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Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: February 14, 2019

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Harold Maass
Paul Manafort at the courthouse
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1.

Judge rules Manafort lied to Mueller investigators

Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, lied to investigators, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office, and a grand jury in a breach of his plea deal, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman ruled Wednesday. Mueller's team had given five examples of subjects Manafort lied about, and Berman found that Manafort did lie in three of the matters, all central to Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference. One was Manafort's contact with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime associate the FBI says has ties to Russian intelligence. Manafort also was accused of lying about giving Kilimnik polling data during the 2016 campaign. The judge's decision hurt Manafort's chances of getting a reduced sentence next month, possibly adding years to his prison term. [CNBC]

2.

Spending bill finalized in time for vote before shutdown deadline

Lawmakers late Wednesday finalized the spending bill and border security compromise needed to avoid another partial federal government shutdown due to hit at midnight Friday. The House and the Senate are expected to vote on the 1,159-page bill Thursday, and it is expected to pass. President Trump has said he will have to see the final bill to determine whether he will sign it, although he has said he doesn't want to see another shutdown. The compromise includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of new fencing along the Mexican border in Texas. Trump wants $5.7 billion for 234 miles of steel walls, a demand that led to the stalemate behind the 35-day shutdown that ended last month. Trump on Tuesday reiterated that he will find a way to get the wall built no matter what Congress does. [The Washington Post]

3.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long announces resignation

FEMA Administrator Brock Long announced his resignation in a statement on Wednesday, saying that it's "time for me to go home to my family." He confirmed that FEMA Deputy Administrator Pete Gaynor will take his place. Long's time as the head of FEMA was marked by several scandals; his use of government vehicles for his personal commutes sparked an inspector general probe in September. He also faced criticism for FEMA's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which he defended by saying the agency did a "phenomenal job." Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement that Long "admirably led the men and women of FEMA during very difficult, historic, and complex times." [Bloomberg, CNN]

4.

U.S. accuses former Air Force intelligence specialist of spying for Iran

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that a former Air Force intelligence specialist who defected to Iran in 2013 has been charged with spying for Tehran. The former counterintelligence officer, 39-year-old Monica Elfriede Witt, is accused of providing information on an unspecified, highly classified Defense Department program, and helping Iranian intelligence services hack and try to steal the identities of her military co-workers. She is believed to still be in Iran. "It is a sad day for America when one of its citizens betrays our country," said Assistant Attorney General John Demers. [The Washington Post]

5.

Bishop: Investigation exonerated Covington students in D.C. encounter

The Roman Catholic diocese of Covington, Kentucky, released a report Wednesday that it said exonerated a group of Covington Catholic High School students seen in a viral video of an encounter with a Native American man outside the Lincoln Memorial last month. Covington Bishop Roger Foys said private investigators concluded that the students did not instigate the incident, in which a student in a Make America Great Again hat was seen in an apparent standoff with the Native American man, Nathan Phillips. Foys said the teens reacted as might be expected to a "bizarre and even threatening" scene. Chase Iron Eyes, a spokesman for the Indigenous Peoples Movement, scoffed at the investigation, saying it sugarcoated the racism shown by teens who did "the tomahawk chop" toward Phillips. [The New York Times]

6.

Airbus halts A380 production after sales drop

Airbus said Thursday that it is halting production of its superjumbo A380 in 2021 due to a lack of buyers. The European aircraft maker said that the airline Emirates, its key customer for the double-deck, 500-plus-seat plane, is reducing its orders, so "we have no substantial A380 backlog and hence no basis to sustain production." The decision could threaten as many as 3,500 jobs. "It's a painful decision for us," CEO Tom Enders said. "We've invested a lot of effort, a lot of resources, a lot of sweat ... but we need to be realistic." The A380 was praised for its roominess and quieter engines when it started flying in 2008, but airlines were cautious about committing to the costly plane, which is so big airports had to build new runways for it. [The Associated Press]

7.

Trump tells California to return billions in high-speed rail funding

President Trump late Wednesday called for California to return $3.5 billion it received from the federal government for the state's high-speed rail project, after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced the project was being scaled back after facing cost overruns and delays. In his State of the State address Tuesday, Newsom said it "would cost too much and take too long" to finish the whole $77 billion project to link San Francisco and Los Angeles. Trump said that meant California had "wasted" billions of dollars. "We want that money back now," Trump tweeted. "Whole project is a 'green' disaster!" Newsom called Trump's tweet "fake news." He noted that work was continuing on the 119-mile Central Valley segment. "We're building high-speed rail, connecting the Central Valley and beyond," Newsom said. [CNBC]

8.

Truck bomb kills 27 members of elite Iranian military branch

A truck bomb attack killed 27 members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and wounded 13 others on Wednesday, NPR reported, citing Iranian media. The members of the elite branch of Iran's military were traveling on a mountainous route in the southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan Province. The Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, known as TRAC, posted a tweet allegedly showing that the Sunni militant group Jaish al Adl claimed responsibility for the attack. The Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force unit blamed the U.S., its allies, and Zionism, without explaining the claim further. [NPR]

9.

German economy, slowed by U.S. tariffs, shows no growth

Germany's economy showed zero growth in the last quarter of 2018, and narrowly avoided tipping into recession territory, the country's statistics office announced on Thursday. Forecasters had been expecting Germany, a key economic engine for Europe, to show 0.1 percent growth. Economists said U.S. tariffs that have hit German steel makers were among the causes for the disappointing data. The U.S. trade war with China also hurt, because tariffs on Chinese goods contributed to the slowing of China's economy, in turn reducing crucial Chinese sales of German cars and other products. In the third quarter, Germany's economic output shrank by 0.2 percent from the previous quarter. "The German economy is stuck in neutral," Gregor Eder, an economist for insurer Allianz said in a note to clients. [The New York Times, The Associated Press]

10.

Ryan Adams accused of sexual misconduct

Several women are accusing singer-songwriter Ryan Adams of emotional abuse and sexual misconduct, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The women include Adams' ex-wife, actress and singer Mandy Moore, who described Adams as psychologically abusive. Sources told the Times that Adams promised women career opportunities, and became emotionally and verbally abusive if they rejected his advances. One woman, now 20, said that in 2013 she started talking with Adams online about music, and while she was underage, he steered conversations to phone sex and once exposed himself during a video chat. Adams' lawyer said his client "unequivocally denies that he ever engaged in appropriate online sexual communications with someone he knew was underage." Adams tweeted that he's "not a perfect man," but the "picture that this article paints is upsettingly inaccurate." [The New York Times]