Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 31, 2017

Drunken Trump campaign aide may have launched Russia probe, Iranian protesters chant 'death to dictator' despite state threats, and more

1

Drunken Trump campaign aide may have launched Russia probe

Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who is charged with making false statements to federal agents and impeding the probe into alleged Trump team involvement in Russian election meddling, may have unwittingly launched the entire Russia investigation during "a night of heavy drinking," The New York Times reported Saturday. Papadopoulos was in London in May of 2016, the Times report says, where he confided in Alexander Downer, the Australian high commissioner to the United Kingdom, that he knew Moscow had damaging information — specifically, leaked emails — on then-candidate Hillary Clinton. When leaked Clinton campaign emails surfaced two months later, Australian officials informed U.S. diplomats of Papadopoulos' comments, possibly serving as the basis of the probe.

2

Iranian protesters chant 'death to the dictator' despite state threats

A third day of anti-government protests in Iran on Sunday saw demonstrators chanting "death to the dictator" and "death to Khamenei," the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, despite the government's warning that they will face an "iron fist" of punishment if unrest continues. So far, two protesters have been killed. "Everyone is fed up with the situation, from the young to the old," one protester told The Guardian. President Trump again weighed in on Twitter Sunday, saying Iranians "are finally getting wise as to how their money [is] squandered on terrorism" and that the U.S. is "watching very closely for human rights violations!"

3

Putin hopes for 'pragmatic cooperation' in New Year telegram to Trump

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his hopes for better U.S.-Russia relations in his annual letter to the White House, sent by telegram, timed for New Year's Eve. The note to President Trump emphasizes Putin's desire for "pragmatic cooperation" between Moscow and Washington on the basis of "equality and mutual respect." A "constructive Russian-American dialogue is especially needed to strengthen strategic stability in the world," Putin said. He also wrote to other world leaders, including France's Emmanuel Macron, Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and China's Xi Jinping.

4

Military to begin accepting transgender recruits

The U.S. military will accept openly transgender recruits beginning Monday, Jan. 1, after the Trump Department of Justice dropped its legal challenge to multiple court rulings against President Trump's surprise announcement on Twitter this past July that he would "not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity." Trump's tweets cited "tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail" and reversed an Obama-era schedule for recruitment. A Pentagon representative said the new policy will proceed as "mandated by court order" and that all "applicants must meet all accession standards."

5

California police arrest suspect in deadly swatting prank

Police in California have arrested a Los Angeles man, Tyler Barriss, in connection to the prank 911 call that brought a SWAT team to the Kansas home of an unarmed father of two, Andrew Finch, who was killed Thursday when one of the officers opened fire after Finch opened his front door. Barriss is held without bond and will not appear in court before Tuesday. It is not yet known what charges may be filed against him or whether he is believed to be the hoax caller. There is no specific federal law against swatting, but CNN legal analyst Paul Callan said federal authorities might choose charges of reckless homicide.

6

Activist Erica Garner dies at 27

Criminal justice reform advocate Erica Garner died Saturday, leaving behind two young children. She was 27. Garner became a civil rights activist following the 2014 killing of her father, Eric Garner, at the hands of New York City police officers. His chokehold death was caught on camera, and his plea of "I can't breathe" became a rallying cry against police brutality. Erica Garner suffered two heart attacks this fall, the second of which left her in a medically induced coma on Christmas Eve. "She cared when most people wouldn't have," said a statement tweeted by her family. "She was good. She only pursued right, no matter what. No one gave her justice."

7

South Korea seizes second oil ship

South Korea on Sunday indicated it has seized a second ship believed to be selling oil to North Korea in violation of United Nations sanctions. The capture of the first vessel, registered in Hong Kong, was announced Friday. The second ship is reportedly based in Panama and was seized earlier this month, though South Korean officials declined to provide many details for security reasons. Russian tankers have also been caught transferring oil to North Korea at sea to avoid detection, Reuters reported Friday, though they are believed to be acting without Moscow's support.

8

All 12 Bronx fire victims identified

New York City authorities on Saturday identified the final seven of 12 victims of Thursday's deadly fire in the Bronx. The youngest victim was just seven months old, and four other victims were either pre-schoolers or teenagers. The blaze was started by a 3-year-old in a first-floor apartment with a habit of playing with the burners on a gas stove, and the fire department said it spread upward through the building "like a chimney," trapping people located on higher floors.

9

Australian seaplane crash kills 6

All six people aboard a seaplane were killed Sunday when it crashed into a river near Sydney, Australia. Search and rescue efforts located the plane and all six bodies, five passengers and the pilot, within a few hours, but the victims have yet to be identified. "The sequence of events leading up to the accident are not yet understood, however following the impact with the water, the aircraft is reported to have sunk rapidly," said a statement from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. The plane will not be retrieved until Monday.

10

New Year's Eve revelers face extreme cold

Most of the U.S. mainland is facing a deep freeze for New Year's Eve as arctic air brings record-low temperatures nearly everywhere but the Southwest. At least two people have died from causes related to the cold snap, and sharks killed by cold shock have begun washing up in New England. Many New Year's Eve celebrations have been canceled in favor of warnings about frostbite and hypothermia, but about 1 million people are still expected to spend hours outside for New York City's New Year bash, despite a forecast of 11 degrees with a wind chill of zero.

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