Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 12, 2018

Companies acknowledge 'misjudgment' in hiring Michael Cohen, U.S. fighters intercept Russian bombers off Alaskan coast, and more


Companies acknowledge 'misjudgment' in hiring Michael Cohen

President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received $600,000 from AT&T last year for "specific long-term planning initiatives as well as the immediate issue of corporate tax reform and the acquisition of Time Warner," per the contract obtained by The Washington Post. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in a statement Friday "everything we did was done according to the law" but the partnership with Cohen "was a serious misjudgment." AT&T is one of several corporations that paid Cohen at least $2.95 million through a shell company. A U.S. subsidiary of Swiss drugmaker Novartis told employees its $1.2 million deal with Cohen was a "mistake."


U.S. fighters intercept Russian bombers off Alaskan coast

Two U.S. Air Force stealth fighter jets intercepted a pair of Russian bombers about 200 miles off the coast of Alaska Friday morning, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) reports. "At approximately 10 a.m. ET, two Alaskan-based NORAD F-22 fighters intercepted and visually identified two Russian TU-95 'Bear' long-range bomber aircraft flying in the Air Defense Identification Zone around the western coast of Alaska, north of the Aleutian Islands," said a NORAD statement. The Russian planes never entered U.S. air space. The last time Russian military planes flew this close to the United States was May 3, 2017.


Trump, Giuliani tout AT&T deal opposition

Following the news that AT&T paid President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, $600,000 to consult on the company's attempted acquisition of Time Warner, Trump and his new personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, responded by emphasizing the administration's opposition to the deal. "Why doesn't the Fake News Media state that the Trump Administration's Anti-Trust Division has been, and is, opposed to the AT&T purchase of Time Warner in a currently ongoing Trial," Trump wrote on Twitter Friday evening. Giuliani likewise said Friday "the president denied the merger," a defense which apparently contradicts the Justice Department's narrative that Trump is uninvolved in the decision.


Trump reveals drug pricing plan

President Trump on Friday revealed his long-promised plan to lower prescription drug prices. "The drug lobby is making an absolute fortune at the expense of American consumers," he said. "We are putting American patients first." The proposal does not allow Medicare to negotiate for better deals, as Trump suggested on the campaign trail, but it does give the program more flexibility to respond as prices change. The plan, which remains vague but has already drawn criticism from Democrats and the pharmaceutical industry, is implemented via executive order, meaning the next administration can easily undo it.


Pompeo says U.S. would boost North Korean economy after denuclearization

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated Friday the U.S. would assist North Korea's economy if the nation got rid of its nuclear weapons. "If North Korea takes bold action to quickly denuclearize, the United States is prepared to work with North Korea to achieve prosperity on the par with our South Korean friends," Pompeo said. He added that the denuclearization efforts would need to be "complete" and "verifiable." Average income in South Korea is about $30,000; in North Korea, it is about $1,300.


Trump declares major disaster in Hawaii

President Trump on Friday declared a major disaster in Hawaii as continued lava flow from the Big Island's Kilauea volcano since May 3 has destroyed 36 structures, covered 117 acres, and forced the evacuation of 1,700 people. Some 15 volcanic vents have opened up in and near the Leilani Estates neighborhood, a subdivision close to the volcano, and "additional outbreaks of lava are likely," said the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. More "energetic ash emissions" and "ballistic projectiles" of various sizes of rocks are expected as well.


Kelly faces criticism over immigration comments

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has elicited fierce criticism for his comments about undocumented immigrants during a Friday interview with NPR. Kelly said the "vast majority" of these immigrants are "not bad people" but "overwhelmingly rural people" who lack the education and English language skills to "easily assimilate" into "our modern society." He added that most illegal immigrants "don't integrate well" and "don't have skills." Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), an immigrant herself, denounced his claims, tweeting Friday, "John Kelly, you don't understand how immigrants have built our country."


Iraq votes for the first time since defeating ISIS

Iraqi voters head to the polls for the first time Saturday since the country declared victory over the Islamic State. Reports from Baghdad suggest low turnout, and of those who did try to vote, some were turned away because they have not received their new, biometric voting ID cards in time for the election. Iraqi leaders attempted to bolster turnout by removing a security curfew and urging participation to keep corrupt or unpopular politicians out of office. Incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has been credited with defeating ISIS but nevertheless faces stiff competition at the ballot box.


Malaysia bans former prime minister from leaving the country

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is not permitted to leave the country pending a possible new corruption investigation, the country's new government, headed by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, announced Saturday. Mahathir recently bested Najib at the polls, and the former prime minister was about to leave for an overseas vacation. "It is true that I prevented Najib from leaving the country," Mahathir said. "There is sufficient evidence that an investigation into certain things ... done by the former prime minister has to be done and, if necessary, the rule of law will apply."


White House declines to apologize for McCain 'joke'

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday declined to comment on or apologize for an administration's aide's reported snark that Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) opposition to CIA director nominee Gina Haspel "doesn't matter" because "he's dying anyway." "I'm not going to validate a leak one way or the other out of an internal staff meeting," Sanders said. She refused to offer an apology but said the Trump administration has "a respect for all Americans." Former Vice President Joe Biden said Friday the administration hit "rock bottom" with its "trail of disrespect" towards the senator.


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