Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 30, 2018

Russia expels 60 U.S. diplomats, Sessions rebuffs GOP calls to appoint a second special counsel, and more

1

Russia expels 60 U.S. diplomats as clash over spy's poisoning escalates

Russia on Thursday ordered the expulsion of 60 U.S. diplomats in retaliation after Washington kicked out 60 Russian diplomatic workers over Moscow's suspected involvement in the poisoning of a former Russian spy in England. Russia gave the Americans until April 5 to leave the country, and additionally ordered the closing of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg. Moscow also expelled another 90 diplomats from other countries that had booted Russians over the March 4 nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, whose prognosis has improved and, unlike her father, is out of critical condition. British investigators said the Skripals had been poisoned with a nerve agent developed by the former Soviet Union.

2

Sessions rejects GOP call for second special counsel

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he would not appoint a second special counsel, as Republicans had requested, to investigate allegations that the FBI and the Justice Department abused their powers in the surveillance of a Trump campaign aide and mishandled investigations of Hillary Clinton. Sessions said he instead had asked a veteran prosecutor, John W. Huber, to review complaints of FBI bias. "I am confident that Mr. Huber's review will include a full, complete, and objective evaluation of these matters that is consistent with the law and the facts," Sessions wrote in a letter to lawmakers. He said the GOP allegations do not rise to the level of the extraordinary circumstances that would require a special counsel.

3

Judge rejects request by Stormy Daniels' lawyer to depose Trump

A federal judge in California on Thursday rejected a request from adult film star Stormy Daniels' attorney for permission to depose President Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, over a $130,000 "hush" payment from Cohen to Daniels days before the 2016 election. District Judge S. James Otero denied a motion from Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, requesting an expedited trial and discovery process, saying it was "premature" because Trump and Essential Consultants LLC, the company established to pay Daniels $130,000 to keep silent about her alleged 2006 affair with Trump, have not yet filed a petition to compel arbitration, which they have said they plan to do.

4

Fired VA secretary says he was ousted in privatization push

A day after President Trump tweeted his intention to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin with Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, the president told an audience in Richfield, Ohio, that "the Democrats didn't want the vets to have choice." Shulkin, who was a holdover from the Obama administration, suggested in a New York Times op-ed published Thursday that he was pushed out because he stood in the way of Trump appointees who want to privatize the VA. "I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans," Shulkin wrote.

5

Trump steps up attacks on Amazon, saying it doesn't pay enough taxes

President Trump escalated his attack against Amazon on Thursday, tweeting that the online retail giant does not pay enough taxes. Amazon once avoided collecting state sales taxes, but now collects them for all goods sold from its own inventory. Trump also accused Amazon of "putting many thousands" of local retailers out of business, saying the massive company uses the United States Postal Service as its "Delivery Boy" at great cost to the government. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has been a regular target of Trump's Twitter rants, as has the newspaper he owns, The Washington Post. Trump has accused Bezos of using the Post to bully politicians and others into giving Amazon favorable treatment. Editors at the paper say Bezos plays no role in the Post's coverage.

6

Report: Walmart in talks to buy Humana

Walmart has started preliminary negotiations to buy health insurer Humana, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. A deal would mark the latest in a series of major deals that are shaking up the ways in which companies provide health-care services, as retailers, insurers, and other companies team up in search of lower cost ways to provide care. The Journal did not provide potential deal terms, and noted that there was no guarantee that the two sides would reach an agreement. Representatives of Humana and Walmart declined to comment. Humana shares jumped up by 10 percent in after-hours trading, and Walmart shares edged down by 1 percent on the news.

7

Fox News' Ingraham apologizes after Parkland survivor calls for ad boycott

At least three companies have announced that they will stop advertising on Laura Ingraham's Fox News show after she mocked Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg for posting that he had been denied admission to several colleges he applied to. Hogg responded to her criticism by listing Ingraham's advertisers and encouraging people to boycott. Nutrish, celebrity cook Rachael Ray's dog food company, announced Thursday that it would be removing its ads from Ingraham's program. TripAdvisor followed suit, saying Ingraham's decision to target a high school student "[crossed] the line of decency." Online home-goods store Wayfair said Ingraham's comments were "not consistent with our values." Ingraham later apologized.

8

EPA expected to roll back Obama auto-emission standards

The Trump administration is expected to roll back Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency standards on greenhouse gas emissions, which were imposed as part of former President Barack Obama's efforts to fight climate change. EPA chief Scott Pruitt is expected to frame the plan to ease fuel economy standards for U.S. vehicles as an effort to ensure the production of more affordable trucks, vans, and sport utility vehicles for American buyers. "This is certainly a big deal," said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard environmental economics program. "The result will be more gas-guzzling vehicles on the road, greater total gasoline consumption, and a significant increase in carbon dioxide emissions."

9

Under Armour shares dive after news of massive data breach

Under Armour said Thursday that hackers had stolen data from some 150 million MyFitnessPal diet and fitness app accounts. The compromised information included account user names, email addresses, and scrambled passwords. Social Security, driver license, and credit card numbers were not compromised, the company said. The hack appeared to be one of the largest of its kind in history, although it was far smaller than the 2013 Yahoo hack, which compromised data from 3 billion Yahoo accounts. Thursday's news sent Under Armour's stock dropping by 3 percent in after-hours trading. The company said it would require MyFitnessPal users to change their passwords, and it promised to "continue to monitor for suspicious activity and to coordinate with law enforcement authorities."

10

Baseball returns with rare all-team opening

Baseball returned Thursday with the first all-team opening day since 1968, when there were just 20 Major League Baseball franchises. This year, all 30 teams were scheduled to play in 15 games, although several were canceled to "impending inclement weather," including the game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Washington Nationals. The marathon kicked off with the Chicago Cubs beating the Miami Marlins 8-4 in Florida. The 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros defeated the Texas Rangers in Arlington, 4-1. In the final game of the day, the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies 8-2.

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