Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: December 22, 2022

Zelensky meets with Biden, taxation committee reports red flags in Trump's tax returns, and more


Zelensky thanks Biden, Congress for Ukraine aid

President Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House on Wednesday. Zelensky, in his first overseas trip since Russia invaded his country in February, presented Biden with a Ukrainian military medal and thanked the United States for aid that has helped his country fight back. "The situation is under control because of your support," Zelensky told Biden. The meeting came as the U.S. announced $1.85 billion in additional military aid for Kyiv. The package includes the first-ever transfer of a Patriot missile defense system. Zelensky later addressed a joint session of Congress, where some Republicans oppose spending more to help Ukraine. Zelensky appealed for additional aid, calling it "an investment in the global security and democracy."


Report: Trump tax returns included questionable deductions, other red flags

The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation released a report this week describing red flags found in former President Trump's tax returns that merit further investigation. The committee, a bipartisan panel that reviews tax legislation and has a staff of tax-law experts, said potential audit triggers included dubious private jet expenses, unsubstantiated charitable deductions, and payments from Trump's eldest children — Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric Trump. Those payments were described as interest on personal loans that the committee said could be seen as "disguised gifts" to evade gift taxes and let Trump's children write off the interest payments. None of the questionable practices found in the returns, which Trump fought to keep secret for years, have been seriously audited.


Millions brace for 'once in a generation' winter storm

Millions of Americans braced Wednesday for a brutal winter storm the National Weather Service warns will be a "once in a generation type event" that could disrupt travel over Christmas weekend. Two-thirds of the country could get heavy snow and potentially damaging winds. A rapidly intensifying "bomb cyclone" will combine with a blast of cold air from Canada to create blizzard conditions in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions.  Areas that are home to more than 34 million people were under warnings for potentially dangerous wind chill levels, including the northern Plains on Wednesday and the East Coast by Friday as the storm sweeps across the country.


Netanyahu announces Israel coalition deal 

Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday that he had formed a coalition that will bring him back as Israel's prime minister. Netanyahu, already Israel's longest-serving prime minister, put together a hard-line six-party coalition that will give him the most right-wing administration in the country's history. Lawmakers are expected to ratify a final coalition deal within days, returning Netanyahu to the office he left just 18 months ago. The new government, which will take over after five elections in four years, is expected to increase support for the most religious Jews, and reduce Palestinian autonomy in the occupied West Bank, The New York Times reported.


Bankman-Fried extradited from Bahamas as FTX associates plead guilty

Bahamian authorities handed over FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried to U.S. authorities on Wednesday to face charges related to the collapse of the cryptocurrency platform. Bankman-Fried is accused of diverting money from FTX to cover losses at his hedge fund, Alameda Research. His extradition came as two of his associates pleaded guilty to charges connected to FTX. Carolyn Ellison, the former CEO of Alameda Research, and Gary Wang, who co-founded FTX with Bankman-Fried, pleaded guilty to charges "related to their roles in the fraud that contributed to FTX's collapse," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Wednesday. Ellison and Wang were charged with wire, securities, and commodities fraud.


Outgoing Arizona governor agrees to remove shipping-container border wall

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) agreed in court documents Wednesday to dismantle a barrier made of double-high shipping containers and razor wire he had ordered constructed along parts of his state's border with Mexico. The Biden administration had sued Ducey on Dec. 14, arguing that the barrier, which Ducey ordered built in August, was illegally placed on federal land and was damaging vegetation and seasonal streams in the Coronado National Forest. By agreeing to dismantle the barrier, Ducey, who leaves office on Jan. 5, avoids a federal restraining order or other court action. Incoming Governor-elect Katie Hobbs (D) has called the barrier, which cost at least $82 billion to build, a waste of taxpayer money.


Mars InSight lander goes dark after 4 years

NASA announced Wednesday that the Mars InSight lander mission had officially ended, confirming that the lander had died after four years on the surface of the Red Planet. NASA said mission controllers "were unable to contact the lander after two consecutive attempts, leading them to conclude the spacecraft's solar-powered batteries have run out of energy." The U.S. space agency said it would keep listening for signals from InSight, but that it was unlikely to receive any further communication. NASA had expected the InSight lander to lose power due to a buildup of Martian dust that blocked its solar panels. "It's been a great run," Bruce Banerdt, mission investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told The New York Times.


Existing-home sales fall to slowest pace since May 2020

Existing-home sales fell in November by 7.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.09 million, the lowest rate since May 2020, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. It was the 10th straight month of declines, as higher mortgage rates and prices continued to make homes unaffordable for some buyers. The housing market slowdown has come as the Federal Reserve aggressively raises interest rates to fight the highest inflation in decades. The Fed moves increase the cost of borrowing, putting the brakes on the economy. The Fed has hiked rates seven times this year, pushing mortgage rates and other loan costs up.


Italy to relax hunting restrictions due to wild boar 'invasion'

Italy's ruling right-wing coalition is expected to ease hunting regulations to counter an "invasion" of wild boars, Reuters reported Wednesday. Boars have reached central Rome, attracted by garbage overflowing from dumpsters. To deal with the problem, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy party is pushing an amendment to the draft 2023 budget, due to be approved by the end of 2022, that would let local and regional police officers, national forest police, and licensed private hunters kill the animals in cities and restricted areas. Farmers' lobby Coldiretti said the change was necessary because Italy is being "invaded by 2.3 million wild boars." The Green Party vows to fight the plan, which it calls a violation of European Union conservation rules.


Steelers legend Franco Harris, who caught 'Immaculate Reception,' dies at 72

Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has died at age 72, his family confirmed Wednesday. No cause of death was released. The Steelers were preparing to retire Harris' No. 32 jersey in a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the "Immaculate Reception," the most famous play in Harris' career, and possibly in NFL history. The Steelers were down 7-6 with just seconds left in a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders. Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a desperation pass that Raiders safety Jack Tatum broke up, appearing to end the game. But Harris caught the football and scored a 60-yard touchdown, putting the Steelers in their first AFC championship game.


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