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Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 18, 2018

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Harold Maass
The Saudi Arabia flag at the consulate in Istanbul
YASIN AKGUL/AFP/Getty Images
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1.

White House counsel Don McGahn leaves

White House counsel Don McGahn stepped down effective Wednesday. McGahn oversaw President Trump's judicial appointments, capping his influential tenure with the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. McGahn pushed through a string of conservative nominees, often suggested by the Federalist Society or the Heritage Foundation. Many were young, meaning they will shape court decisions for decades. McGahn's "significance to the judiciary, the White House, and the nation cannot be overstated," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in August. Shortly after The New York Times reported that McGahn had cooperated "extensively" with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling, Trump tweeted that McGahn would be leaving this fall. [NPR]

2.

Audio reportedly includes horrific details of Khashoggi's death

Turkish officials on Wednesday described details from an audio recording they said captured journalist Jamal Khashoggi being tortured and killed by a team of Saudi agents minutes after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. The audio reportedly captured the voice of a Saudi forensic specialist as he told others to listen to music while he dismembered Khashoggi. President Trump, who has defended Saudi leaders and cautioned against a rush to judgment about their connection to the case, said he had asked Turkey for the audio evidence "if it exists." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish leaders on Wednesday. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]

3.

Washington Post publishes Khashoggi's last column

The Washington Post on Wednesday published the final column by Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared on Oct. 2 in Istanbul and is believed to have been killed by Saudi agents. Khashoggi, a contributor to the Post for the last year, lamented the lack of press freedom in the Arab world, writing that the hope of the Arab Spring had faded as repression resumed. Arab governments, he wrote, now have "free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate." Karen Attiah, the Post's Global Opinions editor, wrote in a note that the paper received the column from Khashoggi's translator and assistant the day after he went missing, and delayed publishing it hoping he would return for the editing process. [The Washington Post]

4.

Mueller expected to issue reports on Trump, Russia after midterms

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is likely to issue findings on key elements of his investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump campaign associates shortly after the November midterm elections, Bloomberg reported Wednesday, citing two U.S. officials. Mueller is under rising pressure from President Trump and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to wrap up his inquiry. He is expected to issue findings on whether Trump colluded with Russia and obstructed justice. If he does, Rosenstein could prevent Congress or the public from seeing them. Mueller appears to be in no hurry to wrap up, but he faces the uncertainty of whether a new, more Trump-friendly official will oversee the investigation after the midterms. [Bloomberg]

5.

Treasury employee accused of leaking to BuzzFeed

A senior Treasury Department employee, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, has been arrested and charged with leaking confidential financial documents about people connected to the Russia investigation, the Justice Department said Wednesday. Edwards is a senior adviser at the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN. She is accused of serving as a source for 11 BuzzFeed stories. She allegedly gave reporters documents on transactions, including some possibly involving financing of Russian activities during the 2016 presidential campaign and many linked to associates of President Trump. Prosecutors said Edwards leaked documents on suspicious financial activity related to Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, the Russian Embassy, Mariia Butina, and others. [CBS News, Politico]

6.

Afghan parliamentary candidate killed in bombing

A Taliban bombing killed a parliamentary candidate in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province ahead of weekend elections. The bomb appeared to have been hidden in a sofa in the campaign office of Abdul Jabar Qahraman. It killed him and wounded seven people, said Omar Zwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Attacks in other parts of the country killed six police officers and two soldiers. The Taliban has warned teachers and students not to vote or let schools be used as polling stations. Insurgents said in a statement that they planned attacks targeting the Saturday elections, which the Taliban call illegitimate events forced on the country by foreign powers. [The Associated Press]

7.

Mexico dispatches federal police to block migrant caravan

The Mexican government sent two 727 Boeing planes filled with federal police officers to its southern border with Guatemala on Wednesday to prevent a caravan of immigrants from crossing in an attempt to reach the U.S. The group, which left Honduras last week, reportedly has grown to include an estimated 4,000 migrants and is now in Guatemala. Mexico's Interior and Foreign Relations ministries said in a joint statement that any migrant lacking proper immigration papers would be arrested and "returned to their country of origin." Those with documents for making an asylum application will be allowed into Mexico. President Trump has railed against the caravan and threatened to cut aid to Honduras if government officials do not help turn it around. [USA Today]

8.

Israel hits Hamas targets after rockets fired from Gaza

The Israeli military said Wednesday that a rocket fired from Gaza hit a home in the southern Israel city of Beer Sheva. No injuries were reported. A second rocket came down off the central Israel coast. Israel responded with airstrikes that hit almost two dozen Hamas targets across Gaza, including a tunnel and a weapons manufacturing site. The Israeli military also said it struck a rocket launcher in northern Gaza before it could fire its rocket. Hamas controls Gaza and Israel holds it responsible for what happens in the Palestinian territory, but Hamas and Islamic Jihad issued a joint statement denying responsibility. [CNN]

9.

Ex-USA Gymnastics chief Steve Penny arrested on evidence-tampering charge

Former USA Gymnastics president and CEO Steve Penny was arrested Wednesday on a felony charge of evidence tampering in the Larry Nassar molestation scandal. Penny resigned under pressure last year. He was arrested by a fugitive task force in Tennessee after being secretly indicted by a Walker County, Texas, grand jury on Sept. 28 for allegedly ordering the removal of documents from a national team training center, the Karolyi Ranch, after learning of an investigation into reports by some athletes that Nassar, a longtime team doctor, had molested them there. Nassar pleaded guilty to molesting 10 girls and was sentenced in February to up to 125 years in prison. Penny's latest replacement, former congresswoman Mary Bono, stepped down Tuesday after serving less than a week. [The New York Times, NBC News]

10.

Mega Millions jackpot rises to record $900 million

The Mega Millions jackpot reached a record high of $900 million on Wednesday after no ticket was drawn with all six winning numbers on Tuesday night. The record prize will be on the line in a Friday night drawing. The jackpot has grown because nobody has won since July 24. In that drawing, 11 co-workers in a California office shared $543 million, the biggest jackpot ever for a single ticket in the game. The previous Mega Millions record jackpot was $656 million in 2012. That prize was split among winners in Kansas, Illinois, and Maryland. [CBS News]