October 22, 2019

Democrats are describing the testimony of a key diplomat in President Trump's Ukraine scandal as "incredibly damaging."

Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified Tuesday before the House of Representatives amid the impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused his power by pushing for Ukraine to conduct investigations that might help him in the 2020 presidential election. A key question in the inquiry is whether Trump held up aid to Ukraine to secure these investigations, and Taylor in text messages released earlier this month wrote, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

Taylor's 15-page opening statement Tuesday drew "sighs and gasps," Politico reports. He reportedly described "how pervasive the efforts were to tie an investigation of Burisma and 2016 election 'interference' to a White House meeting and aid being released," as Politico's Andrew Desiderio quotes a source as having described. Burisma is the Ukrainian gas company where former Vice President Joe Biden's son served on the board.

CNN additionally reports Taylor testified that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told him "that security aid to Ukraine could have been held up in part because of a push for Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation that could help Trump politically," although Taylor reportedly said he couldn't get a "straight answer" about why the aid was being delayed.

Democrats came out of the testimony describing it as quite damning, with freshman Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) telling The Wall Street Journal "this is my most disturbing day in Congress so far," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) telling Politico it was "incredibly damaging to the president," and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) telling CNN the testimony is a "sea change." Republicans, though, seem to have had an entirely different reaction, with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) telling CNN there was "nothing new here." Brendan Morrow

10:22 p.m.

Since being deported from the United States, Maria Butina has received several job offers in Russia, including one with the human rights commission.s

Butina, 31, pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Russia. She infiltrated the National Rifle Association andinfluenced Republican and conservative activists in order to promote Russian interests in the 2016 presidential election. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but was released last month after serving 15 months. She was deported on Oct. 26.

When she arrived back in Russia, Butina was greeted by cheering supporters. She made her first public appearance since then on Monday, alongside the country's human rights commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova. She invited Butina to "work in our group defending compatriots abroad. I'm sure together we'll be able to do a lot of good for people who've ended up in tough situations abroad." Butina did not say if she'll take the job, or if she'll accept another offer to work in Russia's lower house of parliament, Reuters reports.

Also on Monday, Butina's former boyfriend, conservative political operative Paul Erickson, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. Authorities say the South Dakota businessman promised dozens of clients returns of up to 150 percent, but in reality stole $2.3 million from them. He was accused of using this money on personal expenses for Butina. Catherine Garcia

9:11 p.m.

Two prison guards assigned to watch accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein on the night he took his own life are expected to be charged with falsifying prison records, a person with knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast on Monday.

Epstein was arrested on July 6 and held in New York City's Metropolitan Correctional Center while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy. He was in a special unit, and while Epstein was no longer on suicide watch, guards were supposed to check on him every 30 minutes. On August 10, he was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell, and the New York City medical examiner confirmed that his death was a suicide.

Federal investigators have been trying to determine how Epstein was able to take his own life, and there have been multiple reports that the unnamed guards fell asleep on the job and altered records to cover their tracks. The charges against the guards could be filed as soon as Tuesday, The Daily Beast reports. Catherine Garcia

8:10 p.m.

A career official at the Internal Revenue Service who filed a whistleblower complaint over the summer, accusing at least one political appointee at the Treasury Department of trying to interfere with an audit of President Trump's tax returns, met with Senate Finance Committee staff members earlier this month, a congressional aide told The New York Times.

The whistleblower spoke with staffers for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate Finance Committee. The whistleblower contacted the staff of the House Ways and Means Committee in July, claiming that political appointees were getting involved in the audit and putting pressure of some kind on senior IRS officials, the Times reports.

Details of the allegations remain unclear, and the House Ways and Means Committee is still reviewing the complaint. "We generally do not comment on whistleblower meetings, their contents, or even if they happened," Michael Zona, a spokesman for Grassley, told the Times. "Additionally, federal law prohibits the discussion of protected taxpayer information."

A person familiar with the matter told the Times the complaint does not directly implicate Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has refused to comply with a congressional request to release six years worth of Trump's personal and business tax returns. Catherine Garcia

7:18 p.m.

Mina Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, resigned on Monday, just a few hours after NBC News asked her spokeswoman about several false claims Chang made about her nonprofit and education.

In her resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chang said she was "unfairly maligned, unprotected by my superiors, and exposed to a media with an insatiable desire for gossip and scandal, genuine or otherwise." She also said her resignation is actually "a protest," and not "surrender, because I will not surrender my commitment to serve, my fidelity to the truth, or my love of country."

NBC News reported last week that she embellished her résumé, claiming among other things that she was a "graduate" of a program at the Army War College, when she actually just attended a four-day seminar. Chang also showed people a Time cover with her face on it, which a magazine spokesperson said was "not authentic."

Since that report, NBC News uncovered more falsehoods. Chang said in 2012, she won a CBS Humanitarian of the Year Women That Soar award, but it was actually a Dallas, Texas, honor, and the ceremony aired on a local CBS affiliate. Chang also said she earned a degree in international development from the University of Hawaii, but that program does not exist. She visited Afghanistan in 2015, saying it was a humanitarian mission facilitated through her nonprofit Linking the World, but NBC News reports the trip was paid for by a defense contractor, no aid was delivered, and she lied about the people she met. Read more about these tall tales at NBC News. Catherine Garcia

5:44 p.m.

Pete Buttigieg is stuck on a polling rollercoaster.

The South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 candidate got good news over the weekend when a new CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll put him at the top of the Democratic field in Iowa. But his high hopes promptly sunk with a new Quinnipiac University poll out Monday that shows him floundering in South Carolina.

Buttigieg racked up a respectable 6 percent support among likely voters in South Carolina, which will be the first southern state to hold a presidential primary next year. But when only black voters are taken into account, he earned the support of precisely 0 percent of them. Several other candidates also got negligible support among black voters, but Buttigieg has the highest percentage of white support in comparison and draws nearly all of his support from that demographic.

That dismal showing might have something to do with how 60 percent of black respondents said they hadn't heard enough about Buttigieg to decide if they found him favorable or not. Still, that total puts him around the midpoint for recognizability among all the candidates, meaning things haven't looked this bad for Buttigieg since his followers learned how to dance.

Quinnipiac surveyed 768 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters via landline and cell phone from Nov. 13–17, with a margin of error of 4.8 percentage points. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:41 p.m.

Hong Kong Polytechnic University remains sealed off with many pro-democracy, anti-government protesters trapped on campus as fears of violent clashes with police intensify.

At least some demonstrators escaped at great personal risk, as dozens of protesters lowered themselves more than 30 feet down from a bridge with plastic hosing before jumping onto the back of waiting motor bikes and speeding off while police fired projectiles, Reuters reports.

Not everyone fled the scene successfully, however. A Reuters reporter who captured footage of the escape later said that it appeared several of the protesters were arrested.

Meanwhile, two "prominent figures" were allowed onto campus by police to mediate with the demonstrators, signaling a growing risk of violence, Reuters reports. Tim O'Donnell

5:32 p.m.

Kanye West is putting himself under an all-new spotlight. The rapper announced his first opera, Nebuchadnezzar, tweeting a picture of a gold foil opera program engraved with the heading "A Kanye West Opera."

Tickets are on sale for the matinee performance at The Hollywood Bowl on November 24.

The contents of the opera have not been made public but the title provides some insight. Nebuchadnezzar was a real person — a biblical king, in fact. He is featured in the Book of Daniel and regarded as one of the most famous Babylonian kings, ruling for 40 years. This is not the first time his story has been told in the operatic medium. As NPR noted, 1841's Nabucco (the Italian translation for Nebuchadnezzar) was an early work by composer Giuseppe Verdi, and was a passionate retelling of a king gone mad.

Vocal about his own struggles with mental health, West might find himself relating to his opera's protagonist, a complex character grappling with tangled self-perceptions of glory and fame. West recently spoke candidly in an interview on David Letterman's My Next Guest Needs No Introduction about his bipolar disorder diagnosis along with paranoia.

The biblical roots of the narrative suit the superstar as he has also become very public with his relationship to God, from his infamous Sunday services to his comments in the media to his most recent album Jesus is King. Read more about the opera at NPR. Brielle Diskin

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