Daily briefing

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

Trump backpedals on new Russia sanctions, Fox News' Sean Hannity named as Michael Cohen's third client, and more


White House holds off on Russia sanctions

President Trump held off on imposing new sanctions to punish Russia for supporting Syria on Monday, reversing plans announced just a day earlier by United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. The additional sanctions were expected as a response to Syria's suspected chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held area. Moscow had referred to the looming measures as "international economic raiding." Haley had said Sunday on CBS News' Face the Nation that the sanctions would target Russian companies linked to equipment used in the alleged chemical attack, indicating they would be unveiled Monday. Trump, however, reportedly told his national security advisers he was not yet comfortable pulling the trigger on the sanctions.


Fox News' Hannity named as third Michael Cohen client

An attorney for Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer, said in court on Monday that Cohen also represents Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, who regularly and fiercely defends Trump on his show. Cohen's lawyers, who were challenging an FBI search of Cohen's office last week, tried to avoid identifying a "prominent" client who would be "embarrassed" to be publicly associated with Cohen. After a courtroom exchange, U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood ordered Cohen's team to name the client, who turned out to be Hannity, a hardline conservative. Wood also denied an attempt by Trump and Cohen to block prosecutors from reviewing files seized by the FBI until they could review them. Wood indicated she was considering appointing a special master to help weed through the material.


White House pushes back against Comey on eve of book release

President Trump renewed his attacks against former FBI Director James Comey on Monday, after Comey called Trump "morally unfit to be president" in an interview with ABC News that aired Sunday night. Trump, who fired Comey last year, tweeted that Comey mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server and "drafted the Crooked Hillary exoneration long before he talked to her." Trump said Comey "based his decisions on her poll numbers," giving her a pass because he thought she would win the election. Comey's memoir, A Higher Loyalty, is due to be released on Tuesday, and he has started a media tour to promote it.


Watchdog: EPA chief Scott Pruitt's soundproof booth violated law

The Environmental Protection Agency violated the law by approving construction of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth last year for Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Government Accountability Office said Monday. The congressional watchdog unit said the EPA should have notified the House and Senate appropriations committees of any spending above $5,000 to furnish or otherwise improve Pruitt's office. Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, said the agency "will be sending Congress the necessary information this week" to explain the matter. Democratic Sens. Tom Carper (Del.) and Tom Udall (N.M.) had asked the GAO to investigate allegations of wasteful spending by Pruitt. Pruitt told lawmakers in a hearing that the booth was necessary for agency business.


NYT and New Yorker share a Pulitzer for reporting on Harvey Weinstein scandal

New York Times writers Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow shared the Pulitzer Prize for public service in recognition of their reporting on allegations of sexual assault and harassment of women by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The scandal touched off the larger #MeToo and Time's Up movements that started last year. Other winners included Washington Post staff coverage of sexual misconduct allegations against then-Senate candidate Roy Moore in Alabama, Reuters staff for photos of Rohingya refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar, and the Times and the Post for coverage of Russian election meddling and possible links to President Trump's associates. Kendrick Lamar won the prize for music for Damn, his fourth album and the first rap album ever to win a Pulitzer.


U.S., Britain jointly accuse Russia of cyberattacks

The U.S. and Britain on Monday jointly accused Russia of orchestrating cyberattacks against government agencies, private organizations, and individual homes and offices in both countries. In a first-ever joint U.S.-British cybersecurity alert, the FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Britain's National Cyber Security Centre said the years-long campaign targeted millions of devices, primarily used by "government and private-sector organizations, critical infrastructure providers, and the internet service providers (ISPs) supporting these sectors." The warning appeared to mark a joint effort to prevent future attacks by alerting people to vulnerabilities so they can address them, and by threatening retaliation.


Starbucks removes manager as CEO prepares to meet 2 black men arrested in store

Starbucks said Monday that the Philadelphia store manager who called the police on two black men last week "is no longer at that store." The coffee chain's CEO, Kevin Johnson, told Good Morning America that he was calling for store managers to get "unconscious bias" training. He said the incident was "reprehensible," and repeated an apology, saying "what happened to those gentlemen was wrong." Johnson added that his duty was to go beyond the individuals involved and "look more broadly at the circumstances that set that up just to ensure that never happens again." Johnson is expected to meet with the two men, who were not charged. About 40 protesters returned to the store for a second straight day on Monday, chanting such lines as, "Anti-blackness anywhere is anti-blackness everywhere."


China social media site backs down from plan to censor gay themes

Chinese social media site Sina Weibo on Monday ditched plans to censor content with gay themes. The site had announced Friday that it planned to weed out gay-themed cartoons and video games that were inconsistent with a new policy, but the news sparked an angry backlash from millions of internet users. After a barrage of #Iamgay hashtags and slogans such as "gays aren't scary," the site reversed course and said it would shift its "cleanup" campaign to focus on removing pornographic and violent material. Critics welcomed the backpedaling, but some said the company had not gone far enough. "They have already harmed us," said Bai Fei, a feminist activist. "I want them to stand up and make a public apology."


Night Court actor Harry Anderson dies at 65

Actor Harry Anderson, best known for starring roles in the sitcoms Night Court and Dave's World, was found dead in his Asheville, North Carolina, home Monday morning. He was 65. Police say no foul play is suspected. Anderson started his career in show business as a street magician in San Francisco. Following an appearance on Saturday Night Live, he got a guest spot on Cheers, which led to the role of Judge Harry T. Stone on Night Court. "I guess they figured I was an actor," he told the Bradenton Herald. "By the time they figured out that I couldn't act scared on the subway at 4 a.m., I already had a five-year contract."


Desiree Linden becomes first U.S. woman to win Boston Marathon since 1985

Desiree Linden, 34, became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon since 1985 on Monday. She crossed the finish line with an official time of two hours, 39 minutes, and 53 seconds. Yuki Kawauchi, 31, of Japan, led the men with an unofficial time of two hours, 15 minutes, and 54 seconds. Race day was marred by poor weather and record low temperatures, with participants running in pouring rain. Officials had prepared to treat "hypothermia, chafing, and blisters because of the weather," ESPN's Aishwarya Kumar tweeted. "My hands were freezing," said Linden, a two-time Olympian. "At six miles I was thinking, 'No way, this is not my day.' Then you break the tape and you're like, 'This is not what I expected today.'"


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Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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Chinese President Xi Jinping.
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