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10 things you need to know today: November 7, 2019

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Harold Maass
Bill Taylor.
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1.

Diplomat described 'clear' link of Ukraine aid and investigations

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, said in House impeachment inquiry testimony made public Wednesday it was his "clear understanding" that the transfer of military aid to Ukraine was being held up until Kyiv promised to investigate Democrats. Taylor said U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland told him President Trump wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to "state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma," where former Vice President Joe Biden's son served on the board, and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He said he and others "sat in astonishment" as a White House budget official said in July that Trump was delaying the military aid. A transcript of Sondland's testimony was released Tuesday indicating he believed the White House had linked the aid to an investigation of Democrats. [NBC News]

2.

House Democrats say public phase of impeachment inquiry starts next week

The House will start public impeachment hearings against President Trump next week, Democrats said Wednesday. William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior diplomat overseeing the region, are scheduled to testify in a televised hearing Wednesday. Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, will appear Friday. The announcement of the public phase of the inquiry came after six weeks of closed-door fact-finding. "Those open hearings will be an opportunity for the American people to evaluate the witnesses for themselves," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Transcripts of Taylor and Yovanovitch's closed-door testimonies were released publicly earlier this week. [The New York Times]

3.

Sessions expected to announce run for his old Senate seat

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to launch a bid to win back his old seat in the U.S. Senate in Alabama, NBC News reported Wednesday, citing two sources familiar with his plans. Sessions has to file papers by Friday night to run in the March 3 Republican primary. The field already includes former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct and lost to Sen. Doug Jones in a 2017 special election. President Trump repeatedly expressed anger at Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into Russia's election meddling, and reportedly will campaign against his former attorney general. Still, Sessions would be considered a strong challenger to Jones in the conservative Southern state. [NBC News]

4.

Bevin demands recanvassing in Kentucky governor's race

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin's campaign on Wednesday formally asked for a recanvassing of the votes from Tuesday's election. Bevin, the Republican incumbent, trailed the state's Democratic attorney general, Andy Beshear, by fewer than 5,000 votes. "The people of Kentucky deserve a fair and honest election. With reports of irregularities, we are exercising the right to ensure that every lawful vote was counted," said Davis Paine, Bevin's campaign manager. Beshear claimed victory Tuesday night and has begun working on his transition, even though Bevin has not conceded. Bevin, fighting low popularity, got a boost from a rally with President Trump on Monday but struggled in suburbs he and Trump won handily before. The recanvassing is expected to be completed next week. [CNN]

5.

Gabbard, Klobuchar qualify for looming debates with latest poll

The stage at the next Democratic presidential debates just got a little more crowded. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) for the November and December Democratic primary debates, respectively, when a new Quinnipiac University poll out of Iowa on Wednesday gave them the numbers they needed to qualify. Gabbard picked up 3 percent of the vote in the survey of likely caucus-goers to become the 10th candidate to qualify for the November debate. Klobuchar, who had already earned a spot on stage in November, received 5 percent backing, enough to make her one of the six candidates who have sealed spots in December. The others are former Vice President Joe Biden; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). [ABC News, The New York Times]

6.

Pence aide reportedly testifies Trump's Ukraine call was unusually political

An aide to Vice President Mike Pence testified Thursday in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and reportedly said she found a call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky unusual in its political nature. Jennifer Williams, special adviser to Pence, was listening in on the July phone call in which Trump pushed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and she was reportedly "concerned" about it. She did not report her concerns. She said she did not know how much Pence knew about Trump's requested investigations, and did not know whether Trump asked Pence to mention them when he met with Zelensky in September. Pence has denied talking about "the issue of the Bidens" with Zelensky.

7.

Turkey reveals it captured Baghdadi's first wife

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday his country had captured a wife of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader who was killed in U.S.-led raid in Syria last month. Erdogan announced the capture of Baghdadi's first wife, identified as Asma Fawzi Muhammad al-Qubaysi, during a speech in Ankara, but provided few details. The late ISIS leader had four wives. A Turkish official said Qubaysi was among 11 ISIS suspects arrested in a police operation in Hatay province near the Syrian border in June 2018. She "volunteered a lot of information about Baghdadi and inner workings" of ISIS that led to arrests, the official said. Another suspect who identified herself as Leila Jabeer was identified through DNA as Baghdadi's daughter. [The Washington Post]

8.

Beijing: U.S., China agree to lift tariffs in phases under any deal

China and the U.S. have agreed to lift new tariffs on each other's goods in stages as part of any "phase one" trade deal, China's Commerce Ministry said Thursday. Ministry spokesperson Gao Feng said the agreement came as the two sides moved closer to an agreement on ending their trade war. A key condition is that the two countries must scrap an equal amount of levies simultaneously. The news sent U.S. stock index futures surging. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq were all up by around 0.5 percent. All three main U.S. indexes reached all-time highs earlier in the week. President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly might delay a meeting to sign an interim trade deal until December. [Bloomberg, MarketWatch]

9.

2 former Twitter employees accused of spying for Saudi Arabia

Federal authorities have charged two former Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia. The charges were disclosed Wednesday in San Francisco after the Tuesday arrest of one of the suspects, U.S. citizen Ahmad Abouammo. He was accused of spying on three users for the Saudi government. The second suspect is Ali Alzabarah, a Saudi citizen accused of accessing more than 6,000 users' personal information in 2015 for Saudi Arabia. One of the accounts belonged to prominent dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who later became close to journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was assassinated in Istanbul last year. The Saudis implicated in the case included an associate of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who the CIA determined probably ordered Khashoggi's killing. [The Washington Post]

10.

Judge rules 'conscience rule' unconstitutional

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer in Manhattan ruled Wednesday that the Trump administration's so-called conscience rule, which would have let health-care providers refuse to perform abortions or sterilizations on religious grounds, is unconstitutional. Engelmayer said the policy, which was set to take effect later this month, is "shot through with glaring legal defects." The administration had argued it had received a "significant increase" in complaints regarding conscience objections, but Engelmayer said that was "flatly untrue," making the rule "arbitrary and capricious." New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led the groups challenging the policy, said it "was an unlawful attempt to allow health care providers to openly discriminate" for personal reasons. Trump administration officials did not immediately comment, saying they were reviewing the ruling. [The Washington Post]