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Vox Sentences: Taped, locked up, and held for ransom

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Dylan Matthews and Dara Lind. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

We know Watergate analogies are pretty played out, but, uh, there’s this rumored White House tape...

Comey as you are, as you were, as a known enemy

Donald Trump being interviewed on Comey by NBC’s Lester Holt NBC
  • Hello, good evening, and welcome to day four of the Jim Comey firing story.
  • Friday started off the way most days do in this brave new world of ours: with Trump going on a Twitter rampage. Today's involved barely disguised threats against Comey, like, "James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” [NYT / Peter Baker, Michael D. Shear]
  • So … is the White House recording Oval Office meetings with officials like Comey? Press Secretary Sean Spicer conspicuously refused to deny it during Friday’s press briefing. [Washington Post / Aaron Blake]
  • Comey, for one, probably does hope there are tapes, a source close to him told NBC. [Katy Turner / Twitter]
  • “Sources close to Comey” have been doing an awful lot of talking; they also told the New York Times that at Comey’s dinner with Trump, the president asked the FBI director for a pledge of loyalty; he offered only “honesty.” [New York Times / Michael S. Schmidt]
  • Then again, Spicer also denied that Trump’s tweet was a threat against Comey, which maybe proved a point that the president made in another morning tweet: “As a very active President with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” [WSJ / Rebecca Ballhaus and Louise Radnofsky]
  • Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — whose pre-Comey reputation as an apolitical straight shooter has been seriously tarnished, at the very least, since he wrote the memo initially used to justify the FBI director’s firing — is going to brief the full Senate next week. It may not surprise you that Senate Democrats have a lot of questions for him. [Washington Post / Ed O’Keefe and Paul Kane]
  • Oh, and the Trump Organization’s law firm wrote a letter saying that Trump’s tax returns (which he still hasn’t released) show no income from Russian sources or debt owed to Russians, “with a few exceptions.” But it’s basically impossible to know for sure without seeing the tax returns ourselves. (And the law firm was named Russia Law Firm of the Year in 2016, for what that’s worth. [Vox / Matthew Yglesias]

Don't you dare mess with the NHS

NHS Hospitals Across The UK Are Hit By Cyber Attack Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images
  • A massive hacking attack hit thousands of computers in at least 74 countries Friday, crippling, most notably the computer systems of public hospitals throughout Britain and the Spanish telecom Telefonica. [Vox / Timothy B. Lee]
  • The culprit is a bit of “ransomware” called WannaCry, which, true to the term “ransomware,” freezes access to any computers it infects until the computer user pays $300 in bitcoin. [Reuters / Jamillah Knowles]
  • The effect on the British hospital system has been devastating. Patients have had surgeries canceled and been unable to get MRI scans. One doctor told the BBC, “Patients will almost certainly suffer and die because of this.” [BBC]
  • To hackers, this isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Hospitals are the most common target of ransomware — because the stakes are literally life and death, computer users are particularly likely to pay to regain access to their machines. [Wired / Kim Zetter]
  • The WannaCry attack wasn’t directed at the NHS, though. It appears to have spread opportunistically as a worm — which means it could continue to spread. [Wired / Lily Hay Newman]
  • We know how the WannaCry ransomware works. It was designed to exploit a vulnerability in Windows operating systems that the NSA had kept secret as a potential tool in its cyberoperations — but was revealed to the public in March, when hackers released a trove of documents purportedly revealing secret NSA hacking ops. [Politico / Eric Geller]
  • At the time, cybersecurity experts warned that those vulnerabilities could be exploited by criminals (and some even blamed the NSA for not locking its stuff up better). [Motherboard / Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai]
  • Microsoft put out a “patch” for the vulnerability as soon as the docs got leaked — so quickly that some thought the NSA had tipped them off. By Friday, most individual consumers with Windows machines had already been protected (thanks to the magic of software updates). But business networks tend to lag — which makes them a bigger, better target for malware in general, and particularly this worm. [Wired / Lily Hay Newman]
  • The same is true of governments. One of the biggest victims of Friday’s attack — perhaps ironically to residents of, say, the US or France — was the interior ministry of Russia. [The Verge / Russell Brandom]

There are some things Jeff Sessions will prosecute aggressively

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Receives Award From The Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo to federal prosecutors Wednesday (which was released to the public on Friday) directing them to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” — even when doing so will trigger a Congressionally-set mandatory minimum sentence. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • Sessions’s directive reverses a memo sent by then-AG Eric Holder in 2013, which told prosecutors that if they didn’t feel a drug offender deserved the full length of a mandatory sentence, they could leave the amount of drugs he was found with out of their charging documents — since minimum drug sentences are largely based on weight. [AP / Sadie Gurman]
  • Because so many federal prosecutions are for drug crimes, the “Holder memo,” as it was called, made a big impact while it was in place — reducing the number of times that prosecutors charged mandatory minimums by a quarter. (Bear in mind, though, that most prisoners in the US are in state prisons.) [The Atlantic / Juleyka Lantigua-Williams]
  • The Holder memo was an aberration. Prosecutors are traditionally given some flexibility (which the Sessions memo preserves), but they’re generally told to charge the biggest thing they can convict someone for — which is just what they’re being told to do again. [Crime and Consequences / Bill Otis]
  • But the day-to-day power that prosecutors have over the criminal justice system — who to charge, what to charge them for, and what sentence to accept in plea deals (which is how 95 percent of cases are settled) — is immense. So anything that encourages prosecutors toward either more lenient or harsher sentences has an outsized impact. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • Stack this on top of the memo Sessions sent last month, directing federal prosecutors to do more to charge low-level immigration crimes, and you have a crystal-clear picture of the Trump/Sessions agenda at the DOJ — which has perhaps represented the biggest break with Obama-era policy that’s actually been implemented so far. [The Daily Beast / Betsy Woodruff]
  • Sessions can’t order US attorneys to focus on some crimes and not others. In theory, they have autonomy. But it depends on who Sessions and Trump appoint — after having summarily fired US attorneys in March, they haven’t hired very many to replace them. [Business Insider / Michelle Mark]


  • Jim Fallows covered the Watergate scandal as a young journalist at the Washington Monthly. Here's why he thinks the Comey scandal is a bigger deal. [The Atlantic / Jim Fallows]
  • The rate of maternal death in the US is triple that of Canada, and six times that in Scandinavia. A major reason why: We focus care on newborns rather than on new mothers. [NPR / Nina Martin, Renee Montagne]
  • A bunch of super-prestigious private schools — like Philips Andover, Punahou, Milton Academy, Head-Royce, the Singapore American School — are planning to get rid of traditional transcripts and GPAs in favor of two-page qualitative descriptions of the "skills" students have "mastered." This is great for rich kids who go to these schools. For poor kids at other schools, it's terrible news. [Washington Post / Catherine Rampell]
  • 3 winners and 3 losers from the upcoming nuclear holocaust. [McSweeney’s / Dan Cluchey]
  • KRS-One tried to eulogize a fallen Beastie Boy in his new single but wound up honoring the memory of Ad-Rock, who is extremely alive. [AV Club / Sean O’Neal]


  • “He sings through tears! Think of how hard that is to do, to sing an entire song and cry simultaneously. I couldn’t do it. I physically couldn’t do it. I’d sound like a goat.” [Neil Patrick Harris to NYT Mag / Joel Lovell]
  • “Zero Dark Thirty got a crucial point wrong. It wasn’t stopping torture that stopped intel. It was stopping interrogation. It was going to droning, to killing. You get no intel from corpses.” [Zainab Ahmad to New Yorker / William Finnegan]
  • “Since I was 20, I believed that women should have the same rights as men, because we deserve them. But I didn’t know what that really meant until I was at home having my cable installed, and the cable installer—a man—offered to route my wires from my cable box to my television. I was offended and screamed into my bleeding room, ‘I can do it myself!’ Thanks to KEDSUM 200PCS ADHESIVE CABLE CLIPS, WIRE CLIPS, CAR CABLE ORGANIZER, CABLE WIRE MANAGEMENT, DROP CABLE CLAMP WIRE CORD TIE HOLDER FOR CAR, OFFICE AND HOME I really could.” [Jezebel / Joanna Rothkopf]
  • “Asking an Economist writer if he or she has heard the expression ‘prime the pump’ is like asking Sports Illustrated writers if they’ve heard of ‘RBIs’ or asking someone at Playboy if they’re aware that you can have your body surgically enhanced.” [Washington Post / Philip Bump]
  • “‘Sapiosexual’ seems to circulate primarily as a layer of pretension on top of a more traditional sexual identity. It’s a sexual orientation for people who think that they’re too smart to have a sexual orientation.” [Daily Beast / Samantha Allen]

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