November 5, 2019

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told Congress an effort to push Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son would not only be "improper" but likely illegal.

In his testimony, a transcript of which was released Tuesday, Sondland says that it "would be improper" for Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, to push Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son or involve Ukrainians in the 2020 presidential election. When asked if this would also be illegal, Sondland suggests it would be.

"I'm not a lawyer, but I assume so," he responded, adding of Giuliani's effort to investigate Burisma, the gas company where Biden's son served on the board, "it doesn't sound good." Sondland also says at another point in the testimony that "I would not endorse investigating the Bidens."

This testimony came as part of the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry into President Trump, which is examining whether the president withheld aid to Ukraine in order to secure investigations that might benefit him politically. Sondland revised previous testimony to reveal that he did tell a Ukrainian official that "resumption of the U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks."

Sondland claims he "did not understand until much later" that Giuliani's agenda "might have" included an attempt to involve Ukraine in the 2020 election, and The Washington Post notes that "Sondland's main defense has been that, while he did push for an investigation into the company that employed Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, Burisma Holdings, he didn't know the situation involved the Bidens." At the same time, Kurt Volker, former special envoy to Ukraine, in his testimony suggested Burisma for Trump was probably synonymous with Biden, notes CBS' Steven Portnoy, with Volker saying Trump "would not know or even know how to pronounce or be familiar with the name of a company like that." Brendan Morrow

2:39 p.m.

Country singer, songwriter, and musician Charlie Daniels died Monday after suffering a stroke. He was 83.

Daniels had long been a powerhouse in country music, getting his start by co-writing the Elvis Presley song It Hurt Me in 1964. His guitar, fiddle, and banjo skills landed him on other major artists' records around that time. Daniels launched his own singing career in 1971 with a self-titled debut album, and found his name-maker in 1979 with the fast-fiddling No. 1 hit The Devil Went Down to Georgia.

Daniels and his self-titled band remained active for decades and toured the U.S. multiple times. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

Daniels spent his last days as he did every other: Tweeting "Benghazi ain't going away!" for the umpteenth time in a row. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:32 p.m.

Hong Kong's new national security bill alone has many residents and much of the international community concerned that China is severely limiting the city's freedoms, but experts think the law's new implementations rules are what's really alarming.

Under new regulations settled Monday during the first meeting of Hong Kong's Committee for Safeguarding National Security, police will, in "exceptional circumstances," be able to enter premises without a warrant, order internet firms to remove content — although several tech giants like Facebook and Twitter said they've suspended processing requests for user data from Hong Kong law enforcement — and demand information from political groups operating outside the city, The South China Morning Post reports.

"The new rules are scary, as they grant power to the police force that are normally guided by the judiciary," said Anson Wong Yu-yat, a practicing barrister. "For example, in emergency and special circumstances police do not need a warrant under one rule, but it never explains what it means by special circumstances."

Alan Wong Hok-ming, a solicitor, also noted that even if these rules do provide for some limits on police power, there's nothing stopping from the government from expanding the rulebook to bypass "scrutiny, checks, and balances by other institutions like the Legislative Council." Read more at The South China Morning Post. Tim O'Donnell

1:52 p.m.

Colin Kaepernick and Disney are getting down to business.

Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who while in the NFL kneeled during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice, has signed a first-look deal with The Walt Disney Company, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The partnership between Disney and Kaepernick's Ra Vision Media will "focus on telling scripted and unscripted stories that explore race, social injustice, and the quest for equity," a statement said, and the first project will be a documentary series about Kaepernick being produced by ESPN Films.

In the series, Kaepernick will "tell his story from his perspective," the announcement said, and it will make use of "extensive new interviews and a vast never-before-seen archive that documents his last five years."

This news comes after Netflix last week announced Ava DuVernay is working on a limited series about Kaepernick's high school years, which Kaepernick will himself narrate. Kaepernick on Monday called his partnership with Disney "historic," adding that he looks forward "to sharing the docuseries on my life story, in addition to many other culturally impactful projects we are developing.” Brendan Morrow

1:18 p.m.

Harvard University announced Monday it will only let 40 percent of its undergraduate students live on its Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus when the 2020-21 school year begins. But no matter where those students are learning from, they'll be taking all of their classes completely online to stem a resurgence of COVID-19.

Harvard will let first-year students live on campus in the fall so they can acclimate to college life, and will also prioritize housing for "those who cannot learn successfully in their current home environment," the school announced. Those students will still be encouraged to avoid socializing in person with other students, and will be subject to "virus testing every three days, face-masking, social distancing, and other measures," Harvard continued. In the spring of 2021, first-year students will largely head home and Harvard will let seniors return to campus instead, "unless public health conditions improve or worsen," Harvard said.

Harvard also announced that its annual tuition of $49,653 wouldn't be lowered despite the learning change, and didn't say if there would be a discount from the $72,391 cost of tuition, room, board, and fees combined.

Harvard says it came to its decision by looking at what other Ivy league schools and Northeast colleges have planned and took into consideration how hard the virus hit the dense area of greater Boston early on in the pandemic. Read Harvard's whole announcement here. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:57 p.m.

A hilarious documentary series following the launch of Quibi seems inevitable, but until then, a new report has arrived to provide some juicy details.

Vulture on Monday published a detailed report on Quibi, the mobile-centered streaming service that divides its programming into small chunks and had a disappointing launch earlier this year. It includes some interviews with the folks in charge, including CEO Meg Whitman — who despite being the head of a streaming platform apparently doesn't even like TV that much.

"I'm not sure I'd classify myself as an entertainment enthusiast," Whitman said when asked what she's watching on TV. Asked if she has any favorite shows, she responded, "Grant. On the History Channel. It's about President Grant."

Among the other standout details from the article include that staffers at Quibi agreed with most of the American public that the name was "cringey" and wanted to change it and that internal research showed people who watched the company's expensive TV ads came away with no real understanding of what Quibi even is.

"In market research following its Oscars and Super Bowl ads, 70 percent of respondents said they thought Quibi was a food-delivery service," Vulture reports.

There's also the revelation that Gal Gadot reportedly once came to Quibi and "delivered an impassioned speech about wanting to elevate the voices of girls and women," only for founder Jeffrey Katzenberg to wonder if maybe she could "become the new Jane Fonda and do a workout series for Quibi." A source told Vulture, "Apparently, her face fell."

Whitman didn't sound totally confident in the interview that consumers will largely stick with Quibi following the end of their 90-day free trial, saying, "We don't know quite what to expect." For his part, Katzenberg, presumably channeling his inner this-is-fine dog, told Vulture, "I would say things are going really well." Brendan Morrow

12:22 p.m.

If you've followed coronavirus research developments since the pandemic began, you're probably aware there have been quite a few clinical trials and studies aimed at finding a treatment or prevention for COVID-19. In fact, Stat News reports there have been 1,200 designed since January, which is a remarkable number in such a short amount of time. The problem is a lot of them are fatally flawed, a new analysis conducted by Stat found.

Robert Califf, the head of clinical policy and strategy at Verily Life Sciences and Google Health who previously served as commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, said the analysis shows many studies are too small to answer questions (39 percent are enrolling or plan to enroll fewer than 100 patients), lack real control groups, and emphasized a few potential treatments (one out of every six focused on the President Trump-favored malaria drugs, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine) too frequently. "If the goal was to optimize the likelihood of figuring out the best treatment options, the system is off course," he told Stat.

Martin Landray, a professor of medicine at Oxford University and a member of one of the more successful studies known as RECOVERY, said "it's a huge amount of wasted effort and wasted energy." To correct that, Landray and other experts have called for more "coordination and collaboration" across the globe. Read more at Stat News. Tim O'Donnell

11:43 a.m.

The Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have won at least a temporary victory in their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The more-than-1,000-mile oil pipeline must be shut down and drained of oil within 30 days, U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg of the Washington, D.C. circuit ruled Monday. The pipeline was built and "oil commenced flowing" without a required environmental impact statement, Boasberg wrote in his opinion, meaning the pipeline will need to be shut down at least until that happens.

The pipeline runs from North Dakota's shale fields to Illinois, traveling under the Missouri River along the way. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe contended a leak in the pipe could contaminate their drinking water and otherwise runs through their sacred lands, prompting massive protests and a violent crackdown in 2016. The pipeline's construction was fast-tracked under the Trump administration, and was allowed to commence even without an environmental impact statement mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act.

In response, the tribes launched a lawsuit against Dakota Access and the Army Corps of Engineers. Dakota Access argued shutting down the pipeline would cut their profits and force them to lay off workers, but Boasberg still ruled in the tribes' favor on Monday. The Corps failed to "substantiate" their reasoning for not including the impact statement, Boasberg said. However his decision still leaves the door open for Dakota Access to resume running the pipeline following further review. Kathryn Krawczyk

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