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

Acting FBI director says Russia inquiry is "highly significant," Trump launches panel to investigate voter fraud, and more

President Trump in the Oval Office
(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. Acting FBI director calls Trump-Russia investigation 'highly significant'

Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that the agency considered its investigation into Russian meddling in last year's presidential election "highly significant," and that rank-and-file FBI agents held former Director James Comey in high regard. Both statements directly contradicted claims by aides to President Trump, who unexpectedly fired Comey this week, who said that the FBI did not consider the Russia inquiry a priority, and that Comey had lost the respect of his employees. McCabe said the bureau had not been pressured by the White House to drop the investigation, saying, "You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution." Trump told NBC News that Comey was a "showboat," and that he was thinking about "this Russia thing" when he decided to fire the FBI chief, even before his aides recommended it.

The Washington Post NBC News

2. Trump establishes commission to investigate alleged voter fraud

President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday establishing a commission to review alleged voter fraud. Trump lost the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but he has claimed since his inauguration that Clinton only got more votes because she received millions of illegal votes, although he has offered no evidence to back up the allegation. Vice President Mike Pence will serve as chairman of the panel, which is called the Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, and Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state who has advocated aggressive voter ID laws, will be vice chair. Democrats and voting rights groups called the panel a sham. "The sole purpose of this commission is to propagate a myth and to give encouragement to Republican governors and state legislators to increase voter suppression," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Clinton's rival in the Democratic primaries.

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The Associated Press The New York Times

3. Report: Trump asked Comey for his loyalty, was rebuffed

President Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to pledge his loyalty during a one-on-one dinner at the White House shortly after Trump's inauguration, but Comey declined, promising that he would always be honest, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing several Comey associates. Comey said he told Trump he would not be "reliable" in the political sense. FBI directors are meant to be independent of the president, and Comey, who was fired Tuesday by Trump, told associates he now believes this was the beginning of the end for him. The White House told the Times this account is not right. Trump told NBC on Thursday that Comey had requested the dinner, and that he and Comey did not discuss the issue of loyalty.

The New York Times

4. Federal agents search office of Republican consulting firm

Federal authorities on Thursday raided the Annapolis, Maryland, office of a Republican political consulting firm that was sued in 2014 for alleged fundraising fraud. The firm, Strategic Campaign Group, has worked with Republican candidates from the local to national level, helping them with mail, fundraising, and town hall meetings. Six FBI agents went into the consultancy's office and collected computer files and documents. The firm's president, Kelley Rogers, said the agents appeared to focus on documents linked to former Republican Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's 2013 gubernatorial campaign.

The Washington Post

5. Former Democratic congresswoman Corrine Brown convicted of fraud

Corrine Brown, a Democrat who represented her Jacksonville, Florida, district in Congress for more than two decades, was found guilty Thursday of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a charity to spend on parties, trips, and shopping outings. Prosecutors said Brown, 70, took the money from the One Door for Education Foundation, a charity that claimed it provided scholarships to poor students. Brown was convicted on 18 of 22 charges, which included lying on her taxes. Defense lawyer James Smith III said he respected but disagreed with the jury's decision, and planned to ask for a new trial. "This is just part one," he said.

CBS News The Florida Times-Union

6. Mormon church drops Boy Scout programs for older teens

The Mormon church on Thursday announced that it was drastically loosening its ties with the Boy Scouts of America, removing up to 185,000 older teenagers from the organization as it starts its own scout-style program. The church said it wasn't making the change due to the Boy Scouts' 2015 decision to allow gay troop leaders, because it remains free to exclude gay adults on religious grounds. Still, at least one leading Mormon scholar said that the Boy Scouts' evolving policies on gays probably was a factor. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the biggest sponsor of Scout troops in the U.S.

Deseret News The Associated Press

7. ICE arrests 1,378 in anti-gang crackdown

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Thursday that it had arrested 1,378 people in the biggest nationwide anti-gang crackdown in its history. The arrests capped a six-week initiative effort by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations unit and other law enforcement agencies. ICE is better known for its immigration section, but its HSI arm routinely arrests U.S. citizens as it enforces a broad range of federal laws including child exploitation, human smuggling, and drug and weapons trafficking in the U.S. and overseas. "Let me be clear that these violent criminal street gangs are the biggest threat facing our communities," ICE acting Director Thomas D. Homan said. "We are not done."

The Washington Post

8. Candy companies join forces to cut calories in packaged sweets

A group of major candy companies announced Thursday that they would collaborate over the next five years to slash the amount of sugar and calories in packaged sweets. Mars Chocolate, Nestle USA, Lindt, Ghirardelli, and Wrigley — the companies behind everything from M&Ms and Skittles to Butterfingers and Snickers — are reportedly among the companies participating. Their aim is cutting calorie counts in half of their individually wrapped products sold in the U.S. to no more than 200 calories within the next five years. Calorie cuts could come from issuing smaller packages or tinkering with recipes. The move follows a crackdown last year by the FDA on how packaged foods are labeled.


9. Kushner Companies to skip pitch to China investors

The company owned by President Trump's son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner said Friday that its leaders would not be making planned sales pitches to Chinese investors this weekend. Executives from Kushner Companies, a real estate business, are trying to pull together $150 million in financing for a New Jersey housing development through a controversial program that offers people who invest $500,000 or more a chance to obtain legal residency in the U.S. The push drew criticism over a potential conflict of interest last weekend after Nicole Meyer Kushner, one of the company's leaders and Jared Kushner's sister, mentioned her brother's name, and said the New Jersey project "means a lot to me and my entire family." The company apologized, saying Meyer was not trying to exploit her brother's connections, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Kushner had "nothing to do" with the company's dealings in China.

The New York Times BBC News

10. Sessions reverses Obama-era effort to cut sentences for non-violent drug crimes

Attorney General Jeff Sessions late Thursday ordered federal prosecutors to reverse an Obama administration policy meant to ease penalties for some non-violent drug crimes, telling federal prosecutors to seek the toughest possible charges and sentences against all criminal suspects. The shift, outlined in an eight-paragraph memo to prosecutors, reflected Sessions' expected focus on drug dealing, gun crimes, and gang violence. "It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense," Sessions wrote. Former President Barack Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, in 2013 told prosecutors to omit drug quantities from charging documents for non-violent defendants without significant criminal histories to avoid triggering long mandatory sentences, saying that long sentences for minor, non-violent crimes "do not promote public safety, deterrence, and rehabilitation."

The New York Times

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.