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Daily Briefing

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

Harold Maass
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1.

Kavanaugh accuser calls for FBI investigation

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school, sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying that the FBI should investigate the alleged incident before she testifies before the panel. The committee has invited Ford and Kavanaugh to testify at a hearing on Monday. Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) responded that there was no reason to further delay the confirmation process. President Trump and Senate Republicans on Tuesday defended Kavanaugh while saying Ford should be heard. Trump encouraged the hearing to let Ford "state her case," but predicted that Kavanaugh would be exonerated. "This is not a man that deserves this," Trump said. [The Washington Post]

2.

North Korean leader agrees to close missile site, visit Seoul

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has agreed to make an unprecedented visit to South Korea's capital, Seoul, and to "permanently dismantle" a missile-engine test site and let inspectors confirm it, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced Wednesday on the second day of their three-day summit in Pyongyang. Kim also pledged to permanently dismantle North Korea's main nuclear site if the U.S. takes "corresponding measures." The leaders did not specify what Kim wanted the U.S. to do, although North Korea repeatedly has called for the U.S. to join the two Koreas in officially declaring an end to the Korean War. President Trump tweeted that Kim's promises were "very exciting," and he noted that the two Koreas had agreed to make a joint bid to host the 2032 Olympics. [The New York Times]

3.

China retaliates against latest U.S. tariffs

China announced Tuesday that it would impose new tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods in retaliation for President Trump's latest levies on $200 billion in Chinese imports. The Trump administration said Monday its 10 percent levies would take effect on Sept. 24 and possibly rise later, although Trump previously had proposed setting them at 25 percent right off the bat. "China is forced to respond to U.S. unilateralism and trade protectionism, and has no choice but to respond with its own tariffs," the Finance Ministry said in a statement on its website late Tuesday. China's tariffs will apply to a list of 5,207 U.S. products. The U.S. tariffs were not as high as originally proposed, nor were China's.

[Reuters]

4.

Senate approves spending bill to prevent a shutdown

The Senate on Tuesday passed a broad $854 billion spending bill in a 93-7 vote in a push to prevent the third government shutdown of the year. Six Republican senators — Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), David Perdue (Ga.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) — joined Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in opposing the bill, which would provide stopgap spending to avoid a shutdown after the looming Oct. 1 deadline, and keep the government funded through Dec. 7. The measure includes $675 billion in defense spending, including a 2.6 percent military pay raise, and money for Health and Human Services, Education, Labor and other agencies, but not President Trump's border wall. The bill now goes to the House, which is expected to pass it next week. [The Hill, CBS News]

5.

Florence flood danger persists in Carolinas

Rivers in parts of North Carolina continued rising on Tuesday as former Hurricane Florence's floodwaters flowed downstream. The Cape Fear River in Fayetteville was at 60 feet, 25 feet above flood stage, and is expected to crest Wednesday at 62 feet. The Neuse and Pee Dee rivers will crest later this week. The Trent River at Trenton, the Jones County seat, crested Tuesday but remained at major flood level. Jones County has been largely cut off from the rest of the state since the flooding began last weekend. "We were completely cut off from everything," Jones County Manager Franky Howard said Tuesday. "Telephones went down. Data went down. We were pretty much stranded there." The death toll rose to 37 on Tuesday after two mental-health patients died in a van overcome by floodwaters near the Little Pee Dee River in South Carolina. [The News & Observer, The Post and Courier]

6.

Supreme Court ends 'dark money' political donor anonymity

The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to intervene in a campaign finance reform case, leaving in place a lower-court ruling that will require nonprofit advocacy groups to disclose the names of political donors, at least through the 2018 midterm elections. The decision marks a defeat for Crossroads GPS and other nonprofits that specialize in using secret "dark money" donations to influence political campaigns. Last month, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington, D.C., threw out a decades-old Federal Elections Commission (FEC) rule shielding donors to political nonprofits. Starting Wednesday, those groups will have to release the names of donors who contribute more than $200 annually for the purpose of influencing a federal election. The FEC will write a new rule, but not before the midterms. [The Washington Post, U.S. Supreme Court]

7.

Massachusetts resident sues over gas explosions

A Massachusetts resident on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against utility operator NiSource Inc. over a series of explosions and fires blamed on overpressurized gas lines in three communities outside Boston. The proposed class-action lawsuit says the lines of NiSource and its subsidiary Columbia Gas of Massachusetts were "poorly maintained, antiquated, obsolete, and highly dangerous." The blasts forced thousands to evacuate, killed one person, and injured at least 25 others. Indiana-based NiSource did not immediately comment on the court case. It has set up its own phone center to take claims for property damage and other expenses related to the blazes. [Reuters]

8.

Tesla under investigation over Musk remarks

Tesla is under investigation by the Justice Department over CEO Elon Musk's controversial recent tweet saying he was considering taking the company private and had secured funding to do it, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, citing two anonymous sources. He later said he had dropped the proposal. The New York Times subsequently reported that Musk never really had secured funding and that what he had written was more of a "flip remark." In addition to the federal fraud investigation, Tesla faces an inquiry by securities regulators looking into whether Musk misled investors. Tesla shares dropped 5 percent Tuesday following Bloomberg's report. [Bloomberg, CNBC]

9.

Brooklyn Diocese pays $27.5 million to 4 sexual abuse victims

The Diocese of Brooklyn on Tuesday paid a $27.5 million settlement to four men who were sexually abused as children by a religion teacher. The boys, then between the ages of 8 and 12, were repeatedly raped by 67-year-old Angelo Serrano, a lay teacher of religion and director of religious education between 2003 and 2009 at St. Lucy's-St. Patrick's Church in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Serrano was arrested in September 2009 and pleaded guilty in 2011 to first-degree sexual conduct charges. He is serving a 15-year prison sentence. The victims, now ages 19 to 21, will each receive $6,875,000, one of the largest settlements ever for victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. [The New York Times]

10.

Bravo reality TV contestant accused of drugging, raping women

Orthopedic surgeon Grant Robicheaux, who was featured in an episode of the short-lived 2014 Bravo reality series Online Dating Rituals of the American Male, and his girlfriend, Cerissa Riley, have been charged in California with drugging and raping two women. Attorneys for Robicheaux, 38, and Riley, 31, say the pair "unequivocally" deny allegations of nonconsensual sex. Prosecutors said Tuesday that there could be dozens more victims, based on photos and videos found on the defendants' phones. Robicheaux could face 40 years in state prison if convicted on charges filed so far. Riley could face more than 30 years. They are due in court in October. [USA Today]