Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 14, 2018

Intelligence officials warn Russia will meddle in the midterms, Trump's lawyer says he used his own money to pay adult film star, and more

1

Intelligence officials warn Russia will meddle in midterms

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that Russia will continue its efforts to meddle in U.S. elections in the fall midterms and beyond. Coats and other top intelligence officials reaffirmed the conclusion that Moscow agents had actively tried to influence the 2016 vote through hacking, social media posts, and other active measures, and will keep going, encouraged by their 2016 impact. "This is real," Coats said, contradicting occasional statements by President Trump that claims of Russian meddling were a "hoax" by Democrats. Coats, speaking at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's annual hearing on "worldwide threats," warned that this year, the risk of "inter-state conflict is higher than any time since the Cold War."

2

Trump lawyer says he used his own money to pay Stormy Daniels

President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, told The New York Times on Tuesday that he paid $130,000 out of his own pocket to Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who once said she had an extramarital affair with Trump. Cohen declined to say why he made the payment, but it was reportedly made as part of an agreement to get Daniels to keep silent. In a statement, Cohen told the Times that "neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction" with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and "neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly." The payment was first reported in January by The Wall Street Journal, and was made shortly before the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied the affair allegation.

3

Pennsylvania governor vetoes GOP's new election map

Pennsylvania's Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, rejected a new map of Pennsylvania's congressional districts Republican lawmakers drew under orders from the state's high court. Wolf said the new map used the same partisan gerrymandering strategies that prompted the court to throw out the old district lines on the grounds that they were so unfair they violated the state constitution. Wolf hired Tufts University mathematician Moon Duchin to review the GOP-drawn plan, and Duchin said the new map was "extremely, and unnecessarily, partisan." Wolf's decision came six days before a deadline set by the state Supreme Court, which has a Democratic majority. The court said if Republicans don't submit an acceptable map by the deadline, it will impose its own boundaries for the state's 18 congressional districts.

4

FBI director contradicts White House timeline on Porter's background check

FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that the FBI submitted a partial report on former White House senior aide Rob Porter's security clearance in March, and completed the initial review in July. Wray's timeline contradicted the account given by the White House, which has said the FBI first contacted it in the summer about Porter's status, and intensified questions about why Porter was allowed to keep his job for so long. White House officials also said they didn't know the extent of the allegations of spousal abuse made by Porter's two ex-wives because his background investigation was never completed. Porter resigned last week after news of the abuse allegations was widely reported in the media.

5

Israeli police recommend corruption charges against Netanyahu

Israeli police on Tuesday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges. The report came after a months-long investigation into two cases involving allegations that Netanyahu accepted tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from a Hollywood mogul, and that he offered special treatment to a newspaper publisher in exchange for flattering coverage. Netanyahu has repeatedly denied doing anything wrong. He said Tuesday that the police recommendations against him "will end with nothing," saying the document was "biased, extreme, and has holes like Swiss cheese." The police findings now go to the attorney general, who will review the report and determine whether to charge Netanyahu, a process that could take months.

6

Second judge blocks Trump order to end DACA

A second federal judge has blocked President Trump's order to end former President Barack Obama's program preventing the deportation of young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Trump last year gave Congress until March to pass a law restoring the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program before it would be phased out, and the Senate this week started debating a fix. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled Tuesday that the government had not provided adequate justification for ending DACA, echoing a January ruling by another judge. "The decision to end the DACA program appears to rest exclusively on a legal conclusion that the program was unconstitutional," Garaufis said. "Because that conclusion was erroneous, the decision to end the DACA program cannot stand."

7

Judge upholds British arrest warrant for Assange

A British judge upheld an arrest warrant for Julian Assange on Tuesday, saying the WikiLeaks founder cannot escape responsibility for jumping bail in 2012 and hiding in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning on rape allegations. Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation into the cases last year, and Assange's lawyers said it was no longer in the public interest to arrest him. Judge Emma Arbuthnot firmly disagreed, saying Assange had made "a determined attempt to avoid the order of the court." "He appears to consider himself above the normal rules of law and wants justice only if it goes in his favor," the judge said. Assange can appeal, but his lawyers gave no indication whether he would.

8

Florida Democrat scores latest post-2016 upset

Democrats on Tuesday picked up their 36th red-blue switch in state legislative contests since the 2016 election, with Democrat Margaret Good defeating Republican James Buchanan by seven points in a Florida district that President Trump won by more than four points. Republicans won special elections on the same day in Georgia and Oklahoma, and Republicans' fortunes have brightened recently by expectations of positive reactions to their tax cuts. Still, Tuesday's nearly 12-point swing from Trump's 2016 winning margin in Florida marked the latest in a series of signs of Democratic momentum ahead of the crucial fall midterms. "They're winning elections in places where they shouldn't be," said Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager, at a weekend rally for the GOP candidate.

9

Home of Zuma allies raided in South Africa

South African police on Wednesday raided the family home of the three Gupta brothers accused of corrupt ties to President Jacob Zuma. The ruling African National Congress has ordered Zuma to step down as head of state, and the raid marked an escalation in pressure on him to comply. Three people, including a member of the influential Gupta family, were detained in the raid by heavily armed members of the police's elite Hawks unit, South African media reported. It remained unclear whether Zuma, 75, would resign or force Parliament to vote him out of power. Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said Zuma would make a speech on Wednesday.

10

Snowboarder Shaun White wins U.S. 100th Winter Olympics gold

Snowboarder Shaun White won gold in the men's halfpipe Wednesday in Pyeongchang, becoming the first person to win three Olympic golds in the sport. He won his first in Torino 12 years ago, and returns to the podium this year after finishing a disappointing fourth in Sochi's 2014 Games. His medal was also the 100th Winter Olympics gold medal for the U.S., which has won all four of its golds so far in Pyeongchang in snowboarding. The United States is the second country to win 100 winter gold medals, behind Norway, which has 121. At a post-win press conference, reporters asked White about his settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit by a former drummer in his rock band. He dismissed the case as "gossip."

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