On Tuesday, President Donald Trump fired James Comey, director of the FBI. Although Comey had been widely criticized for his handling of investigations related to the 2016 election, his dismissal was a shock to many observers, because he was overseeing an investigation into Russian interference in the election and whether any members of the Trump administration were involved. We're liveblogging the aftermath of the dismissal below; here are some highlights from our ongoing coverage:
The Senate Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Michael Flynn
The Senate Intelligence Committee formally issued a subpoena Wednesday to Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national-security adviser, for “documents relevant to the Committee’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.” In a press release announcing the subpoena, Richard Burr, the committee’s Republican chairman, and Mark Warner, its Democratic ranking member, said they had originally requested the documents in an April 28 letter but Flynn declined to offer them voluntarily.
The subpoena is among the most advanced steps yet in either congressional investigation into Russian electoral interference. While the committee indicated it was the natural outcome of Flynn’s refusal to cooperate, it also sends a signal that the committee’s work will go forward despite FBI Director James Comey’s controversial ouster on Tuesday. NBC News reported that it’s the first of its kind from the Senate Intelligence Committee since the 9/11 attacks investigation and the first subpoena for documents from the committee since the Church Committee in the 1970s, which investigated U.S. intelligence-community abuses.
Was Comey Fired After Asking for More Resources in the Russian Meddling Investigation?
The Department of Justice is denying reports that former FBI Director James Comey was fired just days after he asked for more resources to investigate alleged connections between the Trump administration and Russian election meddling.
The New York Timesfirst reported the news Wednesday morning, saying Comey met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last week, according to three anonymous sources. Rosenstein is the top official in charge of the investigation, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after it was learned he failed to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador. Rosenstein also wrote the memo recommending Comey’s dismissal.
Whether or not Comey asked for more resources and then found himself without a job a few days later is important because it bolsters the narrative that the Trump administration is seeking to undermine the investigation into Russia’s alleged election meddling. In a terse response to The Atlantic, when asked if the reports were true, DOJ spokesman Ian Prior said, “totally false.”
The Times reported that Comey briefed members of Congress after his meeting with Rosenstein, and told them he was frustrated by the lack of personnel and money provided to his agency for the investigation. He said he hoped to speed up the investigation, but in order to do so he needed more resources.
At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Comey’s dismissal had nothing to do with the investigation into Russia. She said Rosenstein and Sessions both told Trump they had concerns about Comey, and that Trump asked them to “put those concerns in writing.” Not long after, Trump fired Comey.
In Full Hockey Gear, Putin Responds to Comey's Firing
While President Donald Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Wednesday morning at the White House, President Vladimir Putin was back in Russia preparing for a hockey game. As he was about to take the ice, CBS News stopped Putin at the rink’s entryway. Putin greeted reporter Elizabeth Palmer with a smirk. Dressed in hockey pads and a jersey, through a translator, Putin played off Comey’s dismissal as a purely domestic issue. Here’s a transcription of the quick conversation, and below it the video.
“Sir,” Palmer said, “how will the firing of James Comey affect U.S.-Russia relations?
“There will be no effect,” Putin replied. “Your question looks very funny for me. Don't be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that. President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence, in accordance with his law and constitution. What about us? Why we?”
“You see,” Putin told Palmer, “I am going to play hockey with the hockey fans. And I invite you to do the same.”
According to Russian media, Putin only learned to ice skate six years ago. He finished the game with seven points.
The Republicans Who Find Trump's Timing Suspicious
Democrats say James Comey’s firing comes conveniently as the investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election ramps up. And while there are plenty of conservatives who’ve rushed to support Trump’s decision, as my colleague Russell Berman notes, some Republicans have also called the timing suspicious. Arizona Senator John McCain, who has long been a critic of Trump, said he was “disappointed” in the decision. McCain acknowledged that the “president does have that constitutional authority. But I can’t help but think that this is not a good thing for America.”
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said it was important the investigation be free of political interference, and that Comey’s “removal at this particular time will raise questions.” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who is also chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee, said the “timing of this firing is very troubling.” And North Carolina Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr also said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning” of Comey’s dismissal.
Dir. Comey has been more forthcoming w/ information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intel committees.
Other Congressional Republicans who are skeptical of Trump’s decision include Michigan Representative Justin Amash, who called part of Trump’s dismissal letter to Comey “bizarre,” because the president thanked the FBI director for assuring him on three occasions that he was not being investigated. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake tweeted Tuesday night that he’d “spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it.”
In the United States, this pandemic could be almost over by now. The reasons it’s still going are pretty clear.
In the United States, this pandemic could’ve been over by now, and certainly would’ve been by Labor Day. If the pace of vaccination through the summer had been anything like the pace in April and May, the country would be nearing herd immunity. With most adults immunized, new and more infectious coronavirus variants would have nowhere to spread. Life could return nearly to normal.
Experts list many reasons for the vaccine slump, but one big reason stands out: vaccine resistance among conservative, evangelical, and rural Americans. Pro-Trump America has decided that vaccine refusal is a statement of identity and a test of loyalty.
In April, people in counties that Joe Biden won in 2020 were two points more likely to be fully vaccinated than people in counties that Donald Trump won: 22.8 percent were fully vaccinated in Biden counties; 20.6 percent were fully vaccinated in Trump counties. By early July, the vaccination gap had widened to almost 12 points: 46.7 percent were fully vaccinated in Biden counties, 35 percent in Trump counties. When pollsters ask about vaccine intentions, they record a 30-point gap: 88 percent of Democrats, but only 54 percent of Republicans, want to be vaccinated as soon as possible. All told, Trump support predicts a state’s vaccine refusal better than average income or education level.
Backlash to the ice-cream maker’s decision to distinguish between Israel and the territories it occupies has shown that, for many Israelis, the distinction no longer exists.
No company does progressive politics quite like Ben & Jerry’s. The Vermont-based ice-cream maker has a reputation for corporate activism, owing to its support for a wide array of left-wing causes, including marriage equality, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter. But when the company announced this week that it will no longer sell its products in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, it faced an outcome that every ice-cream maker fears most: a meltdown.
The matter of Israel’s settlements, which the international community regards as illegal under international law but which the Trump administration said will need to be resolved through a political and not a judicial process, has long been a thorny issue in Israel. (The Biden administration has yet to articulate its own policy on this.) When it comes to ice cream, though, the country’s notoriously fractious political sphere is virtually unanimous. Israel’s right-wing prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said that Ben & Jerry’s has decided to brand itself as an “anti-Israel ice cream.” His centrist coalition partner, Yair Lapid, called the move a “shameful surrender to anti-Semitism.” Israeli President Isaac Herzog of the center-left, who once committed to removing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, called Ben & Jerry’s decision to shun them “a new kind of terrorism.” The newly minted opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, suggested that Israelis should boycott the brand. One centrist cabinet minister dutifully posted a TikTok of herself chucking a pint of what looked like Dulce de Leche into the trash.
The once-dynamic state is closing the door on economic opportunity.
Behold California, colossus of the West Coast: the most populous American state; the world’s fifth-largest economy; and arguably the most culturally influential, exporting Google searches and Instagram feeds and iPhones and Teslas and Netflix Originals and kimchi quesadillas. This place inspires awe. If I close my eyes I can see silhouettes of Joshua trees against a desert sunrise; seals playing in La Jolla’s craggy coves of sun-spangled, emerald seawater; fog rolling over the rugged Sonoma County coast at sunset into primeval groves of redwoods that John Steinbeck called “ambassadors from another time.”
This landscape is bejeweled with engineering feats: the California Aqueduct; the Golden Gate Bridge; and the ribbon of Pacific Coast Highway that stretches south of Monterey, clings to the cliffs of Big Sur, and descends the kelp-strewn Central Coast, where William Hearst built his Xanadu on a hillside where his zebras still graze. No dreamscape better inspires dreamers. Millions still immigrate to my beloved home to improve both their prospects and ours.
I carried on for more than a year of the coronavirus pandemic, but I didn’t see the next plague coming.
After the end of the world, there will be birdsong. I used to imagine this when everything was going awry. I would lie in bed in my college dorm room and listen to the lone mockingbird who sang all night outside my window in the spring months. I was worried about something or other; he was getting on with things. It’s what birds do. They have a knack for it. In the Book of Genesis, after the devastation of the Earth by God’s cataclysmic flood, Noah releases from his ark a dove; he knows that the trial has ended when the bird does not return, having alighted somewhere out in the damp and dreary world, the first land-dwelling creature to begin the work of carrying on.
What else is there to do? When COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, late in the winter of 2020, I told myself as much. In plagues, as in life, there is a morally arbitrary hierarchy of luck, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that my family and I were among the lucky ones. I was in my late 20s, hale and hearty, my husband the same plus a couple of years. Our children were young—our baby was, in fact, under a year old, something I eventually mentioned in a meekly anxious aside to a doctor I was interviewing for a story on the emerging pandemic. He acknowledged certain risks in the way that doctors do, and then said: “Don’t worry. Kids are kicking ass with this thing.” I was both comforted and chastened; this wasn’t mine to panic about. The best I could do for those in peril was to carry on.
Representative Nancy Mace of South Carolina hoped to be the face of a post-Trump GOP. She soon learned there is no such thing.
Nancy Mace was on a mission to find a gun that would fit inside her purse. It was the first Friday in March, and we’d come to a shooting range in North Charleston to try out the Sig Sauer P365. She strode to a shooting lane, her high-heeled leather boots clomping across the concrete, slapped a magazine into the squat black pistol, and fired a few rounds at the human outline on the paper target in front of her. Most of the bullets seemed to hit the chest area. The sound made my teeth rattle. “Whoa,” I said. Mace adjusted the earmuffs resting on her long, perfectly wavy brown hair and smiled. “I came here after my divorce,” she said. “It was like therapy.”
Mace, who is 43, has always liked shooting—the deep concentration it requires, the way it allows her to focus her thoughts. But she hadn’t wanted to carry a firearm until December, when she says she started getting death threats. She’d just been elected to represent South Carolina’s First Congressional District, narrowly defeating Joe Cunningham, a moderate Democrat who’d flipped the district in the blue tsunami of 2018. She had also made clear that she would vote to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election. In response, a Republican constituent threatened on social media to shoot her. Right away, she told me, she applied for a concealed-carry permit; having a handgun handy might restore her “peace of mind.”
A newish wave of sophisticated, adult board games have made exploitation part of their game mechanics. A reckoning is coming.
The board game “Puerto Rico” begins after everyone around the table receives a mat printed with the verdant interior of the game’s namesake island. Players are cast as European tycoons who have trekked across the Atlantic at the height of the Age of Exploration. “In 1493 Christopher Columbus discovered the easternmost island of the Great Antilles,” read the back of the game box that once sat on my living-room shelf. “About 50 years later, Puerto Rico began to really blossom.” To win, one must “achieve the greatest prosperity and highest respect.”
In practice, that means the mechanics of “Puerto Rico” are centered around cultivation, exploitation, and plunder. Each turn, a player takes a role—the “settler,” the “builder,” the “trader,” the “craftsman,” the “captain,” and so on—and tries to slowly transform their tropical enclave into a tidy, 16th-century imperial settlement. Perhaps they uproot the wilds and replace them with tobacco pastures or corn acreage, or maybe they outfit the rocky reefs with fishing wharfs and harbors, in order to ship those goods back across the ocean. All of this is possible only with the help of a resource that the game calls “colonists,” —represented by small, brown discs in the game’s first edition, which was published by Rio Grande Games and is available in major retailers—who arrive by ship and are sent by players to work on their plantations.
They’re not all anti-vaxxers, and treating them as such is making things worse.
Last week, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that COVID-19 is “becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” President Joe Biden said much the same shortly after. They are technically correct. Even against the fast-spreading Delta variant, the vaccines remain highly effective, and people who haven’t received them are falling sick far more often than those who have. But their vulnerability to COVID-19 is the only thing that unvaccinated people universally share. They are disparate in almost every way that matters, including why they haven’t yet been vaccinated and what it might take to persuade them. “‘The unvaccinated’ are not a monolith of defectors,” Rhea Boyd, a pediatrician and public-health advocate in the San Francisco Bay Area, tweeted on Saturday.
Why did so many Americans receive strange packages they didn’t think they’d ordered?
Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner, sat atop his stallion Smokey and faced the camera. It was Saturday, August 1, 2020. Miller had a message to share.
“Good morning, patriots,” Miller began, raising the coiled lasso in his right hand by way of greeting. “I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of all these surprises coming out of China. First it was the Chinese virus, then we had the murder hornets, then we had to close the embassy in Houston because of espionage … Now we’ve got all these mystery seeds coming in in the mail.”
It was the seeds that Miller wanted to speak about. By then, news of the seeds had been circulating for several days. Packets were turning up at homes across the United States; residents of every state would eventually report receiving them. Their address labels and Customs declarations indicated that they had been sent from China. The contents were usually described as an item of jewelry—something like “rose stud earrings”—but inside would be a small packet of unidentified seeds. There was no evident reason why particular people were receiving particular seeds, or why people were receiving seeds at all.
Humans are terrible at finding bats and birds killed by wind turbines. Dogs are great at it.
Kayla Fratt began preparing for her summer job in March, when a package of frozen bat carcasses arrived for her in the mail. Well, actually, the bats were for her border collies, Barley and Niffler, and it is really their summer job too. They needed to learn the scent of a dead bat, because they would be spending three months on wind farms, looking for bats killed by spinning turbines.
To teach them, Fratt, who worked as a dog trainer before getting into the bat-detection business, began by hiding the carcasses around her living room (in Tupperware, lest their smell linger on the furniture). The dogs soon graduated to hunting for dead bats in the yard, then in parks. Fratt took to carrying bat carcasses around when she left the house with Barley or Niffler, just in case they found themselves with free time to practice in a new location. All three of them reported for duty at a midwestern wind farm earlier this month. When we spoke last week, Fratt told me their orientation was starting the next day. Then, she said, “we hit the ground running.”
In 1955, just past daybreak, a Chevrolet truck pulled up to an unmarked building. A 14-year-old child was in the back.
This article was published online on July 22, 2021.
The dentist was a few minutes late, so I waited by the barn, listening to a northern mockingbird in the cypress trees. His tires kicked up dust when he turned off Drew Ruleville Road and headed across the bayou toward his house. He got out of his truck still wearing his scrubs and, with a smile, extended his hand: “Jeff Andrews.”
The gravel crunched under his feet as he walked to the barn, which is long and narrow with sliding doors in the middle. Its walls are made of cypress boards, weathered gray, and it overlooks a swimming pool behind a white columned house. Jeff Andrews rolled up the garage door he’d installed.
Our eyes adjusted to the darkness of the barn where Emmett Till was tortured by a group of grown men. Christmas decorations leaned against one wall. Within reach sat a lawn mower and a Johnson 9.9-horsepower outboard motor. Dirt covered the spot where Till was beaten, and where investigators believe he was killed. Andrews thinks he was strung from the ceiling, to make the beating easier. The truth is, nobody knows exactly what happened in the barn, and any evidence is long gone. Andrews pointed to the central rafter.