Daily briefing

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

Trump transition team accuses Mueller of unlawfully obtaining emails, tax plan earns GOP voters' approval, and more

1

Trump transition team accuses Mueller of unlawfully obtaining emails

Attorneys representing President Trump's transition team on Saturday accused Special Counsel Robert Mueller of unlawfully obtaining thousands of emails as part of his Russian election meddling probe. The lawyers sent a letter to Congress alleging Mueller has run afoul of both attorney-client privilege and the Fourth Amendment's restrictions on search and seizure. The emails in question were obtained from the General Services Administration (GSA), which the letter says "did not own or control the records" but handed them over to Mueller anyway. Mueller's office denied wrongdoing, stating it has always "secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process" in accessing emails for the investigation. The GSA said the transition team was informed there was no expectation of privacy for these records.

2

Tax plan earns GOP voters' approval

GOP voters approve of their own party's congressional contingent for the first time since June, CNN reported Saturday, citing a new Quinnipiac University poll. The shift in Republicans' views correlates with the release of the completed GOP tax plan on Friday after conference between House and Senate leadership. Before the legislation was finalized, 60 percent of GOP voters disapproved of congressional Republicans; now a plurality approve. "Political analysts say it's all about the 2018 midterm elections," The Washington Post reports, because "most Americans are getting a tax cut under this plan, and if growth gets even hotter and unemployment gets even lower by Election Day, voters could reward the GOP."

3

Trump says tax plan is a Christmas gift for the middle class

President Trump defended congressional Republicans' final tax bill while speaking with reporters Saturday, accusing Democrats of criticizing the plan without knowing what it will do. "It's going to be one of the great Christmas gifts to middle-income people," Trump said. "The Democrats have their sound bite, the standard sound bite before they even know what the bill is all about." Trump also praised the strength of the economy, which he said will "start to rock" at up to 6 percent annual growth thanks to the tax bill and "what we've done with regulation and other things."

4

Thomas Fire threatens hundreds of Montecito homes

California's Thomas Fire grew to be the second-largest wildfire in the state's recorded history by Sunday morning. The blaze has burned more than 267,000 acres and is expected to grow larger than the all-time biggest California fire as soon as Sunday night thanks to continued high winds in Southern California. The fire now poses a serious threat to hundreds of homes in Montecito, a coastal town on the outskirts of Santa Barbara. "When the [sundowner winds] surface in that area and the fire starts running down slopes, you are not going to stop it," said Mark Brown, of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "And we are not going to stand in front of it and put firefighters in untenable situations."

5

Report: CDC is not the only agency subject to word ban

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not the only federal agency reportedly prohibited by the Trump White House from using words and phrases including "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based," and "science-based." The Washington Post reported Saturday that other divisions in the Department of Health and Human Services have been given the same list of banned terms, and staff at one agency were told to say "ObamaCare" instead of "Affordable Care Act," and ObamaCare "exchanges" instead of "marketplaces." The State Department is calling sex education "sexual risk avoidance."

6

Accused Nevada Democrat won't seek re-election

Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Nev.) announced Saturday he will not seek re-election in 2018. This comes one day after the news that Kihuen would be investigated by the House Ethics Committee in connection to multiple sexual harassment allegations leveled against him. Kihuen's statement again protested his innocence of the accusations and declared his willingness to cooperate with investigators to clear his name. "However," he said, "the allegations that have surfaced would be a distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of the issues in a re-election campaign."

7

At least 8 killed in church attack in Pakistan

At least eight people were killed and dozens more wounded, nine critically, on Sunday in a suicide attack on a Methodist church in Quetta, Pakistan, close to the Afghan border. Four attackers targeted the church, but only one detonated his suicide vest. Another was killed in a gunfight with police, and two more were intercepted at the church door, preventing further casualties. More than 400 people were at Bethel Memorial Methodist Church when the attack occurred, reported Sarfaraz Bugti, the regional home minister. They were attending a Christmas service. The attack has yet to be publicly linked to a specific terrorist organization.

8

Australian man arrested over alleged brokerage for North Korea

A South Korean-born Australian man was arrested and charged Saturday with attempting to act as a financial agent for the North Korean government. Chan Han Choi is accused of trying to make transactions on Pyongyang's behalf, including making efforts to sell ballistic missile components. "This case is like nothing we have ever seen on Australian soil," said Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan. "This man was a loyal agent of North Korea who believed he was acting to serve some higher patriotic purpose." Choi is not believed to have made any successful deals.

9

Canadian police investigate billionaire deaths

Police in Toronto, Canada, are investigating the deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman, who were found dead at their estate Friday. The Shermans were billionaires with a fortune made in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as active philanthropists. "There's a whole bunch of different scenarios here. We are not ruling anything out," said Toronto constable David Hopkinson, who indicated the police have yet to determine if this is a homicide case, or perhaps a murder-suicide. The Shermans are survived by their four children.

10

SNL's Trump trims his 'tree of shame' with 'haters and losers'

Saturday Night Live's President Trump (Alec Baldwin) is excited to trim the White House tree now that he has declared an end to hostilities in the "War on Christmas," and this year, the first family is decorating on a theme. Joined by the first lady and various administration staff — including Elf on the Shelf Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Kate McKinnon) — Trump adorns his "tree of shame" with ornaments featuring the faces of "all the haters and losers [he] destroyed this year." The haters and losers are mostly former members of the Trump White House, but fired FBI Director James Comey and former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore are on the tree, too.

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