Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 20, 2021

Jan. 6 committee recommends charging Bannon with criminal contempt, Fortenberry accused of lying about campaign donation, and more


Committee votes to recommend holding Bannon in criminal contempt

The select committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot by a mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend a criminal contempt charge against former Trump strategist Steve Bannon for refusing to comply with a subpoena to provide testimony and documents. House Democratic leaders said the full House would vote on the recommendation Thursday. Bannon promoted efforts by Trump and other Republicans to overturn President Biden's election victory, telling listeners to his radio show on Jan. 5: "Now we're on, as they say, the point of attack — the point of attack tomorrow." On Monday, Trump filed a lawsuit seeking to block the committee from getting White House records relating to the insurrection.


GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry accused of lying about campaign contributions

A federal grand jury has indicted Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) on charges of lying to federal investigators about illegal contributions by a foreign national to his 2016 re-election campaign, the Justice Department announced Tuesday. Fortenberry had said in a video released late Monday that he expected to be indicted. His wife, Celeste, told supporters the indictment was based on a "false accusation." The charges stem from a $30,200 donation made by Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire accused of conspiring to make illegal campaign contributions to get access to U.S. politicians. Under House Republican rules, Fortenberry has to step aside as top Republican on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture as long as the charges are pending.


Trump statement disparaging the late Colin Powell angers critics

Former President Donald Trump issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who died Monday of COVID-19 complications. "Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the fake news media," Trump wrote Tuesday. Trump went on to call Powell a "classic RINO, if even that," and concluded: "He made plenty of mistakes, but anyway, may he rest in peace!" Critics pounced on the former president. "What a vile, disgusting 'statement,'" tweeted Republican political strategist Ron Christie. "No decent human being will defend Trump's malevolent, spiteful, narcissistic statement on Gen. Powell," wrote political scientist Larry Sabato.


California Gov. Gavin Newsom declares statewide drought emergency

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Tuesday declared a statewide drought emergency, urging Californians to "redouble our efforts to save water in every way possible." Most of California's 58 counties had been in a drought emergency since July, when temperatures soared and Newsom urged residents to reduce water use by 15 percent. Water use fell by just 5 percent in August. The State Water Resources Control Board will have the authority to impose emergency regulations to help save water, including banning people from hosing down sidewalks or washing cars without shut-off nozzles. On Monday, the state announced that the water year ending on Sept. 30 was California's driest since 1924, with 11.87 inches of rain and snow — well below the yearly average of about 23.58 inches.


U.K. keeping 'close eye' on 'Delta Plus' coronavirus subvariant

U.K. officials are "keeping a very close eye on" a new COVID-19 subvariant known as AY.4.2, also known as "Delta Plus," the spokesperson for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a Tuesday BBC News report. The Delta variant mutation is not yet considered a variant of concern, but it has been blamed for an increasing number of infections in the United Kingdom. Data indicates that it might be about 10 percent more transmissible than the most common Delta strain in the U.K. "At this stage I would say wait and see, don't panic," said professor Francois Balloux, director of University College London's Genetics Institute, of the variant. "It might be slightly, subtly more transmissible but it is not something absolutely disastrous like we saw previously." 


FBI raids 2 homes tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska

FBI agents on Tuesday raided two houses tied to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. One of the houses was described as the oligarch's Washington, D.C., home, although he isn't allowed to own property in the U.S. because of sanctions imposed against him. The other property is in New York. An FBI spokesperson said the searches were related to a federal investigation out of New York. A Deripaska spokesperson said the raids were "being carried out on the basis of two court orders, connected to U.S. sanctions." The Trump administration in 2018 imposed sanctions against Deripaska and about two dozen other oligarchs and Kremlin officials due to their connections with Putin. Deripaska was targeted "for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of" a senior Russian Federation official, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said.


Transplant surgeons successfully test pig kidney in human

Surgeons in New York successfully attached a kidney from a genetically altered pig to a brain-dead woman in September, and the kidney worked with no signs of rejection. "It was better than I think we even expected," Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the team at NYU Langone Health, told The New York Times. "It just looked like any transplant I've ever done from a living donor. A lot of kidneys from deceased people don't work right away, and take days or weeks to start. This worked immediately." Experts in the field described the experiment as a scientific breakthrough that could lead to a vast new supply of organs for severely ill patients. "It's a big, big deal," said Dr. Dorry Segev, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor of transplant surgery who was not involved in the research. Still, more work needs to be done. "We need to know more about the longevity of the organ," Segev said.


Homeland Security secretary tests positive for coronavirus

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday after a routine pre-travel test, department spokesperson Marsha Espinosa said. Mayorkas is vaccinated against COVID-19. "Secretary Mayorkas is experiencing only mild congestion; he is fully vaccinated and will isolate and work at home per CDC protocols and medical advice. Contact tracing is underway," Espinosa said. Mayorkas was supposed to travel to Colombia this week with Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a meeting on immigration issues with regional partners. Mayorkas traveled to Mexico in early October and has attended several recent in-person events.


Dr. Rachel Levine named 1st transgender 4-star officer

Dr. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary of health, made history on Tuesday after being promoted to become the first openly transgender four-star officer in any of the eight uniformed services in the United States. Levine, already the nation's most senior transgender official, said she was "honored to take this role for the impact I can make and for the historic nature of what it symbolizes," adding, "I stand on the shoulders of those LGBTQ+ individuals who came before me, both those known and unknown. May this appointment today be the first of many more to come, as we create a diverse and more inclusive future." Levine, a pediatrician, previously served as Pennsylvania's health secretary, and has addressed such issues as the opioid epidemic, maternal mortality, and childhood immunization.


John King reveals multiple sclerosis diagnosis

CNN anchor John King on Tuesday revealed that he has multiple sclerosis. He shared the diagnosis during a discussion of former Secretary of State Colin Powell's death and the importance of getting vaccinated to protect immunocompromised people from COVID-19. "I'm going to share a secret I've never spoken before: I'm immunocompromised," King said. "I have multiple sclerosis. So I'm grateful you're all vaccinated. I'm grateful my employer says all these amazing people who work on the floor, who came in here for the last 18 months when we were doing this, were vaccinated." King said he was grateful to others who got vaccinated, because it helped protect those like him who face elevated risk of severe COVID-19. "I don't like the government telling me what to do. I don't like my boss telling me what to do," he said. "In this case, it's important."


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