CORONAVIRUS UPDATE… The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. has topped 1.2 million and more than 71,000 patients have died, according to figures released last night by Johns Hopkins University. Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced yesterday that barbershops and nail and hair salons can reopen on Friday, May 8, and gyms could reopen on May 18 with restrictions. The announcement came after Texas recorded more than 2,000 coronavirus cases over May 2 and May 3 in the highest two-day increase since the coronavirus crisis began.
WHITE HOUSE CLOSING CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE… Vice President Mike Pence announced yesterday that the White House’s coronavirus task force will wrap up its work around Memorial Day. Members of the task force have begun discussing a transition plan with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Pence said. White House officials say task force doctors will “continue to play an important advisory role” after more states reopen.
WHISTLEBLOWER SLAMS WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE… Dr. Rick Bright, who helped lead the government’s coronavirus vaccine efforts, slammed the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic in an extensive whistleblower complaint he filed yesterday. Dr. Bright claims his removal last week as director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority was the result of politics and White House cronyism. He claims that his early warnings about the coronavirus were ignored and that superiors responded with skepticism and surprise when he raised urgent concerns about shortages of critical supplies. The 89-page complaint alleges that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar pressured Bright to allow the distribution of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which was in clinical trials before the Food and Drug Administration warned against its use due to the risk of heart problems.
RATCLIFFE QUESTIONED AT CONFIRMATION HEARING… Texas Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe faced tough questions from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday on the first day of his confirmation hearing to become director of national intelligence. Senators from both parties asked Ratcliffe how he’d respond to pressure by Trump, who has been critical of U.S. intelligence agencies. The nominee vowed that he would not let politics cloud his judgment.
2 AMERICANS CAPTURED IN MADURO-ASSASSINATION PLOT… Two American mercenaries are among 13 men captured in Venezuela and accused of conspiring to assassinate Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The captured Americans were identified as employees of Florida-based security company Silvercorp USA. The company’s owner has confirmed that the two captives were taking part in an operation that sought an insurrection against Maduro as part of a deal with U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
TOM CRUISE IN TALKS WITH NASA OVER SPACE-SHOT FILM… NASA confirmed yesterday that it is working with Tom Cruise to film the first movie shot in space. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine says a film shot aboard the space station could inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists. SpaceX is reported to be involved in the project.
APPEALS COURT REDUCES QUINCY JONES JUDGMENT… A California appeals court yesterday overturned most of a 2017 jury verdict that awarded Quincy Jones $9.4 million in royalties and fees from the Michael Jackson estate over the use of Jones-produced Jackson hits in the concert film “This Is It” and two Cirque du Soleil shows. The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that the jury misinterpreted a contract and removed some $6.9 million that jurors had said Jones was owed for his production of “Billie Jean,” “Thriller,” and other Jackson hits. The court kept intact $2.5 million of the award. Jones had sought $30 million from the estate when he first filed the lawsuit in 2013.
FAVRE DRAGGED INTO MISSISSIPPI AUDIT… NFL Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre’s name has turned up in an audit of the state of Mississippi’s Department of Human Services. The audit resulted in the indictment of Human Services Director John Davis and others charged with embezzling about $4 million. Records showed Favre received two payments from the state totaling $1.1 million. In exchange for the money, the former quarterback was supposed to speak and appear at multiple events but never did. Favre isn’t facing any criminal charges.