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10 things you need to know today: September 12, 2018

Harold Maass
REUTERS/Randall Hill
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1.

Carolinas brace for 'monster' Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence maintained Category 4 strength as it continued to barrel toward the Carolinas. Forecasters warned the storm, with top sustained winds of 130 miles per hour and heavy rains, could cause severe wind damage and catastrophic flooding. Evacuation routes were filled with motorists as authorities called for about 1.7 million people in threatened coastal areas in the Carolinas and Virginia to head inland. Florence is expected to make landfall late Thursday or early Friday, then slow down and dump as much as two and a half feet of rain on some areas, potentially causing dangerous flooding even far inland. Much of the North Carolina coast is under a hurricane warning, and Gov. Roy Cooper warned of potentially historic and life-threatening devastation. "This storm is a monster," he said. "It's big and it's vicious." [The Associated Press, The Weather Channel]

2.

Trump praises Flight 93's 'true heroes' on 9/11 anniversary

Americans on Tuesday paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 people killed on Sept. 11, 2001, on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. President Trump, speaking at Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, praised the passengers and crew members as "true heroes" for storming the cockpit and thwarting the terrorists who had hijacked the plane. "A piece of America's heart is buried in these grounds," Trump said. At the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, relatives of people killed in the collapse of the twin towers continued the tradition of reading the victims' names. At the Pentagon, Vice President Mike Pence noted that about a quarter of Americans were born after the attacks and said the memorial ceremonies "ensure each succeeding generation knows the story of what happened that dark day." [NPR, The New York Times]

3.

Trump calls Puerto Rico hurricane response 'unsung success'

President Trump on Tuesday praised the federal government's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, calling it "an unsung success." The hurricane caused mass destruction, and left many on the island without power or clean water for months. FEMA admitted it could have "better anticipated" the storm. Trump's boast came weeks after the release of a study commissioned by Puerto Rico's government concluding that 2,975 people died as a result of the storm from September 2017 to February 2018, up from an initial official estimate of 64 deaths. Trump didn't mention that during his remarks. "I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful," he said. "I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about." [USA Today]

4.

Appeals court says protesters can't sue Trump

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled against a lawsuit by protesters who accused President Trump of inciting violence against them at a March 2016 campaign rally. The Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said Trump was protected by the First Amendment because he did not explicitly call for anyone to harm anybody. Trump repeatedly said "get them out of here." "The fact that audience members reacted by using force does not transform Trump's protected speech into unprotected speech," Judge David McKeague wrote in the court's majority ruling. "The reaction of listeners does not alter the otherwise protected nature of speech." A lower court had declined to grant Trump's motion to dismiss the case. [The Hill, Politico]

5.

Woodward's Trump book released as White House denials continue

Watergate journalist Bob Woodward's new book Fear was released Tuesday. The book cites anonymous inside sources saying top Trump administration officials sometimes take documents off of President Trump's desk to keep him from taking certain actions they think would hurt the country. Two of those officials, former top White House economic adviser Gary Cohn and former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, said Tuesday that Woodward's account was not an accurate portrayal of their time in the White House. Porter said the Trump administration handles documents the same way previous ones did. Woodward, a longtime Washington Post reporter and editor, told The New York Times' The Daily podcast that a "key person" in office called to tell him the book is "1,000 percent correct," then said publicly it was inaccurate. [CBS News, The Washington Post]

6.

Woman convicted of helping kidnap Elizabeth Smart will leave prison early

The Utah Board of Pardons and Parole has decided that Wanda Barzee, who was convicted of helping a former street preacher kidnap Elizabeth Smart in 2002, will be released on Sept. 19, five years earlier than expected. The move came after the board determined it had miscalculated how long Barzee, 72, had to stay in prison, board spokesman Greg Johnson said. Smart, now 30, said she was "surprised and disappointed" and planned to speak publicly about the matter soon. "It is incomprehensible how someone who has not cooperated with her mental health evaluations or risk assessments and someone who did not show up to her own parole hearing can be released into our community," Smart said. [The Associated Press]

7.

Suicide bombing kills dozens in Afghanistan

A suicide bombing in Afghanistan killed at least 32 people Tuesday at a gathering where hundreds of people were protesting against a police commander. Unconfirmed reports put the death toll higher. More than 120 others were wounded. The attack came as violence is escalating across the country, and authorities have warned the trend could intensify as next month's parliamentary elections approach. The Taliban denied any involvement in the bombing and no other group immediately claimed responsibility. Less than a week ago, another suicide attack left more than 20 people dead in Kabul, the capital city. [Reuters]

8.

GOP leaders express concern as Trump poll numbers sink

Republicans on Tuesday expressed growing fears of losing control of the Senate after two new polls showed President Trump's approval rating dropping sharply despite the improving economy, and Democrats gaining strength in potentially key races. "I hope when the smoke clears, we'll still have a majority," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. One leading strategist described the situation as a "shipwreck" after the release of a CNN poll on Monday showing Trump's approval had dropped to 36 percent, compared to 42 percent in August. A Quinnipiac University poll released the same day put Trump's approval dropping to 38 percent from 41 percent last month. The Quinnipiac poll also found that 55 percent of Americans don't think Trump is fit to serve as president. [The Washington Post, USA Today]

9.

Kelly becomes record 15th woman gubernatorial nominee of primary season

Former state senator Molly Kelly won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire's governor's race. Her win brings the number of women nominated in gubernatorial races this year to 15, a record. She'll face Republican incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu, one of the nation's most popular governors, in the general election. Another high-profile Democratic woman candidate, military veteran and former Obama administration official Maura Sullivan, lost to local party favorite Chris Pappas in a key House district Republicans hope to turn in November. Sullivan appeared headed for second place in a crowded field that included Levi Sanders, the son of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I). [The New York Times, The Associated Press]

10.

Putin says nothing 'criminal' about Russian suspects in U.K. Novichok poisoning

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that his government had identified the Russians Britain named as suspects in the Novichok poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, and there is "nothing special or criminal" about them. Britain said last week that the two men were agents of Russia's military intelligence agency and charged them in absentia with the nearly fatal poisoning of the Skripals. Putin said the men don't work for Russia's military. "I would like to call on them so that they can hear us today," Putin said. "They should go to some media outlet. I hope they will come forward and tell about themselves." [The Associated Press]