US briefing: Boris Johnson, tech antitrust review and Hong Kong claims

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Wednesday’s top story: Trump hails the UK’s incoming PM as ‘Britain Trump’. Plus, How new light has been shed on Al Franken’s #MeToo resignation

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

EU dismisses Johnson’s Brexit claims as ‘pure rubbish’

Donald Trump has heaped praise on Boris Johnson, who will be appointed the UK’s new prime minister on Wednesday, calling him “Britain Trump”. It’s a moniker that Cas Mudde says may be all too apt. Europe was less positive about the arch-Brexiter’s ascendance, with the continent’s newspapers describing him as a “clown” known for his “narcissism” and “lies”. Johnson has said the pain of a no-deal Brexit will be alleviated by a series of “side deals” that the UK has already done with Brussels – a claim the EU swiftly dismissed as “pure rubbish”.

  • Conservative party. Johnson becomes prime minister after winning the leadership of the ruling Conservative party, with 92,153 of its members’ votes: less than 0.14% of the total UK population.

  • Special relationship. It remains unclear whether Johnson will find common policy ground with the White House, but Suzanne Maloney suggests the new PM could use his affinity with Trump to calm tensions with Iran.

Democrats urge Mueller to speak freely despite warnings

Democrats in Congress have insisted Robert Mueller can “pretty much say anything he wants” when he testifies before two House committees on Wednesday, despite a letter from the Department of Justice warning him to “remain within the boundaries” of his Trump-Russia report. Jerrold Nadler, the chair of the House judiciary committee, said on Tuesday the former special prosecutor no longer worked for the administration and “does not have to comply with that letter”.

  • Defense secretary. The army veteran and former weapons industry lobbyist Mark Esper has been sworn in as the new US secretary of defense, after the post sat vacant for a record seven months.

Justice department launches big tech antitrust review

The US justice department is opening a broad antitrust review of tech firms such as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, to determine whether they unlawfully stifle competition. The investigation comes as politicians, including the presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, have called for the break-up of large technology firms, while a House subcommittee recently questioned Silicon Valley bosses about their monopolistic hold over markets.

  • Privacy settlement. Facebook has reportedly agreed to pay the $5bn settlement demanded by the Federal Trade Commission over allegations that it mishandled user privacy.

  • Snapchat results. Snapchat has rebounded from a disastrous 2018, increasing its user numbers by 8% since this time last year to a total of 203 million.

China blames ‘black hands’ of US for Hong Kong unrest

China has blamed the US for the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong, as the political crisis in the former British colony threatens to open a new front in the economic conflict between the two superpowers. A spokesperson for China’s ministry of foreign affairs on Tuesday warned “the US to withdraw their black hands”, adding that the semi-autonomous territory “is China’s Hong Kong and we do not allow any foreign interference”.

  • Protesters defiant. Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong have vowed to stand up to thugs who attacked demonstrators at a subway station over the weekend, leaving at least 45 people in hospital and train carriages “full of the smell of blood”.

Crib sheet

  • The family of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, were paid $6m by a hospital in Ohio to settle allegations that post-surgical complications led to his death seven years ago, court documents have revealed.

  • Two teenagers, initially feared missing, are now considered suspects in the murders of a young American and her Australian boyfriend, as well as another, as-yet-unidentified man on a remote stretch of the Alaska Highway in Canada.

  • Police have arrested 17 climate protesters from the group Extinction Rebellion after they superglued themselves to doorways in the Capitol building in Washington DC.

  • More than half of America’s beaches had potentially dangerous levels of fecal bacteria from run-off and sewage overflows in 2018, according to a report.

Must-reads

Samantha Mathis on River Phoenix: ‘It was too much loss’

The actor Samantha Mathis was just 23 when her boyfriend River Phoenix died of an overdose outside a Los Angeles nightclub. As she prepares to appear in a new play, she tells Lucia Graves why it took her so long to speak publicly about the loss: “I can’t imagine a 23-year-old going through that today.”

On the frontline of the abortion wars

Since 1993, anti-abortion extremists in the US have killed 11 people, including four doctors. That’s partly why Rachel, a doctor who volunteers at a besieged clinic in Montgomery, Alabama, commutes all the way from New England. Vegas Tenold and Glenna Gordon spend a day with her on the frontline of women’s healthcare.

Castro brothers unite against Trump’s race-baiting

One of them is the chair of the Congressional Hispanic caucus, the other is running for president. But twins Joaquin and Julián Castro are united in taking a stand against Trump’s anti-immigration policies and racist rhetoric. They spoke to Ed Pilkington.

The couple who retired as millionaires – aged 31

Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung saved ruthlessly so they could retire in their early 30s and live like millionaires. They are part of a growing movement known as Fire: financial independence retire early – and their new book encourages others do the same. Miranda Bryant reports.

Opinion

Under pressure from colleagues, Al Franken resigned his Senate seat in December 2017 after a spate of #MeToo accusations. But new reporting by the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer suggests his critics ought to have been more circumspect, argues Laura Kipnis.


Those who think no sexual accusation made by a woman can possibly be untrue, even those by birthers targeting Democrats, will probably remain unimpressed by the new information Mayer reveals.

Sport

When the Guardian reported just how small World Cup bonuses for the US women’s soccer team were compared with their male counterparts, many responded that women’s soccer generates less revenue than men’s. Caitlin Murray looks at whether that argument can really explain the discrepancy.

The organisers of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo say the IOC is “very satisfied” with the progress of preparations, while a statistical forecaster has predicted that the USA will top the medal table and win the most golds.

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