Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: March 3, 2023

South Carolina jury finds disgraced lawyer Alex Murdaugh guilty of murder, Blinken discusses Ukraine with top Russian diplomat, and more

1

Jury finds Alex Murdaugh guilty of murdering wife, son

A South Carolina jury on Thursday found once-powerful lawyer Alex Murdaugh guilty of murdering his wife, Maggie, and their younger son Paul, 22, at the family's 1,770-acre estate in June 2021. The jury of seven men and five women reached a unanimous decision after deliberating for just three hours. Prosecutors had argued that Murdaugh committed the murders to hide his theft of millions of dollars from clients. Murdaugh's defense team asked Judge Clifton Newman to set the verdict aside and declare a mistrial. Newman denied the motion, telling the jury that all evidence in the trial "pointed to one conclusion, and that is the conclusion you all reached." Sentencing was scheduled for Friday. Murdaugh's lawyers were expected to appeal.

2

Blinken talks face-to-face with Russian counterpart

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Thursday on the sidelines of a G20 summit in India, their first face-to-face contact since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago. Russian news agencies said the two top diplomats talked "on the move" for less than 10 minutes. Blinken said afterwards he urged Moscow to end the war and reverse its suspension of the New START nuclear nonproliferation agreement. Blinken said he told Lavrov "that no matter what else is happening in the world or in our relationship, the United States will always be ready to engage and act on strategic arms control, just as the United States and the Soviet Union did even at the height of the Cold War." 

3

DOJ argues Trump can be sued by officers injured in Jan. 6 attack

The Justice Department said Thursday in federal court papers that former President Donald Trump can be sued by Democratic lawmakers, and by Capitol Police officers who were injured in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters. The assertion came in a case testing Trump's potential legal liability for the insurrection, due to a speech he gave at a rally before the riot. "No part of a president's official responsibilities includes the incitement of imminent private violence," the DOJ said in papers urging a federal appeals court in Washington to permit the lawsuits to proceed. The Justice Department didn't take a position on the lawsuits' allegation that Trump incited the attack.

4

Protests erupt over rail safety as Greece train crash death toll rises

The death toll in Wednesday's head-on crash of passenger and freight trains in Greece continued to rise Thursday, reaching at least 57 people. It was the worst train crash ever in Greece. Many of the estimated 350 people who were on the passenger train were returning from carnival celebrations in Athens, which were held this year for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Anger mounted as an investigation continued. Protesters clashed with police in Athens outside the headquarters of Hellenic Train, which oversees rail safety. Greece is scheduled to hold a general election within weeks. It wasn't immediately clear how the backlash might affect the vote, according to The New York Times.

5

House Ethics Committee launches investigation of Rep. George Santos

The House Ethics Committee announced Thursday it would proceed with an investigation into Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who faces calls to resign for lying about his background to get elected. The panel said it voted to establish an investigative subcommittee to examine whether Santos broke any laws related to his 2022 campaign for Congress. The committee said Santos might have "failed to properly disclose required information on statements filed with the House; violated federal conflict of interest laws in connection with his role in a firm providing fiduciary services; and/or engaged in sexual misconduct towards an individual seeking employment in his congressional office." Santos has said he is "not concerned" about an ethics inquiry.

6

Biden asks Congress for money to fight COVID aid fraud

President Biden on Thursday called on Congress to approve $1.6 billion to help clean up massive fraud in COVID aid programs, and to prevent the recurrence of such a massive theft of taxpayer money. The more than $5 trillion in emergency spending Congress authorized helped people get through the coronavirus crisis and boosted the economic recovery from the shock of pandemic lockdowns, but fraudulent aid claims diverted billions of dollars. Lawmakers have expressed anger over the huge amounts of money stolen as the government rushed to distribute the aid, but many remain reluctant to spend more money to get to the bottom of the fraud.

7

North Korean leader pushes for farming innovations as famine looms

The regime of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, held an emergency meeting this week on agriculture and the economy as the isolated communist-run nation faces widespread hunger. An undisclosed number of people have died of starvation in one of North Korea's most dire food crises in decades, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Natural disasters have damaged crops. Kim ordered officials to use better farming equipment and methods to increase food supply, state media reported Thursday. North Korea has struggled for decades to produce enough food to feed its population of 26 million as economic mismanagement, natural disasters, and political isolation fueled shortages.

8

Rain, snow lift much of California out of drought

So much rain and snow has fallen in California over the last two months that several parts of the state are no longer considered to be in drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday. After the driest three years ever recorded, the state was hit by nine atmospheric river storms in January. February brought even stronger storms, with snow falling at low elevations and blizzard conditions hitting Southern California mountains. In its latest estimate, the Drought Monitor said close to 17 percent of California is out of drought conditions, and 34 percent is now "abnormally dry," the lowest classification. One-quarter of the state remains in "severe drought," including parts of eastern San Bernardino and Inyo Counties.

9

Fed official says rates will go higher if hiring, consumer spending stay hot

Federal Reserve governor Christopher Waller said Thursday that the central bank will have to raise interest rates higher than previously expected to contain inflation if hiring and consumer spending remain as strong as recent reports indicated. "After seeing promising signs of progress, we cannot risk a revival of inflation," Waller said in remarks posted on the Fed's website. He indicated that if data stays hot the Fed will have to lift its benchmark rate above 5.4 percent, higher than the 5.1 percent peak Fed officials signaled in December. Fed policymakers last month voted unanimously to slow their rate hikes, raising their benchmark rate a quarter percentage point after months of larger increases.

10

Tennessee restricts drag shows, bans care for transgender youth

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) on Thursday signed into law two bills targeting the LGBTQ community. One of the laws makes Tennessee the first state to explicitly target drag shows, banning them in public or where they can be seen by children. The other law bans gender-affirming health care for transgender children. Lee signed both measures without public comment. The American Civil Liberties Union plans to sue over the health law, which bans medications such as puberty blockers and hormone treatments for Tennessee children who identify as transgender and nonbinary. Surgeries, which were rare in the state, also are banned. The ACLU says the legislation discriminates against transgender youth.

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