Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: October 19, 2018

Harold Maass
Trump at a rally in Missoula, Montana
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Trump says he believes Khashoggi is dead

President Trump said Thursday that he believes Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who disappeared Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, is dead. Trump also said credible intelligence reports suggest involvement by high-level Saudi leaders, although he stopped short of blaming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Some of the Saudi agents Turkey has said appear to have killed Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, reportedly were linked to the crown prince. Trump acknowledged that the case had raised troubling questions about America's alliance with Saudi Arabia. Trump, who previously cautioned against a rush to judgment, added that his administration might consider "very severe" action against the Saudi government if it is directly implicated. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]


Trump praises GOP congressman for body-slamming reporter

President Trump on Thursday praised Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), who assaulted a journalist shortly before his special election victory last year, saying at a Montana rally that, "Any guy that can do a body-slam ... he's my guy." Trump called Gianforte a "tough cookie." In May 2017, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs asked Gianforte about the Republican health-care plan. Gianforte then body-slammed Jacobs, who was treated for an elbow injury. Gianforte pleaded guilty to a charge of assault and apologized to Jacobs during his acceptance speech. Guardian U.S. editor John Mulholland said Trump's remarks, coming after the apparent murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, risked "inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats." [The Associated Press, CNN]


Mnuchin withdraws from Saudi financial conference

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday decided to withdraw from next week's Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia, following the lead of corporate and media executives who pulled out over the disappearance of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Mnuchin had faced bipartisan criticism for previously planning to attend despite evidence linking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Saudi officials suspected of killing Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Mnuchin had been scheduled to speak at the conference during a six-country tour of the Middle East, but reversed course after meeting with President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It was unclear whether Mnuchin would still visit Riyadh at all as part of his tour. [The New York Times]


Trump threatens to close border if Mexico doesn't stop migrant caravan

President Trump on Thursday urged Mexico "in the strongest of terms" to stop what he called an "onslaught" of illegal immigration into the United States. About 4,000 Central American migrants are heading toward the U.S. in hopes of crossing the border, and the State Department wants Mexico to stop this caravan when it reaches the border with Guatemala. Trump warned that if Mexico is unable to stop the caravan, which he said includes "MANY CRIMINALS," he will "call up the U.S. military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!" He also suggested this could damage the recently-signed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, as this "assault on our country" is "far more important" than trade. Mexico has dispatched police to its southern border to turn away illegal immigrants, but not asylum seekers. [Donald J. Trump, The Washington Post]


Democrats say Trump intervened in FBI HQ project to protect his hotel

A group of House Democrats on Thursday claimed that President Trump intervened in a major federal building project to protect business for his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel. Trump wants to demolish and rebuild the FBI's headquarters rather than moving it, the Democrats said, to keep the site in government hands and keep potential rivals away from the Trump International Hotel at the Old Post Office Pavilion nearby. Democrats called Trump's alleged involvement an abuse of power, writing in a letter to the General Services Administration that Trump should have avoided communications about the project "to prevent both real and perceived conflicts of interest." The White House did not immediately respond, but GSA press secretary Pamela Dixon said the Democrats were wrong to blame Trump, because the FBI made the decisions on the headquarters project. [NPR, CNN]


Feds investigate sex abuse allegations against Pennsylvania priests

The Justice Department has started an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania, according to Thursday news reports citing people familiar with the matter. Investigators subpoenaed Pennsylvania's Catholic dioceses after an August grand jury report unearthed more than 1,000 allegations of abuse against more than 300 Pennsylvania priests, triggering similar probes in other states. Pennsylvania's statute of limitations prevented further investigation into a number of the report's allegations, but under federal law a number of sex abuse crimes, including sex abuse involving a minor, have no statute of limitations. [USA Today, The Associated Press]


Taliban attack kills two Afghan security chiefs ahead of elections

Afghanistan is delaying parliamentary elections in the southern province of Kandahar for one week after a Taliban attack killed two top provincial leaders on Thursday as they left a meeting with General Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, two days before the scheduled balloting. Miller was not injured. Gunfire from at least one attacker killed the region's powerful police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq, and the provincial intelligence chief. The provincial governor, another police commander, and three Americans also were wounded, according to Afghan officials. Raziq had survived dozens of assassination attempts and was widely considered a key ally by the U.S. military and an indispensable security chief in southern Afghanistan, a center of Taliban influence. The Taliban claimed responsibility. [Reuters, The New York Times]


Interior Department watchdog says Zinke violated travel policy

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated department policy by bringing his wife, Lola, on an overseas trip and letting her travel in government vehicles, according to a report issued Thursday by Interior's inspector general's office. The report said the travel arrangements raised concerns among department ethics officials. Zinke changed the department's policy this summer to clear the way for family members to ride with him. The report came hours after Interior Department officials said they had not approved hiring political appointee Suzanne Israel Tufts as acting head of Interior's inspector general's office, which is conducting at least four investigations into Zinke's activities. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson announced her move last week, but Interior officials called Carson's announcement "100 percent false information." [The Washington Post]


Trump administration asks Supreme Court to toss out kids' climate change case

The Justice Department on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to halt a lawsuit filed by young activists who accuse the federal government of failing to address climate change. The 21 activists, ages 11 to 22, say that by promoting fossil fuels for decades, the government has violated their constitutional right to "a climate system capable of sustaining human life." Both the Obama and Trump administrations have tried to get the lawsuit dismissed. Lower courts have let it head to an Oct. 29 trial. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said the lawsuit should be tossed because the activists' "alleged injuries stem from the cumulative effects of CO2 emissions from every source in the world over decades," with the U.S. government playing a minimal role. [NBC News]


Red Sox beat Astros to advance to World Series

The Boston Red Sox beat the Houston Astros 4-1 on Thursday to win the American League Championship Series and advance to the World Series. Rafael Devers' three-run homer gave the Red Sox their margin of victory as they defeated the Astros, last year's World Series champions, to take the best-of-seven series in just five games. Red Sox pitcher David Price had a playoff career-high nine strikeouts and six shutout innings. The Red Sox will play the winner of the National League Championship Series, which the Los Angeles Dodgers lead 3-2 against the Milwaukee Brewers. Game 6 of that series will be played Friday. The World Series starts Tuesday. [The Associated Press]