Live Blog

Today's News: March 20, 2017

James Comey confirms FBI investigation into Russian interference in election, Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings, and more from the United States and around the world.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

—FBI Director James Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, appeared before the House Intelligence Committee to discuss, among other things, Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. More here

—Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the start of his confirmation hearings.  More here

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

Updates

This live blog has concluded

A Car Bomb in Baghdad Kills 23

Reuters

A car bomb exploded in Baghdad on Monday and killed at least 23 people, Iraqi officials said. The attack targeted a commercial neighborhood in a mainly Shia district in the city’s southwest. It came at the same time Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi was away in the U.S. meeting with President Donald Trump. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and it comes at the same time Iraqi security forces are pushing ISIS out of Mosul, which was seized in 2014. ISIS has been losing ground in the country’s north, but it has still kept the ability to plan and carry out attacks, and has been behind similar bombings in the capital.

David Rockefeller, Ex-Chase Manhattan President and Philanthropist, Has Died

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

David Rockefeller, the billionaire philanthropist and former head of Chase Manhattan Bank, died Monday at his home in New York, a family spokesman confirmed. He was 101. The grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the Standard Oil Company co-founder, Rockefeller served as the guardian of his family’s fortune and its sprawling network of business and philanthropic interests. Throughout his lifetime, the family gave more than $900 million to a variety of causes, including education and the arts. In 1961 he became the head of Chase Manhattan Bank, and went on to serve as the bank’s chairman and CEO eight years later. In addition to his banking career, Rockefeller was also known for his travels overseas. Throughout his life, the businessman is estimated to have visited more than 100 countries, meeting hundreds of world leaders and accruing a Rolodex of more than 150,000 names. When President Clinton presented Rockefeller with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, in 1998, he described Rockefeller as “a gentleman, a statesman, a scholar, and most important, a genuine humanitarian of the likes our Nation has rarely seen.”

Norway Tops List of World's Happiest Countries; U.S. Is 14th

Reuters

The happiest place on earth is Norway, according to an annual United Nations report. In general, Nordic countries fared well in the 2017 World Happiness Report, which analyzes “subjective well-being” in 155 countries based on a host of factors such as economics, trust, and health. Other top countries included Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland. The unhappiest countries were the Central African Republic, Burundi, Tanzania, and Syria. The U.S. came in 14th. The system to determine happiness was developed decades ago by a social scientist, and it uses a rating system from zero to 10, and asks people questions based primarily on subjects such as national wealth, health, social support, trust in government and business, generosity, and freedom to make life choices. One of the more interesting findings each year is how these determinants interplay with one another. For example, there was a chapter in the report devoted to America’s drooping happiness. The U.S. has recently seen big gains in per-capita income and increases in life expectancy, but social support and trust are sinking. If the U.S. wants to fix this problem, the report suggests, the country should focus less exclusively on financial gains and more on societal ills like “rising inequality, corruption, isolation, and distrust.”

UPDATE: Comey Confirms FBI Investigation into Russian Election Interference

Updated at 12:07 p.m.

FBI Director James Comey told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that the bureau, as part of its “counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election.” He added the investigation was looking into whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. The public acknowledgement is rare, and Comey noted that in “unusual circumstances when it is in the public interest, the bureau sometimes will discuss such matters. This is one of those circumstances.” Comey also said he had “no information: that President Obama wiretapped Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, as Trump has repeatedly insisted. That claim was also dismissed by Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency,  who also testified today.

Our original post from 8:34 a.m.

FBI Director James Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, will appear this morning before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to publicly discuss Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. Comey is also likely to be asked abut President Trump’s claim that President Obama had ordered Trump wiretapped during the presidential campaign. Comey has been circumspect in the past when asked about the FBI’s investigation, saying he “would never comment on investigations—whether we have one or not— in an open forum like this.” Today’s hearing is public, so expect more of the same, though he could publicly dismiss Trump’s wiretapping claims, something he has done in private. Read more here.

U.K. Announces an Official Date for Triggering Brexit

(Rebecca Naden / Reuters)

Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger Article 50 of the EU charter, the process by which negotiations for the U.K. to leave the European Union will officially begin, on Wednesday, March 29, her office announced Monday. The decision comes a little more than nine months after Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU. The results of the vote were a shock to the establishment, which had warned of dire consequences should Brexit occur. So far, none of the worst predictions have come true. Still, it’s unclear what a future U.K.-EU relationship will look like. A “hard Brexit” would mean the U.K. loses access to the EU single market while a “soft Brexit” would leave the relationship between the U.K. and the EU mostly intact—but with important exceptions. The U.K. is likely to seek a deal that does not adversely affect its business interests or hurt the City of London, which is the de-facto financial capital of Europe. The EU, on the other hand, will be keen to protect its own interests; giving away too much to the U.K. might encourage other members of the bloc to leave, as well. The two sides are expected to spend about two years discussing the contours of what that relationship will be, until which the U.K. remains a member of the EU. If all goes according to the timetable, Brexit will officially happen in March 2019. An EU spokesman said the bloc was “ready and waiting” for the official notification of the Article 50 trigger from the U.K. government.  

Judge Gorsuch Prepares for Confirmation Hearings

Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, will appear today before the Senate Judiciary Committee for the start of his confirmation hearings. My colleague Clare Foran wrote about what’s at stake for Democrats and Republicans at the hearing for the judge who would replace the late Antonin Scalia on the court. The hearings, she writes, “will mark a departure from the treatment that Merrick Garland, former President Obama’s nominee to fill the same Supreme Court seat, faced in Congress last year when Senate Republicans broke with tradition by refusing to hold even a single hearing to consider the nomination.” Here’s more:

Even if Democrats wanted to, the party can’t mount the same kind of all-out opposition to Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. The most glaring reason is that Democrats don’t control the Senate, and Republicans have the power to set the hearing agenda. Still, Democrats could be putting up more of a fight than they have so far, and have faced criticism from left-leaning advocacy groups as a result.

But part of the reason Democrats haven’t taken a hard-line approach on par with how Republicans treated Obama’s nominee may be because public opinion surveys suggest liberal voters are less concerned than conservatives about the current Supreme Court vacancy, and who gets to replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Clare’s full story here