October 29, 2019

Things aren't looking good for U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a former special counsel argues.

Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, will testify Tuesday about his concerns about the Trump administration's interactions with Kyiv. Vindman's opening statement contradicts Sondland's claims that he never discussed former Vice President Joe Biden or his son, Hunter, with any White House or State Department official and that he never encouraged Ukraine to investigate the Bidens over Hunter Biden's ties to Ukrainian gas company, Burisma.

Vindman's statement, on the other hand, claims Sondland stressed the importance of investigating the Bidens, Burisma, and Ukraine's role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in the presence of Vindman and former NSC official Fiona Hill. Vindman will also testify that both he and Hill told Sondland his statements were inappropriate, which has been corroborated by testimony from both Hill and former U.S. diplomat to Ukraine Bill Taylor.

Ryan Goodman, who once served as special counsel to the general counsel of the Department of Defense, thinks that spells bad news for Sondland, who could be in "deep, deep legal trouble" following Vindman's testimony. Stay tuned. Tim O'Donnell

10:22 a.m.

A federal judge says the tragic death of her son "cannot be in vain."

U.S. District Judge Esther Salas spoke on Monday about the "unfathomable pain" her family has been experiencing since her son, a 20-year-old student at Catholic University of America, was shot and killed at their home by a man who was reportedly wearing a FedEx uniform. Salas' husband is recovering after being shot multiple times.

Salas in the video describes speaking with her son while they were cleaning up from his birthday party when he went to answer the door and she "heard the sound of bullets" as he was shot by a "monster" carrying a FedEx package. The primary suspect in the shooting has been identified as Den Hollander, who described himself as an "anti-feminist" lawyer and was "apparently angry at Judge Salas for not moving quickly enough on a lawsuit he had brought challenging the constitutionality of the male-only draft," The New York Times reports.

"We are living every parent's worst nightmare, making preparations to bury our only child, Daniel," Salas says. "My family has experienced a pain that no one should ever have to endure, and I am here asking everyone to help me ensure that no one ever has to experience this kind of pain."

Salas, who says she believes she was targeted by the "madman" because of "my position as a federal judge," says judges are "forced to live in fear for our lives because personal information like our home addresses can easily be obtained by anyone seeking to do us or our families harm," calling for steps to be taken that would "safeguard" their privacy.

"My son's death cannot be in vain," Salas says. "...This is a matter of life and death, and we can't just sit back and wait for another tragedy to strike." Brendan Morrow

10:19 a.m.

President Trump's new campaign manager Bill Stepien on Monday expressed concern about voters receiving their mail ballots as early as late September, echoing GOP strategists who believe Trump is operating on an accelerated timeline to regain momentum before Election Day on Nov. 3.

Stepien wants to counter the expected nationwide surge in mail-in voting by holding more debates, but that likely wouldn't fix another potential looming problem for his campaign that may be, in part, Trump's own doing. Per The Washington Post, Trump's repeated attacks on mail-in voting, which he argues will lead to mass voter fraud, is discouraging Republicans from utilizing the practice and could threaten party turnout. A Monmouth University poll taken in July found that 60 percent of Democrats would at least consider voting by mail, compared to just 28 percent of Republicans.

In any other year, that might not be such a big deal. Sure, weather and forgetfulness could always prevent someone from going to the polls on Election Day, Politico notes, but the threat of a coronavirus outbreak is looming over this year's election and could keep more people at home than usual, which is partly why Democrats are pushing for more mail-in voting.

Republican strategists are hoping Trump rolls back some of his criticism, or at least makes it more specific, going forward, so Republicans don't refuse to vote absentee if they need to. "It is a problem," one GOP strategist in North Carolina told the Post. "The president has oversimplified the issue to criticize the method of voting, rather than the way it's done." Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

8:31 a.m.

Don't get your hopes up for a running mate announcement from presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden this week.

Although Biden last week said that he was "going to have a choice" for his vice president pick "in the first week in August," The Washington Post reports that his search has been "extended," and the campaign is "signaling that it will likely wait until the second week of August" to tap his running mate. ABC News similarly writes that "it's looking like" the announcement won't happen this week.

As the search continues, Biden is expected to interview "five or six finalists," but he seems to be "entering the final phase of the search without a clear favorite," the Post reports. Last week, Politico reported that Biden's "biggest concern is that there is nobody on his list with whom he has any previous deep relationship," with this report suggesting a dark horse could potentially emerge.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that although the buzz has recently centered around Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, one Biden aide claims that "11 women remain in the mix."

But as the knives come out for some of the leading contenders during Biden's extended search, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told the Post the situation has become "messier than it should be," and ABC News observes that "with just two weeks left before his convention, the coming time crunch could fray party unity at a moment his campaign needs it most." Brendan Morrow

8:00 a.m.

"Picture this Thanksgiving: turkey, football (maybe), tenser-than-usual interactions with relatives," media columnist Ben Smith writes at The New York Times. "And perhaps a new tradition: finding out who actually won the presidential election."

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to prompt a surge in mail-in voting, at a time when the U.S. Postal Service is grappling with service-slowing cost-cutting measures handed down by the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Trump. Key states like Pennsylvania may be counting those ballots for weeks after Election Day, and with Trump filling that time tweeting more "false allegations about fraud," Smith writes, "the last barriers between American democracy and a deep political crisis may be television news."

TV hosts, election analysts, network chiefs, and social media executives exude "blithe confidence" about their ability to handle an election that won't be decided for days or weeks, Smith writes, but there's "near panic among some of the people paying the closest attention."

"The nerds are freaking out," Brandon Finnigan, the founder of Decision Desk HQ, told the Times. "I don't think it's penetrated enough in the average viewer's mind that there's not going to be an election night. The usual razzmatazz of a panel sitting around discussing election results — that's dead."

Media companies can prepare their viewers and change how they report election results, "but what the moment calls for, most of all, is patience," Smith writes. "And good luck with that."

"Nobody I talked to had any real idea how cable talkers or Twitter take-mongers would fill hours, days, and, possibly, weeks of counting or how to apply a sober, careful lens to the wild allegations — rigged voting machines, mysterious buses of outsiders turning up at poll sites — that surface every election night, only to dissolve in the light of day," Smith said. But one war game of an election in which Joe Biden wins a big popular majority and tiny electoral college loss ended with the U.S. military casting the deciding vote. Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

7:54 a.m.

John Hume, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work ending "The Troubles" in his native Northern Ireland, died on Monday after a short illness, The New York Times reports. He was 83. Hume, a moderate Roman Catholic politician, worked doggedly for peace, inspired by the late U.S. civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hume played a major role in peace talks that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair called Hume a "political titan" who "refused to believe the future had to be the same as the past," the BBC reports. Hume's family said it seemed "particularly apt for these strange and fearful days to remember the phrase that gave hope to John and so many of us through dark times: We shall overcome." Harold Maass

7:39 a.m.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin doubled down on their clashing coronavirus relief packages ahead of fresh Monday talks. Pelosi repeated Democrats' calls to renew the $600 per week in extra jobless benefits that expired Friday, although she said the sum could be reduced as unemployment falls. Pelosi said Democrats were "unified" behind the $600 figure, but that Republicans are in "disarray." Senate Republicans have proposed lowering the figure to $200 per week.

Mnuchin said in an interview on ABC's This Week that Republicans had suggested a one-week extension of the $600 during negotiations, but ultimately payments "should be tied to some percentage of wages, the fact that we had a flat number was only an issue of an emergency." Harold Maass

6:23 a.m.

"Sadly, history isn't always fun, weird mummy ventriloquy — it can be painful, too, as America has recently been reminded," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "Because George Floyd's murder has forced a hard national conversation about this country's present, which is impossible to do effectively without re-examining its past. And unfortunately, that's not a conversation that all Americans are well-equipped to have." Some attempts to explain the history of systemic American racism are aimed at persuadable skeptics. Oliver's meta-history lesson, peppered with NSFW language, seems designed more for people who already see the problem and want to learn more.

"With so many people misunderstanding our history, either by accident or very much on purpose," Oliver said, pointing at Fox News, "we thought tonight it might be a good idea to talk about how this history of race in America is currently taught in schools: What some of the gaps are, why they're there, and how we can fill them." The battle over how to teach history "has always been political," and it was especially "intense" after the Civil War, he noted. "You know the saying, 'History is written by the winners?' The South set out to prove that wrong," with some success. "The impulse to downplay the horrors of slavery has marked how schoolchildren have learned about it ever since," he said, and that's caused "real harm, because those kids grow up."

Oliver focused on "three big mistakes that many historians believe that we make and should correct in schools and beyond," including the role of white supremacy, viewing American history's progress as "constantly and inevitably upward," and the failure to "connect the dots to the present."

Just last week, Trump tweeted about keeping low-income housing out of the suburbs. "What's notable there is not that Trump's being racist, which is not remotely surprising, it's how neatly he fits in to a systemic racism that's been baked into this country from the beginning and which will still be here when he is gone," Oliver said. "And if kids aren't taught this, what chance do they have to understand what's happening right now?"

"History, when taught well, shows us how to improve the world," he said. "But history, when taught poorly, falsely claims there is nothing to improve." Peter Weber

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