US briefing: Bloomberg criticised, new spy director row and coronavirus

Mattha Busby
Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

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

Bloomberg roundly attacked in fiercest debate yet

The former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg has come under fire from his fellow Democratic presidential candidates in his first debate – the most vicious yet – as his previous support for stop-and-frisk policing tactics and reports of sexism and discrimination at his companies came under the microscope. After the lively affair in Las Vegas, in which Elizabeth Warren likened Bloomberg to Donald Trump, attention will turn to the crucial Nevada caucuses on Saturday.

  • The victor? The audience, who were treated to a raucous evening where no clear winner emerged, although Warren performed strongly, as our panelists discuss. And here are the key takeaways from the bust-up.

  • Polling. Bernie Sanders is the frontrunner in the third vote during the battle for the Democratic nomination, a lead mirrored in national polling, which predicts Joe Biden will beat Bloomberg into third.

Trump ‘offered Assange pardon to deny Russia DNC hack link’

Julian Assange leaves Westminster magistrates court in London after a hearing last month. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters

A court in London heard that Donald Trump offered to pardon Julian Assange if denied the Russian link to leaked Democratic party emails. Assange’s lawyers alleged at Westminster magistrates court on Wednesday that during a visit to London in August 2017, then congressman Dana Rohrabacher made the offer to the WikiLeaks founder on instructions from the president. Rohrabacher said the proposal was his own initiative and that the White House had not endorsed it. The White House spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, said it was “a complete fabrication and a total lie”.

  • Who to believe. The White House said Trump “barely knows” Rohrabacher, but he was invited to meet the president in April 2017 after defending him on television. He also spoke with then chief of staff, John Kelly, about the deal several months later too.

‘Xenophobic’ gunman kills 10 in Hanau, Germany

Police investigators enter the Midnight shisha bar after two shootings in Hanau, Germany. Photograph: Armando Babani/EPA

Ten people have been killed, including the suspect, after attacks on shisha bars in the German town of Hanau, leading Turkey to denounce racism as a “collective cancer” since some of the victims were of Turkish origin. Investigators believe there was a racist motive for the attack, while the state interior minister, Peter Beuth, spoke of a “xenophobic motive”. Nine people died in the attacks on the two bars at about 10pm local time on Wednesday, before the suspect killed himself after also murdering his 72-year-old mother at his home. Five others had life-threatening injuries, police said.

  • Tobias R. The 43-year-old killer was named by police without disclosing his surname, in line with German practice. The Bild newspaper said he expressed extreme rightwing views in an unconfirmed letter of confession.

Trump to appoint loyalist to spy agency role; Bolton condemned

Richard Grenell, the US envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, appears to be in line for a significant promotion. Photograph: Darko Vojinović/AP

In a departure from past practice in which the office of the director of national intelligence was considered non-partisan and generally occupied by career professionals, Donald Trump is planning to appoint a close ally, Richard Grenell, to be acting head, rather than nominating him for the permanent position – seemingly to sidestep the Senate confirmation process – according to multiple reports. Meanwhile, Susan Rice, the former national security adviser, suggested John Bolton “shamefully violated the oath” to defend the constitution by not testifying in Trump’s impeachment trial.

  • Teaser. Bolton claimed the White House was attempting to block publication of his forthcoming book, in which one of the “sprinkles on the ice-cream sundae” is said to be what Trump said to him about withholding aid to Ukraine until they agreed to investigate Joe Biden.

Cheat sheet

  • Two passengers on the quarantined Diamond Princess, an 87-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman, have become the first people connected to the cruise ship to have died from coronavirus.

  • Sales of highly hazardous pesticides that contain known or presumed carcinogens are making the world’s five biggest agribusiness companies billions of dollars a year, according to an analysis by campaigners.

  • A large survey suggests young people across Africa believe the continent is set for a new era of transformative success, thanks to technological innovation and entrepreneurship amid growing “Afro-optimism”.

  • A deadly mystery illness is believed to have killed 2,000 people in Ethiopia’s Somali region since 2014, with locals fearing Chinese gas exploration nearby has tainted the water supply.

Must-reads

Members of the militaristic group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh rally in support of India’s new ‘anti-Muslim’ citizenship law. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

How Hindu supremacists are tearing India apart

India’s constitution promises equality to all, but the governing BJP party is remaking the country into one in which some people are seen as more Indian than others, as protests mount against a new citizenship law that excludes Muslims.

Vulva masks and labia serums: the marketing of women’s genital shame

Vulva care is the next big thing in the wellness market, or so the companies behind “clit spritz”, “pout” and “vanicures” would have you believe, as they seek to capitalise upon female insecurities. Author Eleanor Morgan dissects the concerning trend.

One million children left behind as Venezuela crisis tears families apart

Economic collapse in Venezuela has sparked modern South America’s largest exodus, as parents have been forced to migrate en masse, often initially to nearby Guyana, leaving children abandoned or in the care of relatives and neighbours.

‘It’s personally insulting’: chefs on the customer antics that most enrage them

In the age of TripAdvisor, Trustpilot and ubiquitous feedback forms, critical diners have an array of powerful tools at their disposal. So when do chefs get to be heard above the noise of irksome customers who believe they are always right? Now, apparently. Tony Naylor investigates

Opinion

The Hunger Games stage of this Democratic primary season is upon us, writes Richard Wolffe, with Bernie Sanders facing off against a “delusional sideshow” of centrists bent on mutual annihilation.

The odds will never be in their favor. They don’t have the time for all the cannon fire before they lose the Nevada caucus and then watch Sanders sweep the majority of California delegates.

Sport

Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, both unbeaten boxers with 71 professional wins between them, face off on Saturday in one of the most important heavyweight championship bouts of all time. But how do the two best fighters in boxing’s prestige division compare?

Tottenham Hotspur were beaten 1-0 at home to RB Leipzig in the Champions League’s round of 16, but they can be glad Hugo Lloris spared them a more severe loss, while Atlanta dominated Valencia, winning 4-1.

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