January 22, 2016

While the United States forecasts the political season with poll numbers and pundits, a different sort of omen has emerged in tumultuous Vietnam: the death of the sacred turtle.

The turtle had lived in Hanoi's central lake for decades at least, with some saying he'd been there for centuries. He represented the tangible embodiment of Cu Rua, "Great-Grandfather Turtle," who loaned out a magical sword to a mythological hero.

But the turtle inconveniently died in a season of debate about Vietnam's standing with China — and on the same day the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry slammed China for sending an oil rig into disputed waters, The New York Times reports. Additionally, the Communist Party's congress has just opened; the timing seems unlucky, and an ominous feeling has fallen for those who'd seen the turtle as a symbol of Vietnam's endurance and independence.

"People say the turtle's death is bad luck, and a way for the gods to show that something’s about to happen," Nguyen Thien Hung, the caretaker of the nearby Vu Thach Buddhist temple, told the Times. "If I were to discuss the political implications of this, the government would think I was trying to destabilize it. But everyone thinks this is bad luck for the government." Jeva Lange

2:08 p.m.

President Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, Rudy Giuliani, found himself at the heart of the impeachment hearing on Wednesday after the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, implicated him in allegedly setting up a quid pro quo between the White House and Ukraine. Giuliani, needless to say, was not having it, going as far as to demand an apology from the GOP's own attorney.

Republicans had attempted to dismiss Giuliani's activities in Ukraine as nothing but self-interested meddling, as to distance Trump from the possible scheme to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Bidens. That was the line of questioning that the GOP counsel, Steve Castor, pursued on Wednesday: "Granted, Mr. Giuliani had business interests in Ukraine," Castor suggested, prompting Sondland to answer "now I understand he did; I didn't know that at the time."

Giuliani hit back on Twitter: "Republican lawyer doesn't do his own research and preparation, and is instead picking up Democrat lies, shame," he tweeted. "Allow me to inform him: I have NO financial interests in Ukraine, NONE! I would appreciate his apology."

Giuliani had spent the day on the defensive on social media, having tweeted earlier that "I never met with [Sondland]" and that there was "no quid pro quo." He later deleted that tweet. Read more about Giuliani's alleged interests in Ukraine here. Jeva Lange

1:44 p.m.

After a widely-panned interview about his association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew is stepping back from public duties.

Prince Andrew announced Wednesday he will "step back from public duties for the foreseeable future" because "my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption."

Virginia Roberts Giuffre has alleged she was trafficked by Epstein and forced to have sex with Prince Andrew when she was 17, which he denied in a recent BBC interview, saying, "I can absolutely categorically tell you it never happened." But the Duke of York came under fire for many of his answers about his friendship with Epstein in this interview, including when he said, "Do I regret the fact that he has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes."

"Unbecoming?" journalist Emily Maitlis shot back. "He was a sex offender." At another point in the interview, he said his relationship with Epstein had some "seriously beneficial outcomes" and tried to refute Giuffre's claims against him by saying that, although she recalls seeing him sweating, "I have a peculiar medical condition which is that I didn't sweat at the time."

“I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein,” the Wednesday statement reads. Prince Andrew had reportedly been considering a follow-up interview. Brendan Morrow

1:35 p.m.

Austria's Interior Minister Wolfgang Peschorn announced Tuesday that the country will turn the birthplace of Adolf Hitler into a police station in the hopes of preventing it from becoming a neo-Nazi shrine.

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Peschorn said in a statement.

Neo-Nazis have reportedly long frequented the house in downtown Braunau am Inn, turning it into a pilgrimage site of sorts. The government has tried to step in and stop that from happening for quite a while, but the building's owner had refused sell it even though the interior ministry had taken over the main lease in 1972. The owner also refused to renovate the building, which meant it was difficult to rent to tenants who would turn it into an administrative, educational, or social services building as required by the government. So it remained challenging to prevent Hitler's admirers from flocking to it, even as support for Nazism dwindled. But the government seized the building in 2017, and will now hold a redesign competition for architects that will begin this month as the building transitions into the hands of law enforcement.

The timing of the announcement is not insignificant, as some far-right parties have continued to make gains in Europe. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

12:56 p.m.

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, is a key witness in the ongoing House impeachment hearings, and before he testified Wednesday, both Democrats and Republicans were well aware he could make or break their cases. Ranking House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) nevertheless appeared confident in his opening remarks, noting that he anticipated Sondland would have his reputation "smeared" by the Democrats over the course of the next several hours.

The GOP's tone swiftly changed when Sondland was given his turn to speak. The ambassador confirmed a quid pro quo between the Trump administration and Ukraine, and said he was following orders from the president to pressure Kyiv into opening an investigation into the Bidens. Clinton impeachment prosecutor Ken Starr went as far as to call Wednesday a "bombshell day" due to Sondland's dramatic flip.

Republicans, naturally, didn't feel so peachy about Sondland by the time it was their turn to speak. Steve Castor, the Republican attorney, went as far as to — yep — smear Sondland's credibility. "You don't have records, you don't have notes because you don't take notes, you don't have recollections," he bashed. "This is a trifecta of unreliability."

It didn't matter that the smear was coming from his own party; Sondland wasn't having any of it. Watch below. Jeva Lange

12:31 p.m.

Amid the bombshell impeachment hearing Wednesday, President Trump is declaring victory — and reading from some comically large notes.

Trump spoke to reporters as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland confirmed in his public testimony before Congress a quid pro quo with Ukraine that was pushed by Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who was "expressing the desires of the president of the United States."

But Trump was quick to rush out to explain to reporters how the hearing is actually going great for him, pointing to Sondland having testified that he spoke with the president in September and that Trump told him, "I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo." Insisting this was the true takeaway from the hearing, Trump on Wednesday read from his notes quoting Sondland quoting him.

"That means it's all over," Trump claimed after shouting this exchange recounted by Sondland very loudly, adding he immediately "turned off the television" after hearing it, having evidently tuned out nearly every other damaging moment of the hours-long hearing.

Trump did, however, have one objection to Sondland's characterization of this call he claims clears him: that Sondland testified Trump wasn't in a good mood during it. "I'm always in a good mood," Trump claimed. "I don't know what that is." Brendan Morrow

12:10 p.m.

In what is becoming common practice for the Trump administration, Vice President Mike Pence's office responded critically Wednesday to an impeachment witness' public sworn testimony while a hearing was ongoing.

Pence's Chief of Staff Marc Short released a statement denying U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland's claim that he brought up concerns he had that U.S. military aid to Ukraine was "tied to investigations" directly with Pence in September. That would mean Sondland directly discussed a potential quid pro quo with the vice president.

Short said that the "alleged discussion recalled by Ambassador never happened" and that Sondland was "never alone with" Pence while the two were on a trip to Warsaw, Poland, in September, when Sondland testified the conversation took place. Tim O'Donnell

11:57 a.m.

Ken Starr, the former solicitor general who headed the investigation that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, called Wednesday's testimony by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland "obviously ... one of those bombshell days."

Speaking on Fox News, Starr agreed with the hosts that things now do not "look good for the president substantively." Sondland's testimony, Starr said, confirmed that there was a quid pro quo between Trump's administration and the Ukrainian government — which would be "bribery," in the jargon of impeachment. Sondland also said that the orders to push Kyiv to open an investigation into Trump's political rivals had come directly from the Oval Office.

Starr focused specifically on the question of Trump's alleged contempt, noting that Sondland had spoken "vehemently and bitterly about his lack of access to records to help him." Additionally, the Democrats' line of questioning made clear that Sondland's attempts to refresh his memory for the testimony had been denied by the administration, which could build the Democrats' case for obstruction.

"There will be articles of impeachment," Starr said. "I think we've known that, it was just confirmed today. Substantively, what we heard from the chairman just now is: It's over. We now know — this is his position — we now know that the president in fact committed the crime of bribery." Watch below. Jeva Lange

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