Woman may have tried to sell Pelosi computer device to Russians, FBI says

By Jan Wolfe

(Reuters) – U.S. law enforcement is investigating whether a woman took a laptop computer or hard drive from U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol and tried to sell the device to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing.

An FBI agent disclosed the detail in an affidavit released on Sunday night that outlined a criminal case against Riley June Williams, a Pennsylvania woman accused of unlawfully breaching the Capitol building and directing people to Pelosi’s office.

The theft of electronic devices from congressional offices has been a persistent worry following the siege.

Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin said after the attack that some of the thefts might have potentially jeopardized what he described as “national security equities.”

According to the affidavit filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the FBI received a tip from someone who stated they were a former romantic partner of Williams.

The tipster said Williams “intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service,” the affidavit stated.

According to the tipster, “the transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons and Williams still has the computer device or destroyed it,” the affidavit stated. The investigation remains open.

Williams could not be reached for comment.

According to the FBI, it appears Williams has fled an address near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that she shared with her mother, deactivated her phone number, and took down social media accounts.

A Pelosi spokesman, Drew Hammill, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Two days after the Capitol siege, Hammill said a laptop used for presentations was stolen from a conference room in Pelosi’s office. It was unclear whether that device was the one Williams was accused of taking.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Brad Heath; Editing by Mary Milliken and Howard Goller)

Agreement elusive on U.S. coronavirus relief as bipartisan group releases plan details

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that lawmakers were still striving for agreement on COVID-19 aid, as a bipartisan group released details of their proposal and the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote on a one-week funding bill to provide more time for a deal.

With agreement elusive, the House was poised to vote on Wednesday afternoon on a measure to prevent federal programs from running out of money on Friday at midnight (0500 GMT on Saturday) by extending current funding levels until Dec. 18.

The move gives Congress seven more days to enact a broader, $1.4 trillion “omnibus” spending measure, to which congressional leaders hope to attach the long-awaited COVID-19 relief package – if they can reach a deal on both fronts.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers from the House and Senate released a summary of their $908 billion plan aimed at breaking the months-long stalemate between the parties over more coronavirus relief.

The proposal would extend for 16 weeks pandemic-related unemployment insurance programs due to expire at the end of the month. The measure would also provide an extra $300 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits for 16 weeks, from the end of December into April.

“We are literally on the five-yard line now,” said Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer, a member of the bipartisan group. “We have no choice but to get this done.”

The summary said there was agreement in principle on two thorny issues: liability protections for businesses desired by Republicans and $160 billion in aid to state and local governments sought by Democrats. Lawmakers said they were still working on details.

On Tuesday evening, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin weighed in for the first time since before the November election, saying he had presented a $916 billion relief proposal to Pelosi that includes money for state and local governments and liability protections for businesses.

But Pelosi and Schumer said they viewed the bipartisan negotiations as the best hope for COVID-19 relief.

Other Democrats also reacted cautiously to Mnuchin’s proposal, asking why it lacked supplementary benefits for the unemployed while including direct checks of $600 for all individuals.

“How can anybody say that I’m gonna send another check to people that already have a paycheck and job, and not send anything to the unemployed? It doesn’t make any sense to me at all,” said Senator Joe Manchin, a member of the bipartisan group, told reporters.

After the vote Wednesday on the stopgap funding measure in the Democratic-run House, the Republican-led Senate is expected to follow by the end of the week, then send the measure to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Congress approved $3 trillion in aid in the spring to mitigate the effects of shutdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but legislators have not been able to agree on any additional help since.

The pandemic has roared back to levels surpassing those seen early in the crisis, with more than 200,000 new infections reported each day and fresh shutdowns in some areas. More than 287,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far, and millions have been thrown out of work.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Peter Cooney, Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman)

Mnuchin says coronavirus relief deal unlikely before U.S. election

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Wednesday said he and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi were “far apart” on some details of another coronavirus relief package, and that an agreement would be hard to reach before the Nov. 3 election.

The White House as well as Democrats and Republicans in Congress are under mounting pressure to hammer out a bipartisan fiscal stimulus deal to help Americans weather a pandemic that has killed nearly 216,000 people and damaged the economy.

But the two sides are divided over several priorities. Meanwhile Senate Republicans are resisting as too expensive a $1.8 trillion offer that Mnuchin proposed last week. Pelosi says it’s insufficient and is calling for a $2.2 trillion aid package.

Mnuchin, who spoke with the California Democrat on Wednesday, acknowledged the two were still “far apart” on some issues and said politics were “part of the reality.”

“I’d say at this point, getting something done before the election and executing on that would be difficult just given where we are and the level of detail, but we’re going to try to continue to work through these issues,” Mnuchin said at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Washington.

Major U.S. stock indexes added to losses after Mnuchin’s comments.

Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff for Pelosi, described the talks on Wednesday as productive, but added that the Trump administration’s lack of a national strategic testing plan remained a “major area of disagreement.”

“In response to proposals sent over the weekend, the two spent time seeking clarification on language, which was productive,” Hammill said on Twitter. He added that Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke for about an hour.

They will speak again on Thursday and staff would continue to “exchange paper,” Hammill said.

Mnuchin said he did not agree with Pelosi’s “all-or-nothing” approach to a deal. He said there’s some $300 billion unspent from previous coronavirus aid packages that could be “repurposed” by Congress immediately.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, announced that the Senate would vote next week on a slimmed down $500 billion COVID-19 bill. Democrats blocked a similar proposal last month.

Congress passed about $3 trillion in coronavirus aid, including help for the unemployed, in March.

(Reporting by Tim Ahmann, Susan Cornwell, David Morgan and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

White House, Democrats remain far from deal on fresh round of COVID-19 aid

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cautioned on Thursday that Democrats and the Trump administration remain far from agreement on COVID-19 relief in several key areas, saying the two sides were locked in debate over both dollars and values.

Congressional Democrats led by Pelosi have proposed a $2.2 trillion package to respond to a pandemic that has killed more than 207,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work. Republican President Donald Trump’s negotiating team has suggested a $1.6 trillion response, and the White House on Thursday dismissed Democrats’ offer as not serious.

As lawmakers prepared to leave Washington for the remaining weeks of the 2020 presidential and congressional campaign, Pelosi was to speak again to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin by phone at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT), a source familiar with the situation said. They were expected to try to bridge divisions over aid to state and local governments, Democratic demands for a child tax credit and stronger worker safety, healthcare and small businesses.

“We not only have a dollars debate, we have a values debate. Still, I’m optimistic,” Pelosi said at her weekly news conference.

That public confidence belied Pelosi’s message to fellow Democrats in a Thursday call. She told colleagues “I don’t see a deal happening right now,” a Democratic leadership aide said, confirming an earlier Politico report.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany dismissed the Democratic proposal as “not a serious offer.”

Pelosi said of the White House proposal on Bloomberg TV: “This isn’t half a loaf. What they’re offering is the heel of the loaf.”

A bipartisan deal has been long delayed by disagreements over Democratic demands for aid to state and local governments and Republican insistence for a provision protecting businesses and schools from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

Republican Senator Mike Braun told CNBC on Thursday that a deal worth over $1.6 trillion could be rejected by one-third to one-half of Senate Republicans. That would still allow a bill to pass with support from Democrats.

Pelosi and Mnuchin met for 90 minutes in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and each emerged pledging to continue discussions.

Mnuchin raised hopes of an agreement by telling reporters that the discussions had made “a lot of progress in a lot of areas.”

Lawmakers and securities analysts viewed talks as a last-gasp effort to secure relief ahead of the Nov. 3 election for tens of millions of Americans and business including U.S. airlines, which have begun furloughing over 32,000 workers.

The Trump administration has proposed a $20 billion extension in aid for the battered airline industry, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters late on Wednesday. The extension would run for six months.

Mnuchin said separately that a deal would also include direct payments to American individuals and families.

Pressure for a deal has been mounting on the White House and Congress, from the devastating effects of a coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 7.2 million people in the United States.

The House of Representatives was expected to vote on its $2.2 trillion Democratic package, a day after initial plans for action were delayed to give more time for a deal to come together.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican who has not participated directly in the negotiations, said on Wednesday that the House bill’s spending total was too high.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chicacu, Daphne Psaledakis and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Scott Malone, Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Pelosi, Mnuchin approach 11th hour on U.S. COVID-19 aid talks

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were expected to try again on Thursday to reach a deal on COVID-19 relief, while the House of Representatives stood ready for a second day to move a Democratic bill if talks fail.

The two sides appeared to be about $600 billion apart on spending, as lawmakers prepared to depart Washington for the final weeks of the 2020 presidential and congressional election campaign. Mnuchin has offered a proposal approaching $1.6 trillion. House Democrats were poised to vote on legislation containing $2.2 trillion in aid.

A bipartisan deal has been long delayed by disagreements over Democratic demands for aid to state and local governments and Republican assistance for a provision protecting businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

Pelosi and Mnuchin met for 90 minutes in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and each emerged pledging to continue discussions.

Mnuchin raised hopes of an agreement by telling reporters that the discussions had made “a lot of progress in a lot of areas.”

Pelosi’s office was not immediately available for comment. But lawmakers and securities analysts viewed the day’s expected talks as a last-gasp effort to secure relief ahead of the Nov. 3 election for tens of millions of Americans and business including U.S. airlines, which were due to begin furloughing over 32,000 workers.

The Trump administration has proposed a $20 billion extension in aid for the battered airline industry, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters late on Wednesday. The extension would run for six months.

Mnuchin said separately that a deal would also include direct payments to American individuals and families.

Pressure for a deal has been mounting on the White House and Congress, from the devastating effects of a coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 7.2 million people and killed over 207,000 in the United States.

The House was expected to vote on its $2.2 trillion Democratic package, a day after initial plans for action were delayed to give more time for a deal to come together.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has not participated directly in the negotiations, said on Wednesday that the House bill’s spending total was too high.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Chizu Nomiyama)

Mnuchin reports movement on COVID-19 relief as House heads toward vote

By David Lawder and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday said talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made progress on COVID-19 relief legislation, though no deal was reached and the House of Representatives prepared to vote on a $2.2 trillion Democratic coronavirus relief bill.

Less than five weeks before the Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections, Mnuchin and Pelosi both said negotiations would continue toward a bipartisan agreement to deliver aid to millions of Americans and businesses reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has infected more than 7.2 million people and killed over 206,000 in the United States.

“We made a lot of progress over the last few days. We still don’t have an agreement, but we have more work to do. And we’re going to see where we end up,” Mnuchin told reporters after meeting with Pelosi for about 90 minutes in the U.S. Capitol.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in a lot of areas,” he said.

For her part, Pelosi avoided use of the term “progress.”

“Secretary Mnuchin and I had an extensive conversation and we found areas where we are seeking further clarification. Our conversation will continue,” the top Democrat in Congress said in a statement.

She said the House would vote late on Wednesday on a $2.2 trillion updated Heroes Act “to formalize our proffer to Republicans in the negotiations to address the health and economic catastrophe in our country.” A vote was expected between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. EDT (0000-0100 GMT on Thursday).

Before the meeting in Pelosi’s office broke up, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, told reporters that Republicans and Democrats were still “very, very far apart” on how much to spend and called Pelosi’s $2.2 trillion bill “outlandish.”

House Democratic Conference Chairman Hakeem Jeffries told reporters that a vote on the legislation would show the Democratic caucus’ “vision on what’s right legislatively at this moment.”

Formal talks between Pelosi, Mnuchin, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows broke down on Aug. 7. Pelosi has since taken the lead for Democrats.

Before talks between Pelosi and Mnuchin resumed, the White House had said Trump could agree to a $1.3 trillion bill.

(Reporting by David Lawder, David Morgan, Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. House Speaker Pelosi to meet with top U.S. airline CEOs

By David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will speak on Friday afternoon with the chief executives of top U.S. airlines, who are urging Congress to approve another $25 billion in assistance to keep tens of thousands of U.S. workers on the payroll past Sept. 30, sources said.

Pelosi and House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio are expected to hold a 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT) call with the chief executives of United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and others, a Democratic aide told Reuters.

In an interview with NBC’s “Today Show” on Friday, American Chief Executive Doug Parker urged lawmakers to “come together and get it done. … We just need people to do what’s right. I know we’re better than this, and our people deserve better.”

At the end of this month, the $25 billion in federal payroll assistance airlines received when the coronavirus first began spreading around the world is set to expire.

Airlines and unions are now pleading for a six-month extension as part of a bipartisan proposal for another $1.5 trillion in coronavirus relief, while simultaneously negotiating with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts that are expected without another round of aid.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with major airline chief executives on Thursday. He said President Donald Trump is also open to a stand-alone measure to aid airlines, though congressional aides say that is unlikely to win support given aid requests from so many other struggling industries.

American has said it plans to end service to 15 small communities without additional government assistance and furlough about 19,000 workers.

Air travel has plummeted over the last six months as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 196,000 American lives and prompted many to avoid airports and planes, seriously depressing airline revenues.

Congress also set aside another $25 billion in government loans for airlines, but many have opted not to tap that funding source.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Bipartisan U.S. lawmaker group to unveil $1.5 trillion COVID-19 aid bill

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group of 50 Democratic and Republican members of Congress is due to unveil $1.5 trillion bipartisan coronavirus relief legislation on Tuesday, in an election year effort to break a month-long impasse in COVID-19 talks between the White House and top Democrats.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, which includes members of both parties in the House of Representatives, was set to outline the legislative package at an 11 a.m. (1500 GMT) press conference at the U.S. Capitol.

The group, which says it has been working to find common ground on coronavirus relief for the past six weeks, agreed on the measure just before House lawmakers returned to Washington from a summer recess on Monday.

“This is just a framework to hopefully get the negotiators back to the table,” U.S. Representative Josh Gottheimer, the group’s Democratic co-chairman, told CNBC.

The proposal includes another round of direct checks to Americans, $500 billion for state and local governments and jobless benefits, with spending lasting beyond next January’s presidential inauguration, a source familiar with the plan said.

With less than two months to go before the Nov. 3 election, there is growing anxiety among lawmakers about the inability of Congress and President Donald Trump’s White House to agree on a package to deliver relief to millions of Americans and an economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.

Talks between the White House, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer broke down in early August and the two sides remain nearly $900 billion apart. But Pelosi and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in recent days have both signaled a willingness to keep talking.

White House adviser Jared Kushner on Tuesday separately told CNBC he hoped a deal could be reached but that it might not happen until after the election.

Trump on Tuesday also cited the need for more funding but sought to cast blame on the House Democratic leader, telling Fox News in an interview: “We could use additional stimulus, but Nancy Pelosi won’t approve it because she thinks it’s bad for me in the election.”

Democrats, who control the House, passed their $3.4 trillion package in mid-May. They later said they would accept $2.2 trillion in spending, while the White House signaled a willingness to accept $1.3 trillion.

Republican congressional leaders have not participated in the discussions. The Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass a $300 billion coronavirus bill that Senate Democrats called inadequate. A slimmed-down version of an earlier $1 trillion Republican measure also failed.

(Reporting by David Morgan; additional reporting by by Susan Heavey; Editing Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Pelosi wants COVID-19 deal ‘now’

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Democrats in Congress are willing to cut their coronavirus relief bill in half to get an agreement on new legislation.

“We have to try to come to that agreement now,” Pelosi said in an online interview with Politico. “We’re willing to cut our bill in half to meet the needs right now.”

A senior House Democratic aide said Pelosi was reiterating a standing call by Democrats for the White House and Republicans to meet them “half way” on coronavirus relief.

The Democratic-led House passed legislation with more than $3 trillion in relief in May. Democrats offered this month to reduce that sum by $1 trillion, but the White House rejected it.

Mass testing in UK

Britain plans to bring in regular, population-wide testing for the novel coronavirus so it can suppress its spread and limit restrictions that have crippled one of the worst-hit countries in the world.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government was carrying out trials of a range of new, faster tests that can give instant results and hoped to roll them out towards the end of the year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has been heavily criticized for its handling of the pandemic, with critics saying it was too slow to go into lockdown and too slow to roll out testing to know how far the virus had spread.

Church outbreaks spread in South Korea

South Korea reported its highest daily rise in novel coronavirus cases since early March as outbreaks from churches around the capital spread, prompting a warning of a nationwide wave of infections.

The 297 new infections mark the sixth straight day of triple-digit increases in a country that has managed to blunt several previous outbreaks.

At least 166 of the new infections are linked to the Sarang Jeil Church, taking the number of cases from it to 623.

Some members of the church, which is run by a radical conservative preacher, are reluctant to come forward and get tested, or to self-isolate, officials have said.

Part of NZ lockdown illegal

A New Zealand court found the first nine days of a hard lockdown put in place by the government this year requiring people to isolate at home was justified, but unlawful, as an order imposing stay-at-home restrictions was not passed until April 3.

“In the end, the measures taken by the government worked to eliminate COVID-19, save lives and minimize damage to our economy,” Attorney General David Parker said after the ruling.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday she would increase the number of defense personnel at quarantine facilities and borders to beat any spread of the virus, as five new cases in the community were reported.

A warning from the Pope

Rich countries should not hoard a coronavirus vaccine and should only give pandemic-related bailouts to companies committed to protecting the environment, helping the most needy and the “common good”, Pope Francis said on Wednesday.

“It would be sad if the rich are given priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. It would be sad if the vaccine becomes property of this or that nation, if it is not universal and for everyone,” Francis said at his weekly general audience.

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that any nation that hoards possible vaccines while excluding others would deepen the pandemic.

“The pandemic is a crisis and one never exits from a crisis returning to the way it was before,” Francis said.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes and Karishma Singh; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Mnuchin declines to say if U.S. COVID-19 aid deal can be reached

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Wednesday that the White House and top Democrats in Congress may not be able to reach a deal on coronavirus aid, in the fifth day without talks on the stalemate blocking relief to tens of millions of Americans.

Mnuchin, who spent nearly two weeks trying to broker a deal in talks with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, also described the potential outcome of negotiations in terms of President Donald Trump’s reelection prospects.

“I can’t speculate. If the Democrats are willing to be reasonable, there’s a compromise. If the Democrats are focused on politics and don’t want to do anything that’s going to succeed for the president, there won’t be a deal,” he told Fox Business Network in an interview.

Schumer accused Republicans of refusing to meet in the middle, after Democrats offered to agree on midpoint between Senate Republicans $1 trillion offer and the $3 trillion measure passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in May. Mnuchin on Wednesday again dismissed the Democrats’ offer as “ridiculous.”

The impasse, which began last Friday when talks broke down without an agreement, has put U.S. investors on edge with more than 5.16 million COVID-19 cases in the United States.

The global pandemic has taken a particularly heavy toll on the United States, where it has killed more than 164,000 people, more than any other country.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Morgan; Editing by Toby Chopra and Chizu Nomiyama)