William Barr, Coronavirus, Harvey Weinstein: Your Friday Briefing


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Good morning.

We’re covering Attorney General William Barr’s challenge to President Trump, the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak, and good news in the fight against Australia’s wildfires.

Attorney General William Barr said in an interview on Thursday that President Trump’s attacks on the Justice Department had made it “impossible for me to do my job,” adding, “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized officials in the department and denounced a sentencing recommendation for his associate Roger Stone. Here’s a transcript of excerpts from Mr. Barr’s interview with ABC News.

Mr. Trump did not immediately respond on Twitter, but his press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, said, “The president wasn’t bothered by the comments at all.” The attorney general had let the president know some of what he planned to say and is remaining in his job, a person familiar with the events told The Times.

Another angle: Critics of Mr. Barr dismissed his comments as mainly a way to deflect responsibility for carrying out Mr. Trump’s political wishes. “The tell here will be Trump’s reaction,” said Joe Lockhart, a White House press secretary under former President Bill Clinton. “If he doesn’t lash out, we’ll all know this was pure political theater.”


The Chinese authorities disclosed for the first time today that 1,716 medical workers had contracted the coronavirus and that six had died. The number of infected workers represents 3.8 percent of China’s overall confirmed infections. Here are the latest updates and maps of where the virus has spread.

The experience that he gained as the leader of South Bend, Ind., is a central part of Mr. Buttigieg’s pitch to be president, while his rivals try to sow doubts about whether he is prepared for the Oval Office.

His record in trying to turn the Midwestern city around has also been challenged by some residents and activists, particularly on problems facing black residents.

Our correspondent traveled to South Bend to learn more about how Mr. Buttigieg, 38, governed and grew over his eight years in office.

Yesterday: Elizabeth Warren criticized Michael Bloomberg after video emerged of a lecture he gave 12 years ago in which he linked the 2008 financial crisis to the end of a discriminatory housing practice.


A nine-month period that shook up the already tense relationship between the two countries began with the Trump administration’s escalation of sanctions and ended with Washington and Tehran in a direct military confrontation.

A team of our reporters has traced the path to last month’s violent standoff, finding a story of miscalculations by both sides.

Yesterday: The Senate voted to require that President Trump seek congressional authorization before taking further military action against Iran, a mostly symbolic measure that lacked the support needed to override a promised veto.

An estimated 600 million people worldwide live on coastlines — hazardous places in an era of climate change. The Times examined how two metropolitan areas, Manila, above left, and San Francisco, are handling rising sea levels.

Will they try to hold back the waters or move people away? Their decisions could offer crucial lessons for coastal cities around the world.

Billions diverted for wall: The Pentagon said it would devote $3.8 billion that Congress had designated for other purposes to building a wall at the southwestern border.

Harvey Weinstein’s defense: A lawyer for the former Hollywood producer told jurors at his rape trial that he was the victim of an “overzealous prosecution” and that his accusers had engaged in consensual relationships with him.

Australian fires controlled: The wildfires that began in September and consumed millions of acres are finally out in most of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, emergency services said today.

The Weekly: The latest episode of The Times’s TV show is about the police crackdown on protesters at a university in Hong Kong last year. It premieres today on FX at 10 p.m. Eastern and will be available on Hulu starting Saturday.

Snapshot: Above, the German city of Dresden in 1945, the year it was bombed by the Allies. On Thursday, Germans commemorated the 75th anniversary of the devastating attack, which a resurgent far right has used to promote a revisionist history of World War II.

News quiz: Did you follow the headlines this week? Test yourself.

Modern Love: In this week’s column, how a woman’s worst date became her best one.

Late-night comedy: The hosts watched as President Trump and Michael Bloomberg traded insults. “This is crazy,” Trevor Noah said. “Two mega-rich dudes dissing each other in the most personal way. It would be like if a rap battle was on CNBC.”

What we’re listening to: This episode of “The New Yorker Radio Hour.” Sam Sifton, our food editor, writes: “I enjoyed listening to Hilton Als talk about Louis C.K.’s return to the stage, and about how it might have gone differently, had Louis attempted art and not commerce.”

Cook: Take time this weekend for stuffed shells.

See: Two paintings of Napoleon, one wearing Timberlands, are on display at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s a face-off between two visions of the political power of art, our critic Jason Farago writes.

Read: In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’ve listed works of fiction from each of the 50 states that explore matters of the heart.

Smarter Living: There are good ways and bad ways for colleagues with different circadian rhythms to work together. Here are some tips.

Donald McNeil, a science reporter for The Times, is part of a team covering the spread of the virus. This is a condensed version of a conversation about his observations and concerns.

What do we know, and what don’t we know, about the coronavirus?

In the beginning of every epidemic, there is the fog of war.

I’d say we’re still in that fog. We know this virus is much more transmissible than SARS or MERS. We don’t know if it’s quite as transmissible as the flu. We know it can kill people. We know it’s not nearly as lethal as MERS or SARS.

One of the things we don’t know is what the Chinese aren’t saying. We know that they’re reluctant to let in outside experts and wouldn’t share samples of the earliest cases with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When you ask scientists, “What’s your fear for the Big One, the pandemic that’s going to kill us all?” — not that there is a pandemic that’s going to kill us all — but if you ask them that, they say, “Flu.” They worry about some new flu, bird flu or swine flu, that’s highly lethal but becomes very transmissible between humans. I know only one or two scientists who have said, “You know, I also worry about coronaviruses being the Big One.”

I don’t want to raise alarm that this is the Big One. But this is a new, scary and confusing one, and we don’t yet know how far it’s going to spread and how many people it’s going to kill.

What do you think about the public’s reaction to your reporting?

I’m always trying to figure out: Am I being alarmist, or am I not being alarmist enough? I was too alarmist about H5N1 back in 2005, the bird flu. I was not alarmist enough about West Africa and Ebola in its early days. All previous Ebola outbreaks had killed a few hundred people. That one killed 11,000.

A big part of my beat is debunking the panicky stories. It actually consumes almost as much of my time as reporting does.

I try to spread truth instead of panic, even if it takes me a little longer to get it right.


That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Chris


Thank you
Mark Josephson and Kathleen Massara provided the break from the news. Alex Traub wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Today’s episode is about the post-impeachment President Trump.
• Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Facebook reaction button symbolized by a heart (four letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• The Visual Investigations team at The Times will be answering questions, live and on-camera, today at 10 a.m. Eastern.



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