September 14, 2018

President Trump was the featured guest at a high-dollar private fundraiser at the Trump International Hotel on Wednesday night. Donors paid $100,000 a head to join the president for a roundtable discussion, followed by a $35,000-per-couple dinner and and opportunity to get their photo taken with Trump (for $70,000). The event raised $3 million for the joint RNC-Trump 2020 "Trump Victory" fundraising committee, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

So what insider information did attendees get for $100,000? A recitation of positive economic stats, for one. Trump also thanked a cardiologist he'd met in Indiana, Dr. Rim Al-Bezem, for warning him that Syria, Russia, and Iran were planning a massacre in Idlib province, prompting Trump to tweet out a warning to those three countries, the Journal reports. (In return, the Journal says, "Dr. Al-Bezem, whose identity hasn't been previously reported, told Mr. Trump on Wednesday that his tweet saved tens of thousands of lives, an analysis the president agreed with.") And Trump revealed plans to "rebrand" the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump has publicly suggested renaming NAFTA, trying out the United States–Mexico Trade Agreement (USMTA) after reaching a preliminary agreement with Mexico in August. But he had a new name Wednesday night, the U.S., Mexico, and Canada pact, or USMC, the Journal says. USMC, of course, is also the initials of the U.S. Marine Corps, as his chief of staff and defense secretary — both retired Marine generals — might remind him. If Canada doesn't agree to the changes to NAFTA he is demanding, Trump told the donors, he would drop the C, leaving the USM pact. That would cause confusion with a whole bunch of other things, from the University of Southern Mississippi to Ultimate Spider-Man and the U.S. Military.

NAFTA may have a "bad connotation," as Trump claims, but at least you can pronounce it — and it isn't also the three-letter international code for Thailand's Samui International Airport. Peter Weber

11:02 a.m.

The Democratic field isn't sitting well with Oprah.

Despite being enthralled with former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg early in the 2020 race, Oprah Winfrey is now reportedly dissatisfied with who's running. And she's not the only one — Hillary Clinton is still thinking about jumping into the race, The Washington Post reports.

Oprah has made her presidential ambitions for Disney CEO Bob Iger well known, and has reportedly "repeatedly begged" him to run. She said in September she hoped to be "knocking on doors in Des Moines, wearing an 'Iger 2020' T-shirt." "Bob Iger's guidance and decency is exactly what the country needs right now," she continued.

Clinton similarly "has not ruled out jumping in herself," suggesting she's also seeing "dissatisfaction" with the race's current frontrunners, two people tell the Post. Party leaders have said they're worried about former Vice President Joe Biden's involvement in President Trump's impeachment, and that the other top-tier candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), are "too liberal" to beat Trump.

It all has Democratic National Committee member Elaine Kamarck saying she "could imagine much stronger candidates" leading the field, perhaps Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) or retired Adm. William McRaven, who led the raid on Osama bin Laden. Read more about the massive yet apparently unsatisfactory Democratic field at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:37 a.m.

Joe Biden is taking his rebound to a new level.

After briefly yielding frontrunner status to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a new CNN poll shows the former vice president is back on top of the Democratic field. He ended up with 34 percent support in the nationwide poll — his best CNN poll numbers since he launched his 2020 run back in April.

Biden's support doesn't seem to pull points away from any single candidate, CNN points out. Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are about even with their previous CNN poll showings, with 19 and 16 percent, respectively. Still, that's a big drop from Warren's peak 29 percent in a Quinnipiac poll earlier this month. Biden's rise also comes as he's dealing with being a major player in President Trump's impeachment investigation, and corresponds with big gains in support among "moderate and conservative Democrats," "racial and ethnic minorities," and "older voters," CNN writes.

Next up in the CNN poll are South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) with 6 percent, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke each at 3 percent. CNN and SRSS surveyed 352 people by landline and 651 by cell phone from Oct. 17–22, with a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:26 a.m.

President Trump's former acting attorney general just made one of the strangest arguments against his impeachment yet.

Matthew Whitaker, who served as acting attorney general for about three months after Jeff Sessions' firing, appeared on Laura Ingraham's Fox News show Tuesday at the end of an eventful day for the impeachment inquiry, during which a diplomat testified he was told Trump was linking aid to Ukraine on the country announcing investigations that might benefit him politically.

But Whitaker argued not that Trump didn't do so or isn't guilty of abuse of power, but that abuse of power simply isn't criminal.

"What evidence of a crime do you have?" Whitaker asked Democrats in the interview, Mediaite reports. "Abuse of power is not a crime ... The constitution is very clear that this has to be some pretty egregious behavior."

Abuse of power was, in fact, an article of impeachment against former President Bill Clinton, though it didn't pass the House, as well as against former President Richard Nixon before his resignation. It's also what House Democrats reportedly plan to focus on throughout their impeachment inquiry going forward, with NBC News recently reporting that they'll zero in on "a simple 'abuse of power' narrative."

"This is a really bad talking point," conservative Erick Erickson tweeted in response to the Whitaker clip, adding that if Trump's allies can't come up with a better argument, "the president is toast." Brendan Morrow

8:33 a.m.

Google just announced a major computing breakthrough.

The company on Wednesday said it has achieved "quantum supremacy," meaning getting a quantum computer to perform a task that a classical computer cannot, The New York Times reports.

Specifically, Google says its researchers' quantum computer performed a calculation in just over three minutes that would take the fastest supercomputer in the world around 10,000 years. The milestone, detailed in a Nature article, is one that the Times points out scientists have been working toward since the 1980s and that University of Texas at Austin computer scientist Scott Aaronson compared to the Wright brothers' first flight.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a blog post explained that "we're now one step closer to applying quantum computing to — for example — design more efficient batteries, create fertilizer using less energy, and figure out what molecules might make effective medicines." He also described this as the "the 'hello world' moment we've been waiting for — the most meaningful milestone to date in the quest to make quantum computing a reality."

This announcement was seemingly made prematurely last month when a paper featuring the claim briefly appeared online, but it's now official from Google. In anticipation of the unveiling Wednesday, though, IBM disputed Google's claim in a blog post, arguing that actually, "the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity."

Even if Google's claim is correct, Engadget notes the "feat has almost no practical use" right now and "was designed simply to show that a quantum computer could perform as expected." Pinchai acknowledged that in his blog post by saying that "we have a long way to go between today's lab experiments and tomorrow's practical applications." But as he explained in an interview with Technology Review, "if in any field you have a breakthrough, you start somewhere." Brendan Morrow

7:29 a.m.

Another day, another poll showing rising support for the House impeachment inquiry of President Trump.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released early Wednesday, 55 percent of U.S. voters support the impeachment inquiry, a jump of 4 percentage points from Quinnipiac's previous poll, released just last week, while 43 percent disapprove. For the first time, a plurality of voters, 48 percent, want Trump impeached and removed from office while 46 percent disagree; last week, those numbers were reversed.

There is a wide partisan split in the results, but 58 percent of independents support the House impeachment inquiry and 49 percent want him booted from office, versus 41 percent who don't. As support for impeaching Trump rose, his job approval number dropped to 38 percent, with disapproval at 58 percent, tied for the lowest net approval of his presidency. In last week's poll, Trump's approval rating was 41 percent to 54 percent disapproval. A brutal 66 percent of women disapprove of Trump's job performance.

In FiveThirtyEight's aggregation of impeachment polls, support for the impeachment inquiry is now at 51.1 percent, with 42.7 percent not supportive, while 48.7 percent back impeaching Trump and/or removing him from office versus 43.4 percent who don't.

Quinnipiac's poll, conducted Oct. 17-21 among 1,587 self-identified registered voters nationwide; has a margin of error of ±3.1 percentage points. Peter Weber

6:36 a.m.

On Tuesday, William Taylor, a career U.S diplomat and the top U.S. official at America's Ukraine embassy, was deposed by House impeachment investigators. His testimony, described by Democrats as extremely damning, was conducted behind closed doors, but his opening statement was made public. In his 15-page statement, Taylor detailed how he came to learn that President Trump was withholding both U.S. military aid approved by Congress and also a White House meeting until Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly committed to investigating a company that hired Hunter Biden and a conspiracy theory involving the Democratic National Committee.

ABC News ran through the highlights of Taylor's "explosive testimony" Tuesday night.

"If this were a trial you'd call Ambassador Taylor the star witness," congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes said at CBS News. "What he's been describing in great detail all day is exactly the quid pro quo that the president had been denying."

NBC News anchor Lester Holt said "Trump's oft-repeated impeachment defense that there was no quid pro quo may have crumbled today under the weight of [Taylor's] explosive testimony." CNN's Anderson Cooper said Taylor "revealed in great detail and no uncertain terms that President Trump himself directed his people to push for a quid pro quo with the president of Ukraine," making Tuesday perhaps "one of the most consequential days in the impeachment inquiry as well as, possibly, this presidency."

At Fox News, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) argued, unchallenged, that "there is no quid pro quo until someone from the Ukraine says 'We knew military aid was being withheld during the July 25 call' [between Trump and Zelenksy], and that testimony hasn't come and it's not coming." CNN's Chris Cuomo saw the upside to America finally learning the truth.

"The real only question that remains," Cuomo said, is "what should the consequence be" for Trump. Peter Weber

4:36 a.m.

The more we learn about President Trump's apparent shakedown of Ukraine, the worse thinks look for Trump's personal legal adviser Rudy Giuliani, Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. "Since the original whistleblower report, Rudy has been on TV doing damage control, minus the control."

Trump's "three amigos" in the Ukraine fiasco — U.S. EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and U.S. Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker — have all fingered Giuliani as a key player in the pressure campaign to get Ukraine to pursue debunked conspiracy theories and politically motivated investigations of Democrats, Colbert noted, and now Giuliani is apparently the subject of a counterintelligence investigation that has already snared two of his Ukraine-linked business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

"Of course, there's no proof connecting these guys to Giuliani, unless you count the photos of them smoking cigars together, this video of them drinking together in the Trump hotel, and the fact that Giuliani was paid $500,000 by their company, which is called — and this is real — Fraud Guarantee," Colbert said. "Yes, Fraud Guarantee. He even did a little work for their retail outfit, Krime Mart. So did Rudolph Giuliani and his Fraud buddies lead the president into impeachment by pushing debunked conspiracy theories?" For answers, he turned to Giuliani, as portrayed in manic, wine-guzzling fashion by John Lithgow.

"Democrats say the impeachment might take longer than expected because each witness keeps providing even more leads," Jimmy Fallon said at The Tonight Show. "So basically, Trump's legal strategy is commit so many crimes they can never finish the investigation. 'They're almost done? Tell Don Jr. to rob a bank!' And today the top official from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine testified, and one congressman called it his 'most disturbing day in Congress' — and that's counting the day Mitch McConnell walked out of the sauna without a towel." Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads