Day in Brief Transcript 12/13/18

If you looked away for a second today you were guaranteed to miss a big story, so I will skip my usual analysis and just tell you what happened.

Maria Butina admitted she was a Russian spy, pleading guilty to engaging in conspiracy against the US. It’s part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Sentencing guidelines recommend no time to six months in prison, so she could get out quickly and will likely be deported.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Trump inaugural committee is under criminal investigation for misspending some of the $107 million it raised. The Manhattan US attorney’s office is also apparently examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, which could violate federal corruption laws. The investigation was triggered, in part, by materials seized in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s business dealings.

In an interview, President Trump insisted he never directed Cohen to do anything wrong and that what Cohen did he did on his own. One problem is that reports today say Trump was in the room with Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker when hush-money payments were discussed. Trump continues to insist that the payments were not campaign finance violations, that they were private transactions and not criminal. Prosecutors are likely to disagree.

Trump tweeted today that Mexico is going to pay for the border wall, although he admitted Mexico won’t send money. He claims that his NAFTA-replacement deal will pay for the wall over time. Democrats dispute that, asking where that money will come from.

In a rebuke to Trump, the Senate voted unanimously to blame Saudi Arabia’s crown prince for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, calling on the Saudis to ensure accountability. I can’t remember the last time the Senate did anything unanimously on a significant issue.

Angered by the Khashoggi killing, the Senate also voted to withdraw military assistance for the Saudi involvement in the Yemeni civil war. It’s a symbolic vote because the House has voted against it. The crisis in Yemen is multi-faceted and decisions should not be made in anger. That said, the suffering of the Yemeni people, initially caused by Iranian-supported rebels, clamors for serious attention from the international community.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s opposing sides agreed to an immediate ceasefire in Hodeida, a crucial port city where fighting has stopped aid deliveries, leaving the country on the brink of famine.

The terrorist who attacked a major Christmas market in Strasbourg, France was killed by police after he reportedly opened fire in the city’s Neudorf district. The French government is urging an end to the recent protests after the Strasbourg murders, claiming security forces are stretched thin.

Scores of bomb threats were emailed Thursday to businesses, schools, and hospitals, among others, across the US, causing evacuations and anxiety from New York City to San Francisco. The threats are not deemed credible, but they have caused serious disruptions.

In a further example of how the Trump administration has abandoned traditional Republican fiscal responsibility, the federal deficit has surged by 50% so far this fiscal year, which started only two months ago. The main culprit is soaring federal spending.

The CDC reported that nearly 40,000 people were killed by guns in the US in 2017. That’s the highest number of gun deaths in almost 40 years.

And Virgin Galactica’s tourism spaceship climbed fifty-one miles above Earth, for the first time reaching what the company and US agencies consider the boundary of space. The company is not saying when commercial flights will begin, but more than 600 people have committed up to $250,000 for space rides.