January 12, 2018

A growing number of pregnant Russian women have been traveling to Miami to give birth, with the wealthier ones buying birth tourism packages and those of more modest means putting together DIY packages. Giving birth in the U.S., and Miami in particular, is a status symbol in Moscow, NBC News reports, and the big draw is birthright citizenship. All children born in the U.S. are U.S. citizens. "The child gets a lifelong right to live and work and collect benefits in the U.S." NBC News says. "And when they turn 21 they can sponsor their parents' application for an American green card."

President Trump, a critic of birthright citizenship, has been insisting on getting rid of such "chain migration" in immigration talks going on in Washington. But as The Daily Beast reported last year, Trump-branded condos in Miami, especially its Sunny Isles Beach area — dubbed "Little Russia" — are especially popular birth tourism bases for women who can afford the rent. Some Russian birth tourism outfits tout the Trump name in their packages. "There is no indication that Trump or the Trump Organization is profiting directly from birth tourism," NBC News says, though The Daily Beast notes that Trump's company "does benefit from Russian patronage of the nearby Trump International Beach Resort."

Birth tourism is perfectly legal — for now — as long as the birth tourists don't lie on their immigration or insurance forms, and California is a popular destination for Chinese mothers-to-be — as Jeb Bush awkwardly highlighted in 2015. There are no official numbers for how many foreign women come to the U.S. to give birth to U.S. citizens each year, but Florida says the number of births there by all foreign nationals who live outside the U.S. has spiked 200 percent since 2000. Peter Weber

1:21 p.m. ET

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced new sanctions on one Russian company, one Slovakian company, and two Russian individuals for efforts to circumvent previous U.S. sanctions, Reuters reports.

The Treasury Department imposed the sanctions after discovering that the entities were helping a Russian company called Divetechnoservices, which was sanctioned in June for providing the Russian government with underwater equipment that aided the Kremlin's federal security and intelligence agency. The individuals sanctioned also helped Divetechnoservices evade its previous sanctions, the department said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the new sanctions were "disrupting Russian efforts to circumvent our sanctions," calling the effort "critical" to blocking the companies and Russian nationals from any transactions with American companies or individuals.

In a separate announcement, the U.S. also imposed sanctions on two Russian shipping companies, accusing them of helping North Korea, which is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Read more at Reuters. Summer Meza

12:28 p.m. ET
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

President Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, is negotiating a possible plea deal with federal prosecutors, sources told NBC News on Tuesday.

The potential guilty plea could protect Cohen from some of the fallout from the investigation into whether he committed tax fraud and bank fraud. The plea deal could be made as early as Tuesday, though sources clarified that no deal has been agreed upon yet. It was previously reported that federal prosecutors were considering filing charges against Cohen by the end of August, as the probe enters its final stages.

If Cohen agrees to a plea in the fraud case, "any cooperation agreement would likely extend to other federal investigations," NBC News noted — like Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference in 2016. Summer Meza

12:20 p.m. ET

Asia Argento is firmly denying an allegation of sexual assault — but she revealed that her late partner Anthony Bourdain did make a deal with her accuser.

A quiet payoff from the Italian filmmaker to her accuser, actor Jimmy Bennett, was first reported by The New York Times on Sunday. Documents show Argento arranged to pay Bennett $380,000 after he accused her of sexual assault when he was 17 and she was 37.

Argento spoke out about the deal for the first time Tuesday in a statement obtained by reporter Yashar Ali. In it, Argento denied the Times story and said she'd never had "any sexual relationship with Bennett." She went on to claim that Bennett, who once played her son in a movie, was "undergoing severe economic problems" and "unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me."

Argento said that because she had been dating the late chef Bourdain, Bennett knew Bourdain would be "afraid of the possible negative publicity" from a public settlement. So Bourdain "personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any intrusions in our life," Argento said in her statement.

Sunday's news of the deal was especially noteworthy considering Argento's role at the helm of the #MeToo movement, as she was one of the first women to accuse disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. Argento's arrangement with Bennett was finalized after the Weinstein revelations began pouring in, per the Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:30 a.m. ET

Animal lovers, rejoice. In what PETA is claiming as a victory for "animal liberation," Barnum's Animals crackers have been freed from their oppressive illustrated cages.

For 116 years, animals gracing the snack menagerie's red boxes have been trapped behind bars and sequestered into a circus boxcar. But after a request from PETA, Nabisco has relocated the creatures to the African savannah, the animal rights group announced Tuesday.

Despite the fact that these uncaged creatures are purely fictional, PETA counts the move as "evidence that people are embracing compassion for animals like never before," per its blog post. It's a victory in the same vein as the closure of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the end of many exotic animal acts, PETA says.

Barnum's shortbread animals are still trapped inside their iconic red box, but that's an easy fix for anyone with an appetite. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:04 a.m. ET

Slack is raking in the dough.

The messaging platform said Tuesday that it raised $427 million in a new round of funding, CNBC reports, pushing it to a total of $1.26 billion in funding. The company is now worth more than $7.1 billion. Less than a year ago, it was worth $5 billion.

The new valuation pushes Slack into the upper echelons of Silicon Valley's newest tech start-ups. Since launching in 2014, the company has attracted 8 million users, with 3 million paying subscribers. The platform, often used for professional organization and collaboration, has already absorbed one of its biggest competitors and has promised to keep growing for at least a year before going public.

That means Slack is now worth more than Vox Media ($1 billion), Yelp ($3.68 billion), and Warby Parker ($1.75 billion) combined, nearly as much as Squarespace ($1.7 billion), The New York Times ($3.9 billion), and ZocDoc ($1.8 billion) combined, and more than twice as much as Oscar Health ($3 billion).

Whether the joy of sending emojis and GIFs to coworkers is worth billions of dollars is debatable, but the company has made a strong case for itself as a replacement for workplace email. It plans to take on big competitors like Google and Microsoft next, and its 40 percent growth in just one year has executives excited about the future. "We pursued this additional investment to ... take advantage of the massive opportunity in front of us," the company said in the announcement. Read more at the Financial Times. Summer Meza

10:54 a.m. ET
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

In 2014, members of Congress held about 550 town hall events to engage with their constituents during August recess. In 2016, they held around 450. This year, just 180 town halls are scheduled for the recess, and some 30 percent of those will be held by just five lawmakers.

The rationale for retreating to smaller or more private events or moving to a conference call or online venue is simple: It's less messy. Town halls offer angry constituents a space to vent their rage, and they do, often loudly.

For example, Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.) has not held a town hall for more than a year. "Since ObamaCare and these issues have come up, the women are in my grill no matter where I go," Brat complained in 2017. "They come up — 'When is your next town hall?' And believe me, it's not to give positive input."

"People have come to expect disrupters on both sides. And, you know, you just gotta move on and not be flustered and not worry about it," Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) told Politico. The alternative, Jones argued, is not acceptable for public representatives. "It'd be real easy to go talk to only people who love you, but you represent everybody," he said. "You don't need to get locked in your own echo chamber like so many people are doing in this country with their social media." Bonnie Kristian

10:26 a.m. ET

The Trump administration's drastic reduction of the number of refugees admitted to America is having dire effects for Iraqis who have helped the U.S. military, the Pentagon has warned the White House.

Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and continued to occupy the country in the years since, U.S. troops have been assisted by Iraqis who offered translation services and other help navigating the cultural divide. Those Iraqis' work has put their lives and their families in danger from extremist groups like the Islamic State, causing thousands to seek refugee status under a special program for those who have assisted the U.S. military or worked in the media or with humanitarian groups.

More than 5,000 Iraqi refugees were admitted to the U.S. via this program in 2016, and more than 3,000 came in 2017. In fiscal year 2018, just 48 have been admitted as applications are bogged down in additional vetting procedures. Beyond endangering the lives of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis now, the Pentagon has expressed concern that this shift will make future cooperation with U.S. forces a harder sell in war zones across the Mideast.

The White House declined to give Reuters a direct comment on this report. Bonnie Kristian

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