December 5, 2018

In the three months following the 2016 presidential election, lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved several blocks of rooms at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., paying for an estimated 500 nights, The Washington Post reports.

The Washington firm Qorvis/MSLGroup, which has long worked for the Saudi government, paid to host six groups of U.S. military veterans at the Trump International, spending more than $270,000, the Post reports. Once in D.C., the veterans were pushed to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which lets the families of Sept. 11 victims file suit against the Saudi government.

Before Trump's election, veterans stayed in Northern Virginia, and the switch to Trump International took place in December 2016, the Post reports. At that time, the average nightly rate at the Trump hotel was $768; organizers told the Post they received a discount, all other hotel rooms in the area were full, and they were not trying to appeal to Trump. One veteran from Texas, Henry Garcia, told the Post he was never told Saudi Arabia was behind his trip until partway through, and he was surprised by the amount of wining and dining that occurred. "It made all the sense in the world when we found out that the Saudis had paid for it," he said.

Two federal lawsuits have been filed claiming Trump violated the Constitution's foreign emoluments clause by taking improper payments from foreign governments, and on Tuesday, the attorneys general in D.C. and Maryland subpoenaed 13 Trump businesses, looking for records showing foreign spending, the Post reports. Read more about the lobbying efforts and what the veterans say they were told to say about JASTA at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

3:25 p.m.

The future is looking bright for solar physicists.

On Wednesday, scientists released the highest resolution images and videos ever taken of the sun's surface. The images, produced by the National Science Foundation's Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on the summit of Haleakala, Maui, in Hawaii, will help scientists learn more about activity on the sun — a.k.a. space weather — per a press release from the National Solar Observatory.

Space weather can affect life on Earth by interfering with satellites and power grids. When Hurricane Irma made landfall in 2017, radio communications used by first responders were down for eight hours due to unrelated space weather coinciding with the storm, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"This telescope will improve our understanding of what drives space weather and ultimately help forecasters better predict solar storms," said National Science Foundation Director France Córdova. With this information, governments can better prepare for space weather — potentially 48 hours in advance, rather than the current 48 minute standard, per the press release.

(NSO/NSF/AURA)

The circular structures in the images and videos are each roughly the size of Texas, and the movement is the hot plasma that covers the sun rising then falling as it cools off.

David Boboltz, program director in NSF's division of astronomical sciences, said in the press release the telescope "will collect more information about our sun during the first five years of its lifetime than all the solar data gathered since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the sun in 1612." Taylor Watson

2:57 p.m.

Well, that's one way to spin it.

President Trump's lawyer Alan Dershowitz argued Wednesday during the Senate impeachment trial that Trump's alleged Ukraine quid pro quo wasn't impeachable because he was actually just acting in the "public interest." Dershowitz's reasoning didn't have to do with rooting out corruption or anything of that sort, however. Instead, he was making the case that because every president believes it's in the public interest to win an election, any action geared toward securing victory is immune from impeachment.

You may have some questions — like, say, by that logic shouldn't Watergate have been acceptable? — and you're not alone.

Dershowitz's comments reportedly left some Democratic lawmakers flabbergasted, as well. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) apparently turned to Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and silently express his incredulity, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Jeff Merkely (D-Ore.) were left visibly frustrated, and a slow grin crept its way on to the face of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

2:51 p.m.

Senators from both sides brought some real "my question is more of a comment" energy to President Trump's impeachment trial.

After the conclusion of opening arguments, the impeachment trial Wednesday entered its next phase, with senators submitting questions for the House managers and Trump's defense. But most of their early questions weren't exactly hard-hitting.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked Democrats, for instance, "Is there any way for the Senate to render a fully informed verdict in this case without hearing the testimony of Bolton, Mulvaney, and the other key eyewitnesses or without seeing the relevant documentary evidence?" Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), given the perfect opportunity to make his case, responded that no, there's not.

Later, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Trump's defense, in part, "Have the House managers met their evidentiary burden to support a vote of removal?" You'll never guess the response from Trump's defense: no, they haven't.

A few more useful inquiries made their way into the mix here and there, but they came in between questions that barely even qualified as questions at all, like when Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) asked, "Would the House managers care to correct the record on any falsehoods or mischaracterizations in the White House's opening arguments?"

"Many of the questions are thinly veiled efforts to tee up talking points," The Washington Post's Aaron Blake observed, while CBS News' Kathryn Watson tweeted, "Senators who ask rhetorical questions get milk dumped on their head." Brendan Morrow

2:06 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) isn't letting his USMCA fight die.

On Wednesday, President Trump signed the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, a renegotiation of the NAFTA trade deal he's been working on for years. It proved a rare example of a Trump administration law that even Democrats agreed with — save for Sanders, who made it clear Wednesday that he's still not a fan of the deal.

Sanders, who's among the most popular choices for the Democratic presidential nomination right now, said that if he's elected, he'll "immediately begin renegotiating this disastrous deal." His main issues with it include that the deal doesn't "combat climate change, stop the outsourcing of American jobs, and end the destructive race to the bottom," he said in a statement.

Sanders later added a few more words to the matter, tweeting that he "proudly oppose[s] Trump's NAFTA 2.0" because "our trade agreements must stop outsourcing and address the climate crisis threatening our planet." That puts him at odds with pretty much everyone else running for president, with even his main progressive rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) voting in favor of the USMCA when it was in the Senate earlier this month. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:15 p.m.

Shortly before the Senate's impeachment trial resumes, another John Bolton revelation has arrived.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, revealed in a statement Wednesday that he spoke with Bolton, President Trump's former national security adviser, after his White House firing in September. In this conversation that occurred at Engel's request just one day before the impeachment inquiry was announced, Bolton evidently urged the committee to look into the ouster of Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

"On that call, Ambassador Bolton suggested to me — unprompted — that the committee look into the recall of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch," Engel said. "He strongly implied that something improper had occurred around her removal as our top diplomat in Kyiv."

Yovanovitch was removed as ambassador to Ukraine in May 2019, and she testified in the impeachment inquiry her ouster was a result of a smear campaign backed by Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

This latest Bolton revelation comes after The New York Times reported on Sunday that the former national security writes in his upcoming book that Trump tied aid to Ukraine to investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Democrats want Bolton to be called to testify as part of the impeachment trial, and in his statement, Engel says he told his colleagues about this conversation and it "was one of the reasons we wished to hear from Ambassador Bolton, under oath, in a formal setting." Brendan Morrow

1:01 p.m.

And with that, Nigel Farage is on his way out of Brussels.

Farage, a British Member of the European Parliament and leader of the U.K.'s Brexit Party, at long last got to say good bye to the European Union after MEPs ratified U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's withdrawal agreement Wednesday, setting up the country's departure from the governing body at the end of the week. And, boy, did he enjoy it.

Farage and his bellow Brexit Party members stood up and proudly waved the Union Jack as a farewell before getting cut off for breaking parliamentary rules, and he didn't seem to mind one bit. His allies then began a "hip-hip-hooray" chant.

It certainly wasn't a happy day for everyone, though. Some British MEPs expressed their dismay over Brexit, while others said they were determined to one day bring the U.K. back into the fold. MEP Martin Horwood, a Liberal Democrat, received a standing ovation after declaring "We will be back." Tim O'Donnell

12:44 p.m.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) is using President Trump's top insult against his own party.

Collins, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee who's seen a heightened profile during Trump's impeachment process, confirmed Wednesday he'll be running to oust Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) later this year. But when his own party attacked him for "put[ting] two Senate seats, multiple House seats, and Georgia's 16 electoral votes in play," well, Collins decided to say that's all "fake news."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which fundraises for GOP Senate candidates, issued a statement Wednesday saying it would support Loeffler in 2020's special election. In response, Collins tweeted that the NRSC is simply a "Washington-based group" whose head is beholden to bylaws that "require him to support all incumbents, even unelected ones."

Loeffler was appointed to fill retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) late last year, putting the seat in play again later this year. Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is also up for re-election this fall. Kathryn Krawczyk

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