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Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 11, 2019

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Tim O'Donnell
William Barr.
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1.

FBI, DOJ to investigate Epstein's death

The FBI is investigating the death by suicide of millionaire financier and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein reportedly hanged himself in a Manhattan jail and was found dead on Saturday morning. The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General will also reportedly launch an inquiry into the matter. "Mr. Epstein's death raises serious questions that must be answered," Attorney General William Barr said. Epstein was placed on suicide watch on July 23 after he was found unconscious in his cell with marks on his neck, but he was removed from suicide watch less than a week later. The authorities did not immediately explain why. The 66-year-old Epstein was charged last month with sex trafficking minors and faced up to 45 years in prison. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]

2.

Democrats call for gun control in Iowa

While campaigning in Iowa on Saturday, Democratic presidential candidates attended a forum organized by Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action, and Everytown for Gun Safety. While speaking, the candidates argued for stronger gun safety. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) outlined her new gun control plan, which she said would reduce lethal gun violence in the country by 80 percent. The plan, which Warren said she would move forward through executive action, consists of a federal gun registry, background checks for all gun purchases, and a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and silencers. Some candidates reportedly fought back tears as they fielded questions from survivors of gun violence and family members of victims. Former Vice President Joe Biden focused on the National Rifle Association's influence over the Republican party as a major obstacle. [The Washington Post, CBS2Iowa]

3.

Trump retweets Epstein conspiracy theory

President Trump retweeted a conspiracy theory Saturday evening alleging without evidence that former President Bill Clinton was in some way connected to the death of millionaire financier and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein's death was ruled a suicide after he was found dead in his prison cell on Saturday morning. Trump retweeted a post by comedian and conservative commentator Terrance K. Williams which contained a video of Williams arguing that "somebody got paid not to do" their job, deeming it incomprehensible as to how someone on suicide watch would be able to harm themselves. At the time of his death, however, Epstein was no longer on suicide watch. Trump's advisers were reportedly expecting the president to dive into the conspiracy theories. [NBC News, The Daily Beast]

4.

Yemeni separatists take control of Aden

United Arab Emirates-backed southern Yemeni separatists have reportedly seized the presidential palace and other important sites in Aden, effectively wresting control of the port city from Yemen's internationally-backed government. The seizure prompted the Saudi-led coalition fighting against the Houthis in Yemen's civil war to call for a ceasefire, which reportedly held overnight. The Yemeni government described the seizure as "a coup against institutions of the internationally recognized government." While the government and the southern separatists are nominally allies, that partnership has begun to fracture as the two sides maintain rival agendas for Yemen's future. The infighting threatens to open a new front in Yemen's five-year civil war which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed the country to the brink of famine. [Al Jazeera, BBC]

5.

Johnson, Varadkar expected to meet to discuss Irish border

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson accepted an offer to meet Irish leader Leo Varadkar in Dublin to discuss Brexit and the Northern Irish backstop. Dates are being discussed. A spokesperson for Varadkar said the meeting will give both sides a clearer understanding of their respective positions, but that the backstop — which would prevent the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland when the U.K. leaves the European Union — is not negotiable. Johnson, on the other hand, has insisted that he would not meet with the EU until the backstop was off the table and that the U.K. will leave the union with or without a deal come October. The two leaders have reportedly already spoken on the phone in what was described as a "friendly and warm" conversation. [RTE, Reuters]

6.

Hong Kong protests continue for 10th straight weekend

Mass demonstrations continued in Hong Kong on Sunday, capping off the 10th straight weekend of anti-government, pro-democracy protests in the city. The New York Times reports that Sunday's rallies contained a heightened sense of danger amid concerns that local gangsters might attempt to assault protesters in a reprise of previous violence. Sunday's rally was authorized by police in advance, but the protesters began marching in different directions than originally planned. Some demonstrators marched toward police headquarters where they forced to retreat as officers charged at them and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. Meanwhile, a sit-in at Hong Kong's airport has continued for the third consecutive day. [South China Morning Post, The New York Times]

7.

Moscow holds largest protest rally in years

An independent monitoring group reported that nearly 50,000 people attended an anti-government protest in Moscow on Saturday, making it the city's largest protest in years. The rally was sanctioned and took place behind police cordons, but a group of protesters left the larger demonstration and made their way toward Russia's presidential administration building where more than 100 people were arrested. Demonstrations have been held in Moscow every week since July after city authorities banned independent opposition politicians from running in upcoming city council elections. By the end of the day, 229 people were detained. In a show of strength, some of Russia's most famous celebrities promised to attend Saturday's rally and urged others to join, which helped the numbers swell. Other Russian cities, including St. Petersburg, held protests in solidarity. [The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian]

8.

Chinese central bank official calls yuan drop a normal market reaction

Zhu Jun, the director-general of the People's Bank of China's international department, said on Saturday that the volatility of China's yuan since August is a normal market reaction to escalating trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, particularly President Trump's tariff threats. The comments come after the U.S. Treasury Department labeled China a currency manipulator following the yuan dropping to its lowest point in more than a decade. Zhu said the labeling "violates basic, common economic sense and international consensus" and that it is "unconvincing." The ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, the world's two largest economies, has shaken business confidence, as analysts caution retaliation could widen in scope and severity. [Reuters]

9.

Death toll from typhoon rises in China

The death toll from Typhoon Lekima in China has risen to 28 and 20 other people are missing. Lekima made landfall early on Saturday, bringing with it strong winds and heavy rains. The storm caused a landslide in the city of Wenzhou where most of the deaths occurred. Officials say that about five million people in the Zhejiang province have been affected and one million have been evacuated safely. The storm was moving northward, but was gradually weakening, though it continued to batter cities, including Shanghai. Lekima is one of two typhoons currently in the western Pacific. Typhoon Krosa is spreading heavy rain across the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam and could hit Japan sometime next week. [Reuters, BBC]

10.

Universal cancels the release of The Hunt following mass shootings

Universal Pictures canceled the release of the Blumhouse-produced movie The Hunt, a satirical thriller in which supposedly red state Americans are hunted by liberal elites for sport. The decision comes amid a series of mass shootings and fears that the film could increase political tensions in the country. "While Universal Pictures had already paused the marketing campaign for The Hunt, after thoughtful consideration, the studio has decided to cancel our plans to release the film," Universal said in a statement. The studio said they stood by their filmmakers but "understand that now is not the right to time to release this film." President Trump had previously criticized the film. [The Washington Post, The Guardian]