Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 20, 2017

Fox fires Bill O'Reilly, powerful GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz says he won't run in 2018, and more


Bill O'Reilly fired from Fox News

Longtime Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has been forced out over a wave of sexual harassment and verbal abuse allegations, the cable network's parent company, 21st Century Fox, announced Wednesday. The company recently hired a law firm to investigate one of the latest sexual harassment claims, which one of O'Reilly's accusers called the company's hotline to report. "After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O'Reilly have agreed that Bill O'Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel," 21st Century Fox said. More than 50 advertisers had ditched the combative prime-time host's ratings-leading show since The New York Times reported that O'Reilly and his employers had paid five accusers $13 million in settlements. O'Reilly denies the allegations, saying it is "tremendously disheartening" to be leaving due to false claims.


Chaffetz says he won't run for re-election in 2018

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the powerful chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced Wednesday that he would not run for re-election in 2018. Chaffetz said he did not plan to run for any office that year, although some political analysts predict he will run for governor in 2020. Chaffetz spearheaded numerous investigations during the Obama administration, including an investigation into the Benghazi attack that delved into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state. Critics have accused him of failing to look into questions of impropriety involving members of the Trump administration. "I am healthy. I am confident I would continue to be re-elected by large margins," Chaffetz said, adding that he was simply making "a personal decision to return to the private sector."


Two more court rulings threaten Arkansas execution wave

Arkansas' effort to carry out a rush of executions before its supply of a hard-to-get lethal injection drug expires hit more setbacks on Wednesday, when the State Supreme Court granted a reprieve to inmate Stacey Johnson, who was scheduled to die Thursday. Separately, a county court judge blocked the state from using the drug vecuronium bromide, one of the three drugs in the state's lethal-injection cocktail, putting all of the planned executions in limbo. McKesson Corp., the country's largest drug distributor, argues that the Alabama Department of Corrections purchased its supply of vecuronium bromide under false pretenses, knowing that drugmaker Pfizer does not allow its products to be used for capital punishment. The developments came after court rulings blocked two executions scheduled for Monday. They were to start an unprecedented flurry of eight executions in 11 days.


Russian Putin-linked think tank developed 'road map' for tipping U.S. vote

A Russian government think tank controlled by President Vladimir Putin drew up what a former U.S. intelligence official described as a "road map" for tipping the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump, Reuters reported Thursday, citing three current and four former American officials. The plan, described in two confidential strategy documents, also reportedly aimed to undermine voter confidence in the electoral system. The Moscow-based think tank, the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, is run by retired Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin's office. It circulated the strategy papers in June and October, recommending that the Kremlin start a propaganda campaign to get U.S. voters to elect a president who would be softer on Russia than the Obama administration had been, and pushing voter fraud claims if Hillary Clinton beat Trump to undermine her power.


White House denies 'armada' claim was attempt to bluff North Korea

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday denied that the Trump administration misled the public last week by saying it was sending an aircraft carrier battle group to waters near North Korea to serve as a deterrent, when the ships were actually on the way to participate in joint maneuvers with Australia. The vessels now are heading toward the Sea of Japan. "The president said that we have an armada going toward the [Korean Peninsula]. That is fact. It happened. It is happening, rather," Spicer said. Administration officials blamed communications glitches for creating the impression that the battle group was rushing toward North Korea as tensions rose over the regime's missile and nuclear weapons programs. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and other lawmakers called the communications breakdown "troubling," and critics in South Korea said it would be difficult to trust Trump after he left the impression that he was "bluffing" in a moment of crisis.


U.K. lawmakers approve May's call for snap election

British lawmakers on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved Prime Minister Theresa May's call for early elections on June 8. May unexpectedly called the snap elections, saying she wanted voters to give her a stronger mandate as she negotiates the country's departure from the European Union over the next two years. Members of Parliament voted 522 to 13, providing far more than the two-thirds majority needed, to move the election up from 2020. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said if his party wins it will be able to push for raising the minimum wage, increasing spending on the country's health service, and keeping May from using Brexit to turn Britain into an "offshore tax haven."


UC Berkeley cancels speech by conservative firebrand Ann Coulter

Administrators at the University of California at Berkeley said Wednesday that they were canceling a speech by controversial conservative commentator Ann Coulter over safety concerns. The decision came after three months in which riots and violent protests have erupted in and around the campus. University officials announced the decision in a letter to a campus Republican group that also invited right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, then a Breitbart editor, to speak. Protests led the school to put the campus on lockdown and cancel Yiannopoulos' speech, prompting President Trump to threaten to cut off federal funds because he said the decision violated Yiannopoulos' right to free speech. Coulter also said she thought the school was squelching her free speech rights.


ExxonMobil reportedly requested waiver from Russia sanctions

ExxonMobil is pushing for a waiver from U.S. sanctions on Russia to clear the way for a joint venture with the Russian state oil company, Rosneft, to drill in the Black Sea, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing a former State Department official. The application for the waiver from Treasury Department sanctions, which were imposed to punish Russia for its military intervention in Ukraine, was filed during the Obama administration, when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was CEO of ExxonMobil, although the matter was not discussed during his Senate confirmation hearings. The decision on the request now falls to the Trump administration as tensions are rising between Moscow and Washington over Syria.


At least 3 killed in massive Venezuela protests

The latest in a series of massive demonstrations dubbed "the mother of all protests" erupted in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities Wednesday against the South American country's increasingly unpopular president, Nicolas Maduro. At least three people were killed, according to human rights groups, bringing the death toll from recent protests to seven. Angry demonstrations have grown increasingly common as critics have accused the socialist Maduro of driving the country to ruin and demanding a timetable for elections the opposition believes it will win. Maduro has responded with heavy-handed moves to maintain his grip on power. Maduro said the crowds of hundreds of thousands were part of an effort to overthrow his government.


Trump's inauguration organizers raised $107 million, doubling record

Documents released this week revealed that President Trump's inauguration organizers raised $107 million for the event, doubling the previous record. The fundraising blitz came after Trump, unrestricted by voluntary limits adopted by his predecessors, benefited from donations of $1 million or more from 48 people or organizations, according to disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission. The big donors included casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who wants the government to ban online gambling rivals, a trust controlled by the coal industry billionaire Joseph W. Craft III, and Robert Mercer, the billionaire investor and Breitbart News benefactor.


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