Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 21, 2020

Harold Maass
Roger Stone in Washington


Roger Stone sentenced to 40 months in prison

A federal judge on Thursday sentenced President Trump's longtime adviser Roger Stone to 40 months in prison for lying to Congress and witness tampering in an effort to help Trump by obstructing an investigation into Russian election meddling. The decision came after infighting at the Justice Department over Attorney General William Barr's overruling of prosecutors' recommendation that Stone be sentenced to up to nine years. Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Barr's intervention was "unprecedented" but didn't influence her final decision. Stone's lawyers had said he should serve no time in prison and planned to appeal. Trump retweeted a video of Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggesting Trump could simply pardon Stone, raising speculation that he might do just that. [The Washington Post, The New York Times]


Intelligence official reportedly told House lawmakers Russia trying to aid Trump

Intelligence officials last week told House lawmakers that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign, including the Democratic primaries, to raise questions about the vote's integrity and help President Trump win re-election, news organizations reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the briefing. The New York Times reported that a day after the briefing Trump excoriated outgoing Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire for allowing the briefing to occur before the House Intelligence Committee, whose chair, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), led the impeachment proceedings against Trump. Reuters reported that a person familiar with the matter said Republicans on the committee "went nuts" and questioned the findings. [The New York Times, Reuters]


NSC adviser reassigned after 'Anonymous' author speculation

Deputy National Security Adviser Victoria Coates is being transferred from the National Security Council to the Energy Department, the council announced Thursday. The move followed rumors that Coates was the unnamed administration official who wrote a 2018 New York Times op-ed titled "A Warning" by Anonymous. A top White House official said the decision to reassign Coates had nothing to do with the speculation about the op-ed's author and had been in the works for weeks, adding that her move to the Energy Department reflects the "continued trust and confidence the administration places in her." Coates' departure from the National Security Council followed the removal or reassignment of several officials Trump is believed to see as insufficiently loyal to him personally. [CNN, Reuters]


Report: CDC didn't want to transport coronavirus-infected Americans home

Fourteen Americans who contracted coronavirus on a cruise ship in Japan were transported back to the U.S. against the wishes of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Washington Post reports. A total of 328 Americans were quarantined on the ship for weeks before test results showed 14 of them had the COVID-19 virus, and the State Department had said no one with the infection would be allowed on a flight. But after a reported fight with the CDC, State did send those infected Americans back to the U.S. Two people who were on the cruise have died, marking the first death of someone from South Korea. China reported Wednesday the infection was slowing, with 394 new infections and 136 deaths in the past week. [The Washington Post, CBS News]


Investigators: Germany massacre suspect posted racist manifesto online

The German man suspected of fatally shooting nine people, most of them Turkish citizens, in a hookah bar and neighboring cafe popular with immigrants had posted a manifesto online saying people from two dozen Muslim and Asian countries, as well as Israel, should be "completely exterminated," investigators said Thursday. Authorities identified the 43-year-old suspect as Tobias R. due to German privacy laws, but his website said his name was Tobias Rathjen. The manifesto said that there were "ethnic groups, races, or cultures in our midst that are destructive in every respect," calling for a "rough cleaning" followed by a "fine cleaning" that could halve the world's population. The suspect and his mother were found dead with gunshot wounds in his apartment shortly after the attack. [Reuters, The Associated Press]


South Korean mayor tells 2.5 million to stay home as coronavirus cases surge

The mayor of the South Korean city of Daegu urged the city's 2.5 million people to stay home after a concentration of coronavirus cases broke out at a church where a woman continued attending services after developing symptoms. The number of cases linked to the churchgoer reached 49, nearly half of South Korea's new cases. "We are in an unprecedented crisis," said the mayor, Kwon Young-jin. Schools in the city reportedly are considering delaying the start of the spring term, currently scheduled for early March. South Korea on Thursday reported its first death from the virus, the ninth outside of mainland China. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the man died in a hospital and posthumously tested positive for coronavirus. [The Guardian, The Associated Press]


Nevada Democratic debate sets viewership record

TV viewership surged for this week's Democratic presidential debate, the party's ninth and the first to include billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. A record 19.7 million viewers watched on NBC and MSNBC, according to Nielsen Fast National Data released Thursday. Another 13.5 million watched livestreams online as the other candidates — former Vice President Joe Biden; Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg — hammered Bloomberg over several issues, including allegations of past derogatory comments about women, and accused him of trying to buy the election. The first debate in June drew 18.1 million viewers, and audiences shrank for later forums until Wednesday's surge. [CNBC, BuzzFeed News]


Victoria's Secret founder steps down as CEO

Victoria's Secret founder Leslie Wexner stepped down as chairman and CEO of the women's apparel retail giant on Thursday after facing intense scrutiny over his longtime association with Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who hanged himself in jail while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Wexner, 82, will retain the chairman emeritus title after selling his majority stake in L Brands, which owns Victoria's Secret, PINK, and Bath & Body Works, to Sycamore Partner. "Today is the beginning of an important new chapter in the evolution of the enterprise," Wexner wrote in an email to employees. Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer has faced calls to investigate allegations that Wexner's wife, Abigail, enabled Epstein to sexually assault a young woman at a Wexner family property, which the Wexners deny. [NBC News]


Morgan Stanley to buy E-Trade for $13 billion

Morgan Stanley is buying online brokerage E-Trade Financial in an all-stock deal worth about $13 billion. The acquisition combines the resources of Morgan Stanley, an investment bank that caters to huge investors, with a pioneer of online financial services that helped bring waves of small-time individual stock buyers into the market. E-Trade's low-cost, no-frills offerings helped drive competition that has resulted in no-commission trades as brokerages fight for clients. E-Trade comes with 5.2 million accounts and $360 billion in client assets, giving Morgan Stanley a large pool of potential clients for its full-service offerings. Morgan Stanley has 3 million clients and $2.7 trillion in client assets. [The Associated Press]


Iran votes in parliamentary election expected to favor hardliners

Iranians went to the polls Friday in a parliamentary election expected to boost hardline allies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Turnout is expected to be low. More than 7,000 potential candidates, most of them moderates and centrists, were disqualified to the advantage of Khamenei loyalists. That set the stage for what The New York Times called "the least representative and least fair election in the Islamic Republic's history," with pragmatists who support more engagement with the world poised to lose influence to hardliners. "The next Parliament will be completely obedient to Khamenei, more radical in their approach, and the little voices of dissent we hear on different issues will be silenced," said Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, a New York-based independent Iran analyst. [Reuters, The New York Times]