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Sessions Defends Justice Department | Australian PM Ousted

| The Presidential Daily Brief |
IMPORTANT
August 24, 2018
Malcolm Turnbull, outgoing prime minister of Australia, speaks at a press conference after his ouster. Source: Getty
Sessions: 'Improper' Influence Won't Bend Justice Department

President Donald Trump stepped up his attacks on the Justice Department yesterday, musing that offering plea agreements in exchange for information “almost ought to be illegal” and questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ character for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. In response, Sessions — a longtime ally of the president — released a rare statement pointedly emphasizing that “political considerations” won’t “improperly influence” the department’s actions. Meanwhile, White House aides reportedly expressed concern that Trump will pardon former campaign chair Paul Manafort, newly convicted of fraud, after Trump praised his loyalty.

Sources: Washington Post, The Hill, NYT
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Australian PM Turnbull Ousted in Favor of Moderate Ally

After a second attempt to topple him in the space of a week, Liberal Party leader Malcolm Turnbull has been forced out by his fellow conservative colleagues. No Australian prime minister in the last decade has managed to serve a full term in office. While the initial challenge to Turnbull’s power came from his faction’s far-right, he wound up being replaced by treasurer Scott Morrison. He’s considered a more moderate conservative choice, though analysts acknowledge that the party has shifted sharply right in recent years.

Sources: NYT, BBC
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National Enquirer Publisher Granted Immunity in Cohen Case

American Media Inc. chairman David Pecker has reportedly “flipped” on President Trump, offering information in exchange for immunity from federal prosecution. He’s said to have details on Trump’s involvement in Michael Cohen’s payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal during the 2016 presidential campaign. American Media-published tabloid the National Enquirer reportedly kept stories about Trump and evidence of his payments to women in a locked safe, which was removed from its location after a report on Trump’s payments to McDougal. The fate of those documents remains unclear.

Sources: WSJ (sub), Vanity Fair, AP
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China-US Trade Talks Make Little Progress

After two days of negotiations aimed at breaking the tense trade standoff between the U.S. and China, the White House would only say the two sides have “exchanged views.” It was the first attempt to ameliorate relations since early June, and during the talks, new U.S. tariffs on $16 billion in Chinese goods went into effect — with reciprocation from Beijing. Meanwhile, NAFTA discussions have continued between the U.S. and Mexico. Mexican negotiators say this portion of the talks is nearly over, meaning Canada may rejoin the discussion.

Sources: FT (sub), DW, CNBC
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Briefly

Know This: Floods and landslides have struck Hawaii as Hurricane Lane barrels through the islands. Church abuse survivors in Ireland are awaiting Pope Francis’ arrival Saturday. Misa Matsushima, 26, just became Japan’s first female fighter pilot. And today, OZY’s Around the World campaign takes you to the Republic of the Congo, where “dandy” fashion culture is finally opening up to women too.

Try This: Feeling presidential after a week of briefings? Prove it with the PDB Quiz.

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INTRIGUING
New Research Throws Water on Drinking's 'Health Benefits'

While some studies in the past have found that “moderate” drinking can have positive health effects, a meta-analysis of nearly 1,300 sources and studies indicates that even one daily drink can increase risk of premature death, cancer and other conditions. Alcohol, the study found, was the leading risk factor for people between the ages of 15 and 49 and linked to 3 million deaths per year. “If everyone cut their consumption in half,” said lead author Max Griswold, “We could save one million lives globally.”

Sources: The Inverse, Newsweek
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NSA Leaker Sentenced to Five Years in Prison

Yesterday, National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner became the first person jailed during the Trump administration for leaking classified intelligence to the press. Winner, 26, provided The Intercept with documents last year saying hackers affiliated with the Russian military sent phishing emails to a Florida election software firm and 100 local election officials across the U.S. Her sentence, part of a plea deal approved by a federal judge in Georgia, is the longest ever given to a civilian leaker. Upon her release, Winner must also perform 100 hours of community service.

Sources: NPR, BuzzFeed
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Lab-Grown Meat Could Make It to Market

Can they meat in the middle? Food technology firm Memphis Meats and the North American Meat Institute have asked the White House to settle a regulatory tussle and allow cell-cultured meat to finally reach the American market. Under the plan, the Department of Agriculture, favored by major meat industry groups, and the Food and Drug Administration, which also seeks jurisdiction, would jointly monitor the foodstuff grown from animal cells to avoid slaughter. But it’s unclear whether other industry leaders, which hate culturing firms’ “clean meat” label, will support the plan.

Sources: Quartz
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Anti-Vaccination Sentiment Grows ... Among Bots and Trolls

The vast majority of Americans believe vaccines are safe and promote health, but you wouldn’t know that from browsing Twitter, where suspected troll accounts and bots increasingly question the wisdom of immunization, according to a new study from the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers theorize that the onslaught comes from anti-vaccine activists’ bots, spammers spreading malware or scams and Russian troll farms trying to sow political discord. The next step, says the study, may be to immunize the public by warning that the virulent “debate” is an illusion.

Sources: Gizmodo
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Lithuanian Basketball Team Blasts Ball Family

The Prienai-based basketball club with which LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball played in 2017 and 2018 before leaving abruptly two games before the end of the season has accused the Ball family of trying to “destroy the club.” The team, which apparently partnered with the Balls in a bid to pull itself out of a financial crisis, says the family refused to pay prize money to Big Baller Brand tournament winners and that the Ball brothers’ talent was “nowhere near” the Lithuanian league’s level. The team finished last and without a budget for next season.

Sources: USA Today, SI
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