Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 4, 2017

Trump accuses Obama of spying on Trump Tower, White House denies inappropriate Russia ties as six aides admit to meetings, and more


Trump accuses Obama of spying on Trump Tower

President Trump on Saturday made a four-tweet accusation that former President Obama spied on him in the run-up to the 2016 election. "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" Trump began, suggesting that Obama — a "Bad (or sick) guy!" — could be prosecuted for illegal surveillance if there was a "good lawyer" to make a "great case." Trump's tweetstorm appears to be inspired by the Thursday evening show of right-wing talk radio host Mark Levin, who argued Obama orchestrated a "silent coup" on Trump using "police state" tactics. A Breitbart article on Friday published a timeline to support Levin's allegation, emphasizing a Heat Street report of an October FISA court request from the Obama administration "focused on a computer server in Trump Tower suspected of links to Russian banks. No evidence [was] found — but the wiretaps continue[d], ostensibly for national security reasons." The Breitbart piece concludes the Obama team monitored Trump and then relaxed information sharing rules to foster embarrassing leaks.


White House denies inappropriate Russia ties as six aides admit to meetings

Six of President Trump's aides have admitted to speaking with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year, stoking further suspicion about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Additional meetings came to light following reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then serving in the Senate and as a Trump campaign surrogate, met twice with Kislyak during the election. On Thursday, the White House revealed ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner both met briefly with Kislyak in an "introductory meeting" in December, and it was also reported that three of Trump's former national security advisers spoke with Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in July. Trump and his team have repeatedly denied any inappropriate contact with Russia.


Sessions to respond to additional Senate inquiry over Russia meetings

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has pledged to respond to additional questions from Senate Democrats about his two meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the election. Sessions' written replies will be submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday; he declined Democrats' request to attend a hearing for live questioning. This new inquiry comes after Sessions' announcement he would recuse himself from any investigation of the Trump campaign after news of his contact with Kislyak broke. Sessions says the meetings were strictly in his then-senatorial capacity, though he reportedly used Trump campaign funds to pay for the trip during which one meeting occurred. If he met with Kislyak as a campaign surrogate, Sessions' under-oath statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee in January would be false.


Janet Yellen signals Fed will likely increase interest rates this month

Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen indicated Friday an increase in the federal interest rate is on the horizon. "At our meeting later this month, the committee will evaluate whether employment and inflation are continuing to evolve in line with our expectations, in which case a further adjustment of the federal funds rate would likely be appropriate," Yellen said. Economists have sensed the economy is nearing the end of its rebound period after the 2008 financial crisis, meaning continued low interest rates could push growth into unsustainable territory. The Federal Open Market Committee's meetings are scheduled for March 14 and 15.


DHS reportedly considers separating women and children detained at U.S. borders

The Department of Homeland Security is "actively considering" changing its policy against separating women and children caught illegally crossing the U.S. border, three officials told Reuters. Though no decision has been made, the proposal suggests allowing the government "to keep parents in custody while they contest deportation or wait for asylum hearings," while putting their children "into protective custody ... until they can be taken into the care of a U.S. relative or state-sponsored guardian," Reuters reported. The current policy, implemented under former President Barack Obama, states women and children can be held at family detention centers for a maximum of 21 days before being released and allowed to stay in the U.S. while their cases are heard.


FBI arrests suspect accused of threatening Jewish community centers

The FBI on Friday arrested a man believed to be behind at least eight recent bomb threats against Jewish community centers. Juan Thompson, 31, allegedly made the threats "as part of a sustained campaign to harass and intimidate" a woman he used to date, authorities said. He has been charged in New York for cyberstalking by making bombs threats against Jewish community centers in the woman's name. Thompson is a former employee of The Intercept, but he was fired in January 2016 after he was caught fabricating information. Intercept editor Betsy Reed in a statement called Thompson's alleged actions "heinous." The threats are part of a broader rise in anti-Semitic acts nationwide; at least 100 Jewish community centers and schools in the U.S. have received bomb threats since January.


China slows military budget increase to 7 percent

Beijing announced Saturday its military spending will grow by just 7 percent in 2017, the slowest rate of growth for the Chinese defense budget in years. Last year's increase of 7.6 percent was the first single-digit hike after nearly two decades of annual double-digit growth. The news was shared with a statement from the Chinese legislature that the military is exclusively defensive in nature and functions as a force for stability in Asia. This move comes despite political pressure to further increase Chinese defense spending in response to President Trump's proposed 10 percent addition to the U.S. military budget.


Trump exempts Keystone pipeline from U.S. steel rule

President Trump on Feb. 23 vowed to U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi the Keystone XL pipeline would be constructed from "steel made in this country and pipelines made in this county." But on Friday, following pressure from Keystone XL's developer, TransCanada, the White House announced the pipeline is exempt from the "buy American" policy. The project is excluded from Trump's executive order calling for "all new pipelines, as well as retrofitted, repaired, or expanded pipelines" inside the U.S. to use U.S. steel "to the maximum extent possible," a White House representative said, because "the Keystone XL pipeline is currently in the process of being constructed, so it does not count as a new, retrofitted, repaired, or expanded pipeline."


Uber uses a technology called 'Greyball' to avoid police

Uber uses a technology called "Greyball" to block law enforcement attempting sting operations from hailing a ride, The New York Times reported Friday. Officials' accounts in the app can be identified by Uber in multiple ways, including by creating a "geofence" around authorities' offices and "Greyballing" anyone who frequently opened and closed the app in that region. Once a user was Greyballed, Uber "served up a fake version of its app that was populated with ghost cars," the Times reports, so they cannot successfully schedule a ride. "This program denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service," Uber said in a statement, "whether that's people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret 'stings' meant to entrap drivers."


Nintendo stock jumps on release day for new Switch console

Nintendo Co. on Friday launched its newest gaming console, Switch, a hybrid system that lets gamers flip between playing at home on the TV and gaming on the go. After concerns about the adaptable device's viability caused Nintendo's stock to decline for four straight days ahead of Friday's release, on launch day Nintendo's stock "rose as much as 5.1 percent, also the biggest gain in a month," Bloomberg reported. Nintendo is cautiously optimistic about Switch after its last release, Wii U, was widely panned. So far reviews of Switch — which resembles a tablet with half a video game controller attached to each side — are mostly positive.


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