November 21, 2019

David Holmes doesn't seem to be one for impressions.

Still, the U.S. political affairs counselor to Ukraine had an extensive recollection of a phone call between President Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland he heard from Sondland's end earlier this year. And in it, he said he heard Trump's "loud and recognizable" voice repeatedly inquire about a potential Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens.

Similarly to what he said behind closed doors, Holmes said in Thursday's public impeachment hearings that while he was eating with Sondland and two other officials in Ukraine, Sondland gave Trump a call. Trump's voice was "loud and recognizable," and Sondland "held the phone away from his ear" at time because of this, letting Holmes hear what was happening. Sondland started the call by telling Trump that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "loves your ass," and Trump responded by saying "so he's going to do the investigation."

After the call, Holmes asked Sondland what just happened, to which Sondland said Trump "does not give an 'expletive' about Ukraine," Holmes testified. He only cares about the "big stuff ... like the Biden investigation," Holmes recalled Sondland saying, spelling out what he heard about Trump's priorities overseas. Kathryn Krawczyk

7:21 p.m.

Attorney General William Barr on Thursday defended the way peaceful protesters were cleared from Lafayette Square near the White House on Monday, saying they were becoming "increasingly unruly" before being pushed out.

Security personnel used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd, shortly before President Trump walked over to stand in front of St. John's Church. Barr, who has been leading the federal response to the protests against the death of George Floyd, said he did not know Trump was going to visit the church when the decision was made to clear out the protesters.

"The president is the head of the executive branch and the chief executive of the nation and should be able to walk across the street to the church of presidents," he said. "I don't necessarily view that as a political act." Barr accompanied Trump to St. John's Church, and said he did so at the president's behest. "I think it was appropriate for us to go over with him," he added. Catherine Garcia

5:45 p.m.

The NBA's board of governors voted Thursday to approve a 22-team, one-location playoff to finish its 2019-20 season, ESPN reports.

The top nine teams from the NBA's eastern conference and top 13 from the western conference, based on standings from when the season was suspended in March, will play an additional eight regular-season games to determine seeding and to tune up. They'll then move to a standard 16-team playoff bracket with a seven-game series determining each round's winner.

All the teams will live and play in a "bubble-like environment at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World," The Washington Post reports, with no fans allowed and visitors strictly limited. Games begin July 31 and the tournament is slated to end in October. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:55 p.m.

Rev. Al Sharpton on Thursday delivered a stirring eulogy for George Floyd, who was killed in police custody last week, saying it's time to "stand up" in his name.

Sharpton spoke at the Minneapolis memorial service following emotional remarks from Floyd's brother, saying his death was due to a "common American criminal justice malfunction" and calling the gathering one that has become "too common."

"George Floyd's story has been the story of black folks," Sharpton said. "Because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed of being is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter than the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations, and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck."

"What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country," said Sharpton, but now, "it's time for us to stand up in George's name and say, 'get your knee off our necks.'"

Amid the nationwide protests over Floyd's killing, Sharpton said that "none of us" at the service condones looting or violence but noted that "there's a difference between those calling for peace and those calling for quiet," as there are some who "just want us to shut up and suffer in silence." He at one point got in a swipe at President Trump as well, referencing his recent church photo-op in which he held up a Bible — "I would like him to open that Bible," Sharpton said. Brendan Morrow

4:45 p.m.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came face to face with protesters for the first time on Thursday, and it went over about as well as you'd expect.

As protests over the death of George Floyd and police brutality against black people have taken over New York City in the past week, de Blasio's response has made him neither a friend of the protesters nor the NYPD. That became clear at a memorial service for Floyd on Thursday, where de Blasio was drowned out by a booing crowd from the moment he walked onstage even after the reverend who introduced him asked for "respect."

De Blasio, who frequently seeks to align himself with progressives, hasn't actually attended any of the protests, and has repeatedly defended the police department's tactics, even saying he hasn't seen any videos of police attacking peaceful protesters. Yet members of the NYPD don't seem to be fans of de Blasio either, going so far as to doxx his daughter Chiara de Blasio when she was arrested protesting over the weekend. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:00 p.m.

Gabrielle Union has filed a discrimination complaint following her ouster from America's Got Talent.

Reports emerged last year that Union was not brought back as a judge for AGT after complaining about a toxic workplace culture and alleged racist incidents on the set; last week, NBC announced an investigation found that "concerns raised by Ms. Union had no bearing on the decision not to exercise the option on her contract."

But through her lawyer Bryan Freedman, Union just filed a complaint with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which names NBCUniversal and producers FremantleMedia and Syco, Simon Cowell's company, Variety reports. The complaint alleges Union was terminated because she refused to "silently endure the racist and misogynistic conduct on AGT," per Deadline.

Union is also reportedly now alleging that NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy tried to threaten and silence her.

"In sharp contrast to NBC's recent statement on race, what was truly an 'outrage' was the fact that Paul Telegdy, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, actually threatened Ms. Union in an attempt to silence her from telling the truth about racist actions that took place on the show," her lawyer said, per Variety. "There is no place for this type of racial bullying in the workplace, and it is going to take more than a Tweet from NBC to demonstrate that NBC intends to create an environment free from racism."

Variety notes that complaints like the one Union filed are "often precursors to lawsuits," while Deadline wrote she is "clearly moving towards either a lawsuit she now has the right to pursue or arbitration." Brendan Morrow

3:45 p.m.

PAC-MAN might be the key to munching our way through the coronavirus pandemic.

Okay, so the ghost-eating yellow blob has nothing to do with stopping a deadly virus. But a gene editing technique that borrows the video game's name could prove effective in "scrambling" COVID-19's genetic code and stopping it from growing, Science Daily reports.

Stanley Qi's bioengineering team at Stanford University started working last year to develop a way to use the CRISPR gene-editing tool to fight influenza, calling their technique "PAC-MAN." It sends a virus-killing enzyme into a virus' RNA — DNA's instructional messenger — that in turn tells the enzyme to attack the virus' genetic material.

The arrival of the novel coronavirus, with no clear cure or treatment, presented a new opportunity for PAC-MAN. "By scrambling the virus's genetic code, PAC-MAN could neutralize the coronavirus and stop it from replicating inside cells," Science Daily writes.

But there was still the dilemma of how to actually deliver the PAC-MAN technique into lung cells. So after publishing a preprint of their study on the technique, Qi's lab found the Biological Nanostructures Facility at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry. The facility focuses on using lipitoids to deliver therapies, and after a first test, the lipitoids "performed very well" at delivering the gene-scrambling treatment, Science Daily writes. Read more at Science Daily. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:43 p.m.

The publisher of The New York Times has addressed staffers' "disappointment and hurt" over a recent op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), while the editorial page editor continues to defend its publication.

The Times faced backlash on Wednesday both internally and externally after publishing an op-ed by the Republican senator titled "Send in the Troops," in which Cotton argues President Trump should send the U.S. military into cities in an "overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers." Times staffers openly rebelled against the decision, with many tweeting the same message: "Running this puts Black [New York Times] staff in danger."

A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of the Times, addressed the controversy in a note to employees on Thursday, per CNN's Oliver Darcy, writing that "for many, pride in" the Times' work has been "overshadowed by the disappointment and hurt felt" over Cotton's piece. But Sulzberger defended the decision to publish it as being made in the "spirit" of "openness to a range of opinions, even those we may disagree with."

James Bennet, the editorial page's editor, also defended the decision, writing, "Cotton and others in power are advocating the use of the military, and I believe the public would be better equipped to push back if it heard the argument and had the chance to respond to the reasoning. Readers who might be inclined to oppose Cotton's position need to be fully aware of it, and reckon with it, if they hope to defeat it."

Cotton himself, meanwhile, is heaping praise on the Times for running his opinion, saying he's happy the editors "stood up to the woke progressive mob in their own newsroom."

According to CNN, Sulzberger's note "did not quell concerns from staffers," with one employee saying it failed to "address what many felt were factual inaccuracies in the Cotton op-ed and its incitement of violence" and was "demoralizing." Brendan Morrow

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