Donald Trump finally bowed to mounting public pressure over the weekend and wore a face mask for the first time in public as coronavirus continued to cut a swathe across the US.
The US president at last gave in to pleas from Anthony Fauci, his increasingly marginalised top health adviser, although their last conversation is reported to have been several weeks ago.
According to statistics collated by Johns Hopkins University, nearly 3.28 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the US, claiming 135,000 lives, the highest death toll anywhere in the world.
The split between Mr Trump and Mr Fauci has played out across the country with governors and mayors increasingly at odds over how to counter the spread of the virus.
Mr Trump donned a mask - complete with presidential seal - when he met wounded veterans at the Walter Reed military hospital outside Washington DC on Saturday. The president had faced calls from senior Republican senators to set an example.
After Mr Trump's move, Jerome Adams, the US surgeon general, said the country could reverse the Covid surge in two to three weeks if people followed basic guidelines.
Face coverings have become a political and cultural issue in the US, with opponents -including some of Mr Trump's most loyal supporters - dismissing them as "muzzles" and an infringement of personal freedom.
Having previously mocked Joe Biden, his likely election opponent in November, for wearing a mask, Mr Trump softened his stance. "I'm all for masks," he told the Fox Business Network last week.
Mr Fauci, the 79-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been a vocal advocate for masks for months.
"If you say 'it doesn't matter whether you put it on or take it off,' you're giving a wrong, mixed signal," he said last week. "The message should be, 'Wear a mask, period'." He is believed to have annoyed Mr Trump with his pessimistic view of how the US has coped with the virus, triggering reports Mr Trump hasn't spoken to him since early June.
Meanwhile, Robert Mueller has sharply defended his investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign, writing in a newspaper that the probe was of "paramount importance".
The former special counsel wrote that a Trump ally, Roger Stone, "remains a convicted felon, and rightly so" despite the president's decision to commute his prison sentence.
The op-ed in the 'Washington Post' was Mr Mueller's first public statement on his investigation since his congressional appearance last July.
It represented his firmest defence of the two-year probe, which has been attacked and had its results partially undone by the Trump administration.
In an extraordinary move, the US president granted clemency to Stone on Friday, just days before he was due to report to prison after being convicted on charges including lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Mr Mueller wrote he had intended for his team's work to speak for itself, but he felt compelled to "respond both to broad claims that our investigation was illegitimate and our motives were improper, and to specific claims that Roger Stone was a victim of our office. "The Russia investigation was of paramount importance. Stone was prosecuted and convicted because he committed federal crimes. He remains a convicted felon, and rightly so," Mr Mueller wrote. (© Daily Telegraph London)
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