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Two top White House advisors may leave over tensions with Donald Trump

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However, all the officials were quick to add that the tensions could blow over, at least for now, as have previous episodes of discord between the president and other top officials who have fallen out of favor, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Asked about sources saying that either National Security Adviser McMaster or Chief of Staff Kelly, or both, might be leaving, White House spokesman Raj Shah on Thursday did not address the possibility.

He said: “The president has full confidence in each member of the team.” Press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Tuesday that Trump “still has confidence in General McMaster.”

Neither Kelly nor McMaster responded to requests for comment on whether they would remain in the administration.

Trump swatted McMaster in a Twitter post after his comments at a European conference last weekend that he was certain Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election campaign, which Trump has been reluctant to acknowledge.

Kelly and McMaster have chafed at Trump’s treatment of them in public and in private, which both at times have considered insulting, said all four officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The current and most potent irritant, they said, is Kelly’s effort, supported by McMaster, to prevent administration officials who have been unable to obtain permanent high-level security clearances from having access to the government’s most closely held secrets.

Under pressure to act last week, Kelly strengthened the security clearance process in response to a scandal involving Rob Porter, a former official accused of domestic abuse by two ex-wives. Staffers whose interim clearances have been pending since June would have them revoked on Friday.

That would bar Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner from reading the president’s daily intelligence brief, which often contains information on covert operations and intelligence collected from spy satellites, spies, and close U.S. allies.

“There have been running battles between Trump and his generals,” said one of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Kelly is a retired Marine general and McMaster an Army lieutenant general.

“But the clearance business is personal, and if Trump sets special rules for family members, I’m not sure if Kelly and McMaster would salute,” the official said.

White House officials were working to find a compromise that would allow Kushner to continue his work as a senior adviser to Trump, another source familiar with the situation said, also
speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House matters.

Under current law and regulation, the president has authority to grant any level of clearance to anyone he chooses, but officials wanted to avoid that option, this official said.

There was no sense that Kushner would be leaving his job. Kelly declined to comment on anybody’s specific security clearance. He said in a statement that he had told Kushner days ago that he had “full confidence in his ability to continue performing his duties in his foreign policy portfolio.”

Kelly said those duties include overseeing the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort and serving as an integral part of the U.S. relationship with Mexico.

McMaster’s support for Kelly on the security clearance issue is only his latest difference with Trump. Officials in the Defense Department said there have been discussions about him returning to the Army, possibly as head of the Forces Command at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. McMaster, 55, previously served as deputy commander there.

Although he has been supportive of Trump on many issues, including threatening North Korea with military action, McMaster has taken a harder stance on Russia than his boss.

After U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 13 Russians, a Russian propaganda arm and two other firms on Feb. 16 with tampering in the election to boost Trump, McMaster said the evidence of Moscow’s meddling was “incontrovertible.”

Trump publicly chastised McMaster in a Twitter post, saying McMaster “forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted by the Russians.”

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Facebook is referring Trump ban to its Oversight Board

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President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Facebook on Thursday announced that it will refer its decision to indefinitely suspend the account of former President Donald Trump to its newly instituted Oversight Board.

The independent body, which has been described as Facebook’s “Supreme Court,” will review the decision to suspend Trump and make a binding decision on whether the account will be reinstated. Until a decision is made, Trump’s account will remain suspended, the company said in a blog post.

The board will begin accepting public comments on the case next week, it said in a tweet. It will have up to 90 days to make its decision, but its members have committed to move as quickly as possible, a spokesman for the body told CNBC. A decision can’t be overruled by CEO Mark Zuckerberg or other executives.

After Trump’s comments on social media led to an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that resulted in the death of five people, Facebook said it hopes that the board will uphold its Jan. 7 decision to indefinitely suspend Trump.

“We believe our decision was necessary and right,” Facebook said in a blog post. “Given its significance, we think it is important for the board to review it and reach an independent judgment on whether it should be upheld.”

The company’s Oversight Board was launched in October with the premise of reviewing difficult content moderation decisions. The Facebook Oversight Board is made up of scholars, journalists and former lawmakers from around the world. This will be the board’s first major case.

Nominations are open for the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50, a list of private start-ups using breakthrough technology to become the next generation of great public companies. Submit by Friday, Feb. 12, at 3 p.m. EST.



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England’s third lockdown sees ‘no evidence of decline’ in cases

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Medics take a patient from an ambulance into the Royal London hospital in London on January 19, 2021.

TOLGA AKMEN | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON — A third national lockdown in England appears to have had little impact on the rising rate of coronavirus infections, according to the findings of a major study, with “no evidence of decline” in the prevalence of the virus during the first 10 days of tougher restrictions.

The closely watched REACT-1 study, led by Imperial College London, warned that health services would remain under “extreme pressure” and the cumulative number of deaths would increase rapidly unless the prevalence of the virus in the community was reduced substantially.

The findings of the preprint report, published Thursday by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI, come shortly after the U.K. recorded another all-time high of coronavirus deaths.

Government figures released on Wednesday showed an additional 1,820 people had died within 28 days of a positive Covid test. To date, the U.K. has recorded 3.5 million coronavirus cases, with 93,290 deaths.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) at Downing Street on January 15, 2021 in London, England.

Dominic Lipinski | Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the latest figures were “appalling” and warned, “There are still tough weeks to come.”

Johnson imposed lockdown measures in England on Jan. 5, instructing people to “stay at home” as most schools, bars and restaurants were ordered to close. It is expected the strict public health measures will remain in place until at least mid-February.

What were the main findings?

The REACT-1 study tests nose and throat swabs from between 120,000 and 180,000 people in the community in England at approximately monthly intervals. The latest results mostly covered a period from Jan. 6 to Jan. 15.

The study compared the results with swabs collected between Nov. 13 and Nov. 24 and those taken between Nov. 25 and Dec. 3.

Researchers found 1,962 positives from 142,909 swabs taken over the January period. It means 1.58% of people tested had Covid on a weighted average.

This represents a more than 50% increase in prevalence rates since the study’s mid-December results and is the highest recorded by REACT-1 since it started in May 2020.

Prevalence from Jan. 6 to Jan. 15 was highest in London, the study said, with 1 in 36 people infected, more than double the rate of the previous REACT-1 results.

A man wearing a mask as a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19 walks in London.

May James | SOPA Images | LightRocket via Getty Images

Infections had also more than doubled in the southeast of England, east of England and West Midlands when compared with the findings published in early December.

“Our data are showing worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections which we will continue to monitor closely,” professor Paul Elliott, director of the program at Imperial, said in a statement.

“We all have a part to play in preventing this situation from worsening and must do our best to stay at home wherever possible,” he added.

The U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care said the full impact of lockdown measures would not yet be reflected in the prevalence figures reported in the REACT-1 study.

“These findings show why we must not let down our guard over the weeks to come,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

“It is absolutely paramount that everyone plays their part to bring down infections. This means staying at home and only going out where absolutely necessary, reducing contact with others and maintaining social distancing,” Hancock said.

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Here are the 10 executive orders Biden’s signing to combat the Covid pandemic

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