It was show business as usual. During his first press conference in six months, Donald Trump condemned an unconfirmed leaked report about possible incriminating information Russia may have on him. He refused to answer questions from CNN, calling them “fake news” after the network published information about the report, and he likened U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazis. Meanwhile, Trump’s lawyer confirmed he’ll turn his business over to his sons, but will not divest himself — a plan the government’s ethics chief says won’t resolve conflicts of interest.
The Presidential Daily Brief
The plot thickens. Even as a bipartisan group of senators proposed new sanctions on Russia, intelligence chiefs shared unconfirmed information with President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump indicating that the Kremlin has a blackmail-worthy dossier about Trump’s personal life and finances. The classified allegations came in part from a “reliable” former British intelligence agent and have been circulating in Washington for months. Russia denies the claims, while Trump, who’s scheduled to hold a rare press conference on his finances today, dismissed them on Twitter as “a total political witch hunt.”
“Yes, we did. Yes, we can.” President Barack Obama’s farewell address to the nation in his hometown of Chicago ended with a twist on his campaign slogan after recounting two terms of accomplishments while acknowledging that “for every two steps forward, it often feels like we take one step back.” Obama promised to deliver a smooth transition to Donald Trump, and urged unity and more participation in democracy. “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet,” the outgoing president said, ”try to talk with one in real life.”
He showed no remorse. Dylann Roof, 22, told federal jurors, “I still feel like I had to do it,” referring to his racially motivated 2015 massacre at Emanuel AME Church that left nine people dead. It took the jury about three hours to decide that Roof, convicted of 33 charges last month, should be executed — the first-ever death sentence for a federal hate crime. The decision was met with misgivings by some victims’ relatives and attack survivors who oppose the death penalty and say they offer Roof forgiveness.
They’re going to come clean. The German auto company told markets it’s agreed to a deal with the U.S. Justice Department after admitting in 2015 that it rigged 11 million diesel cars around the world to cheat emissions tests. Volkswagen’s already agreed to $17.5 billion in U.S. civil settlements, but the $4.3 billion expected judgment in the criminal case comes with another rare penalty: The company must plead guilty to charges of fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. VW’s board will meet today to give the settlement its final approval.
Know This: Germany is planning tougher crackdowns on extremism in the wake of last month’s attack on a Christmas market. The heir to Samsung has been named as a bribery suspect in South Korea’s unfolding political scandal. And five UAE diplomats have reportedly died in a bombing in Kandahar, one of three deadly attacks in Afghanistan yesterday.
Watch This: As temperatures dip below zero in Greece, conditions for an estimated 10,000 migrants who are living in tents are getting even more dangerous.
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Suddenly everybody’s an art critic. A teenage artist’s painting depicting police officers as animals threatening young black men was honored in the U.S. Congressional Art Competition and hung in the Capitol complex’s Cannon tunnel. But after law enforcement agencies complained to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Republicans have repeatedly taken the painting down, only to have members of the Congressional Black Caucus hang it up again. Meanwhile, some are calling attention to the number of slave owners, segregationists and white supremacists whose statues and paintings are still displayed in the Capitol’s halls.
Needles need not apply. Thanks to 3-D printers, customized knitted products from sweaters to yoga pants are on the rise with an array of small firms gaining steam. Production has stalled in the $173 billion global knitwear market, as demand can’t offset high labor costs. But while technology is driving down expenses and bespoke clothing is more accessible than ever, a lack of people qualified to design, write and run the 3-D printer programs that create knitwear could throw the industry for a loop.
They’re gonna need that later. Massive winter storms have rocked the Golden State, threatening cities with flooding from swollen rivers. So this week California’s opened up the Sacramento Weir for the first time in a decade, diverting the flow into nearby fields rather than developed areas and sparking debates about water use in the drought-prone West. But with California’s reservoirs filling up after heavy rainfall, officials are debating whether to flood more of the state’s open spaces — or to find a way to conserve the water for summer.
He’s found a new rebel base. The Star Wars filmmaker plans to share an astounding personal collection of 40,000 pieces of art and memorabilia from his own films and others like The Wizard of Oz and Casablanca. Los Angeles won a years-long struggle against San Francisco and Chicago to bring the futuristic 265,000-square-foot building to Exposition Park, near the University of Southern California and its famous film school. The Museum of Narrative Art is slated to open May 4, 2020, also known as Star Wars Day.
Can there be too much of a good thing? The skeptics were out in full force against yesterday’s FIFA vote to expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams by 2026. Though the group’s new president, Gianni Infantino, asserted that the move was based on “sporting merit” and not money, the new format — 16 groups of three, followed by a 32-team knockout stage — could increase tournament revenue by $1 billion. But the competitive downsides could mean more early-round clunkers and drama-free qualifying.