Your Friday Briefing

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn are investigating whether several Ukrainian officials helped orchestrate a wide-ranging plan to meddle in the 2020 presidential campaign, including the possible use of Rudolph Giuliani to spread disinformation about Joe Biden and tilt the election in Donald Trump’s favor, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

In December 2019, Giuliani, then Trump’s personal lawyer, met with several Ukrainians, including Andriy Derkach, a member of Parliament who was later accused by Trump’s Treasury Department of being “an active Russian agent.”

Yesterday, Giuliani’s lawyer defended the search for information about Biden, disputing the assertion that Giuliani had relied on misleading information. “When you investigate allegations of corruption, you talk to all sorts of people; some are credible, and some are not,” he said, adding that “some day the truth will come out” about Biden’s dealings in Ukraine.

Denials: In an interview last year, Giuliani said there was nothing to dissuade him from meeting with Derkach, who was not under sanctions at the time. “I have no reason to believe he is a Russian agent,” Giuliani said.

As the U.S. completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan, more than 25 rural Afghan government outposts and bases in four provinces have surrendered to the Taliban, with each facility’s or town’s surrender feeding the next.

Among the negotiated surrenders were those of four district centers, which house local governors, police personnel and intelligence chiefs. People have been influenced by threats — with insurgents essentially sending the message to give up or die — as well as by bribes.

The Taliban have negotiated Afghan troop surrenders in the past, but never at the scale and pace of the base collapses this month, in the four provinces extending east, north and west of Kabul. The militants have secured key territory, weapons, ammunition and vehicles, often without firing a shot.

Quote: “The government is not able to save the security forces,” said Mohammed Jalal, a village elder in Baghlan Province. “If they fight, they will be killed, so they have to surrender.”


President Biden’s call for a 90-day investigation into the origins of the coronavirus came after intelligence officials said they had a raft of still-unexamined evidence that required additional computer analysis.

Though officials declined to describe that evidence, the revelations suggest that the government may not have exhausted its databases of Chinese communications, the movements of lab workers and the pattern of the initial outbreak of the disease around the city of Wuhan.

Biden has committed to making the results of the review public, but he added a caveat: “unless there’s something I’m unaware of.”

Details: In addition to marshaling scientific resources, the push is intended to prod American allies and intelligence agencies to mine existing information and to hunt for new intelligence to determine whether the Chinese government covered up an accidental lab leak.

In 1964, rather than surrender his land to allow the building of an interstate highway, a Vermont farmer burned himself and his farm. His legend lives on.

“In his mind,” his niece said, “the only way out was to do what he did.”

“Day X,” a new five-part audio documentary from The Times, examines the rise of a new brand of extremism in Germany, and one shadowy figure in the middle of it. Katrin Bennhold, our Berlin bureau chief, discusses the project in this interview, which has been lightly edited and condensed.

How did you arrive at this series?

The rise of a far-right party, the Alternative for Germany, which was able to make it into the German Parliament and is the biggest opposition party there, is a big deal. Toward the end of 2018, German news media reported that there was this whole network of soldiers and police officers and like-minded civilians who were planning for the day democracy dies: Day X.

Franco A. is the special focus of one episode. He is somebody with racist, absolutist ideas. Why was it important to tell his story?

To me, one of the most frightening and most important features of the new right, as they call themselves — the old right being neo-Nazis and even Nazis — is that the new right believes in the same ideology, but they look different and they talk differently. We have this image of neo-Nazi skinheads in bomber jackets and tattoos. But a lot of these guys blend in much more. I feel we do need to show them out for what they are.

Jackfruit is perfect for a meatless meal, like this tangy sabzi from West Bengal.

Whether you’re hoping to catch up on reading on a beach, at a park or in the tub, our editors and reviewers’ picks of 73 books have you covered this summer.

“A Quiet Place Part II” — John Krasinski’s alien-invasion blockbuster sequel — is brasher than its predecessor, but just as wonderfully acted, our reviewer writes.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Lose one’s hair (four letters).

And here is today’s Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.


That’s it for today’s briefing. Thanks for joining me, and have a great weekend. — Natasha

P.S.: Season 2 of “Modern Love,” the Amazon Prime series based on the Times column, will premiere on Aug. 13.

The latest episode of “The Daily” is about the saga of Ryanair Flight 4978, which the government of Belarus forced to land in Minsk.

You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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