Trump and Turkish President Erdogan meet the press
Trump and Turkish President Erdogan meet the press
Philip Bump

-OpEd-

WASHINGTON — Ten days ago, Donald Trump's rocky presidency was in relatively calm waters. He'd helped push a health-care bill through the House and was spending the weekend at his Trump-brand property in Bedminster, N.J. After that, the deluge: Sally Yates's testimony on Capitol Hill, the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, the private meeting with Russia's foreign minister, the revelation that the Comey firing was spurred at least partly by the Russia investigation, the threat to release tapes of his conversation with Comey and, on Monday, The Washington Post"s revelation that Trump had shared classified information with the Russians.

Tuesday had its own surprise: A report from the New York Times about a conversation between Comey and the president in which Trump asked him to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. According to the Times, Comey detailed the Feb. 14 conversation with Trump in a memo that he shared with other senior FBI officials at the time — but didn't reveal it publicly because he didn't want to influence the investigation.

The White House denied it in a statement. It reads, in part: "The President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey."

According to Comey's purported memo, read to Times reporters by an associate, Trump said in their conversation, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

It seems as though the flood of information over the past 10 days has been pushing us to a point that we haven't yet reached, forcing an explicit choice between the word of the White House and the word of an outside party. The Post's story about the revelation of classified information came close, but the carefully worded administration responses released Monday didn't constitute a robust denial of our story. In this case, the denial of the Times report is explicit. Trump's White House says the report about the Comey memo is not "truthful or accurate."

Forcing the American public to decide: Whom do you believe, Trump or Comey? Or, in a layer of abstraction that will continue to complicate things, the White House or the reporting of the Times (and others, including The Post)?

There is a surfeit of circumstantial evidence that bolsters the idea that Trump pressured Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

• After Yates's testimony eight days ago, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked why Trump kept defending Flynn, despite his having been asked to resign for apparently lying to the vice president. Spicer insisted that the president didn't want to "smear" Flynn, who is a "good man." (In Comey's memo, he's a "good guy.")

• Trump told NBC's Lester Holt that he was thinking of the Russia investigation when he decided to fire Comey, contrary to what his staff had been insisting.

• His dinner with Comey, in which he admits to asking the FBI director whether he himself was under investigation, came the day after Yates informed the White House that Flynn's actions conflicted with what Vice President Pence had said publicly — a conversation that revealed that the FBI was investigating Flynn.

Overlay that with Trump's repeated insistence that any investigations into Russia were suspect, and it certainly seems believable that he might have tried to twist Comey's arm on the investigation into Flynn.

Polls show Republicans are more likely to trust Trump than the press.

But we've seen repeatedly that in a believability contest between Trump and A Number of Other People, Trump often, somehow, emerges the victor. At least with the core base of support he has enjoyed over the course of his brief time in politics — a base of support that constitutes a big chunk of the Republican electorate and, therefore, has seemingly frozen significant robust Republican criticism of Trump.

In this case, Americans will be asked to choose between the White House and the media, a choice that, particularly for many Republicans, will be an easy one. Lots of polling shows that Republicans are more likely to trust Trump than the press.

It's not clear whether Trump's obvious recent contradictions have eroded Republican confidence in his word vs. the media's, but there's little evidence to suggest that it has.

Those contradictions remind us of another layer of complexity. They often come at the expense of his staff, who were aligned to offer one story until Trump, in an interview or a tweet, casually tosses a grenade into their fortress. It happened with the Comey firing; it happened to a lesser extent with the Russia story this week. It's very possible that this conflict will be defused in the morning, when Trump simply cops to the conversation with Comey. It's impossible to know; even Trump admitted on Twitter this week that his representatives are imperfect conveyors of his truths.

As it stands, there's enough to the Times report to give Trump defenders wiggle room. But, again, the path of the past 10 days has been toward less and less wiggle room and a more and more direct contrast between Trump and some other trustworthy outside individual. That's the moment of tension that has been building since Trump announced his candidacy, always pitting him against imperfect foils like Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton or the mainstream media. Eventually — seemingly inevitably — that wave will crash into a wall.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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This is our daily newsletter Worldcrunch Today, a rapid tour of the news of the day from the world's best journalism sources, regardless of language or geography.

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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