December 4, 2019

Impeachment witness Pamela Karlan, a Stanford University law professor, believes President Trump should be impeached, but her reasoning points to something that's often been left unsaid.

Karlan said during Wednesday's initial House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing that the "most chilling" aspect from previous testimony before the House Intelligence Committee was when U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky needed only to announce, but not necessarily execute, anti-corruption investigations.

In Karlan's eyes that debunks the idea that Trump and his allies like Rudy Giuliani were legitimately concerned about corruption in Ukraine and were only focused on going after the president's domestic political rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden. Tim O'Donnell

11:39 p.m.

The FBI is investigating whether Hawaiian defense contractor Martin Kao illegally contributed $150,000 to a super PAC that supported Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) amid her 2020 re-election campaign, Axios reports.

The donations were made from June to September 2019, when Kao was CEO of the company Navatek, which has since been renamed Martin Defense Group. Before most of the donations were made, Collins helped Navatek secure an $8 million Navy contract.

A newly unsealed search warrant application shows the FBI believes Kao and his wife started a fake LLC called the Society for Young Women Scientists and Engineers in order to funnel $150,000 to the pro-Collins 1820 PAC, Axios reports. Investigators allege that bank records show Kao also reimbursed relatives who contributed to Collins' campaign.

Under federal law, federal contractors are barred from donating to political campaigns, and it is also illegal to use another person's money to make a political contribution. In 2020, Kao was indicted for allegedly swindling the government out of coronavirus relief funds.

Annie Clark, a spokesperson for Collins, told Axios in an email that the Collins for Senator Campaign "had absolutely no knowledge of anything alleged in the warrant." Catherine Garcia

10:38 p.m.

The New York Attorney General's office has informed the Trump Organization that its investigation into the company is "no longer purely civil in nature," spokesman Fabien Levy told CNN on Tuesday night.

"We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA," Levy said, adding that the attorney general's office would have no further comment. The news was later confirmed by MSNBC.

The probe began in 2019, with investigators looking into whether the Trump Organization inflated the value of its properties for tax benefits and to secure loans. Most recently, prosecutors with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office have been trying to get longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg to cooperate with the investigation. Catherine Garcia

9:49 p.m.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on Tuesday signed into law a dozen police reform measures, saying they will "work in coordination with one another to create a system of accountability and integrity stronger than anywhere else in the nation."

Police chokeholds, neck restraints, and no-knock warrants are now banned in the state, and officers are required to step in if they witness colleagues using excessive force. The bills also restrict the use of tear gas, create an independent office to evaluate the use of deadly force, and make it easier to sue officers who cause injury. Now, Inslee said, Washington has "the best, most comprehensive, most transparent, most effective police accountability laws in the United States."

These sweeping reforms come after several high-profile police brutality cases, including the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Manuel Ellis, a 33-year-old Black man who died while in police custody last year in Tacoma; he was heard on police scanner traffic telling officers after he was handcuffed that he couldn't breathe. Catherine Garcia

8:29 p.m.

President Biden, facing calls from Democrats to push harder for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, has been privately encouraging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to start slowing down the airstrikes in Gaza, a person with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Administration officials are having the same conversations with other high-ranking Israeli officials, the person said, letting them know that after nine days of fighting, it is in their best interest to begin winding down the military operation.

Israeli officials say the airstrikes in Gaza are targeting Hamas in an attempt to degrade its military capabilities; in return, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel. At least 213 Palestinians and 12 Israelis have been killed since the conflict began.

On Monday, the White House said Biden called Netanyahu and expressed his support for a ceasefire. A person familiar with the discussions taking place between the U.S. and Israel told AP that the White House believes its best course of action is to avoid making public demands and instead focus on privately pressuring Israel to stop the airstrikes. Israel has indicated its military campaign could end in a few days, the person added.

While speaking to reporters on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has been "doing this long enough ... to know sometimes diplomacy has to happen behind the scenes." Catherine Garcia

6:51 p.m.

With a vote of 364-62, the House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which directs the Department of Justice to task a point person with expediting the review of coronavirus-related hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

All of the opposing votes were from Republicans. The Senate approved the legislation 94-1 in April, with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) the lone vote against it. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law later this week.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began last spring, there has been a sharp increase in the number of attacks against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the bill also calls on federal agencies to work with community-based organizations to spread awareness of hate crimes and establish a way for law enforcement to report hate crimes online.

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) introduced the legislation with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and said on Tuesday it is "a necessary step to confront the second pandemic of racism and discrimination. We cannot mend what we do not measure." Catherine Garcia

6:14 p.m.

If Republicans take back the House in 2022, at least one sitting GOP member of the chamber doesn't think House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is the right fit to serve as speaker — and you can probably guess who.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who some observers believe isn't a shoo-in to hold her seat, told Politico she won't vote for McCarthy in that hypothetical situation. "I think that we've got to have leaders who lead based on principle, and that's not what we've seen from him," Cheney said.

The rift between the two lawmakers, who not too long ago were leading the House GOP together, has grown significantly since the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, culminating in a vote to oust Cheney — who has remained fiercely critical of former President Donald Trump and his role in the future of the Republican Party — as the House Republican conference chair, so her candid words didn't exactly come out of the blue. Read more about Cheney's own potential path forward in the party at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

6:08 p.m.

Well, if they are government drones, we're all doomed.

Researchers have estimated the Earth's individual bird population to be about 50 billion, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. That's roughly one human for every six birds, CNET reports. Per National Geographic, the study is "the first attempt to estimate the world population of birds, species by species."

Since birds are flighty creatures (pun intended) by nature, researchers, of course, weren't able to count them individually. Instead, scientists used a combination of computer algorithms and "citizen-scientist" observations from bird watching database eBird to arrive at their monumental number.

You may be asking yourself, "Why now?" or just, "Why?" The answer is simple: "For the fields of ecology, evolutionary biology, and conservation, abundance estimates of organisms are essential," write the study's authors. "The distribution of species abundances is fundamental to numerous longstanding questions in ecology."

Although the researchers make sure to qualify their results as estimates (the census focused on only about 92 percent of "all living bird species"), their findings do "represent the best-available data" at the moment, per CNET.

Now, there's only one question left to ask — did or did they not accurately count Martha Stewart's peacocks? Brigid Kennedy

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