Daily Briefing

10 things you need to know today: November 16, 2019

Tim O'Donnell
David Holmes.


Ukraine embassy official testifies he overheard Trump ask about Ukraine investigation

David Holmes, an official from the United States Embassy in Ukraine, testified before Congress in a closed-door hearing Friday that he overheard a phone call in July between President Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland while he was having lunch with the latter in Kyiv. During the call, Holmes reportedly heard Trump ask Sondland if Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was "going to do the investigation." Sondland reportedly responded in the affirmative, saying that Zelensky would do "anything you ask him to." After the call, Sondland reportedly told Holmes that Trump didn't care about Ukraine, except for "big stuff" like investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over the latter's ties to a Ukrainian gas company. [The New York Times, The Washington Post]


Ex-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine testifies in Day 2 of public impeachment hearings

Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified Friday before Congress in the second day of public impeachment hearings. Yovanovitch spoke about the shadow campaign, led by Trump lawyer and fixer Rudy Giuliani, that resulted in her dramatic late-night recall from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, asking, "How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?" She also described feeling "shocked and devastated" that Trump called her "bad news" on a July call with Ukraine's president. Trump not long into the hearing wrote that "everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad" in a tweet that led House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to say, "some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously." [The New York Times, The Hill]


Trump pardons U.S. soldiers accused of war crimes

President Trump pardoned two U.S. service members accused of war crimes Friday and restored the rank of a third who was charged with posing for a picture with the corpse of an enemy combatant in Iraq, but was acquitted of murder. One of the men Trump pardoned, Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, is currently in the sixth year of a 19-year sentence for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed men in Afghanistan, killing two of them. Meanwhile, Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn was awaiting trial for allegedly murdering a suspected Afghan bombmaker in 2010 before Trump granted clemency, and Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, a 15-year Navy SEAL, will have his rank restored after he was docked for the photograph. Some Pentagon and military officials had reportedly previously urged Trump not to intervene in the cases. [NPR, Fox News]


Trump on defensive after allegations of 'real time' witness intimidation

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch responded directly to President Trump's tweets disparaging her diplomatic service on Friday, calling his comments "very intimidating." While Trump's decision to attack a witness during her testimony before the House Intelligence Committee was blasted by critics as possible tampering, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham weighed in to claim that the tweets were "simply the president's opinion, which he is entitled to." Trump himself doubled down on his comments later in the afternoon, noting, "I have the right to speak; I have freedom of speech, just like other people do." Still, Trump could be in hot water; Fox News' Bret Baier noted the president had "essentially [added] an article of impeachment, in real time." [The Washington Post, PBS]


Protests continue around the globe

Protests continued in several countries Friday and Saturday. In Bolivia, five people were reportedly killed after security forces clashed with supporters of the country's former President Evo Morales who is now in exile. Demonstrators gathered in Iran on Friday and Saturday to protest the government raising gasoline prices. The events there were reportedly mostly peaceful, though one person was reportedly killed. Meanwhile in Paris, yellow vest protesters took to the streets to mark the one year anniversary of the movement, as police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd, reportedly detaining 46 people. An "uneasy calm" was reportedly hanging over Hong Kong on Saturday, as roads being blocked Friday by pro-democracy, anti-government protesters were reopened. Chinese soldiers were dispatched to remove some of the roadblocks. [The Guardian, The Associated Press]


Roger Stone found guilty on all 7 charges

Roger Stone, a former aide to President Trump and his longtime friend, was found guilty on Friday of seven felony charges, including making false statements to the House Intelligence Committee, witness tampering, and obstruction of Congress. He has not yet been sentenced. The verdict was the last remaining case that stemmed from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Prosecutors say Stone worked to obstruct prosecutors in an effort to protect Trump. Stone was convicted of concealing evidence as investigators probed Russia's election interference. Trump aides like Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, attorney Michael Cohen, and George Papadopoulos were previously convicted of lying to federal authorities. Stone was accused of lying about his previous knowledge regarding a WikiLeaks dump of stolen emails ahead of the 2016 election. [The New York Times]


Prosecutors reportedly launch probe into Giuliani's Ukraine project involvement

Federal prosecutors have reportedly launched a probe into the possibility that President Trump's personal lawyer and fixer Rudy Giuliani stood to personally gain from a Ukrainian natural-gas business. The energy business — which looked at building a potential Poland-to-Ukraine pipeline to ferry U.S. natural gas — was hawked by Giuliani's associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Those associates have since been indicted for a campaign finance violation and are key figures in the alleged attempts to pressure the Ukrainian government into investigating the Bidens on Trump's behalf. Giuliani denied involvement in Parnas and Fruman's energy company, Global Energy Producers, saying he has "no personal interest in any business in Ukraine, including that business." It's unclear if any connection could result in criminal charges for Giuliani. [The Wall Street Journal]


Rodney Reed granted reprieve ahead of scheduled execution

Rodney Reed, a Texas prisoner who has maintained his innocence over the murder of a woman in 1996, won an appeal Friday after the Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas ordered the court where he was originally tried to consider new evidence in the case. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles also supported granting Reed a 120-day death sentence suspension. He was days away from his scheduled execution. Reed's case has been brought to light by several celebrities and lawmakers, including Kim Kardashian and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Bryce Benjet, one of Reed's lawyers, said "it is extremely rewarding that we can finally have a chance to present his case in court, so it can be determined that he did not commit this crime." [ABC News, The New York Times]


Santa Clarita school shooting suspect dies

The suspected gunman who killed two students and injured three others at his high school in Santa Clarita, California, died Friday as a result of wounds suffered from shooting himself in the head following the attack. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said police believe the alleged shooter, who has been identified as 16-year-old Nathaniel Tennosuke Berhow, had planned the attack, but the motive remains unclear. The suspect reportedly had not previously shown signs of violence and was not believed to have links to any ideology or terrorists groups, authorities said. "We did not find any manifesto, any diary that spelled it out, any suicide note or any writings," Capt. Kent Wegener of the Sheriff's Department's homicide unit said at a press conference. [The Associated Press, NBC News]


Taylor Swift's former label disputes claim of 'tyrannical control' over her songs

Singer Taylor Swift posted an open letter accusing her former record label of stopping her from performing her songs live, but the label, Big Machine Records, denied her claims Friday. In her statement, Swift described wanting to perform a medley of her songs at an awards show and potentially be featured in a Netflix documentary. She said there's "a big question mark" because Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun — Big Machine's founder and the man whose holding company bought Big Machine earlier this year, respectively — "have now said that I'm not allowed to perform my old songs on television" because they own the rights. Big Machine said her statements were "based on false information" and asserted it never attempted to block her performances. [NPR]