Live Coverage

Today's News: Dec. 2, 2016

Trump’s call to Taiwan, deadly Tennessee fires, and more from the United States and around the world.


—President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday, a surprising diplomatic move that will likely anger the Chinese government. More here

—The death toll in the wildfires that spread through Gatlinburg, Tennessee, rose to 13. More here

—Members of a South Carolina jury said they could not reach a verdict in the murder trial of Michael Slager, a former North Charleston police officer charged with fatally shooting unarmed black man Walter Scott. More here

—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).


This live blog has concluded

Trump Breaks Diplomatic Precedence With Call to Taiwanese Leader

Donald Trump hasn’t assumed the presidency yet and he may have just caused an international incident. The president-elect on Friday spoke with the president of Taiwan, a nation with which the United States broke off diplomatic relations in 1979. As my colleague Matt Ford writes, this will likely anger the Chinese government, which views Taiwan as part of China. More on the implications of the call here.

Washington Monument Closes Until 2019

Mike Hutchings / Reuters

The Washington Monument will be closed for two and a half years while it undergoes repairs to modernize its elevator system, the National Park Service announced Friday. The restoration of the 555-foot obelisk, which was shuttered indefinitely in September due to elevator issues, will be funded by billionaire philanthropist and Carlyle Group CEO David Rubenstein, who previously donated $7.5 million towards repairing the monument after it was damaged in a 2011 earthquake. The repairs are projected to cost between $2 million and $3 million.

Jury Says No Verdict in Shooting of Walter Scott

Michael Slager, a former North Charleston police officer who shot Walter Scott five times in the back, testifies in his murder trial at the Charleston County court in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 29. (Reuters)

Members of a South Carolina jury said they could not reach a verdict in the murder trial of Michael Slager, a former North Charleston police officer charged with fatally shooting Walter Scott, an unarmed black man in April 2015. The jury alerted Judge Clifton Newman of the deadlock Friday after three days of deliberation, during which they were given the task with unanimously assigning a conviction of murder, a conviction of manslaughter, or an acquittal. The judge urged the jury “to make every reasonable effort to reach a unanimous verdict,” adding that a failure to do so would compel him to declare the case a mistrial. Slager is charged with three crimes, including violating Scott’s civil rights, for shooting the 50-year-old five times in the back after pulling him over during a traffic stop—an incident that a passerby caught on video. Slager has plead self-defense, alleging he did not know Scott was unarmed and that he was in “total fear.”

U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up Seven New Cases

Carlos Barria / Reuters

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear seven new cases, including appeals brought by hospital systems claiming a church exemption to federal pension regulations. In Advocate Health Care v. Stapleton and two related cases, lower courts sided with workers against three church-affiliated hospital systems that claimed an exemption from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974. The hospital systems argue the federal government has long interpreted the church plan exemption to include church-affiliated organizations. Workers say the statute’s plain text, which limits the exemption to plans “established and maintained…by a church,” is on their side. At stake are billions of dollars in benefits protections for hospital workers in religiously affiliated healthcare companies.

The Court also agreed to hear Howell v. Howell, a case involving retirement pay for divorced military spouses; Impression Products v. Lexmark, a patent law dispute involving toner-cartridge resales; Water Splash v. Menon, a rare Hague Convention case on serving legal notices; and Los Angeles County v. Mendez, a Fourth Amendment case challenging the Ninth Circuit’s “provocation doctrine” in police shootings.

Aleppo's Beloved Clown Is Killed in an Airstrike

Omar Sanadiki / Reuters

Anas al-Basha, the 24-year-old Syrian known for dressing up as a clown to entertain traumatized children in eastern Aleppo, was killed in an airstrike Tuesday, his family says.

Al-Basha served as the director of Space for Hope, a local initiative that serves schools and support centers in rebel-held parts of the city, as well as provides counseling and financial support for more than 300 children who have lost at least one parent in the conflict. Samar Hijazi, al-Basha’s supervisor at Space for Hope, told the Associated Press that al-Basha would act out skits for the children. Though tens of thousands of people have fled Aleppo in recent weeks following the Syrian government’s advance into the city’s eastern neighborhoods, al-Basha’s brother, Mahmoud, said his brother refused to leave. “All what Anas wanted is to bring happiness to the children of Aleppo,” Mahmoud said Wednesday in a post. “He lived to make children laugh and happy in the darkest most dangerous place on this world.” Though Space for Hope has temporarily suspended its operations due to the latest government offensive on the city, Hijazi said the group must “continue with our work.”

German Police Say the Stolen Nazi Gate From Dachau Has Turned Up in Norway

Michael Dalder / Reuters

A gate stolen two years ago from Dachau, the Nazi concentration camp near Munich, turned up in Norway on Friday with help from an anonymous tipster. The wrought-iron gate was one of the more well-recognized, and chilling, symbols of the Holocaust, and featured the words, "Arbeit macht frei," or "Work will set you free." It had been built by prisoners in the camp, which opened two months after Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. Dachau at first incarcerated political prisoners, but it later became a concentration camp, where more than 200,000 Jews from all over Europe were held and 41,000 killed. After someone stole the gate in November 2014, a replacement was built and fitted last year. Aside from saying the recovered gate was “highly likely” to be the original, police did not say how it ended up in Norway. Once returned, the International Dachau Committee will decide what to do with the gate.

Tennessee Wildfires Death Toll Rises to 13

Smoke rises from the charred remains of remains of a building in Gatlinburg, Tennessee on November 30, 2016. (Mark Humphrey / AP)

The death toll in the wildfires that spread through Gatlinburg, Tennessee, was raised to 13, officials announced Friday. Twelve of the victims died as a direct result of the fire, while one is believed to have suffered a heart attack brought on by smoke inhalation while attempting to run from the flames. Jon and Janet Summers, both 61 years old, were identified among those killed, as was Alice Hagler, a 70-year-old Gatlinburg native. The identities of the remaining victims have not been released. The blaze, which began Monday in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and scorched more than 15,000 acres of the area surrounding the resort mountain city, destroyed nearly 1,000 structures in its path and displaced more than 14,000 people. Park officials said Wednesday that the fire is “likely to be human-caused.”

Save the Children Wants the UN to Divert Seized Nigerian Assets to Pay for Aid Efforts

Sunday Alamba / AP

Save the Children asked the United Nations on Friday to repurpose millions of dollars looted from Nigeria and laundered through the United Kingdom—money that is normally confiscated—to go toward helping Nigerian children at risk of starvation. For seven years, Boko Haram, which has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State, has terrorized northeast Nigeria and forced millions of people to leave their homes. That has meant farms in the area have gone unplanted or untended, causing a food crisis. In its briefing to the UN Friday, which was submitted as part of a Nigeria’s relief plan, Save the Children raised the the example of James Ibori, a former governor of an oil-rich Nigerian state, who pleaded guilty to stealing and laundering $63 million. That money, instead of sitting in U.K. banks, could be used to help some of the 2 million people displaced by violence in the area, Save the Children said. On Monday the UN will discuss Nigeria’s relief plan, which calls for $1.2 billion just to aid those displaced in the country’s northeast.

In 2016 Merriam-Webster Says People Have Fascism on the Mind

Unless there is a surge in searches for the meaning of “flummadiddle”—as Merriam-Webster implored its users—the dictionary’s most queried word this year will be “fascism.” And because that’s the metric Merriam-Webster uses to decide its Word of the Year, 2016 will likely become synonymous with: “A political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual … .” Of course, the word of the year is meant to offer insight into what has captured peoples’ curiosity in any year, and in the past two years it seems politics have dominated minds. In 2015, Merriam-Webster chose the suffix -ism as Word of the Year. Searches for fascism had ranked highly, but the most frequently searched for words was “socialism,” which garnered interest alongside the rise of the democratic-socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. In 2008, people wondered what “bailout” meant, and two years later, as the world tried to clear away the debt, they sought the definition of “austerity.” Along with fascism in 2016, people most often turned to Merriam-Webster to understand words like bigot, resurgence, diatribe, misogyny, and xenophobe.

UPDATE: Gambia's President Concedes After Stunning Election Loss

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh holds a copy of the Quran while speaking to a poll worker at a polling station in Banjul on Thursday. (Thierry Gouegnon / Reuters)

Updated at 3:55 p.m. ET

Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s longtime leader, conceded Friday after a surprising loss in the presidential election. The AP reported that the concession came on national TV. Jammeh reportedly said he won’t contest the result. The president, who ruled Gambia for 22 years after taking power in a coup in 1994, faced Adama Barrow in Thursday’s vote. The Electoral Commission said Barrow received 45 percent and Jammeh 36 percent. Human-rights groups have in the past accused Jammeh of crushing dissent in the West African nation of nearly 2 million people.

Europol Warns of ISIS Attacks in Europe

(Eric Gaillard / Reuters)

ISIS has “already adopted new tactics to attack the West,” as it faces defeat in Iraq and Syria, Europol, the European Union’s police agency, warned Friday. Europol’s European Counter Terrorism Center, in its report, said, “Further attacks in the EU, both by lone actors and groups, are likely to be attempted,” adding ISIS may already have sent several dozen people to Europe “with a capability to commit terrorist attacks.” The report warned that ISIS recruiters may be focusing their attention on Syrian refugees in Europe, hoping to radicalize them. Europe was the scene this year of high-profile terrorist attacks, claimed by ISIS, in Nice, France, and Brussels. In 2015, ISIS-linked militants claimed credit for two major attacks in Paris—one on Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine, and the other on several locations in Paris.