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10 things you need to know today: November 30, 2018

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Harold Maass
Trump speaks to reporters about Michael Cohen
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1.

Michael Cohen pleads guilty to lying to Senate about Trump-Russia deal

Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen told the Senate Intelligence Committee the discussions ended in January 2016, but now admits they continued until that June, well into Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen said he updated Trump and his family members several times. BuzzFeed News reported that the Trump Organization wanted to give Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in the tower. Trump said Cohen, who has cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team since pleading guilty to financial crimes in August, was "making up a story" now to "get a reduced sentence." Trump also called the Mueller investigation "an illegal hoax that should be ended immediately." [The New York Times, BuzzFeed News]

2.

Trump cancels G-20 meeting with Putin, citing Ukraine conflict

President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday that he had canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that was scheduled to take place at the G-20 summit on Saturday, citing Russia's seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels. "Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting," Trump tweeted ahead of his Thursday arrival in Argentina for the summit. Trump had suggested on Tuesday that he might call off the meeting because of this incident, saying "maybe I won't even have the meeting" because "I don't like that aggression." Earlier Thursday Russia had said the meeting was confirmed with the White House. [Donald J. Trump, USA Today]

3.

World leaders gather for G-20 summit overshadowed by trade tensions and more

Leaders from the world's biggest economies are gathering in Argentina Friday for the start of the two-day Group of 20 summit. The leaders, including President Trump, will discuss infrastructure, investment, and other critical issues. The talks could be overshadowed by events on the sidelines, particularly Trump's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the U.S.-China trade war. The U.S., Canada, and Mexico planned to sign their new trade pact on Friday, putting it a step closer to ratification. The conflict over Ukraine also looms over the meeting, and Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is making his first big overseas appearance since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Intelligence agencies suspect the crown prince ordered the killing, which Saudi Arabia denies. [The Associated Press]

4.

Lawmakers drop new food-stamp work requirements in farm-bill deal

House and Senate negotiators on Thursday reached a deal on a compromise farm bill that drops plans pushed by House Republicans and President Trump that would have added new work requirements on food stamp beneficiaries. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, confirmed that the deal ditched the new work requirements, which would have applied to older food stamp recipients and parents of children age 6 and up. Roberts said he hoped for a vote next week on the compromise $400 billion farm bill, which allocates federal money for farm subsidies, food stamps, and conservation programs. [The Washington Post, Politico]

5.

Republican Sen. Tim Scott joins Democrats to block controversial judicial nominee

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said Thursday that he would vote against President Trump's nomination of Thomas Farr to be a District Court judge, joining fellow Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona in opposition and effectively killing the nomination. Scott said in a statement that he had "lingering concerns" about Farr's "decision-making process," an apparent reference to Farr's alleged support of late Sen. Jesse Helms' campaigns to intimidate black voters. Flake has vowed to vote against all judicial nominees until the Senate passes legislation to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. The Senate Judiciary Committee canceled a Thursday hearing on judicial nominees due to Flake's opposition. [Politico]

6.

Facebook COO reportedly told staff to research Soros after critical speech

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg asked communications staffers to investigate billionaire liberal activist George Soros after he criticized Facebook in a January speech, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing three people with knowledge of the request. Soros called Facebook and Google a "menace" to society, and said they should be regulated. Sandberg reportedly asked her staff to look into why Soros had lambasted the company and whether doing so benefited him financially. At the time, Facebook was under scrutiny for its role in spreading Russian propaganda during the 2016 election. Not long after Sandberg made her request, Facebook was accused of helping push anti-Semitic attacks against Soros. [The New York Times]

7.

U.S. life expectancy drops, suicide rate rises

The life expectancy for Americans dropped again last year, a record number of Americans died, and the suicide rate hit a 50-year high, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a series of reports Thursday. Public health experts can't point to any one factor for the 70,000 more deaths in 2017 — for a record 2.8 million deaths total — but the rise in suicide and drug overdose deaths, plus an uptick in fatal flu and pneumonia cases, helped explain the grim news. The drop in life expectancy — children born in 2017 were expected to live to 78.6, down from 78.7 years in 2016 — combined with similar annual declines since 2014, put the U.S. in the longest slide in life expectancy since 1915-1918. [The Washington Post]

8.

Hate crimes rise in Canada

Canada's statistical agency reported Thursday that hate crimes in the country increased 47 percent in 2017. Crimes against Muslims accounted for the biggest increase, with a rise to 349 crimes from 139 the previous year. Crimes against black people rose to 321 from 214, and those against Jewish people increased to 360 from 221, Statistics Canada reported. The spike mirrored an increase in hate crimes for three straight years in the U.S., according to FBI figures. Some minority and anti-hate activists said some of the rising violence in Canada stemmed from hateful rhetoric in the U.S. "We were shocked by the numbers — and, at the same time, we weren't," said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. "This increase didn't occur in a vacuum." [Reuters]

9.

Crews complete search for Northern California fire victims

Search teams on Thursday completed their work checking for human remains in parts of Northern California devastated by the Camp Fire, the deadliest blaze in the state's history. The death toll from the fire, which started Nov. 8 and destroyed 13,696 homes and about 4,000 other structures, stood at 88, although nearly 200 people were still listed as missing. Sheriff Kory Honea of Butte County, who led the search, said he was "very optimistic" that the people still unaccounted for would be found alive. "Given the due diligence that was done with regard to the search for human remains in the affected area, I am very hopeful that we won't see any kind of increase," he said. [The New York Times]

10.

New York critics name Netflix's Roma best film of the year

The New York Film Critics Circle on Thursday named Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, a Netflix original film, the best movie of 2018. Cuarón also took home the awards for best director and best cinematography. These winners are determined by New York-based film critics, and their choices each year are often aligned with the eventual Academy Award nominations. Meanwhile, First Reformed's Ethan Hawke won best actor and writer Paul Schrader won best screenplay. Regina Hall surprised by winning best actress for her work in Support the Girls, while Richard E. Grant was awarded best supporting actor for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and Regina King took best supporting actress for If Beale Street Could Talk. [Deadline]