October 16, 2019

Fiona Hill, President Trump's former top Russia and Europe adviser, was reportedly quite concerned that Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, would accidentally divulge national security secrets while on the job, two people familiar with her private congressional testimony told The New York Times.

Hill reportedly testified on Monday that Sondland was so unprepared for his job that she considered him a national security threat, though she apparently did not accuse him of intentionally putting the country at risk. Instead, she reportedly likened him to someone driving a car without guardrails or a GPS.

The actions that are said to have concerned Hill include Sondland's use of a personal cell phone for diplomatic business and his penchant for inviting foreign officials to pop by the White House whenever they felt like it, which once reportedly resulted in Romanian officials arriving at the White House without an appointment. Sondland, Hill reportedly testified, would also provide the cell phone numbers for other American officials to foreigners.

Hill's concerns were likely enhanced by the fact that she feared Sondland was replacing Washington's previous ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, as part of the Trump administration's effort to pressure Kyiv into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, among other Democratic figures. Sondland is expected to testify before impeachment investigators Thursday, despite the White House directing him not to cooperate. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

3:16 p.m.

Things were not looking great for President Trump on Wednesday as the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified before the House Intelligence Committee. Even by Fox News' generous assessment, Sondland had all but "[taken] out the bus and [run] it over President Trump, Vice President Pence, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney."

But Eric Trump, not to be discouraged, saw the hearing not as a "bombshell" that all but ensures "articles of impeachment," but as an opening. The president's second son boldly took to Twitter to respond to the Sondland testimony ... with an ad for his family's winery:

You know what they say: When life hands you lemons, use the opportunity to sell some Cabernet Sauvignon. Jeva Lange

2:39 p.m.

It's the year of the first-time nominee at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards.

After the internet discovered a partial leak of the Grammy nominations, they are now officially out — and Lizzo must be feeling good as hell.

Not only is she a first-time nominee, but the singer snagged more nominations than any other artist, with a total of eight — making her the first new artist top nominee since Kanye West in 2004, reports Billboard.

Meanwhile Billie Eilish, 17, made history with six nominations, making her the youngest artist to be nominated for the top four categories, per the Los Angeles Times: best new artist, record, album, and song of the year. Lizzo is also nominated in each of the top categories, making this the first year the awards show has two new artists dominating the top four awards, per Billboard.

After spending 19 weeks at number one, "Old Town Road" snagged Lil Nas X a nomination for record of the year. The first-time nominee is up for six awards and he appropriately celebrated the announcement with a meme.

Notably missing from the list was breakout K-pop group BTS. Rolling Stone points out the award show is behind the times, as major American labels have been scooping up K-pop acts throughout 2019 and BTS's album Map of the Soul: Persona outsold Beyoncé's Homecoming.

For a full list of nominations, visit the Grammys website. To see who comes out on top, tune into the Grammy Awards Jan. 26 on CBS. Meanwhile, the internet will continue to war over who got snubbed and who snagged a nom they didn't deserve. Taylor Watson

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 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 spent the day on the defensive on social media, tweeting 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

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