US briefing: Democratic debate, Ukraine files and Michael Flynn | US news

Good morning, I’m Tim Walker with today’s essential stories.

Simmering tensions as Steyer makes a mark in Des Moines

The long detente between America’s two leading progressives, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, appears to be over after the Democratic debate in Des Moines on Tuesday where Warren referenced Sanders’ alleged assertion that a woman could not beat Trump – a claim Sanders denies – and then appeared to ignore his offered handshake. “The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women,” Warren said.

Democrats release Ukraine docs from Giuliani associate

The Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas, who acted as an intermediary between Giuliani and Ukrainian officials. Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

House Democrats have released a cache of documents obtained from the Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas, a close associate of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who is at the centre of the Ukraine scandal. Among the documents, which include phone records, texts and flash drives, is a note handwritten by Parnas, apparently reminding himself to get the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to “announce that the Biden case will be investigated”.

  • Conspiracy charges. Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, also a US citizen from the former Soviet bloc, were indicted last year on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records.

Michael Flynn seeks to withdraw guilty plea

Flynn leaves federal court in Washington DC in December 2017.

Flynn leaves the federal court in Washington DC in December 2017. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, facing sentencing for lying to federal investigators amid the Trump-Russia investigation, is seeking to reverse his previous guilty plea after complaining of “the government’s bad faith, vindictiveness, and breach of the plea agreement”. Flynn was the first senior White House official to cut a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller, providing extensive information to federal prosecutors in exchange for leniency.

  • Uncooperative witness. In recent months, Flynn has reportedly grown less cooperative and started insisting he committed no crimes, leading prosecutors to recommend a six-month prison sentence.

Meghan’s father could be called to testify at UK high court

The Duke And Duchess of Sussex in New Zealand last year.

The Duke And Duchess of Sussex in New Zealand last year. Photograph: Pool/Samir Hussein/WireImage

Thomas Markle, the estranged father of the Duchess of Sussex, may be called upon to give evidence at the UK’s high court amid his daughter’s ongoing legal action against the Mail on Sunday. Meghan is suing the newspaper for breach of copyright and invasion of privacy after it published excerpts from a letter to her her father, in which she complained about how he was treating her. The paper’s defence appears to rely on Thomas Markle’s account of the episode.

  • Royal summit. It has emerged that Meghan did not take part in the summit of senior royals on the question of her and Prince Harry’s future roles. The Sussexes decided her participation was not necessary in the meeting between the Queen, Harry, his father, Prince Charles, and brother, Prince William.

Cheat sheet


Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in the film version of 50 Shades of Grey.

Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in the film version of 50 Shades of Grey. Illustration: Guardian Design

How the decade’s bestselling books kickstarted a kink boom

With well over 150m copies sold by the middle of the 2010s, the 50 Shades trilogy was by far the decades’ biggest bestseller, heralding a boom in erotica – but did it have any lasting cultural influence between the covers, or between the sheets? Sian Cain investigates.

Wisconsin’s evangelicals stay loyal to Trump

Many voters in rural Wisconsin flipped from Obama to Trump in 2016. In his latest report from a key midwest swing county, Chris McGreal finds one local pastor concerned that his congregation seems more devoted to Trump than to Jesus.

Native Americans fight to be counted in US census

The 2020 US census will determine election maps and federal spending for the next decade. Native Americans have historically been undercounted, and thus underrepresented. Tribal activists are fighting to ensure that will not happen again this year, as Rebecca Nagle reports.

Vegetarianism goes back to its African roots

Global meat consumption is growing, with the burgeoning middle classes across Africa, Asia and Latin America powering demand. But in Africa, where plant-based diets were once prevalent, some are following the western trend towards vegetarianism, finds Anna Pujol-Mazzini.


Casper, the direct-to-consumer mattress company, is the latest trendy online company to make announce for an IPO, calling itself a “pioneer of the sleep economy”. But that economy, says Arwa Mahdawi, is built on an insidious lie.

The reason most people aren’t sleeping well isn’t down to their mattress or their pyjamas; it’s down to social issues such as precarious employment, long hours and noise pollution.


The Carolina Panthers’ Luke Kuechly has announced his retirement from the NFL aged 28. One of the finest linebackers of his generation, Kuechly’s career was also punctuated by two serious concussions.

The Boston Red Sox have fired their manager Alex Cora after he was implicated in MLB’s widening sign-stealing scandal. Cora was a coach with the Houston Astros when they illicitly stole signs on their way to winning the 2017 World Series.

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