October 4, 2019

President Trump ordered the State Department to recall U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from her post in Ukraine in the spring, months before her scheduled departure, "after months of complaints from allies outside the administration, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that she was undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden," The Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday. Giuliani told the Journal and CNN that he had complained about Yovanovitch to Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

According to Giuliani, "he reminded the president of complaints percolating among Trump supporters that she had displayed an anti-Trump bias in private conversations," the Journal reports. "In Giuliani's view, she also had been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter." A person familiar with the matter told the Journal that "Yovanovitch's removal was a priority for the president," and Pompeo supported the move. State Department officials tried to counter the baseless theories spread by Giuliani, but they were told "they couldn't shield her from attacks by the president and his allies," the Journal adds.

"I don't know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her, but I heard very, very bad things about her for a very long period of time — not good," Trump told reporters Thursday morning. He said similar things on a July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to the White House partial transcript. Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, is scheduled to be deposed by the House impeachment investigators next Friday.

Giuliani's strong suggestion "that Trump decided to fire Yovanovitch because she was standing in the way of their plan to pressure Ukraine to go after Biden" is "at minimum a highly inconvenient fact to introduce into the president's defense," Jonathan Chait notes at New York. "And it comes from his own lawyer!" Peter Weber

December 7, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) did not want to answer that one.

Warren on Saturday steered away from directly responding to a question about whether she would release her tax returns from before 2008 if her fellow Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg made his fundraisers open to the press.

The senator didn't say yes or no, but she made the argument she was focusing on the present. To her point, she has already released 10 years worth of her tax returns, which is more than President Trump or former President Barack Obama ever released. But Warren has also recently called for Buttigieg to release the names of his clients when he worked for the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. He began that job in 2007.

Buttigieg's camp responded to Warren already, and called for her to release the returns in a show of transparency. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

The FBI is keeping its investigation into the shooting that killed three people Friday at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida, tightly wrapped, but some information has made its way through.

The New York Times, for instance, reports that the suspected Saudi Arabian gunman — identified as Second Lt. Mohammad Saeed Alshamrani, an aviation student at the base who served in the Saudi air force — appears to have been self-radicalized. There is no evidence he had any ties to international terrorist groups, an initial assessment from American intelligence and counterterrorism officials revealed.

A motive reportedly remains unclear right now, though the SITE Intelligence Group which monitors jihadist activity, found a Twitter account that could not be independently verified, but had a name matching the suspect's. It contained posts criticizing U.S. foreign policy and quoting former al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, per the Times.

The FBI is still investigating whether the suspected gunman acted alone, as well. The Associated Press reports he had a dinner party with three other students earlier this week. They reportedly watched videos of mass shootings while there, a U.S. official told AP, and one of those students reportedly videotaped the building where the shooting was taking place, while the other two watched from a car. The official said 10 other Saudi students were being held on the base, while several others were unaccounted for.

As of now, though, there hasn't been any indication about whether the shooting was part of a larger operation, but that hasn't prevented some lawmakers from reaching their own conclusions. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

The House Judiciary Committee released a report Saturday geared toward defining what the Constitution's framers considered an impeachable defense.

The report comes after four legal experts testified about the subject Wednesday in the committee's initial hearing in President Trump's impeachment inquiry. The report, which traces impeachment's origins to monarchical England, doesn't conclude that Trump should be impeached, although Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) didn't mince words when announcing its release.

Ultimately, though, the committee is leaving that decision up to the House as a whole. Still, there's seemingly some hints at what future articles of impeachment — which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asked committee chairs to draft — might look like.

Trump appears to have heard about the report and was quick as always to argue over Twitter that he was putting the U.S., not himself, first in his dealings with Ukraine. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

Congress is on the verge of implementing paid parental leave for all federal workers.

A tentative bipartisan agreement was struck during Congress' negotiations over its annual defense bill. Draft language includes a provision that would allow 2.1 million civilians who work for the U.S. government to take paid leave for 12 weeks to care for a new baby after birth, adoption, or the initiation of foster care, multiple people familiar with the agreement told The Wall Street Journal.

Currently, military members can take 12 weeks of paid parental leave, but civilian federal employees only receive unpaid parental leave and instead have to use accrued annual or sick leave to get paid during that time, per the Journal.

The White House is backing the deal, and Ivanka Trump reportedly played a role in the negotiations.

That has Democratic lawmakers optimistic the provision will pass.

Many lawmakers view this as a first step toward guaranteeing paid parental leave for all Americans, including those who work in the private sector, which Congress hopes will eventually match the same standard. "This will be a crucial win for federal employees and their families and a significant development in our ongoing fight for comprehensive paid family and medical leave for all Americans," Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

President Trump received some good news and some bad news from the Supreme Court on Friday.

First, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg temporarily blocked a congressional subpoena for President Trump's financial records from Deutsche Bank. The decision comes after Trump's emergency request to block a lower court ruling that required him to hand over the records as part of the House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees' investigation into Trump's relationship with the bank.

The stay on the ruling doesn't let Trump off the hook in the long run, however. It will remain in place until Dec. 13 while the Supreme Court deliberates on whether to grant a longer stay and give Trump's legal team time to prepare a formal appeal. But ultimately, it doesn't say much about how the Court will rule.

Meanwhile, in news that left the Trump administration — particularly the Justice Department — more disappointed, the Court rejected the White House's request to go ahead with a plan to carry out the first executions of federal death row inmates since 2003. The justices left a federal judge's hold on four executions scheduled by U.S. Attorney General William Barr in place, though the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District is now considering the case and should make a ruling within two months. Read more at Politico and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

Financial compensation may soon be on the way for some of California's wildfire victims.

Pacific Gas & Electric agreed Friday to pay $13.5 billion in damages to victims of four wildfires that occurred in the state between 2015 and 2018. Among the fires covered in the claims is the 2018 Camp fire — California's deadliest blaze — which killed 85 people and destroyed 18,800 structures.

If accepted by a bankruptcy judge, the settlement will go to people who lost loved ones, property, or both, as well as government agencies and attorneys who pressed the claims. Some of the blame for the fires has been directed at faulty or aging PG&E equipment.

"There have been many calls for PG&E to change in recent years," said Bill Johnson, the CEO and president of PG&E. "PG&E's leadership team has heard those calls for change, and we realize we need to do even more to be a different company now and in the future. We will continue to make the needed changes to re-earn the trust and respect of our customers, our stakeholders, and the public."

The settlement comes after the company agreed to a $1 billion deal with cities, counties, and other public entities, as well as an $11 billion agreement with insurers and others covering claims for wildfires in 2017 and 2018. Victims seeking compensation will have until the end of the year to file claims. Read more at NBC News and NPR. Tim O'Donnell

December 7, 2019

After three long years, Xiyue Wang is on his way home.

Wang, a Chinese-American graduate student at Princeton University who had been detained in Iran since 2016, was freed Saturday when Iran and the United States conducted a prisoner exchange in Zurich, Switzerland. The exchange also saw the release of Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani who had been convicted of violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.

Brian Hook, the State Department's special representative for Iran, worked with Swiss intermediaries — who look out for American interests in Tehran since there's no U.S. embassy — to negotiate the exchange. He flew to Zurich with Soleimani and is expected to return with Wang, who will be able to reunite with his wife and young son. President Trump confirmed the swap Saturday, as did Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Wang, a student of late 19th- and early-20th-century Eurasian history, reportedly went to Iran to learn Farsi and conduct archival research for his dissertation. He reportedly disclosed his research plan to the Iranian interest section at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C., and Princeton said he was not involved in any political activities or social activism. But Tehran claimed he had ties to U.S. intelligence agencies, which led to his detainment. Read more at The New York Times and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

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