Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: April 28, 2022

The EU and Ukraine call Russia's gas shut-offs "blackmail," Fauci says the pandemic is in a new phase but not over, and more

1

EU, Ukraine call Russian gas shut-offs 'blackmail'

The European Union and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday accused Russia of "blackmail" after Russia's state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, shut off natural gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria. The Kremlin warned it would cut off other countries if they didn't comply with its demand they pay in roubles, which would help boost the Russian currency in the face of Western sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Poland and Bulgaria got enough natural gas from other EU members to maintain normal supplies to customers, but that could change if Russia shuts off supplies to Germany and Italy, much bigger customers. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been threatening to cut supplies to "unfriendly countries" for weeks.

2

Fauci says pandemic in new phase, not over

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the coronavirus crisis has eased since the unprecedented winter surge, but "by no means does that mean the pandemic is over." Fauci this week told The Washington Post that the country had exited the "full-blown explosive pandemic phase." He told the AP "we've now decelerated and transitioned into more of a controlled phase." He said with new COVID-19 cases and deaths far below their winter peak, and nearly two-thirds of the population vaccinated, the challenge is learning to live with new and unpredictable variants. The pandemic's U.S. death toll is expected to reach 1 million within weeks.

3

Moscow releases former U.S. Marine in prisoner swap

The United States and Russia said Wednesday they had made a prisoner exchange, with Moscow releasing former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed and the U.S. freeing a Russian pilot, Konstantin Yaroshenko, convicted on drug smuggling charges. The swap followed lengthy negotiations kept separate from tensions over Russia's Ukraine invasion. Reed, who served on Camp David security duty during the Obama administration, was accused of endangering Russian police officers during a drunken night out, which he denies. At least two well-known Americans remain in Russian jails. Former Marine Paul Whelan was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges; WNBA star Brittney Griner was detained at a Moscow-area airport in February and accused of carrying hashish oil.

4

Southern California adopts emergency water restrictions

Authorities in Southern California have imposed unprecedented water restrictions in response to the state's worst drought on record, now in its third year. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California approved the emergency regulations on Tuesday. The rules will affect 6 million people in Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Bernardino counties. Under the order, people who depend on water from the State Water Project will be limited to outdoor watering one day a week. The limits on non-essential water use, under penalty of fines, are designed to reduce consumption by 35 percent. More than 95 percent of California is in severe or extreme drought, up from about 66 percent three months ago.

5

Prosecutors charge Archegos leaders over 'historic' stock manipulation scheme

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday arrested Archegos Capital Management owner Bill Hwang and his former chief financial officer, Patrick Halligan, on racketeering conspiracy, securities fraud, and wire fraud charges. The leaders of the once-obscure private investment firm are accused of a stock manipulation scheme that "was historic in scope," said Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Archegos allegedly misled banks to borrow money and place huge bets on a small number of stocks, inflating their values. When the scheme unraveled, Archegos collapsed, $100 billion in shareholder value vanished, and Wall Street banks suffered $10 billion in losses. Hwang was released on a $100 million bond.

6

Facebook gains more users than expected

Facebook parent Meta Platforms on Wednesday posted its slowest revenue growth since it went public a decade ago, but it also added more users than expected in the first quarter, sending its stock jumping more than 18 percent. Facebook said Russia's war in Ukraine was partly to blame for the revenue problems. Meta's stock plunged after it reported a worse-than-expected decline in quarterly profits in February, as well as a weak revenue forecast. The stock fell 26 percent in its worst one-day plunge ever, wiping out more than $230 billion in market value. Before Wednesday's gains, Meta shares had fallen nearly 44 percent since February's dismal report.

7

GOP lawmakers tell Mayorkas border 'out of control'

Republican lawmakers on the House Homeland Security Committee grilled Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday over the Biden administration's immigration policies. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said the U.S.-Mexico border situation is "out of control." Mayorkas said the Biden administration "inherited a broken and dismantled system" already under strain, and had handled the flow of migrants since taking over. "We have effectively managed an unprecedented number of noncitizens seeking to enter the United States and … disrupted more smuggling operations than ever before," he said, conceding that there were problems but saying "only Congress can fix this." Mayorkas is expected to face questions on plans to handle an expected influx of migrants when the Title 42 pandemic-related border restrictions end.

8

New York high court rejects Democrats' redistricting map

New York's top court on Wednesday rejected new congressional maps that Republicans said were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Democrats. Under the maps, Democrats were expected to win 22 of the state's 26 congressional seats. They currently hold 19. The state's Court of Appeals said the state's Democratic-led Legislature, which redrew the maps after an independent redistricting commission failed to reach a consensus, violated a state constitutional amendment against political influence in redistricting. The court said a court-appointed special master should handle the job to guarantee fairness. The decision, along with Florida's adoption this week of maps heavily favoring Republicans, will hurt Democrats' national redistricting push to counter maps favoring Republicans in GOP-led states.

9

SpaceX launches crew with 1st Black woman making long-term ISS mission

SpaceX on Wednesday launched four astronauts on a NASA mission to the International Space Station. The crew of three Americans and one Italian included Mission Specialist Jessica Watkins, the first Black woman to make a long-term spaceflight. The astronauts will conduct a science expedition in microgravity at the space station. SpaceX, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's private spaceflight company, has sent five crews for NASA into orbit in the last two years, as well as two private groups, including a flight chartered by millionaires that splashed down two days before Wednesday's launch. The three businessmen on that mission were NASA's first private guests at the space station.

10

Report: Giuliani expected to appear before Jan. 6 panel

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City who once served as former President Donald Trump's personal attorney, is expected to testify in May before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, CNN reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter. In January, the committee issued a subpoena to Giuliani, writing that he could provide valuable information because he "actively promoted claims of election fraud on behalf of the former president and sought to convince state legislators to take steps to overturn the election results." The panel also alleged Giuliani was in contact with Trump and members of Congress "regarding strategies for delaying or overturning the results of the 2020 election." 

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