Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 24, 2018

Sessions pushes back against Trump criticism over his Russia recusal, Malcolm Turnbull is ousted as Australia's prime minister, and more


Sessions pushes back against renewed Trump criticism over his Russia recusal

Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed back against criticism by President Trump, saying Thursday that the Justice Department would not be "improperly influenced by political considerations." During an interview that aired hours earlier on Fox & Friends, Trump criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the federal investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates. Trump said Sessions "took the job and then he said, 'I'm going to recuse myself.' I said, 'What kind of a man is this?'" Sessions said he was in control and had successfully pushed Trump's agenda. Trump has bashed Sessions over his recusal before. He renewed his criticism after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty and ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted in cases uncovered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation team.


Malcolm Turnbull ousted as Australia's prime minister

Rivals within the Liberal Party ousted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday and replaced him with Treasurer Scott Morrison. A dispute over energy policy last week renewed longstanding tensions between the moderate Turnbull and the party's conservative wing. Turnbull survived a challenge on Tuesday from former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, but called a second vote after receiving a letter signed by a majority of the party's members calling for new leadership. Morrison beat Dutton 45-40 in an internal ballot. Turnbull, who took office in a similar revolt in 2015, was the fourth Australian prime minister in a decade to be pushed out in a leadership fight. His ouster came as party lawmakers grew increasingly concerned about poor polling ahead of looming elections. Morrison said his priorities would be reuniting the party after a chaotic week and dealing with a record drought in parts of eastern Australia.


Trump has considered pardoning Manafort for weeks, Giuliani says

President Trump has been mulling a pardon of his ex-campaign chair Paul Manafort for a few weeks, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told The Washington Post on Thursday. Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes on Tuesday. Trump has long thought prosecutors "beat up" Manafort in the trial, and asked his lawyers' advice on pardons a few weeks ago, Giuliani said, seeming to contradict comments he made to The New York Times. The president's lawyers apparently told him to wait until Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation ended, and Trump agreed. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters a Manafort pardon has not been "up for discussion," but Trump reportedly told Fox & Friends later that day he'd consider it.


National Enquirer publisher David Pecker granted immunity in Cohen case

Federal prosecutors have granted immunity to David Pecker, head of the National Enquirer publisher's parent company, in the investigation into hush money deals described by President Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, in his plea deal, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc., reportedly told prosecutors that Trump knew about Cohen's payments shortly before the 2016 election to two women claiming to have had affairs with Trump. Cohen on Tuesday pleaded guilty to bank fraud and campaign violations linked to the hush money payments. Cohen said he and Pecker collaborated to silence potentially damaging claims about Trump during his candidacy by using a tabloid tactic known as "catch and kill," in which AMI bought the rights to potentially harmful claims and never ran stories about them.


Hurricane Lane dumps torrential rain on Hawaii

Hurricane Lane hit Hawaii's Big Island with nearly 20 inches of rain on Thursday, triggering landslides that blocked rural roads. The storm was still offshore but was expected to hit or come dangerously close to parts of Hawaii's main islands by Friday, bringing waves as high as 20 feet and a four-foot storm surge. The hurricane's top sustained winds dropped from 155 miles per hour to a range between 111 and 129 mph. Federal authorities urged Hawaiians to "heed all warnings" and brace for a major blow from the storm. Major hotels remained open, saying they were confident they could keep guests safe as long as they remained indoors.


Reality Winner sentenced to 63 months for leak

Former government contractor Reality Winner has been sentenced to 63 months in prison for leaking a report about a 2016 Russian military-intelligence cyberattack. Winner was accused of taking the document from the National Security Agency facility where she worked and giving it to an online media outlet. She had faced 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine before accepting a plea deal. The former U.S. Air Force linguist's attorneys defended her character in court. "She's a good person," said attorney John Bell. "Someone who didn't understand the magnitude of what she was doing." Winner said she "had no intention to harm national security." John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said Winner's "betrayal" had "put at risk sources and methods of intelligence gathering, thereby offering advantage to our adversaries."


U.S.-China trade talks end without progress

Trade talks between the U.S. and China ended Thursday with no sign of progress, raising concerns that the trade war between the world's two largest economies is poised to escalate. The White House said the two sides had "exchanged views on how to achieve fairness, balance, and reciprocity in the economic relationship," and China called the discussions "constructive, candid." No further talks are scheduled. The meeting ended hours after 25 percent tariffs on another $16 billion worth of Chinese goods took effect, and China retaliated with new tariffs on the same amount of U.S. goods. "Now, it seems quite likely that the U.S. will impose tariffs on the $200 billion in imports from China, which will trigger a bigger round of shooting," said Zhou Xiaoming, a former commerce ministry official and diplomat.


Missouri investigates St. Louis archdiocese handling of sexual abuse cases

Missouri is investigating potential sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, state Attorney General Josh Hawley said Thursday. "I am firmly of the view that full transparency benefits not only the public but also the church and, most importantly, it will help us expose and address potential wrongdoing and protect the vulnerable from abuse," Hawley said. In a letter to Hawley, St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson said he had invited investigators to have "unfettered access" to archdiocese files so they would determine whether he had handled such cases properly. Carlson said the archdiocese had removed 27 living priests over sexual abuse allegations. "We did this for one reason, the credibility of the archdiocese," Carlson told reporters. Some of the priests were forced to leave the priesthood.


South Africa blasts Trump for tweet repeating white nationalist conspiracy theory

The South African government on Thursday criticized President Trump for tweeting that the U.S. should examine South Africa's land and "farm seizures" from white farmers, and "the large scale killing of farmers." The South African government tweeted back rejecting Trump's "narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past." South Africa is in the middle of a racially charged debate over land reform to fix the legacy of white-minority rule, which has left black South Africans, who comprise 80 percent of the population, with just 4 percent of the land. Critics said the claim of "large scale killing" of white farmers was a widely debunked conspiracy theory spread by white nationalists. Trump's tweet came shortly after a Fox News segment in which host Tucker Carlson railed against the land reform plan.


Poll: 7 in 10 Americans support Medicare-for-all

Seven in 10 Americans support Medicare-for-all as a policy, a Reuters poll published Thursday found. That includes 84.5 percent of Democrats and 51.9 percent of Republicans. Candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have drawn attention to the policy in recent years, pushing a populist message that has nudged lawmakers and Americans alike toward a more positive view on the idea that the government should allow everyone to enroll in publicly funded health insurance. In 2017, just 30 percent of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to ensure Americans had health care, and only 18 percent of conservatives said the same in 2014.


Blinken calls for a diplomatic solution as U.S. prepares to back Ukrainian insurgency
Antony Blinken and Volodymyr Zelenskiy
who's blinken first?

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Concerns about Afghan air force were 'being actively addressed,' Pentagon spokesperson says
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we were working on it!

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U.S., Russia to hold high-stakes talks on Ukraine
Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
give diplomacy a chance

U.S., Russia to hold high-stakes talks on Ukraine

SecDef draws ire of GOP after missing Afghanistan weapons report deadline
Afghan soldiers in captured American vehicle
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