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Colorado Secretary of State and Rep. Ken Buck in war of words over voter registration process

Fox News Flash top headlines for October 1

Colorado's secretary of state Rep. Ken Buck, R-Co., are in the midst of a war of words over the congressman's request for a federal investigation into the state’s voter registration process.

Buck's request followed a now-retracted report by CBS4 Denver, which inaccurately linked a ballot mailing list to a voter roll that submitted voting registration instructions to unregistered people, including ineligible voters and deceased people.

“This partisan, politically-motivated attack from the Colorado GOP is an attempt to undermine confidence in our elections by fear mongering and spreading debunked election misinformation,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said in a statement to Fox News Thursday.

The issue arose after reports surfaced that voter registration postcards sent by the secretary of state’s office – the body responsible for Colorado elections – were widely distributed to unregistered voters throughout the state. About a dozen ineligible voters received the instructions including migrants and deceased people.

COLORADO TESTS NEW PROGRAM TO FIX BALLOT ISSUES BY PHONE

Buck pushed back on Griswold's claims Thursday of "election misinformation," and accused the secretary of state of working "to gaslight" voters and the media.

“The Colorado Secretary of State continues to gaslight both the public and the media," Buck told Fox News Thursday. "The claims I made have not been ‘debunked,’ she sent voter registration post cards to dead people, non-US citizens who would not be eligible to vote, as well as people who don’t live in the state of Colorado."

State conservatives reacted after the CBS4 Denver report, which inaccurately claimed that the list used to submit voter registration information was the same list used to mail out ballots.  The original report was removed and replaced with a corrected article.

“I write to share my concerns about recent reports that the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office mailed voter registration postcards to non-citizens and deceased individuals during a recent voter registration drive,” Buck wrote to Attorney General William Barr Wednesday.

CBS4 News Director Tim Wieland issued a corrected story with Griswold’s explanation that the list used to target unregistered voters “is not the same mailing as our ballot mailing.”

But Buck has called for the Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission to investigate Griswold despite the redacted story.

“The fact of the matter is that the Secretary of State mailed voter registration postcards to dead people and non-citizens,” Buck said in a tweet Thursday.

In a statement to Fox News, Griswold said sending voter registration postcards is a practice that was started under former Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

JUDGE REJECTS TRUMP CAMPAIGN LAWSUIT ATTEMPTING TO BLOCK MONTANA’S MAIL-IN VOTING

“The postcard clearly states in bold that to be an eligible voter, a person must be a citizen, 18 years old by the election, and reside in [Colorado] for 22 days before the election,” Griswold said.

But in his letter to Barr, Buck highlights his concerns over the use of a third party system to identify unregistered voters and said that what is "concerning is the unknown quantity and scope of these errors.”

Buck and Griswold engaged in heated Twitter exchanges after the congressman first announced his continued concerns after the corrected story was released.

“Russia doesn't have to worry about spreading election misinformation in Colorado. [Buck] is doing it for them,” Griswold wrote in a tweet.

Griswold, the youngest secretary of state in the country, has been vocal on social media in condemning the Republican Party’s alleged attempts to invalidate the mail-in voting system in the lead up to the general election.

“I’m surprised you haven’t tried to send ballots to Russians trying to register them to vote in Colorado,” Buck tweeted back to her.

“Ballots aren’t sent to anyone ‘trying to register to vote,’” Griswold responded Tuesday. “That’s the disconnect and why you’re spreading election misinformation [Buck]. Happy to explain how Colorado elections work and voting qualifications – let me know.”

"The Secretary of State should get off Twitter and instead focus on making sure that all Colorado residents are able to vote and not dead people," Buck said in a statement to Fox News.

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“It’s a shame that Congressman Buck and the Colorado GOP are complicit in the President’s efforts to spread misinformation and discredit Colorado’s election model, which is recognized as the gold standard across the country and has resulted in electoral victories for their own party,” Griswold said in her statement to Fox News. “This partisan, politically-motivated attack from the Colorado GOP is an attempt to undermine confidence in our elections by fear mongering and spreading debunked election misinformation."

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New Florida law includes stricter penalties for ripping off military veterans

Fox News Flash top headlines for October 1

A series of Florida laws passed during this year's legislative session went into effect on Thursday, one of which makes it a felony to attempt to financially swindle a veteran out of $50,000 or more.

This bill amends the White Collar Crime Victim Protection Act to say someone "commits an aggravated white-collar crime if he or she obtains or attempts to obtain $50,000 or more by committing at least two associated white-collar crimes against 10 or more veterans."

The action will now be considered a first-degree felony, "ranked at a level 9 out of 10 possible levels for incarceration purposes on the offense severity ranking chart of the Criminal Punishment Code."

FLORIDA MAYOR'S RIGHT-HAND MAN CAUGHT SEEKING POLITICAL ACTIVIST PROTESTERS TO DISRUPT DESANTIS EVENT

People convicted of breaking the new law would also have to pay court costs and restitution associated with each of their victims.

The court may also order payment of a $500,000 fine, or "double the value of the pecuniary gain or loss, whichever is greater."

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The bill had similar protections for senior citizens within the text, in an effort to discourage the financially fraudulent schemes often carried out against the elderly.

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Kim Jong Un’s Sister Reported in Public for 1st Time Since July

The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made her first appearance in state media since July, an absence that had fueled speculation her power was clipped after she led a contentious pressure campaign against South Korea.

Kim Yo Jong joined her brother and a handful of other top cadres on a tour to inspect reconstruction work to repair damage caused by massive flooding in recent weeks, the state’s Korean Central News Agency reported Friday.

Kim Yo Jong saw her profile rise among political analysts as the likely successor to her brother when a prolonged absence in April raised questions about his health. She was last mentioned in state media when she joined her brother on an inspection tour of a chicken farm, which included a glimpse in state media of her picking up a cigarette butt from her brother.

“The listing of the accompanying officials in today’s report indicates that she has not been demoted,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an independent political analyst who used to work for the U.S. government in areas related to North Korea.

Kim Yo Jong’s status rose in the first part of the year where she was a key player on policies toward the country’s two biggest adversaries, the U.S. and South Korea. A leading South Korean newspaper, the Chosun, reported in recent days that she might even visit President Donald Trump before the presidential election in a show of support.

Kim Yo Jong led a series of threats and provocations against South Korea that culminated with Pyongyang in June blowing up a joint liaison office north of the border built in 2018 as a symbol of reconciliation between the two countries still technically at war. Just as soon as it looked like more was on the way, her brother reversed course in late June and halted plans to step up provocations.

For more on Kim Yo Jong:
  • Kim Jong Un’s Sister Takes Bigger Role in Threats to South Korea
  • Kim’s Sister Rules Out Talks With Trump, Seeks July 4th DVDs
  • How North Korea Picks a Leader and Who Might Be Next: QuickTake
  • Here’s What Kim Jong Un Might Have Planned for Trump in October

In July, she issued a message saying that North Korea had no intention of holding a meeting with Trump, calling on him to change his policy of applying sanctions against the state. After that, she was conspicuously absent from two key meetings in August of the ruling Workers’ Party, raising speculation that she had fallen out of favor.

“We will never know what happened during her latest two-month absence, but I do not believe she was punished,” said Lee, who added it would be unthinkable for a national campaign like the one against South Korea to be launched and executed without the top leader’s approval.

Choosing a woman to deliver pointed messages is notable for the Kim family, which has ruled the male-dominated society since the 1940s. Kim Yo Jong has become the highest-ranking female member of the family, and a rare sibling allowed to stay in a prominent position or even get mentioned in state media.

Siblings have often not fared well in North Korea. Kim Jong Un has been accused of ordering the murder of his older half-brother and most serious rival, Kim Jong Nam, in 2017. Former leader Kim Jong Il’s brother was found drowned when they were children and his half-brother was effectively exiled for decades.

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Kayleigh McEnany Can’t Name River Where Trump Said Votes Were Dumped

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was unable Thursday to name any river where President Donald Trump claimed ballots had been dumped, one of his many shrill debate diatribes during his Tuesday night debate with challenger Joe Biden. 

McEnany then bizarrely slammed reporters for their lack of “curiosity.”

McEnany was pressed repeatedly by Fox News Radio White House correspondent Jon Decker to provide details about Trump’s comments that ballots were “dumped in rivers.” 

“They [also] found them in creeks,” Trump said of mail-in ballots at the debate, without offering any evidence or even specifying where he was talking about. 

Decker asked McEnany: “In this particular statement… who is ‘they’ that found those ballots, and where is this river anywhere in this country?” 

McEnany responded: “Local authorities. It was a ditch in Wisconsin” — but she provided no specific location.

“If he misspoke, it happened in a ditch, not a river?” Decker asked.

McEnany shook her head, then insisted: “That’s what the president was referring to.” 

Then she lectured Decker on “missing the forest for the trees,” and blamed journalists for their “lack of curiosity” about the problems and “fraud” that Trump keeps insisting will mark the widespread use of mail-in ballots in this year’s voting ― allegations that state election officials of both parties say are baseless.

Decker shot back to McEnany: I’m very curious — where is the river?”

He added: “I cover the news, I like to report accurately in the news, and the president says, ‘They found a lot of ballots in a river’ — I just want to know where the river is.”

As Trump relentlessly attacks the integrity of mail-in ballots (which he himself uses), critics accuse him of sowing mistrust in the process to suppress the vote to give himself a better chance of victory. In the event he loses, they predict, he’ll use the same specious claims to challenge the results.

“What he said [at the debate] was full of misstatements and inaccuracies,” Lawrence Norden, director of the Election Reform Program for the Brennan Center for Justice, told USA Today. “Mail-in ballots are safe and secure. We’ve been voting in some form by mail since the Civil War.

“It’s dangerous to be making these false statements and accusations so close to the election,” Norden added.

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before Congress last week that the agency has seen no sign of widespread voter fraud. 

The wild exchange between McEnany and Decker sent “Where is the river?” trending on Twitter.

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How 31-year-old Hope Hicks became the youngest White House communications director in history and a top executive at Fox before returning to counsel Trump

  • Hope Hicks, 31, was one of President Donald Trump's most trusted advisers.
  • Hicks had been with the Trump campaign — to use his words — "from the beginning." She left her job as White House communications director in February 2018 and joined Fox as a spokeswoman.
  • She's returning to the White House as a counselor to the president, reporting to Jared Kushner.
  • On October 1, Hicks reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

 

Hope Hicks was the youngest White House communications director in history. But before joining the 2016 Trump campaign, she had no political experience.

Hicks, now 31, was born in Greenwich, a town of 60,000 on the southwest tip of Connecticut that's a favorite spot for hedge-fund headquarters.

She was a model, actress, and lacrosse player as a child, before getting her English degree at Southern Methodist University.

Hicks didn't intend on playing such a large role in a presidential campaign, instead falling into the gig through a job at the Trump Organization.

In her time at the White House, Hicks became ensnared in two high-profile White House controversies: the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and her role in crafting the White House's response to abuse allegations against staff secretary Rob Porter.

In February 2018, Hicks announced she was resigning one day after she said in testimony she had occasionally told white lies for the president but never lied about anything consequential related to the Russia investigation.

After laying low in New York and Connecticut for several months, Hicks headed to 21st Century Fox as executive vice president and chief communications officer.

Now she's rejoining the White House as a counselor to the president, reporting to senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Here's what we know about Hicks.

Hicks and her sister, Mary Grace, were successful teen models. Hicks posed for Ralph Lauren and appeared on the cover of "It Girl," a spin-off of the best-selling "Gossip Girl" book and TV series.

Source: The New York Times

Hicks' first brush with the Trumps came in 2012 when she was at the public-relations firm Hiltzik Strategies working on Ivanka Trump's fashion line. Trump's eldest daughter hired Hicks away in 2014 and she became an employee of the Trump Organization.

Sources: New York Times, GQ, NYMag

Hicks met patriarch Trump and quickly "earned his trust," Ivanka Trump told The New York Times for a June 2016 profile on the spokeswoman.

Source: New York Times

In January 2015, Trump called Hicks into his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower and told her she was joining his presidential campaign. "I think it’s 'the year of the outsider.' It helps to have people with outsider perspective," Hicks said Trump told her.

Source: NYMag

Hicks didn't have any political experience, but her public-relations roots run deep. Both grandfathers worked in PR, and her father, Paul, was the NFL's executive vice president for communications and public relations. He was also a town selectman from 1987 to 1991. Greenwich proclaimed April 23, 2016, as Paul B. Hicks III Day.

Source: Town of Greenwich, GQ

Hicks started working on what would become Trump's campaign five months before Trump announced his presidency, after he famously rode a golden escalator down to the lobby of his tower on June 16, 2015.

That made Hicks the campaign staffer who lasted in Trump's inner circle the longest. She outlasted his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and several senior advisers.

People close to her describe Hicks as a friendly, loyal fighter. Trump has called her a "natural" and "outstanding."

While reporters who have worked with Hicks say she's polite, they have expressed frustration that she was often unreachable on the campaign trail, not responding to requests for comment, or denying access to the candidate.

She said her mom, Caye, told her to write a book about her experience with Trump, like "Primary Colors," the fictional novel depicting President Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign. "You don't even know," she said she told her mother.

Source: NYMag, Primary Colors

During the campaign, Hicks spent most of her days fielding reporters' requests and questions — even reportedly taking dictation from Trump to post his tweets.

Sources: NYMag, NYT

In July 2016, Donald Trump Jr. and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner met with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower to get "dirt" on opponent Hillary Clinton. Hicks later told Trump "this is going to be a massive story," and that the emails setting it up were "really bad," but he didn't want the details. The meeting became a key point of investigation in Mueller's Russia probe.

Sources: Business Insider, CNN, BuzzFeed

During the campaign, Hicks stayed in a free apartment in a Trump building, though she'd often go home to her parents' house in Connecticut when she could.

She followed Trump to DC. He named her assistant to the president and director of strategic communications in December 2017.

Source: Trump administration

She still flew below the radar, directing the spotlight back on Trump. The then president-elect called her up to the microphone to speak at a "Thank You" rally in December 2017.

It's been said she can act as a sort of Trump whisperer, understanding his many moods and professionally executing what needs to be done. She still only calls him "Sir" or "Mr. Trump."

Sources: New York Times, GQ, NYMag

"If the acting thing doesn’t work out, I could really see myself in politics," Hicks told Greenwich Magazine when she was 13. "Who knows."

Sources: New York Times

In June 2017, the White House released salary info for 377 top staffers. Hicks got paid the maximum amount that any of Trump's aides received: $179,700.

Source: The White House

Hicks made as much as Trump's former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, former press secretary Sean Spicer, senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, and policy adviser Stephen Miller.

Source: The White House

Some family members and friends have expressed concern that Hicks is so closely tied to a president whose policies and statements are unpopular with a significant number of Americans, but are confident that she'll come through unscathed.

Sources: New York Times, GQ

"There is just no way that a camera or an episode or a documentary could capture what has gone on. There is nothing like it," Hicks told Marie Claire in June 2016. "It is the most unbelievable, awe-inspiring thing."

Source: Marie Claire

In August 2017, Trump asked Hicks to be the new interim White House director of communications, a job that Michael Dubke, Sean Spicer, and Anthony Scaramucci held and left in Trump's first six months in office.

Sources: Daily Caller, New York Times, CNN

The White House said it would announce the permanent choice for the position "at the appropriate time." In September 2017, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it would be Hicks.

Source: Business Insider

That made 29-year-old Hicks the youngest White House communications director in history.

Sources: Daily Caller, New York Times, CNN

But she's became ensnared in the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Special counsel Robert Mueller's team interviewed her in December 2017, and she reportedly hinted at concealing explosive emails about the Trump Tower Russia meeting during a conference call with Trump in July 2016.

Sources: The New York Times, Business Insider

In February 2018, Hicks came under scrutiny for reportedly playing a key role in drafting a statement expressing vehement support for staff secretary Rob Porter after his two ex-wives accused him of physically and emotionally abusing them. Hicks and Porter were rumored to be dating.

Sources: CNN, Business Insider

In February 2018, she testified behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee on Trump's ties to Russia, and key incidents that she witnessed during the campaign and in the White House. She reportedly said she has told "white lies" for Trump.

Sources: Business Insider, The New York Times

Though she was front and center in the White House's scandals, Hicks remains a private person, revealing very little about her personal life, and remaining a mystery to many.

On February 28, 2018, news broke that she would resign in the coming weeks. Many in the White House were dismayed.

Source: Business Insider

"She is as smart and thoughtful as they come, a truly great person," Trump said in a statement. "I will miss having her by my side but when she approached me about pursuing other opportunities, I totally understood."

Source: Business Insider

"There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to President Trump," Hicks said in a statement. "I wish the President and his administration the very best as he continues to lead our country."

After leaving the White House, Hicks returned to her family home in Greenwich, Connecticut before being spotted in New York City, where she was reportedly on the job hunt.

Source: Page Six

Hicks made a rare public appearance when she boarded Air Force One in August 2018 to travel to an Ohio rally. Reportedly on Trump's invitation, Hicks talked off the record to reporters, even joking about her career prospects.

Source: Business Insider

After months of staying out of the spotlight, Hicks was confirmed to be heading to a spinoff of 21st Century Fox as executive vice president and chief communications officer in October 2018.

Source: Business Insider

In June 2019, Hicks testified behind closed doors before the House Judiciary Committee. Mueller's final report on the Russia investigation mentioned her name 184 times, so congressional investigators had a lot to talk to her about.

Source: Politico

But White House lawyers blocked Hicks from answering questions 155 times during her congressional testimony, citing "absolute immunity" and Trump's executive privilege.

Source: Business Insider

On February 13, news broke that Hicks was returning to the White House as a senior adviser. She'll report to Kushner and work with Brian Jack, the White House political director.

Sources: Business Insider, The New York Times

On October 1, it was reported that Hicks had tested positive for COVID-19 just days after flying on Air Force One with President Donald Trump and his senior staff.

Source: Business Insider

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Chris Wallace Blames Trump For Debate Chaos: He Bears ‘Primary Responsibility’

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace on Thursday placed the blame largely on President Donald Trump for the breakdown of the first presidential debate this week.

Wallace, the moderator of Tuesday’s faceoff between Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, told The New York Times Wednesday that the president’s behavior “certainly didn’t help,” but he did not apportion blame.

But Wallace dove deeper in an interview Thursday with his Fox News colleague, Bill Hemmer. He said that initially, when Trump started engaging Biden, he thought, “We’re going to have a real debate here.” But it soon became clear to him that this was something different.

“The president was determined to try to butt in and throw Joe Biden off,” he said, citing a Fox analysis that indicated Trump interrupted him and Biden a total of 145 times.

He added that Biden was partly culpable but that Trump “bears the primary responsibility for what happened.”

Trump repeatedly lied, interrupted and talked over both Biden and Wallace throughout the 90-minute debacle. Biden told him to “shut up” and called him a “clown.” 

Wallace also expressed deep frustration about the hundreds of hours of work preparing questions intended to provoke a serious, substantive exchange of views on key issues between the two candidates.

“I feel like I had gotten together all of the ingredients,” he said. “I had baked this beautiful, delicious cake, and then frankly, the president put his foot in it.”

He added: “It was frustrating for me because I tried hard to prepare for a serious debate, much more frustrating and more importantly for the American people because they didn’t get the debate they wanted that they deserved.”

Asked if he would go back and rewatch the debate, Wallace said, “Oh, God, no.”

The Commission on Presidential Debates vowed to make format changes for the remaining debates following Tuesday’s widely criticized event.

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Trump Aide Hope Hicks Tests Positive for Coronavirus Infection

Hope Hicks, one of President Donald Trump’s closest aides, has tested positive for coronavirus infection, according to people familiar with the matter.

There was no indication that the president has contracted the virus, the people said. Hicks traveled with Trump aboard Air Force One to and from the presidential debate on Tuesday.

The people asked not to be identified because Hicks’s infection has not been publicly announced. Messages left for Hicks were not immediately returned.

Hicks is the latest person in Trump’s orbit to contract the virus, which has infected more than 7.2 million Americans and killed more than 200,000. Other senior staff have contracted Covid-19 and recovered including National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, but few spend as much time with the president as Hicks, whose service dates to his 2016 campaign.

Some people close to Hicks were told that she is experiencing symptoms of the disease.

“The president takes the health and safety of himself and everyone who works in support of him and the American people very seriously,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “White House Operations collaborates with the physician to the president and the White House Military Office to ensure all plans and procedures incorporate current CDC guidance and best practices for limiting Covid-19 exposure to the greatest extent possible, both on complex and when the president is traveling.”

The development is likely to inflame criticism of the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the president’s disregard for public health measures to combat it.

Trump seldom wears a mask and has belittled his re-election challenger, Joe Biden, for routinely covering his face. The president has resumed holding large campaign rallies at which thousands of his supporters gather, shoulder to shoulder, few in masks.

Most of the events are held outdoors at airports but two recent events in Arizona and Nevada were indoors, a setting that public health experts warn raises the risk of virus transmission.

Hicks traveled with Trump to his debate with Biden on Tuesday and to a Minnesota rally on Wednesday. Trump’s entourage entered the debate hall without face coverings, or removed them as they sat down, and refused an offer of masks from a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, which was co-hosting the event.

Biden’s guests wore masks.

Hicks was seen on Tuesday riding maskless in a staff van with White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, campaign adviser Jason Miller and others.

When they returned to Washington on Tuesday, Stephen Miller and Hicks were seen sharing an umbrella as they exited Air Force One in the rain. Miller’s wife, Katie Miller — Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary — recovered from Covid-19 earlier this year.

Hicks felt poorly in Minnesota on Wednesday and was quarantined aboard Air Force One during the return flight, according to people familiar with the matter. She tested positive for the virus on Thursday.

Trump is tested regularly, though it is not clear precisely how often. People who work in the White House are tested daily, including members of the press corps, and anyone scheduled to meet with the president is tested beforehand.

Trump’s staff wear masks when traveling with him aboard the presidential helicopter, Marine One, and Hicks observed that protocol this week.

But his aides worry that Trump’s lack of sleep during the final stretch of the presidential campaign could leave him especially vulnerable to infection. The president did not return to the White House until after midnight following his Tuesday and Wednesday trips. Trump’s age, 74, also puts him at greater risk for serious illness from the virus.

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Curtains for Sizzler in Australia as COVID forces full closure

Iconic all-you-can-eat chain Sizzler will fry its final cheese toast in November after parent company Collins Foods said the COVID-19 pandemic had forced it to pull the plug on the brand.

The company's final nine sites will shut their doors on November 15 following years of underperformance. Around 600 jobs will be affected by the closures and Collins said appropriate redundancy payouts would be awarded and other positions would be found for as many staff as possible, across the company's Taco Bell and KFC network across Australia.

The remaining Sizzler stores will be shut with the loss of 600 jobs. Credit:John Woudstra

Collins chief executive Drew O'Malley said the decision was a difficult one for the retailer, but was necessary due to the outsized impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the buffet-centric brand.

"The ongoing impact of COVID-19 on revenues has meant that unfortunately, these restaurants have not established a clear path to profitability in the foreseeable future," he said.

Sizzler first originated in the US in 1958, beginning as a self-service steakhouse before expanding into the all-you-can-eat offering associated with the brand today.

Its first Australian store was opened by Collins Foods in 1986, where it gained significant popularity, especially throughout Queensland where it was first launched.

However, since 2013 Sizzler's performance has languished, and in 2015 Collins deemed the business 'non-core' and begun to shut stores in Australia, leaving it with just nine.

Sizzler revenues contributed to under 3 per cent of Collins Foods' total revenue for the 2020 financial year, and the company flagged that some one-off costs would be incurred for the first half of 2021.

The nine Sizzler stores set to close are in Queensland at Mermaid Beach, Loganholme, Toowoomba, Maroochydore and Caboolture; in Western Australia in Innaloo, Kelmscott and Morley; and in New South Wales in Campbelltown.

"Closing restaurants is not something we do often and not a decision we take lightly, especially for a
brand as beloved as Sizzler, which has been such an important part of the Collins Foods’ history," Mr O'Malley said.

"We are extremely grateful to our dedicated employees, suppliers and customers for their support and look forward to engaging with them through our other brands as Collins Foods’ overall growth story continues."

The Sizzler brand will live on in Asia however, with Collins pressing ahead with its plans to expand the restaurant chain in the region.

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House antitrust panel nears final steps in its investigation of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google

  • Congress' more than year-long investigation into four of the world's most valuable tech companies is nearing its final stages, paving the way for new legal proposals that could drastically alter antitrust enforcement in the U.S. for the years to come.
  • On Thursday, the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust held its seventh and final hearing in a series examining the state of competition in digital markets and the business practices of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google.
  • A report on the investigation is expected to include findings from the investigation and broad legislative proposals.

Congress' more than year-long investigation into four of the world's most valuable tech companies is nearing its final stages, paving the way for new legal proposals that could drastically alter antitrust enforcement in the U.S. for the years to come.

On Thursday, the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust held its seventh and final hearing in a series examining the health of competition in digital markets and the business practices of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The event was not as splashy as the subcommittee's July hearing featuring the four tech CEOs and it also took about half the time.

But the nitty-gritty legal questions at this latest hearing displayed a group of lawmakers nearing the final stage of a long-awaited conclusion to their tech probe.

Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., summarized the recurring themes from the expert witnesses at the end of the hearing for how to reform the laws. Those themes included:

  • Shifting the burden to dominant companies to prove their mergers will not harm competition, rather than forcing investigators to prove that a merger will harm competition.
  • Separating different lines of business to weed out conflicts of interest.
  • Beefing up resources at enforcement agencies.
  • Prohibiting companies from "discriminatory behavior." (He didn't expand on this point, but could have been talking about how companies promote and price their own products.)
  • Reversing court decisions that have "changed the intention of Congress" on antitrust law. 

A congressional aide for a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the process, told CNBC that committee members anticipate reviewing the report in the coming days before releasing it publicly.

So far, it seems the subcommittee staff has held the report closely. But Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., said in an interview Wednesday that, based on conversations with Cicilline and staff, he expects it will include an overview of the investigation's findings as well as broad legislative recommendations. Buck had not yet seen the report as of Wednesday.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who does not support updates to the antitrust laws, said in his opening testimony that enforcement of existing laws needs to step up. But he also noted reports that the Justice Department may soon bring an antitrust case against Google as evidence that change is already underway.

What experts want

Thursday's hearing featured a panel of antitrust experts who offered advice and feedback to lawmakers on what they should consider in their reforms.

For example, Bill Baer, a former antitrust chief at both the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice, told lawmakers it had become "nearly impossible" for enforcers to challenge mergers of potentially competitive nascent players. He and others on the panel suggested shifting the burden from the government to dominant firms to prove their deals would not harm competition.

Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout discussed the need for a structural separation of businesses that pose a potential conflict of interest. Cicilline recently discussed a similar idea of a "Glass-Steagall" type of reform, referring to the legislation that separated banks' commercial and investing arms. That could mean separating Amazon's marketplace for third-party vendors from its private label business, where it sells Amazon-branded products, or limiting Apple's ability to include and promote its own apps on its App Store, for instance. Enforcement advocates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have argued that dominant firms can favor their own businesses when they are allowed to both own a platform and participate on it.

'Bipartisan sweet spot'

As the investigation reaches this late stage, several committee members have publicly praised the continued bipartisan nature of the investigation. Buck told CNBC that such bipartisanship is important to send a strong message to the tech companies.

"I think the next stage is to issue a report and to make it as bipartisan as possible and make sure that we are not sending a message to the tech companies that there is a division on Capitol Hill," Buck said. "We need to be united in this and make sure that we do not go off into tangents on either side."

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., focused their questions at Thursday's hearing on alleged conservative bias by the tech platforms, spending more time discussing potential reforms to tech's legal liability shield, Section 230, than the antitrust laws. But Buck and Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., kept their questioning more narrow to competition policy and displayed their support for reform and adding resources for enforcers.

Buck said in the interview that while he is a "small government Republican" and "fiscal conservative," he believes the budgets of the FTC and DOJ don't allow sufficient staff for investigations of resource-rich firms. However, he does not support the creation of a new agency to regulate the tech industry like some Democrats do.

Formal bills, if they are even introduced in the coming months, will likely not make it far until the next Congress, during which there will be many priorities jostling for attention. But Thursday's hearing shows sustained interest from members of both political parties over the long investigation.

To pass legislation, Buck told CNBC, it will be important for lawmakers to focus on the areas on which they can agree.

"I think we really need to find this bipartisan sweet spot and recommend fixing some targeted areas that would enhance the role of the government in promoting competition," he said.

WATCH: How US antitrust law works, and what it means for Big Tech

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World News

Russia and 2 of the US's closest allies are picking sides as an old border dispute turns into a real war

  • Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to fight over disputed territory in what appears to be the most intense clash between the two longtime rivals in decades.
  • Bigger players in the region, including Russia and Turkey, are getting involved, and their efforts to shape the outcome may prolong the conflict.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

On Sunday, a territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan reignited and is now threatening to engulf the whole region.

A remnant of the Soviet Union's collapse, the autonomous Nagorno-Karabakh region is within Azerbaijan but has a predominately ethnic Armenian population and leadership.

This is not the first time that the two neighbors have clashed over the contested territory, and both sides claim the other started this round, but the fighting now is the most intense since the war of 1988-1994. Reports indicate that hundreds of people have been killed, including civilians, and hundreds more wounded.

Additionally, what makes the clashes more dangerous this time is the overt and covert involvement of two US allies and one competitor, namely Turkey, Israel, and, albeit indirectly, Russia.

A complicated chessboard

Turkey is an ally of Azerbaijan, while Armenia enjoys the support of Russia, which has a military base in the country.

Armenia is also a member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a rough equivalent to NATO. To complicate matters more, Russia has good relations with Azerbaijan going back to their common Soviet past.

What interests most third parties in this dispute is the security of the numerous oil and natural gas pipelines that slither from the Caucasus to Europe. Azerbaijan alone exports about 700,000 barrels of oil and close to 780 million cubic feet of gas a day, most of it going to the West. Some of those pipelines are perilously close to the Armenian border.

Wary of an escalation and what it could bring, the US State Department has warned that the "participation in the escalating violence by external parties would be deeply unhelpful and only exacerbate regional tensions."

On the other hand, as retired US Navy Adm. James Stavridis wrote this week, NATO has had little influence over the two contesters. This is Russia's sphere of influence.

Drones and mercenaries

Drones sold to Azerbaijan by Israel and Turkey are proving the bane of the Armenian military. The Azeris are using the drones to great effectiveness in strike, reconnaissance, and intelligence-gathering functions.

Footage emerging from the conflict shows the deadly effectiveness of the Azeri drones. In one instance, close to 30 Armenian soldiers had congregated around a logistics truck when a drone missile struck, killing and wounding several men and annihilating the truck.

Numerous other clips released by the Azeri Ministry of Defense show drones striking artillery and anti-aircraft pieces at will.

The Azeri drone fleet mainly includes the Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar and the Israeli-made ThunderB, Orbiter 3, SkyStriker, and IAI Harop.

The IAI Harop in particular is proving quite effective. A loitering munition, also known as a "suicide drone," it homes in on radio transmissions, such as those from anti-aircraft or rocket artillery batteries, and attacks the source. It can be directed from the ground or fly completely autonomously, and its stealthy profile makes it a hard target.

The Azeri drones have steadily dismantled the anti-aircraft umbrella protecting Armenian positions and now are targeting artillery positions and supply convoys with near impunity. With the direct and indirect help of Turkey and Israel, Azerbaijan enjoys crucial air superiority over the battlefield.

But Azerbaijan can count in more than drones to get an upper hand in the conflict. Turkey is helping Azerbaijan by sharing intelligence, offering logistical assistance, and providing limited air support. (Armenia is claiming that a Turkish F-16 fighter jet shot down an Armenian Su-25 aircraft, though Ankara has denied it.)

Crucially, however, Turkey has also sent Syrian mercenaries to fight alongside and support Azeri troops.

Turkey is no stranger to employing mercenary troops to further its agenda. According to the US State Department, Ankara has deployed close to 4,000 Syrian mercenaries, some of them former ISIS fighters, to Libya in support of the Government of National Accord (GNA).

Drones and Turkish assistance tipping the scale in favor of Azerbaijan might cause Russia to take an active role in the conflict.

It's in Russia's interest to maintain a balance of power between the two combatants, as Moscow would see a change that benefits Turkey or another rival as harmful to its standing in the region. If Turkish support offers Azerbaijan an edge in the conflict, and any political and diplomatic overtures fail, then Moscow might step in on the side of Armenia.

Russia can do that without committing troops to the fighting.

For example, it could reiterate its security guarantee, using its forces to help defend Armenia proper – Moscow doesn't extend that guarantee to the disputed region – and thereby allow the Armenian military to redeploy more and better anti-aircraft systems to the contested region to deal with the Azeri drones. Additionally, it could authorize emergency sales to Armenia of weapons tailored to deal with Azeri air superiority.

Moreover, Moscow may very well use this opportunity to stretch Turkey financially and militarily.

The Kremlin is already in direct or indirect confrontation with Ankara in Libya and Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin might find the opportunity to further destabilize the shambling Turkish economy, and thus end the country's neo-imperial aspirations, too tempting to ignore.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (National Service with the 575th Marine Battalion & Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

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