Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: May 21, 2018

Harold Maass
DOJ orders inspector general to look into FBI informant's contact with Trump campaign.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

1.

DOJ to investigate FBI informant's contact with Trump campaign

The Justice Department on Sunday told its inspector general to look into whether the early FBI investigation into links between Russia and President Trump's campaign was politically motivated. The move came hours after Trump began a series of Twitter posts calling for an inquiry into a report that an American academic working as an FBI informant met with several members of his 2016 campaign in the early days of the agency's investigation into Russian election meddling. "I hereby demand," Trump tweeted, "and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes — and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!" Reports on the matter said there was no evidence the informant was embedded in the Trump campaign, as Trump suggested. [The Washington Post]

2.

Giuliani: Mueller to end obstruction inquiry by Sept. 1

Special Counsel Robert Mueller plans to wrap up his investigation into whether President Trump obstructed the inquiry into Russian election meddling by Sept. 1, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Sunday. Giuliani said Mueller's team disclosed the timeline two weeks ago in negotiations about a possible interview with Trump, and said the target date only applied if Trump agreed to answer questions by Mueller's investigators. Giuliani said letting Mueller's investigation last any longer could improperly influence midterm voters. Still, reaching a conclusion on the obstruction question would not necessarily end Mueller's inquiry on Russia's interference and possible collusion by Trump associates. A spokesman for Mueller's office declined to comment. [The New York Times]

3.

Incumbent Nicolas Maduro declared winner of disputed Venezuela election

Venezuela's embattled socialist president, Nicolas Maduro, won a second six-year term by a landslide in a disputed election on Sunday. Maduro's nearest challenger, Henri Falcon, said the vote "lacks legitimacy," and refused to recognize the result. The U.S. also said it would not recognize Maduro's win, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan announced Sunday. Maduro won despite a political and economic crisis that has left the public facing grave shortages of food, medicine, and other necessities, as well as hyperinflation. Many Maduro critics boycotted the election, which they said would be rigged. The Maduro government banned the two most popular opposition candidates from running. [The Associated Press, Reuters]

4.

Mnuchin: U.S. puts China trade war 'on hold'

The U.S. will hold off on imposing tariffs on Chinese products as talks continue on reducing America's trade deficit with China, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday. "We're putting the trade war on hold," Mnuchin said on Fox News Sunday. Mnuchin said the two countries made significant progress in negotiations last week. Beijing committed Saturday to significantly increasing its purchases of U.S. goods and services. U.S. officials said last week that China would increase its purchases by $200 billion, although economists speculate that figure is too high, as it amounts to more than half of the annual trade gap. Mnuchin declined to confirm a specific total. [The New York Times]

5.

2 climbers die trying to reach summit of Mount Everest

Two foreign climbers have died trying to reach the top of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, a Nepal mountaineering official said Monday. Other climbers reported that a Macedonian climber identified as 63-year-old Gjeorgi Petkov died Sunday, and a Japanese climber, 35-year-old Nobukazu Kuriki, died Monday. Kuriki was an experienced mountaineer who had made several unsuccessful attempts to scale Everest, including a 2012 effort in which he lost most of his fingers to frostbite. About 340 foreign climbers and their Sherpa guides are climbing Everest this month. Many made it to the top in the past week, in a run of good weather. The climbing window closes at the end of this month when weather conditions will deteriorate. [The Associated Press]

6.

Nationalists attack, beat mayor of Greece's No. 2 city

A group of right-wing nationalists beat and kicked the mayor of Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city, over the weekend as he attended a ceremony marking the killing of ethnic Greeks by Turks in World War I. A group of a dozen people approached Mayor Yiannis Boutaris, known for his anti-nationalist views, and demanded that he leave the ceremony. The men threw bottles at Boutaris, 75, causing him to fall down. They then kicked Boutaris in the head and legs. "It was a nightmare," Boutaris said. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras condemned the attack in a statement, calling the attackers "far-right bullies who have to face the consequences of their actions." The ruling left-wing Syriza party described the incident as a "fascist attempt to target and intimidate" the mayor. [BBC News]

7.

Lava from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano hits sea, creating toxic cloud

Lava from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano reached the Pacific Ocean over the weekend, creating a new hazard, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said Sunday. When lava hits sea water, it sends hydrochloric acid and volcanic glass particles into the air. The steam cloud — known as laze, for "lava" and "haze" — can cause lung, eye, and skin irritation. It can even be deadly. "This hot, corrosive gas mixture caused two deaths immediately adjacent to the coastal entry point in 2000, when seawater washed across recent and active lava flows," the HVO said, warning that the laze plume could be blown miles downwind. The U.S. Coast Guard enforced a Lava Entry Safety Zone on Sunday for 300 meters around the area where lava entered the sea. [Honolulu Star-Advertiser, CNN]

8.

U.K. looks at new laws to prevent online abuse

Britain will use new laws for social media companies to rein in "the Wild West elements," including cyberbullying and online child exploitation, digital minister Matt Hancock said Sunday. "Digital technology is overwhelmingly a force for good across the world and we must always champion innovation and change for the better," Hancock said in a statement. "At the same time, I have been clear that we have to address the Wild West elements of the internet through legislation, in a way that supports innovation." Hancock's statement kicked off consultations on what measures the U.K. should enact. The process is intended to produce a set of proposals for future legislation. "I don't want the trolls to win," Hancock said. [Reuters]

9.

Cougar attacks 2 mountain bikers in Washington state, killing 1

A cougar attacked two mountain bikers in a remote area in Washington state, killing one and wounding the other. The survivor, Isaac Sederbaum, 31, said the men made loud noises when they realized the cougar was chasing them. They thought they had scared it away, but the animal reappeared and grabbed Sederbaum's head in its mouth. The other man, S.J. Brooks, ran, attracting the cougar's attention, and it chased him. Sederbaum, 31, fled to call help. First responders found the cougar standing over Brooks' body. Wildlife officers later killed the cat, which was emaciated. Sederbaum was airlifted to a Seattle hospital 30 miles away and was in satisfactory condition. Just 16 previous cougar attacks, one fatal, had been reported in Washington in the last century. [The Seattle Times, USA Today]

10.

Deadpool 2 bumps Avengers: Infinity War from top of box office

Deadpool 2 dethroned Avengers: Infinity War as leader of the box office, taking in $125 million in the U.S. and Canada over its opening weekend. The debut of the sequel featuring Ryan Reynolds' wisecracking superhero was the second-highest opening ever for an R-rated movie. Deadpool 2's haul fell just short of a projected $130 million to $150 million debut. It also fell shy of the original Deadpool's opening weekend haul of $132.4 million. Avengers: Infinity War had led the box office for the three previous weekends. It dropped to second place, adding $28.7 million to its domestic total, which now stands at $595 million. Worldwide is has brought in $1.8 billion. [Entertainment Weekly]