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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms says she tested positive for COVID-19

Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in a tweet on Monday that she tested positive for coronavirus, despite being asymptomatic.

“COVID-19 has literally hit home. I have had NO symptoms and have tested positive,” she tweeted.

Fulton County, where Atlanta is located, has seen nearly 9,000 coronavirus cases, according to the Georgia Department of Health.

Bottoms, a rising star in the Democratic Party, has recently been catapulted into the national spotlight as the nation’s racial reckoning ignited by the killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody has also hit Atlanta. She is reportedly among those being considered as a running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

And the rift between Atlanta residents who have protested for weeks against police brutality and law enforcement has widened following the shooting of Rayshard Brooks, 27, a Black man who died after he was shot twice in the back by an Atlanta police officer in a Wendy’s parking lot in June. The shooting resulted in the chief of the Atlanta Police Department stepping down and two officers involved in the shooting criminally charged.

Bottoms has issued a series of executive orders to reform the police department.

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U.S. ‘looking at’ banning TikTok and Chinese social media apps, Pompeo says

The U.S. is “looking at” banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Monday.

His comments come amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China and as scrutiny on TikTok and Chinese technology firms continues to grow.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pauses while speaking at a news conference at the State Department on April 29, 2020.Andrew Harnik / AFP – Getty Images file

When asked in a Fox News interview if the U.S. should be looking at banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps, Pompeo said: “We are taking this very seriously. We are certainly looking at it.”

“We have worked on this very issue for a long time,” he said.

“Whether it was the problems of having Huawei technology in your infrastructure we’ve gone all over the world and we’re making real progress getting that out. We declared ZTE a danger to American national security,” Pompeo added, citing the two Chinese telecommunications networking companies.

“With respect to Chinese apps on peoples’ cellphones, the United States will get this one right too.”

TikTok was not immediately available for comment late Monday.

Washington has been on a campaign against Chinese technology firms.

Huawei in particular has been in the crosshairs. The U.S. maintains that Huawei equipment could be used for espionage by Beijing, and that user data could be compromised. Huawei has repeatedly denied those allegations.

But TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has also been on the radar since last year. Washington has been concerned that the platform censors content and that its data could be accessed by Beijing.

TikTok has tried to distance itself from its Chinese parent company. In fact, TikTok was meant to be for the international market while ByteDance runs a separate app in China called Douyin.

The company hired former Disney executive, Kevin Mayer, to be TikTok’s CEO earlier this year. His priority was seen as rebuilding trust with regulators.

But the Trump administration still appears skeptical of TikTok. When asked by Fox News if Americans should download the social media app, Pompeo said: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes agrees to historic $500 million deal

Super Bowl-winning quarterback Patrick Mahomes has agreed to a historic $500 million contract extension with the Kansas City Chiefs, his agency announced Monday.

Steinberg Sports announced the 10-year, half-billion-dollar deal on Twitter. Mahomes’ agreement is worth $503 million, with $477 million in guarantee mechanisms and a no-trade clause.

Mahomes is now “the first half billion dollar player in sports history,” according to the agency.

The Chiefs confirmed the blockbuster deal in a statement Monday, with CEO Clark Hunt calling Mahomes “one of the most prolific athletes in all of sports.”

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning the Super Bowl in Miami on Feb. 2.Mike Blake / Reuters file

“With his dynamic play and infectious personality, he is one of the most recognized and beloved figures to put on the Chiefs uniform,” Hunt said. “He’s an extraordinary leader and a credit to the Kansas City community, and I’m delighted that he will be a member of the Chiefs for many years to come.”

The deal to keep Mahomes has been a priority for a long time, Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach said in the statement.

“I’ve said from the beginning that Patrick is one of the most impressive players I’ve ever scouted, but I don’t think anyone could have envisioned everything he’s brought to our football team and community,” Veach said. “His abilities are so rare, and to couple that with an incredible personality is outstanding.”

Mahomes was named the Most Valuable Player following the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win in February, the first championship for the team in 50 years. Mahomes, 24, marshaled his team to overcome a deficit in the second half for a come-from-behind victory.

The Chiefs brought Mahomes on as the 10th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, and he went on to win league Most Valuable Player honors in 2018, his first full year as a starter. The Texas native went into the draft after his junior year at Texas Tech University, forgoing his last year of college eligibility.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid called Mahomes one of the most incredible and special athletes he’s coached during his time in the NFL.

“The best part is he’s still early in his career. He’s a natural leader and always grinding, whether that’s on the field, in the weight room or watching film, he wants to be the best,” Reid said in the team statement Monday. “He’s a competitor and his teammates feed off his energy.”

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Remains found in Texas confirmed to be those of slain soldier Vanessa Guillen

Remains found in Texas last week have been confirmed to be those of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who is thought to have been killed by a soldier who later died by suicide, the military said Monday.

“I lack the words to make sense of this tragic loss,” Fort Hood’s deputy commanding general, Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, said at a news conference.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command determined that the remains found Tuesday near the Leon River in Bell County were those of Guillen, 20, using DNA samples. Efflandt said Guillen’s family was notified Sunday.

Vanessa Guillen.U.S. Army

Guillen was last seen April 22. A suspect in her killing, Spc. Aaron Robinson, fled the base and died by suicide early Wednesday as law enforcement agencies tried to make contact with him, officials have said.

A woman described as Robinson’s girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar, 22, of Killeen, has been charged and is accused of helping Robinson dispose of Guillen’s body.

Aguilar appeared in court by video Monday, and when asked whether she understood the charges against her, she replied, “Yeah, sure,” NBC affiliate KCEN of Waco reported.

She faces a count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Manske set a preliminary hearing for July 14, when bail could be considered.

Aguilar’s public defender chose not to comment, according to KCEN.

According to a criminal complaint, Aguilar told investigators that Robinson told her that he killed a female soldier by hitting her on the head with a hammer at Fort Hood on April 22.

Robinson is alleged to have enlisted Aguilar⁠ later to help him get rid of the body at a remote site in Bell County, near Fort Hood, officials said.

Guillen was promoted from private first class to specialist last week because of her time in service.

An attorney for Guillen’s family has said Guillen reported sexual harassment to her family and other soldiers at the base.

Guillen’s sister, Mayra, has told NBC News’ “Dateline” that Guillen never identified the person who is alleged to have harassed her and that she never reported the incidents to the Army’s sexual harassment and prevention program.

Robinson was a suspect in Guillen’s disappearance, but he “was not involved” in the investigation looking into the sexual harassment allegations, Special Agent Damon Phelps of Criminal Investigation Command has said.

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Efflandt said the military would complete its investigation into sexual harassment and take action based on the findings.

“Every person who raises their right hand to serve their family and their country in uniform deserves to be safe and treated with dignity and respect,” Efflandt said. He said anyone who is the victim of harassment or assault should come forward.

Efflandt also said he would continue to seek outside assistance and review “to ensure any shortcomings indicated during this troubling time are thoroughly identified and addressed.”

An attorney for Guillen’s family, Natalie Khawam, has said Guillen lost her life “because the system is broken.” They want Congress to take action.

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Halle Berry pulls out of playing transgender man after backlash

Halle Berry has pulled out of a role in an upcoming film in which she’d play a transgender character after facing backlash online.

In an Instagram live interview on Friday, the actor said she had been preparing for the role but had not been officially cast.

Halle Berry arrives at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood in 2011.John Shearer / Getty Images file

“[It’s] a character where the woman is a trans character, so she’s a woman that transitioned into a man. She’s a character in a project I love that I might be doing,” Berry had said. She added that she wanted to take a “deep dive” into “that world,” likely referring to the trans community.

However, Berry faced backlash online after misgendering the character multiple times during the interview.

“Who this woman was is so interesting to me, and that will probably be my next project,” she said.

On Monday night, she issued an apology and pulled out of the role, saying “the transgender community should undeniably have the opportunity to tell their own stories.”

“Over the weekend I had the opportunity to discuss my consideration of an upcoming role as a transgender man, and I’d like to apologize for those remarks. As a cisgender woman, I now understand that I should not have considered this role, and that the transgender community should undeniably have the opportunity to tell their own stories,” she wrote in a note shared on Twitter. “I am grateful for the guidance and critical conversation over the past few days and will continue to listen, educate and learn from this mistake. I vow to be an ally in using my voice to promote better representation on-screen, both in front of and behind the camera.”

Berry’s comments caught the attention of the Twitter account for the Netflix documentary “Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen,” which was released last month and examines Hollywood’s portrayal of transgender people and their stories.

The doc’s account asked that Berry watch the film to “understand how cis actors like yourself acting in trans roles has major cultural consequences offscreen.”

After Berry’s apology, the account thanked her for “listening and learning.”

In recent years, cisgender actors have faced controversy over playing transgender characters. In 2018, Scarlett Johansson was cast as a transgender character in the film “Rub and Tug,” sparking backlash from trans rights groups and activists. A week later, she exited the role.

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What unites Planned Parenthood, Kushner and Kanye? PPP loans

WASHINGTON — The federal government backed loans totaling as much as $150 million for Planned Parenthood affiliates in recent weeks, according to new federal Paycheck Protection Program data released Monday by the Small Business Administration.

Those loans infuriated anti-abortion conservatives, who cheered last year when President Donald Trump moved successfully to block the organization from accessing the federal government’s main family-planning fund.

“Planned Parenthood shouldn’t have received a dime from the government’s PPP program,” Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., a close Trump ally, said in a tweet. “It’s sick!”

The Planned Parenthood money was just one of many revelations that caught the attention of lawmakers and activists across the political spectrum as they pored over the names of more than 600,000 loan recipients Monday. Ultimately, Congress and Trump placed few restrictions on eligibility for the loan program, which was designed to help struggling small businesses and nonprofits meet payroll during the coronavirus crisis.

But in addition to restaurants, mom-and-pop shops and churches, the list of beneficiaries includes a private school named for Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s grandfather, companies with ties to lawmakers and their families, Washington lobbying shops, Wall Street investment firms and private-jet managers.

Even the educational affiliate of Americans for Tax Reform — a group led by Grover Norquist, who once said he wanted to shrink government to the size it could be drowned in a bathtub — took a loan totaling between $150,000 and $350,000.

The low-interest loans convert to taxpayer-funded grants — a cash giveaway — as long as the recipients keep their workers employed. So far, the SBA has tracked $521 billion in loans that senior administration officials say have helped approximately 50 million Americans stay in their jobs. The program still has almost $132 billion in its coffers.

The agency only released data on recipients that got at least $150,000, which left 86.5 percent of the borrowers unnamed, according to senior administration officials. And the loan amounts were given as ranges: $150,000 to $350,000; $350,000 to $1 million; $1 million to $2 million; $2 million to $5 million; and $5 million to $10 million.

At least 43 Planned Parenthood affiliates received loans totaling between $65 million and $150 million, according to the SBA records. The reproductive health care provider withdrew from the federal government’s main family-planning fund last year after Trump issued a regulation that would otherwise have limited its ability to advise patients on abortion.

Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy for the Conservative Partnership Institute and a former Senate GOP aide, said Republican lawmakers had expected Planned Parenthood to be barred from getting PPP loans under affiliation rules.

“An investigation into how Planned Parenthood was awarded these funds over the intent of the members who voted for it appears warranted,” she said in a text message to NBC News.

But Planned Parenthood was hardly alone in jumping out on the list of recipients, and social media sites were abuzz with calls for various entities to give back the money.

The Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, N.J., supported by the Kushner family for many years, was approved for a loan of between $1 million and $2 million just eight days after the program was created. The Yeezy limited-liability company, owned by billionaire musician and Trump acquaintance Kanye West, also borrowed between $2 million and $5 million.

Clay Lacy Aviation, which offered its private-jet-owning clients an account credit after taking a PPP loan, got between $5 million and $10 million. The company was one of at least four aviation-management firms that received both PPP loans and money from the Treasury Department’s separate program for subsidizing airlines.

Washington’s influence industry — “the swamp,” in modern political lexicon — wasn’t excluded from a program that some of its members worked hard to shape.

Wiley Rein and APCO Worldwide each took loans between $5 million and $10 million, while Miller and Chevalier, which lobbies for McDonald’s, Bechtel and CVS Health — among other clients — borrowed in the $2 million to $5 million range. So did the National Trust for Historic Preservation, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s consulting firm, Albright Stonebridge, and the public affairs company DCI Group. The list of recipients includes dozens of lobbying shops, associations, government affairs consultants and think tanks.

“In deciding whether to accept the PPP loans, companies considered not only the highly technical legal criteria but also the inevitable public scrutiny and potential for congressional oversight,” said David Mortlock, a lawyer in the Washington office of Willkie Farr and Gallagher who advised clients on the program. “It seems some recipients may not have carefully considered one or either of these factors.”

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Guardrails line the journey in the life of a mail-in ballot

WASHINGTON — To hear President Donald Trump and his allies tell it, every step of vote-by-mail is an open door for rampant fraud to enter elections, from the moment ballots are printed to when they’re finally counted.

But election officials and candidates who have encountered the system up-close say that human and computerized guardrails all along the journey of a mail-in-ballot create a structure that, while cumbersome and expensive, cannot be breached in any significant way.

And with the integrity of vote-by-mail becoming a political issue and the coronavirus driving more states and voters towards using it, there are clear steps along the way where ballots are verified and vetted.

While not all states let you vote by mail without a reason. In 2016, about 1 in 4 votes were cast by mail, with more states moving in that direction.

Every state and local government does it differently. Election experts say that’s part of what makes it so secure. With different systems across the U.S. for printing, delivering and validating ballots, it would be extremely difficult for anyone to “hack” the presidential election in any widespread way.

Here are the major milestones in the journey of a mail-in-ballot:

Step 1: Ballots printed

The journey of a mail-in ballot starts when local election officials verify an individual voter’s eligibility and sends an order the printer, where it’s printed on special fraud-resistant paper, usually with a barcode that allows it to be tracked like a package.

Step 2: Ballots mailed

In some places, voters must proactively request a ballot while other areas send all voters applications for a one.

Salt Lake County, in heavily Republican Utah, started sending every active, registered voter an actual ballot. County Clerk Sherrie Swenson says turnout surged to nearly 80 percent in 2018, rates almost unheard of for a midterm election.

“We’re making sure that we do address updates with the National Change of Address,” Swensen says. “We’re constantly cleaning up our lists and making sure that they are pristine as they can be.”

Step 3: Ballots completed

After ballots arrive by mail, it’s up to candidates to make sure their supporters fill theirs out — and return them by the deadline. That requires a different type of get-out-the-vote effort than the traditional kind aimed at mobilizing supporters to physically go to a polling site on Election Day.

Democrat Suraj Patel learned that lesson this summer in his longshot primary bid against longtime Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. With Coronavirus walloping New York this spring, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered that every registered voter be sent an absentee ballot application.

The results are still being counted but if Patel wins, it will be a major upset, due in large part due to vote-by-mail, which he made central to his campaign strategy.

“We completely changed our organization and our strategy in our plan to be one of getting people to request ballots, and then following up and chasing them with returning those ballots,” Patel says in an interview. “We typically think of get out the vote period as being the last seven days of election. We made it the last eight weeks of the election.”

Step 4: Ballots returned

At home, voters seal their completed ballots, sign them, and drop them in the mail. That’s one reason Democrats are so concerned about Trump’s threats to cut funding to the U.S. Postal Service. There are calls for a standardized policy that ballots postmarked by Election Day must be counted, because of concerns that mail service can be slower in poorer or largely minorities of the U.S.

The signature is later verified against voter registration records by an election worker, a computer, or both.

Step 5: Ballots validated and counted

You need fewer poll workers — usually retirees who volunteer — to conduct an election by mail. But you need more professionals on hand and more high-tech gear to validate and count ballots, ensuring nobody can vote twice.

“We have machines that log in the ballots when they’re returned,” says Swensen of Salt Lake County. “We have a barcode on the ballot envelope, and when a ballot is returned, it automatically is logged in as having been received immediately,” with that voter marked system-wide as having already turned in a ballot.

Charles Stewart, a voting technology expert who teaches at MIT, says large municipalities or localities conducting major vote-by-mail operations must buy equipment that automatically rips open the various envelopes and separates the ballot — machines that he says can cost a million dollars and take up massive warehouse space.

“It’s like buying a fire truck,” Stewart says. “And you’re buying dozens of these.”

And it can take time to count all the votes, particularly in places not accustomed to handling a large volume of mail-in ballots.

Almost two weeks after New York’s June 23 primary, the results are so close that no winner has been called, with Patel trailing Maloney by less than a thousand votes with incomplete results.

The reason for the hold-up is mail-in voting, with a large number of absentee ballots leading state officials to delay counting them until this week. That’s raising concerns about how prepared America is to vote largely by mail this November if coronavirus keeps voters away from the polls.

Patel says that while the long wait for election results is nerve-wracking, he has more confidence in the vote-by-mail process and that every vote will be counted than he did at the start of the race.

“Truth is, we’re learning this as we go,” Patel says. “Just like everybody else.”

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Roger Stone lawyers ask appeals court to delay start of his prison sentence

Roger Stone is asking a federal appeals court to delay the date when he has to report to prison to begin serving his 40-month sentence.

A federal judge last week granted him a short delay, to July 14 after Stone cited coronavirus concerns. But late Monday Stone’s lawyers asked the D.C. Court of Appeals to delay his reporting date to Sept. 3.

“He is at considerable risk from serious health consequences, including death, if his surrender date is not extended,” Stone’s motion says. The judge “failed to give adequate deference to the government’s uniform policy not to oppose surrender date extension motions due to the pandemic, and failed to consider authority from around the country on this issue under similar circumstances.”

Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, was convicted in November on charges of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in the 2016 election and was sentenced in February.

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McConnell opens door to more coronavirus stimulus checks for low-income Americans

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday said that the next round of coronavirus legislation could include an additional round of stimulus checks aimed at helping low-income Americans.

Asked at one of three public events in his home state of Kentucky if the relief bill would include more direct payments, McConnell said it “could well.”

“I think the people who have been hit the hardest are people who make about $40,000 a year or less, many of them work in the hospitality industry. The hospitality industry, as all of you know, just got rim-racked – hotels, restaurants – and so that could well be a part of it,” McConnell said.

House Democrats have passed a $3 trillion bill that includes another round of direct deposits and checks. Republicans have been critical of the House bill, but President Donald Trump and some Senate Republicans have said they’re open to including another round of direct payments in future legislation.

Speaking at a separate event earlier Monday, McConnell said he’d be putting forward his own legislation after the Senate returns on July 20.

“I’ll be unveiling something which will be a starting point in a few weeks and we’ll be dealing with the administration and the Democrats,” McConnell said.

“I can’t comfortably predict we’re going to come together and pass it unanimously like we did a few months ago,” he added. “The atmosphere has become more political than it was in March but I think we will do something. The country needs one last boost.”

McConnell said one of his top priorities for the bill would be liability protection to protect businesses from coronavirus-related litigation.

“This is not just for businesses this is for hospitals, doctors, nurses, nonprofits, universities, colleges, k-12, so that people who acted in good faith during this crisis are not confronted with a second epidemic of lawsuits in the wake of a pandemic that we’re already struggling with,” he said.

He also reiterated that, as far as he is concerned, the next stimulus bill would be the last.

“This will have to be the last rescue package because we now have a debt the size of our economy for the first time since World War 2. We cannot keep doing this,” he said.

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Facebook pauses sharing WhatsApp user info with Hong Kong authorities

Facebook and its popular WhatsApp messaging service are putting a hold on what information they share with Hong Kong law enforcement, as the company reviews a sweeping new security law from Beijing.

Twitter and Google had similarly paused such sharing last week, spokespeople for the companies said Monday.

China’s National Security Law, which went into effect Tuesday, is widely seen as a crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters. The law bypasses Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status and will grant Beijing the ability to create special police units to target the city’s “troublemakers.”

Like all major American tech companies, WhatsApp and Facebook respond to legal requests from countries around the world if they meet certain criteria. WhatsApp automatically uses end-to-end encryption, meaning the company is unable to see the contents of its users’ conversations. It does, however, regularly share users’ metadata, like location data and call dates and times, when law enforcement requests it.

But the company is putting a pause on that practice when it comes to Hong Kong.

“Privacy has never been more important than now, and we remain committed to providing private and secure messaging services to our users in Hong Kong,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said in a statement Monday. “We will pause reviewing law enforcement requests for WhatsApp user data from the Hong Kong government pending further assessment of the impact of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts.”

The messaging app Telegram is also refusing such requests, according to Hong Kong Free Press.

The law criminalizes a broad swath of behaviors, including anything that promotes secession and subversion from China’s mainland, and it’s unclear how it will be applied in daily life in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Police Force has claimed it may criminalize banners and chants promoting Hong Kong independence.

Google said in a statement that it would continue to review the details of the new law, after the company paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities last week.

Peter Micek, general counsel at the international digital rights advocacy group Access Now, said the decision was a “smart move” for Facebook and WhatsApp.

“They need a bit of a break to give time to digest the new law and the new powers that authorities in Hong Kong have and how that’s going to impact Facebook and WhatsApp’s ability to respect human rights in its operations there,” Micek said.

In the second half of last year, Hong Kong made 241 legal requests for user data from Facebook and WhatsApp, which processed just under half of them, according to the company’s transparency report.

David Ingram contributed.