Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 13, 2019

Harold Maass
Stanford graduates
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Gov. Gavin Newsom to halt executions in California

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is expected to announce Wednesday that he is placing a moratorium on capital punishment in his state. The move will temporarily grant reprieves to all 737 California inmates awaiting execution, a quarter of those on death row in the U.S. Newsom says capital punishment is "fundamentally immoral" and biased against the mentally ill and people of color. He also says it has wasted billions without making the public safer. "Our death penalty system has been — by any measure — a failure," Newsom reportedly plans to say. California has halted executions before, the last time in 2006. Three years ago, the state's voters rejected an initiative seeking to end the death penalty, and approved an effort to speed up executions. [The Sacramento Bee, USA Today]


Dozens charged in alleged college admissions cheating scheme

Nearly 50 people, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, have been charged in an alleged $25 million college entrance exam cheating scheme, according to court documents unsealed in Boston on Tuesday. Authorities said wealthy parents used a college preparatory business, Edge College & Career Network, to get their children into elite colleges, including Yale and Stanford, using such methods as cheating on standardized tests and bribing coaches and administrators to treat students as recruited athletes regardless of their athletic ability. "There can be no separate college admission for the wealthy," U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said, "and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either." [NBC News, The New York Times]


British Parliament rejects May's Brexit plan

Britain's Parliament on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's plan for the U.K.'s exit from the European Union in the latest in a series of embarrassing defeats for the British leader. Lawmakers voted 391-242 against the deal despite last-minute concessions May got from the EU to guarantee that the U.K. wouldn't be indefinitely bound by EU regulations under provisions to prevent a hard border with Ireland. The so-called Irish backstop would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until a permanent new trade deal is in place. The vote deepened the chaos surrounding Brexit just 17 days before the U.K. is scheduled to officially leave the European trading bloc. Parliament votes Wednesday on whether to leave the EU with no deal. [The Associated Press]


Europe grounds Boeing 737 Max jets

The European Union's aviation safety regulator on Tuesday joined countries around the world that have temporarily grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 planes in reaction to the second deadly crash of one of the new jets in less than five months. The move came shortly after Britain, Germany, and France announced they were suspending flights of the popular Boeing 737 model until an investigation determines what caused the Sunday crash in Ethiopia that killed all 157 people on board. Boeing's stock dropped for a second day on Tuesday as the world's biggest plane maker said it had "full confidence" in the aircraft. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has resisted pressure to ground the 737 Max, saying Tuesday there was "no basis" to do so. [Reuters, CNBC]


U.S. to shut down international immigration offices

U.S. Customs and Immigration Services reportedly told its staff Tuesday that it would shut down all 21 of its foreign offices by the end of this year. The move could delay processing of paperwork the offices handle, including family visa applications, foreign adoptions by U.S. citizens, and citizenship petitions from members of the military. The offices also investigate visa fraud. The employees who provide these services will likely be transferred to the State Department as the offices are shuttered, USCIS Director Lee Francis Cissna said in an email to staff obtained by The Washington Post. Relocating international employees to U.S. offices and foreign embassies will help "address backlogs in the United States," Cissna wrote. [The Washington Post]


U.S., Taliban make progress in peace talks

U.S. and Taliban negotiators made progress in two weeks of talks, reaching a draft agreement on two key issues — the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and a commitment from the Taliban to sever ties with al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, U.S. presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Tuesday. "Peace requires agreement on four issues: counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire," Khalilzad said in a series of tweets. "In January talks, we 'agreed in principle' on these four elements. We're now 'agreed in draft' on the first two." Once the agreement is finalized, the Taliban and the Afghan government will start negotiating a political settlement and ceasefire. [NBC News]


New York subpoenas Deutsche Bank records on Trump loans

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) has subpoenaed Deutsche Bank records regarding three loans to President Trump's company, The Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing two people familiar with the matter. The state also asked for documents on a fourth loan Trump wanted for a bid to buy the Buffalo Bills football team. The subpoena came after Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified to Congress that Trump had inflated his net worth in loan applications to the German bank, which lent Trump more than $360 million in the last several years before his presidential campaign. The Trump Organization made no immediate comment, and Deutsche Bank said in a statement that it remained "committed to cooperating with authorized investigations." [The Washington Post]


National Cancer Institute chief named acting FDA commissioner

National Cancer Institute Director Ned Sharpless has been chosen to serve as acting replacement for Scott Gottlieb, the outgoing Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced on Tuesday. Gottlieb announced his resignation last week and will leave next month. Sharpless will step in as the Trump administration searches for Gottlieb's permanent successor. It was not immediately clear whether Sharpless would be a contender for the long-term job. Sharpless is an enthusiastic supporter of Gottlieb's fight to impose more regulations on tobacco and e-cigarettes and reportedly knows the agency well. [Stat News, The New York Times]


Cardinal George Pell sentenced to 6 years in prison for child sex abuse

An Australian court on Wednesday sentenced Cardinal George Pell, the former Vatican treasurer, to six years in prison for his December conviction for sexually abusing two boys inside a Melbourne cathedral in 1996. The 77-year-old will be eligible for parole after serving three years and eight months. He is the most senior Vatican official to be convicted in the church's global sexual abuse scandal. "I would characterize these breaches and abuses as grave," the chief judge in the case, Peter Kidd, said. Speaking to Pell, he added: "You had time to reflect on your behavior as you offended, yet you refused to desist." [The New York Times]


Manafort heads into second sentencing hearing

Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, faces his second sentencing hearing in a week on Wednesday. Judge Amy Berman Jackson could sentence him to up to 10 years in prison for two felonies stemming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, and relating to Manafort's consulting work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine before he joined Trump's campaign in 2016. Manafort, who had just been convicted in a Virginia case, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on the eve of the second trial in Washington. Last Thursday, Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced Manafort to 47 months in prison for his conviction in the Virginia case on charges of bank and tax fraud, and failing to file a foreign bank account report. Critics called that sentence light. [CNBC]