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.”
The film is a face-off between two visions of the American West—one of promise and the other of hostility.
The banjo may seem like an innocent instrument, but in The Power of the Dog, it’s downright menacing. The swaggering rancher Phil Burbank (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) at the center of Jane Campion’s new film is introduced as a thin-skinned bully who’s quick to insult those around him. But I didn’t realize what a frightening character he was going to be until Phil retired to his bed, pulled out a banjo, and started angrily plucking at it; that humble string instrument hasn’t been played so malevolently on-screen since the notorious “dueling banjos” of Deliverance.
Campion’s first feature film in 12 years, based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, is set on a 1925 Montana ranch that’s surrounded by spiky mountains and acres of barren landscape filled with both promise and hostility. There, Phil has proudly carved out a lonely existence for himself as a cattle herder, while his full-hearted brother, George (Jesse Plemons), is dissatisfied with their spartan life and seeking companionship. Into this dynamic wanders local widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst) and her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). George marries Rose, seeing the newcomers as the beginning of a real family, but Phil derides them as too weak for life on the range.
I spent a lifetime counseling others before my diagnosis. Will I be able to take my own advice?
I have spent a good part of my life talking with people about the role of faith in the face of imminent death. Since I became an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1975, I have sat at countless bedsides, and occasionally even watched someone take their final breath. I recently wrote a small book, On Death, relating a lot of what I say to people in such times. But when, a little more than a month after that book was published, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was still caught unprepared.
On the way home from a conference of Asian Christians in Kuala Lumpur in February 2020, I developed an intestinal infection. A scan at the hospital showed what looked like enlarged lymph nodes in my abdomen: No cause for concern, but come back in three months just to check. My book was published. And then, while all of us in New York City were trying to protect ourselves from COVID-19, I learned that I already had an agent of death growing inside me.
No hygge here: Our culture writer offers five rollicking television shows to keep your energy high through the last chapter of 2021.
Now that it’s December, you may be tempted to settle in and get cozy. That doesn’t mean your entertainment has to be bland.
To help spice up this first weekend of the last month of the year, I asked our culture writer Shirley Li to pick a few spunky or nerve-wracking shows to stave off the winter slump. Happy watching.
This new coming-of-age survival thriller is “sort of like Lost meets Lord of the Flies meets Jennifer’s Body,” Shirley tells me. “The pilot is one of the best I’ve seen this year, and the show is incredibly twisty.”
Like it or not, the way we work has already evolved.
In 2019, Steven Spielbergcalled for a ban on Oscar eligibility for streaming films, claiming that “movie theaters need to be around forever” and that audiences had to be given “the motion picture theatrical experience” for a movie to be a movie. Spielberg’s fury was about not only the threat that streaming posed to the in-person viewing experience but the ways in which the streaming giant Netflix reported theatrical grosses and budgets, despite these not being the ways in which one evaluates whether a movie is good or not. Netflix held firm, saying that it stood for “everyone, everywhere [enjoying] releases at the same time,” and for “giving filmmakers more ways to share art.” Ultimately, Spielberg balked, and last month his company even signed a deal with Netflix, likely because he now sees the writing on the wall: Modern audiences enjoy watching movies at home.
Insights into the little-studied realm of last words
Mort Felix liked to say that his name, when read as two Latin words, meant “happy death.” When he was sick with the flu, he used to jokingly remind his wife, Susan, that he wanted Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” played at his deathbed. But when his life’s end arrived at the age of 77, he lay in his study in his Berkeley, California, home, his body besieged by cancer and his consciousness cradled in morphine, uninterested in music and refusing food as he dwindled away over three weeks in 2012. “Enough,” he told Susan. “Thank you, and I love you, and enough.” When she came downstairs the next morning, she found Felix dead.
During those three weeks, Felix had talked. He was a clinical psychologist who had also spent a lifetime writing poetry, and though his end-of-life speech often didn’t make sense, it seemed to draw from his attention to language. “There’s so much so in sorrow,” he said at one point. “Let me down from here,” he said at another. “I’ve lost my modality.” To the surprise of his family members, the lifelong atheist also began hallucinating angels and complaining about the crowded room—even though no one was there.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his new podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.
Everyone—even the most privileged among us—has circumstances they would like to change in their life. As the early sixth-century Roman philosopher Boethius put it, “One has abundant riches, but is shamed by his ignoble birth. Another is conspicuous for his nobility, but through the embarrassments of poverty would prefer to be obscure. A third, richly endowed with both, laments the loneliness of an unwedded life.”
Think about your own life and something causing you stress, anxiety, or sadness. For example, maybe you are struggling to find your job or career interesting and fulfilling. Or maybe you aren’t getting much out of your friendships, and feel lonely. How might you improve the situation? Your answer might be, “I should move, get a new job, and meet new people.” In other words, you should change the outside world to make it better for you.
The preponderance of the evidence suggests that social media is causing real damage to adolescents.
Social media gets blamed for many of America’s ills, including the polarization of our politics and the erosion of truth itself. But proving that harms have occurred to all of society is hard. Far easier to show is the damage to a specific class of people: adolescent girls, whose rates of depression, anxiety, and self-injury surged in the early 2010s, as social-media platforms proliferated and expanded. Much more than for boys, adolescence typically heightens girls’ self-consciousness about their changing body and amplifies insecurities about where they fit in their social network. Social media—particularly Instagram, which displaces other forms of interaction among teens, puts the size of their friend group on public display, and subjects their physical appearance to the hard metrics of likes and comment counts—takes the worst parts of middle school and glossy women’s magazines and intensifies them.
There was a time when someone like Jones would have been too toxic to embrace.
Earlier this week, Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson, the host of the top-rated news show on cable, rose in defense of the right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
“Jones is often mocked for his flamboyance,” Carlson said, “but the truth is he has been a far better guide to reality in recent years—in other words, a far better journalist—than, say, NBC News national-security correspondent Ken Dilanian or Margaret Brennan of CBS.”
Flamboyance is a rather interesting word to apply to Jones; there are others.
Last month Jones, the host of Infowars, was found liable for damages in a defamation lawsuit brought by parents of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, whose victims included 20 young children. Jones claimed that the shooting was a “false flag” operation carried out by “crisis actors.” He mocked grieving parents, saying, “I’ve looked at it, and undoubtedly there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying, and they were preplanning before it and rolled out with it.”
The Humans turns a difficult Thanksgiving dinner into something grotesque.
The Humans features no ghosts, monsters, or poltergeists. It’s not set inside a haunted house, an abandoned building, or a tract of shadowy woods. And yet, it might be the scariest movie of the year.
Based on Stephen Karam’s Tony-winning play, and adapted and directed by Karam himself, The Humans centers on the Blake family as they gather in lower Manhattan for a Thanksgiving dinner. The mood is about as warm as a broken oven. Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell, brilliantly reprising her role from the play) and Erik (Richard Jenkins) have driven hours to visit their younger daughter, Brigid (Beanie Feldstein), at her new apartment, where she lives with her boyfriend, Richard (Steven Yeun)—but all they’ve gotten for their journey are terse thank-yous and cheap champagne in plastic cups. Aimee (Amy Schumer), their older daughter, is still reeling from a recent breakup and career setbacks, while Momo (June Squibb), Erik’s mother, has dementia and must be cared for at all times. The setting doesn’t help: Brigid and Richard’s home is a thin-walled, claustrophobia-inducing space that lets in barely any natural light. Each family member has something to get off his or her chest, and it’s as if their collective dread has permeated the foreboding premises. Or is it the reverse?
Why is Hollywood still hiring this raging anti-Semite?
Every day, as dawn’s rosy fingers reach through my window, I arise and check in with Twitter, to see what fresh hell awaits. Generally, by about 6:30, I’ve been made furious by the outrage du jour. But recently, I experienced more of a sense of bemusement than ire, as I took in Deadline’s headline: “Mel Gibson in Talks to Direct Lethal Weapon 5.”
Gibson is a well-known Jew-hater (anti-Semite is too mild). His prejudices are well documented. So my question is, what does a guy have to do these days to get put on Hollywood’s no-fly list? I’m a character actor. I tend to take the jobs that come my way. But—and this hurts to write—you couldn’t pay me enough to work with Mel Gibson.
Now, I love the Lethal Weapon movies (at least the first few). And Danny Glover’s a gem. But Gibson? Yes, he’s a talented man. Many horrible people produce wonderful art. Put me down as an ardent fan of Roald Dahl, Pablo Picasso, and Edith Wharton; can’t get enough of what they’re selling. But these three had the good taste to die. That makes it a lot easier to enjoy their output. Gibson lives. And Tinseltown need not employ him further.