5 things for Friday, March 17: Wiretapping, North Korea, Africa

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday tells reporters the President stands by his claims the Obama administration "wiretapped" Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

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1. Wiretapping

Trump's baseless claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower before the election just crossed the pond. The UK's top spy agency, GCHQ, described as "utterly ridiculous" the idea that President Obama "went outside the chain of command" and used it to spy on Trump. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made the claim at yesterday's press briefing, repeating a theory first mentioned by a Fox News analyst.
    And British spies aren't the only ones refuting the Trump team's claims. CNN reporter Jim Acosta got into a heated argument with Spicer when Spicer said Trump stands by his wiretapping claims. The House Speaker, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman and the committee's ranking Democrat all also said yesterday that they've seen no evidence to back Trump's accusation.

    2. North Korea

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the US would consider military action against North Korea if the US were provoked. At a joint news conference today in Seoul, Tillerson declared that Washington's policy of "strategic patience" is over. "Obviously if North Korea takes actions that threatens the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that would be met with an appropriate response," he said.
    Tillerson is visiting China, Japan and South Korea on his first official trip to Asia. He also visited the demilitarized zone, the highly-fortified border between North and South Korea.

    3. Africa

    More than 20 million people are at risk of starvation across four countries in east Africa: Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria. According to the UN, this marks the world's largest crisis since 1945.
    The situation in Somalia is particularly bad, where terrorists block or steal food and supplies. More than 6 million people -- more than half the country's population -- are in need. In South Sudan, a famine affecting more than 7.5 million people has been declared.

    4. Budget cuts

    Critics are reeling over President Trump's proposed budget cuts, which endanger several scientific, environmental and charitable institutions but prioritize defense spending and a $1 billion "first installment" for a border wall with Mexico.
    The affected institutions include the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and more. Much ado has also been made about the Community Development Block Grant program, which would be zeroed-out under the 2018 budget. It provides grants to pay for services for the poor, including the famous Meals on Wheels program. Questions have also been raised about how the cuts would affect disaster aid.

    5. USA Gymnastics

    The top official at USA Gymnastics resigned yesterday as the organization deals with a sexual abuse scandal involving a former team doctor. USA Gymnastics president and CEO Steve Penny said he is stepping aside "solely to support the best interests of USA Gymnastics at this time." The organization has been steeped in scandal since Larry Nassar, a former volunteer physician, was accused of sexually assaulting 18 women and girls repeatedly for years during physical examinations. A lawsuit against him also claims USA Gymnastics was negligent in allowing the abuse to occur.


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