Judge rules DOJ improperly redacted court filing related to Mueller probe

The Department of Justice improperly redacted a court filing related to the Mueller investigation and must reveal the names of two individuals who figured prominently in the probe, a federal judge in Washington ruled on Thursday.

Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in her opinion that the department erroneously redacted a portion of a document after invoking grand jury secrecy protections, even though the two names that were concealed belonged to individuals who did not testify before a grand jury during the Mueller probe.

“DOJ’s assertion that identifying individuals who did not testify before the grand jury as part of the Mueller investigation would reveal ‘a matter occurring before the grand jury’ is without merit and rejected,” Howell wrote.

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According to the judge, who was appointed by former President Obama, both of the people whose names were redacted “figured in key events examined in the Mueller Report.”

Howell said that it does not appear that the same redaction error was made in the report that former Special Counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be ‘more serious’ than what Mueller ‘dragged up’ Lewandowski says Mueller report was ‘very clear’ in proving ‘there was no obstruction,’ despite having ‘never’ read it Fox’s Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE gave to Congress earlier this year.

The redactions in question came in an affidavit submitted to the court by Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer, who reviewed Mueller’s report for classified information before it was transmitted to Congress.

Thursday’s ruling stems from the House Judiciary Committee’s effort to obtain grand jury materials and other information that was not included or redacted from the Mueller report.

Senate panel finds consumer agency accidentally disclosed personal data of thousands

The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday issued a report that found the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) failed to properly handle the data of thousands of consumers, leading to an accidental data breach earlier this year. 

The report recommended that the CPSC, which is in charge of ensuring that consumer products do not harm Americans, take steps to improve its handling of personal data after the CPSC clearinghouse made “improper disclosures” between December 2017 and March 2019 to 29 entities. 

These disclosures contained the personal data of around 30,000 consumers, including street addresses, age and gender, along with information on 10,900 manufacturers. 

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Most of the disclosed data was sent to Consumer Reports and to a researcher at Texas A&M University as part of a response to information requests from these entities. The personal information included was not redacted as required by Section 6(b) of the Consumer Product Safety Act. 

The committee, led by Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (R-Miss.), was informed of the disclosures in April and subsequently sent letters to the agency and interviewed employees about the breach, concluding that “the series of improper disclosures is likely attributable to incompetence and mismanagement rather than deliberate, bad-faith efforts by senior managers or commissioners.”

The committee recommended that the CPSC implement formal training for all new employees on how to handle personal consumer data, review information technology used to process data requests and implement policies to ensure that CPSC management reviews all sensitive data requests. 

Wicker wrote in a letter to acting CPSC Director Robert Adler on Wednesday that while the data disclosures were “concerning,” the committee concluded they did not occur due to deliberate steps, but were entirely accidental. 

Wicker also noted that he intends to review the findings of the CPSC’s inspector general on the disclosures and hopes steps taken as a result of the breach will “protect the consumers and manufacturers that entrust their sensitive information to the CPSC.”

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Joe Martyak, the director of communications at the CPSC, told The Hill on Thursday that “we take seriously the recommendations of this report and have already been taking action to improve staff training and security measures. We will continue to address these recommendations and look forward to the related report from our Inspector General.”

The agency announced the data disclosures in April and detailed the steps it had taken in response, including immediately halting all disclosures through its clearinghouse to entities and immediately requesting the groups accidentally given this information to either return or destroy it. The CPSC also developed an “action plan” to inform all manufacturers that had data disclosed.

CPSC considers unauthorized disclosure of information to be a serious issue,” the agency wrote earlier this year.

-Updated at 5:35 pm to include a response from the CPSC. 

US Ambassador Sondland says Trump directed officials to work with Giuliani on Ukraine

U.S. diplomat Gordon Sondland will tell House lawmakers on Thursday that President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump’s ‘let them fight’ remarks: ‘Enough is enough’ Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump ‘and profit off of it’ Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: ‘Sometimes you have to let them fight’ MORE directed administration officials to work with his attorney, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiTestimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe Democrats want Mulvaney to testify in Trump impeachment probe MORE, on Ukraine matters, according to his prepared remarks for testimony as part of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

The U.S. ambassador to the European Union offers a forceful rebuke as he seeks to distance himself from Trump and Giuliani’s efforts to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate one of the president’s top 2020 political rivals, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWarren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump ‘and profit off of it’ Trump accuses Biden of ‘quid pro quo’ hours after Mulvaney remarks Testimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense MORE.

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“We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine,” he will say, according to a copy of his opening statement obtained by The Hill.

“However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns,” his remarks continue.

Sondland maintains that Trump stressed during phone conversations there was no quid pro quo for the Ukraine financial aid, a matter that has come under intense scrutiny by Democrats who are seeking to determine whether the resources aimed to help Ukraine combat Russian aggression were withheld as leverage to press for a Biden probe.

Trump has previously said he withheld it in order to pressure more European countries to contribute, and his defenders on Capitol Hill have forcefully disputed claims to the contrary.

“Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: ‘What do you want from Ukraine?’ The President responded, ‘Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.’ The President repeated: ‘no quid pro quo’ multiple times,” Sondland adds in his statement, recalling that the president was in a “bad mood.”

Sondland’s testimony, which presents an opportunity for the diplomat to offer his side of events, comes amid growing scrutiny of his involvement in the Ukraine affair, particularly after previous witnesses like Fiona Hill, a former top Russia expert, reportedly testified that he was a counterintelligence threat as a result of his inexperience, not bad intentions.

Hill also told House investigators that former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonWashington indecision compounded the Kurds’ dilemma US Ambassador Sondland says Trump directed officials to work with Giuliani on Ukraine Sondland could provide more clues on Ukraine controversy MORE was so alarmed by news of the Ukraine contacts that he asked Hill to instruct her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about the efforts of Giuliani, Sondland and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump accuses Biden of ‘quid pro quo’ hours after Mulvaney remarks Testimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense Florida mayor says White House hasn’t contacted him about holding G-7 in city MORE, The New York Times reported Monday.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton told Hill, according to her reported testimony.

But Sondland in his testimony strongly condemns efforts to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, stating that he did not take part in such efforts.

“Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong. Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong,” he says.

“I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings. In my opinion, security aid to Ukraine was in our vital national interest and should not have been delayed for any reason,” Sondland adds.

Sondland’s opening remarks are also a forceful blow to Republicans, who hoped that the wealthy hotel magnate and GOP mega-donor would support the president, rather than pile onto the testimonies that have sharply criticized Trump and Giuliani for their Ukraine efforts.

While Sondland does say Trump told him there was no quid pro quo for the aid, he condemns the actions of the president and Giuliani, suggesting a growing split in support for the president as witnesses involved in the matter to clear their name from the scandal.

His testimony comes as Democrats are rapidly interviewing witnesses about Trump’s push for a Biden investigation and questions as to whether he withheld financial aid as leverage for such an investigation.

Democrats had witnesses lined up each day this week, as they hurdle to collect evidence about Trump’s Ukraine efforts before the end of the year.

Updated at 11:06 a.m.

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Ex-White House aide feared Sondland posed counterintelligence risk: report

Former presidential aide Fiona Hill reportedly said she believed U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland created a counterintelligence risk because his inexperience could be exploited. 

Two people familiar with Hill’s closed-door testimony before the House this week told The New York Times she said Sondland’s lack of job preparation made him a possible national security risk.

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She didn’t say he acted maliciously but described his as driving in an unfamiliar area without guardrails or a GPS, the anonymous sources told the Times. 

Hill, the former White House senior director for European and Russian affairs, reportedly described Sondland’s use of a personal phone for official business and said he told foreign officials they could visit the White House whenever they wanted. 

The sources said Hill accused Sondland of promoting himself to foreign officials as someone who could get them White House meetings and gave out cell numbers of U.S. officials to foreigners. 

Sondland is slated to testify before the House on Thursday. After Sondland was subpoenaed by the House, his attorney said in a statement that he would appear.

Sondland is the founder and CEO of a Portland hotel company and was a major Trump donor.

Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems advance drug pricing bill | Cases of vaping-related lung illnesses near 1,500 | Juul suspends sales of most e-cigarette flavors

Welcome to Thursday’s Overnight Health Care.

House Democrats have been spending the day in multiple markups of drug pricing legislation. On the campaign trail, the declining popularity of “Medicare for All” could cause problems for Democratic front-runner Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump ‘and profit off of it’ Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter knocks Zuckerberg for invoking her father while defending Facebook Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems advance drug pricing bill | Cases of vaping-related lung illnesses near 1,500 | Juul suspends sales of most e-cigarette flavors MORE (D-Mass.). Also there was big news from Juul, which will stop selling its most popular fruit flavors, and health officials say the vaping sickness has now affected nearly 1,500 people. 

We’ll start with drug pricing…

 

House Democrats advance drug pricing bill

Two House committees on Thursday debated a sweeping bill to allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs. 

The Education and Labor committee voted along party lines to advance the bill, and the Energy and Commerce Committee spent the entire day working through hundreds of Republican amendments.

Republicans have accused Democrats of rushing a partisan bill through committee, and the Energy and Commerce amendments reflected their frustration.

The Education and Labor Committee, which has limited jurisdiction, passed the bill after accepting a few minor amendments from Democrats.  

The amendment offered by Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems advance drug pricing bill | Cases of vaping-related lung illnesses near 1,500 | Juul suspends sales of most e-cigarette flavors Warren faces tougher sell with ‘Medicare for All’ Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Buttigieg targets Warren, Sanders on health care ahead of debate | Judge overturns ObamaCare transgender protections | Poll sees support drop for ‘Medicare for All’ MORE (D-Wash.) would require the Department of Labor to study applying inflation rebates to group health plans. 

The Ways and Means Committee also held a hearing, and that committee markup will happen next week. The aim is to have a floor vote later this month or early next month, though there are still concerns from both progressive and centrist lawmakers. 

Reality check: The bill will pass the House, but has basically no chance of being taken up in the GOP-controlled Senate. There is a bipartisan drug pricing bill that cleared the Senate Finance Committee, but it is also unlikely to reach the floor unless it can overcome some GOP opposition.  

 

 

Number of vaping-related lung illnesses nears 1,500 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday announced it has confirmed nearly 1,500 cases of vaping-related illnesses across the U.S., including 33 deaths, since the outbreak began earlier this year. 

That’s an increase of 180 cases, and seven deaths, from last week. 

The CDC still doesn’t know what is causing the illnesses and hasn’t identified a brand or substance tied to all cases. 

But it acknowledges that THC vaping products, particularly those purchased from the black market, seem to be playing a large role. 

Context: According to the CDC, of the 849 patients for whom information is available, 78 percent had reported vaping THC products before becoming sick, with or without using nicotine-containing products.

Read more here.

 

Juul suspends sales of most e-cigarette flavors ahead of expected crackdown

E-cigarette manufacturer Juul is suspending the sales of all of its popular fruity flavors ahead of a potential nationwide ban, the company announced Thursday.

The company said it is pulling mango, creme, fruit and cucumber flavors off the market, but will continue to sell tobacco, mint and menthol flavors.  

CEO K.C. Crosthwaite said the company is in the middle of a “reset” because of the public’s lack of trust in the e-cigarette industry. He said Juul will submit products to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for regulatory review. 

“We continue to review our policies and practices in advance of FDA’s flavor guidance, and have not made any final decisions,” the company said in a statement.

Last year, Juul stopped selling its flavor pods in retail stores just ahead of an FDA guidance that would enact a similar rule. Ever since, customers have only been able to purchase flavors on the company’s website, which added additional age-verification measures.

Trump’s crackdown: The backdrop to Juul’s announcement is the threat of action from the Trump administration. Last month, President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump’s ‘let them fight’ remarks: ‘Enough is enough’ Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump ‘and profit off of it’ Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: ‘Sometimes you have to let them fight’ MORE and health officials said all flavored e-cigarettes would be removed from the market until the FDA reviews them and determines they are safe enough to be sold. But unlike Juul’s move, the administration would not exempt mint or menthol. 

Public health reaction: Public health groups though, said it was not good enough, and slammed the company for leaving mint and menthol on the market. 

The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids said Juul’s announcement “shows that it hasn’t changed one bit under its new leadership, and isn’t serious about preventing youth use.”

Read more here.

 

Abortion rights group to host presidential forum on reproductive rights

NARAL Pro-Choice America will host a presidential forum focused on reproductive rights and abortion, the group announced on Thursday.

The forum will take place in the second to last week in January in Des Moines, Iowa, a key primary state. 

The abortion rights campaign group said the forum would feature Democratic presidential candidates, but did not provide a list of who is expected to attend. 

“We are pleased that the Democratic field stands with us on these critical issues and look forward to bringing candidates together for a rich discussion on how they plan to counter the extreme but vocal minority who wants to roll back progress and champion abortion rights in 2020 and beyond,” said NARAL President Ilyse Hogue. 

Planned Parenthood held a similar forum this summer, where nearly every candidate spoke about their plans to protect access to abortion and other women’s health care services. 

More on the forum here. 

 

Warren faces tougher sell with ‘Medicare for All’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) main health care proposal is losing support in the polls, posing a challenge to the emerging front-runner as “Medicare for All” comes under fresh attacks from fellow presidential candidates, hospitals, doctors and insurers.

Opposition to Medicare for All was on full display at Tuesday night’s Democratic primary debate, where moderate candidates called the plan a “pipe dream” and an “obliteration” of the private health insurance system.

The bulk of those attacks came from moderates like South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems advance drug pricing bill | Cases of vaping-related lung illnesses near 1,500 | Juul suspends sales of most e-cigarette flavors Warren raised more money from Big Tech employees than other 2020 Democrats: Report Poll: Biden, Warren support remains unchanged after Democratic debate MORE, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems advance drug pricing bill | Cases of vaping-related lung illnesses near 1,500 | Juul suspends sales of most e-cigarette flavors 2020 Democrats tell LGBTQ teens they’re not alone on Spirit Day ‘We lost a giant’: 2020 Democrats mourn the death of Elijah Cummings MORE (D-Minn.) and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWarren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump ‘and profit off of it’ Trump accuses Biden of ‘quid pro quo’ hours after Mulvaney remarks Testimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense MORE, who accused Warren of being evasive on how she would pay for the proposal.

Meanwhile, several polls showed support dropping or plateauing for Medicare for All throughout the summer. Those shifts in public opinion came amid Democratic debates that spent significant time on the issue, and a well-funded opposition campaign launched by the health care industry.

The takeaway: The declining support creates a challenge for Warren, who gambled on not devising her own health care plan, like other candidates, but instead telling voters “I’m with Bernie” on Medicare for All.

Read more on the shifting politics on Medicare for All here.

 

 

What we’re reading

Doctors urge Americans to get flu shots amid fears over deadly flu strain (The Wall Street Journal) 

When medical debt collectors decide who gets arrested (Propublica) 

J&J agrees to $117M settlement over pelvic mesh devices (Associated Press)

We found over 700 doctors who were paid more than a million dollars by drug and medical device companies (ProPublica) 

 

State by state

Grassley questions University of Virginia Health System on findings from Kaiser Health News investigation (Kaiser Health News)

People with disabilities ask Senate panel: don’t cut Medicaid funding (Herald-Tribune)

New Mexico pot legalization plan would subsidize patients, pay police (Associated Press) 

 

From The Hill’s opinion page: 

Why isn’t Mayor Pete talking about the Indiana program that’s superior to single payer?

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Biden campaign slams Zuckerberg's 'feigned concern for free expression'

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWarren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump ‘and profit off of it’ Trump accuses Biden of ‘quid pro quo’ hours after Mulvaney remarks Testimony from GOP diplomat complicates Trump defense MORE‘s presidential campaign on Thursday hit Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergWarren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump ‘and profit off of it’ Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter knocks Zuckerberg for invoking her father while defending Facebook Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data MORE over a speech where the executive defended his company’s decision not to take down political advertisements with inaccuracies.

“Facebook has chosen to sell Americans’ personal data to politicians looking to target them with disproven lies and conspiracy theories, crowding out the voices of working Americans,” Bill Russo, the Biden campaign’s deputy communications director, said in a statement.

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“Zuckerberg attempted to use the Constitution as a shield for his company’s bottom line, and his choice to cloak Facebook’s policy in a feigned concern for free expression demonstrates how unprepared his company is for this unique moment in our history and how little it has learned over the past few years,” Russo said.

Biden’s campaign lashed out after Zuckerberg delivered a speech at Georgetown University where he argued that it is not Facebook’s role to moderate political content.

“Political ads can be an important part of voice, especially for local candidates and up and coming challengers that the media might not otherwise cover,” he said. “Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media chooses to cover.” 

Zuckerberg and Facebook have received backlash over their policy for political ads, with criticism mounting recently after President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump’s ‘let them fight’ remarks: ‘Enough is enough’ Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump ‘and profit off of it’ Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: ‘Sometimes you have to let them fight’ MORE’s reelection campaign released an ad targeting Biden.

The ad, which highlighted a line of attack from Trump against Biden, accused the former vice president — without evidence — of using his former office to pressure Ukrainian officials to drop an investigation into a company due to his son’s financial interests.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump ‘and profit off of it’ Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter knocks Zuckerberg for invoking her father while defending Facebook Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems advance drug pricing bill | Cases of vaping-related lung illnesses near 1,500 | Juul suspends sales of most e-cigarette flavors MORE (D-Mass.) has been especially vocal about criticizing the policy, calling Facebook a “disinformation-for-profit machine.”

She hammered home the criticism by running a campaign ad falsely claiming that Zuckerberg supports Trump’s reelection bid.

Future of controversial international hunting council up in the air

A controversial federal committee that advises the Trump administration on the benefits of international big game hunting may soon be terminated.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told members of the International Wildlife Conservation Council during a member meeting in Washington, D.C., on Thursday that he “hasn’t yet decided” on the pathway forward for the committee, after environmental groups challenged its authority in court last year.

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Click Here: Cheap FIJI Rugby Jersey“I know [former Secretary] Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Future of controversial international hunting council up in the air Overnight Energy: Advisory panel pushes park service to privatize campgrounds | Dems urge Perry to keep lightbulb efficiency rules | Marshall Islands declares national climate crisis MORE spent a lot of time thinking about your appointment and he absolutely deeply appreciated your willingness to support it,” Bernhardt told the group, which consists primarily of pro-hunting industry representatives and recreational hunters.

“I also doubt he had any thought that he would suddenly find [federal advisory committees] tried in courts on a regular basis,” he said. “And we had some experience with that recently.”

The International Wildlife Conservation Council was established in 2017 under Zinke, the same year the Trump administration moved to reverse a ban on elephant trophy imports from Africa. President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump’s ‘let them fight’ remarks: ‘Enough is enough’ Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump ‘and profit off of it’ Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: ‘Sometimes you have to let them fight’ MORE ultimately intervened and the Fish and Wildlife Service shifted import decisions to a “case by case” basis.

The Humane Society, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council were among the organizations that filed a lawsuit in August 2018, arguing the council was illegal because it was disproportionately filled with pro-hunting advisers. The groups said federal law requires all government advisory panels have a balanced mix of participants. The Trump administration moved to dismiss the suit, but a federal court overruled them in September.

Bernhardt told the committee Thursday that “as we get to December” he would be meeting with lawyers to decide the next best steps for the future of the advisory board, adding he hadn’t “yet decided what that pathway will be.”

“So I just wanted to let you know that I deeply appreciate it, and we will make the best call we can based on where we sit, and you should view that as just an example of life in this day and age,” he said of the lawsuit. “And I wanted to let you know I deeply appreciate all your service, and I know Ryan did as well.”

The council’s charter is set to expire in December. A spokesperson for the Interior Department said Bernhardt will make his decision before then.

While the Trump administration has not formally adopted any of the recommendations from the committee, conservationists have pointed to parallels between the group’s meeting topics and administrative actions. Following the International Wildlife Conservation Council’s last meeting in March that heavily discussed lion trophy imports, the Fish and Wildlife Service began granting the first lion trophy imports from Africa since lions were covered by the Endangered Species Act in 2016.

The International Wildlife Conservation Council is one of three heavily criticized federal advisory boards established under Zinke that some argue are stacked in favor of the industry’s they advise on. 

The Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee — made up largely of people connected to groups that would benefit from National Park Service privatization — recommended in late September that privatizing campgrounds within national parks, limiting benefits for senior visitors and allowing food trucks were a way to bring more money into the park system.

The Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council, established after the International Wildlife Conservation Council was chartered, has the mandate to advise on ways to “benefit recreational hunting and recreational shooting sports.” That group last met in March.

Zuckerberg meets with Waters ahead of congressional testimony

Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHouse investigators receive initial documents from top tech companies Hillicon Valley: Warren turns up heat in battle with Facebook | Instagram unveils new data privacy feature | Advocacy group seeks funding to write about Big Tech Warren turns up heat over Facebook’s ad rules MORE met with Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Video depicting Trump killing media, critics draws backlash Backlash erupts at video depicting Trump killing media, critics Cindy McCain condemns video of fake Trump shooting political opponents, late husband MORE (D-Calif.) behind closed doors on Wednesday ahead of his testimony before the committee she chairs next week, according to multiple reports.

The Information and NBC News both reported the meeting. The Hill has reached out to Waters’s office for more information.

Zuckerberg is scheduled to testify before the House Financial Services Committee next Wednesday in a hearing that will likely focus on Facebook’s plans to launch a new digital currency called Libra next year.

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Scrutiny on Libra has been building for months from lawmakers and regulators concerned a cryptocurrency from one of the world’s largest social media platforms could have significant effects on the world financial system.

Zuckerberg’s testimony comes at a critical juncture for the digital currency project.

Critics have pounced on recent struggles from the Libra Association, which is is legally separate from Facebook.

The group has been hit with the departures of Mastercard, Visa, eBay, Stripe and PayPal this month.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have raised concerns that the Switzerland-based project could be abused for terrorist financing and money laundering and that Facebook can’t be trusted in the financial services sector.

Zuckerberg is the second top official to testify on the cryptocurrency following Libra executive David Marcus’s appearance before Congress in July.

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Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs

Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Ellen Mitchell, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: The House on Wednesday approved a resolution formally rebuking President Trump over his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria.

The measure passed in a 354-60 vote, with four lawmakers voting present. All 60 votes against the resolution came from Republicans, with the present votes coming from three GOP lawmakers and Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashAmash says he’s happy not feeling ‘bound to a particular party’ Amash on Syria: Trump’s not ending anything Trump says House Democrats ‘unfortunately’ have the votes to impeach MORE (I-Mich.). The top three House Republicans supported the motion in a rare split from the president. 

What the resolution does: The resolution — which was sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey House to vote on resolution condemning Trump’s Syria pullback MORE (D-N.Y.) and the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey Pelosi: No House vote on impeachment inquiry MORE (Texas), “opposes the decision to end certain United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria.”

The measure also calls on Turkey to end its military action, calls on the United States to protect the Kurds and calls on the White House “to present a clear and specific plan for the enduring defeat of ISIS.”

“The measure we’re considering today will send an unambiguous bipartisan, hopefully bicameral rejection of Trump’s policy in Syria,” Engel said ahead of the vote.

The background: Trump has ordered all U.S. troops in northern Syria to pull back, paving the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish forces that were instrumental in the U.S.-led fight against the ISIS.

The decision was swiftly condemned by lawmakers in both parties as abandoning the Kurds, signaling to future partners the United States is untrustworthy and enabling ISIS to resurge in the chaos.

The House’s resolution came to the floor under suspension of the rules, meaning it needed two-thirds approval to pass. The measure garnered support from all Democrats and 129 Republicans.

While the resolution breaks with Trump’s decision, Trump is named just once in the measure when it notes he spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Oct. 6.

 

 

More action coming: The vote on the House resolution comes as lawmakers are crafting sanctions legislation against Turkey. Engel and McCaul have said they plan to introduce a bill to sanction Turkey, and Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Hunter Biden speaks out amid Ukraine controversy Fury over Trump Syria decision grows George Conway hits Republicans for not saying Trump’s name while criticizing policy MORE (R-Wyo.) on Wednesday unveiled the text of her Turkey sanctions bill with more than 90 Republican co-sponsors.

In the Senate, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey Graham opens door to calling Hunter Biden to testify MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey House to vote on resolution condemning Trump’s Syria pullback MORE (D-Md.) are expected to introduce sanctions legislation on Thursday.

The push for sanctions comes even after Trump levied sanctions on top Turkish officials, including the defense minister, interior minister and energy minister. Lawmakers have said Trump’s sanctions did not go far enough to convince Turkey to change course.

Trump’s reasoning: Trump said Wednesday that Turkey’s offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria has “has nothing to do with us,” defending his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region amid criticism.

“It’s not our land,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

“If Turkey goes into Syria that’s between Turkey and Syria,” he added. “That’s not between Turkey and the United States, like a lot of stupid people would like you to believe.”

Trump reiterated his plan to withdraw the United States from “endless wars.”

“Our soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be, as two countries fight over land,” Trump told reporters. “That has nothing to do with us.”

Trump also downplayed the U.S. alliance with the Kurds, calling them “no angels” and saying the U.S. “paid a lot of money” for the Syrian Kurdish forces to fight alongside U.S. troops against ISIS.

More criticism from Graham: Graham said Wednesday that Trump appears “hell-bent” on repeating former President Obama’s mistakes in Iraq after Trump said Graham should focus on investigating the 2016 election rather than the Middle East. 

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE is being told EXACTLY what President Obama was told before he withdrew from Iraq. He appears to be hell-bent on making the same mistakes in Syria as President Obama made in Iraq,” Graham tweeted.

“The worst thing any Commander in Chief can do is to give land back to the enemy that was taken through blood and sacrifice. I fear those are the consequences of the actions being taken right now,” he added. 

 

TRUMP URGED TURKISH PRESIDENT TO MAKE A DEAL ON SYRIA IN LETTER: Trump sent a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urging him to make a deal with the U.S. on Syria, according to a letter obtained by Fox Business. 

In the letter, sent ahead of the U.S. delegation meeting with Erdoğan on Thursday, Trump warned the Turkish president that “you don’t want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy–and I will.” 

Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump isolated amid Syria furor | Pompeo, Pence to visit Turkey in push for ceasefire | Turkish troops advance in Syria | Graham throws support behind Trump’s sanctions Graham: Erdoğan pledged to Trump to stay away from Kurdish territory in Syria Trump honors Stanley Cup champions, talks impeachment, Turkey MORE are on their way to Turkey to convince Erdoğan to call a cease-fire in his country’s offensive against the Kurds in Syria. Trump announced the removal of U.S. troops from Syria last week, prompting Turkey’s action.

“History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Trump’s letter reads. 

A meeting gone awry: The letter was released following a meeting between Trump and Democratic and Republican leaders at the White House to discuss Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria.

During the meeting, Trump called his former Defense secretary, Jim Mattis, “the world’s most overrated general,” after Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump defends ‘crime buster’ Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor’s race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor’s race then ‘enjoy the game’ MORE (D-N.Y.) read a quote from Mattis’s appearance Sunday on “Meet the Press,” where he warned that “ISIS will resurge” if the U.S. does not keep the pressure on in that region.

Trump cut Schumer off, according to two Democratic aides, and said that Mattis was “the world’s most overrated general.”

“You know why? He wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said, according to the aides. “I captured ISIS. Mattis said it would take two years. I captured them in 1 month.”

A ‘meltdown‘: The meeting ended in conflict after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Democratic debate starts with immediate question on Trump impeachment White House, Pentagon, Giuliani reject House subpoenas MORE (D-Calif.) said Trump had a “meltdown.” Democrats claimed that the president disparaged Pelosi as a “third-rate politician,” and the party’s leaders walked out soon after.

The meeting was intended to focus on the response to Turkey as it carries out an offensive in northern Syria that has led to the bloodshed and uncertainty in the region. Trump has dug in on his decision earlier this month to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria, even as lawmakers in both parties have warned him against the consequences of the move.

Read about what the members of the Democratic primary field think about Trump’s Syria decision here and here.

 

And here are Five unintended consequences of Trump’s Syria withdrawal

 

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SENATE CONFIRMS TRUMP’S AIR FORCE SECRETARY PICK: The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Trump’s nominee to be the top civilian leading the Air Force.

The Senate voted 85-7 to approve Barbara Barrett to be Air Force secretary.

“Ms. Barrett will serve as the civilian head at the Air Force at a pivotal time for our military,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump declares ‘case closed’ as text messages raise new questions Top House Democrat: Trump did ‘on camera’ what Romney warned about GOP senators attack whistleblower’s credibility MORE (R-Okla.) said in a statement after the vote. “We need to modernize and innovate if we want to keep up with China and Russia, and this is especially important if we want to maintain air and space supremacy. At her nomination hearing, Ms. Barrett demonstrated she shares these priorities, understands the challenges we face and is prepared to tackle these issues head-on.”

The opposing votes all came from Democrats: Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthMissouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers Democrats ignore Asian American and Pacific Islander voters at their peril Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall MORE (Ill.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandLobbying world 2020 Presidential Candidates Krystal Ball: Yang campaign a ‘triumph of substance over the theatre’ MORE (N.Y.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeySanders: ‘Damn right we will’ have a job for every American Democrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Ocasio-Cortez taps supporters for donations as former primary opponent pitches for Kennedy MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Democratic senator on Trump’s ‘treason’ comments about whistleblower: ‘I worry about threats on his or her life’ Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group MORE (Ore.), Tina SmithTina Flint SmithOur hidden infrastructure crisis: School cafeterias Democrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Overnight Health Care — Presented by Coalition Against Surprise Medical Billing — Planned Parenthood charges into 2020 | PhRMA CEO warns against Pelosi drug pricing bill | Medicaid work requirements costing states millions MORE (Minn.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats urge Rick Perry not to roll back lightbulb efficiency rules Bipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats PhRMA CEO warns Pelosi bill to lower drug prices would be ‘devastating’ for industry MORE (Ore.).

 

Months without leader: The Air Force has been without a Senate-confirmed secretary since the end of May when former Secretary Heather Wilson stepped down to become president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

Wilson’s relationship with Trump soured over his Space Force proposal. At her confirmation hearing, Barrett pledged to prioritize setting up a Space Force, a separate military branch for space that first must get congressional approval.

About Barrett: Barrett’s resume includes past stints as chairwoman of the Aerospace Corporation, deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and ambassador to Finland.

Barrett’s nomination slowed after being advanced out of the Senate Armed Services Committee last month after Blumenthal placed a hold on her. Though she had her confirmation hearing and was advanced out of committee alongside Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump to slap sanctions on Turkey for Syria offensive | Trump calls on Turkey to broker ceasefire | Pelosi, Graham seek deal on sanctions | Ex-Trump aide testifies in impeachment probe Overnight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn’t abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster Overnight Defense — Presented by Huntington Ingalls Industries — Intel chief defends handling of whistleblower complaint | Complaint alleged attempt to cover-up Ukraine call | US to send 200 troops to Saudi Arabia | Senate confirms Joint Chiefs No. 2 MORE, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Trump again vetoes resolution blocking national emergency for border wall Trump invites congressional leaders to meeting on Turkey MORE (R-Ky.) had to file a motion to invoke cloture on Barrett’s nomination rather than her being voice-voted like McCarthy.

Blumenthal has said he opposes Barrett because she would not commit to issuing a service-wide policy banning stays at Trump properties.

 

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ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord will speak at the IDEEA Inc. ComDef Conference on “Partnering for Rapid Change,” at 8 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperCastro: Trump ‘is caging kids on the border and effectively letting ISIS prisoners run free’ White House, Pentagon, Giuliani reject House subpoenas 281 lobbyists have worked in Trump administration: report MORE, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley during a classified hearing on “The Situation in Syria and the Wider Region,” at 9:30 a.m. in the Capitol Visitor Center Rm. SVC-217.

Principal Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for Indo-Pacific Affairs David Helvey will speak “The Korean Peninsula Issues and United States National Security,” at 1 p.m. at the Institute for Corean-American Studies symposium in Washington, D.C. 

 

ICYMI

— The Hill: Trump adviser lays out plans to slash national security staff

— The Hill: Senate Democrat demands details of Trump call with Erdoğan

— The Hill: US envoy insists Syria pullout doesn’t affect Iran strategy

— The Hill: Poll: 57 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s Syria withdrawal

— The Hill: Graham warns Trump Syria pullout could be ‘complete and utter national security disaster’

— The Hill: Trump adviser heads to Turkey ahead of Pence to urge cease-fire

— The Hill: US hit Iran with cyberattack after strikes on Saudi oil facilities: report

— The Hill: Opinion: US withdrawal from Syria makes countering ISIS more difficult

— The Hill: Opinion: America adrift: Trump has ended the ‘post-World War II era’

Sondland could provide more clues on Ukraine controversy

A key diplomat and donor to President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE is scheduled to appear Thursday before three House committees in highly anticipated testimony that could shed more light on the Ukraine controversy roiling the nation’s capital. 

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, was blocked from testifying last week by the Trump administration. The White House initially vowed not to cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry into allegations that the president abused his office by urging a foreign leader to deliver political dirt on former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio New study: Full-scale ‘Medicare for All’ costs trillion over 10 years MORE. It’s unclear if the State Department will attempt to prevent his appearance this time. But Democrats have subpoenaed the wealthy hotel magnate, and his lawyers have indicated he intends to comply. 

Sondland will be the sixth witness to testify in the Democrats’ investigation, and he could prove to be among the most controversial. Sondland, a former businessman who donated $1 million to the president’s inauguration committee, has emerged as a vocal Trump loyalist who quickly defended the president’s Ukraine dealings in the face of concern from other leading U.S. diplomats.

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Text messages turned over to Congress this month by Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerMulvaney helped organize controversial Ukraine meeting State Dept. official told to ‘lay low’ after voicing concerns about Giuliani: Dem lawmaker Top State Department official arrives for testimony in impeachment probe MORE, the administration’s former special envoy to Ukraine, revealed that Volker and Sondland had sought to entice Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into launching an anticorruption investigation into Biden, a top 2020 presidential contender, and his son by dangling promises of a meeting with Trump if Zelensky agreed.

The text messages also reveal a conversation last month between Sondland, Volker and William Taylor, the current chargé d’affaires for Ukraine, in which Taylor seemed to express grave concerns that Trump was making the release of U.S. military aid to Ukraine contingent upon Zelensky’s decision to investigate the Bidens. 

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor wrote in a Sept. 9 message.

Sondland replied, “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions.”

“The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind,” Sondland wrote. “The president is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign. I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

Sondland reportedly consulted with Trump before sending the text on the “no quid pro quo” claim. 

The Wall Street Journal, however, reported this month that Sondland had told Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold Johnson10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP braces for impeachment brawl Bipartisan senators want federal plan for sharing more info on supply chain threats MORE (R-Wis.) that the administration had dangled the military aid in return for the investigation — a report that’s sure to be of interest to Democrats questioning Sondland on Thursday. 

“In a Wall Street Journal report, apparently he talked to Sen. Ron Johnson. And he said that, basically, the reason why Ukrainian aid was being held up was because the Ukrainians had not yet agreed to an investigation of the Bidens,” Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiTrump’s cruelty toward immigrants weakens rather than strengthens America Overnight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Federal judge blocks Trump from detaining migrant children indefinitely | Health officials tie vaping-related illnesses to ‘Dank Vapes’ brand | Trump to deliver health care speech in Florida Overnight Health Care — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — More than 800 cases of vaping illnesses reported to CDC | House panel asks e-cigarette companies to stop advertising | Senate Dems to force vote on Trump health care rule MORE (D-Ill.), a member of both the House Intelligence and Oversight and Reform committees, told CNN on Tuesday. “In other words, meddling in our 2020 elections.”

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“He knows a lot, and we’re hoping to learn more from him about the substance and veracity of those allegations in the whistleblower complaint,” Krishnamoorthi added.

Democrats are also focused on Sondland’s associations with Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGiuliani urged Trump to eject exiled Turkish cleric from US: report State Dept. official told to ‘lay low’ after voicing concerns about Giuliani: Dem lawmaker White House, Pentagon, Giuliani reject House subpoenas MORE, Trump’s personal lawyer, who was deeply involved in the pressure campaign on Ukraine. Part of that effort involved the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, from her post in May — a move that infuriated State Department veterans.

“The most important thread that we’re teasing out of all of this is the fact that the president of the United States has been running a shadow foreign policy with Rudy Giuliani, who is a private citizen,” said Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierEqual Rights Amendment and Justice Ginsburg’s ‘hope’ comments Hacker conference report details persistent vulnerabilities to US voting systems Live coverage: House panel to hear about whistleblower complaint MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence Committee. “He has no credentials, and it is confusing our allies around the world — and thrilling our adversaries.”

The president’s defenders have asserted Trump did not use the military aid for leverage, pointing to Sondland’s text message as further evidence. Many Republicans were disappointed last week when the State Department blocked Sondland’s testimony, which GOP lawmakers see as potentially exonerating the president of wrongdoing. 

Still, as both sides are seizing on details to support their competing narratives, it is said that Sondland wants the opportunity to share his side of the story to set the record straight.

Sondland’s rescheduled appearance, however, comes amid increased scrutiny of his role in carrying out Ukraine policy, which does not fall under his umbrella as a diplomatic representative to the European trading bloc. 

Fiona Hill, Trump’s former leading Russia expert, testified before House investigators earlier this week that Sondland was grouped with other Trump officials who were assisting Trump and Giuliani in their contacts with Ukraine.

And other experts have raised concerns that Giuliani, Sondland and others conducted a shadow diplomacy with Ukraine, one which falls outside of the normal channels. 

Hill told House investigators that then-national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump isolated amid Syria furor | Pompeo, Pence to visit Turkey in push for ceasefire | Turkish troops advance in Syria | Graham throws support behind Trump’s sanctions Democrats see John Bolton as potential star witness Syria furor underscores Trump’s isolation MORE was so alarmed by what he heard about Trump’s contacts with Ukraine that he instructed her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about the efforts of Giuliani, Sondland and acting White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyState Dept. official told to ‘lay low’ after voicing concerns about Giuliani: Dem lawmaker Democrats see John Bolton as potential star witness The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump grapples with Turkey controversy MORE, The New York Times reported this week. 

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Bolton told Hill, according to her reported testimony.

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