Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: January 30, 2019

Roger Stone pleads not guilty, Stacey Abrams to give the Democrats' response to the State of the Union, and more


Roger Stone pleads not guilty

Roger Stone, President Trump's longtime adviser, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to allegations that he lied to investigators about his efforts to get information regarding Russia-hacked Democratic Party emails. The charges stem from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference. Stone was indicted and arrested last weekend. He has publicly declared his innocence and pledged never to strike a deal to testify against Trump. Stone has been under scrutiny for his communications over hacked Democratic emails obtained by WikiLeaks and used to damage the campaign of Trump's 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Stone associates have reportedly told Mueller's investigators that Stone presented himself to the Trump campaign as a conduit for inside information from WikiLeaks.


Stacey Abrams to give Democrats' State of the Union response

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said Tuesday that she had accepted an invitation to deliver the Democrats' response to President Trump's State of the Union address. Trump's speech, originally scheduled for this week, will be Tuesday, after it was postponed due to the federal government shutdown that ended Friday. Abrams was credited with energizing Georgia voters last fall, and even though she narrowly lost to Republican Brian Kemp, she has been identified as a rising star among Democrats. Abrams, who will be the first person not in public office to rebut a State of the Union, tweeted that she was "honored" to deliver the rebuttal "at a moment when our nation needs to hear from leaders who can unite for a common purpose."


Senate committee delays attorney general nominee's confirmation vote

The Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a planned Tuesday vote on President Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, due to lingering concerns among Democrats that he might place limits on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump campaign associates. The committee's chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said the vote on recommending Barr's confirmation to the full Senate would be pushed back to Feb. 5. If confirmed, Barr will oversee Mueller's work. In the past, he has been critical of the investigation, but during his confirmation hearings two weeks ago he assured senators he would be independent and never let anyone bully him into doing anything he believes is wrong.


U.S. intelligence chiefs say North Korea unlikely to give up its nukes

U.S. intelligence chiefs, citing a new American intelligence assessment of global threats, told senators on Tuesday that North Korea is "unlikely to give up" all of its nuclear weapons. "Its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival," Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, said. That contradicted occasional assertions by Trump administration officials touting progress made in denuclearization talks with Kim Jong Un's regime. The Worldwide Threat Assessment report challenged other key tenets in President Trump's foreign policy and said nothing about the Mexican border, a Trump focus. It concluded that Iran is not currently working on developing a nuclear bomb, and that the Islamic State still has thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, along with networks around the world. Trump last month said "we have won against ISIS."


Russia secretly offered North Korea a nuclear power plant

Russia last year secretly offered North Korea a nuclear power plant in exchange for dismantling its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, The Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Russia's proposal last fall reportedly was intended to break a deadlock in Pyongyang's negotiations with the Trump administration. The Russian offer is expected to worry Chinese and U.S. officials who aren't eager to give Moscow economic leverage on the Korean Peninsula. As a part of the deal, Russia wanted to operate the plant and handle its byproducts, reducing the risk North Korea could use it for weapons.


Polar vortex hits Midwest with deadly frigid conditions

The polar vortex system that has brought dangerous temperatures of more than 20 degrees below zero to parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes regions has already been blamed for five deaths, and the frigid, icy conditions could worsen on Wednesday, forecasters warned late Tuesday. The blast of arctic air has forced widespread closings at schools and offices. Even the U.S. Postal Service had to suspend mail delivery in many areas, a rare move. In Chicago, forecasts called for temperatures as low as minus-21 degrees Wednesday night, and authorities turned some buses into mobile warming shelters to help get the homeless safely off the streets. "These [conditions] are actually a public health risk and you need to treat it appropriately," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.


Maduro reportedly says he'll talk with opposition as Venezuela crisis continues

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Wednesday he was ready to meet opposition leaders for talks, possibly with other countries mediating, according to Russia's RIA news agency. The State Department said Tuesday that it had given Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido control over the South American nation's assets in the U.S. The U.S. recognizes Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate interim president, and has called on Maduro to step aside. The Maduro government's chief prosecutor asked the pro-government Supreme Court to block Guaido from leaving the country and freeze his bank accounts. The U.S. warned there would be "serious consequences" if Guaido is harmed.


PG&E shares soar after bankruptcy filing

PG&E shares shot up by 17 percent on Tuesday after the nation's largest power utility filed for bankruptcy protection as it faces huge liabilities over catastrophic California wildfires in 2017 and 2018. PG&E's equipment is suspected of starting the Camp Fire in Northern California last year, although the investigation has not been completed yet. PG&E is estimated to have lost $16.5 billion in connection to that fire, which killed 88 people and cost insurers more than $11.4 billion in losses, making it the deadliest and most destructive fire in the state's history. The company's shares dropped sharply earlier this month when it announced plans to file for bankruptcy protection. The stock is down 71 percent from its 52-week high in early November.


Empire star Jussie Smollett assaulted in possible hate crime

Empire star Jussie Smollett was hospitalized Tuesday after being attacked in what Chicago police are treating as a possible hate crime. The 36-year-old African-American actor, who is gay, was walking out of a restaurant when two men yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him, then attacked him. The men punched Smollett and poured an unidentified chemical substance on him, police said, and at one point one of the attackers wrapped a rope around Smollett's neck. "Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime," police said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.


FBI: No motive in Las Vegas mass shooting

The FBI has concluded its 16-month investigation into the mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival in 2017, which left 58 people dead and hundreds injured, but could not find a "single or clear motivating factor" behind it. Shooter Stephen Paddock wanted to inflict "the maximum amount of damage," the FBI said in a report released Tuesday, but added that he was not "directed, inspired, nor enabled by ideologically-motivated persons or groups." His decision to die by suicide suggests he wanted to "attain a certain degree of infamy via a mass casualty attack," the FBI said. Because he did not leave a note, investigators say this report "comes as close to understanding the why as we're ever going to get."


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