10 things you need to know today: March 2, 2017
Justice officials say Jeff Sessions met with Russian ambassador during campaign, the Senate confirms Zinke as interior secretary, and more
Report: Sessions spoke with Russian ambassador during Trump's campaign
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a senator, spoke twice with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during last year's presidential campaign, Justice Department officials told The Washington Post Wednesday. During Sessions' confirmation hearing, Sen Al Franken (D-Minn.) asked him what he would do if he learned of contact between Trump's campaign and Russia. Sessions, who sometimes served as a campaign surrogate for President Trump, said he wasn't aware of any such contact, and that he "did not have communications with the Russians." A spokeswoman said there was "nothing misleading" about what Sessions told Congress, because he met with Kislyak in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sessions said Wednesday he "never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign." Several Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Sessions lied to Congress and should resign.
Senate confirms Rep. Ryan Zinke as interior secretary
The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Rep. Ryan Zinke as President Trump's Interior Department secretary in a 68-31 vote. Zinke, a Montana Republican and former Navy SEAL, will oversee federal land and national parks and determine where and how fossil fuel drilling can occur. During his confirmation hearing, Zinke rejected Trump's past contention that climate change was a "hoax," although he declined to say how much of the change he believes is due to human activity. The Interior Department also oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which handles some relations with Native Americans regarding tribal lands.
Dow hits 21,000 for first time
The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared above 21,000 for the first time Wednesday in a surge of optimism about the economy. Some analysts credited the conciliatory tone of President Trump's first speech to a joint session of Congress, while others said investors were mostly cheered by the confidence of leading Federal Reserve policy makers, who said that improving data on jobs and inflation show that another interest rate hike might be needed soon to keep the economy from overheating. All three of the main U.S. stock indexes hit the latest in a series of record highs, with the Dow completing its fastest 1,000-point gain ever. U.S. stock futures were mixed early Thursday.
Obama staffers reportedly shared intel to prevent future election meddling
Just before leaving office, officials in the Obama White House spread information about Russia's election meddling and possible contacts with Trump campaign officials, aiming to leave a trail for government investigators, The New York Times reported Wednesday. Three former American officials told the Times several American allies, including Britain, shared information with the U.S. about meetings in Europe between Russian officials and associates of Trump, and intelligence agencies also intercepted communications from inside the Kremlin discussing contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. Obama aides, worried by disparaging statements then-President-elect Trump made about the intelligence community, moved quickly to preserve the intel and share it with as many people inside government as possible; the officials say they were never instructed to do so by Obama. Trump maintains that his campaign was never in any contact with Russian officials.
White House won't discipline Kellyanne Conway for plugging Ivanka Trump's brand
The White House said Wednesday that adviser Kellyanne Conway would not be formally disciplined for trying to help Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, weather a boycott by urging Fox & Friends viewers to "go buy Ivanka's stuff." White House Deputy Counsel Stefan Passantino wrote a letter to the government's top ethics official, Walter Shaub, saying that a White House investigation "concluded that Ms. Conway acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again." Shaub and several Democratic lawmakers had criticized Conway, saying she probably violated ethics rules barring federal officials from using their positions to profit or promote products.
Officials say no actionable intelligence from Yemen raid
Ten U.S. officials told NBC News that so far, no significant intelligence information has been found in laptops, cell phones, and hard drives seized in last month's counterterrorism raid in Yemen, contrary to statements made by the White House. President Trump repeated the claim in his address to a joint session of Congress this week. Trump introduced the widow of the Navy SEAL who was killed in the raid, William "Ryan" Owens, and said Defense Secretary James Mattis had "reconfirmed that, and I quote, 'Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.'"
Snap raises $3.4 billion in better-than-expected IPO
Snap raised $3.4 billion in its better-than-expected initial public offering of stock on Wednesday. The company, which is the parent of the popular messaging app Snapchat, sold 200 million shares at $17 each, above the projected range of $14 to $16. The pricing values the company at $24 billion. Snap's stock starts trading on Thursday. Snap's IPO is among the most anticipated tech debuts since Twitter's in 2013 and Facebook's in 2012. Snapchat had 158 million daily active users at the start of the year, most of them young people, from teens to those in their early 30s. The app's growth slowed last year as it faced competition from Facebook's Instagram photo-sharing app.
Former Secret Service agent pleads guilty to sexting charges
Former uniformed Secret Service agent Lee Moore on Wednesday pleaded guilty to allegations that he sent sexually explicit images to someone he believed to be a 14-year-old girl, while on duty at the White House. Moore, 38, was arrested in November 2015 after he had sexually explicit online chats with undercover officers in Delaware posing as a girl. "On several occasions Moore sent pictures of himself, including one sexually explicit image," prosecutors said. Moore was fired after his arrest, and admitted that he had sent sexually explicit images of himself to actual minors in Florida, Texas, and Missouri.
Oprah Winfrey suggests she might consider a presidential run
Oprah Winfrey hinted in an interview with Bloomberg TV's David Rubenstein that she might consider running for president. The media mogul, talk show host, and philanthropist steered clear of presidential politics until she made her first endorsement in 2008, for Barack Obama. She endorsed another Democrat, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 election, and referred to her opponent, President Trump, as a "demagogue." Without mentioning Trump, who never held public office before winning the White House, Rubenstein asked Winfrey whether she might consider launching her own candidacy now that "it's clear you don't need government experience to be elected president of the United States." Winfrey replied: "That's what I thought. I thought, 'Oh gee, I don't have the experience, I don't know enough.' And now I'm thinking, 'Oh.'"
DHS identifies just $20 million available to start border wall
The White House has said construction could begin quickly on President Trump's border wall using "existing funds and resources" from the Department of Homeland Security, but a DHS document says the agency so far has identified just $20 million that could be redirected to the project, Reuters reported Wednesday. The document, which was given to congressional budget staff last week, said the available money would only cover a few contracts for wall prototypes, not actual barrier construction on the Mexican border. That suggests that Congress will have to dedicate money to start construction. An internal DHS document estimated that lining the entire Mexico border with walls and fencing could cost $21.6 billion, although Republicans put the cost at $12 billion to $15 billion. House Speaker Paul Ryan says he will include funding for the project in the next federal budget.