Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 5, 2018

Harold Maass
The Supreme Court at dusk
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Attention focuses on key swing senators ahead of Kavanaugh vote

The Republican effort to confirm Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh appeared to get a boost Thursday when two potential swing votes, moderate Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), said the FBI's investigation into decades-old sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh was thorough. The White House and the GOP say the interviews do not corroborate Christine Blasey Ford's allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school, or Deborah Ramirez's claim that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her in college. Kavanaugh denies both allegations. Democrats and protesters called the investigation a "whitewash" because it only included "comprehensive" interviews of nine people. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said she would vote against Kavanaugh. That left Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as the only Democrat considered a potential vote for Kavanaugh. The Senate is scheduled to vote Friday morning on whether to move Kavanaugh's nomination forward to a final vote on Saturday.

Editor's note: This item originally misstated the state Sen. Heidi Heitkamp represents. This has since been corrected. We regret the error. [Reuters, Hartford Courant]


Yazidi rape survivor, Congolese doctor win Nobel Peace Prize

The Norwegian Nobel Committee on Friday awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize to Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege and Yazidi activist Nadia Murad for their work fighting sexual violence. Mukwege, a 63-year-old gynecologist, has treated thousands of women who suffered extreme sexual injuries in assaults by members of rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He also is a critic of his government's treatment of victims. Murad, a 25-year-old Kurdish human rights activist from Iraq, is one of an estimated 3,000 Yazidi girls and women captured and raped by members of the Islamic State. She became an outspoken campaigner against human trafficking and sexual violence after escaping from ISIS in 2014. Mukwege and Murad were awarded for "their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict." [USA Today]


Kavanaugh pledges to be nonpartisan in Wall Street Journal op-ed

Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that he would be a nonpartisan justice if confirmed to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh said he would continue to be the "umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no political party, litigant, or policy." Kavanaugh acknowledged that his "tone was sharp" in last week's hearing on decades-old sexual misconduct allegations against him because he was being falsely accused. "Going forward, you can count on me to be the same kind of judge and person I have been for my entire 28-year legal career: hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded." In Florida, retired Justice John Paul Stevens said he previously thought Kavanaugh should be confirmed, but changed his mind over the judge's remarks against Democrats in the hearing. [The Wall Street Journal, CNN]


Pence says China meddling in U.S. elections to foil Trump

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday accused China of trying to influence the upcoming U.S. midterm elections as part of a broader attempt to expand its global influence. "China has initiated an unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion, the 2018 elections, and the environment leading into the 2020 presidential elections," Pence said in a speech to the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank. "To put it bluntly," Pence added, "President Trump's leadership is working; China wants a different American President." Trump first made similar allegations last week at the United Nations. China's foreign affairs minister, Wang Yi, denied the charge. "We did not and will not interfere in any country's domestic affairs," he said last week. "We refuse to accept ... unwarranted accusations against China." [USA Today]


DOJ accuses 7 Russian military officers of hacking

The Justice Department on Thursday indicted seven Russian military officers on charges that they tried to hack anti-doping agencies in the U.S., Canada, and Europe in an effort to undermine investigations into doping by Russian athletes. American and British officials accused Russian military spies of widespread hacking against anyone investigating Moscow's involvement in several high-profile crimes abroad, including the downing of a passenger jet in 2014. Russia denied the charges and accused the Pentagon of operating a secret biological weapons program involving mosquitoes and ticks. Hours before the U.S. indictments, British officials accused Russia of cyberattacks against an organization investigating the alleged poisoning in England of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin has called "a traitor to the motherland." [The Associated Press, The New York Times]


Republicans reach preliminary deal on raising federal worker pay

Congressional Republicans have reached a tentative deal to hike pay for the nation's two million civilian federal workers by 1.9 percent, despite an effort by President Trump to freeze their pay, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing lawmakers and aides. The preliminary deal between House and Senate Republicans seeks to lift the salary freeze on hundreds of executive-level employees and appointees, including Cabinet members and Vice President Mike Pence. Democrats oppose including the executive-level officials in the deal. GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), had pushed for Trump to reverse his August decision against the raises, and colleagues credited Comstock for getting others to agree. "This wouldn't be resolved without her help, or without President Trump's booming economy," said Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), who chairs the spending subcommittee handling the matter. [The Washington Post]


Lenovo shares plunge after report China may have infiltrated data center equipment

Computer maker Lenovo's stock plunged by more than 15 percent on Friday as many Chinese tech shares struggled. The decline came after Bloomberg Businessweek reported that data center equipment run by Amazon Web Services and Apple may have been used for surveillance by the Chinese government through a tiny microchip inserted when the equipment was being manufactured. Businessweek said the chips, possibly provided by Chinese server company Super Micro, provided data on U.S. companies' intellectual property and trade secrets. Apple, AWS, and Super Micro disputed the report. Apple shares fell by 1.8 percent and Amazon lost 2.2 percent Thursday. Lenovo said Super Micro "is not a supplier to Lenovo" and that the company takes "extensive steps to protect the ongoing integrity of our supply chain." [CNBC]


Letters describe Pennsylvania explosion as murder-suicide

Investigators said Thursday that one of the people killed in last weekend's car explosion in Allentown, Pennsylvania, detonated the bomb in a murder-suicide. Jacob Schmoyer, 26, reportedly spelled out his plans in angry letters he sent to police and family members before the explosion, which killed him, his 2-year-old son Jonathan "J.J." Schmoyer, and a friend, 66-year-old David Hallman. "Basically, the four letters described a miserable life, he was unhappy with himself," said Special Agent Don Robinson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. "He admitted to a number of criminal acts, and he didn't think it was going to get any better. There was a lot of hatred there, some directed at Mr. Hallman and some at his son." [The Associated Press]


Melania Trump highlights Africa school aid in Malawi visit

First lady Melania Trump visited a school in Malawi on Thursday, bringing soccer balls and books to highlight a USAID effort to support African schools by distributing 9.6 million books. The first lady has focused on advocating for children in her "Be Best" campaign. "Meeting those children and understanding their different way of life is why I wanted to travel here," Mrs. Trump told U.S. embassy workers after the school visit. "No child in this country is without a book," Malawi's Education Minister Bright Msaka told her. The stop was the second on a four-nation tour of the continent, the first lady's first solo trip abroad. She visited Kenya later in the day. She goes to Egypt on Saturday before returning to the U.S. [Reuters]


Juan Romero, busboy in photo of Robert F. Kennedy, dies

Juan Romero, the then-hotel busboy shown in an iconic photograph in which he aided Robert F. Kennedy after the New York senator was shot in Los Angeles, has died in a hospital in Modesto, California, longtime family friend Rigo Chacon said Thursday. He was 68. Romero had suffered a heart attack. He was a teenager working at the Ambassador Hotel in June 1968 when Kennedy, who had just won New York's Democratic presidential primary, was shot in the head as he walked through the kitchen after addressing supporters. Romero, kneeling, cradled the mortally wounded Kennedy's head, trying to keep it off the floor. For years he blamed himself, thinking Kennedy might not have been shot if he hadn't stopped to shake Romero's hand. He told The Associated Press this year that Kennedy inspired his lifelong commitment to racial equality. [The Associated Press]