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10 things you need to know today: May 3, 2019

Harold Maass
William Barr testifies
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Feud escalates between Democrats and Barr

Attorney General William Barr on Thursday skipped a House hearing where he had been scheduled to testify on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, intensifying a clash with Democratic lawmakers who already had threatened to cite him for contempt. Barr objected to the House Judiciary Committee's Democratic leadership's plan to let staff lawyers question him about his handling of Mueller's report. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) noted that Barr testified last month he knew of no complaints by Mueller's team about his handling of the report, even though Mueller had sent him a letter saying Barr's summary "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance." Barr "was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States," Pelosi said. "That's a crime." The White House accused Pelosi of making a "baseless attack." [The Associated Press, Politico]


Trump says he doesn't want to let McGahn testify

President Trump said Thursday that he did not want to let former White House Counsel Don McGahn testify to Congress to answer further questions about his interviews with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. "I've had him testify already for 30 hours," Trump told Fox News, referring to McGahn's interviews with Mueller and his team. During those interviews, McGahn told Mueller that Trump ordered him to fire the special counsel, but he refused. Trump said if he lets McGahn testify to congressional committees, he would have to let others go before the panels, too. "Congress shouldn't be looking anymore. This is all. It's done," Trump said. "Nobody has ever done what I've done. I've given total transparency." [Politico, Reuters]


Trump's Fed pick Moore withdraws

Conservative economic commentator Stephen Moore has withdrawn from contention for a spot on the Federal Reserve Board after facing intense scrutiny of his past derogatory comments about women. Critics also said Moore, an ally of President Trump, was too partisan for the traditionally independent Fed. President Trump broke the news of Moore's withdrawal on Thursday. "Steve Moore, a great pro-growth economist and a truly fine person, has decided to withdraw from the Fed process," Trump tweeted. "Steve won the battle of ideas including Tax Cuts... and deregulation which have produced non-inflationary prosperity for all Americans." Moore was the second Trump pick to step aside, following former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, as Trump tries to push the Fed to lower interest rates to stimulate the economy. [Reuters]


Facebook bans 'dangerous' Alex Jones and others seen as extremists

Facebook said Thursday it was banning several leaders it has deemed extremist and "dangerous," including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, InfoWars host Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Laura Loomer. The social network had faced intensifying pressure from civil rights groups to restrict racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and other hateful posts. Facebook said it removed accounts, fan pages, and groups associated with the banned figures after reviewing their posts and conduct offline. "We've always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology," Facebook said. "The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today." [The Washington Post]


Baltimore mayor resigns after children's book scandal

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh resigned Thursday after weeks of criticism over suspicious sales of her self-published book series to organizations she had dealings with. "I am sorry for the harm that I have caused to the image of the city of Baltimore and the credibility of the office of the mayor," Pugh, a Democrat, said in a letter her lawyer Steve Silverman read in a news conference. "Baltimore deserves a mayor who can move our great city forward." Federal agents recently raided Pugh's home and City Hall office. She had already taken a paid leave of absence, citing health reasons. An investigation is underway into about $800,000 in sales of Pugh's "Healthy Holly" books, including to the University of Maryland Medical System while she was on its board. [NPR]


New Trump rule lets health providers refuse services on religious grounds

President Trump on Thursday expanded protections for health-care providers and insurers who refuse to offer or pay for procedures they say violate their religious beliefs. The new Health and Human Services rule doubles down on protections Congress developed last year, and explicitly mentions abortion, sterilization, and assisted suicide as procedures that health-care workers could avoid. Conservative groups had pushed for the protections, citing religious liberty. Yet the ACLU and LGBT and women's advocacy groups immediately decried the rules, saying they could let doctors refuse to treat LGBT people or provide other essential services. This marks Trump's third year of dropping announcements that favor Christian conservatives on the multi-faith National Day of Prayer. [The Washington Post, NPR]


White House complained to DOJ about Mueller report

The White House formally complained to the Justice Department in April about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election interference. Mueller said there was insufficient evidence to say anybody in President Trump's campaign cooperated with Russia, but he also said the report "does not exonerate" Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice. Mueller spelled out evidence of potential acts of obstruction. Emmet Flood, who handled the Mueller investigation for the White House counsel's office, said in an April 19 letter to the Justice Department that Mueller was exceeding his authority by detailing such a collection of facts against someone who wasn't being indicted, calling the report a "prosecutorial curiosity — part 'truth commission' report and part law school exam paper." [The Washington Post]


India hit by strongest cyclone in 20 years

Cyclone Fani slammed into India's eastern coast on Friday after forcing the evacuations of about 1.2 million people from low-lying areas. The storm, the strongest tropical cyclone to hit India in 20 years, battered areas near the city of Puri, in Odisha state, with torrential rains and winds gusting to 127 miles per hour. Early in the storm, two people were killed by falling trees in Odisha, police said. The storm is expected to affect weather across the Asian subcontinent with everything from dust storms in the desert state of Rajasthan bordering Pakistan to snowfall in the Himalayas, where hundreds of climbers and Sherpa guides descended to lower elevations as weather worsened on Mount Everest. [The Associated Press, CNN]


Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet announces 2020 presidential run

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) on Thursday officially announced a 2020 presidential run on CBS This Morning, which makes him the 21st Democrat to do so. Bennet, who has served in the Senate since 2009, announced in April that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, saying this delayed plans for a campaign launch that month. He soon underwent a successful surgery, and his spokesperson said doctors determined he required no further treatment. The senator said his diagnosis was very "clarifying," making him realize he wanted to run for president and think about "what it would feel like to get a diagnosis like that and to not have insurance." [CBS This Morning, Politico]


Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew dies at 74

Peter Mayhew, the British actor who portrayed Wookiee warrior Chewbacca in the original Star Wars trilogy, died this week at his North Texas home. He was 74. No cause of death was reported. Mayhew was 7-foot-3, and his height landed him the role as Han Solo's sidekick — filmmaker George Lucas needed someone in England taller than the 6-foot-6 bodybuilder playing Darth Vader. But Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, said Mayhew infused Chewbacca with his "wit and grace." Mayhew's family said he "put his heart and soul into the role of Chewbacca and it showed in every frame of the films from his knock kneed running, firing his bowcaster from the hip, his bright blue eyes, down to each subtle movement of his head and mouth." [Los Angeles Times]