Trump, North Korea, Philip Roth: Your Thursday BriefingMay 23, 2018
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Good morning. A U.S. diplomat mysteriously falls ill in China, a new memoir reveals details of the Kim family, and looking back at the life of Philip Roth. Here’s what you need to know:
• Of all the questions hanging over Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, one stands out: How will President Trump fare in the end?
Our Washington correspondent explains the options before the special counsel: Either there is evidence that Mr. Trump broke the law, or there is not. There are several possible outcomes, but an indictment against the president is the least likely.
In a series of Twitter posts on Wednesday about the Russia investigation, Mr. Trump repeated allegations that federal investigators had used spies against his campaign. He gave the supposed scandal a name: “SPYGATE.” Meanwhile, a judge ruled that the president’s Twitter feed is a public forum and that he cannot block anyone from following him.
And the president’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, has been granted a permanent security clearance after a lengthy process that fueled speculation over his Russia contacts.
• A “legitimate swamp” has formed after a sinkhole opened up on the White House’s North Lawn. It has proved to be another tumultuous week in Washington, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, above, skirmished with a House Democrat over the security of diplomats abroad.
Mr. Pompeo angrily defended his record and spoke of North Korea, Venezuela and his criticism of Hillary Clinton in the aftermath of the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.
He also told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that medical teams were headed to Guangzhou, China, where a U.S. government employee had signs of possible traumatic brain injury after reporting disturbing sounds and sensations. (Similar illnesses have been reported by U.S. diplomats before — in Cuba.)
• Kim Jong-un’s feelings about his mother partly drove him to execute his uncle and purge North Korea’s elites, according to a new memoir by a senior diplomat who defected.
The book, “Cryptography From the Third-Flood Secretariat,” above, recounts the life of Thae Yong-ho, one of the highest-profile defectors to South Korea in years. It is a rare window into the inner workings of the secretive Kim family.
North Korean state media has called Mr. Thae “human scum” and cited his interviews and speeches as one of the reasons for suspending border talks with South Korea last week.
The fate of the U.S.-North Korea summit meeting next month is still uncertain, but President Trump backed away from demanding immediate denuclearization in an apparent effort to preserve his date with Mr. Kim.
• Iran’s long-range missile program was thought to have gone dormant after an explosion at its site in 2011. But a team of researchers who pored over satellite images say they’ve located a secret military facility deep in the desert that suggests Tehran may have quietly restarted the program.
Though it would not violate any international agreements, the apparent program could lead to the development of weapons that would threaten Europe and potentially the U.S., increasing tensions between Tehran and Washington.
Our Interpreter columnist looked at the researchers’ evidence and at the Iranian scientist who was killed in the 2011 explosion.
• Philip Roth, a giant of 20th-century American literature, died Tuesday night in Manhattan at 85.
In a career that stretched into his 70s, Mr. Roth produced more than 30 books — including “Portnoy’s Complaint,” “Goodbye, Columbus” and “American Pastoral” — that often explored male sexuality and Jewish American life. He received numerous top prizes, including a Pulitzer, and some more than once. Read our obituary and our critic’s appraisal of his work.
Mr. Roth spoke with The Times about his life and accomplishments in a video interview in 2011. “Radical change is the nature of American life,” he said. “That’s the only permanent thing we have, is radical change.”
• China is setting its sights on the far reaches of the solar system, launching a rocket to the moon this week and planning a mission to Mars. We looked at some of its other recent endeavors into space.
• Chinese payment apps cut out the banks, a nightmare for U.S. firms that rely on fees for handling and processing.
• President Emmanuel Macron of France is wooing tech giants and has vowed to build a “start-up nation.” But he has a way to go.
• You may have noticed a flood of messages about changes to privacy policies as companies rush to comply with the European Union’s new data law. Our columnist explains why this is important, and what to look for.
In the News
• Italian populists took a big step toward power, making it likely that Italy will become the largest E.U. country to be led by anti-establishment forces. Giuseppe Conte, above, is poised to become the new prime minister. [The New York Times]
• Stacey Abrams, who won the Democratic primary in Georgia, made history by becoming the first black woman in the U.S. to be a major party’s nominee for governor. [The New York Times]
• Denmark’s hard-line immigration minister said Muslims fasting for Ramadan were “a danger to all of us,” prompting an uproar. [The New York Times]
• The body of Sabika Sheikh, the Pakistani student killed in the school shooting in Santa Fe, Tex., was returned to Karachi. [The New York Times]
• Nine people were killed in southern India when the police fired on protesters calling for the closing of a copper plant. [The Guardian]
• The search for Malaysia Airlines 370, which vanished in 2014, will end next week, the country’s transportation minister said. [Reuters]
• Carbon dioxide helps plants grow, but a new study shows that more of it can make important crops like rice less nutritious by changing their chemical makeup and diluting vitamins and minerals. [The New York Times]
• Egyptian security officials raided the home of a well-known activist, the latest arrest in a wave of postelection repression. [The New York Times]
Tips, both new and old, for a more fulfilling life.
• Three decades after the Japanese musician Midori Takada released an album, a YouTube algorithm introduced it to a world of new listeners.
• In this week’s Australia Diary, a poem to remember a last road trip taken in Queensland before a long separation.
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have long claimed to be “two great tastes that taste great together,” the result of a semi-magical pairing of chocolate and peanut butter. Their origin is hardly so felicitous.
Harry Burnett Reese, who was born on this day in 1879, tried his hand at fishing, farming and factory work before landing a job on a dairy farm owned by the Hershey Chocolate Company in Pennsylvania.
Inspired by Hershey’s sweet success, Reese started making candy in his basement, naming his confections after his children (he and his wife had 16). After many stops and starts, he hit gold in 1928 with a product he called peanut butter cups or “penny cups,” for how much a single piece cost.
Seven years after Reese’s death in 1956, Hershey bought his company for $23.5 million. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups soon became its best-selling product.
The candy’s appeal is truly out of this world: In 1982, the miniature version, Reese’s Pieces, had a role in Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” The director and his team originally wanted the alien to snack on M&Ms, but the parent company, Mars, turned them down.
Charles McDermid wrote today’s Back Story.
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