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Coronavirus, Indoor Dining, Toy Soldiers: Your Wednesday Evening Briefing

Here’s what you need to know at the end of the day.

(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)

Good evening. Here’s the latest.

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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

1. President Trump minimized the dangers of the coronavirus even though he knew it was highly contagious and deadly, according to a new book by Bob Woodward.

“This is deadly stuff,” Mr. Trump said in February during one in a series of interviews for Mr. Woodward’s upcoming book, “Rage.” “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Mr. Trump said, calling it more lethal “than even your strenuous flu.”

The next month, Mr. Trump told Mr. Woodward: “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.” Above, Mr. Trump at the White House today.

At a campaign event in Michigan, Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, took aim at Mr. Trump for sending rosy public messages at odds with those grim comments: “He knew how dangerous it was. And while this deadly disease ripped through our nation, he failed to do his job on purpose. It was a life-and-death betrayal of the American people.”

With eight weeks to go until Election Day, 37 percent of registered voters say Mr. Trump has done a good job handling the pandemic, and 56 percent say he has done a bad job, according to a new poll from Monmouth University.

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Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

2. Top Homeland Security officials downplayed the threat of white supremacy and Russian election interference, according to the department’s former head of intelligence.

The former official, Brian Murphy, said in a whistle-blower complaint that he had been directed by the acting secretary of the department, Chad Wolf, above, to stop producing assessments on Russian interference. The complaint said that the department’s next in command ordered him to modify intelligence assessments to make the threat of white supremacy “appear less severe” and include information on violent “left-wing” groups.

Mr. Murphy, who was removed from his post in August, said in the complaint that he was retaliated against for raising concerns to superiors and cooperating with the department’s inspector general.


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Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

3. Strong winds whip up West Coast fires — and smoke.

Gusts could reach higher than 50 miles per hour in Southern California, fueling fires that have already burned more than 2.5 million acres this year — nearly 20 times what had burned by this time last year. Above, heavy smoke brought a cloud of darkness to the Bay Area, blotting out the sun.

The worst of the wind in Oregon has passed, but forecasters in Portland warned that there was “still plenty” coming. Much of Medford, a city of more than 80,000 people about 30 miles north of the California border, was evacuated.

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Credit…Johnny Milano for The New York Times

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Credit…Katherine Marks for The New York Times

6. The biggest luxury acquisition in history collapsed.

Nine months after a $16.2 billion deal was announced between LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Company, LVMH said it was scrapping the planned acquisition because of the threat of U.S. tariffs on French goods.

Tiffany said it was suing to force LVMH to move forward with its offer. Luxury goods have lost luster during the pandemic, with global sales, according to one estimate, set to contract by 25 percent to 45 percent this year. Recovery may take years.

In fashion news, Fendi has picked the British fashion designer Kim Jones as its new artistic director, replacing Karl Lagerfeld, who died last year. Mr. Jones will retain his position as artistic director of Dior Men in Paris.

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Credit…Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

7. The U.S. is pulling nearly half of its troops from Iraq.

The move, reducing the U.S. deployment to about 3,000 troops from about 5,200, will help fulfill President Trump’s goal of bringing troops home. The Pentagon is also expected to drop to about 4,500 troops in Afghanistan this fall, from roughly 8,600 forces now.

At the same time, analysts note that Mr. Trump has ordered about 14,000 forces to the Persian Gulf region in the past year or so in response to Iranian attacks and provocations. Above, U.S. troops at an air base northwest of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq.

Mr. Trump’s suggestion over the Labor Day weekend that U.S. military leaders were advocating war to benefit defense contractors is an election-year shift for the president who has spent most of his first term embracing them as pillars of his “America First” policy, our reporters write in a news analysis.

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Credit… Ágoston Németh

8. Dysfunction and graft set the stage for the catastrophic blast in Beirut.

Late last year, a new security officer at the city’s port happened on thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, a compound used in explosives, spilling from torn bags in a hangar; there were also jugs of kerosene and acid, and 15 tons of fireworks. The officer raised an alarm, but it turned out that many Lebanese officials already knew.

An investigation by a team of Times reporters reveals that the port’s operations were used by officials in Lebanon’s main political parties to dole out contracts and enrich themselves with illicit trade — while the dangers in the hangar were ignored. More than 190 people were killed in the explosion, 6,000 were injured and the city suffered billions of dollars in damage.


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Credit…Getty Images

A new study on mice focused on the potential effects of galanin, a peptide that is produced throughout the body in many animals, including humans. Scientists stressed active and sedentary mice by lightly shocking their paws. The next day, the scientists placed them in new situations intended to worry them again.

The active ones responded as normal, healthy mice do, cautiously moving. The sedentary animals tended to cower in the shadows, too overwhelmed to explore.


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Credit…Joe Leavenworth for The New York Times

10. And finally, the war on boredom and a strategic retreat.

As the pandemic curtailed his life, Karl Taro Greenfeld, a novelist, television writer and author of several books, returned to a hobby that had once been his miniature world: toy soldiers. Above, one of Mr. Greenfeld’s dioramas.

Military miniatures have grown as an industry, he found, and his options were thrilling, as was his enjoyment. “I had stopped time,” he writes in The Times Magazine. “Even better, I had gone back in time.”

But then his teenage daughter began bringing her friends to gawk at her father’s hobby.

His armies moved to a rented office: “The toughest soldier will wither before the dismissive scoff of a teenage girl.”

Have a brave and heroic evening.


Your Evening Briefing is posted at 6 p.m. Eastern.

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