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10 things you need to know today: November 8, 2019

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Harold Maass
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent
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1.

Official testified Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate Biden, Clinton

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent told impeachment investigators that President Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the 2016 U.S. election, according to a transcript of his closed-door deposition released Thursday. Kent, who oversaw Ukraine policy, said Trump also demanded Ukraine focus on two of his biggest rivals, 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic candidate in 2020. Trump "wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to a microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton," Kent told House impeachment investigators. Kent also testified that Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, led a smear campaign to undermine former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, using "assertions and allegations against former Ambassador Yovanovitch" that "were without basis, untrue, period." [The Washington Post]

2.

Judge tells Trump to pay $2 million over alleged misuse of charity foundation

A judge on Thursday ordered President Trump to pay $2 million to a group of nonprofit organizations in a settlement over his alleged misuse of his charitable foundation. New York's attorney general in June 2018 sued Trump, accusing him and three of his children of "persistently illegal conduct" at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which allegedly coordinated unlawfully with his 2016 presidential campaign and which the attorney general said was "little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality." When the lawsuit was originally announced, Trump slammed the "sleazy New York Democrats" who brought it and promised, "I won't settle this case!" [The Washington Post]

3.

Ex-NYC Mayor Bloomberg takes another look at a presidential bid

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is reportedly preparing to file paperwork for a 2020 presidential campaign. Bloomberg is expected to meet a Friday deadline for qualifying for the Democratic primary ballot in Alabama, a Bloomberg spokesperson said. Bloomberg has not made a final decision on whether to run, and said in March he wasn't going to get into the race. But Bloomberg has since privately expressed concerns about the current field of Democratic candidates. Bloomberg is a billionaire businessman, so if he runs he can make up for his late start by largely financing his own campaign. His renewed flirtation with a presidential bid comes as former Vice President Joe Biden has seen his polling lead shrink, and as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) surges while criticizing billionaires. [The New York Times, CNN]

4.

Sessions announces bid to reclaim his old Senate seat

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday he was running to reclaim the U.S. Senate seat from Alabama he left to join President Trump's administration. Sessions, who was pushed out after facing criticism from Trump for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, joins a crowded Republican primary field seeking the nomination to challenge Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat in a staunchly Republican state. Sessions was an early Trump supporter but is not expected to get White House backing for his run. "As everyone knows, President Trump and I have had our ups and downs," Sessions said in his first campaign ad. "But here's the important part: the President is doing great work for America." [Reuters, NBC News]

5.

Pence aide found Trump's Ukraine call 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. [CNN, The Wall Street Journal]

6.

Mulvaney expected to ignore Democrats' subpoena

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney is expected to ignore a subpoena to testify Friday in the House impeachment inquiry against President Trump. One official working on the inquiry told The Associated Press that Mulvaney "could shed additional light on the president's abuse of power of his office for his personal gain." On Oct. 17, Mulvaney "admitted from the White House briefing room that the president withheld vital military aid in order to pressure Ukraine to conduct investigations that would benefit the president's personal and political interests, not the national interest," one official working on the inquiry said in a statement. Mulvaney later denied any quid pro quo. On Thursday, former national security adviser John Bolton declined to comply with a call to testify. [The Associated Press, The Washington Post]

7.

Anonymous administration official describes Trump as dangerous in new book

Senior Trump administration officials considered resigning together last year to call attention to their objections to President Trump's conduct, but decided against the "midnight self-massacre" to avoid further destabilizing the government, according to a new anonymously written book. The author of A Warning, identified only as "a senior official in the Trump administration," describes Trump as cruel, inept, and dangerous, "like a twelve-year-old in an air traffic control tower, pushing the buttons of government indiscriminately, indifferent to the planes skidding across the runway and the flights frantically diverting away from the airport." The author first made headlines in 2018 with a New York Times opinion column describing pushback against Trump from within his administration. [The Washington Post]

8.

Hong Kong student dies of injuries from fall near police crowd dispersal

A Hong Kong student died Friday from injuries he sustained when he fell one floor in a parking garage while police were dispersing an anti-government demonstration. The university student, 22-year-old Chow Tsz-lok, was the first student to die in months of pro-democracy demonstrations in the Chinese-ruled former British colony. Thousands of people, including police officers, have also been injured since the unrest started in June. Chow's death was expected to fuel further anger against the government and police, who have been accused of using excessive force against demonstrators. Dozens of angry students responded to the news by vandalizing the president's residence and several cafeterias at the school Chow attended, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. [Reuters, South China Morning Post]

9.

Bolivia anti-government protesters grab mayor and publicly humiliate her

Anti-government protesters seized a small-town mayor in central Bolivia and publicly humiliated her, forcing her to sign a resignation letter, pouring red paint on her, and cutting her hair. The protesters called the mayor, Patricia Arce, a "murderess," accusing her of organizing supporters wielding clubs to break up anti-government activists who were blocking a bridge. Arce is a member of the party of President Evo Morales, who claimed he won a fourth term on Oct. 20 by leading an election by enough to avoid a runoff. Rivals cried fraud, and mass protests have swept the capital of La Paz and other cities. On Thursday, protesters in La Paz threw Molotov cocktails in demonstrations that left four people injured, including two police officers. At least three people have died in clashes since the protests began. [The New York Times]

10.

Juul Labs to stop selling mint-flavored e-cigarettes

Juul Labs said Thursday that it would stop selling mint-flavored e-cigarettes as it faces a mounting backlash against vaping, particularly among young people. Juul took the step voluntarily shortly after new government research showed Juul was the leading brand among high school teens, many of whom prefer mint flavored e-cigarettes. "These results are unacceptable," Juul CEO K.C. Crosthwaite said. Crosthwaite added that the company was working to "earn the trust of society" after the eruption of what public health officials have called a teen vaping epidemic. Dropping mint-flavored e-cigarettes was the latest in a series of concessions Juul has made. The company has stopped selling fruit and dessert flavors, first in stores and recently online. It also has replaced its CEO and vowed to stop advertising. [The Associated Press]