Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 17, 2022

The U.S. and NATO say they see no evidence of Russia pullback, Biden orders release of Trump White House visitor logs, and more

1

U.S., NATO say Russia adding, not withdrawing, troops from Ukraine border

United States and NATO officials said Wednesday that Russia was still adding to its estimated 150,000 troops near the Ukraine border, instead of returning some of the forces to their bases as Moscow claims. In Ukraine, where citizens displayed flags in a show of national unity against a possible Russian invasion, the government blamed Moscow for what it described as the worst cyberattack its defense ministry had ever experienced. Russia denied responsibility. The latest events fueled skepticism about the sincerity of Russian President Vladimir Putin's pledge to seek a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis.

2

Biden rejects Trump claim of executive privilege over visitor logs

President Biden on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump's request to prevent the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack from obtaining White House visitor logs from that day. White House counsel Dana Remus wrote in a letter to the National Archives that Biden decided to order the release of the logs after concluding that asserting executive privilege, as Trump requested, "is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified, as to these records and portions of records." Biden last year declined to support Trump's claim of executive privilege over documents and records requested by the committee. Trump lost a court appeal seeking to block the release of the material to the committee.

3

Prosecutors cite racist texts by Arbery's killers in hate-crime trial

An FBI intelligence analyst testified Wednesday at the federal hate crimes trial of Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery's murderers that two of the three men routinely used racial slurs in text and Facebook messages. Travis McMichael, who was convicted last fall of murdering Arbery with a shotgun blast, routinely used the N-word, and referred to Black people as "savages" and "monkeys." William "Roddie" Bryan, who filmed the shooting, complained about Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019, texting a friend: "I'm working so all the [N-words] can take the day off." "I knew all that hate was in those men," Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery, said. "It's hard, but I'm just glad the world can see this."

4

Excess U.S. deaths during pandemic surpass 1 million

The number of "excess deaths" in the United States during the pandemic surpassed 1 million this week, according to government mortality statistics. The tally, updated weekly, shows the extent of the nation's health crisis by combining COVID-19 deaths with deaths from other health problems that have risen as medical facilities were overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients and people put off other health care, increasing deaths from other conditions including heart disease, hypertension, and dementia, The Washington Post reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 2.8 million deaths in 2019, before the pandemic hit, with 500,000 deaths in excess of the norm in both 2020 and 2021.

5

Trump posts 1st message on his new social media platform

Former President Donald Trump has made his first message on his alternative social media platform, TRUTH Social, which is preparing to launch soon. "Get ready! Your favorite president will see you soon," Trump wrote in a post shared on Twitter by his son Donald Trump Jr. The site closely mirrors Twitter, which permanently suspended Trump's account on its platform after the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack "due to the risk of further incitement of violence." The app, which also looks like Twitter, is still in an invitation-only beta. The full version is set to go live Monday, according to its Apple App Store page, but Trump Media CEO Devin Nunes told Newsmax earlier this month that the app won't launch until the end of March.

6

Watchdog: Ryan Zinke broke ethics rules as Trump's Interior secretary

Ryan Zinke, who served as former President Donald Trump's Interior Department secretary, repeatedly broke ethics rules in office by improperly participating in real estate negotiations with developers, including the then-chairman of the energy giant Halliburton, according to a report released Wednesday by the department's internal watchdog. Zinke claimed in 2018 that he had nothing to do with a Whitefish, Montana, land deal, but the report said emails and texts showed he represented his family's foundation in communications with the developers 64 times between August 2017 and July 2018. "These communications … show that Secretary Zinke played an extensive, direct, and substantive role" in negotiations on the project, wrote the office of Inspector General Mark Greenblatt, a Trump appointee.

7

Fed minutes show talk of faster interest rate hikes to fight inflation

Federal Reserve policymakers at their last meeting discussed accelerating interest rate hikes to fight high inflation, according to minutes of the Jan. 25-26 discussions released Wednesday. The first increase is expected in March. Fed officials hiked rates gradually — never more than once per quarter — the last time they did so, between 2015 and 2018. But the minutes said that if inflation doesn't ease as expected, most of the central bank's leaders believe "a faster pace of increases in the target range for the federal-funds rate than in the post-2015 period would likely be warranted." The Fed might nudge up rates, currently near zero, in March, May, and June, according to The Wall Street Journal.

8

Death toll in Brazil mudslides, floods rises to 94

The death toll from flooding and mudslides in Petropolis, Brazil, reached at least 94 people on Wednesday. Civil defense authorities in mountainous Rio de Janeiro state said an undetermined number of people remained missing, and Petropolis Mayor Rubens Bomtempo said the number of dead could rise as searchers sift through the debris. The city, known as the Imperial City because it was a summer mountain getaway for Brazilian 19th-century monarchs, was slammed with more rain in one afternoon than it normally gets in the whole month of February. "The situation is almost like war," Rio de Janeiro Gov. Claudio Castro told reporters on Wednesday. There are "cars hanging from poles, cars overturned, lots of mud and water still."

9

Poll shows 75 percent back local rules on masks, vaccines, or both

A Politico-Morning Consult poll released Wednesday found that 75 percent of respondents believed local governments should encourage either vaccinations, masks, or both to access indoor public spaces. Support for urging people to both wear masks and get vaccinated is down to 49 percent, a seven-percentage-point drop since September. Fifty-four percent of respondents said the government should prioritize the economy over slowing the spread of COVID. Only 38 percent said addressing COVID should be the higher priority. Fifty-seven percent said people should social distance as long as necessary to curb infections, while 31 percent said Americans should stop social distancing to stimulate economic activity, even at the cost of spreading the virus.

10

Canada beats U.S. to win gold in women's hockey

The defending Olympic champion U.S. women's hockey team had to settle for silver at the Beijing Olympics after losing to archrival Canada in the finals on Thursday. The Canadian women's hockey team took an early 3-0 lead. Team USA made a late scoring drive but Canada hung on to win 3-2. Canada won all seven of its matches in Beijing, including a 4-2 win over the U.S. in group play last week. Canada also beat the U.S. 3-2 in last year's women's hockey world championship game. Canada has now won gold in five of the seven Olympics since women's hockey became an Olympic sport in 1998. The U.S. has won two golds and four silvers, all of their losses to Canada.

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