July 17, 2019

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for their refusal to hand over subpoenaed documents related to the Trump administration's attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The 230-198 vote was along party lines. Before the vote, Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said he did "not take this decision lightly. Holding any secretary in criminal contempt of Congress is a serious and sober matter, one that I have done everything in my power to avoid. But in the case of the attorney general and the secretary, Secretary Ross, they blatantly obstructed our ability to do congressional oversight into the real reason Secretary Ross was trying for the first time in 70 years to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census."

After weeks of back and forth, with the Department of Justice saying it was giving up the census fight only to have President Trump say he was considering an executive order to ensure the question was included, Trump announced last week he will instead have federal agencies turn over to the Commerce Department records on how many citizens and non-citizens are in the U.S. Catherine Garcia

12:08 p.m.

Prosecutors in Brazil have charged journalist Glenn Greenwald with cybercrimes, The New York Times reports.

The American journalist last year began publishing a series of stories at The Intercept that, as Columbia Journalism Review wrote, "sent shocks through Brazil" by appearing to show "that Sergio Moro, Brazil's justice minister and the former top judge in a major corruption investigation, colluded with federal prosecutors to convict prominent political figures." The Intercept said its reporting was based on "private chats, audio recordings, videos, photos, court proceedings, and other documentation" that was "provided to us by an anonymous source."

Brazilian prosecutors have now charged Greenwald "for his role in the spreading of cellphone messages that have embarrassed prosecutors," the Times reports. Prosecutors in a complaint claimed Greenwald is part of a "criminal organization" that hacked prosecutors' and other officials' cellphones.

The Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill on Twitter called these charges "despicable, dangerous and a crime against journalism," and others journalists quickly spoke out in Greenwald's defense.

"Regardless of your personal feelings about Glenn, this is a regime with deep authoritarian tendencies personally targeting a critical journalist," Vox's Dylan Matthews tweeted. "It's a horrendous abuse of power that everyone should denounce."

Greenwald in a statement to The Daily Beast said he "did nothing more than do my job as a journalist — ethically and within the law," calling the charges an "an obvious attempt to attack a free press in retaliation for the revelations we reported about Minister Moro and the Bolsonaro government." He added, "We will not be intimidated by these tyrannical attempts to silence journalists. I am working right now on new reporting and will continue to do so." Brendan Morrow

11:08 a.m.

The Supreme Court won't consider a challenge to ObamaCare until after the 2020 Election — if it considers it at all.

Even though a coalition of Democratic states asked the Supreme Court to quickly decide whether it would consider an appeal to a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, the court declined to do so, it said Tuesday. That doesn't affect the status of the ACA for the time being, but does deny Democrats a strategy they were likely to employ during the 2020 campaign season.

Texas introduced its lawsuit against the ACA in 2018 in an attempt to declare it unconstitutional, and a federal court ruled in Texas' favor. The judge in the case did let the ACA temporarily remain in effect because of the "uncertainty" that a likely appeal would bring. The Democratic attorneys general who appealed the case to the Supreme Court similarly requested a quick decision because dragging it out further "threatens adverse consequences for our nation's health care system," but the court denied that on Tuesday.

The uncertainty surrounding the appeal leaves Democrats still able to argue Republicans are trying to dismantle the ACA and its health care protections to people with preexisting conditions. This strategy paid off in 2018, Politico notes, though Democrats still "worry that Republicans could dodge political consequences if Obamacare is ultimately struck down after the November election." Kathryn Krawczyk

10:48 a.m.

The Supreme Court shot down a petition from Flint, Mich., and local officials who were trying to block a lawsuit spurred by the city's water crisis, Bloomberg Environment reports.

The city and officials have argued they should be immune from being sued and reportedly warned the Supreme Court against allowing the substantive due process of bodily integrity (the right to have one's body free from physical interference) to "be radically expanded to encompass judicially created environmental policy." But it was to no avail — the justices turned away the case without comment, allowing a lawsuit against the city and water regulators to go forward.

The suit claims officials failed to protect residents from exposure to lead, which was found in Flint's water at dangerously high levels following a change in the local drinking water source in 2014. Around 25,000 people have filed lawsuits over the crisis, many of which are expected to go forward in lower courts. Tim O'Donnell

10:10 a.m.

The House has a new demand before President Trump's impeachment proceedings get under way.

The House has deemed White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, one of Trump's top impeachment defenders, a "material witness" to the charges against Trump, a letter to Cipollone sent Tuesday reads. Cipollone now faces a possible "disqualification" from defending Trump, and must "disclose" any evidence he has as the trial begins, the House's impeachment managers continued.

The first impeachment article against Trump alleges he pressured Ukraine to get investigations opened into the Bidens and the 2016 election, and the second says he obstructed Congress' attempt to investigate that campaign. "Evidence indicates that" Cipollone has "detailed knowledge of the facts regarding the first article and played an instrumental role in the conduct charged in the second," the letter from the House reads. "Ethical rules" would therefore "generally preclude" Cipollone from being a lawyer in this case, given that he's also a "necessary witness," the impeachment managers continue.

"At a minimum, [Cipollone] must disclose all facts and information" he has "firsthand knowledge" of that may come into play during the Senate's impeachment trial into Trump, the letter concludes. Whether Cipollone actually does that is doubtful. Find the whole letter here. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:59 a.m.

Despite Washington and Beijing having agreed to an initial framework, it might not be time to breathe a sigh of relief when it comes to the U.S.-China trade war, says the Peterson Institute for International Economics' Chad Brown.

In fact, Brown says the so-called phase one "may be doomed from the start" thanks to "unrealistic" export targets. Brown finds it highly unlikely China will be able to purchase the additional $200 billion (and then some) worth of U.S. exports by 2021, even when working with generous projections.

If China does fall short of expectations, that could spell trouble for international trade. It could imperil other aspects of the agreement and re-ignite trade tensions by way of U.S. retaliation. But it wouldn't only harm the two superpowers. Brown suggests China could try to hit its U.S. numbers by diverting imports from other trade partners, which could potentially make other deals more challenging.

Other factors could also hamper China's ability to meet the Trump administration's goals, including the U.S. restricting exports on tech products on national security grounds, fallout from previous tariffs, and even the outbreak of African swine fever on China's pig stock, which has reduced the country's demand for key American products like soybeans.

All told, Brown hints that a lot could still go wrong. Read more at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Tim O'Donnell

9:38 a.m.

Weeks ahead of the 2020 Oscars, the Best Picture race already seems to be over. But is it, really?

After a big win at the Golden Globes, 1917 this past weekend cemented its status as Oscar frontrunner by taking the top prize at the Producers Guild of America Awards, one of the most reliable Best Picture bellwethers. The PGA winner has lined up with Best Picture at the Oscars about 70 percent of the time, IndieWire notes.

Just as important as what won at the PGA Awards was what lost, though: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which was considered the Best Picture frontrunner weeks ago. But Quentin Tarantino's film has been taking hit after hit, especially after not earning an editing nomination at the Oscars; it's rare for a film to take Best Picture without a nomination in this category.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood also didn't win the top prize of Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture at Sunday's Screen Actors Guild Awards, despite a star-studded cast that many thought would provide it an easy victory. Instead, SAG chose a dark horse: Parasite. With this win, Parasite surges into a strong second place in the Best Picture competition behind 1917, and The New York Times argues it's now a two-way race between these films. Working against Parasite is the fact that no foreign-language film has ever won Best Picture, though that was also true at the SAG Awards until this year.

All eyes now turn to the Directors Guild of America Awards and the BAFTAs, where Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could regain momentum, Parasite could prove to be an even bigger threat, or 1917 could continue its domination. For now, the consensus is that Best Picture is 1917's to lose after its back-to-back Golden Globes and PGA victories. But Parasite is quite well positioned for a history-making upset. Brendan Morrow

9:29 a.m.

No, this isn't the leaked plot for the next James Bond movie.

Back in August, Swiss police uncovered what appears to be a Russian attempt to secretly surveil the World Economic Forum happening this week, Zürich’s Tages-Anzeiger newspaper first reported. In what sounds like a ridiculous whodunnit, a pair of suspected Russian spies posed as plumbers and stayed in the Swiss resort of Davos for an "unusually long" time before their alleged intentions were discovered, the Graubünden police department confirmed to the Financial Times.

The two men had been staying in Davos for an unspecified amount of time before Swiss police were "alerted to their unusually long stay in the high-end resort," the Financial Times writes. The men then "claimed diplomatic protections, but had not been registered as official diplomats with Bern," the Times continues. And while there was no indication the men had committed any crimes, "police and Swiss federal officials suspected the pair of being Russian intelligence agents, posing as tradesmen in order to install surveillance equipment at key facilities around the town" in anticipation of this week's WEF.

It's unclear just what Russia would've learned from the WEF, which is packed with events that eventually get reported to the public. But "the gathering is nevertheless a rare concentration of global power and influence that is tempting to spymasters," including visits from President Trump and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, the Times says. Read more at the Financial Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

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