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10 things you need to know today: September 14, 2018

Harold Maass
ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images
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1.

Hurricane Florence hammers Carolina coastline as it nears landfall

Hurricane Florence battered the coast of the Carolinas with heavy rains, hurricane-strength winds, and a life-threatening storm surge early Friday as it approached landfall. Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane, with its top sustained winds falling to 90 miles per hour, but forecasters warned it remained an extremely dangerous storm. It is moving slowly and threatening to hit some areas with three feet of rain and cause catastrophic flooding. "Don't focus on the category of the storm," the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned. "This will cause extremely dangerous flooding." A storm surge 10 feet above normal levels was reported in Morehead City, North Carolina. "There's already water (in the) bottom part of people's houses," Todd Willis of Kennel Beach, North Carolina, said Thursday night. "This is just the beginning." [CNN, National Hurricane Center]

2.

Trump says Democrats inflated Puerto Rico hurricane death toll to make him look bad

President Trump on Thursday rejected the conclusion of a study commissioned by Puerto Rico's government that said 2,975 people had died on the island as a result of last year's Hurricane Maria. "3000 people did not die," Trump tweeted. "When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths." Trump falsely accused Democrats of inflating the death toll by adding such deaths as those caused by old age "in order to make me look as bad as possible." Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Roselló, criticized Trump, saying, "We strongly denounce anyone who would use this disaster or question our suffering for political purposes." Retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Trump had a "warped mind" and his comments "might be a new low." [The New York Times]

3.

Pope Francis orders sexual misconduct investigation of West Virginia bishop

Vatican and American Catholic leaders on Thursday announced that Pope Francis has ordered an investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct against West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield, who resigned. Details of the allegations against him were not immediately available. The news came as a delegation of U.S. Catholic leaders met urgently with the pope to discuss the church's broadening international sex abuse crisis, and whether the Vatican had ignored warnings of abuse by a prominent cardinal. "This is the long expected reckoning of leadership," said Christopher Bellitto, a professor of history at Kean University in New Jersey. "It's been postponed so long, it was finally going to blow up." [The New York Times, Reuters]

4.

Feinstein sends letter about Kavanaugh to FBI

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Thursday that she had a letter concerning Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and referred it to federal investigators. She said the person who provided the information to her "strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or press the matter further, and I have honored that decision." The New York Times, citing two officials familiar with the matter, said the letter allegedly involved sexual misconduct on behalf of Kavanaugh when he was in high school. The White House defended Kavanaugh and called Feinstein's move, which came as the committee set a date for a vote on Kavanaugh's nomination, an "11th hour attempt to delay his confirmation." A person familiar with the matter said the FBI decided not to launch an investigation and referred the letter to the White House for inclusion in Kavanaugh's background check. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]

5.

Cuomo beats Nixon but New York progressives score down-ballot wins

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday easily beat actor and activist Cynthia Nixon in the state's Democratic primary, ending one of the last progressive primary challenges for the party this election season. Cuomo, who is seeking re-election to a third term, had 65 percent of the vote to Nixon's 35 percent with 85 percent of the districts reporting. He'll face Republican nominee Marc Molinaro in November's general election. Liberal insurgents did claim some down-ballot victories by beating six of eight Democratic state senators who had belonged to the Independent Democratic Caucus, a now-defunct group of Democrats who caucused with Republicans. [USA Today, BuzzFeed News]

6.

Accused Russians say they went to U.K. as tourists, not assassins

The two Russian men accused by the U.K. of poisoning ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with a Soviet-era nerve agent protested their innocence Thursday in an interview with the Kremlin-funded broadcaster RT. The men, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, said they went to the Skripals' town in southern England as tourists, not Russian intelligence agents, as British investigators have concluded. "Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town," Petrov said. "There's the famous Salisbury cathedral, famous not only in Europe but in the whole world," Boshirov added. NBC News security analyst Duncan Gardham called the explanation a "brazen circus" that essentially said "We did it." [NBC News]

7.

U.S. to reconsider asylum claims of families separated at border

The Trump administration has agreed to reconsider asylum claims by about 1,000 immigrant families separated at the southern border under a deal to settle lawsuits over President Trump's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy. If U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego approves the agreement, immigrant parents and their children, even those whose applications were rejected, will get a second chance to show they have a "credible fear of persecution or torture" in their home countries. Lawyers for immigrants had argued that the parents were too distraught to make their cases for asylum after their children were taken from them. A lawyer for the plaintiffs said the agreement was "an implicit recognition that they did wrong by these families" by hampering their access to the asylum system. [Reuters, The New York Times]

8.

Manafort reportedly cutting plea deal with Mueller

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was near a plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller that could let him avoid going through his upcoming second trial, numerous news outlets reported Thursday. ABC News, citing sources familiar with the negotiations, reported Manafort had struck a tentative agreement. It was not immediately clear whether Manafort would be pleading guilty in exchange for cooperation with prosecutors, or simply to avoid the expense and ordeal of another trial. In Manafort's first trial, a jury found him guilty of eight of 18 counts of tax and bank fraud for hiding income from his political consulting work for Russia-linked political clients in Ukraine. Manafort faces eight to 10 years in prison on the earlier convictions. [Reuters, ABC News]

9.

China confirms U.S. has asked for new trade talks

China's foreign ministry confirmed Thursday that the Trump administration had invited Chinese officials to participate in a new round of talks on resolving an escalating trade war between the two countries, which have the world's two largest economies. "We have indeed received an invitation from the U.S. side. We welcome it," said a ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang. "Now the two sides are in communication on relevant details." President Trump is due to make a decision any time about whether to go through with a proposal to raise duties on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. The news followed reports by U.S. and European business groups that the rising tariffs had hurt foreign companies. [The Associated Press]

10.

Gas explosions kill 1, injure a dozen others north of Boston

Gas explosions killed at least one person and injured a dozen others on Thursday in three communities north of Boston. "It looked like Armageddon, it really did," said Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield. Leonel Rondon, 18, reportedly was killed when an explosion sent a chimney tumbling onto his car. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes. The blasts destroyed dozens of homes and other buildings in Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence. Massachusetts State Police said there were about 70 reported fires, explosions, or investigations of gas odor. Investigators said they suspected the explosions were caused by "over-pressurization of a gas main" belonging to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, a unit of the utility NiSource Inc. [Reuters, The Associated Press]