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10 things you need to know today: September 20, 2019

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Harold Maass
Trump in the Cabinet Room
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1.

U.S. builds coalition as Iran warns strike would mean 'all-out war'

The Trump administration said Thursday that it had started building a coalition to respond to Iranian threats following allegations that Tehran was behind weekend strikes against Saudi Arabia's oil facilities. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was talking with Saudi and Emirati officials about how to handle Iran, which Saudi Arabia says was behind the strike. "We are here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution," Pompeo said after talks with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates and an ally of Saudi leaders. Pompeo accused Iran's foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, of threatening war while the U.S. sought diplomacy. Iran has denied responsibility for the attacks, but Zarif said any U.S. or Saudi attack would lead to "all-out war." [Reuters]

2.

More details of whistleblower complaint against Trump emerge

A whistleblower complaint filed Aug. 12 by an official in the U.S. intelligence community reportedly involves a "series of actions" by President Trump, not just a single discussion with a foreign leader. Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson reportedly informed lawmakers Thursday the complaint relates to several acts, but didn't confirm that they involved Trump. Part of the complaint reportedly has to do with Trump in a phone call, possibly with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, making a "promise" that the whistleblower found troubling. Atkinson labeled the complaint an "urgent concern." By law, Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire should have relayed it to Congress, but he refused. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) warned intelligence officials to share the complaint or face possible legal action. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]

3.

Australia protests kick off 'global climate strike'

Mass protests in Australia kicked off Friday's "global climate strike," a series of rallies ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit that begins in New York on Monday. The estimated 300,000 protesters at 100 rallies in Australia — including 100,000 in Melbourne and 80,000 in Sydney — would make the multi-city event the biggest protest in Australia since the Iraq War in 2003. Millions of protesters around the world are expected to participate in similar youth-led rallies urging measures to combat climate change. The events were inspired in part by the "Fridays for Future" demonstrations by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who traveled to the U.S. in an emissions-free sailboat to attend the summit. [BBC News, The Associated Press]

4.

Party sticks with Canada's Trudeau through backlash over brownface image

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continued to face a backlash on Thursday over appearing in racist makeup as reports of a third possible incident emerged. Earlier Thursday, Trudeau apologized for wearing brownface at a 2001 Arabian Nights-themed party at a school where he taught, and he said he had worn blackface at a high school performance, too. A Liberal Party spokesman confirmed that Trudeau was the young man in blackface seen in a 1990s video that surfaced Thursday via Global News. Later Thursday, Trudeau said he could not be sure whether other images of him in blackface would emerge. Leaders of Trudeau's Liberal Party said there was no chance the party would not stick with Trudeau in next month's re-election bid. [The Washington Post, Politico]

5.

U.S. drone strike kills 30 civilians in Afghanistan

A U.S. drone strike targeting an Islamic State hideout killed at least 30 civilians in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said Thursday. Another 40 people were injured. The people who were hit reportedly were farmers and laborers who were resting after collecting pine nuts in the eastern Nangarhar province. Officials in Kabul confirmed the drone strike. A U.S. spokesman said they were "aware of the allegations of the death of non-combatants and are working with local officials to determine the facts." Hundreds of civilians have been killed across Afghanistan this month after U.S.-Taliban peace talks collapsed, according to Reuters. About 14,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan in operations against ISIS and the Taliban. [Reuters]

6.

Trump sues to block N.Y. prosecutor from getting tax records

President Trump's private lawyers on Thursday filed a lawsuit seeking to block a New York prosecutors' attempt to get eight years of his tax returns for a criminal investigation. Trump's attorneys said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.'s subpoena calling for Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, to hand over the returns was a "bad faith effort to harass" Trump. The lawsuit requests that U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero rule that the subpoena is not enforceable while Trump is in office. A spokesman for Vance, a Democrat, said the prosecutor's office would make the appropriate response to the lawsuit in court. [The Associated Press]

7.

U.S. exempts 400 Chinese products from tariffs as talks continue

The Trump administration is temporarily exempting about 400 Chinese products — including Christmas tree lights, some pet supplies, and plastic drinking straws — from the 25 percent tariff President Trump imposed on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, Politico reported Thursday. The details will be outlined in three notices to be published in the Federal Register on Friday, Politico said. The exclusions came as deputy trade officials from the U.S. and China entered the second day of face-to-face discussions aiming to set the stage for high-level talks in October. Both sides recently have made moves to soften the impact of the U.S.-China trade war both to show goodwill and to provide relief to domestic companies and farmers harmed by the levies. [Politico]

8.

Judge blocks California law seeking Trump's tax returns

A federal judge on Thursday temporarily blocked a California law seeking to force primary candidates to release their tax returns. U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. said he would issue a formal ruling by Oct. 1. The decision amounted to a significant victory for President Trump's campaign, which is fighting efforts by Democrats and a New York prosecutor to get access to Trump's tax records. Lawyers for Trump and Republicans say California's law, signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in July, violates the U.S. Constitution by creating a new requirement for anyone running for president. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla defended the law, saying it "provides invaluable transparency for voters." He said the state would decide whether to appeal after seeing the written ruling. [Los Angeles Times, CNBC]

9.

Colt suspends production of AR-15 rifles

Gun manufacturer Colt announced Thursday that it would suspend production of its popular AR-15 assault-style rifle for the civilian market. The gunmaker will still make the weapons for its military and law enforcement customers. The move came as pressure mounts for limiting access to assault-style rifles after numerous gunmen have used them in deadly mass shootings. CEO Dennis Veilleux in a statement sought to reassure customers that Colt is still "committed to the consumer market" and the Second Amendment, but he said demand for Colt rifles had dwindled. American Military News noted that Colt's relatively high prices for popular rifle models had dented sales. Colt executive Paul Spitale said the suspension is "not forever." [The Associated Press, Colt]

10.

2 die as Imelda rains cause flooding in Texas

Tropical Depression Imelda's torrential rains caused extensive flooding in Texas on Thursday, killing at least two people. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott declared a disaster in 13 counties due to dangerous flash flooding that trapped people in houses and cars. Crews made more than 1,000 rescues. Airlines canceled more than 900 flights at airports in the Houston area as some areas got as much as 40 inches of rain from the storm. One man was "electrocuted and drowned" trying to save a horse on his family's property; another drowned after driving his van into floodwaters. Four new tropical cyclones developed on Thursday. The total of six named storms in the Atlantic and Pacific was believed to tie a modern record set in September 1992. [ABC News, USA Today]