Lordy, there are no tapes. President Donald Trump suggested last month that he may have recorded his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, but yesterday claimed on Twitter that he didn’t make and doesn’t possess any such tapes. The potential existence of recordings has loomed large over Washington as Congress continues to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election, possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, and the president’s potential obstruction of justice. Now it really is Comey’s word — implicating Trump in unbecoming behavior — against the president’s.
The Presidential Daily Brief
It’s out. Senate Republicans on Thursday finally publicized their plan to ditch Obamacare, ending weeks of mounting bipartisan impatience over the secretive process. Some of the bill’s highlights: deep, yet slower cuts to Medicaid, an end to penalties for the non-insured, and new federal tax credits. Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, would remain defunded for one year. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hopes to put the bill to a vote next week, even though half a dozen GOP lawmakers are reportedly wavering over supporting it. Whatever happens, though, there’s seemingly no end in sight to the great U.S. healthcare debate.
Call it a parting shot. Coalition-backed Iraqi troops have been battling to retake Iraq’s ISIS-held second city since October — but now retreating militants have reportedly blown up the Great Mosque of al-Nuri, a 12th century landmark famous for its leaning minaret. It was there that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi first came to public attention in 2014 as he declared a “caliphate.” Iraq’s Prime Minister called the destruction “an official declaration of defeat” by ISIS, as fighting in Mosul enters its “final chapter.”
This goes all the way to the top. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, testifying before Congress yesterday, said Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the effort to destabilize U.S. elections, targeting polling vulnerabilities in 21 states and attempting to undermine public faith in the integrity of American democracy. Other U.S. officials backed up Johnson’s allegations, confirming that several states’ systems were successfully hacked. Russia has denied all such allegations, and the White House maintains that President Donald Trump’s campaign did not collude with Moscow in any way.
It’s the billion-dollar question. The Chinese property developer saw $1 billion in equity erased when investors rushed to sell its stocks and bonds following social media reports that one of China’s banks was selling off company debt. Wanda Group says no such order was issued by China Construction Bank, which hasn’t commented. Investors have become increasingly concerned about a trend of China’s wealthiest financiers being detained by their government, but chairman Wang Jianlin — one of the country’s richest men — insisted the rumors were simply “malicious speculation.”
Know This: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in talks with Saudi leaders to resolve the ongoing rift with Qatar. Female students in Australia say speaking out about sexual assault has led to harassment and reprisals. And Indian police have dropped sedition charges against Pakistani cricket fans arrested for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans during the Champions Trophy Final.
Read This: Travis Kalanick’s ouster from Uber was the result of a concerted plan by investors, who gave him the news via hand-delivered letter.
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Can’t see the forest for the trees. A new government watchdog report revealed that the Pentagon has wasted as much as $28 million over the past decade buying Afghan army uniforms printed with a proprietary “forest” color pattern. The uniform, chosen by the Afghan Defense Minister, eschewed the free camouflage schemes owned by the U.S. military and was picked despite the fact that only 2.1 percent of Afghanistan is forested. The findings come as the U.S. considers sending thousands more troops to what has become the longest war in American history.
It’s hardly a game changer. Amazon’s $13.7 billion buyout of Whole Foods sparked some worries about Wal-Mart’s future. But analysts believe the chain can bank partly on its smaller Neighborhood Market stores absorbing any blowback from the bolstered competition. That, and the fact that Wal-Mart still controls some 14 percent of the grocery market. While its stock has fallen 4 percent, the company’s more than 5,300 U.S. locations — within 10 miles of 90 percent of the population — mean Wal-Mart’s not yet worried.
They’re a driving force. French company Navya has deployed driverless shuttles in Las Vegas and London, and now two free autonomous buses are set to start roaming the University of Michigan this fall. The 15-seat electric shuttles, which have no steering wheels or pedals, will allow researchers to closely survey not only performance and safety, but public perception and interaction. Navya is also set to open a Michigan assembly plant later this year, spurring hopes that the car-centric state could be a leader in self-driving technology.
Jackpot. He may be one of Hollywood’s most famous actors, but Clooney’s about to get way richer: He’s reportedly selling a tequila company he launched with two friends in 2013 for as much as $1 billion. Multinational booze business Diageo is reportedly buying Clooney’s Casamigos for $700 million upfront, with another $300 million to follow, based on how well the brand does over the next decade. Premium tequila is booming internationally, and Casamigos has grown quickly in four years — it’s on pace to ship 170,000 cases this year.
Their goal: Take over the globe. American sports franchises like the NFL are increasingly eyeing new pastures abroad, and the success of international “friendlies” and sporadic regular season games signals that there’s definitely potential to go global. League owners have good reason to believe in the economic boost of expansion: Last season’s inaugural Mexico City NFL game generated a $43 million bump in domestic and international tourist spending. Now the NBA and NFL need to cultivate local youth interest to become worldwide phenomena rather than just novelty spectacles.