Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 12, 2017

The GOP narrowly survives early strength test in Kansas, the White House accuses Russia of covering up for Syria, and more


Republican wins unusually competitive Kansas congressional race

Republican Ron Estes, Kansas' state treasurer, on Tuesday won the House seat left vacant when Mike Pompeo stepped down to become CIA director. Estes survived a surprisingly competitive race against Democrat James Thompson, a Wichita civil rights lawyer, in a vote that was seen as an early test of the GOP's strength after President Trump's first few months in office. Estes won 53 percent to 46 percent after a late rush of help from the national party, including an election eve rally by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and get-out-the-vote robocalls by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, after late polls showed Estes' lead down to single digits in a district Republicans have held firmly for two decades. In November, Trump won the district by 27 points, and Pompeo won re-election by 32 percentage points.


White House accuses Russia of covering up Syria's responsibility for sarin attack

The White House on Tuesday accused Russia of trying to cover-up the Syrian government's alleged responsibility for last week's sarin gas attack on a rebel-held town in northern Syria. Russia has claimed that rebels unleashed the poisonous gas to frame the Syrian government. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow had received intelligence reports that rebels were planning such "provocations" to stoke international opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. Turkey's health minister, Recep Akdag, said Tuesday that autopsies on people killed in the attack confirmed that sarin nerve gas was used. Russia said the Syrian government would let international inspectors look for evidence of chemical weapons at the military base the U.S. bombed because it was believed to have been used to launch the chemical attack.


Tillerson calls on Moscow to drop Assad

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow on Tuesday to deliver the Russian government a message from the U.S. and its most powerful allies that the time has come for Russia to drop its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Tillerson headed to Russia after emergency discussions on Syria with foreign ministers from the Group of Seven advanced economies and Middle Eastern allies. The diplomats backed a joint call to drop Assad in the wake of last week's sarin gas attack, which killed 87 people. The U.S. blames the attack on Assad's forces, and responded with a missile attack on the Syrian base that reportedly launched the chemical weapons bombing. Russia denies Assad was to blame, but Tillerson said Assad's reign was "coming to an end." Russia's top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, on Wednesday accused the U.S. of conducting an "unlawful attack" against the Syrian air base.


Spicer faces uproar after saying Hitler didn't use chemical weapons like Assad

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Tuesday suggested that the Syrian military's alleged use of chemical weapons made Syrian President Bashar al-Assad worse than Adolf Hitler. "You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons," Spicer said. When asked to clarify, Spicer said Hitler "was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing." The comments immediately set off an angry reaction. The Anne Frank Center called for Spicer to be fired, saying on Facebook: "On Passover no less, Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive form of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death." Spicer later said he was "in no way" trying to "lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust."


United shares plunge in fallout over passenger's treatment

United Airlines shares dropped by just over 1 percent on Tuesday as the carrier faced harsh criticism over a video showing a passenger being dragged off an overbooked flight to make room for a member of a partner airline's crew. The stock plunge reduced the company's market capitalization by about $250 million. At one point in the day, the stock was down by 4 percent. United CEO Oscar Munoz, whose first attempts to defuse the crisis backfired when he said the passenger was "belligerent" and the crew acted properly, promised Tuesday that the airline would conduct an internal investigation and reconsider policies on calling police and "how we handle oversold" flights. "We are going to fix what's broken so this never happens again," Munoz wrote in a statement.


Sessions calls for prioritizing criminal immigration enforcement

Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited the U.S.-Mexico border on Tuesday and called for stepping up prosecutions against undocumented immigrants, telling border patrol agents in Nogales, Arizona, that the Justice Department had sent a memo to U.S. attorneys telling them to prioritize cases against criminals. The proposal is intended to "help prevent and deter illegal immigration," Sessions said in a press release. In his prepared remarks, Sessions called the push the administration's "first" stand "against this filth," referring to undocumented immigrants who "rape and kill innocent citizens." Sessions omitted the word "filth" during his spoken comments.


FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor ex-Trump adviser Carter Page

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained a warrant from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last summer to monitor communications made by former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, The Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing law enforcement and other U.S. officials. The agencies got the warrant by arguing that there was probable cause that Page was acting as an agent for Russia. Page, who previously worked as an investment banker in Moscow, has not been charged with a crime, but the investigation into his contacts offered a clear sign of early suspicions that Trump associates were in contact with Russian agents at a time when U.S. officials believe Russia was trying to tip the election to Trump.


Ahmadinejad unexpectedly enters Iran's presidential race

Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday unexpectedly filed to run in the country's May election, potentially upending a race that many had predicted to be won by moderate President Hassan Rouhani. Although Rouhani, who negotiated the nuclear deal that got world leaders to lift painful sanctions, has not formally registered, he was widely considered the favorite as conservatives failed to unite behind a single candidate. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recommended in September that Ahmadinejad stay out of the race. Ahmadinejad's fiery style could attract support from hardliners looking for someone to clash with President Trump, a critic of the Iran nuclear deal.


Guitarist John Geils dies at 71

Guitarist John Geils, a founder of the J. Geils Band, was found dead in his Groton, Massachusetts, home this week, local police confirmed Tuesday. He was 71. The J. Geils Band cranked out a string of hits in the 1980s, including "Love Stinks," "Freeze Frame," and "Centerfold." The group started out in the 1960s as Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels when Geils was attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute. It became the J. Geils Blues Band in 1967 when the original members recruited frontman and lead singer Peter Wolf, later dropping "blues" from the name. "Centerfold" topped the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks.


Daily Mail agrees to pay Melania Trump damages over article

Britain's Daily Mail and the Mail Online website on Wednesday apologized to first lady Melania Trump and agreed to pay her an undisclosed settlement over an article they published last year about her work as a professional model that suggested she had worked as an escort. The Daily Mail retracted the report, saying it accepts that the allegations are "not true." Mrs. Trump had said in a $150 million lawsuit she filed in New York that the article had cost her millions of dollars in future business opportunities. A person familiar with the settlement told Reuters it involved payments of less than $3 million.


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