres, according to an incident report from CalFire. The fire is threatening about 2,200 structures, the incident report said. More than 1,800 people have been forced to evacuate their homes and about 5,000 people are under some form of evacuation notification, Napa County spokeswoman Janet Upton told CNN Sunday night. Among those forced to evacuate the blaze was Jan Zakin, who lives in the evacuation zone on North Crystal Springs Road, CNN affiliate KGO reported.Zakin told the affiliate that she had to flee quickly as flames surrounded her home. “We woke up in the middle of the night and saw flames,” Zakin told KGO. “I was in my underwear. There was a car on fire blocking access out. My dog ran away; I still haven’t found her. We left with nothing, just literally with nothing. We’re so lucky to be alive.” Her dog was found hours later, badly burned, and is being treated by a vet, KGO reported.Another evacuee told KGO that the fires and evacuations are becoming an unwelcome part of life. “It gets tiring, it’s becoming a lifestyle,” Magaly Otero, who was forced to evacuate due to the LNU Complex fire weeks ago, told the affiliate. “It’s a beautiful place but it’s not right.”Residents were heeding evacuation warnings Sunday, Napa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Henry Wofford told CNN”We activated the high-low siren on our vehicles because we knew we needed to get people out of there quickly,” Wofford said.”When they hear that high-low siren coming from cars as we drove through their neighborhoods they know it’s time to evacuate,” he said. “The motto is, ‘if I can hear it, it’s time to go.'”St. Helena Hospital, located in the foothills, also had to evacuate for the second time this summer due to fire risk, Upton told CNN.Additional evacuations were also ordered about 40 miles west of Napa County in Santa Rosa late Sunday night because of two new fires in that area, the Santa Rosa Police Department said in an emergency message.Residents in the line of fire were told by police to “leave immediately and head south!”Zogg Fire chars 7,000 acres In Shasta County, the Zogg Fire had charred about 7,000 acres by Sunday night, prompting mandatory evacuations in several areas.Officials did not say how many homes or people were under the evacuation order due to the blaze. Firefighters have been battling the August Complex Fire in several neighboring counties for more than a month. That fire has burned more than 870,000 acres since being sparked by lightning in August. Multiple roads have been closed as fire operations continue throughout the region. Weather conditions remain dryThe National Weather Service has put much of California under a Red Flag Warning through Monday.Upton told CNN’s Paul Vercammen that fire officials were extremely concerned about heavy winds whipping up the Glass Fire overnight. “We don’t want it up there on those ridges when the winds pick up,” Upton said.The more than 3 million acres burned in wildfires this year in California is 26 times higher than the acres burned in 2019 for the same time period, according to CalFire.In Southern California, the NWS tweeted, “Due to hot temperatures, dry conditions, and gusty Santa Ana winds, a Red Flag Warning will be in effect on Monday for the LA/Ventura mountains and Santa Clarita Valley. There will be the potential for rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior, so be alert.”Concerns about high winds and continued dry conditions have led PG&E to shutoff power in some areas in an effort to prevent more wildfires, which can be sparked by electrical equipment. On Sunday, the utility said the planned shutoffs in northern California had decreased from 100,000 to 65,000 because of “favorable changes in forecast weather conditions.” Napa County, where the Glass Fire is burning is on the list of counties expected to experience shutoffs.”Once the high winds subside Monday morning, PG&E will inspect the de-energized lines to ensure they were not damaged during the wind event, and then restore power,” according to the release. “PG&E will safely restore power in stages as quickly as possible, with the goal of restoring power to nearly all customers who are safe to restore within 12 daylight hours after severe weather has passed.”
‘Forced to work’ as medics fighting Covid
Coronavirus: ‘Forced to work’ as medics fighting CovidAlmost 200 health workers have died of Covid-19 in Venezuela since the pandemic began in March. The country has had at least 68,000 cases and over 560 deaths. The BBC has been hearing from health workers across the country who say that they’ve had to work without masks or gloves for weeks and are afraid of catching the virus at their place of work.Publishedduration1 hour agoSectionBBC NewsSubsectionLatin America & Caribbean