Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 14, 2020

Harold Maass
William Barr during a press conference
Win McNamee/Getty Images

1.

Barr: Trump's tweets 'make it impossible for me to do my job'

Attorney General William Barr said Thursday that President Trump's tweets attacking Justice Department personnel and commenting on pending cases had made it "impossible for me to do my job." The comments, unexpected from such a strong Trump ally, came after the president slammed prosecutors for recommending a sentence of up to nine years for Trump ally Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering. Trump's broadside came shortly before Justice Department leaders overruled the prosecutors, saying they would push for a lighter sentence. Democrats have demanded an investigation into whether Trump improperly influenced the case. Barr acknowledged in an interview with ABC News that the timing looked bad, but said: "I'm not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody." [ABC News, The New York Times]

2.

Pentagon to divert $3.8 billion for Trump's border barriers

The Defense Department is diverting another $3.8 billion from other projects to help build President Trump's border barrier, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing Pentagon documents it reviewed. The money is part of $7.2 billion the White House wants to pull from the Pentagon budget to pay for the "wall" — a central promise in Trump's 2016 campaign — as Trump runs for re-election. The Pentagon on Thursday informed Congress that the $3.8 billion would come from money earmarked for the purchase of aircraft and other equipment. The funding shift is being done under an obscure counternarcotics law allowing the Defense Department to build fencing in drug-smuggling corridors. [The Washington Post]

3.

Senate passes resolution to limit Trump's military options against Iran

The Senate on Thursday passed an Iran War Powers Resolution limiting President Trump's military options against Tehran. The final vote received bipartisan support, with eight Republicans joining Democrats to advance the measure to approve it, just as they did on Wednesday to advance it to a final vote. The 55-45 vote came despite opposition from President Trump, who urged all Republicans to reject it. "If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day," Trump tweeted on Wednesday. The House passed a similar nonbinding resolution in January, but due to differences it will have to approve the Senate version to send it to Trump, who is expected to veto it. [CNN]

4.

Last month was hottest January on record

Last month was the hottest January ever recorded on Earth, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday. The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces was 2.05 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average of 53.6 degrees. It was the 421st straight month with temperatures higher than that average. Russia, Scandinavia, and eastern Canada were hit hardest, with temperatures 9 degrees above average or more. Alaska and part of western Canada were exceptions to the trend, with their temperatures cooler than normal. The warming shrank Arctic and Antarctic sea ice more than usual. [NBC News]

5.

Coronavirus cases surge for 2nd day after China revises diagnosis criteria

China on Friday confirmed another 5,090 coronavirus infections, and 121 more deaths, bringing the death toll near 1,400. The country has seen a surge in new cases for the last two days since health authorities in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, changed the way they identify infections, with most of the new cases based on a physician's diagnosis before lab results come back. The surge in confirmed cases has dampened hope that the spread of the flu-like virus was slowing, but health experts say the higher numbers are partly due to the new methodology. "I suspect but can't be certain that the underlying trend is still downwards," said Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia in England. [The Associated Press]

6.

Hope Hicks to return to White House

Hope Hicks, a longtime confidante to President Trump, is returning to the White House roughly two years after leaving. Hicks, who had no political experience before joining Trump's 2016 campaign, served as a top communications aide before moving on to take a job at Fox Corporation. Hicks enjoyed working her new job but is rejoining the White House out of a sense of duty, CBS News reported, citing a source close to Hicks. She will be working with Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and political director Brian Jack, not back in the communications department. Hicks testified to Congress during former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and said she told some "white lies" to defend Trump. [CBS News]

7.

Judge halts Microsoft's JEDI contract due to Amazon lawsuit

A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked Microsoft's JEDI contract with the Pentagon. The move marked a win for Amazon, which has filed a lawsuit against the Defense Department, accusing President Trump of "repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks to steer" the Pentagon's Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract toward Microsoft in order to "harm his perceived political enemy," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The contract, which aims to create a centralized computing system for U.S. military agencies, is estimated to be worth up to $10 billion over 10 years. Microsoft won it last October, but Amazon claims Trump used "improper pressure." The judge ordered work on the network to be halted due to the ongoing lawsuit. Microsoft said it was "disappointed." [The Washington Post]

8.

Prosecutors accuse Huawei of stealing trade secrets

Federal prosecutors have filed new charges that were unsealed Thursday accusing Chinese telecommunications gear maker Huawei of stealing trade secrets. Huawei already faces charges of stealing intellectual property, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice. In the new case, Huawei USA and Futurewei, two subsidiaries that were located in the U.S. at the time, allegedly took technology from six American companies by breaking confidentiality agreements it had with them. The theft allowed Huawei to "drastically cut its research and development costs and associated delays, giving the company a significant and unfair competitive advantage," prosecutors said in a press release. Andy Purdy, the chief security officer for Huawei in the U.S., said the charges were part of a "campaign to carpet bomb Huawei out of existence." [The Hill, The New York Times]

9.

Oklahoma to resume executions after 5-year pause

Oklahoma will resume executing inmates on death row after a five-year pause, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) and other state officials announced Thursday. The state put a hold on lethal injections after several botched executions; in 2014, an inmate flailed on the gurney after being injected with the drugs, and a year later, another inmate was executed with an unapproved drug. During a press conference Thursday, Stitt and other leaders said the state would use midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride, the same drugs used in the earlier bungled executions. Dale Baich, a federal public defender representing death row prisoners challenging the constitutionality of the state's three-drug protocol, said, "Oklahoma's history of mistakes and malfeasance reveals a culture of carelessness around executions that should give everyone pause." [The Associated Press]

10.

House backs removing deadline for ratifying ERA

The House on Thursday voted in favor of removing a 1982 deadline for the states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate. It takes ratification by three-quarters of the states to add an amendment to the Constitution, and the ERA didn't reach that threshold until Virginia, with new Democratic majorities in its legislature, became the 38th state to ratify it. The courts could have the final word. Illinois, Nevada, and Virginia have filed a lawsuit calling for the amendment to be added to the Constitution; Alabama, Louisiana, and South Dakota last year filed a case against ratification. The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel has told the national archivist not to certify the ratification, citing the expired deadline. [The Washington Post]