October 15, 2019

Since President Trump decided a week ago, after a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria's Kurdish-held border with Turkey, Turkey invaded Syria, Islamic State prisoners previously guarded by the embattled Kurds started escaping, America's erstwhile Kurdish allies joined forces with Syria's Russian-backed government, many of Trump's Republican and Fox News allies are horrified, current and former U.S. military personnel are seething, the NATO alliance is teetering, and on Tuesday, Russian troops "moved to fill the void left by the United States," The Associated Press reports.

Trump's decision to effectively abandon the Kurds, in other words, doesn't seem very strategically sound at this point. At least not for the United States.

Russia, meanwhile, is "quickly moving to entrench its de facto power broker role," AP says, and that includes sending Russian troops in to keep the Turkish and Syrian armies from directly clashing. Using its troops as human shields may not seem like a winning position for Moscow, but Russia was "gloating on their global television propaganda network" as U.S. forces left the area, Defense One executive editor Kevin Baron captioned this video posted by RT.

Russian journalists are also documenting cheerful Russian soldiers apparently moving into deserted U.S. military outposts.

"It's all in working order!" translated Telegraph foreign correspondent Roland Oliphant, who added: "The Russians are having fun around playing around in this abandoned U.S. military base in Syria." Peter Weber

8:12 p.m.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) shared his grievances with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) during Tuesday's public hearing, saying it upsets him when Schiff accuses Republicans of trying to out the whistleblower whose complaint about President Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sparked the impeachment inquiry.

It is "unfair for you to make that accusation," Conaway said. The whistleblower does not deserve "absolute right" to anonymity, he told Schiff, and Republicans must know this person's identity. "This is about leveling the playing field between our two teams," Conaway said. "Your team knows the whistleblower, they have intimate knowledge of who he or she is."

Conaway also brought up a letter Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent to colleagues on Sept. 22, in which she discusses the whistleblower speaking to Congress. Schiff responded by saying he was happy to enter into the record the statute that allows whistleblowers to remain anonymous and Rep. Devin Nunes' (R-Calif.) past remarks about the importance of providing anonymity to whistleblowers. Catherine Garcia

7:32 p.m.

During his televised appearance before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Tim Morrison, the former top National Security Council official for Russia and European affairs, confirmed that there was a quid pro quo when it came to Ukraine.

Democratic counsel Dan Goldman asked Morrison about a Sept. 1 conversation between U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Andriy Yermak, a Ukrainian official. One of the main focuses of the impeachment inquiry has been whether U.S. military assistance to Kyiv was tied to Ukraine launching investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who once served on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

Goldman asked Morrison to share what Sondland said he told Yermak, and Morrison responded: "That the Ukrainians would have to have the prosecutor general make a statement with respect to the investigations as a condition of having the aid lifted."

The $400 million in security aid was approved by Congress to help Ukraine fight off Russia, and Morrison and other witnesses discussed this aid during their earlier closed-door testimonies. Sondland, who revised his previous statements about no quid pro quo after others testified about it, is scheduled to appear during Wednesday's public hearings. Catherine Garcia

6:49 p.m.

At least 106 protesters are feared dead in Iran, after the government gave security forces authority to use firearms, water cannons, tear gas, and batons against demonstrators, Amnesty International reports.

The protests began on Nov. 15 in response to the government's decision to raise fuel prices, spreading across 100 cities. Amnesty International says it has reviewed video and spoken with eyewitnesses and activists who say Iranian security forces are using excessive and lethal force against protesters. The demonstrations have largely been peaceful, although there are reports fires have been set at banks and seminaries.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has called the protesters "villains," and the government has severely limited internet access to the public. State media has reported that only a few protesters and four members of the security forces have died, but Amnesty International believes the actual death toll could be close to 200. "The authorities must end this brutal and deadly crackdown immediately and show respect for human life," Amnesty International's Philip Luther said in a statement. Catherine Garcia

5:26 p.m.

On a day where several people testified before Congress that President Trump's phone call in July with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky left them feeling uneasy, the president did receive at least one message of resounding support.

Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who serves as Vice President Mike Pence's national security adviser, released a statement Tuesday saying that the call — which he was listening in on — was perfectly acceptable. "I heard nothing wrong or improper on the call," he said. "I had and have no concerns."

Kellogg's statement comes just a few hours after Jennifer Williams, a top foreign policy aide for Pence who reports to Kellogg, testified before Congress that she found the call "unusual because, in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter."

The statement is seemingly a response to Williams' hearing, as Kellogg notes that Williams also testified that "she never reported any personal or professional concerns to me" about the call. Tim O'Donnell

4:47 p.m.

Former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker has one big revision to his first impeachment testimony.

In his original closed-door testimony, when asked if there was any talk of investigating the Bidens in a July 10 meeting with a Ukrainian defense leader, Volker repeatedly answered "no." But when appearing publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Volker reversed that statement.

In his lengthy opening statement Tuesday, Volker mentioned meeting with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, Ukraine's then-National Security and Defense Chief Alex Danylyuk, and other leaders. "I remember, the meeting was essentially over when Ambassador Sondland made a generic comment about investigations," Volker's new statement read, referring to U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland and Trump's desired political investigations. "I think all of us thought it was inappropriate; the conversation did not continue," Volker added.

Flash back to last month when Volker was asked if there was any talk of Rudy Giuliani's desired Biden probe in that meeting. Volker didn't even let the questioner finish before answering "no" three times in a row.

Volker also made another change to his previous testimony, saying that while he didn't tell Ukraine there were conditions to receive U.S. aid, he "did not know" if others "were conveying a different message to them around that same time." Kathryn Krawczyk

4:36 p.m.

It's been a busy day for Congress.

In between public impeachment hearings, House lawmakers voted 231-192 to pass a continuing resolution that will postpone a government shutdown fight until Dec. 20. That's good news in the sense that there won't be a shutdown in two days, which was the initial deadline, but The Hill notes that broader spending negotiations were stalled.

Republicans and Democrats remain at odds over funding for President Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats are trying to avoid providing Trump with the $5 billion he's requested for the wall by allocating that amount to the Homeland Security bill. If that were to happen, it could potentially mean that the amount would come out of other bills that they're prioritizing such as the Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education bill.

The continuing resolution did include provisions providing funding for U.S. census efforts and a 3.1 percent military pay raise, The Hill notes, so it wasn't purely a stopgap.

The Senate is expected to pass the measure quickly, The Hill reports, and Trump reportedly supports the action. Read more at The Hill. Tim O'Donnell

3:36 p.m.

Two federal workers have been indicted in connection with Jeffrey Epstein's death, with several other workers implicated in their testimony.

A Tuesday indictment from the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan has charged Tova Noel and Michael Thomas each with five counts of false entries in official records and one count of conspiracy. The charges detail how they allegedly neglected to check in on Epstein the August night he hanged himself in New York City's Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Epstein, a wealthy financier, was in prison after decades of allegations of sexual abuse involving minors. Guards were supposed to check on his unit twice an hour throughout the night, but video footage apparently shows no one entered Epstein's wing of the building from 10:30 p.m. until 6:30 a.m. when his body was found. Noel and Thomas allegedly spent that time surfing for furniture sales and sports news, their indictments say.

Both Noel and Thomas have allegedly admitted to skipping their rounds, implicating other guards who say they conducted those rounds with them. If convicted, Noel and Thomas could spend up to 30 years in prison.

Epstein's death has been the source of numerous conspiracy theories, with even Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) suggesting Epstein didn't actually hang himself on Tuesday. Epstein's brother has also fanned the flames surrounding his death in recent weeks, though an autopsy has said Epstein died by hanging. Kathryn Krawczyk

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