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Trump wanted to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in December: NYT

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President Donald Trump demanded in December that special counsel Robert Mueller be fired and the former FBI director’s investigation shut down, The New York Times reported on Tuesday.

At that time, the president was angry over reports that Mueller’s latest subpoenas were related to Trump’s business interactions with Deutsche Bank, the newspaper said, citing interviews with White House officials.

The Deutsche Bank reports were inaccurate, the special counsel’s office told Trump’s team, and the president did not act on his desires — but it was the second time that Trump is known to have considered firing Mueller, according to the Times.

The White House did not immediately answer CNBC’s request for comment and the special counsel’s office declined to comment.

Mueller’s office has been focused on investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with Moscow by Trump campaign officials. The team, which has subpoenaed the Trump Organization, is also believed to be examining whether there was obstruction of justice related to the probe.

Trump has spoken about potentially firing the special counsel as recently as this week.

“Why don’t I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said Monday in response to a question. “Many people have said, ‘You should fire him.'”

If the president were to fire Mueller, financial markets would likely take a tumble.

Read The New York Times’ full story on the December episode.

—CNBC’s Dan Mangan contributed to this report.

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NFT startups Dapper Labs and Sorare raise over $900 million

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LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against the Phoenix Suns during the 2021 NBA Playoffs on June 3, 2021.

Adam Pantozzi | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

Two start-ups in the red-hot NFT market raised a combined $930 million this week, highlighting continued appetite from investors for cryptocurrency companies as the industry experiences massive growth.

Dapper Labs, which makes virtual basketball trading cards, said Wednesday it has raised $250 million in a funding round led by Coatue. Bond, the investment firm run by former Wall Street analyst Mary Meeker, and Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC also backed the round.

The new round values the Vancouver, Canada-based firm at $7.6 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter who preferred to remain anonymous as the information is not public.

Sorare, a French fantasy soccer game that incorporates NFTs, also announced Tuesday that it bagged $680 million in a bumper cash injection led by SoftBank. Venture capital companies Atomico, Bessemer Ventures and IVP also invested, along with investment firms D1 Capital and Eurazeo.

French soccer star Antoine Griezmann and former English player Rio Ferdinand are also investors in Sorare.

The investment gives Sorare a valuation of $4.3 billion, the company said, making it by far the most valuable private tech firm in France and one of the largest start-ups in Europe.

What are NFTs?

NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a new but fast-growing phenomenon in the crypto industry. They are digital tokens that represent ownership of a virtual item, such as a work of art. Ownership is tracked on the blockchain, a digital ledger of transactions.

Unlike bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, NFTs aren’t fungible. This means they cannot be exchanged with one another like dollars or gold. Each NFT is unique and acts as a collector’s item that can’t be duplicated — however, the underlying media can still be viewed by someone else on the internet.

“When we think about the collectibles in the physical world, most of them have no utility value,” Nicolas Julia, CEO and cop-founder of Sorare, explained. “You put them in an album and that’s nice but it’s kind of limiting.”

“When you translate it to NFTs in the digital world, there’s many more things which you can do, like using them in a game for instance. But you also have provable scarcity, which is very appealing to collectors.”

Prices of NFTs spiked earlier this year, with sales reaching a record $2.5 billion in the first half of 2021. High-profile transactions include a record $69 million artwork sold by digital artist Beeple at a Christie’s auction and the $2.9 million sale of the first-ever tweet by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

The huge sums of money flowing into firms like Dapper Labs and Sorare highlights how investors are chasing the next big thing in crypto.

Crypto and blockchain start-ups have received about $19 billion in venture funding so far this year, almost triple the $6.4 billion raised by the sector in 2020, according to figures shared with CNBC by data firm Pitchbook.

However, like other assets in the fledgling crypto industry, NFTs have proven vulnerable to abuse by bad actors. Last week, digital collectibles marketplace OpenSea disclosed that insider trading had occurred on its platform.

NFTs enter the world of sport

Several sports organizations are turning to NFTs and other crypto assets as a way of making additional revenue.

English Premier League club Manchester City, for example, has launched two collections of NFTs. Meanwhile, a number of soccer clubs have launched “fan tokens” that allow holders to vote on mostly minor club decisions and receive certain perks.

Dapper Labs’ NBA Top Shot platform lets users trade and collect basketball match highlights in the form of NFTs. The highlights, or “moments,” are licensed by the NBA, which receives royalties on each transaction.

Dapper Labs also developed its own blockchain designed for NFTs, called Flow. It had previously used Ethereum but shifted away from that network after its popular digital pet game CryptoKitties in 2017 led to slower transaction processing. It’s currently in the process of migrating CryptoKitties to Flow.

In addition to announcing its latest funding Wednesday, Dapper Labs unveiled a partnership with LaLiga, Spain’s top soccer league, to introduce a similar experience to NBA Top Shot for soccer fans. Dapper Labs says it plans to invest part of the fresh cash into new experiences, like paid trips to big games.

“Part of this funding will go toward expanding functionality on NBA Top shot, developing a mobile product, and connecting the digital collecting experience with the experience of a fan showing up to a live game, or even supporting their team on social media,” Roham Gharegozlou, Dapper Labs’ CEO, told CNBC.

It comes a week after LaLiga announced a separate partnership with Sorare to add digital player cards from the league. 

Sorare is also upping its rivalry with Dapper Labs, planning to expand into the U.S. with a new office on the ground. Sorare has been approached by a number of U.S. sports organizations, its CEO told CNBC.

Sorare also plans to launch a mobile app and have all of the top 20 soccer leagues signed up by the end of 2022. Both Dapper Labs and Sorare indicated they hope to take advantage of sports stars’ huge social media followings to get the word out about their platforms.

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Questions remain over whether ‘America First’ policy has ended: Expert

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A U.S. flag flutters in the wind.

Gary Hershorn | Corbis News | Getty Images

People around the world still feel that the U.S. is taking an “America First” approach despite President Joe Biden’s pledges to rebuild alliances, according to a director at a Berlin-based think tank.

Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute said Biden’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday presented the narrative that the U.S. has turned a page on endless wars and the era of “Trumpism and ‘America First.'”

“All in all, it was an effective speech, I thought,” he told CNBC’s “Capital Connection” on Wednesday. “But allies and people around the world alike ask themselves — will Biden be able to deliver, and … do U.S. actions match the rhetoric.”

Biden’s speech is something that will go down well if it’s combined with concrete action, Benner said.

However, he questioned whether the U.S. can deliver on climate change commitments. Earlier this year, climate change measures were omitted from an infrastructure bill, which Republicans said should only address traditional transportation issues.

In the same way, U.S. actions to address the Covid pandemic also did not match the rhetoric, said Benner, noting that the U.S. had barriers to exporting vaccines despite being a major producer.

“That’s changing now, but people around the world still have the feeling that there’s quite a bit of ‘America First’ left,” he said.

Dispute with France

The dispute with France, which emerged after a new U.S.-Australia-U.K. security partnership was formed, also threatens to undermine “the overall rebuilding of alliances and U.S. credibility” if Washington doesn’t make amends with Paris, Benner said.

“The U.S. had good reasons to enter this deal with Australia and the U.K., but didn’t fully take into account the fallout,” he said, adding that Biden should show he is serious about including France in cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

European allies have doubts about the U.S. following the “botched Afghanistan exit which left a sour taste” in their mouths, and Poland is not happy that it was bypassed by the U.S. in the Nord Stream 2 deal with Germany.

There are some question marks on whether this rebuilding of alliances has really ended ‘America First.’

Thorsten Benner

Director, Global Public Policy Institute

“There are some question marks on whether this rebuilding of alliances has really ended ‘America First,'” he said.

But the U.S. decision to ease travel restrictions for vaccinated foreign visitors, including those from the U.K. and EU, is a good sign, said Benner.

The restriction was a “major irritant” to Europeans, he said. “Hopefully that will signal a new outreach and a new tone on the part of the U.S. administration.”

— CNBC’s Amanda Macias, Emma Newburger, Silvia Amaro, Leslie Josephs and Robert Towey contributed to this report.

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U.S. to donate millions more Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses to poorer nations

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A child hugs her mother as she gets vaccinated against Covid-19 during a vaccination day in Colombia.

Long Visual Press | Universal Images Group | Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech will provide an additional 500 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine to the U.S. government to be donated to low and lower-middle-income countries.

The move announced Wednesday represents an expansion of the companies’ existing agreement with the U.S. government to provide extra vaccine doses at a not-for-profit price for less-advantaged nations, and brings the total number of doses to be supplied for donation to these countries to a billion.

In line with the initial agreement, the U.S. government will allocate doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine to 92 low and lower-middle-income countries and the 55 member states of the African Union, Pfizer said in a press statement Wednesday.

Deliveries of the initial 500 million doses began in August, and the total 1 billion doses under the expanded agreement are expected to be delivered by the end of Sept. 2022, the company added.

The first doses allocated through this program arrived in Rwanda in mid-August and since then, more than 30 million doses have been shipped to 22 countries.

Pfizer and BioNTech have an existing agreement in place to supply vaccine doses to the COVAX Facility, a mechanism established by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and World Health Organization that aims to provide poorer countries with early access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, developed nations like the U.S. and those in Europe have had plentiful supplies of Covid shots since a number of vaccine candidates were developed at breakneck speed and authorized for emergency use last year before being rolled out to their general populations in mass vaccination campaigns.

While a majority of adults in the U.S. and Europe are now fully vaccinated, millions of people around the world do not have such ready access to Covid vaccines which greatly reduce the risk of severe Covid infection, hospitalization and death.

In the U.S., 64.1% of the population above 12 years of age is fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, while in the U.K., 81.9% of people over 16 are fully vaccinated, British government data shows. In the EU, 71.7% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Our World in Data figures note that while 43.5% of the world population has received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, only 2% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

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