Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 17, 2018

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Bonnie Kristian
.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announces the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and 3 Russian organizations for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election February 16, 2018 at the Justice Department in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
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1.

Mueller indicts 13 Russian nationals for interfering in the 2016 election

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 election, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced Friday. These are the first election interference charges to stem from Mueller's probe; the indictment says defendants "conspired to obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit." A Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency, is accused of using fake social media accounts to support Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and President Trump while criticizing Hillary Clinton and other presidential candidates. The Russians also allegedly organized pro-Trump rallies and community outreach, and they attempted minority voter suppression. [Department of Justice, Vox]

2.

Trump insists Russia didn't affect the 2016 election

President Trump on Friday maintained the "results of the [2016] election were not impacted" by Russian meddling — after Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals for conspiring to "defraud the United States," including by "supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump." Some observers argued the indictment, which is unlikely to produce any convictions, is intended to circumvent Trump's claim. The president referenced the indictment's allegation that Russian agents began their interference project in 2014 to insist on his team's innocence. "The Trump campaign did nothing wrong," he tweeted, "no collusion!" [Donald J. Trump, The Week]

3.

FBI failed to act on Jan. 5 tip about Florida shooter's 'erratic behavior'

The FBI admitted Friday it received a tip on Jan. 5, 2018 from "a person close to" Nikolas Cruz warning of "the potential of him conducting a school shooting." Cruz confessed to killing 17 people in the mass shooting at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday. The tip "provided information about Cruz's gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts," the FBI said, but the bureau did not follow through with the established protocol, and the information fell by the wayside. FBI Director Christopher Wray promised a thorough investigation. [CNN, The Week]

4.

Sessions orders review of embattled FBI after Florida shooting failure

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered a review of FBI procedure following the agency's admission it did not investigate a January tip about Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who confessed to killing 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday. "It is now clear that the warning signs were there and tips to the FBI were missed," Sessions said in a statement. The review will be led by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and will also examine relevant Department of Justice operations more broadly. This comes amid increasing calls for FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign in response to this investigatory failure. [The Hill, Reuters]

5.

Trump visits Florida shooting victims

President Trump traveled to Parkland, Florida, Friday evening to visit victims and first responders of Wednesday's shooting at a local high school. He first went to Broward Health North Hospital with first lady Melania Trump, posing for photos with medical staff, one patient, and her family. Trump also stopped by the Broward County Sheriff's office. "What a job you've done," he said to various law enforcement officers he met. "You deserve credit." The president declared the shooting "very sad" and took limited questions from reporters as he left the hospital, ignoring one about gun policy. He posted pictures from the meeting on Twitter later that night. [Politico, NBC News]

6.

The New Yorker publishes woman's handwritten notes about her alleged affair with Trump

The New Yorker published a report Friday claiming President Trump began a sexual relationship with former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal in 2006, less than two years after he married Melania Trump and a few months after the birth of their son. McDougal was restricted from speaking about her story, having signed away the rights to The National Enquirer for $150,000. But her friend supplied, and she authenticated, her handwritten notes from the time of the relationship describing the affair. A White House representative said the story is "fake news." [The New Yorker, Los Angeles Times]

7.

Mitt Romney announces run for Utah Senate seat

After months of speculation, Mitt Romney on Friday announced he is running for the Utah Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R). In a video shared on Twitter, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee and former governor of Massachusetts says "Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in Washington," like how "Utah welcomes legal immigrants from around the world" while "Washington sends immigrants a message of exclusion." Shortly after his announcement, Romney called for action on gun policy and school security in response to the school shooting in Florida on Wednesday. [Mitt Romney, The Hill]

8.

White House restricts interim security clearances

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has issued new guidance for doling out security clearances following the resignation of former staff secretary Rob Porter. The White House's security protocol came into question after it was revealed Porter was working on an interim security clearance, accessing highly classified information, even though the FBI had learned of domestic violence allegations leveled against him by his two ex-wives. The new guidance could affect Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. Kushner's background check has been ongoing for more than a year; in the meantime, he has interim clearance and access to top-secret data. [The Washington Post, The Week]

9.

Turkey denies using chemical weapon on Kurds

Turkey has denied allegations that it used a chemical weapon on a Kurdish village in Syria on Friday. The accusations came from Syrian Kurdish fighters as well as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group. Both said six people suffered breathing trouble and other gas attack symptoms. "These are baseless accusations," an unnamed Turkish official told Reuters. "We take utmost care about civilians." The allegations may further complicate U.S.-Turkish relations. The two nations are NATO allies, but while Washington has partnered with the Kurds to fight the Islamic State, Ankara considers them terrorists because of their ties to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. [Reuters, The Wall Street Journal]

10.

Earthquake in Mexico leaves millions without power

A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck the Pacific coast of Mexico Friday, leaving about one million homes and businesses without power. No one was killed by the initial quake, but two people died and several more were injured when a military helicopter crashed while surveying the damage. The earthquake was unusually long, and it was followed by 225 aftershocks. This comes less than half a year after a September quake killed more than 300 people in Mexico City and surrounding areas. [The New York Times, Reuters]