Bounty briefing for Gang of 8; COVID spike leaves April ‘peak’ far behind; USAF’s budget warning; Australia seeks new long-range weapons; And a bit more.

The “Gang of Eight” lawmakers will get a classified briefing today from White House officials on that alleged Russian bounty on American troops in Afghanistan, administration officials announced Wednesday. 

CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe will brief the lawmakers, which include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., ranking member Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; Acting Senate Intelligence Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and ranking member Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.; as well as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and ranking Republican member Devin Nunes.

The latest: Our Afghan bagman gets a name. The New York Times reported Wednesday that an Afghan contractor named Rahmatullah Azizi was the man who delivered Russian cash from the GRU to the Taliban to target American troops.

And action from related intelligence has apparently been going on since February or so, when “Afghanistan’s intelligence agency raided the offices of several Hawala businessmen both in Kabul and Kunduz, who were believed to be associated with the bounty scheme, making more than a dozen arrests,” the Times writes.  

But President Trump? He’s still skeptical of it all, he told Fox Business in an interview on Wednesday. “From what I hear, and I hear it pretty good, the intelligence people — many of them — didn’t believe it happened at all. I think it’s a hoax. I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats,” the president said.

By the way: White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that a female CIA officer with more than 30 years of experience decided not to brief President Trump about the bounties because the allegations had not been “verified.” 

Added National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, in remarks to reporters Wednesday: "The person who decided early on whether the president should be briefed on this in the Oval intelligence briefing was a senior career civil servant. And she made that decision because she didn't have confidence in the intelligence that came out.” More from the BBC, here.

Meanwhile in Russia: Some 70% of voters, by the official but widely disputed returns, agreed to change the constitution so President Vladimir Putin can run for two more terms. “Opposition activists have called the vote illegitimate and said it was designed to legalise Putin’s presidency for life,” Reuters reported from Moscow. “Putin’s approvals rating stood at 60% last month, still high but hovering around just above a two-decade low after slipping in April amid the coronavirus crisis and related economic pain, a poll by the Levada Center showed.”

ICYMI: Defense One’s Patrick Tucker explains the package of constitutional amendments that just got approved.

From Defense One

We Don’t Have Enough Cash to Build New Nuclear Weapons, Says Air Force Chief // Marcus Weisgerber: Nukes or conventional weapons, “the current budget does not allow you to do both,” says Gen. Dave Goldfein, suggesting Congress create a separate account.

How Biden Would Wage Great Power Competition // Patrick Tucker: Part 3: While Trump chooses go-it-alone, Biden wants allies and partners “at the forefront” of U.S. foreign policy. But his options to renew old agreements are limited.

Defense Firms Unlikely to Win Extension to Purge Banned Chinese Tech // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: Armed Services Chairman Rep. Adam Smith is asking GAO to report on compliance, as companies ask for more time.

Navy's $70 Billion Financial System Now in the Cloud // Frank Konkel, Nextgov: Just "one database contained more than 13 terabytes of data." Amazon moved it the entire system in 10 months, eight ahead of schedule.

History Will Judge the Complicit // Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic: Why have Republican leaders abandoned their principles in support of an immoral and dangerous president?

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day 40 years ago, “Airplane!” was first released in theaters. 

The U.S. set a new record with 50,700 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. And in terms of recent trends, across the world, 60% of the overall confirmed cases (10,694,060) were identified in the past month, according to the UN.
Here are a few related updates from around the United States: 

  • “Confirmed cases in California have increased nearly 50% over the past two weeks, and COVID-19 hospitalizations have gone up 43%,” AP reports.
  • Still rising (cases per capita): Georgia, Texas, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Idaho, Nevada and Montana — also Tennessee, South Carolina, Arizona, Ohio, Alaska, Michigan, California, Mississippi, West Virginia, Wyoming, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Delaware, Louisiana, Washington, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Maine, Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Hawaii, Minnesota, Arkansas, North Carolina and North Dakota, according to the New York Times’ state-by-state tracker. (Not behind a paywall: Reuters COVID-19 tracker, here.)
  • Especially in Trump country: “States Trump won [in the 2016 election] account for about three out of four of the newest cases,” AP reported Wednesday. Check out the chart illustrating as much, here.
  • Where cases seem to have stabilized: Vermont, Indiana, Virginia, Nebraska, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
  • Where cases are falling: New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.
  • 128,000 Americans have died from covid-related complications so far; and that’s a quarter of Covid’s global fatalities, which now top 516,200, according to JHU.

POTUS45 is still hoping it’ll all just go away, telling Fox Business Wednesday, “I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”
Yet Trump may even wear a mask, since now he says he thinks he looks good in one, particularly if it’s “dark black,” he said Wednesday, like the Lone Ranger. But then he held a Thursday morning press conference without one.
One thing the WHO noticed this week: “the available evidence suggests that smoking is associated with increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.” Quantifying this, however, is not so easy. More here.
Tools you can use: Get a better grasp on how severe the COVID-19 spread is around your community with this online risk assessment map from Harvard's Global Health Institute. NPR helps explain what you can learn from the map, here.

Happening today: National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph Lengyel talks about the future of the Guard with Brookings Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon. That's at 2 p.m. ET, here.

Taiwan steps up wargames after increased Chinese activity. In a year that has seen China’s warplanes approach and even enter Taiwanese airspace, and its aircraft carrier sail past the self-governing island, Taiwan’s military is doing an extra round of coastal defense drills ahead of its big annual wargames.
“The drills, in a coastal area facing the sensitive Taiwan Strait, simulated fending off an attempted landing by enemy forces, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said,” according to a Reuters report. “The drills were aimed at improving the military’s effectiveness at ‘enemy annihilation on the shore’ and to ‘prevail along the coastline’ to stop an enemy invasion, it said.”
And Vietnam has lodged a formal complaint about PLA military drills in the South China Sea, which its Foreign Ministry called were “detrimental” to Beijing’s relationship with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. A bit more, here.
From the region: “Australia seeks long-range missiles in Indo-Pacific defence shift,” the BBC reported Wednesday. 

Now for something completely different, via an Associated Press headline and lede that’s hard to pass up: “A British judge on Thursday refused to give Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro control of over $1 billion in gold sitting in a Bank of England vault, ruling that it is unlawful to give it to the socialist leader since Britain does not recognize him as president of the Latin American nation.” Read on, here.

That’s it for us this week. Have a safe holiday weekend, and we’ll see you again on Monday!