Live Coverage

Today's News: April 4, 2017

A deadly chemical attack in Syria, Susan Rice reacts to spying allegations, and more from the United States and around the world.

Ammar Abdullah / Reuters

—Opposition activists say the Syrian government used a chemical agent in Idlib, killing as many as 100 people. More here

—Susan Rice, the former national-security adviser, dismissed as “absolutely false” allegations she used intelligence information for political purposes. More here

—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Daylight Time (GMT -4).


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Richmond Federal Reserve President Resigns Over Leak

Yuri Gripas / Reuters

Richmond Federal Reserve President Jeffrey Lacker resigned Tuesday after admitting to leaking confidential information related to the Fed’s plans for an economic stimulus. “In 2012, my conduct was inconsistent with those important confidentiality policies,” Lacker said in the statement. “I regret that in this instance I crossed the line to confirming information that should have remained confidential.” Lacker said he violated the Federal Reserve’s communication policy, which cautions members of its top policy-making committee from providing “any profit-making entity with a prestige advantage over its competitors,” when he shared details of a Federal Open Market Committee’s meeting with a Wall Street analyst at Medley Global Advisors—a leak that critics say could have given an unfair advantage. Lacker, whose resignation took effect immediately, had originally announced his plans to retire in October. Mark Mullinix, the bank’s first vice president, is serving as acting president.

Susan Rice Calls Spying Allegations 'Absolutely False'

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Susan Rice, the former national-security adviser, dismissed as “absolutely false” allegations she used intelligence information for political purposes. The allegations, which were raised Monday by Bloomberg View, claimed Rice had on numerous occasions requested the identities of U.S. persons in intelligence reports involving President Trump’s transition and campaign. In an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Rice said “sometimes in that context in order to understand the significance of the report and assess its significance, it was necessary to request the information as to who that person was,” but added these requests were “absolutely not for any political purposes, to spy, expose, anything.” As my colleague David Graham notes, the lack of information surrounding what kind of classified information may have been collected “makes it challenging to understand what really happened and who is telling the truth.”

It is not clear, for example, whether Trump officials were directly incidentally collected (through conversations with surveillance targets) or were simply mentioned in conversations that were collected, in which cases their names would still be redacted. There’s also no reliable information on how many times, and when, Rice requested unmasking of Trump officials, nor of whether other officials also requested unmasking. .

U.S. State Department Cuts Funding for UN Family-Planning Agency

A pregnant woman listens to a doctor during a routine checkup in Puerto Rico. (Alvin Baez / Reuters)

The U.S. State Department announced Monday it would cut all funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an agency that provides family-planning and maternal heath care in more than 150 nations. The U.S., which helped found the UNFPA in 1969, is one of the agency’s largest donors, giving $75 million in core budget and earmarked contributions in 2016. The memo from the State Department to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations says the UNFPA “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization” in China. A 2016 human rights report by the State Department found China still engages in these measures in some cases to control its population. The letter cites the agency’s partnership with China’s family-planning department as a violation of the 1985 Kemp-Kasten Amendment, but concedes there is no evidence of direct support of forced abortion or sterilization on the UNFPA’s behalf. The UNFPA says the State Department’s decision was based on an “erroneous claim,” adding the agency does not fund such programs.  Its statement explained its work “promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination.” The move comes soon after President Trump’s decision to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, which cuts funding to family-planning organizations abroad unless they agree to not discuss abortion, and only weeks after the administration released its proposed budget, which would cut the State Department’s funding by 31 percent.

U.S. Seeks to Review Consent Decrees

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered the U.S. Justice Department to review “all Department activities including collaborative investigations and prosecutions, grant making, technical assistance and training, compliance reviews, existing or contemplated consent decrees, and task force participation” in order to ensure they comply with the Trump administration’s emphasis on “public safety.” Sessions’s memo was dated March 31, but made public yesterday. It affects agreements such as the consent decree struck by department with Baltimore’s police force in the final days of the Obama administration. Indeed, the Justice Department sought a 90-day delay yesterday to the consent decree that was intended to overhaul Baltimore’s police force. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said the city would “strongly oppose any delay in moving forward” with the decree.

Death Toll From St. Petersburg Attack Rises to 14

Russian authorities say the death toll in yesterday’s explosion on a metro train in St. Petersburg has risen to 14. Authorities also said the blast was caused by a suicide bomber. No group has yet claimed responsibility, and Russian authorities have not yet identified a suspect in the attack, but Kyrgyz officials identified the attacker as Akbarzhon Jalilov, a Kyrgyz-born Russian citizen.

You can read more about this story here.

Syrian Government Accused of Using Chemical Agent in Idlib Province, Killing 58

(Ammar Abdullah / Reuters)

Updated at 1:08 p.m.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based group that monitors the Syrian civil war, says 58 people are dead after the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad used a chemical agent against civilians in rebel-held Khan Shaykhun, a city in northwestern Idlib province. Eleven of those dead are children, the group said. At least 160 people were injured in the government’s operation, which included shelling, the group said, adding the death toll was expected to increase. Those injured are being treated in local hospitals. This isn’t the first time the Assad regime has been accused of using chemical weapons in the more than six-year-long Syrian civil war. The Syrian government denies it has used chemical weapons in the conflict. But besides international condemnation of such action and the drawing of a so-called “red line” by the Obama administration against the use of chemical weapons, Assad is still firmly in charge of Syria, backed by his allies in Russia and Iran. The U.S. and its allies support a coalition of rebel groups, which are engaged in cease-fire with Assad’s forces, but that truce doesn’t include ISIS or al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, controls large parts of Idlib province. Last week, Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, said Assad’s future “will be decided by the Syrian people.” That comment was echoed by Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, who said: “Our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out.” Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, called the attack “reprehensible,” adding it “cannot be ignored by the civilized world.”