Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 20, 2018

Trump calls for the death penalty for drug traffickers, a package bound for Austin explodes at a FedEx facility, and more


Trump calls for death penalty against some drug traffickers

President Trump on Monday called for using the death penalty against some drug traffickers as part of a campaign to get tougher in fighting the nation's opioid epidemic. "Toughness is the thing that they most fear," Trump said. The comments came as Trump unveiled a long-awaited plan to combat opioid drug addiction. Trump announced the plan in New Hampshire, an early-voting state that has been hit hard by the epidemic. Trump called for heightened awareness and expanding treatment, but the central component of his plan was increasing punishment for people trafficking the drugs. "This isn't about nice anymore," Trump said. "This is about winning a very, very tough problem and if we don't get very tough on these dealers it's not going to happen, folks."


Package heading for Austin explodes at San Antonio FedEx facility, injuring 1

A package reportedly bound for Austin, Texas, exploded at a FedEx facility near San Antonio early Tuesday, leaving one female employee with a non-life-threatening injury. The FBI said it was "more than possible" that the blast was linked to four others in Austin over the last month. Austin police said Monday that they believe the four explosions in the city were the work of a "serial bomber." The latest Austin blast occurred Sunday when two men walking their bikes through a residential area were seriously injured when a device exploded, possibly when they touched a tripwire. Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said investigators found "similarities" between the fourth device and three package bombs left in front of people's homes earlier. Those blasts left two people dead.


Cambridge Analytica exec caught on secret video boasting of influencing elections

Britain's Channel 4 News on Monday released secretly recorded video in which executives from Cambridge Analytica, a data firm linked to President Trump's campaign, said they had used bribes and prostitutes to entrap politicians and influence elections. A Channel 4 News reporter got the footage posing as a fixer for wealthy clients looking to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka. Executives from Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communications Laboratories, said in the video that the firms had worked in more than 200 elections worldwide. A spokesman for Cambridge Analytica, which is at the center of a scandal over the collection of data on more than 50 million Facebook users, said the company denies it ever used entrapment or bribes "for any purpose whatsoever."


Uber suspends autonomous vehicle tests after fatal crash

Uber halted testing of autonomous vehicles on Monday after one of the cars struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. The woman, Elaine Herzberg, was crossing a street outside a crosswalk when she was hit by the Uber vehicle, which had a human safety driver but was operating in autonomous mode, local police said. Herzberg, 49, was taken to a nearby hospital, where she died. "We're thinking of the victim's family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened," Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted. Uber and rival companies such as Alphabet and General Motors are investing billions in driverless technology. The Tempe accident was believed to be the first fatality involving one of the cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent a team to investigate.


Supreme Court rejects challenge to new Pennsylvania election map

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a request from top Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers to block a congressional district map imposed by the state's high court. Hours earlier, a panel of federal judges dismissed a lawsuit challenging the map. The rejections left GOP opponents with no more legal challenges to the map, meaning it will definitely be in effect for the fall midterms. Republicans had argued that the state Supreme Court didn't give them enough time to redraw the previous map, which was adopted in 2011 but deemed by the court to be clearly designed to give Republicans an unfair advantage. The two parties have roughly equal numbers of voters in the state, but Republicans have won 13 of the state's 18 congressional seats in the last three general elections. They are expected to have a narrower advantage with the new map.


Facebook data-privacy fallout drags down stocks

U.S. stocks dropped sharply on Monday as Facebook led a selloff of technology shares. Facebook's stock fell by 7.1 percent as its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, faced calls from U.S. and European leaders to explain how a data firm linked to President Trump's campaign got access to information on 50 million Facebook users. Facebook shares finished the day down 13 percent from a record high reached on Feb. 1. Facebook has scheduled a meeting for employees on Tuesday so they can ask questions about the data privacy scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that did contract work for President Trump's 2016 campaign.


Trump hires lawyer who says FBI and DOJ insiders tried to frame president

President Trump on Monday hired Washington lawyer Joseph E. diGenova, who is known for arguing in TV interviews that the FBI and Justice Department have tried to frame Trump. DiGenova, a former U.S. attorney, is not expected to take a leading role on Trump's legal team, but he adds an aggressive voice just as Trump is escalating his criticism of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates. DiGenova told Fox News in January: "There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn't win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime."


Trump lawyers give Mueller documents aiming to limit presidential interview

President Trump's lawyers have given Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team documents on matters under investigation in a bid to limit the scope of any interview with Trump, The Washington Post reported, citing two people familiar with the situation. The material Trump's attorneys handed over included summaries of internal White House memos and correspondences. Trump reportedly has told aides he is "champing at the bit" to talk. His lawyers, however, are trying to limit the questioning out of concern that Trump could be vulnerable to missteps in an hours-long interview, the Post reported. Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, possible coordination with the Trump campaign, and Trump's potential obstruction of justice, including his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.


Mississippi governor signs 15-week abortion ban

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) on Monday signed into law a ban on nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the earliest such restrictions in the country. Abortion rights supporters called the measure unconstitutional, saying it ran contrary to years of federal court precedent on restrictions states can place on abortions before a fetus could survive outside the womb at about 24 to 26 weeks. The state's only abortion clinic promptly asked a federal court to block the law from taking effect. Bryant said he expected an immediate challenge. The legislation exempts pregnancies where a fetus has health problems making it "incompatible with life" and in cases where a woman's life or "major bodily function" is threatened, but not for pregnancies from rape or incest.


World's last male northern white rhino dies in Kenya

The last male northern white rhinoceros in existence, named Sudan, has died, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya announced Tuesday. Sudan was 45 and under treatment for age-related degenerative changes to his muscles and bones, and infected skin wounds, and his condition worsened significantly in the last 24 hours. "He was unable to stand up and was suffering a great deal," the conservancy said, so his caretakers decided to euthanize him. His death left the subspecies a major step closer to extinction. The only hope now is in vitro fertilization of the last two northern white rhinos, Sudan's daughter Najin, 28, and granddaughter, Fatu, 17, using stored northern white rhino sperm. Poachers seeking rhino horns have left all five rhino subspecies threatened.


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