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10 things you need to know today: December 17, 2018

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Harold Maass
The U.S. Capitol
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1.

White House starts preparing for possible government shutdown

The White House on Sunday took steps to prepare for a possible government shutdown later this week, as the Trump administration and congressional Democrats remained deadlocked over President Trump's insistence on allocating $5 billion for his promised border wall. "We will do whatever is necessary to build the border wall to stop this ongoing crisis of immigration," said White House senior adviser Stephen Miller. Trump said last week after a testy meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that he would be "proud" to shut down the government to push for the border security he says his wall would provide. Democrats are willing to approve $1.6 billion for fencing upgrades and other border security spending, but no wall. [The Associated Press]

2.

Senate report details extent of Russian disinformation

A draft report prepared for the Senate and obtained by The Washington Post says that Russia used every major social media platform to spread disinformation to help elect President Trump. The researchers examined millions of posts provided by major technology firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which plans to release the findings this week. The study by Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis firm Graphika found that Russians working at the Internet Research Agency, which U.S. officials have charged with interfering in the 2016 campaign, separated Americans into key interest groups and targeted them with messages. "What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump," the report said. [The Washington Post]

3.

Trump vows to review murder case against former Green Beret

President Trump said Sunday that he would review the case of Army Major Matt Golsteyn, a Special Forces soldier and Afghanistan veteran who has been charged with murder for killing a suspected Taliban bomb-maker who was in U.S. custody. "At the request of many, I will be reviewing the case of a 'U.S. Military hero,' Major Matt Golsteyn, who is charged with murder," Trump tweeted. "He could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted to killing a Terrorist bomb maker while overseas." Golsteyn mentioned the incident during a 2011 interview for a CIA job. His lawyer said the 2010 killing was part of a battle, when Golsteyn was on a mission ordered by his superiors. [CNN]

4.

Giuliani says Trump will meet with Mueller 'over my dead body'

President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, on Sunday said there was no way President Trump would sit down for an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, which is investigating Russian election meddling and possible collusion with Trump campaign associates. "Over my dead body," Giuliani said on Fox News Sunday. "But you know, I could be dead." Pressed to say more by host Chris Wallace, Giuliani said he was "disgusted with the tactics they have used in this case." On ABC News' This Week With George Stephanopoulos, Giuliani said he was "not allowed" to say whether Trump's legal team and Mueller's office were still negotiating for a direct interview with Trump. Last month, Trump's lawyers submitted written answers to Mueller's questions on Russia's efforts to help Trump's 2016 campaign. [Fox News, The Washington Post]

5.

Belgian police arrest dozens at anti-immigrant protest

Anti-immigrant protesters clashed with police outside European Union offices in Brussels on Sunday. Police fired tear gas and used water cannons to contain and disperse the crowd, estimated at about 5,500 people. At least 90 people were arrested. The demonstration, organized by far-right Belgian party Vlaams Belang, was staged in opposition to a non-binding United Nations migration pact signed last week in Marrakech, Morocco. The rally and a counterprotest that drew about 1,000 participants had originally been banned due to fear of unrest. The migration deal asserts the "fundamental" importance of legal migration, and reaffirms nations' rights to set their own migration policies. Critics fear it will encourage more immigrants to set out for Europe. [The Guardian, BBC News]

6.

Hungary protesters call for end of 'slave law'

About 10,000 people marched on Hungary's parliament on Sunday in the largest in a series of protests against efforts by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's efforts to tighten his far-right government's grip on power. Protesters waved Hungarian and European Union flags and held up banners with such messages as, "All I want for Xmas is democracy." Orbán's ultranationalist Fidesz party has shut down most independent media and created new administrative courts directly controlled by the government. The intensifying protests began Wednesday when the government approved a new law allowing employers to ask staff to work up to 400 hours of overtime per year, with payments that can be delayed for up to three years. Critics call the measure the "slave law." [NPR]

7.

HQ Trivia, Vine co-founder Colin Kroll dies at 34

Colin Kroll, co-founder and CEO of Vine and HQ Trivia, was found dead Sunday in his New York City apartment. He was 34. Police officers found Kroll after his girlfriend called 911 and asked for a wellness check. The cause of death was not immediately determined. HQ Trivia, a trivia game app, was launched in 2017. Kroll became CEO of HQ Trivia's parent company, Intermedia Labs, earlier this year after his business partner Rus Yusupov was forced out, Recode reports. Recently, Kroll was accused by an HQ Trivia employee of "inappropriate and unprofessional behavior;" the matter was investigated and "yielded no concerns," the company told Recode. [Gizmodo, Recode]

8.

Survey finds rise in teen vaping

Nearly 21 percent of high school seniors say they vaped within the past 30 days, up from 11 percent one year ago, a new survey out Monday says. The Monitoring the Future survey has been in existence for 44 years, asking teenagers whether they use drugs, drink alcohol, or smoke, and this was the most dramatic spike in its history. The survey is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and its director, Nora Volkow, said the report is "very worrisome. We are very concerned about the increase in vaping." Vapors from e-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine, and doctors fret about how this affects brains that are still developing. [NPR]

9.

Trump calls for SNL to be 'tested' in court over liberal 'spin'

President Trump on Sunday called for NBC and Saturday Night Live to be "tested" in court in an angry response to a sketch that parodied the Christmas movie It's a Wonderful Life with a portrayal of a better world in which Trump was never elected president. "A REAL scandal is the one-sided coverage, hour by hour, of networks like NBC & Democrat spin machines like Saturday Night Live," Trump tweeted. "It is all nothing less than unfair news coverage and Dem commercials. Should be tested in courts, can't be legal? Only defame & belittle! Collusion?" In the sketch, Trump (played by Alec Baldwin) is led through a Christmas party in a world where Hillary Clinton became the president. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (Matt Damon) was a regular guy drinking a beer, and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen (Ben Stiller) had not been sentenced to prison. [Fox News]

10.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tops box office

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse led the weekend box office in North America, bringing in $35.4 million at 3,813 theaters in its debut, according to Comscore. The well-reviewed film, with its inventive animation, was expected to lead to a new franchise for Sony Pictures. It was produced by a team that included Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who previously were behind The Lego Movie. The Mule, starring Clint Eastwood, 88, as a cranky drug courier, also came in at No. 2 with $17.2 million. It was the biggest opening as a star for Eastwood, who also directed the movie, since Space Cowboys in 2000. [The New York Times]