Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: November 15, 2019

Harold Maass
Nancy Pelosi speaking to the press
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


Pelosi says impeachment hearing confirmed 'evidence of bribery'

The first two witnesses gave "devastating" public testimony in the House's impeachment inquiry on Wednesday, providing "evidence of bribery" and abuse of power by President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a news conference Thursday. "The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections," she said, referring to how Trump seemingly conditioned Ukraine aid on an investigation targeting Democrats. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) called Pelosi's bribery allegation "ridiculous," saying the aid was released despite "a justified concern" that top Ukrainian officials opposed Trump and favored Hillary Clinton in 2016. State Department official George Kent and longtime diplomat William Taylor testified Wednesday. Ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch appears Friday. [NBC News, The Hill]


2 dead, 3 wounded in California school shooting

A gunman opened fire on fellow students at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, on Thursday, killing two students and wounding three others. Authorities said security video showed the suspect, a 16-year-old male student, pull a .45-caliber handgun out of his backpack and shoot five people around him before shooting himself in the head. He was hospitalized in grave condition. Two law enforcement sources identified the suspect as Nathaniel Berhow, 16. Authorities identified the deceased students as a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy. Two of the wounded students are 14 years old, and the other is 15. "We send our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those tragically lost," President Trump tweeted, "and we pray for the speedy recovery of the wounded." [Los Angeles Times, Fox News]


Senate confirms controversial Trump judicial nominee

The Senate on Thursday confirmed White House counsel's office lawyer Steven Menashi, one of President Trump's most controversial judicial nominees, to serve on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. The vote was 51 to 41, with moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine joining Democrats voting no. Democrats criticized Menashi for his early writings at Dartmouth and elsewhere that he said he regretted because of their "lack of balance and provocative tone." The Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), questioned Menashi over his work with Trump adviser Stephen Miller on the administration's hardline immigration policy. Menashi provoked bipartisan frustration by refusing to answer key questions. His confirmation flipped a key court to a conservative majority. [CNN, Politico]


Trump asks Supreme Court to block prosecutor from obtaining his tax returns

President Trump on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to step in to block the Manhattan District Attorney's investigation of his personal finances. Trump wants the justices to prevent Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. from enforcing a grand jury subpoena seeking eight years of Trump's tax returns from his accounting firm, Mazars USA. Trump's legal team says that prosecutors can't demand the documents because sitting presidents are immune from investigation. A lower court ruled that the subpoena for the returns was proper and ordered Trump's accounting firm to comply. In a separate case on Wednesday, an appeals court ruled that Congress should have access to the records. Trump's lawyers said after that ruling that they were considering taking it to the Supreme Court, too. [The Washington Post]


GOP incumbent Bevin concedes Kentucky governor's race

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) on Thursday conceded the state's gubernatorial election to Democrat Andy Beshear, Kentucky's attorney general. Beshear declared victory last week after the initial vote count showed him up by roughly 5,000 votes, but Bevin refused to give in, demanding a statewide recanvassing. After the state's 120 counties reviewed the vote count and confirmed Beshear's victory, Bevin held a news conference and said he would not contest the count, recognizing that "the actual number is going to fluctuate somewhat, but not so significantly that it's going to change the outcome of this election." Bevin had been facing calls from Republicans in the state to concede. President Trump endorsed Bevin and held a rally in support of him the day before the election. [CNN]


2nd embassy staffer overheard Trump call on 'investigations'

A second U.S. Embassy staffer in Kyiv overheard a cellphone call Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had with President Trump about the need for Ukraine to conduct "investigations," The Associated Press reported Thursday. The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor, first reported the July 26 call on Wednesday during the first public hearing in the House's impeachment inquiry. He said one of his staffers overheard the call and told him about it after he gave his recent closed-door deposition to House impeachment investigators. The call occurred the day after the controversial call in which Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations targeting Democrats. That call was reported by a whistleblower and triggered the impeachment investigation. [The Associated Press]


North Korea says U.S. 'betrayed' it by continuing drills with South Korea

North Korea made an implicit threat to resume banned long-range missile and nuclear tests, saying it felt "betrayed" that the U.S. was continuing joint air drills with South Korea. Pyongyang called the exercises an "undisguised breach" of an agreement President Trump struck with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last year. North Korea said it was no longer bound by its commitment to hold off on further tests until the end of this year so the U.S. could develop proposals to resume talks on exchanging curbs to North Korea's nuclear program for sanctions relief. "We, without being given anything, gave things the U.S. president can brag about but the U.S. side has not yet taken any corresponding step," North Korea's State Affairs Commission said. [The Washington Post]


Amazon contests Pentagon award of cloud computing contract to Microsoft

Amazon said Thursday it is contesting the Pentagon's decision to award Microsoft a cloud computing contract worth up to $10 billion. President Trump has frequently criticized Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos. Trump also bashes The Washington Post and notes that Bezos owns it. Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy said it would be hard for a federal agency to be fair in its contracting process when the president is attacking one of the companies competing for the deal. "Numerous aspects of the (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud) JEDI evaluation process contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias," Jassy said. "It is important that these matters be examined and rectified." The challenge was widely expected. [Reuters]


Barr urges FCC to make rural wireless carriers replace Huawei, ZTE equipment

Attorney General William Barr on Thursday called for the Federal Communications Commission to bar rural wireless carriers that receive money from an $8.5 billion government fund from purchasing equipment or services from Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp. Barr said in a letter to the FCC released Thursday that the Chinese tech giants "cannot be trusted." Barr said Huawei and ZTE posed a security threat by skirting the U.S. embargo on Iran. The U.S. also has warned Huawei gear could be used to spy for Beijing. The FCC is scheduled to vote on Nov. 22 on a proposal requiring carriers in the program to replace equipment from the two companies. Huawei and ZTE did not immediately release comments on Barr's letter. [Reuters]


State of emergency declared in Venice due to flooding

Italy declared a state of emergency in Venice on Thursday due to its worst flooding in more than five decades. High tides and a storm surge driven by strong winds raised flood levels to 6 feet, 2 inches on Tuesday, and 3 feet, 8 inches on Thursday. The high water caused extensive damage. The crypt at the thousand-year-old St. Mark's Basilica filled with water, and a third of Venice's raised walkways were destroyed. "It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage compromised, its commercial activities on its knees," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday. More flooding is expected. Two people died on the island of Pellestrina, one of them electrocuted trying to start a pump in his home. [BBC News]