Comey’s Trump memos, Korean hotline, Swaziland’s new name

Good morning, Quartz readers!

What to watch for today and over the weekend

GM Korea hits its bankruptcy deadline. The Detroit-based automaker’s South Korean arm failed to reach a restructuring agreement with labor unions ahead of today’s deadline, but it’s holding another round of talks this afternoon. The money-losing unit is expected to file for bankruptcy if an agreement can’t be reached.

The International Monetary Fund continues to meet in Washington, DC. Managing director Christine Lagarde spoke at the annual gathering on Thursday to caution world governments against stifling trade and investment. Finance officials from key countries will meet today and tomorrow to discuss that and other matters.

Wells Fargo gets a whopper of a penalty. US regulators are poised to impose a $1 billion fine (paywall) on the bank for misbehavior that includes charging unwitting customers bogus mortgage fees. The bank has faced a series of fines in recent years, including $185 million for opening accounts in its customers’ names without telling them.

General Electric releases earnings numbers. The numbers are expected to show a decline, partly from the poor performance of its power unit and partly because of GE’s tax bill for 2017 (paywall).

While you were sleeping

A Democratic senator backed Mike Pompeo for US secretary of state. The nod from Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota virtually guarantees the CIA director will win confirmation. Pompeo needed at least one Democratic vote to win a majority in the Senate. Critics worry Pompeo, whom Trump nominated last month, will favor military action over diplomacy.

James Comey’s memos of his meetings with Trump were leaked. The meticulous notes include Trump’s repeated demands for Comey’s “loyalty” along with some salacious elements. Among them was Trump saying that Vladimir Putin—whom he had recently tweeted he didn’t know—had told him that Russia had some of the “most beautiful hookers in the world.”

The leaders of North and South Korea opened a hotline. Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, scheduled to hold a summit next week, will now be able to easily call one another. Parts of that summit, to be held at the border, will be broadcast live.

China’s navy challenged Australian warships in the South China Sea. The vessels were headed to Vietnam when the polite but “robust” exchanges took place, ABC reported, possibly during China’s largest-ever naval drills last week. Australian authorities refused to give details but reiterated the nation’s right to conduct freedom-of-navigation exercises in the area.

Findings on Andrew McCabe were referred to federal prosecutors. The US Justice Department concluded that the former FBI deputy director misled investigators and lied under oath. The findings could evolve into criminal charges, should the US Attorney’s Office decide to proceed (paywall).

George Soros’s Open Society Foundations is fleeing Hungary. With nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán pushing widely criticized “Stop Soros” laws targeting non-governmental organizations, the international philanthropic network will close its Budapest office and open a new one in Berlin. US-based Soros is originally from Hungary.

Quartz obsession interlude

Olivia Goldhill on why the Starbucks racism scandal is also a fight over public space. “Venues where people can gather in public are increasingly rare as governments allow private companies to manage parks and permit restaurants to spill onto the sidewalk, creating privately owned public spaces. People go to Starbucks to use the restroom because, quite simply, there’s nowhere else to go.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Marriage is both anachronistic and discriminatory. It’s what happens when the state gets involved in endorsing and regulating personal relationships, which is a bad idea.

Equalizing home ownership won’t fix America’s racial wealth gap. Fair housing won’t truly be fair until reparations are paid that allow for more home equity for black families.

Memos are more effective for meetings than PowerPoint presentations. The process of writing them crystallizes thinking and improves teamwork.

Surprising discoveries

Robots can assemble IKEA chairs. Researchers finally got a robot to figure out how to put a chair together all by itself in 20 minutes, though it took three years to master.

Swaziland changed its name partly because it sounded too much like Switzerland. The country is now eSwatini (“land of the Swazis”), King Mswati III declared yesterday.

A missing Nazi U-boat was finally found. German submarine U-3523, the fate of which has long been a mystery, is embedded halfway into the sea floor, and no one knows what’s inside.

David Copperfield was forced to reveal a magic trick in court. A volunteer claimed the “Lucky #13” act caused him $400,000 in medical bills (paywall) due to an injury.

IRS systems are programmed with a computer language from the 1950s. The US tax agency could use a tech upgrade (paywall).

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, magic-trick secrets, and AI-assembled flatpack furniture to You can follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day or download our apps for iPhone and Android. Today’s Daily Brief was written by Steve Mollman and edited by Isabella Steger.