Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 13, 2018

Comey brands Trump a liar in first excerpts of new book, critics grill Pompeo in his confirmation hearing, and more


Comey calls Trump a liar in soon-to-be-released book

Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Trump last year, brutally criticizes Trump in his new book, A Higher Loyalty, likening him to a "mob boss" who lies "about all things, large and small." In the book, due to be released next week, Comey writes that Trump once asked him to investigate the dossier compiled by ex-spy Christopher Steele, which contains unconfirmed claims that Moscow has video of Trump and Russian prostitutes. Comey said Trump explained that it bothered him to think there was "even a 1 percent chance" first lady Melania Trump thought it was true. The Republican National Committee is preparing a campaign to challenge the book's credibility, calling the former FBI director "Lyin' Comey" on a new website.


Critics grill secretary of state nominee Pompeo at confirmation hearing

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, President Trump's nominee for secretary of state, said Thursday in his confirmation hearing that Trump had never asked him to "interfere" in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling. Democrats and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) grilled Pompeo on his views on the executive branch's authority to send the military to conflict zones, forcing Pompeo to deflect suggestions he was too hawkish to be the nation's top diplomat. Pompeo faces a potentially difficult confirmation fight. Republicans have a one-vote majority on the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Paul opposes Pompeo, so the nominee will need Democratic support if he is to get the committee's recommendation.


Trump eases Syria threats as chemical weapons inspectors are sent in

President Trump on Thursday appeared to dial back his threat to launch airstrikes against the Syrian military, a day after warning that missiles "will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!'" The White House has been debating its response to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria last weekend that left dozens dead. Trump said Thursday that he "never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!" Defense Secretary James Mattis met with Trump and other top national security advisers Thursday after telling the House Armed Services Committee that retaliation had to be balanced with the need to avoid a wider war. The Organization of Chemical Weapons on Thursday dispatched inspectors to Syria.


Trump allies fear FBI seized conversations taped by Michael Cohen

President Trump's personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen is known to have taped conversations with associates, and Trump allies worry FBI agents might have seized the audio files in their raids of Cohen's home, office, and hotel room on Monday, The Washington Post reports. Cohen had no formal role in Trump's presidential campaign, but he secretly recorded people in order to have leverage, one person told the Post, noting that under New York law just one party has to consent to the taping. It's unclear whether Cohen ever recorded conversations with Trump, but one person said Trump knew Cohen taped people because he'd play the recordings to him.


Oklahoma teachers union calls end to walkout

Oklahoma's largest teachers union on Thursday ended a nearly two-week walkout that affected most public schools statewide. After decades of cuts to school budgets, the Republican-dominated legislature passed its first major tax hikes in a quarter century to raise $450 million for education. "We absolutely have a victory for teachers," Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said in a news conference. A West Virginia strike last month also got teachers a raise, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) has responded to weeks of protests in his state by proposing to raise teacher salaries by 20 percent over the next three years.


Trump orders aides to 'take another look' at Pacific trade pact

President Trump said in a meeting with farm state lawmakers and governors on Thursday that he had told his aides to "take another look" at getting the U.S. back into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact he dumped last year shortly after taking office. Getting back into the 11-nation free trade deal would mark a sharp reversal of his previous position. Trump had slammed the deal, negotiated by the Obama administration, as a terrible arrangement for the U.S. Lawmakers from both parties have expressed opposition to the TPP, but business leaders support it. Some have argued that pulling out has handed China greater influence in the region.


Trump orders Postal Service review after saying Amazon should pay more

President Trump on Thursday ordered a review of the U.S. Postal Service's finances, which he has claimed are being ruined by a money-losing deal to deliver packages for Amazon. Trump created a task force to look into the Postal Service's "unsustainable financial path." Trump does not mention specific companies in the order, but he has claimed that the service loses money in its financial arrangement with Amazon, its biggest package customer. NPR notes that the Postal Service has lost money for years, but makes money on package deliveries. Trump has been increasingly vocal in his public criticism of Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. People close to Trump have noted that Trump's criticism of Amazon has often followed negative coverage of him in the Post.


Ryan resists calls to step down from leadership role early

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) resisted calls from some fellow Republicans to step down from his leadership position early, rather than serve until he leaves Congress at the end of his term. "I have shattered every fundraising record any speaker has ever set," Ryan said. "It makes no sense to take the biggest fundraiser off the field, and I think almost all of our members see it that way." Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) disagreed, saying it's best for the party to move up a leadership election, in which Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) are frontrunners. "No disrespect to Paul, but quite frankly, you want somebody who's got skin in the game for after the [November midterm] election," he said.


Reports: Trump plans to pardon Scooter Libby

President Trump reportedly plans to pardon I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, numerous news outlets reported late Thursday and early Friday. Trump reportedly has received and accepted a recommendation to grant the pardon. Libby was convicted of perjury in connection with the 2003 leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity. In one of his last acts in office in 2008, former President George W. Bush commuted Libby's sentence, calling him "a loyal American." The move spared Libby from prison time, but he paid a fine and the conviction remained on his record.


Cosby accuser to take stand in sexual assault trial

Andrea Constand, the accuser in Bill Cosby's sexual assault retrial, is set to take the stand on Friday. Constand's testimony marks a final showdown in a trial that already has featured testimony from five other women who described Cosby, once revered as a model TV sitcom dad, as a serial rapist who abused them. Constand says Cosby drugged and molested her at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004. At the time, she was a women's basketball administrator at Cosby's alma mater, Temple University. Cosby's defense team has tried to portray her as a "con artist" who accused Cosby to get money from him.


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