Live Coverage

Today's News: Feb. 8, 2017

Jeff Sessions confirmed as attorney general, U.K. House of Commons passes final Brexit bill, and more from the United States and around the world.

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

—The U.S. Senate voted along party lines to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama to the position of attorney general, with only one Democrat, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, crossing the aisle to vote for Sessions. More here

—The House of Commons passed the final bill to begin the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. More here

—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).


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Sessions Confirmed as Attorney General

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

The U.S. Senate voted along party lines to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama to the position of attorney general, with only one Democrat, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, crossing the aisle to vote for Sessions. The confirmation places one of Trump’s earliest supporters in one of the most powerful and prominent positions in the United States government.

Sessions’s nomination was controversial because the Alabama senator had been denied a federal judgeship in 1986 over allegations that he had called civil rights groups “un-American” for pushing integration and made racist remarks to a black subbordinate. Civil-rights groups, feminist groups, and LGBT-rights groups were all alarmed by the nomination, with Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, saying it would be “unimaginable” for Sessions to “be the chief law-enforcement officer for the nation’s civil-rights laws.”

Expecting a fight over Sessions’s past, the Trump administration produced a resume of his supposed civil-rights accomplishments, including early opposition to segregation, a non-existent record of fighting for school integration and voting rights, and an exaggerated account of his role in the prosecution of a Ku Klux Klansman convicted of murder and the subsequent civil suit bankrupting that faction of the KKK.

Sessions’s past was dragged into the spotlight again on Tuesday night during the debate over his nomination, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell successfully used the Senate rules against disparaging colleagues on the floor to silence Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who was reading from a 1986 letter written by Coretta Scott King to oppose then-U.S. Attorney Sessions’s nomination to the federal bench.

King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., had written that Sessions had “used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters” when he pursued a failed prosecution of civil-rights activists on charges of voter fraud. “For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship,” King wrote.

After demonstrating consistent loyalty to Donald Trump, including an early defense of Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from the United States, Sessions has been rewarded with the position of attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. government.

U.K. Ends 'Dubs' Commitment to Resettle Child Migrants

Lord Alf Dubs, the Dubs amendment namesake, stands with protesters at a demonstration to highlight the plight of child refugees in London on October 24, 2016. (Peter Nicholls / Reuters)

The U.K.’s Home Office announced Wednesday that it would end in March its commitment to take in child migrants under the Dubs amendment. The Dubs amendment, which was introduced in May as an amendment to existing immigration legislation in response to the European refugee crisis, sought to resettle unaccompanied child migrants in the U.K., in consultation with local authorities. Though the amendment did not include a precise figure for how many children would be accepted, supporters of the amendment envisioned the legislation helping as many as 3,000 children—far more than the 350 children Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill said will have been resettled in the country once the program ends next month. Lord Alf Dubs, the amendment’s namesake and a refugee from the former Czechoslovakia, condemned the decision as “shameful,” adding: “Britain has a proud history of welcoming refugees. At a time when Donald Trump is banning refugees from America, it would be shameful if the UK followed suit by closing down this route to sanctuary for unaccompanied children just months after it was opened.”

Former NSA Contractor Indicted for Allegedly Stealing Classified Information

Patrick Semansky / AP

A federal grand jury indicted a former National Security Agency contractor on Wednesday on charges of allegedly stealing classified defense information. Harold Thomas Martin III was arrested in October in possession of hardcopy and digital classified information in his Maryland home, two storage sheds, and his car, having allegedly collected materials for two decades using top secret clearance at times. At the time of his arrest, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton, the same consulting firm that employed Edward Snowden in 2013. In announcing the indictment on Wednesday, Mary McCord, the acting assistant attorney general said, “Martin allegedly violated the trust our nation put in him.” If Martin is convicted in the upcoming trial, he could face up to 10 years in prison for each of his 20 criminal counts.

U.K. House of Commons Passes Final Brexit Bill

Luke MacGregor / Reuters

The House of Commons passed the final bill to begin the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. The bill, which passed 494-122, will now move onto the House of Lords, which returns from recess on February 20. The vote, though, caused turmoil within the Parliament, as Clive Lewis, the Shadow Cabinet business secretary, resigned from his post as protest. Labour Party leaders had ordered its members to vote for the legislation, so it would not be a solely “Tory Brexit.” Lewis said he could not “in good conscience vote for something I believe will ultimately harm” his constituency. With the passage of the legislation, the U.K. moves closer to Prime Minister Theresa May’s goal of triggering formal Brexit talks by the end of March. The U.K. plans to use Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to leave the E.U.

Somalia Elects Its New President After Incumbent Concedes Defeat

Somali President-elect Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo observes as lawmakers cast their ballot on February 8, 2017. (Feisal Omar / Reuters)

Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, a former prime minister and Somali-U.S. dual citizen, was declared president of Somalia Wednesday after incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud conceded in the second round of voting. The vote involved 329 lawmakers, selected by 14,000 clan elders and regional figures, choosing the next president in a heavily guarded converted aircraft hanger in the country’s capital, Mogadishu. The process was meant to narrow down the number of candidates from four (they started with 20) to the final two. If a candidate received two-thirds of the vote, however, he would automatically be declared the winner, and there would be no third round. It is unclear if Farmajo received two-thirds of the vote, or if this is why Mohamud conceded. “This victory belongs to Somali people, and this is the beginning of the era of the unity, the democracy of Somalia and the beginning of the fight against corruption,” Farmajo said after taking the oath of office. Indeed, the Somali election was marred by threats of violence from extremist group al-Shabab, as well as allegations of corruption and intimidation. A Tuesday report by Marqaati, an anti-corruption organization based in Mogadishu, alleged that some delegates were receiving up to $30,000 in bribes for their vote—a price tag that made the contest “the most expensive election, per vote, in history,” according to the group. Somalia remains a volatile country after years of conflict, as well as instability caused by al-Shabab attacks, and it’s unclear whether Farmajo, who is U.S.-educated, can rally enough of the country’s 12 million citizens to govern Somalia effectively.

Romania's Government Survives No-Confidence Vote

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu (Inquam Photos / Reuters)

Romania’s center-left government has survived a no-confidence motion in parliament that followed days of massive protests against a decree that critics said weakened anti-corruption laws. The ruling center-left Social-Democratic Party (PSD) and its two coalition allies have a comfortable parliamentary majority, and the opposition was unable Wednesday to garner the 50 percent support needed to pass the measure. At issue is a government decree that decriminalized relatively minor acts of official corruption involving amounts less than $47,500. Critics said the decree was specifically tailored to protect allies of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, including Liviu Dragnea, the PSD’s president, who stands accused of defrauding the state of approximately $26,000. Following massive protests—the largest in the country since the fall of the Ceaușescu regime in 1989—Grindeanu’s government withdrew the decree, but more protests are planned this weekend against the government. The EU, of which Romania is a member, had criticized the decree, and the country’s Constitutional Court is expected to rule this week on the legality of the measure.

Six Red Cross Workers Killed, 2 Missing in Afghanistan

A man walks past the the International Committee of the Red Cross office in Jalalabad on June 2, 2013. (Parwiz Parwiz / Reuters)

Six staff members with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were shot and killed in Afghanistan Wednesday in what the humanitarian organization has called its worst attack in decades. Three drivers and five field officers were traveling to a town in the country’s northern Jawzan province when their convoy was attacked by a group of armed men, the ICRC said in a statement. Six people, including the three drivers and three of the field officers, were killed; two people remain missing. The individuals behind the attack have not been identified. Lotfullah Azizi, the Jawzan governor, told The Guardian that up to 25 armed units associated with the Taliban and the Islamic State are present in the area, adding he believed a local affiliate of ISIS was behind the attack. The Taliban has denied its involvement. Yves Daccord, the ICRC director-general, said such an attack “seems impossible,” noting the organization’s strong ties with the region. Indeed, when an ICRC aid worker was killed in Pakistan in 2012, the Taliban in Afghanistan voiced support of the ICRC, which is described as “truly serving the people.”

Alexey Navalny, Russian Opposition Leader, Is Found Guilty of Embezzlement

(Maxim Shemetov / Reuters)

Updated at 9:04 a.m.

Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who is a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, has been found guilty of embezzlement and handed a five-year suspended sentence—a verdict that could bar him from seeking the presidency in next year’s election. Navalny, 40 years old, posted on Twitter that the ruling was identical—down to the commas and the typos—to one in 2013 that found him guilty in the same case. At issue is the embezzlement of timber worth about $500,000 from the Kirovles state timber company; Navalny served as an adviser to the regional governor at the time. Navalny has denied wrongdoing, saying the charges are meant to discredit him. He was handed a five-year suspended sentence in 2013, a term prosecutors asked the court to uphold in this latest case. The new trial was ordered following a ruling last year by the European Court of Human Rights.