Happy Tuesday! We’ve all wished for a low-stakes medical excuse—a root canal, perhaps—to get us out of a work meeting, and President Joe Biden is living our dreams.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- The Denver Nuggets defeated the Miami Heat Monday night to win their first-ever NBA championship after 56 years of play and 38 playoff appearances. Center Nikola Jokić and point guard Jamal Murray led the team to a 94-89 victory in Game 5 after winning three other games by double digits. “The job is done, we can go home now,” Jokić said.
- The Federal Trade Commission asked a federal court Monday to block Microsoft’s $75 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard. The deal has attracted transatlantic antitrust attention—the European Union approved the deal, while the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority ruled against it—over concerns Microsoft will use control of dominant Activision games like Call of Duty to elbow out cloud-gaming rivals.
- Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa alleged in a Senate floor speech yesterday that an FBI FD-1023 form—used to record unverified tips, in this case an informant’s report of allegations that then-Vice President Joe Biden was involved in a $5 million bribery scheme with a Ukrainian executive—included an assertion that the Ukrainian executive had 15 recordings of phone calls with Hunter Biden and two with Joe Biden. “The 1023 also indicates that then-Vice President Joe Biden may have been involved in Burisma [energy company] employing Hunter Biden,” Grassley said, claiming the FBI redacted this information from the file it showed House lawmakers but that he had seen an unredacted version.
- Ukraine has gained ground in its counteroffensive, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday, recapturing seven villages in the southeast of the country. Russian-backed local officials in Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia reported fierce fighting along the border of those regions, with Ukrainian troops holding their gains. Ukrainian officials accused Russian forces of blowing up a small dam on the Mokri Yaly River to slow Ukrainian counteroffensive progress. At least 10 people have reportedly died in flooding from the recent destruction of the Kakhovka Dam, and 35 are still missing.
- Israel is planning to announce the construction of at least 4,000 new housing units in West Bank settlements later this month, Axios first reported, and has reportedly informed the Biden administration of its intentions. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indefinitely postponed a Monday meeting that would have advanced a settlement expansion plan opposed by the United States. White House National Security Spokesperson John Kirby reiterated U.S. concern over additional settlements on Monday.
- Silvio Berlusconi—billionaire real estate and media mogul and former Italian prime minister—died yesterday at 86 after struggling with chronic leukemia. Berlusconi led Italy for a total of nine years between 1994 and 2011 and became notorious for scandals including sex parties at his villas, alleged corruption, and suspected ties to the mafia. But Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party remained a powerful force in Italian politics, and he died a sitting senator in parliament.
- The Commerce Department on Monday added 43 entities to an export control list for threatening national security. Listed businesses included Frontier Services Group, accused of training Chinese military pilots, and the Test Flying Academy of South Africa, accused of recruiting British ex-military pilots to train Chinese pilots. Additions to the entity list—which restricts listed businesses’ access to U.S. exports—also included companies the United States says have helped China’s military modernization efforts and hypersonic weapons development.
Mr. Blinken Goes to Beijing—Maybe
The news cycle sometimes gets the best of all of us. Just as word leaked out last week that Secretary of State Antony Blinken will likely make a long-delayed visit to Beijing next week, the Wall Street Journal reported China and Cuba had struck a deal to install a Chinese surveillance post on the island, less than 100 miles off Florida’s coast.
The Biden administration quickly denied the report—clarifying that, actually, China has had a Cuban listening post for years—but that hasn’t stopped the foreign policy establishment from wondering whether the revelation would scuttle Blinken’s reported travel plans. It wouldn’t be the first time in recent memory: Blinken canceled a February trip after the United States shot down a Chinese spy balloon the size of three school buses. Despite the White House’s best efforts to engineer a U.S.-China thaw, relations have remained chilly, and the administration appears reluctant to cancel Blinken’s trip over the listening post news or China’s recent provocative military maneuvers.
Blinken is reportedly headed to Beijing at the end of his current swing through the Middle East, arriving in the Chinese capital on Sunday (sorry you’re going to miss Father’s Day, Tony). He’ll almost certainly meet with his counterpart, Politburo member Wang Yi*, and possibly also President Xi Jinping.