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Vox Sentences: Can you smell what The Rock is cooking … for America?

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by German Lopez, Tanya Pai, 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.

The Trump-FBI fallout continues; another celebrity might run for president; Venezuela is still in chaos.


Comey on

Rod Rosenstein, who recommended that James Comey be fired, at his confirmation hearing last month. The Washington Post / Getty
  • It’s day three of the fallout from President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.
  • A quick summary of the chaos: Trump originally said he fired Comey due to his poor handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. But not many people, particularly on the left, buy this — they think Trump fired Comey to stifle the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign. [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • The White House repeatedly insisted that Trump fired Comey strictly upon the recommendation of the US Department of Justice. Specifically, that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told Trump to fire Comey. [CBS News / Jacqueline Alemany]
  • But Trump has now admitted that he wanted to fire Comey all along, telling Lester Holt at NBC News, “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.” [NBC Nightly News]
  • And then Trump dropped a bombshell, essentially admitting that Russia was on his mind when he fired Comey: “[W]hen I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” [NBC News / Bradd Jaffy]
  • Experts on authoritarianism are not happy with Trump’s decision to fire Comey, with one telling Vox’s Zack Beauchamp that this kind of thing “is very common — in semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes.” [Erica Chenoweth to Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • There are some signs the investigation into the Trump-Russia ties won’t stop, though. For one, the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, has said the investigation is “highly significant” and will continue. [CNN / Stephen Collinson]
  • This looks particularly bad for Deputy AG Rosenstein, who until this week was widely received with bipartisan praise for some of his previous work as a federal prosecutor. [Vox / Dara Lind]
  • Now, though, there are questions about whether Rosenstein will quit — and he’s apparently meeting with the Senate Intelligence Committee. [Politico / Ali Watkins]
  • By the way, in the midst of all of this chaos, Trump signed an executive order creating a new commission to study voter fraud. Trump claims “millions” of illegal votes cost him the popular vote in 2016, but multiple studies have found that voter fraud is, in fact, rare to nonexistent in the US. [Vox / German Lopez​]

The Rock for president?

Dwayne The Rock Johnson James Devaney/WireImage
  • Running for president as a celebrity seems like a successful model right about now. So it’s no surprise that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is apparently considering a campaign, acknowledging it’s “a real possibility.” [Dwayne Johnson to GQ / Caity Weaver]
  • Johnson, of course, is best known as a WWE wrestler and an actor, including in the upcoming movie Baywatch.
  • Johnson joked about a presidential campaign a year ago, tweeting, “Surely the White House has a spot for my pick up truck.” [Dwayne Johnson]
  • But Johnson apparently began taking the possibility seriously about a year ago, when a Washington Post column made the case for his run. [The Washington Post / Alyssa Rosenberg]
  • This comes in the middle of other good political press for The Rock. This month’s cover story at the conservative National Review was about Johnson, titled “The Celebrity We Need.” [National Review / David French]
  • As for what positions Johnson would actually take on the campaign trail, that remains a bit of a mystery. He won’t say whom he voted for in 2016, though he publicly opposed Trump’s travel ban (which is widely known as the “Muslim ban”). [Washington Post / Marissa Payne]
  • At any rate, the broader point seems to be that both Republicans and Democrats are looking for just about anything that can defeat Trumpism. Johnson, for his part, seems to be emphasizing his ability to listen to people he disagrees with — something Trump isn’t exactly known for. [GQ / Caity Weaver​]
  • At the very least, Trump has shown that anything’s possible. So maybe this isn’t all that ridiculous.

Venezuela just keeps getting worse

Florida Gov. Scott Holds Rally For Jailed Venezuelan Opposition Leader Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Meanwhile, Venezuela is in very serious turmoil — as the country has been roiled by protests the past few weeks against an increasingly authoritarian government. [BBC / Vanessa Buschschlüter]
  • The death toll in the protests, which have now endured for more than a month, is nearing 40 — a sign of just how out of control the situation is. [CBS News and the Associated Press]
  • The government has defended its aggressive anti-protest actions by arguing, in part, that protesters are using chemical weapons — by which it means bottles filled with feces (seriously) that protesters are throwing at police. [Fox News]
  • Why are Venezuelans so angry? The big catalyst was the Supreme Court’s decision to essentially dismantle the legislature — the equivalent of America’s Congress — and absorb its powers. The Supreme Court is heavily tilted in favor of the current regime, led by leftist President Nicolás Maduro, while the National Assembly is controlled by the opposition. The court’s move was just the latest in Maduro’s slow acclimation of more and more power. [NYT / Nicholas Casey and Patricia Torres]
  • The broader reason, however, is that the country is having massive economic problems. In large part thanks to the policies of Maduro and predecessor Hugo Chávez, there are huge shortages in many crucial sectors of the economy, from food to health care. [NYT / Nicholas Casey]
  • Things are so bad that most people reported losing an average of 19 pounds between 2015 and 2016. [Vox / Zeeshan Aleem]
  • It’s hard to say where this all ends. But some experts argue that Venezuela’s slow descent into authoritarianism offers a warning for any other countries considering populist leaders. [NYT / Max Fisher and Amanda Taub​]

Miscellaneous

  • The youth team of AEM Lleida in Spain doesn’t get too much trouble from the boys they beat to win their amateur league — just the parents and refs, who call them “princesses.” [NYT / Raphael Minder]
  • This researcher discovered dozens of files about an advanced military codebreaking machine just hanging out unsecured on an NYU server, and all he got was a lousy poster. [The Intercept / Sam Biddle]
  • What if I (German) told you that Prohibition was in fact not as bad as you think? [American Journal of Public Health / Jack Blocker]
  • The feud between mixed martial arts and traditional martial arts is tearing China apart. [NYT / Didi Kirsten Tatlow]
  • Here’s a good explanation for why Disney has by and large abandoned hand-drawn animation. [La Volpe]

Verbatim


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