10 things you need to know today: May 19, 2017

Trump says he's the target of a "witch hunt," former Fox News chief Roger Ailes dies, and more

The Fox News studios in New York City
(Image credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

1. Trump says he's the victim of a 'witch hunt'

President Trump said in a tweet Thursday that he was the victim of the "single greatest witch hunt" in political history. Trump, speaking to a group of television news anchors, said the appointment of a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to investigate Russia's attempt to influence the U.S. election, and the possible collusion with Trump's campaign, "hurts our country terribly, because it shows we're a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country." Trump added that "we have very important things to be doing right now, whether it's trade deals, whether it's military, whether it's stopping nuclear." At another event, Trump said he respected the Justice Department's decision to investigate Russia's election meddling, but that there was "no collusion" between his campaign and the Russians, "Zero." Shortly after taking office, Trump allegedly called then-FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired last week, and asked him when the agency would declare that Trump was not under investigation, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing two people familiar with the call.

CNN The New York Times

2. Ousted Fox News chief Roger Ailes dies at 77

Controversial Fox News founder Roger Ailes died Thursday, his wife, Elizabeth Ailes, said in a statement. He was 77. The longtime former head of Fox News was credited for turning the conservative cable news channel into a ratings juggernaut over two decades, before he stepped down in July 2016 after facing a barrage of sexual harassment allegations. "No one did more to change the media landscape than Roger Ailes, but no media executive did more to divide America," said Joe Peyronnin, a former network news executive who worked for Fox before it hired Ailes. Before and after his career at Fox News, Ailes worked as an adviser to Republican presidential candidates from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump.

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Los Angeles Times NPR

3. Swedish prosecutors drop rape investigation against Assange

Swedish prosecutors said Friday that they were dropping their preliminary rape investigation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been holed up in Ecuador's embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to the U.S. Assange has denied doing anything wrong, and claimed that the investigation would be used as a way to get him into custody so he could be turned over to the U.S. His troubles aren't necessarily over, because the Justice Department last month was reconsidering whether to charge him for his role in the release of U.S. government secrets by WikiLeaks.

Bloomberg The New York Times

4. Trump makes first foreign trip as president at tense moment

President Trump leaves Friday on his first foreign tour since taking office, in what one White House official described as a "do-or-die" trip after 10 tumultuous days that included the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the report that Trump shared classified information with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office. In an eight-day trip, Trump will make five stops in four countries — Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy, and Belgium. The agenda includes attending the NATO and G7 summits; meetings with Saudi Arabia's King Salman, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and Pope Francis; a working lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron; several state dinners; and tours of the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and St. Peter's Basilica.

White House CNN

5. Burr says Flynn not yet cooperating with Senate panel's Russia investigation

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was not cooperating with the panel's investigation into Russian election interference, although Flynn and his attorneys still had not given a "definitive" answer on whether the ousted national security adviser would comply with a committee subpoena. Flynn's lawyers did not immediately comment. President Trump fired Flynn in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his contact with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Flynn also has faced questions over his paid lobbying for entities linked to Russia and Turkey.

The Hill

6. Trump leans toward Lieberman as he nears FBI director pick

President Trump said Thursday that he was "very close" to choosing a new FBI director, and that he was leaning toward picking Joe Lieberman, a former senator, for the job. Trump said there was a "better than 50-50" chance that he would announce his pick for former FBI Director James Comey's replacement as early as Friday. Trump met Wednesday with Lieberman, who was Al Gore's Democratic running mate in 2000, and with acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, and former high-ranking FBI official Richard McFeely. Lieberman declined to comment when MSNBC asked if he would take the position. Not all Democrats thought Lieberman, who came out publicly against many of former President Barack Obama's policies, was right for the job. "We need a law enforcement professional, not someone who's run for office before," said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

NBC News Politico

7. Driver plows through crowds at Times Square, killing 1

A driver plowed through pedestrians in New York City's crowded Times Square on Thursday, killing an 18-year-old woman and injuring 22 other people. Police arrested the alleged driver, Richard Rojas, after he fled his maroon Honda and a traffic agent tackled him. Rojas, 26, reportedly has a history of drunken driving arrests. Rojas was charged with murder and 20 counts of attempted murder. The car sped through crowds for three blocks, sparking a panic, but New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters there was "no indication that this was an act of terrorism." Police reportedly said Rojas told them he had "heard voices," and told them after his arrest, "You were supposed to shoot me! I wanted to kill them."

The New York Times BBC News

8. Iranians go to polls in first presidential vote since nuclear deal

Iranians are voting Friday in the country's first presidential election since the country struck its nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers. There are four candidates, but the vote is essentially a choice between incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, 68, a moderate cleric, and his hardline main opponent, Ebrahim Raisi, 56. No Iranian president has lost a re-election bid since 1981, but Raisi's coalition of religious conservatives and populist isolationists makes him a serious contender. He is also seen as the favored candidate of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, though Khamenei did not endorse anyone. The election is expected to have a lasting impact on Iran's relationship with the West, especially with regard to the nuclear deal Rouhani negotiated with the U.S. and other world powers. If Raisi wins, he is expected to become the frontrunner to replace Khamenei, who is 70 and in poor health.

The Guardian The Associated Press

9. Chaffetz announces plan to leave Congress in June

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Thursday that he planned to resign from Congress on June 30. His departure in the middle of his term means he will not be around to finish his committee's high-profile investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Chaffetz on Wednesday said he planned to invite former FBI Director James Comey to testify next week, and he called for the FBI to turn over copies of Comey's records on his conversations with Trump, including a memo in which Comey reportedly said Trump had asked him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Chaffetz said his time in Congress "has been well spent, but it now seems the right time to turn the page."

USA Today

10. Basquiat painting sells at auction for $110.5 million, setting record

An untitled Jean-Michel Basquiat portrait sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby's on Thursday night in New York, the highest price ever paid at auction for a piece by an American artist. The late art collectors Jerry and Emily Spiegel bought the 1982 painting for $19,000 in 1984. On Thursday, the bidding started at $57 million and the painting went to Japanese art collector and entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa after a 10-minute bidding war. "I remember astounding the art world back in the 1980s when I set an auction record for Basquiat at $99,000," art dealer and Basquiat friend Jeffrey Deitch told Bloomberg. "All of us, Jean-Michel's friends, we totally believed in his genius. I always thought he would be one day in the legion of Picasso, Bacon, and Van Gogh. The work has that iconic quality. His appeal is real." Basquiat died in 1988 of a heroin overdose at the age of 27.


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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.