September 19, 2019

The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that a phone call between President Trump and a foreign leader "included a 'promise' that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint," leading to a standoff between Congress and the acting director of national intelligence. Two of the three major cable news networks had some big questions on Wednesday night. On MSNBC, it was: Who is this leader?

"If you look through the White House records, Trump had interactions with about four or five foreign leaders in the weeks leading up to this complaint," Washington Post reporter Greg Miller told Brian Williams. "Perhaps the most relevant one is a late-July, end-of-July conversation with Vladimir Putin, in which the White House readout was very different from the Russian readout afterward." Former U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul had a similar thought.

"I think it's safe to say that the speculation is going to center on Putin and on Kim Jong Un," Miller said, and "there almost undoubtedly is a record of this call."

Phil Mudd, a former CIA counterintelligence official, was hopping mad, asking CNN's Chris Cuomo "why it's the U.S. intelligence community's responsibility to listen to the president of the United States speaking to a foreign leader," and why Congress needs to know? "So you don't like that somebody snitched on the president?" Cuomo asked. "Correct," Mudd said. The whistleblower law is supposed to be for in-house policing, and the president "can say what he wants to Putin, he can say what he wants to Kim Jong Un," he said. If you don't like it, "you quit."

Post reporter Carol Leonnig told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that the whistleblower is an intelligence official who used to work in the White House, but cautioned that Trump talks to lots of foreign leaders and some of the calls are reportedly off the record. Still, she said, Trump's alleged abuse is "serious, it's not a small thing." Watch below. Peter Weber

6:39 p.m.

Jeff Flake, the former senator from Arizona, doesn't know whether he would have voted to impeach President Trump, but is sure of one thing: Trump definitely did something wrong.

Flake announced in 2017 he would not seek re-election, saying he felt there wasn't any room in the Republican Party for critics of Trump. He was in the Senate chamber on Tuesday, watching his former colleagues participate in Trump's impeachment trial, and during a break told reporters he saw valid points on both sides of the argument over whether Trump's pressure on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was an impeachable offense.

Trump pushed Zelensky to launch an investigation into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and while Flake doesn't know if Trump should be removed from office over this, it wasn't a good idea. "As a Republican, it pains me when I see Republicans, House Republicans, try to maintain that the president did no wrong, that this is somehow normal," he said. "It's not." Catherine Garcia

5:30 p.m.

Just call him the crown prince of hacking.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos reportedly had his phone hacked after receiving what was apparently an infected video file over WhatsApp from none other than Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in 2018, sources told The Guardian. An analysis of Bezos' phone reportedly revealed that following a seemingly friendly conversation between the two men, the video file sent by the crown prince corrupted Bezos' phone and made large amounts of data vulnerable, eventually leading to embarrassing leaks.

The Guardian didn't receive word on what may have been pulled from Bezos' phone following the alleged incident, but the news that Saudi Arabia's future king was possibly directly involved with the infiltration is a major revelation in its own right. Saudi Arabia has previously denied targeting Bezos' phone, but previous investigations had determined with "high confidence" that Riyadh was behind the efforts.

There's another wrinkle to the already-head scratching story, though. It's been reported by The Intercept that the prince chatted regularly on WhatsApp with White House adviser Jared Kushner, who's also President Trump's son-in-law. That's now raising some speculation that those conversations may have taken a similar turn to Bezos. Read more at The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

5:04 p.m.

That's one down.

The Senate stuck to party lines Tuesday as President Trump's impeachment trial got under way. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced an amendment to the rules dictating the impeachment proceedings which called for the Senate to subpoena White House documents related to the events. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) then responded with a motion to table the proposal.

There wasn't much drama after that. The motion to table passed 53-47, as every member of the upper chamber stuck with their side, including a few GOP lawmakers like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who are generally considered the biggest threats to cross the aisle. Collins, for her part, issued a statement shortly after the vote indicating her decision had more to do with the timing of Schumer's proposal than her opposition to bringing in new evidence.

After the defeat, Schumer introduced a second amendment, this time calling for documents from the State Department. Tim O'Donnell

4:31 p.m.

Harvey Weinstein's defense will aim to discredit his accusers by citing alleged "loving emails," which a judge has just ruled can be referenced during his rape trial.

Attorney Damon Cheronis claimed in court Tuesday that Weinstein's defense team has "dozens and dozens and dozens of loving emails" from witnesses to Weinstein that it wants to use during the trial, The Associated Press reports. The defense claims that in these emails, women "describe being in loving relationships" with Weinstein or "describe him as someone they cared about both before and after these alleged sexual assaults," Bloomberg reports.

"We will counter with their own words," Cheronis said, also alleging that "witnesses who claim sexual assault with him also bragged about being involved in sexual relations with him," Deadline reports.

Judge James Burke said Tuesday the defense is permitted to reference what was allegedly said in these emails, although they aren't allowed to actually show them, NBC News reports. Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzzi blasted the defense's characterization of the emails as "blatantly inaccurate," per Bloomberg.

Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women, is facing charges of rape and sexual assault, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

Although Weinstein's defense on Tuesday won the right to reference these emails, it lost another bid to move his trial out of New York City; Assistant District Attorney Harriett Galvin called this a "transparent attempt to delay the proceedings," per AP. After a jury of seven men and five women was selected last week, opening arguments in the Weinstein trial are set to begin Wednesday. Brendan Morrow

4:17 p.m.

Anything you say can and will be held against you.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) got a little taste of that Tuesday when Jaime Harrison, who is running to challenge Graham's Senate seat, launched a new campaign ad. In the video, the Democratic candidate begins reading a statement, as Graham's voice creeps into the scene. Viewers are then transported back in time to 1998 as Graham, then a member of the House, advocates for a thorough impeachment case against then-President Bill Clinton in which "everybody had a chance to have their say."

Graham hasn't exactly maintained that position in the present day — he wants President Trump's trial over and done, and isn't one of the Republicans who's on board with calling witnesses. But despite Graham's staunch anti-impeachment stance, Harrison seems to think it's worth reminding the senator of the good old days. Tim O'Donnell

3:50 p.m.

Jay Sekulow apparently missed a few memos from the Trump administration.

Sekulow, who is serving as President Trump's outside lawyer in the Senate's impeachment trial, argued Tuesday that disputes between the White House and Congress are "why we have courts." But as the Department of Justice has repeatedly argued, including as recently as last month, that's not what this administration believes.

Arguments began Tuesday in the impeachment trial of Trump, during which House impeachment managers and Trump's defense team debated Republican-back rules for the trial. That's when Sekulow took shots at House Democrats who brought the charges against Trump, saying they should've let the courts rule on their subpoenas for documents and testimony from Trump administration officials before moving forward with impeachment. If they took issue with Trump claiming executive privilege to block those subpoenas, well, "it is why we have courts," Sekulow said.

Yet in December court filing regarding a House lawsuit against former White House Counsel Don McGahn, the Trump administration argued the opposite is true. Asking the court to "weigh in" on the subpoena "when political tensions are at their highest levels" reveals "why this sort of interbranch dispute is not one that has 'traditionally thought to be capable of resolution through the judicial process,'" the DOJ wrote.

Sekulow also alleged the Mueller report cleared Trump of collusion, which isn't a crime and not something former Special Counsel Robert Mueller even investigated. And as for Sekulow's claim that House Republicans weren't allowed into closed-door impeachment hearings, well, 48 of them were. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:22 p.m.

The Senate's impeachment trial of President Trump is underway, but it's already received a last-minute rule change.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday unveiled the proposed impeachment trial rules, under which each side would have 24 hours over two days for opening arguments. This proposal quickly drew criticism from Democrats, as it could see sessions stretching past midnight, beyond the point where most people would be able to watch.

But this rule was modified Tuesday with a proposal under which opening arguments for each side would still last 24 hours, but over three days rather than two, NBC News reports. This would allow Senate sessions to wrap up around 9 p.m. ET, and could extend the length of the trial by two days, Politico notes. CNN's Kevin Liptak reports this change apparently came together quite quickly, as the resolution received a handwritten update.

Although Democrats were critical of the rules, CNN reports the changes were actually "the result of concerns from moderate Republicans." A spokesperson for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) confirmed to NBC News that she was among these Republicans who complained, saying, "She thinks these changes are a significant improvement." Another rule change allows for evidence to be submitted automatically unless there are objections.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins further reports that the White House pushed for the two-day timetable, as "officials were concerned they may not get to make their full arguments this week with the 3-day period." These White House officials, Collins reports, "think it's better if all their arguments are made consecutively, instead of possibly being broken up and stretching into next week." Besides, as CBS News' Kathryn Watson noted, "Most senators want to sit silently for 12 hours without moving/eating/looking at their phones as much as anyone else." Brendan Morrow

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