January 23, 2019

TSA employees are finding themselves at the center of the government shutdown debate.

Transportation Security Administration screeners at airports across the country have been working without pay while the partial government shutdown continues into its second month. In some cases, workers have called in sick or quit, and in others, they are relying on an airport food bank to get through the missed paychecks.

Some TSA workers say their work is important enough that a mass protest could force lawmakers to end the impasse over border security funding. "There's this talk going on that if the TSA workers would take a stand, would walk out, then the airlines would get to the president and he'd have to make a decision to stop the shutdown," TSA agent Cairo D'Almeida told The Seattle Times.

While plenty of pundits have suggested such a move, hoping the ensuing chaos would pressure President Trump to cave on his demand for $5.7 billion toward a border wall, it's a big ask for TSA workers, who, as federal workers, can be fired and even prosecuted for striking. "I know President Trump wouldn't hesitate one second to get rid of the entire federal work force," said D'Almeida.

Still, many TSA employees recognize that they are in a unique position to shape the debate surrounding the record-breaking shutdown. Earlier this week, 7.5 percent of the TSA workforce called in sick, more than double the rate on the same day last year, reports ABC News. That strain alone is creating some political pressure, but it's risky to intentionally cause more trouble. "It's unfair this political burden has fallen to us," D'Almeida told the Times.

Read more about what federal workers can do about the shutdown here at The Week. Summer Meza

8:06 p.m.

When his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee started to run long, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was worried he might miss his Wednesday night flight to Brussels, but he made it to the airport with enough time to get on the plane, put his luggage in the wrong place, and then make a wry observation about his life.

Fellow passenger Karen-Marie Hyland told CNN she watched as Sondland, who only hours earlier gave bombshell testimony implicating President Trump in a quid pro quo with Ukraine, put his carry-on bag in the wrong overhead compartment. Realizing his mistake, Sondland said, "My whole day has been like this."

Hyland also snapped a picture of the incident, since the public now knows if you deal with any member of the Trump administration, you need to make sure you have receipts. Catherine Garcia

7:57 p.m.

GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) just blew his attempt to brush off the impeachment hearings' latest bombshell.

In the second of Wednesday's hearings, Defense Department official Laura Cooper revised her previous closed-door testimony to say Ukrainian officials noticed their U.S. security aid was held up months earlier than she previously said. Ratcliffe then tried to lead Cooper into saying that was no big deal, but she didn't give in to his loaded question.

Cooper recently learned Ukraine had inquired about withheld U.S. security aid as early as July 25, she said Wednesday in a revision from her earlier testimony. That's the same day President Trump asked Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 election — an alleged quid pro quo. Republicans have tried brush off that alleged exchange, saying a quid pro quo couldn't have happened if Ukraine didn't know the aid was being held up.

Cooper's statement bucked that notion, so when Ratcliffe got a chance to question her, asked a series of questions in which he tried to get Cooper to claim Ukraine's inquiries about the aid were no big deal. The inquiries from Ukraine about the aid asked about the "assistance," not necessarily the "hold," Ratcliffe asked. "Not necessarily," Cooper agreed after a pause, mirroring his statements as he continued. But when Ratcliffe tried to tie it all together and say it's "not unusual" for countries to ask about aid, Cooper used her "experience with the Ukrainians" to say that's just not the case. Watch that moment below. Kathryn Krawczyk

7:15 p.m.

A lawyer for Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman sent a letter to Fox News on Wednesday, requesting that the network either retract or correct a "deeply flawed and erroneous" segment that aired during the Oct. 28 episode of The Ingraham Angle.

Vindman is the National Security Council's Ukraine expert, and the segment aired prior to his closed-door testimony as part of the House impeachment inquiry. Host Laura Ingraham said it was "kind of an interesting angle" that Vindman "is advising Ukraine, while working inside the White House, apparently against the president's interest, and usually, they spoke in English." Yoo replied, "I found that astounding. Some people might call that espionage."

In his letter, lawyer David Pressman wrote that Vindman "had never in his 20-year career of service to his country been accused of having dual loyalties or committing espionage," which is a felony punishable by death. This falsehood was repeated by others, Pressman said, and Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient who served in Iraq, and his family "have been forced to examine options, including potentially moving onto a military base, in order to ensure their physical security in the face of threats rooted in the falsehood that Fox News originated."

In a statement, Fox News said that "as a guest on Fox News, John Yoo was responsible for his own statements, and he has subsequently done interviews to clarify what he meant." Yoo told The New York Times in an email that he "didn't say that Lt. Col. was a spy or that he had committed espionage. I had no reason to question that he was doing his duty as an officer. But I think the Ukrainians are engaged in espionage against us." That argument, Pressman said, is "as legally irrelevant as it is factually incredible." Catherine Garcia

6:57 p.m.

Impeachment testimony changes are turning out to be game changers.

In the second of Wednesday's back-to-back impeachment hearings, Defense Department official Laura Cooper had something to revise from her closed-door testimony right off the bat. While Cooper originally testified Ukrainian officials started asking about withheld security aid on Sept. 5, she said Wednesday she's since heard from aides that Ukrainians had inquired months earlier.

The withholding of aid to Ukraine is a major part of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. It's one half of the quid pro quo Trump has denied, allegedly withheld by the Trump administration until the Ukrainian government agreed to announce an investigation into the Bidens. Several officials have testified the aid was held up for this reason, but one major point made by Republicans has been that the aid was eventually released, and that the Ukrainians didn't even know it was missing until after Trump's infamous July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky where he requested the Biden investigation.

Cooper's testimony undercuts that narrative. She said Wednesday she'd since seen emails provided by staffers showing Ukrainian officials asked about the aid on July 25, the day of the call where Trump asked Zelensky to "do me a favor." If that's true, it would be much harder to claim the Ukrainians didn't feel pressured by Trump's request. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:33 p.m.

At least one person is happy about everything that's going on in Washington, D.C.

As everything that went down between President Trump and Ukraine comes to the surface, Russian President Vladimir Putin is literally saying "thank God" that eyes aren't on him anymore. "No one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore," he said at a Wednesday economic forum in Moscow, per NBC News. "Now they're accusing Ukraine."

Intelligence officials have concluded Russia meddled in the 2016 election and will try to do so again, but Trump has ignored that and instead pushed the idea that Ukraine is somehow even more to blame. He explicitly told Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky that he'd like to see Ukraine investigate the 2016 election and baselessly claimed the country has a physical server holding the hacked Democratic National Committee emails. These unfounded claims have led to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into Trump and apparently left Putin thrilled that he's out of the conversation.

Just because Russia is out of the spotlight doesn't mean the country isn't still attempting to interfere in the 2020 presidential elections. Special Counsel Robert Mueller relayed a warning about Russian election interference during his congressional hearing back in April, saying it was likely happening as he testified. Putin himself seemingly joked last month that he's going to get meddling soon, though if we're being honest, that's probably not a joke. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:19 p.m.

As Bolivia's political situation intensifies, the country's interim government Wednesday produced audio it says consists of former exiled President Evo Morales ordering a blockade to prevent food from entering Bolivian cities. But Morales' supporters have dismissed the recording as fraudulent.

"Brother, don't led food into the cities, we are going to do a blockade, a true siege," someone whom the government says is Morales is heard saying in what is allegedly a phone call he made from exile in Mexico. "From now it is going to be fight, fight, fight."

The audio was released by Interior Minister Arturo Murillo one day after the military clashed violently with Morales' supporters who were reportedly blocking fuel from reaching the capital, La Paz, which along with several other cities throughout the country has been facing a food and fuel shortage since the standoff between the protesters and interim government began, per The Wall Street Journal.

Morales' backers, who have accused the military of orchestrating a right wing coup to remove the socialist Morales from power, argue that the government released the video in an attempt to distract the country as it conducts a crackdown on protesters who are demanding Morales' return.

Meanwhile, morales activists have reportedly shared videos showing soldiers firing live rounds at protesters. Morales called upon the interim government Wednesday to "stop this massacre of indigenous brothers who ask for peace, democracy, and respect of life in the streets." Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

4:53 p.m.

White House aides and Trump campaign officials were "freaking out" after being "blindsided" by European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland's testimony on Wednesday, which contained allegations of quid pro quo and pointed fingers at the president and other top administration officials, CNN's Jim Acosta reports.

The White House had attempted to get an "early peek" at Sondland's remarks during the jittery hours before the impeachment hearing began, due to the perception that he was a "wild card" witness, The Washington Post reports. Sondland's attorney had refused those attempts.

It became clear during the testimony, though, that Sondland's confirmation that "everyone was in the loop" was bad news for Republicans, who pivoted to attempting to distance Trump from what Democrats say was an attempt to pressure Ukraine into digging up dirt on Hunter Biden, the son of his potential 2020 rival. Trump's campaign specifically zeroed in on Sondland saying that Trump "directly told him he wanted nothing from Ukraine," although Sondland did confirm that the requests of Trump's personal lawyer and fixer Rudy Giuliani "were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit" for the Ukrainian president, and that "Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States."

Trump campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany maintained that "over and over we've heard from Democrats and the media that the next hearing, the next witness, the next testimony would be the bombshell they've been promising, only to have it fizzle out like all the rest. It has happened yet again." But Ken Starr, the lead prosecutor during the Bill Clinton impeachment hearings, begs to differ: "This obviously has been one of those bombshell days," he told Fox News. Jeva Lange

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