November 19, 2019

Sweden is dropping its probe into Wikileaks founder Julian Assange without an indictment.

Assange had been under investigation for rape and sexual assault since he was ousted from his asylum-claiming hideaway at London's Ecuadorian embassy earlier this year — a followup of an investigation Sweden had previously abandoned in 2017. And on Monday, Sweden's deputy director of public prosecutions said the country would drop this year's investigation because its "evidence is not strong enough to form the basis of an indictment."

Sweden first started investigating Assange in 2010 after four women accused him of separate sexual assaults in Stockholm, all of which Assange has denied. Sweden then attempted to extradite him from the U.K., prompting his claim of asylum at the embassy. In the meantime, the statute of limitations expired on three of the four allegations.

Since Assange's asylum was revoked, Swedish prosecutors said they had talked to seven witnesses in the final case, including two people not previously interviewed. But even though the "injured party has submitted a credible and reliable version of events," "memories fade for natural reason," the prosecutor said, and thus they had to drop the probe.

Meanwhile in the U.S., Assange has been charged with the first-ever instance with violating the Espionage Act, along with a bevvy of other counts of receiving or publishing classified information. He's serving a 50-week sentence in the U.K. for skipping bail, and the U.S. has requested to extradite him after that ends. Kathryn Krawczyk

7:12 a.m.

The Defense Department and White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) complied with a court order Thursday to give a watchdog group documents relating to President Trump's decision to withhold $400 million in security aid from Ukraine, but the initial 146 pages were heavily redacted. "Every substantive exchange between officials at the agencies was blacked out," said the Center for Public Integrity, which obtained the documents through the Freedom of Information Act. The group plans to challenge the redactions in court.

The documents center on the conversations Pentagon and OMB officials had about the legality and propriety of Trump's decision, now at the center of Trump's impeachment. "Any potentially interesting bits are redacted," said Margaret Taylor, a former State Department lawyer and Senate staffer.

Midlevel officials testified in the impeachment hearings that the hold on the Ukrainian aid was first announced July 18, sparking confusion and concern from national security officials and diplomats. Two officials said they learned of the freeze as early as July 3. OMB lawyers claimed Wednesday that the freeze of aide was routine and legal. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said in an October press conference that Trump ordered the aid withheld in part to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

In a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, Trump followed up Zelensky's request for military aid by asking him to "do us a favor though" and investigate Joe Biden and a baseless conspiracy theory involving a Democratic server. The aid was released Sept. 11, after Congress started investigating a whistleblower complaint about that call.

The White House, Pentagon, and State Department have directed employees not to cooperate with the impeachment investigation, and those that defied the order were denied access to records that corroborate their testimony. One of the two articles of impeachment charges Trump with obstruction of Congress, citing his administration's failure to hand over "a single document or record" from the Pentagon and OMB. Peter Weber

5:09 a.m.

"Last night, I complemented the president, I commended him for not throwing a tantrum after 16-year-old Greta Thunberg was named Person of the Year by Time Magazine," Jimmy Kimmel said on Thursday's Kimmel Live. "We all knew he wanted to be Person of the Year, we all knew it bothered him. But he showed uncharacteristic restraint" — until, less than 24 hours later, he mocked Thunberg on Twitter.

It's bad enough that "a sweaty old man" like President Trump told Thunberg to "chill" at the movies, but "the fact that Greta Thunberg is a teenager make this especially insane," Kimmel said. It was only last Tuesday that "everyone at the White House had a full-blown hissy fit because a witness at Trump's impeachment hearing had the gall to say the word 'Barron' in a completely benign fashion." Melania Trump said nothing this time, but Thunberg turned the tables by incorporating his mockery into her Twitter bio, he noted. "Trump hasn't been roasted that thoroughly since the last time he locked himself in his tanning bed."

Even if teens still "chilled" at movie theaters, Stephen Colbert said at The Late Show, "Thunberg is from Sweden, so a 'good old fashioned movie' there is probably something called The Sawmaker's Widow that's just four hours of Max von Sydow staring at a broken clock. But since Thunberg is Swedish, let me put this in culturally appropriate terms: Mr. President, go Fjuk yourself." (Fjuk is an island in Sweden, he explained, maybe to the CBS censors.)

"Come on, man, the president of the United States is on Twitter, bullying a teenage girl?" Trevor Noah said at The Daily Show. "Just try to imagine any other president doing something like this." (He tried FDR mocking Shirley Temple.) But Thunberg's clap-back was "phenomenal," he said, "and I'm not surprised: You know, she's 16, so she's used to handling temper tantrums from immature boys."

But Trump's "so cartoonishly villainous," he just "had to pay $2 million because he stole money from his own charity," Noah said, and the rotten apples didn't fall far from the tree. Don Jr., for example, recently killed an endangered sheep in Mongolia. "Who is this guy?" he asked. "He needed to use a laser site at night to take down a sheep? This is an animal so peaceful, literally just thinking about them makes us fall asleep." Watch below. Peter Weber

3:45 a.m.

Among President Trump's 100+ tweets and retweets on Thursday, one stood out. Time naming 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg its Person of the Year is "so ridiculous," he tweeted, adding with no apparent irony that "Greta must work on her Anger Management problem," advising: "Chill Greta, Chill!" Trump had some company in his mockery, The Washington Post notes, but "the rush among Trump allies to bash Thunberg marked a striking contrast to their professed outrage last week when Pamela Karlan, a Stanford University law professor, had invoked Barron Trump’s name during her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing."

Among those who slammed Karlan was first lady Melania Trump, whose signature project is her #BeBest anti-bullying campaign. Reporter David Nakamura asked the first lady and the other Republicans who prominently scolded Karlan what they thought about Trump's Thunberg tweet — and got total radio silence.

"Some conservatives have argued that because Thunberg, unlike Barron Trump, is a political activist, she is fair game for criticism from those whose policies she has campaigned against and whose moral values she has questioned," the Post reports, noting that "Trump has not engaged Thunberg on specific policy points but rather made personal attacks." She responded to the critique anyway.

Undeterred, Trump's campaign had one last trick to try and upstage Thunberg: They simply pasted Trump's head on Thunberg's body on the Time cover. Like "chill" adults do. Peter Weber

1:56 a.m.

Jim Annis can turn any piece of wood into a toy that will be treasured forever.

For the past 50 years, the 80-year-old Army veteran has spent countless hours carving, sculpting, and sanding wooden blocks, transforming them into cars, piggy banks, and fire trucks. When Christmas rolls around, he donates the toys — usually about 300 every year — to the Salvation Army in Sanford, North Carolina. "When the Salvation Army gives out the food and clothes to people in this area, I give out my toys," he told ABC11.

Growing up in a family with five kids, money was tight, and Annis can remember what it was like to wake up on Christmas with no presents waiting for him under the tree. Those memories are what push him every year to make hundreds of gifts. "I love when people ask me how much do I get paid for making these toys," he said. "I tell them my pay is when I see the smile on kids' faces. I hope to be able to do this until my toes curl up." Catherine Garcia

1:53 a.m.

"Today, the House Judiciary Committee debated whether to send two articles of impeachment to the House floor, but first they spent hours proposing highly specific and asinine amendments," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show, pointing to one in particular by "human-hangover hybrid" Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) targeting Hunter Biden and mentioning his history of drug use. "It's pretty ballsy for a congressman to bring that up when he was arrested for DUI in 2008," Colbert said. "Now, you might not have known that — but Georgia's Hank Johnson did," and slyly hammered Gaetz with it in "a master class in passive-aggressiveness."

Assuming Trump is impeached, the Senate trial will apparently last two weeks in January and have no witnesses. "Now, the president's putting a brave face on in public, but impeachment seems to be getting to Trump," Colbert said. But "it's not just impeachment that's getting on Trump's nerves, it's why he's being impeached," he added, quoting a Trump adviser who told CNN the president is "a little surprised it's the Ukraine thing that's done it.

Colbert agreed: "After all the shady deals he's been involved in over the years, he gets tripped up by a phone call? Trump getting impeached for Ukraine is like Paul Newman winning an Oscar for The Color of Money: He definitely deserves it, but it should have happened way before this."

"For three years, this moment has somehow felt both inevitable and also impossible at the same time," Seth Meyers said on Late Night. He called Trump's reported surprise that it's the Ukraine affair that will get him impeached "an amazing confession. Think about that: That's like getting pulled over for a broken tail light and saying: 'Tail light? I got, like, 10 dead bodies in my trunk!'"

"Usually, Republicans are able to dodge questions about all this by hiding in elevators," Meyers said, but "one of the many reasons these public impeachment hearings have been so valuable" is that "Republicans have been forced to sit there and confront the evidence in plain sight, and we've all been able to see in real time that they have no defense." Watch below. Peter Weber

1:10 a.m.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is prepared to start an impeachment trial in lockstep with the White House.

McConnell told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday night that if there is an impeachment trial, "my hope is that it will be a shorter process rather than a lengthy process," adding, "there will be no difference between the president's position and our position in how to handle this." Whether the trial lasts one day or one month, McConnell is confident Trump will be acquitted. "There's no chance the president will be removed from office," he said. "My hope is there won't be a single Republican who votes for these two articles of impeachment."

Earlier in the day, McConnell met with White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and they agreed to coordinate on impeachment trial plans, two people familiar with the matter told CNN. They weren't able to agree on a final strategy, though, CNN reports, as Trump wants witnesses to testify while Senate Republicans are afraid of the can of worms that would open. McConnell and Cipollone were able to reach a consensus on trial proceedings, establishing that House Democratic impeachment managers would present their case first, followed by Trump's lawyers with his defense. Catherine Garcia

12:12 a.m.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party notched a landslide victory in national elections Thursday. Thanks largely to gains in long-held Labour areas that supported Britain's departure from the European Union, Johnson is on track to have the largest Tory majority since the 1980s. The Labour Party lost dozens of seats, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn announced early Friday that he will not lead the party in future elections. He did not step down immediately, though, pledging to stay on as party leader during a post-defeat "process of reflection."

Jo Swinson, the leader of the center-left, anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, won't have that option: She lost her Glasgow-area seat by 149 votes on Thursday, contributing to Liberal Democrats losses and strong gains by the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP).

Johnson called his win "a powerful new mandate to get Brexit done," likely starting with formal withdrawal from the European Union at the end of January. Corbyn said the results were "very disappointing" and that the divisive Brexit issue "contributed to the results," though he also blamed Labour's 59-seat loss on bad press. Many Labour members blamed Corbyn, who is widely unpopular, and called on him to step down as party leader immediately.

With a 48 seats, the SNP will be the third-largest party in the 650-seat House of Commons, after the Conservatives (364) and Labour (203). SNP leaders said they will push for a new referendum of indepedence from the United Kingdom. Johnson now has "a mandate to take England out of the EU but he must accept that I have a mandate to give Scotland a choice for an alternative future," SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC early Friday. Peter Weber

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