Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 1, 2022

Russia and the U.S. clash over Ukraine at the U.N., a federal judge rejects plea deal in Ahmaud Arbery hate-crime case, and more

1

Russia, U.S. clash at U.N. over Ukraine

Russia and the United States clashed over the Ukraine crisis during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday. Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya accused the U.S. of "provoking escalation" by falsely claiming Russia, which has massed 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border, is preparing to invade its neighbor. "You're waiting for it to happen, as if you want your words to become a reality," he said. Nebenzya directed his remarks at U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who accused Moscow of "attempting, without any factual basis, to paint Ukraine and Western countries as the aggressors to fabricate a pretext for attack." Russia wants the U.S. and its allies to bar Ukraine from joining NATO as a condition for easing tensions, but the U.S. and NATO have ruled that out.

2

Judge rejects Arbery hate-crime plea deal

A federal judge on Monday rejected plea deals for Gregory and Travis McMichael, two of the three white Georgia men facing federal hate-crime charges for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man they chased through their neighborhood. Travis McMichael, 36, his father, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan were found guilty of murder in November, and the McMichaels were sentenced to life without parole. The McMichaels had agreed to plead guilty to the hate-crime charges, but Arbery's family strenuously objected to the deal, which would have let them spend 30 years in federal prison instead of remaining in Georgia state custody in exchange for admitting the crime was racially motivated. Judge Lisa Godbey gave the McMichaels until Friday to decide whether to enter a guilty plea or go to trial.

3

FDA gives full approval to Moderna coronavirus vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday gave full approval for Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine. The drug, Spikevax, is the second coronavirus vaccine to become fully licensed in the United States. The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine was the first, receiving full FDA approval in August. Also on Monday, Maryland-based Novavax submitted its long-awaited application for emergency use authorization for its vaccine. Novavax's vaccine is made differently than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which use messenger RNA to provoke an immune-system response to the virus. Novavax's shot is a protein vaccine, delivering nanoparticles of the coronavirus spike protein to get the immune system to attack the infection.

4

Spotify shares rebound after Rogan apology

Spotify's stock rebounded Monday from a plunge triggered by allegations that podcast host Joe Rogan was spreading COVID-19 misinformation. The shares had dropped from $193.56 per share on Jan. 24 to $173 per share as of Friday after singer Joni Mitchell and other artists joined folk-rock star Neil Young by removing their music from the streaming platform to protest Rogan's inaccurate comments about coronavirus vaccines and treatments. The stock jumped back to $195.36 per share, rising 12 percent on Monday after Rogan apologized for his COVID comments and promised to "do better." Spotify said it would add a content advisory to COVID-centered episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience, a key show in its bid to expand beyond music.

5

U.K. 'partygate' report says Downing Street lockdown parties 'difficult to justify'

A senior British civil servant, Sue Gray, released a long-awaited report on a series of Downing Street parties held while Britain was under coronavirus lockdown, saying they were "difficult to justify" and showed a serious "failure of leadership." Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized Monday but rejected calls to resign over what has come to be known as "partygate." Johnson promised reforms in the way his office operates. "I get it, and I will fix it," Johnson said in Parliament after Gray published the interim findings. Gray's report covered just four of 16 parties, held in 2020 and 2021, that she investigated. She withheld what she found on the other events at the request of London police to avoid "any prejudice" to a new criminal investigation.

6

Trump reportedly asked about seizing voting machines after 2020 loss

President Trump rejected a proposal pushed by outside advisers — notably lawyer Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn, and Phil Waldron — to have the Pentagon seize voting machines in a handful of swing states President Biden won, The New York Times and CNN report, but later, in November and December 2020, he personally asked Attorney General William Barr if the Justice Department could seize the voting machines. Trump also directed his lawyer Rudy Giuliani to ask the Department of Homeland Security whether it could do so. These new accounts by people with first- or second-hand knowledge of the events show that "Trump was more directly involved than previously known in exploring proposals to use his national security agencies to seize voting machines" in his push to reverse his election loss, the Times reports.

7

EPA reasserts authority to regulate mercury emissions at aging power plants

The Environmental Protection Agency said Monday it would reassert its authority to restrict toxic mercury in emissions from coal-burning power plants, reversing a Trump-era rollback. The move against mercury, a neurotoxin that threatens brain development in children and fetuses, is the latest in a series of actions planned by the Biden administration to cut air and water pollution. President Biden has vowed to make U.S. electricity production carbon-neutral by 2035 as part of his effort to step up the nation's efforts to fight climate change. "Regulations to require power producers to fully internalize the cost of their product are decades overdue," said Thom Cmar, an attorney with the law firm AltmanNewman who represents environmental groups.

8

Pence's former chief of staff reportedly testifies to Jan. 6 committee

Marc Short, former Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, testified before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, CNN reported Monday, citing people with knowledge of the matter. Short reportedly testified before the committee last Wednesday, after receiving a subpoena. Short was with Pence at the Capitol during the riot, when some members of the crowd angry at Pence for saying he couldn't overturn President Trump's election loss shouted that the former vice president should be hanged. Short's appearance was the most significant sign yet that Pence's team is cooperating with investigators. Short participated in a critical White House meeting on Jan. 4, 2021, when then-President Donald Trump and attorney John Eastman tried to pressure Pence into overturning the election results.

9

New York Times buys Wordle

The New York Times announced Monday that it has purchased Wordle, the word game that went viral this year. Only 90 people played Wordle on Nov. 1. The number grew to 300,000 by mid-January. By the end of the month, millions of people were trying to solve the daily word puzzle. The game's creator, software engineer Josh Wardle, created it in 2013 and released it in October, but its popularity exploded when he made it easy for players to share results on Twitter and Facebook. Wardle said the Times paid a price "in the low seven figures." The purchase was part of the newspaper's effort to use games to help in a push to boost digital subscriptions. Wordle will remain free for now, the Times said.

10

Tributes pour in for former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst after her death

Mourners flooded social media on Monday with tributes to Extra correspondent and former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, who died in a fall from her New York City apartment building on Sunday. Kryst, 30, received a law degree from Wake Forest University after completing her undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina, where she ran track. Her death, which is being investigated as a suicide, left former colleagues, fans, and those who knew her for her charity work stunned and deeply saddened. "Cheslie was a remarkably gifted young lawyer," USC Interim President Harris Pastides tweeted Monday. "My thoughts are with all who knew & loved her. For those who are struggling, please make your well-being a priority." USC Women's Basketball Coach Dawn Staley tweeted the number for a suicide hotline.

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