US briefing: Trump-Russia inquiry, Flint water and NZ volcano

Tim Walker
Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters

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

Ivanka had ‘personal’ relationship with Christopher Steele

The former MI6 officer Christopher Steele had a “personal” relationship with Ivanka Trump before he was hired to compile his controversial dossier on Russia’s role in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, according to a report by the Department of Justice watchdog, which has found that the FBI’s Trump-Russia inquiry was not biased against the president. The report by the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, roundly debunks Trump’s claim of a “deep state” conspiracy against him.

  • ‘Performance failures’. Horowitz’s report identified “serious performance failures” in the FBI’s monitoring of Trump’s aide Carter Page, which the president’s allies seized on in an attempt to claim vindication.

  • Barr humbug. The attorney general, William Barr, rejected the conclusion of his department’s report, saying he believed the evidence that had prompted the FBI investigation was “insufficient to justify the steps taken”.

Impeachment articles loom

Democrats are preparing on Tuesday to announce articles of impeachment against the president over his dealings with Ukraine. A protester who interrupted the opening of the House judiciary committee’s impeachment hearing on Monday turned out to be a host from the far-right conspiracy site Infowars. That incident set the tone for a raucous session, with Republicans attempting to disrupt proceedings. If the timetable goes as expected, Trump could be impeached before the Christmas holidays.

  • Russia-Ukraine. The first face-to face meeting between Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, has yielded modest progress, with a ceasefire but no ultimate resolution to the conflict in Crimea.

Water company knew about Flint lead risk before public

Executives at Veolia, the mulitnational utility firm responsible for evaluating the water supply in Flint, Michigan, knew residents were at risk of lead poisoning from their tap water months before the city publicly admitted the problem, according to internal company emails uncovered by the Guardian and MLive. The exchanges between Veolia executives and a city contractor in February 2015 show them debating whether to warn city officials that lead from the city’s pipes could be leaching into drinking water.

  • Dire warning. Veolia’s technology vice-president told senior executives “politics… should not get in the way” of them recommending Flint revert to a safer water supply, and warned: “this will come back and bite us”.

  • ‘Corporate villain’. In response to the revelations, Veolia told the Guardian and MLive that city and state officials caused the Flint water crisis and were now “trying to create a corporate villain where one does not exist”.

New Zealand volcano death toll set to rise

Police in New Zealand have launched an investigation into the eruption of the White Island volcano on Monday, in which six people were killed and at least a further eight are missing, feared dead. Police said 47 people were on the uninhabited island at the time of the blast, including 24 from Australia and nine from the US. More than 30 of those who escaped the eruption are being treated for severe burns; nobody is believed to be alive on the island.

Cheat sheet

  • After one of his officers was shot dead while responding to a domestic violence call, the Houston police chief, Art Acevedo, lambasted Mitch McConnell and Texas senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, claiming they were stalling the Violence Against Women Act because they “don’t want to piss off the NRA”.

  • At the height of tensions between the US and North Korea, Trump called for the evacuation of Seoul’s population of 9.8 million – but the order was ignored by his officials, according to a book by the national security expert Peter Bergen.

  • Search and rescue teams have been activated in the Southern Ocean after Chile’s air force lost contact with a transport plane carrying 38 people to the country’s base in Antarctica.

  • A federal agent administered an opioid antidote to Juice WRLD when he had a seizure during a search at Midway airport in Chicago on Sunday. The 21-year-old rapper, real name Jarad Higgins, was briefly revived but later died.

Must-reads

Tourists walk across a footbridge on the flooded St Mark’s Square in Venice. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

Can Venice hold back the tide?

Last month, Venice experienced its highest flood waters in more than 50 years. Sea-level rise, erosion and cruise ships are worsening the Italian city’s inherent flooding problem. But as Neal E Robbins reports, it is corruption that has delayed and disrupted a solution.

Why Lizzo’s thong dress should command respect

Lizzo wore a cutout dress and a thong to a Lakers game on Sunday night, and then twerked as the cheerleading squad danced to her hit single Juice. Inevitably, the appearance went viral on Twitter – and much of the negative commentary, writes Poppy Noor, consisted of thinly veiled fat-shaming.

A plan to reduce urban gun violence

The former Obama administration official Thomas Abt recently published a book, Bleeding Out, in which he lays out a $100m-a-year plan to reduce gun violence by 50% in 40 US cities. By focusing on those most at risk, he says, more than 12,000 lives can be saved.

Paraguay struggles with ghosts of dictatorship

The unrest in Chile. The Bolsonaro regime in Brazil. Across Latin America, countries are still reckoning with the legacy of their authoritarian pasts, long after the transition to democracy. And Paraguay is no different, as William Costa reports from the capital, Asunción.

Opinion

Tinder’s latest “Year in Swipe” report reveals that Generation Z talks more about politics than travel, and that mentions of “kombucha” and “avocado” have increased since 2018. But the report also reveals, says Jessa Crispin, is that dating is much the same as ever.

People couple up in the same way they have for generations, the app simply changes the way that coupling looks.

Sport

Freddie Ljungberg may have sparked a flicker of optimism at Arsenal, after the troubled club’s caretaker manager claimed his first win in charge with a 3-1 comeback against West Ham at the London Stadium on Monday night.

The World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg has reportedly agreed a $245m seven-year contract to stay at the Washington Nationals – the biggest-ever deal for an MLB pitcher.

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