US briefing: Stone pardon plea, climate denial bots and 'Russia for Trump'

Mattha Busby
Photograph: Samuel Corum/EPA

Good morning, I’m Mattha Busby with today’s essential stories.

Trump: Roger Stone has ‘very good chance of exoneration’

Roger Stone, a self-described political dirty trickster and longtime ally of the president, was sentenced on Thursday to more than three years in prison after attempting to sabotage the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by lying to investigators about his contacts with WikiLeaks and trying to block the testimony of a witness to protect Donald Trump. After his sentencing, a representative for Stone urged Trump to “right this horrible wrong” and pardon him – before the president suggested he might do so.

  • ‘Totally tainted’. The president undermined proceedings, tweeting they were “fraudulent” and claiming the jury forewoman was an “anti-Trump activist” during a running commentary of the case.

  • Above the law? This week, Trump issued pardons and commutations to nearly a dozen other convicts guilty of public corruption, also ageing white men with personal ties to him.

Bots responsible for one in four tweets about climate crisis

Researchers examined 6.5m tweets on Twitter. Photograph: Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images

An army of automated Twitter bots are distorting online conversations to make climate science denialism more prevalent, with research finding a quarter of all climate-related tweets are produced by bots. Analysis of millions of tweets from around the time Trump announced he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement in June 2017 suggested bots had a substantial impact in amplifying misinformation, while disproportionately tending to applaud and support the president.

Bloomberg campaign posts heavily edited video of debate

Television images of the Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg before the debate on Wednesday. Photograph: David Becker/Reuters

A misleading video capturing a snapshot of the former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg’s widely criticised Democratic debate performance, which suggests he silenced his rivals after saying he is the “only one here, I think, that’s ever started a business”, will not be removed from Instagram. The decision by the social media platform prompted fresh concern over the policing of online disinformation by politicians, but the Bloomberg campaign said it was “tongue-in-cheek” and not meant to be viewed as real.

  • Not a violation. A spokesman for Facebook said “this video does not violate our manipulated media policy”, while Twitter said it would probably fall under a new policy warning of significantly altered content.

Russia working for Trump re-election, officials warned – reports

Joseph Maguire, a former acting director of national intelligence, addresses a select committee meeting in September 2019. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Members of Congress were told Russia was trying to interfere in the 2020 election campaign in favour of Donald Trump last week, according to reports that said it led to the abrupt removal of the acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire. The alleged briefing led the president to announce the appointment of the hardline loyalist Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany, after a confrontation with Maguire, a former navy admiral, in the Oval Office.

  • Motive. Grenell’s appointment is an attempt to politicize intelligence and hide information from Congress as Russia again assists Trump, claimed the former justice department spokesman Matthew Miller on Twitter.

Cheat sheet


A mother-of-five who has lived in New York for two years says she is afraid of coronavirus transmission. Photograph: Yana Paskova/Reuters

New York City’s Chinatown takes hit over coronavirus fears

Businesses in the usually busy neighborhood are cutting staff amid dropping sales even though the virus has no presence, as the illness stigmatises people of Chinese descent and fuels irrational fears – prompting a new campaign, Show Some Love for Chinatown.

A playwright wants only critics of color to review her

Criticism should “come from a place of knowledge”, the Indigenous artist Yolanda Bonnell has said after receiving racist reviews.

How the American dream died on the world’s busiest border

The US-Mexico border has become a focal point for human suffering, writes Ed Vulliamy, with tent cities full of terrified migrants on one side, border guards alleged to have left a Guatemalan teenager to die in a concrete cell in the middle, and a country that has increasingly lost its way on the other.

The yee-haw agenda’s founder on the politics of cowboy style

Black cowboys are back on centre stage. Erased from history, despite one in four cowboys believed to have been black, the fashion sense of celebrities such as Lil Nas X is at the forefront of a new movement that challenges the ubiquity of the white American cowboy myth.


Mike Bloomberg’s debate was a disaster, but that’s not enough to rule him out, writes the Guardian columnist Emma Brockes.

Bloomberg’s implosion on Wednesday, a man blinking in the headlights of his own defeat, will be right up there, but possibly because, for depressing reasons, it may not rule him out of the race.


Manchester United failed to convince against the Belgian side Club Brugge in their 1-1 away draw on Thursday, but they remain favourites to progress to the quarter-final of the Europa League. Arsenal prevailed 1-0 away to Olympiakos.

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