10 things you need to know today: February 22, 2019

North Carolina orders new election in disputed congressional race, a judge hits Roger Stone with a gag order, and more

Roger Stone in Washington
(Image credit: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

1. North Carolina orders new election in disputed congressional race

North Carolina officials on Thursday ordered a new election in a disputed House race after hearing days of testimony about absentee ballot tampering by political operatives working for Republican candidate Mark Harris, who led Democrat Dan McCready by about 900 votes. The State Board of Elections voted 5-0 to call a new vote in the 9th Congressional District due to what electoral board chairman Bob Cordle called "the corruption, the absolute mess with the absentee ballots." Confronted with evidence of the illegal actions, Harris dropped his defense of his campaign and backed calls for a new vote. Harris maintained he did not know at the time that anything illegal was going on. No date for the new vote was immediately set.

The New York Times The Associated Press

2. Judge orders Roger Stone to stop speaking publicly about his case

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Thursday ordered Roger Stone, a former adviser to President Trump and longtime Republican operative, to stop commenting publicly on his case, "period," after summoning him to court to discuss his recent incendiary Instagram post. Stone, who faces charges of witness tampering, obstruction, and making false statements, posted a photo of Jackson on Instagram that suggested he wouldn't receive a fair trial, and that featured crosshairs next to the judge. Jackson called on him to explain why she shouldn't modify the terms of his release on bond. Stone called his post "an egregious, stupid error," and apologized for his "lack of judgment."

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NBC News

3. Democrats introduce resolution to block Trump's border-emergency declaration

House Democrats filed a resolution Friday morning seeking to block President Trump's declaration of an emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border, which he is using to get more money to build his promised border wall after Congress declined to give him the funding he demanded. Democrats have said Trump overstepped his authority by sidestepping Congress. The Democratic-controlled House is expected to pass the resolution, but its fate is less certain in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority. Normally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could just decline to bring legislation to the floor, but under a provision in the National Emergencies Act, the Senate has to take up the matter within 18 days after the House sends it over.

USA Today

4. In a first, Israeli lunar lander launches on a SpaceX rocket

Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL's moon lander took off from Florida Thursday night on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, marking the first attempt by a private company to reach the moon. The unmanned spacecraft is called Beresheet, Hebrew for Genesis or "In The Beginning." If the mission succeeds, Israel will become only the fourth country to land on the moon, joining Russia, the U.S., and China. Beresheet will take nearly two months to reach the moon, circling Earth in gradually widening loops until it is far enough out to be caught by the moon's gravity and pulled into lunar orbit. It will then attempt to touch down April 11 in a lava plain called the Sea of Serenity.

The Associated Press The New York Times

5. Judge: Epstein plea deal broke the law

The federal prosecutors who signed a plea agreement with Florida millionaire Jeffrey Epstein broke the law, a judge said Thursday. U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the prosecutors involved in the sex-trafficking case, including then-Florida prosecutor and current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by not keeping Epstein's victims informed about the agreement. After the deal, which resolved a case in which Epstein was accused of building a "cult-like network" of girls coerced into sexual acts, Epstein served 13 months in prison. Acosta agreed to seal the plea deal, which meant dozens of Epstein's accusers never knew about the deal or were able to testify against him. The Labor Department did not comment on the ruling.

The Miami Herald Politico

6. Smollett released on bail as police say he staged assault to boost career

Chicago police said Thursday that they believed Empire actor Jussie Smollett paid two brothers $3,500 to beat him in a staged hate crime because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted to advance his career with a "publicity stunt." Smollett, who was arrested for allegedly filing a false police report, was released on bail Thursday. Smollett said in January that he was attacked by two men who put a rope around his neck, yelled racist and homophobic slurs, and dumped bleach on him. Chicago police shifted their focus to Smollett after the suspects told investigators Smollett had put them up to it. Smollett has denied any wrongdoing.

Reuters Chicago Tribune

7. Maduro closes Venezuelan border with Brazil

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said he was closing the nation's border with Brazil as he continued to battle with political rivals vowing to bring in foreign humanitarian aid. Maduro said on TV that he also might shut the border with Colombia to prevent the opposition from bringing in the supplies. The embattled socialist president insists there is no humanitarian crisis in the country, and says the effort to bring in the aid is a U.S.-orchestrated stunt to make his government look bad. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself Venezuela's legitimate interim leader with backing from the U.S. and other countries, is leading a convoy to the Colombian border, vowing to make sure the aid gets to the population.

BBC News

8. High-level officials join U.S.-China trade talks

The U.S. and China resumed high-level negotiations Thursday after days of lower-level talks in a push to reach a trade deal before a three-month truce in their trade war expires March 1. China's delegation, led by Vice Premier Liu He, met with a U.S. team that was led by Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, and trade adviser Peter Navarro. President Trump has accused China of using unfair practices to boost Chinese companies and erode U.S. technological dominance. He has imposed new tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of Chinese imports, and China has responded in kind, dragging down global economic growth.

The Associated Press

9. Duke's Williamson recovering but Nike takes a hit from shoe blowout

Duke said Thursday that freshman basketball superstar Zion Williamson suffered a mild knee sprain when his Nike PG 2.5 shoe burst apart at the start of the Blue Devils' prime-time televised game against North Carolina, suggesting he could return soon to the currently No. 1-ranked team. Nike shares dropped by 1 percent on Thursday as the athletic apparel maker scrambled to figure out why the shoe disintegrated. Former President Barack Obama was courtside, and was shown in a widely seen video reacting by pointing toward Williamson and saying, "His shoe broke!" Duke struggled after Williamson's injury, losing to No. 8 UNC in a stunning upset. The incident renewed debate over whether playing college ball is worth the risk for players who stand to make millions as pros.

The Washington Post

10. Monkees bassist Peter Tork dies at 77

Former Monkees bassist Peter Tork died Thursday of complications from a rare form of cancer, his son, Ivan Iannoli, said. He was 77. Tork was a struggling musician when he was thrust into stardom with the Monkees, a band manufactured by Hollywood producers in the 1960s. The quirky group starred in an NBC sitcom, The Monkees, that ran from 1966 to 1968 as part of an effort to capitalize on the popularity of the Beatles. At 24, Tork was the oldest member of the band. He was presented as the band's goofiest member. His bandmates were Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz, and Mike Nesmith. They recorded a string of hits that included "Last Train to Clarksville," "Daydream Believer," and "Pleasant Valley Sunday."

The New York Times The Hollywood Reporter

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.