10 things you need to know today: February 17, 2020


More than 1,100 former Justice Department officials signed a letter released Sunday calling for Attorney General William Barr to resign. The open letter came days after Barr’s Justice Department overruled prosecutors and reduced a sentencing recommendation for President Trump’s longtime confidant Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering. The DOJ officials who signed the letter said Barr was “doing the president’s personal bidding.” “It is unheard of for the department’s top leaders to overrule line prosecutors, who are following established policies, in order to give preferential treatment to a close associate of the president, as Attorney General Barr did in the Stone case,” wrote the DOJ officials, who served in Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Barr has said Trump did not influence the decision to push for a lighter sentence for Stone. [Time]


Two planes left Japan early Monday carrying 328 Americans who spent two weeks quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship due to a coronavirus outbreak on board. Fourteen of the American passengers were confirmed to have been infected with the flu-like virus. There were about 400 Americans on the ship, and at least 40 are being treated in Japan after being diagnosed with coronavirus. The U.S. government chartered the aircraft to bring home the U.S. citizens who weren’t believed to have been infected. They will remain under a 14-day quarantine at U.S. military bases. Japanese authorities announced Sunday that the number of confirmed infections on the ship had risen by 70 to 355. The ship has the largest cluster of cases outside China, where the coronavirus outbreak is concentrated. [BBC News, The Washington Post]


Chinese authorities reported early Monday that there were about 100 new deaths from coronavirus, the lowest daily count since Feb. 11. The flu-like virus now has killed more than 1,700 people. The number of confirmed infections in Hubei province, where the outbreak is centered, rose on Monday after falling for two straight days. Authorities in Hubei imposed tough new restrictions on movement as they continued to step up efforts to contain the spread of the outbreak. The number of new cases outside of Hubei province fell for the 13th consecutive day. “These are all extremely good signs that show our prevention work is very effective,” National Health Commission official Guo Yanhong said. [Reuters, The Associated Press]


Days ahead of the Nevada caucuses, several Democratic presidential candidates focused criticism on former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is running for the party’s nomination but not contesting the state. “He thinks he can buy this election,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said of Bloomberg, a billionaire financial news publisher. “Well, I’ve got news for Mr. Bloomberg — the American people are sick and tired of billionaires buying elections!” Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg also went after Bloomberg for New York City’s “stop-and-frisk” policy and his treatment of women, although Buttigieg said there was “no comparison” between Bloomberg’s alleged behavior and President Trump’s treatment of women and people of color. [The Associated Press, The Washington Post]


Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Sunday responded to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who recently said on his show that Americans aren’t ready for a gay president. Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential candidate, said he would not take “lectures on family values from the likes of Rush Limbaugh.” Limbaugh, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during President Trump’s State of the Union address, said voters would be turned off by seeing a “37-year-old gay guy kissing his husband on stage next to ‘Mr. Man’ Donald Trump.” Buttigieg said: “Well, I love my husband [Chasten]. I’m faithful to my husband. On stage we usually just go for a hug. But I love him very much, and I’m not going take lectures on family values from the likes of Rush Limbaugh.” [USA Today]


The daughter of former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte has been charged with first-degree murder. Sophia Negroponte, 27, was accused of stabbing an acquaintance, Yousuf Rasmussen, during an argument in a Maryland apartment. A third person who was in the apartment said that Negroponte and Rasmussen had been drinking, and started bickering, then fighting. The witness said Negroponte took a knife out of a kitchen drawer and lunged at Rasmussen, stabbing him. The charging documents said Negroponte removed the knife, yelled “I’m sorry,” and pleaded with Rasmussen not to die. Sophia Negroponte is one of five children her father and mother, Diana, adopted in Honduras, where he served as a diplomat before being appointed by then-President George W. Bush to be the nation’s first intelligence director in 2005. [The Washington Post]


Rising waters in the Pearl River in Mississippi were expected to crest Monday as the state faces what Gov. Tate Reeves (R) described Sunday as a “precarious situation that can turn at any moment.” Severe flooding had already forced people to evacuate homes in many neighborhoods in and around the capital city of Jackson. People in one neighborhood paddled canoes, kayaks, and small fishing boats to check on their homes. The National Weather Service on Sunday said it expected the river to crest at 37.5 feet, slightly lower than the previous estimate of 38 feet. The Pearl’s highest crest ever recorded was 43.2 feet in April 1979, and its second highest was 39.6 feet in May 1983. [The Associated Press]


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday that the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy against his country was not working. “Of course, sanctions naturally create some problems, but they will not yield any results for the enemies,” Rouhani told state media. “Maximum pressure has failed. We are in a better situation in the region now.” Rouhani said he would be willing to enter negotiations with the U.S. if it rejoins Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and drops the sanctions President Trump imposed after withdrawing from the deal. Rouhani also said he didn’t believe Trump wanted a war with Iran, saying it would “ruin” his chances to win re-election in November. [USA Today]


Storm Dennis battered the United Kingdom with hurricane-force winds on Sunday. Dennis, the second-strongest nontropical storm on record in the North Atlantic Ocean, whipped up waves as high as 80 feet west of the U.K. It drenched South Wales with more than five inches of rain, an inch more than the area normally gets in February. Flooding from the storm forced evacuations and cut off access to some communities. The storm came just a week after another severe bomb cyclone, Storm Ciara, hit Britain, leaving the ground saturated and worsening the flooding from Dennis. [The Washington Post]


President Trump took a lap around the Daytona 500 racetrack in his presidential limousine after Air Force One did a flyby, drawing cheers from fans gathered for the prestigious NASCAR race. Trump kicked off the race with the traditional announcement to drivers of “Gentlemen, start your engines!” Trump’s re-election campaign had planned to fly an aerial banner near the speedway and air a TV ad during the Fox broadcast, but the race was postponed until Monday due to rain after the drivers ran just 20 of its 200 laps. Trump spent the weekend at his resort in Palm Beach, now his official primary residence, before going to Daytona. He plans a series of fundraising events and political rallies in Western states this week. [Reuters]

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source: yahoo.com