Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 7, 2018

Trump talks 2018 and libel laws in chaotic press conference, Sessions broadly criticized on DOJ leadership, and more


Trump talks 2018 and libel laws in chaotic press conference

Speaking from Camp David on Saturday, President Trump touched briefly on his party's 2017 successes and "bold agenda for 2018" before pivoting to railing against Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Trump told assembled reporters the book is a "work of fiction," denying ever granting Wolff an interview or allowing him in the Oval Office. "Libel laws are very weak in this country," Trump complained. "If they were stronger, hopefully, you would not have something like that happen where you can say whatever comes to your head." He also denied a New York Times report that Trump tried to persuade Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.


Sessions broadly criticized on DOJ leadership

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has come under broad criticism for his performance at the Justice Department in general and specifically his decision, reported Thursday, to do away with an Obama-era policy permitting states to legalize marijuana without federal meddling. Among Sessions' critics are Republican lawmakers including Sen. Cory Gardner (Colo.), who slammed Sessions' pot policy on the Senate floor, and Reps. Mark Meadows (N.C.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio), who published an op-ed Friday calling for him to resign because "he has no control at all of the premier law enforcement agency in the world." Sessions is "really on borrowed time," said Republican strategist Brian Darling.


Trump 'absolutely' would talk with Kim Jong Un

President Trump on Saturday indicated he is willing to directly negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if certain prerequisites are met. "I always believe in talking," Trump said of a potential phone call. "We have a very firm stance — look, our stance, you know what it is. We're very firm, but ... absolutely I would do that." Trump has repeatedly suggested this sort of direct diplomacy with Pyongyang, but he also regularly vacillates toward a more aggressive approach, as in this past week's tweet boasting of about his "nuclear button."


Report: SEC investigating Kushner family company

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has launched an investigation into Kushner Companies, the real estate empire belonging to the family of Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday. The previously unknown probe reportedly began this past May and focuses on the company's use of the EB-5 visa program, which awards green cards to immigrants who invest at least $500,000 in eligible U.S. businesses. It is not clear what investigators may believe is improper; a representative of the company denied all wrongdoing. Jared Kushner resigned from his role at Kushner Cos. when he went to work at the White House, but he retains a financial stake.


Bannon reportedly intended to defend Trump

Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon intended to defend President Trump against the claims made in Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, CNN reports, citing an unnamed Bannon ally, but Trump beat him to the presses. After Trump released a statement alleging Bannon has "lost his mind" and "has nothing to do with me or my presidency," Bannon reportedly trashed a planned statement slamming the book. Fire and Fury quotes Bannon describing members of the Trump administration and family as deeply incompetent, "unpatriotic," and "treasonous."


Iranian oil tanker fire leaves 32 missing

A collision between an Iranian oil tanker and a Chinese freighter on Sunday left the tanker in flames and all 32 of its crew missing. The freighter was less severely damaged, and all 21 crew members were rescued Sunday morning. The crash occurred off the coast of Shanghai, China, as the tanker headed north to deliver its cargo to South Korea. Rescue efforts are ongoing Sunday, but poor weather and the large fire billowing black smoke on the ship have limited emergency workers' options.


Explosion in Stockholm kills 1, injures 1

One person was killed and another injured in Stockholm, Sweden, on Sunday after one of the victims picked up an unidentified item on the ground near a metro station. One outlet reported the explosive object was a hand grenade, but authorities have not confirmed that story. Swedish police said the situation has "nothing to do with terrorism" and "we will have to wait for the technical investigation" to understand what happened. The man who picked up the object was hospitalized with injuries that soon proved fatal, while the other victim, a woman, was less gravely harmed.


Warmer temperatures predicted after days of severe cold

Temperatures remain extremely low in the Northeast Sunday morning but are expected to rise over the coming week after days of severe cold, high winds, and heavy snow. "With the wind dying down it will probably feel significantly better although many of these areas will still be below freezing," said Patrick Burke of the National Weather Service of Sunday's weather on the East Coast. CBS reports at least 22 people have died in connection to the record low temperatures observed across the country since the end of December.


Actor Jerry Van Dyke dies at 86

Actor Jerry Van Dyke died Friday, his family announced Saturday, from heart failure his wife said was connected to a major car accident Van Dyke suffered in 2015. He was 86. The younger brother of Mary Poppins' Dick Van Dyke, Jerry Van Dyke was best known for his role in the 1990s sitcom Coach. He also performed stand-up comedy, appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show, and starred in My Mother the Car, a one-season show about a man's mother reincarnated as a vehicle which is ranked among the worst television of all time. Van Dyke is survived by his brother, his wife, two children, and two grandchildren.


New Hampshire ticket wins $570 million Powerball prize

One day after a lottery ticket sold in Florida claimed a $450 million Mega Millions prize, a Powerball ticket sold in New Hampshire won a $540 million jackpot. If the winners chose an immediate payout instead of a 29-year annuity, they will instead receive $281 million and $358.5 million, respectively. Neither winner has been identified so far, though Florida law requires the Mega Millions ticket holder to be named. The odds of each win are about one in 300 million.


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