Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 17, 2017

Trump reportedly asked Comey to drop Flynn-Russia investigation, McMaster defends Trump intelligence sharing with Russia, and more


Comey memo says Trump asked him to drop Flynn-Russia investigation

President Trump asked then-FBI director James Comey in February to shut down the agency's investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, urging Comey to focus on tracking down people who had leaked information to journalists, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Trump told Comey, "I hope you can let this go," according to a memo Comey wrote about the meeting, his associates said. The report fueled suspicions among Trump's critics that he has tried to stifle investigations into possible links between his associates and Russia. The White House denied that Trump had asked Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, responded by demanding that the FBI provide all "memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings" between Trump and Comey.


McMaster calls Trump's intelligence sharing with Russia 'wholly appropriate'

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Tuesday that President Trump's sharing of highly classified intelligence information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was "wholly appropriate" in the context of their conversation about cooperating in the fight against the Islamic State. McMaster repeated his assertion that Trump did not expose any intelligence sources or methods. The information came from an ally — reportedly Israel — but divulging it to Russia's top diplomat was "consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he's engaged," McMaster said. Critics from both parties have said Trump's willingness to pass on secrets to a sometimes hostile nation could discourage allies from sharing intelligence information in the future. Trump said he had the right to share the information, and did it to encourage Russia to cooperate in fighting ISIS.


Trump praises Erdogan as ally against terrorism

President Trump held his first face-to-face meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House on Tuesday, praising Turkey as a strong ally in the fight against terrorism. The meeting came at a time of elevated tensions between the two governments over a U.S. plan to arm the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militia group that is fighting the Islamic State but that Turkey says is linked to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. In the White House, Turkey's foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, called for the U.S. to cut off the aid. Human rights groups say Erdogan's purge of suspected supporters of a thwarted coup attempt and his victory in a referendum granting him broad new powers threaten the country's democracy. A group of anti-Erdogan protesters were injured in clashes with men in dark suits outside the Turkish embassy in D.C.


Cornyn and Garland drop out of running for top FBI job

Two potential candidates to replace James Comey as FBI director have dropped out of the running, potentially complicating President Trump's search as he faces ongoing criticism for firing Comey as the agency investigates contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) stepped back, saying he can best serve as a senator. "Now more than ever the country needs a well-credentialed, independent FBI director," Cornyn said. Judge Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee who was blocked by Republicans in the Senate, reportedly told friends he planned to stay on the bench, after Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell recommended him as a possible FBI director.


Chelsea Manning leaves prison 28 years early

Chelsea Manning was released from the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, military prison on Wednesday after spending seven years out of a 35-year sentence for giving secret government documents to WikiLeaks. Manning's original sentence was the longest ever imposed in a government leak case, and the time she has served was double the second longest sentence in such a case. Manning's release came after former President Barack Obama commuted most of her remaining time in one of his final acts before leaving office in January.


Syria denies it used crematorium to cover up executions

Syria on Tuesday denied a claim by the State Department that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had built a crematorium at an infamous military prison to cover up executions by burning bodies. Syria called the allegations "lies" and "fabrications," likening them to a "new Hollywood plot" to justify a U.S. military intervention in Syria's civil war. The State Department said Monday that it believes the Syrian regime is hanging about 50 detainees per day at the Saydnaya military prison near Damascus.


Stock futures slide as concerns over Trump grow

U.S. stock futures fell early Wednesday on concerns over political turmoil in Washington after The New York Times reported that President Trump had asked then-FBI director James Comey to drop the agency's investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's ties to Russia. The report sparked critics to raise questions about whether Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice, dampening investors' confidence in Trump's ability to push through his promised stimulus program and other policies that have lifted markets since Trump's election in November. "Worries about European politics and North Korea have receded. The earnings are mostly over. But now we have worries about the Trump administration," said Nobuhiko Kuramochi, chief strategist at Mizuho Securities. "Given that there are some stock indexes that have risen more than 10 percent so far this year, we may be entering a consolidation phase."


Twitter co-founder Biz Stone to return to company

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said Tuesday in a Medium post that he was returning to the company full-time. Another co-founder, Jack Dorsey, invited Stone back to fill "the Biz-shaped hole" left when Stone parted ways with the social-media company, Stone said. "My top focus will be to guide the company culture, that energy, that feeling," Stone wrote. "You might even say the job description includes being Biz Stone." After selling his latest start-up, the Jelly Industries "human-powered" search engine, to Pinterest in March, Stone will return to Twitter at a time when it is dealing with a wave of departures by top staffers.


Celtics win first pick in NBA's June draft

The Boston Celtics on Tuesday won the NBA draft lottery, earning the first pick in the NBA draft to be held in June. Boston's lucky draw made it the first team with the best record in its conference to snag the top overall pick since 1982, when the Lakers drafted UNC star James Worthy. "It felt just like winning Game 7 last night," said Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck. The Los Angeles Lakers won the No. 2 selection, followed by the Philadelphia 76ers. The Phoenix Suns will get the No. 4 pick, even though they finished the season with the second worst record in the professional basketball league. The Sacramento Kings follow them with the No. 5 pick.


New Orleans workers remove third Confederate statue

New Orleans authorities removed a bronze equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard from the entrance to City Park, working overnight and using cranes to lift the monument off its pedestal. The statue was the third of four the city plans to remove from public display; statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and a memorial to a white rebellion against a local biracial Reconstruction government have already been taken down, leaving only a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee still awaiting removal. Dozens of supporters of the monuments, some with Confederate flags, said the removal was an insult to the city's history. Supporters of the removal said the statues celebrate slavery and segregation, and they have no place in public squares. "While we must honor our history, we will not allow the Confederacy to be put on a pedestal in the heart of New Orleans," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement.


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