Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: June 7, 2018

Paul Ryan says there's "no evidence" to support Trump's "Spygate" claim, Afghanistan announces short ceasefire with Taliban, and more


Paul Ryan rejects Trump's 'Spygate' assertion

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Wednesday publicly disputed President Trump's claim that the FBI planted a spy inside his 2016 campaign. Ryan told reporters there was "no evidence" to support Trump's assertion. He said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the House Oversight Committee chairman, had been "accurate" when he told Fox News recently that "the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do" when they learned some Trump advisers had suspicious contacts with Russians. Ryan did say that "we have some more digging to do" before coming to a final conclusion.


More than 50,000 try to cross U.S.-Mexico border for 3rd straight month

The number of people caught trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally exceeded 50,000 for the third straight month in May, despite the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy, according to figures released by the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday. The figure includes immigrants who turned themselves in at ports of entry. Border Patrol agents arrested nearly 2,000 more undocumented immigrants between official border entry points in May than in April, with the total reaching 40,400. The number of unaccompanied children also increased, from 4,302 in April to 6,405 in May. DHS spokesperson Tyler Q. Houlton said the numbers are high, but show "that while the Trump administration is restoring the rule of law ... no one expects to reverse years of political action overnight or in a month."


Afghan government announces temporary ceasefire with Taliban

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Thursday that his government and the Taliban had agreed to an unconditional ceasefire until June 20. The deal coincided with the end of the Muslim fasting season, but did not include the Islamic State and other extremist groups. The agreement followed a meeting this week in which Islamic clerics recommended a ceasefire and declared a fatwa on Taliban attacks. A suicide bomber attacked the entrance to the clerics' peace tent in Kabul as the meeting was breaking up, killing 14 people. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. Ghani said the ceasefire would give the Taliban an opportunity to reflect and see that "their violent campaign is not winning them hearts and minds."


Mueller reportedly requests witnesses' personal phones

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is asking witnesses to hand over their personal phones so investigators can look for conversations with anyone linked to President Trump via encrypted messaging programs, several people with knowledge of the matter told CNBC on Wednesday. The requests were first made in April, and the witnesses have complied, CNBC reports. Investigators are looking at private conversations on WhatsApp, Signal, Dust, and Confide, and it's unclear what, if any, new details have been uncovered. On Monday, prosecutors accused former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of tampering with witnesses, contacting them through WhatsApp and Telegram. Manafort has been indicted for money laundering and illegally acting as a foreign agent.


Two top Pruitt aides leave EPA

Two of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt's top aides resigned Wednesday after coming under scrutiny in connection with Pruitt's spending and ethics issues. The aides, scheduler Millan Hupp and senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt, worked for Pruitt in Oklahoma, where he was attorney general, and followed him to the EPA, where they received substantial raises that bypassed normal White House procedures. The departures came as Pruitt faced more allegations of misusing his position, including having aides help in an effort to get his wife a Chick-fil-A franchisee position. Democrats on a House committee investigating Pruitt released an interview transcript Monday in which Hupp said that Pruitt had her do personal errands for him, including asking the Trump International Hotel if Pruitt could buy a used mattress.


Melania Trump makes first public appearance in weeks

First lady Melania Trump made her first public appearance since May 10 on Wednesday, walking with President Trump from the White House to their motorcade. Earlier in the week she attended a White House reception honoring 40 Gold Star families, although that event was closed to the press. Mrs. Trump disappeared from the public eye shortly before she underwent a medical procedure for a benign kidney condition on May 14. Her absence stoked speculation, which the president addressed in a Wednesday tweet: "The Fake News Media has been so unfair, and vicious, to my wife and our great First Lady, Melania," he wrote. "During her recovery from surgery they reported everything from near death, to facelift, to left the W.H. (and me) for N.Y. or Virginia, to abuse. All Fake, she is doing really well!"


Trump commutes sentence of prisoner championed by Kardashian West

President Trump on Wednesday commuted the life sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, 63, who spent more than two decades in prison after being sentenced to life without parole for a first-time, non-violent drug offense. Reality TV star Kim Kardashian West, who had urged Trump to free Johnson, tweeted, "BEST NEWS EVER!!!!" Trump didn't pardon Johnson, which would have erased her record, but he ended her sentence, which a member of Johnson's legal team called "a courageous move." Trump also recently pardoned the late boxing champion Jack Johnson and conservative provocateur Dinesh D'Souza, and said he was considering a commutation for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who is serving 14 years for corruption, and a pardon for lifestyle icon Martha Stewart, who served several months for insider trading.


Diplomats' medical mystery intensifies in China

The State Department on Wednesday evacuated two more Americans in China who became ill after hearing strange noises, in cases similar to those reported last year in Cuba. Many more employees of the American Consulate in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou are being tested by a State Department medical team. The symptoms resemble those "following concussion or minor traumatic brain injury," the State Department said. The first case in Guangzhou was reported several weeks ago. In Cuba, 24 American Embassy employees and relatives were plagued by headaches, nausea, hearing loss, and cognitive problems after hearing strange sounds. The mystery led the U.S. to sharply reduce its staff and expel Cuban diplomats.


Warriors take 3-0 lead over Cavs in NBA Finals

The Golden State Warriors took a 3-0 lead in the NBA Finals on Wednesday, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 110-102. Kevin Durant led the Warriors with 43 points and 13 rebounds, making up for sub-par performances by star teammates Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who had 11 and 10 points, respectively. "That was incredible what he did out there tonight," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Durant. "Some of those shots, I don't think anybody in the world can hit those but him." Cavs star LeBron James scored 33 points to go along with 11 assists and 10 rebounds. The Warriors have the chance to claim their second straight title — and their third in four years — in Game 4 of the best-of-seven series in Cleveland on Friday.


Jerry Maren, last surviving Wizard of Oz munchkin, dies at 98

Actor Jerry Maren, the last surviving munchkin from the 1939 classic Wizard of Oz, died last month in San Diego, California, a family member confirmed Wednesday. He was 98. Maren, who stood 4 feet 3 inches, played one of the members of the Lollipop Guild in the film. In his big scene, he handed Judy Garland's Dorothy a giant lollipop and welcomed her to Munchkin Land. He appeared in scores of films, TV shows, and commercials over a seven-decade entertainment career, but told The Independent in 2009 that working on the movie as one of the 124 munchkins was "the greatest fun I ever had in my life." Garland, he said, was "an angel." In 2007, he and the other munchkins were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


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