Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 11, 2017

Comey sought to expand Russia investigation days before firing, Trump meets with Russia's top diplomat, and more


Comey sought to expand Russia inquiry shortly before firing

Days before President Trump fired him as FBI director, James Comey asked the Justice Department for more resources to expand the investigation into Russian interference in last year's presidential election, several U.S. government officials said Wednesday. The officials said Comey made the request to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who later wrote a memo critical of Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation that the White House has pointed to as justification for Comey's dismissal. A Justice Department spokeswoman denied that Comey had asked for more money for the investigation. Trump said Wednesday that he fired Comey because, "He wasn't doing a good job."


Trump meets with Russia's top diplomat at White House

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with President Trump behind closed doors at the White House on Wednesday, denying afterwards that Russia made any attempt to interfere with last year's U.S. presidential election. "I never thought I'd have to answer such questions, particularly in the United States given your highly developed democratic system," Lavrov said. Lavrov characterized suspicions of Russia's election meddling as "noise" and a "humiliation" for the U.S. It was Lavrov's first visit to Washington since 2013. The visit was announced a week ago, but occurred just hours after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading the bureau's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the presidential race.


Senate committee subpoenas Michael Flynn for documents in Russia investigation

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday issued a subpoena to Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, for documents linked to the investigation into Russia's attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election, said committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the committee's ranking Democrat. The committee leaders said they tried to get the documents last month but Flynn's lawyer refused to turn them over. Flynn was forced out over revelations that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about Flynn's discussion of Russia sanctions during a meeting with Moscow's ambassador to the U.S. before Trump's inauguration.


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos booed at historically black university

Graduates booed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday as she gave a commencement address at Florida's Bethune-Cookman, a historically black university. DeVos' appearance was part of a Trump administration outreach effort to historically black colleges and universities. Many students at the Florida school, however, had called the move phony, and objected to DeVos' appearance. About half of the 380 graduates turned their backs as DeVos began to speak. DeVos told the students that to solve the world's problems they must try to "genuinely hear the perspectives of those with whom we don't immediately or instinctively agree." One graduate, Donjele Simpson, said DeVos had "made racist comments about HBCUs ... and she has the nerve to come down here and speak to us."


Turkey threatens to step up military actions against Syrian Kurds armed by U.S.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday harshly criticized the U.S. for President Trump's plan to arm Kurdish forces in Syria, saying they are allied with Kurdish "terrorists" conducting an insurgency in his country. Trump authorized supplying guns and ammunition to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group of 50,000 Kurdish and Arab fighters trying to drive the Islamic State out of its de facto capital, Raqqa. Turkey has threatened to respond to the U.S. move by stepping up military action against the Syrian Kurds. Erdogan said he would bring up the matter in a meeting with Trump next week. "I want to believe that Turkey's allies will side with us, not with terrorist organizations," Erdogan said. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the U.S. will "work very closely with Turkey in support of their security."


GOP unexpectedly loses Senate vote to ditch Obama rule on methane emissions

The Senate on Wednesday unexpectedly blocked a resolution seeking to repeal an Obama-era climate change regulation to curb the release of methane, a key greenhouse gas, from oil and gas drilling on public land. Senators voted 51 to 49 to uphold the 2016 Interior Department rule, with Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain of Arizona joining all of the Senate's Democrats to block consideration of the resolution. Collins and Graham had announced that they opposed the measure, but McCain had not, and the White House had sent Vice President Mike Pence to Capitol Hill, expecting him to be able to break a 50-50 tie and push the resolution through. The vote marked the first defeat for Republicans after 13 successful votes to dismantle regulations approved shortly before former President Barack Obama left office.


Aetna announces pullout from its last 2 ObamaCare markets

Aetna announced Wednesday that it would stop offering ObamaCare health insurance coverage next year in Delaware and Nebraska, the only two states where it is still participating in the Affordable Care Act's individual insurance market. Aetna had already announced it was pulling out of Virginia and Iowa after exiting several other states in 2016. Rival insurers Humana and UnitedHealth Group also have dropped out of most of the government subsidized individual health insurance exchanges. House Republicans voted last week to repeal and replace key elements of ObamaCare, although the measure faces tougher opposition in the Senate.


U.S.-backed forces liberate Syrian city of Tabqa from ISIS control

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have retaken the Syrian city of Tabqa and the country's largest dam from the Islamic State, a spokesman for the group confirmed Wednesday. The group, mostly made up of Kurdish and Arab fighters, has been battling ISIS for weeks in the city, which is located about 25 miles west of Raqqa. With both Tabqa and the dam "completely liberated," the SDF is one step closer to its ultimate goal of retaking Raqqa, the terrorist group's de facto capital. On Tuesday, President Trump approved a plan to arm Kurdish YPG fighters to help wrest Raqqa from ISIS control.


Snap misses expectations in first report as public company

Snap Inc. on Wednesday reported a $2.2 billion first-quarter loss and revenue that fell short of Wall Street's expectations, sending its stock plunging by more than 25 percent in after-hours trading. The company, parent of the messaging app Snapchat, also reported a continued decline in user growth. Snapchat reported 166 million daily active users, up 36 percent from a year earlier. Most of the quarterly loss, nearly $2 billion, came from stock compensation linked to the company's initial public offering. The quarterly results are Snap's first as a public company, following its high-profile March IPO.


Quinnipiac poll: Trump disapproval hits new high

President Trump's disapproval rating has climbed to a record high of 58 percent, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University. Just 36 percent approved of Trump's job performance, one point off a record low set in March. Trump's favorable rating, a more personal impression of him, reached a new low of 35 percent. Trump got a brief bump after his decision to launch airstrikes against a Syrian air base believed to have been involved in a chemical weapon attack against civilians, but his numbers have been worsening since then. Trump fared worse than ever on a series of points, including honesty, leadership, caring about average people, and sharing respondents' values. "There is no way to sugarcoat or spin these sagging numbers," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.


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