Shannon Vavra

Report: Sessions talked Trump campaign matters with Russian ambassador

Susan Walsh / AP

Jeff Sessions discussed campaign-related matters with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, including policy issues important to the Russian government and the potential relationship between the Russian government and a Trump administration, according to current and former U.S. officials, The Washington Post reports.

The evidence: This report is based on U.S. intelligence intercepts of Kislyak's accounts of two conversations with Sessions, who was a foreign policy advisor to Trump at the time of the alleged conversations.

One big caveat: Russia is known to create false intelligence reports to sow confusion in the U.S., and Kislyak may have exaggerated his meetings.

One U.S. official said that when Sessions testified that he had no recollection of an April encounter with Kislyak, he was giving "misleading" statements "contradicted by other evidence."

  • Sessions in March when he recused himself from the Russia probe: "I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign."
Why it matters: Recent reports have shown that Trump is irritated with Sessions for recusing himself from the probe in the first place.

Cows can produce antibodies that neutralize HIV

Carrie Antlfinger / AP

Cows can produce a type of antibodies that have been shown in laboratories to stop 96% of HIV strains from infecting human cells, according to a new study in Nature.

Why it matters: Scientists have been trying to elicit these so-called "broadly neutralizing antibodies" (bNAbs) by immunization for decades in hopes of creating a vaccine that can provide protection from HIV. The bNAbs made by the cows, which don't contract HIV, can be studied to understand how they might potentially be elicited in humans via a vaccine. "The study … doesn't tell us how to make a vaccine for HIV in people, but it does tell us how the virus evades the human immune response," John Mascola, director of vaccine research at NIAID, told STAT News.

Still TBD: We've "shown in a test tube that the antibodies can neutralize the virus," but not in a real human model, Anthony Fauci, the director of NIAID at the NIH, told Axios. He added it would be "pretty easy" for scientists to "modify [the bNAbs] so that they'd be compatible to administer them to humans" for short-term prevention or treatment. It is unclear whether effective antibodies can be produced at a scale and rate that works for widespread distribution.

Can't humans develop these antibodies on their own? It's true that 10-20% of humans living with HIV naturally develop bNAbs — but not until years after getting infected, rendering most of them irrelevant since the virus would likely have already evolved, Fauci said.

  • The bovine advantage: Cows' immune systems seem to have powerful bNAbs to protect their multiple stomach chambers. Plus, the researchers noted that cows developed these antibodies in a short period of time (4 weeks v. 3-5 years in humans).

How they did it: The researchers infected four cows with a protein that mimics the outside of the HIV virus and the cows' immune systems rapidly created antibodies in response. They were then able to isolate the antibodies and, in the laboratory, they blocked multiple strains of HIV from infecting cells.


Grassley to subpoena Trump Jr., Manafort if they don't agree to testify

Darron Cummings and Matt Rourke / AP

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is ready to subpoena Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort if they do not agree to testify on Wednesday, RealClearPolitics reports. So far, neither has responded to the request and the deadline is this Friday.

Why this matters: Both of these scheduled testimonies would take place in a public setting (whereas Jared Kushner's on Monday will be private). Plus, the WSJ just raised the stakes for Manafort's potential testimony, with a report tonight that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating him for possible money laundering.

The only other time a sitting president's son has appeared before Congress was Neil Bush, George H. W. Bush's son, who appeared before the House Banking Committee in 1990, per RCP.


The fight for a Taiwanese iPhone manufacturer and 10,000 jobs

Kin Cheung / AP

Wisconsin is trying to get the Taiwanese iPhone manufacturer Foxconn to employ up to 10,000 people in the state at a $7 billion display panel manufacturing plant, per the AP.

The problem: Several states are vying for the manufacturer — Michigan just passed new economic incentives to try and curry favor with Foxconn, for example.

The state could use $200 million proposed for a personal income tax cut and divert it to help pay for incentives, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said.

Foxconn is expected to announce its decision this August.

Bipartisan immigration bill pushes back on Trump's stance

Alex Brandon / AP

Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Dick Durbin are introducing the DREAM Act — a new bipartisan push to reform immigration legislation about rights and protections for undocumented people whose parents immigrated to the U.S. illegally.

The bill is butting up against Trump's intention to allow DREAMers to be deported, and just yesterday Marc Short said the administration would likely oppose the bill. Trump has until Sept. 5 to decide whether to rescind the program or face court challenges.

Big picture: Graham told reporters Thursday that when history is written about how the U.S. treated so-called DREAMers, he's "going to be with these kids" and that they're "trying to do a good thing," adding that both Trump and the Republican Party are going to have to make a decision about where they fall.

The bill's goal: To make a path for permanent residency for DREAMers. It's a little more expansive than previous versions of similar legislation, since in addition to providing a path to lawful residency status by serving in the military or going to college, it also would allow them to become residents by being employed for at least three years. Read a draft of the bill via McClatchy D.C.

There are roughly 800,000 DREAMers in the U.S. and Republican officials from 10 states urging Trump to nix the DACA program that protects them.


DHS tested laptop bomb before announcing ban

Eduardo Verdugo / AP

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Dave Lapan confirmed to Axios that DHS tested a laptop bomb in an "aircraft frame while on the ground but pressurized" prior to the March announcement of the laptop ban for airlines and airports in the Middle East and North Africa. Lapan said the test happened in the Washington, D.C., region and that DHS had been in conversations with aviation stakeholders about the threat about a month before the test.

This comes after DHS Secretary John Kelly said at a Wednesday event with The Aspen Institute the test "destroyed the plane." Lapan said they also tested equipment and protocols.

Why it matters: The testing suggests, just as DHS said at the time of the laptop ban announcement, DHS had legitimate security reasons to implement enhanced security measures to prevent this kind of bomb from exploding in or over our country.

Note: The laptop ban is over now that every single airport and airline that was on the ban has had it lifted by implementing new security protocols compliant with DHS standards. That doesn't mean the threat is gone — it just means security measures are better equipped to deal with the threat. "180 airlines in 105 countries have successfully implemented the initial enhanced security measures," Lapan said.


The airplane laptop ban is over

Adam Schreck / AP

The laptop ban on airlines and airports in the Middle East and North Africa is over, as of late Wednesday night. Department of Homeland Security spokesman Dave Lapan tweeted that the last airport in Riyadh had adopted security protocols compliant with new DHS security protocols, which were announced in June.

The ban was originally put in place due to security concerns that terrorist organizations could lace devices larger than cell phones with bombs. The enhanced security measures that better equip airlines and airports to deal with the threat are now "successfully implemented" for "180 airlines and 105 countries," Lapan told Axios.


DHS Sec. Kelly: Test laptop bomb "destroyed the plane"

Kamran Jebreili / AP

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Wednesday evening at The Aspen Institute that DHS tested a laptop bomb on a real airplane and noted "to say the least, it destroyed the plane," per Josh Rogin, a Washington Post columnist.

Why it matters: The DHS announced a laptop ban in March for several airlines and airports in the Middle East over security concerns and last month put new screening protocols out for hundreds of airports over concerns terrorists plan to target commercial airlines.


CBO: 32 million more uninsured by 2026 with repeal-then-replace

Andrew Harnik / AP

The Congressional Budget Office has scored the recent repeal-then-replace bill, predicting 17 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2018 and 32 million more uninsured by 2026, compared to current law. The Senate is expected to vote on the plan next week.

Context: This score was similar on the repeal bill that passed both the House and the Senate in 2015, but which Barack Obama vetoed. There's no reason for lawmakers to be surprised by the dramatic coverage losses. Other projections from the report:

  • Average premiums would increase by about 25%, and about double by 2026.
  • It would decrease deficits by $473 billion over 10 years.
  • Three in four Americans wouldn't be able to buy a health care plan in 10 years.

Report: Trump to stop arming anti-Assad rebels in Syria

Militant photo via AP

Trump is ending the covert CIA operation to arm and train anti-Assad rebels in Syria, The Washington Post reports. The program will end over a period of a few months, officials said.

Why it matters: Russia has long wanted this program to end, since it wasn't aligned with its interests — it was part of the Obama administration's program to try and push Assad out of power. Officials said this move shows Trump's looking for ways to work with Russia, and acting on them. One U.S. official told WashPost: "This is a momentous decision…Putin won in Syria."

Officials added Trump made the decision about a month ago just before his July 7 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but that it was not part of the ceasefire agreements. Note: this is not going to affect the U.S.-backed effort to fight ISIS in the region.

Some analysts said this would likely empower radical groups inside Syria and damage America's credibility in the region. Ilan Goldberg, the director of the Middle East Program at the CNAS said "it's probably a nod to reality" that Assad is entrenched in Syria.

One former White House official said that "To give [the program] away without getting anything in return would be foolish."

Spokesmen for the CIA and the National Security Council declined to comment.