US briefing: William Barr, coronavirus and 'amoral' foreign policy

Tim Walker
Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Good morning, I’m Tim Walker with today’s essential stories.

Trump says he will not pardon jailed associate Stone ‘yet’

The US attorney general, William Barr, has agreed to testify to Congress over alleged political interference at the justice department. This week several prosecutors resigned en masse after being overruled by the DoJ on sentencing for Donald Trump’s associate, the self-declared political “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, who was convicted of crimes including obstruction of justice, lying to Congress and witness tampering last November. Trump has criticised the case, and on Wednesday hinted at a future pardon for Stone.

  • ‘Crisis of credibility’. Top lawyers warn the DoJ under Barr is being politicised to serve the president, threatening a catastrophic “crisis of credibility” in the US justice system.

  • Trump toadies. Barr is a “tough on crime” hypocrite, whose efforts to protect Stone are another blow to the rule of law by the Trump administration, says Andrew Gawthorpe.

Iowa Democratic chair quits over caucus chaos

Troy Price said he was “deeply sorry” for the disastrous caucus process. Photograph: Craig Lassig/EPA

The chair of the Iowa Democratic party, Troy Price, has quit after presiding over the state’s chaotic caucus process, which is yet to yield its final results following the failure of a smartphone app and subsequent mistakes in the reporting and tallying of votes. Price said in a letter to the party’s state central committee that he was “deeply sorry” for the failure of the caucus, the first he had overseen since taking on the role in 2017.

  • Whither Warren? She was once, briefly, the frontrunner, with a campaign that promised to bring the two halves of her party together. But after disappointing results in the early states, where does Elizabeth Warren go next? Lauren Gambino reports.

American coronavirus evacuees demand better oversight

A dog wearing a face mask in Beijing as the number of coronavirus cases in China continue to rise. Photograph: Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images

American coronavirus evacuees in quarantine at a military base in California are demanding better oversight of their situation, after a patient who tested positive for the virus was mistakenly released back into the general quarantine population. As the outbreak continues to spread globally, Chinese authorities have changed the way they calculate cases, leading to a sharp rise in the number of infected and of deaths in China, which now stands at more than 1,380.

Sacked ambassador warns of ‘amoral’ US foreign policy

Marie Yovanovitch speaks at Georgetown University, where she was honoured with an award for diplomacy. Photograph: Susan Walsh/AP

Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, who was ousted by Trump in May 2019 amid White House efforts to dig up dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine, has described the administration’s foreign policy as “amoral”. Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington DC, where she was accepting an award for diplomacy, Yovanovitch said Trump risked alienating American allies by substituting “threats, fear and confusion for trust”.

Cheat sheet

  • Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, has reportedly purchased the 1930s former estate of Warner Bros co-founder Jack Warner, from the entertainment mogul David Geffen, for $165m – a record price for a single-family home in the Los Angeles area.

  • Scientists have discovered evidence of a mysterious “ghost population” of yet-to-be-discovered ancient humans who lived in Africa about half a million years ago, and whose DNA is still found among west Africans today.

  • A US government watchdog has raised serious concerns over cybersecurity and technical challenges that could compromise the “cost, quality, schedule and security” of the 2020 census.

  • Natalie Portman has responded to criticism from Rose McGowan over her Oscars dress, which was embroidered with the names of female directors. “I’ve only made a few films with women,” Portman said. “The unmade films I have tried to make are a ghost history.”

Must-reads

From first kiss to unfollowing: today’s culture of love

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, Guardian critics pick the cultural creations that best represent our attitude to love and romance in 2020, from a book that redefines ideas of marriage to Netflix’s radically sex-positive teen dramedy, Sex Education.

How ultra-processed food took over your shopping basket

From chicken nuggets to protein bars, ultra-processed foods account for more than half of all calories eaten in the US and UK. Consumers often blame themselves for indulging too much but, asks Bee Wilson, what if it is in the nature of the products to be overeaten?

The Weinstein accuser helping others to cope

Louise Godbold is one of more than 90 women who came forward with claims against the disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein. But the one-time actor is also helping fellow trauma survivors to overcome their emotional injuries. She spoke to Lucia Graves.

Las Vegas’s homelessness crackdown

Las Vegas city council recently approved a law that made sitting, resting or “lodging” on sidewalks punishable by up to six months in jail. The city claims it is a humanitarian measure; homeless advocates call it a “war on the poor”. Dan Hernandez reports.

Opinion

The era of free markets and open borders is ending, hastened by the climate crisis, populism and now coronavirus. And it’s little wonder globalisation faces a backlash at last, says Larry Elliot – it has failed billions of people.

Today, governments are less interested in breaking down barriers and more concerned about safeguarding jobs, preventing intellectual property theft and the risk of cyber crime. Companies are realising that lengthy global supply chains designed to take advantage of low wages in the developing world have costs as well as benefits.

Sport

The national men’s soccer team has urged US Soccer to significantly boost the pay for the the world champion women’s team, amid a gender discrimination lawsuit by the women’s team union and ongoing contract negotiations.

MLB is rumoured to be toying with the idea of re-tooling its playoffs to add more teams and primetime tension in 2022. Such changes could pit baseball purists against the sport’s more progressive fans, writes David Lengel.

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