Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 21, 2019

Harold Maass
Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill
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Report: Mueller to submit Russia report 'as early as next week'

Attorney General William Barr will announce the completion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by President Trump's associates "as early as next week," CNN reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter. Barr reportedly plans to promptly submit a summary of the confidential report to Congress. The timing could change to avoid interfering with White House diplomatic efforts as Trump prepares for his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The report was the latest in a series of hints that Mueller's nearly two-year investigation is wrapping up. It is not clear yet how much of the report will be made public. [CNN]


Coast Guard officer accused of planning to kill Democrats, journalists

Federal prosecutors said Wednesday that a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant arrested last week on drug and gun charges wanted to "murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country." Christopher Paul Hasson, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, was arrested on Feb. 15. Investigators discovered 15 guns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition in his Maryland home. Prosecutors called Hasson a "domestic terrorist" with extremist views who read "neo-fascist and neo-Nazi literature" online. In January, he searched online for "what if trump illegally impeached," "best place in dc to see congress people," and "civil war if trump impeached." He allegedly compiled a list of politicians, journalists, and other leaders to target, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and MSNBC and CNN journalists. [Politico, The Washington Post]


Judge delays Michael Cohen's prison term ahead of congressional testimony

A federal judge on Wednesday agreed to delay the start of Michael Cohen's three-year prison sentence, pushing it from March 6 to May 6. Cohen, President Trump's former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty last year to several charges, including campaign-finance violations related to the payment of hush money to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, and lying to Congress about the timing of failed negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Russia. Cohen's lawyer said he needed more time to recover from recent shoulder surgery and to prepare to testify next week before congressional committees that want to talk to him before he surrenders to start his sentence. [USA Today]


Democrats ready resolution to block Trump emergency declaration

House Democrats plan to file a resolution Friday seeking to block President Trump's declaration of a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border, part of his effort to free up new sources of funding for his promised border wall. The Democrats' proposal likely would set up a House vote by mid-March, or even as soon as next week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told colleagues in a letter that the House would "move swiftly" to pass it and send it to the Senate, although Congress appeared unlikely to have the two-thirds majorities in each chamber necessary to override a Trump veto. Moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Wednesday became the first Republican to publicly back the effort. [The Associated Press]


Pope Francis opens sex-abuse summit with call for 'concrete' steps

Pope Francis called for "concrete and effective measures" rather than just "predictable condemnations" to combat clerical sexual abuse as he opened a landmark summit on the problem Thursday. "May the Virgin Mary enlighten us to try and heal the great wounds that the scandal of pedophilia has caused in both children and the believers," Francis said. In a brief address, the pope urged bishops to "listen to the screams of the little ones asking for justice" and help end the "plague." Catholic Church officials called the four-day meeting as part of an effort to get bishops across the world to intensify efforts to curb abuse instead of trying to keep allegations silent. [The Washington Post]


Social media campaign targets Democratic presidential hopefuls

A group of social media accounts have launched "a wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates," Politico reported Wednesday, and there are "signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity." The main targets appear to be Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The accounts are spreading "memes, hashtags, misinformation, and distortions of their positions," and generally trying to divide Democrats. One analysis found that the campaign could be traced back to the same group of about 200 Twitter accounts that waged a wide-scale influence campaign during the 2018 elections. [Politico]


Winter storm forces cancellation of hundreds of flights

A winter storm that hit much of the U.S. forced airlines to cancel more than 1,300 flights due to snow, sleet, and heavy rain. American Airlines alone grounded 700 Wednesday flights, most on small aircraft. More than 800 flights into and out of the three main airports serving Washington, D.C., were canceled as the nation's capital was forecast to get up to six inches of snow throughout the day. Fewer flights were affected in New York City, which saw less snow. The massive storm hampered travel and commutes for as many as 200 million people in 39 states in the South, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and southern New England. [CNBC, NBC News]


Supreme Court extends limits on excessive fines to states

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the Constitution's ban on excessive fines applies to states. Delivering the unanimous decision, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Eighth Amendment protections against abuse of government punitive authority covers monetary fines, state and federal. "This safeguard, we hold, is 'fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty,' with 'deep roots in our history and tradition,'" she said, quoting court precedent. The court ruled in favor of an Indiana man, Tyson Timbs, who pleaded guilty to dealing a small amount of drugs. The trial court told the state it couldn't seize a Land Rover he had bought for $42,000 because the maximum fine was only $10,000. The Indiana Supreme Court had reversed the ruling, saying the Excessive Fines Clause only applied to federal action. [The Hill]


Samsung unveils foldable smartphone

Samsung on Wednesday revealed its long-anticipated smartphone with a foldable screen, hoping to give the smartphone market a badly needed jolt of innovation. It was not immediately clear whether the device would grab customers, particularly considering its price, $1,980. The Galaxy Fold, which will be released April 26, can serve like a traditional smartphone with a 4.6-inch screen, or unfold like a wallet and become a mini-tablet with a 7.3-inch screen. In that mode, it can run three apps on the screen at one time. The device also has six cameras. "Get ready for the dawn of a new era," said DJ Koh, who oversees Samsung's smartphone division. [The Associated Press]


Jussie Smollett arrested and charged with filing false report on own assault

The Chicago Police Department on Wednesday charged Empire actor Jussie Smollett with filing a false police report when he said last month he was the victim of an alleged assault. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said prosecutors filed a felony disorderly conduct charge against Smollett, which could result in one to three years in prison if he is convicted. Smollett also could be forced to pay for the investigation into his police report. Smollett told police last month that two masked men attacked him in Chicago, shouting "racial and homophobic slurs," pouring a chemical on him, and wrapping a rope around his neck. Two brothers once considered suspects told police Smollett paid them to pretend to assault him. Police say Smollett turned himself in on Thursday. [The Associated Press, USA Today]