Self-sufficient 'bubbles' and other strategies to curb future outbreaks in Singapore

Singapore may need to think about dividing itself into regions and creating self-sufficient “bubbles” that can be contained and isolated, to better prepare for a future contagious disease outbreak, suggested the chief executive of the Housing & Development Board yesterday.

Dr Cheong Koon Hean was speaking about how the coronavirus pandemic has forced a rethink of urban planning at a forum on how Singapore can bounce back from the Covid-19 crisis and emerge more resilient in future.

It was organised by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), which is part of the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

With social distancing being one of the key strategies to hold back the transmission of the disease, cities have had to rethink how to space out as much as possible.

Giving an idea of how this may be done in the longer term, Dr Cheong said this will involve decentralising and localising. She painted a Singapore divided up into self-sufficient regions, with jobs and amenities located close to neighbourhoods and parks within walking distance of people’s homes, reducing the need for travel. This will help to thin out crowded areas like the city centre and commercial centres, and also reduce travel on public transport.

In the event of a disease outbreak, the regions can be isolated separately, instead of having the entire country on lockdown, allowing for different regions to link up, akin to the travel bubbles countries are now looking at.

The good news is Singapore is “pretty much on the way to doing some of these things”, said Dr Cheong, having already moved towards decentralisation in developing regional centres and organising HDB towns around shops, parks and amenities.

With population density having become a factor in the spread of Covid-19, IPS deputy director of research Gillian Koh, who moderated the session, asked if Singapore should review its population planning parameter of 6.9 million.

Dr Cheong said a country can create a “healthy density” and reduce crowdedness even with limited land. For instance, having more co-working spaces instead of office buildings, with working from home becoming more common. But she cautioned against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, saying density is not all bad as cities become more dynamic when people come together.

Dr Neo Boon Siong, former dean of the Nanyang Technological University’s business school and another panellist, said what matters more is not the absolute population number itself, but whether the conditions allow people to have a high quality of life.

Associate Professor Vernon Lee, director of communicable diseases at the Ministry of Health, who was also on the panel, said density is only one of the factors that contribute to coronavirus transmission. He cited how places like Hong Kong and South Korea, which are very dense, had managed to control the spread of the virus, while other locations where the population is more spread out had experienced huge epidemics.

Also, while the population number had stayed the same during the circuit breaker period, infection numbers had gone down significantly, highlighting how a change in behaviour and the ways people interact may be more important.

“We need to take all this into consideration before we say cut density and it will solve our problems. That is too narrow a view and won’t solve the problems so easily,” he said.

Also on the panel were Singapore Management University Behavioural Sciences Institute director David Chan and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng of Unlisted Collection.

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Rosenstein testifies in Republican-led Senate Trump-Russia probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told a Senate panel on Wednesday that he was unaware of any factual problems with warrant applications he approved for FBI surveillance of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign officials.

His remarks were likely to be welcomed by Trump and his Republican allies, who claim the president and his officials were treated unfairly by officials involved in the probe, including former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

Rosenstein, testifying about his role in the FBI investigation code-named “Crossfire Hurricane,” which Trump has condemned as a conspiracy, said problems with warrant applications to surveil campaign officials including Carter Page were not brought to light until last December by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

“Every application that I approved appeared to be justified based on the facts it alleged, and the FBI was supposed to be following protocols to ensure that every fact was verified,” Rosenstein told the Senate Judiciary Committee in written testimony.

The committee, chaired by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, is investigating the Crossfire Hurricane probe, which preceded former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. Rosenstein appointed Mueller in 2017.

Democrats have raised concerns Republicans could use the Senate probe to attack Trump’s rival Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee in the Nov. 3 presidential election. Biden was vice president in 2016 when the FBI opened the probe.

The Justice Department inspector general found numerous errors, including mistakes in seeking approval to surveil Page. But the IG report found no political bias.

Mueller concluded that Russia interfered in the election to boost Trump’s candidacy but that the evidence did not establish a conspiracy between the campaign and Moscow.

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Pelosi says legislation coming soon in response to Minneapolis George Floyd killing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday promised legislation on racial profiling and other issues raised by the police killing of George Floyd, while other lawmakers warned against using troops to quell protests sweeping across the United States.

House Democrats are mulling proposals on a number of topics. But Pelosi described the racial profiling of suspects as a “universal” issue “that we must be rid of.”

“In a matter of just a short time … decisions will be made and I think the American people will be well served,” she said.

Pelosi and other Democrats attacked President Donald Trump’s handling of protests after teargas and rubber bullets were used to clear protesters from outside the White House, just before he marched through the area and posed at a church with a Bible.

“The nation needs calm and steady leadership, a sure hand and a big heart, qualities that President Trump has never displayed,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

Schumer called for passage of law enforcement reform legislation by July 4.

Protests have intensified over the killing of Floyd, a black man who died as a white Minneapolis policeman kneeled on his neck. The officer has since been charged with murder.

But protests have devolved into violence and looting in many locations, and Trump has threatened to deploy federal troops if local officials fail to end the violence.

Some Republicans expressed reservations. “That should be our last resort,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally. “We need to restore order. But using active-duty military troops in circumstances like this if a fairly rare occurrence.”

Representative Elissa Slotkin, a former defense official, warned against using the military for political objectives. “This is a dangerous path for our institutions, our military and our nation,” the Democrat from Michigan tweeted.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg attacked for bizarre Westminster plan – ‘They think COVID is just sniffles

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In what has been dubbed the “Rees-Mogg conga” by Labour’s Chief Whip Nick Brown, the former chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group is pushing for a system which critics claim will result in a kilometre-long queue as members observe social distancing rules which will keep them two metres apart. Robert Halfon, Tory MP for Harlow, who has cerebral palsy and who is therefore in the shielding group, today launched an angry attack on the plan, which will preclude him for voting. He said: “Clearly in this case sadly Jacob and the powers that be are being harsh and unbending.

They take the attitude of President Bolsonaro that COVID-19 is just the sniffles

Robert Halfon MP

“The MPs who genuinely cannot come in, our democratic rights are being snipped away and we’re being turned into parliamentary eunuchs.

“They take the attitude of President Bolsonaro that COVID-19 is just the sniffles and, if you can’t come in, tough luck, we don’t care. And that to me is entirely wrong.”

Mr Halfon added: “Not only will the hundreds of MPs, who for one reason or another will not be able to come in because they are affected by COVID-19, will not only be denied their fundamental rights but their constituents will not have a voice in Parliament because they will not be able to vote.

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“I genuinely am mystified why they will not even allow proxy voting.”

Mr Halfon was far from alone in criticising the proposals.

Former Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers told the BBC: “The obvious most difficult practical issue is voting, and clearly, if there is going to be a kilometre-long queue, we have to find another system.

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“Personally, I could happily live with electronic voting continuing for a period if there isn’t a workable alternative.”

Another senior Tory said: “Jacob has dug himself into a hole.

“He doesn’t want to contemplate online voting becoming a permanent fixture so they’re taking a sledgehammer to a walnut.”

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Margaret Hodge, Labour MP for Barking and Dagenham, tweeted last night: “Tomorrow the Govt wants 650 MPs to stand in a giant queue to vote on how the Commons makes decisions from now on.

“As somebody in the ‘vulnerable’ category, I am unable to join them.

“I am furious that for the first time in my 25 years as an MP I am being denied the right to vote!”

Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson tweeted: “Thanks to @Jacob_Rees_Mogg, I’m heading back into Westminster, putting my husband who’s on immuno-suppressants at greater risk, despite virtual parl working well.

“I”ll be joining 1km+ queue of MPs to vote to keep remote participation so everyone can represent their constituents.”

The Politico website has suggested Mr Rees-Mogg’s proposals have come as a surprise to everyone, with one official saying: “Nobody in Government knew about this until it was announced.”

Mr Rees-Mogg himself gave an indication of his determination to push the changes through yesterday in an article published on the Politics Home website.

He wrote: “The virtual Parliament brought us through the peak of the pandemic but it is no longer necessary to make the compromises it demanded. We can do so much better.”

He later tweeted: “If Parliament is to deliver on the people’s priorities it must sit physically.”

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Amid protests, Colorado lawmakers float bill to counter police brutality – The Denver Post

Colorado lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Monday, walking past spray-painted messages like “good cop = dead cop,” mere hours after the building’s grounds were covered with a massive crowd of protesters and tear gas filled the air.

For portions of the day, a spectator inside the building would have had no reason to think that anything has changed recently even as as outside protesters trickled onto the Capitol lawn for a fifth day of unrest over George Floyd’s death. In the Senate, lawmakers debated a bill concerning union powers. The House took up a slew of bills, including one proposing to change standards for how egg-laying hens are housed.

But some lawmakers, already swamped by a myriad of coronavirus-related challenges — among other tasks, they’re trying to quickly pass a budget with about $3 billion in cuts — say that the message of the protests is not lost on them, and that they intend to take action.

Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat who has joined protesters downtown during the day, is planning to introduce a bill as soon as Tuesday that she said is aimed at addressing police brutality and accountability in Colorado by removing the shield of immunity for prosecution from law enforcement officers found to have acted unlawfully. It would allow them to be sued in their individual capacities; currently attorney fees and settlements are paid out by cities and counties at taxpayer expense.

The news organization Denverite, reporting a snapshot of an eight-month period, found in 2017 that $2.78 million in taxpayer money had gone to eight Denver Police Department settlements.

“I believe law enforcement should be held to a standard of integrity, respect and responsibility and the bill will reflect that,” Herod told The Denver Post on Monday. “We need to ensure that law enforcement officers who act outside of their authority, who harm and murder people, especially people of color, unlawfully, are held accountable.”

Herod said a Denver Post investigation into police shootings across the state sparked conversations about the issue at the beginning of the session, and since the killing of George Floyd, lawmakers have brought those conversations back. She also said she’s working with the black and Latinx caucuses, and that Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, is working with her on the bill. That his name will be attached is an indication not only of where he stands on the bill but of the odds that it gets passed; a member of leadership generally has power to ensure their bill gets a serious hearing in a way other members may not.

Garcia’s remarks about police violence and public trust in law enforcement have been significantly more pointed than those from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Gov. Jared Polis.

“This isn’t just about what’s going on in other states,” Garcia said. “This is about what’s happening in our own backyards. And sadly, we shouldn’t need body cams and people using their cell phones to catch the lack of integrity. We must address the issues that are associated with police brutality and this bias or it’s going to erode the profession.”

Garcia said law enforcement agencies in Colorado do a good job when first hiring officers to ensure they meet standards, but they need to continue to monitor them.

He said he believes most cops are heroes but added in an interview Monday: “We have officers who lack integrity and violate the law, every day, that they’re sworn to uphold. We should care about that as elected officials.”

Other lawmakers spoke publicly Monday on the protests, including Rep. James Coleman, a Denver Democrat who from the House floor called for holding “law enforcement officers who abuse their privilege accountable,” and who condemned rioting but said he supports the right to protest.

“I’ve had to talk to my son,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who sits on the Black Caucus with Coleman. “We have to teach our young men how to behave when you get pulled over by the police, because if you don’t, you might end up not being about to breathe.”

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Protests elevate Bottoms and Demings as possible Biden running mates

(Reuters) – Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and U.S. Representative Val Demings of Florida have risen in prominence amid protests against police brutality as Joe Biden weighs whether to choose a black woman as his Democratic running mate for November’s presidential election.

Activists say such a pick would excite disenchanted African-American voters and demonstrate to a crucial part of the Democratic base that Biden is committed to criminal justice reform following the death of George Floyd, who was black, in Minneapolis last week at the hands of a white police officer.

Biden has said Demings, 63, a former police chief of Orlando, is on his short list. On Monday, he praised the leadership of Bottoms, 50, during the unrest that has swept her Georgia city and the country at large. Both women are from politically important states.

“I’ve watched you like millions and millions of Americans have on television of late. Your passion, your composure, your balance, has been really incredible,” Biden said during a roundtable with mayors, including Bottoms.

Bottoms fired two officers over the weekend for excessive use of force on protesters in Atlanta. She has criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the violence, saying his comments only make the situation worse.

She also urged protesters to go home and not tear apart the city where she was born, saying the “chaos” was not in the spirit of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and was obscuring the message of peaceful protesters.

“You are disgracing our city. You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country,” she said during a Friday briefing widely viewed around the country.

Bottoms is one of Biden’s strongest backers in Georgia, having endorsed the former vice president in June 2019, early in the Democratic primary. She was a lawyer and judge before becoming mayor in 2017.

In an NPR interview in April, she said she would welcome a place on the Democratic ticket.

“I want Vice President Biden to choose the person who he thinks will help him best beat Donald Trump in November, and so if it’s me, I would be honored,” she said. “But if it’s a green Martian that helps him get over the finish line, then I think that’s who he needs to go with.”

Demings, elected in 2016 as a congresswoman in Florida, has been touted high on the short list despite having only endorsed Biden in March.

She was one of the managers of the House of Representatives impeachment proceedings against Trump but has had a lower profile among voters nationally.

In an interview with Reuters on Sunday, Demings called Trump “incapable of rising to an occasion like this.”

“He’s always looking for something else or somebody else to blame,” she said, echoing sentiments she made in national television appearances in recent days. “He is just not capable of unifying us, bringing us together.”

Demings previously served as the first female police chief in Orlando, during which time the department faced criticism for excessive use of force.

On Friday, as protests over police tactics toward African Americans flared across the country, Demings questioned the actions of her “brothers and sisters in blue” in an editorial in the Washington Post and called for “full and swift accountability”.

“As law enforcement officers, we took an oath to protect and serve,” she wrote. “And those who forgot — or who never understood that oath in the first place — must go.”

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Michel Barnier says British ‘don’t understand’ in spiteful rant ‘Brexit has consequences’

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Michel Barnier has accused the UK’s Brexit negotiating team of wanting the “best of both worlds” by retaining the conditions of being an EU member while leaving the single market and customs union. The European Commission Head of Taskforce and the UK’s Brexit negotiator David Frost have so far held three rounds of talks without making a breakthrough, with discussions resuming next week.

In a wide-ranging interview with German radio station Deutschlandfunk, Mr Barnier said: “The British have not understood or do not want to understand that Brexit has consequences for them. For us too. But also for them.

“That after leaving the EU, they cannot have the same conditions and status as when they were members of the European Union. That is your choice.

“It is difficult for them to accept the consequences of Brexit, there should be more realism in London in the near future if they want an orderly agreement to exit the single market and customs union.”

Following the third round of Brexit talks, the Government published its draft legal texts which outlined the UK’s plan to strike a free-trade deal with the European Union.

However the pathway to an agreement has been thwarted by the EU’s insistence on a so-called level-playing field on trade – meaning the UK would still be bound by some EU rules and regulations.

The UK and the EU have until July 1 to decide whether to extend the current negotiating period beyond December 31 for up to two years.

Downing Street has maintained the UK will honour the timeline – despite earlier this week Mr Barnier offering the UK a 24 month delay in a letter to opposition party leaders.

The EU chief has insisted it is down to the UK to shift in order for an agreement to be reached and has called for some “realism”.

Mr Barnier said: “Only we will not make any progress there if the British continue to pick raisins and want the best of both worlds for themselves.

“I was told the popular expression of the German language ‘You cannot dance on two weddings at the same time’.

“This is the attitude of the British leaving the European Union, but they want to keep all the advantages. More realism is needed.”

Earlier this week Mr Frost appeared in front of the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, and reiterated the EU must shift on its red-lines for a level playing field so the UK can strike a free-trade agreement.

He said: “I think it’s fair to say that we have a fundamental disagreement at the moment on most aspects of the level playing field.

“There are one or two areas that are slightly less controversial and problematic but in most of the important areas, there’s a big gap.

“And he obviously is delivering the mandate he was given. Member states regard the level playing field as very important.

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“I think, to recall, we are not saying that there can be no level playing field provisions, we’re simply saying that there must be provisions which are appropriate to a free trade agreement.”

Ahead of the crunch talks, Mr Barnier said it was “possible” a deal could be reached but claimed the timetable for talks, which was agreed by both sides in January, has made it “extremely difficult”.

He added: “It is very difficult, but it is possible. Still possible, even if the British are now imposing a time constraint by refusing to extend the negotiations.

“These could be extended by a year or two if you wish. We are ready for it.

“If they don’t want to, we now have eight months, even less, six months to leave time for ratification. So extremely difficult, but still possible.”

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Young Minneapolis mayor in spotlight after police killing, protests

(Reuters) – Shaken and angry, Minneapolis’ telegenic young mayor stood in front of television cameras over and over this week – first to decry the police killing of George Floyd, and on Friday to impose a curfew as parts of his city burned in ongoing protests.

Disturbing footage showing a Minneapolis law enforcement officer pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck and the ensuing unrest after the 46-year-old’s death have drawn international attention to Mayor Jacob Frey, a 38-year-old attorney and former professional athlete who ran for office on a platform of reforming the police.

“Being black in America should not be a death sentence,” Frey declared at a news conference after Floyd’s killing, and called openly for the arrest of the officer involved, Derek Chauvin. He fired all four officers who had been at the scene as Floyd repeatedly cried out that he could not breathe, and Chauvin was charged Friday with third degree murder.

A former civil rights and employment attorney, Frey’s political future may hinge on his handling of Floyd’s death and its violent aftermath, which have followed the coronavirus pandemic that shut down his city for two months.

Frey grew up in Virginia near Washington, D.C., but fell in love with Minneapolis when running a marathon there, his official website said. He moved to Minneapolis after receiving his law degree from Villanova University near Philadelphia in 2009.

After four years on the city council, he became mayor in 2018, taking over a city that despite a longstanding liberal reputation had been wracked by high-profile cases of police shootings – the death of Jamar Clark, a black man, in 2015, and the death of Justine Ruszczyk, a white woman, in 2017.

Frey had vowed to reform the police department, and had won awards for his civil rights work in Minneapolis, a rapidly changing city where the black or African-American population grew by 36% or 95,000 people from 2010 to 2018, the Minnesota state website shows.

But by this week’s end, with the smell of burned plastic and building materials wafting through the city, Frey’s credibility was “understandably at a low point in communities of color,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s editorial board wrote.

David Schultz, a professor of political science at Hamline University in St. Paul, said Frey is leading a city that, while politically mostly liberal, is divided among affluent white areas and poorer, mostly black areas that did not benefit as much from the region’s booming economy.

Taking over a city that before coronavirus had a miniscule unemployment rate, Frey has now been doubly challenged, Schultz said. His ability to bring the city back both from the devastating virus shutdown and Floyd’s death and its aftermath, will be crucial to his mayoralty, as well as any future political ambitions, Schultz said.

“He has to come out of this addressing not only the disparity but now addressing the destruction,” said Schultz.

On Friday, Frey became a target of Republican President Donald Trump, who called him “weak” for not quelling the unrest that included people breaking into stores and the burning of a police station. Trump has attacked Frey before, calling him a “radical left” Democrat on Twitter last October.

“Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis,” Frey said Friday. “We are strong as hell.”

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Brexit prediction: Why ‘no great progress’ will be made in crunch talks until September

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David Henig, director of the UK trade policy project and a former trade negotiator, predicts both sides will report “no great progress” while both “play to domestic audiences”. Speaking out on Twitter this afternoon, Mr Henig predicted the “real political negotiations” would begin in September.

It comes after the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost said the Government would not ask for an extension and pledged that any request by the EU for one would be rejected.

Britain left the EU on January 31 but the main terms of its membership remain in place during a transition period until the end of this year, allowing it time to negotiate a new free trade deal with the bloc.

Mr Frost told the Commons Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union on Wednesday: “That is the firm policy of the Government, that we will not extend the transition period and if asked we would not agree to it.”

This was despite the European Union being “open” to a two-year Brexit delay, chief negotiator Michel Barnier confirmed.

 

In his letter, Mr Barnier said: “Such an extension of up to one or two years can be agreed jointly by the two parties.

“The European Union has always said that we remain open on this matter.”

Mr Henig added on Twitter: “Negotiators can only try to find the wiggle room around the red lines, ultimately the political leaders have to decide on the importance of compromise or no-deal.

But he stressed “right now neither side is ready for that conversation”.

Mr Henig continued: “Assuming that there is no extension, which I think is now quite a safe assumption as the need to say no to Europe is still more important than the detail.

“That only real UK red line (claiming victory over the EU) is harder to forecast in September.”

Speaking to the Financial Times earlier this week, the trade director also said that the UK was “cherry-picking” what it liked about EU membership.

He added: “The UK is looking for more than Canada, Korea or Japan in exchange for the same — or probably even less — in terms of level playing field provisions.”

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Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has also backed Mr Frost’s views on a two-year extension.

Mr Gove was answering questions from Peers on the House of Lords EU Committee on the progress of UK-EU future relationship negotiations.

Lord Wood of Anfield asked Mr Gove, said: “If indeed the European Council comes back and says, ‘Look we really do need a little extension for this transition period in order to get the basics sorted out’, is the Government’s position that it will say no to that request?”

Giving a short response, Mr Gove said: “Yes.”

 

The EU seemed to disagree with Mr Gove today with Michel Barnier’s senior adviser saying there were still “huge challenges” to come meaning an extension is likely.

Speaking during an online event hosted by the Institute for Government, Stefaan de Rynck said: “We have seven months left and huge challenges.

“The future relationship… there’s a couple of tough nuts that need to be cracked still in the economic and security partnership and in the governance.”

He continued: “There is the protocol in Northern Ireland which needs to be implemented and ready to be implemented by January 1 (2021) which is again seven months from now.

“If there’s a need for more time, it needs to be decided jointly and so we have said we’re certainly open for that.”

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Pompeo accuses top Democrat of 'hackery' over government watchdog review

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday accused a leading Senate Democrat of “hackery” for questioning whether Pompeo violated a law restricting officials’ political activities, saying an investigation found no evidence he had done so.

In a letter to Senator Bob Menendez, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo also accused journalists of “slander” for reporting on the lawmaker’s request for the review by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

The agency investigates alleged breaches of the 1939 Hatch Act barring federal workers from engaging in political activities while acting in their official capacities.

Menendez in October asked the OSC to assess the legality of three official visits that Pompeo made to his home state of Kansas at a time that news reports said the Republican former congressman was mulling a U.S. Senate run.

The State Department on Thursday released a copy of Pompeo’s letter to Menendez. It also released a Jan. 21, 2020, letter to Pompeo from the OSC in which the agency said it found he was not “currently” a Senate candidate and there was “no evidence to conclude that you violated the Hatch Act.”

Pompeo wrote that Menendez appeared not to acknowledge that finding in a recent interview and that he wanted to make sure the lawmaker was aware of it.

“The OSC response to your hackery makes clear your continued effort to politicize legitimate and important diplomatic and national security activity was without merit,” Pompeo wrote.

Zachary Kurz, an OSC spokesman, said a copy of the letter had previously been sent to Menendez.

“Clearly the Secretary of State feels deeply disturbed by the ongoing oversight work of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” Menendez said in a statement. “High-level temper tantrums will not stop the committee from conducting our oversight responsibilities.”

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