Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: June 3, 2017

White House considers blocking Comey's congressional testimony, Mattis addresses China, North Korea at Asia summit, and more


White House considers blocking Comey's congressional testimony

Fired FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to give public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, June 8, unless the Trump White House attempts to block his appearance by invoking executive privilege. The committee is expected to question Comey about his pre-ouster conversations with President Trump pertaining to Russian interference in the election, information that could prove politically damaging — but perhaps less so than silencing Comey. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Friday he does not know what the White House legal team would recommend, while counselor Kellyanne Conway implied Comey would likely be permitted to speak.


Mattis addresses China, North Korea at Asia summit

Defense Secretary James Mattis spoke in Singapore Saturday at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, a defense summit, where he sought to reassure Asian allies the U.S. "will still be there and we will be there with you." He struck a mostly friendly tone toward China, praising Beijing for its "renewed commitment" to suppressing North Korea's "urgent military threat," while criticizing Chinese military build-up in the disputed waters of the South China Sea. Though "competition between the U.S. and China, the world's two largest economies, is bound to occur," Mattis said, "conflict is not inevitable" and "cooperat[ion] for mutual benefit" is possible.


Russia investigation expands to include criminal probes of Flynn, Manafort

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of possible ties between Russia and President Trump or his associates now includes a criminal probe into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Reuters reported Friday. Mueller's inquiry will absorb a grand jury investigation by federal prosecutors in Virginia pertaining to Flynn's work as a paid lobbyist on behalf of Turkish interests, as well as his possible communication with Russian officials during and after the election. The investigation will also absorb a pre-existing criminal probe of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort's past dealings with Ukraine.


Putin addresses election hacking allegations in Kelly interview

Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview Friday with NBC's Megyn Kelly maintained the Russian government's innocence in online manipulation of the U.S. election by arguing inventing IP addresses is so easy even a kid could do it. Putin also suggested American hackers could have framed Russia for their own crimes. "Hackers can be anywhere," he said. "They can even be hackers, by the way, in the United States, who very skillfully and professionally, shifted the blame, as we say, on to Russia." The day before, Putin conceded "patriotically minded" Russians may have targeted America.


American companies, local leaders pledge to uphold Paris Agreement

A group of American mayors, governors, university professors, and businesses will submit a plan to the United Nations to uphold the promises the U.S. made in the Paris Agreement, despite President Trump's Thursday announcement he will withdraw from the climate pact. The group is crafting a proposal to ensure the U.S. meets the 2015 goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spearheading the effort and has offered $15 million to the U.N. to match the funding it stands to lose from Trump's decision.


EPA head Pruitt thrice dodges whether Trump believes in climate change

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was asked three times during Friday's White House press briefing if President Trump believes in climate change, and three times he dodged the question. The first response was a lengthy discussion of how administration debate over Thursday's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement revolved only around whether the climate pact is "good or not for this country." Pruitt also gave some version of that answer the next two times he was asked, insisting he and the president did not talk climate change specifically.


Trump picks financier Richard Spencer for Navy secretary

President Trump will formally nominate financier Richard Spencer to the post of Navy secretary, the White House announced Friday evening. Spencer has long been rumored to be Trump's pick for the job, which is the Navy's highest-ranking civilian office. He is currently managing director of venture capital firm Fall Creek Management, but previously served in the Marine Corps and as vice chair of the Defense Business Board. Trump's initial pick for Navy secretary, investor Philip Bilden, withdrew from consideration in February to avoid divesting from his business holdings.


Former Penn State officials sentenced to jail in Sandusky case

Former Penn State University President Graham Spanier on Friday was sentenced to at least two months in prison and additional months under house arrest for failing to report allegations of sexual molestation involving the university's former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky. Former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz were also sentenced to jail time. All three were convicted of the same misdemeanor charge of child endangerment. Sandusky, who was convicted in 2012 on 45 counts of child sexual abuse, is sentenced to up to 60 years in prison.


Bill Maher uses racial epithet on Real Time

Comedian Bill Maher used a racial slur while interviewing Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) Friday evening on his HBO show, Real Time with Bill Maher. Maher said he should visit the senator's home state of Nebraska more often. "You're welcome," Sasse replied. "We'd love to have you work in the fields with us." Maher answered: "Work in the fields? Senator, I'm a house n****r." Maher soon came under broad criticism online, including calls for his resignation. Sasse said Saturday he should have challenged Maher instead of responding with silence to a word that is "an attack on universal human dignity."


Ariana Grande visits Manchester bombing victims

Singer Ariana Grande returned to Manchester, England, Friday night to visit fans who were injured by the terrorist attack at her concert in the city that left 22 people dead. Grande stopped by the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital in advance of a benefit concert to help bombing victims. "Ariana brought everyone a sunflower and a teddy bear," said Lauren Thorpe, whose daughter, Lily, age 8, was among the wounded. "She knelt by [Lily] and sat on her bed with her and told her 'I'm so proud of you, you are so strong and doing really well.'"


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