It was a bridge too far. President Donald Trump reportedly ordered the removal of special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s investigating potential Russian collusion and obstruction of justice — but he backed off when White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to quit. Sources say Trump argued that Mueller had conflicts of interest, including giving up his membership at one of Trump’s golf clubs in 2011. The president has denied the reports. Mueller’s team is expected to interview Trump soon, while lawmakers call for legal protection to prevent special counsels from being fired.
The Presidential Daily Brief
His signature flair was nowhere to be seen. The U.S. president, who was never invited to Davos as a mogul, made his first appearance there as U.S. president today with a somewhat subdued speech in which he urged other nations to invest in the U.S. He attacked regulations as the province of “unelected bureaucrats” and credited the GOP’s tax reforms for the booming American economy. The audience appeared calm, though a few people hissed as the president was introduced by World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab.
It’s the second serious blaze in less than two months. At least 37 people died in a Miryang hospital when a fire broke out in the emergency room. Scores more were injured, though all 94 seniors from an adjacent nursing home were evacuated safely. The hospital didn’t have a sprinkler system. Officials are still investigating the cause, as many point to a December fitness club fire as further evidence that better safety regulations are needed — like new laws that will make sprinkler systems in nursing homes mandatory by June 30.
Back to the drawing borders. President Trump’s latest salvo in the immigration debate is a bold one: He’s proposed a path to citizenship over a period of 12 years for 1.8 million immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. In exchange, he’s demanding $25 billion for the border wall, plus a serious crackdown on legal family migration. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle rejected the idea — Democrats for its plan to shut borders and Republicans for its perceived leniency — meaning it may be a non-starter.
Time’s up. USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny was forced out in March over his response to the sexual abuse scandal that claimed more than 150 victims and saw team doctor Larry Nassar sentenced to up to 175 years in prison. Now the U.S. Olympic Committee says that unless the entire board resigns it’ll cease to recognize USA Gymnastics as the sport’s governing body. Such a move would allow “fundamental rebuilding,” officials say. Board members must resign by Wednesday and have an interim board in place by the end of February.
Know This: President Trump, who’s expected to visit the U.K. later this year, said in an interview that he is “prepared to apologize” for retweeting inflammatory and racially charged videos from far-right group Britain First. French consumers are reportedly rioting over deeply discounted Nutella. And Casey Affleck has withdrawn from the Oscars, where he was set to present the Best Actress award, over concerns that past sexual misconduct allegations against him would distract from the ceremony.
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Tick tock. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced the world is the closest it’s been to nuclear war since 1953, nudging the symbolic clock’s hand 30 seconds forward to two minutes before midnight — the hypothetical moment of the apocalypse. “To call the world’s nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger and its immediacy,” the organization’s president said. Experts cite escalating tensions with North Korea as well as President Trump ending nonproliferation talks with Russia and threatening to scrap the Iran nuclear deal as major risk factors.
Who could forget a face? Technology that allows everyday users to superimpose people’s faces onto other bodies is becoming alarmingly accessible — and naturally it’s being used to create fake pornography. A specialized app allows people to make their own custom face-swap videos, and within the space of just a few months the machine learning technology’s advanced by leaps and bounds. That’s already resulted in a slew of fake celebrity porn, part of what experts say is a “destabilizing” trend that diminishes people’s trust in their own eyes.
This is garbage. A study of more than 124,000 corals in 159 reefs found that a third were choked by plastic trash. Worse, the frequency of coral diseases in those reefs increased from 4 percent to 89 percent, partly because plastic is easily colonized by bacteria. It’s another challenge for ecosystems already stressed by rising temperatures and acidifying waters. With an estimated 5 trillion plastic fragments already polluting the seas — and plastic production still accelerating — scientists predict 16 billion pieces could be entangled in Asia-Pacific reefs by 2025.
Maybe someone pissed them off. The White House asked the New York museum last year for a loan of Vincent Van Gogh’s Landscape With Snow to decorate the president’s private quarters. The Guggenheim, apologizing that the painting wasn’t available, instead offered a Maurizio Cattelan piece: a working 18-karat gold toilet entitled America, which had been on display in a museum restroom for visitors to use. President Trump is notoriously fond of gold, and even installed gold curtains in the Oval Office, though it’s unclear if he’s responded to the Guggenheim’s offer.
If at first you don’t succeed, wait 19 years and try again. The WWE chairman originally launched the famously rough-and-tumble football league for just one season in 2001, but he’s been planning a comeback ever since. While the NFL’s seen a dip in ratings amid player protests, McMahon stressed that the XFL won’t tolerate “political or social issues.” He also promised shorter, safer games and a ban on players with criminal records. The new league, funded exclusively by McMahon, hasn’t chosen team locations yet. It’s set to premiere in 2020.