The Senate, in a bipartisan 66-32 vote on Monday evening, confirmed Mike Pompeo to be the next CIA director. Pompeo was in his fourth term in the House. The only Republican to vote against Pompeo was Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. The other 31 votes against Pompeo came from Democrats. As my colleague Russell Berman writes:
Pompeo’s harshest critic was Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a privacy hawk who delivered a lengthy speech criticizing the Kansas Republican’s “enthusiasm” for broad surveillance programs and what he said were Pompeo’s shifting positions on torture and on Russia’s interference in the November election. Other Democrats had said they were satisfied with Pompeo’s assertion during his confirmation hearing that he would not restart the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques in violation of the law, even if Trump ordered him to do so.
Snapchat Filter Not Responsible for Distracted Driver Claim, Judge Rules
A lawsuit claiming Snapchat was to blame for a high-speed car crash was dismissed by a Georgia court Friday, citing the social media company’s immunity under the Communication’s Decency Act. The case was brought against Snapchat in April by Wentworth and Karen Maynard, who claimed the application’s “speed filter,” which shows how fast the phone is moving at the time the photo or video is taken, caused 18-year-old Christal McGee to crash into Wentworth Maynard’s car while driving at 107 miles per hour (171 kilometer per hour), leaving Maynard with severe brain damage. McGee, who was also sued by the Maynards, claimed she was “just trying to get the car to 100 miles per hour to post it on Snapchat.” In his ruling Friday, Spalding County State Court Judge Josh Thacker said the social media company was exempt from liability under the CDA’s immunity clause, which states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Snapchat’s attorneys told the Associated Press Monday the ruling reaffirms the need for “responsible use of these technologies by the driver.”
The First Drone Strikes Under Trump Target Al-Qaeda in Yemen
The U.S. carried out several drone strikes in Yemen over the weekend targeting al-Qaeda leaders, marking the first drone strikes under the new Trump administration. The bombings hit the country’s southwestern Bayda province, and among the targets was Abu Anis al-Abi, a field commander with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. These strikes did not necessarily require Trump to sign off on them, because the Obama administration enabled the four-star commander of U.S. Central Command, General Joseph Votel, to oversee strikes. Drone strikes increased to unprecedented levels under Obama, much to the anger of human-rights groups, which decry their use because of the risk of collateral damage. On Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials released a report saying that under Obama as many as 117 civilians died in drone bombings. These numbers, however, are often viewed as extremely low by human rights groups.
Trump Signs Executive Order Withdrawing From the TPP
President Trump signed an executive order Monday to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a longstanding campaign pledge. The TPP, a project initiated by the Obama administration, would have placed the U.S. and 11 Asia-Pacific countries in an unprecedented free-trade zone. Trump’s executive order pulls the U.S. out of that deal, an effort to refocus on putting “America first,” as the president repeated in his inauguration address Friday. The trade deal had been a tough sell for both major political parties, with former-President Obama struggling to convince even Democrats of its worth because it had been painted during the election campaign as detrimental to U.S. manufacturing. Until this election, trade deals had received mostly bipartisan support. Trump has also said he wants to renegotiation the NAFTA, which set up a free-trade zone from Mexico to Canada.
Trump Reinstates Mexico City Rule, Blocking U.S. Funding for Abortion Services Worldwide
President Trump, in one of his first acts since assuming office, reinstated Monday a policy blocking U.S. funding for health programs that provide abortions or related services overseas. Known commonly as the Mexico City policy or the “global gag rule,” the policy restricts foreign organizations receiving U.S. family-planning funding from conducting any abortion-related services, even if they are conducted with non-U.S. funds. Since it went into effect in 1984, the policy has routinely been enacted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones. As my colleague Anna Diamond writes:
Now, the signing of the order is filled with symbolism. Always falling on or within days of the January 22nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it’s become a way for the incoming president to signal to his party and supporters an initial commitment for or against abortion rights.
A Violent California Storm Destroys an Iconic Concrete Ship
A harsh storm hit the California coast this weekend and set surf records, with wave heights reaching nearly 35 feet in some places. They were particularly violent near Santa Cruz, about 80 miles south of San Francisco, where the storm wrecked a local icon, a historic World War I concrete ship called the S.S. Palo Alto. Then-President Woodrow Wilson ordered a fleet of concrete ships built in 1917, and while other ships had been made of this material, none had ever been made so large—420 feet long. The S.S. Palo Alto was one of 24 others built at the time, and it came to rest near Santa Cruz in 1930, where it connected to a pier and became a famous icon of the beach. The ship’s hull had been crumbling for some time, and over the decades it served as a home for the area’s wildlife, like sea lions, fish, and sea birds. In the mid-2000s, a leak in the ship’s tank spilled old oil into the waters and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife spent $1.7 million to clean up the fuel. This weekend’s storm sent waves crashing against the hull and split off the stern. It’s unclear what will be done with the crumbling remains.
What was once a solid structure, is now in 2 pieces. The S.S. Palo Alto's stern has taken enough beating and gave-in to Mother nature. pic.twitter.com/ljRytxwpf7
Syrian Government, Rebels Meet for Talks in Kazakhstan
Representatives of the Syrian government and rebel groups are meeting in Astana, the Kazakh capital, for the first time in more than a year for talks on ways to end the more than five-year-long civil war. Russian, Turkish, and Iranian officials are also attending; the three countries brokered a cease-fire between the fighting factions December 30. Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, and military officials are representing the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Mohammad Alloush of the Army of Islam is leading the rebel delegation. Talks are scheduled to continue until Tuesday.
The Trump Administration's War of Words With the Media
President Trump was inaugurated in Washington, D.C., Friday. A day later, a women’s march in the city, and others across the country and the world, vowed to oppose some of the Trump administration’s policies. Photographs from both events, coupled with crowd estimates, suggested more people turned out to the march in Washington than the inauguration. Trump and his aides apparently disagreed. At an appearance Saturday before the CIA, the president railed against the media, calling it “dishonest.” Later, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, repeated those claims, adding: “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe”—a demonstrably false claim. On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s counselor, went on NBC’s Meet the Press, and countered the view Spicer was lying, adding “our press secretary gave alternative facts to that.” When Chuck Todd, the show’s host, asked Conway why Spicer had said something that was clearly not true, she replied: “If we're going to keep referring to the press secretary in those types of terms, I think we're going to have to rethink our relationship here.” Trump himself initially criticized Saturday’s protest march, saying on Twitter he “was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn't these people vote?” He later tweeted out a more conciliatory message:
Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don't always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.
The representative’s claims about stories reporting on the Trump administration are part of a universe of untruth.
Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, opened today with a statement attacking media reporting on the Trump administration. He singled out six stories for attack.
One of them was retracted by its publisher, CNN—a form of corporate responsibility never seen from a White House notorious for emitting six false statements in a single morning. Another was an opinion piece in New York magazine by Jonathan Chait that did not claim to report news, but instead built known facts into a damning narrative of Donald Trump’s Russia connection. The other four range from the exaggerated to the unverified to the apparently mistaken.
But let’s take a closer look at those errors and what they mean. One of the stories singled out by Nunes was published by BuzzFeed News. That story asserted that Trump had explicitly directed his then–personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. Cohen would ultimately testify to Congress that Trump’s direction was implicit, not explicit.
A company once driven by engineers became driven by finance.
The flight that put the Boeing Company on course for disaster lifted off a few hours after sunrise. It was good flying weather—temperatures in the mid-40s with a slight breeze out of the southeast—but oddly, no one knew where the 737 jetliner was headed. The crew had prepared three flight plans: one to Denver. One to Dallas. And one to Chicago.
In the plane’s trailing vortices was greater Seattle, where the company’s famed engineering culture had taken root; where the bulk of its 40,000-plus engineers lived and worked; indeed, where the jet itself had been assembled. But it was May 2001. And Boeing’s leaders, CEO Phil Condit and President Harry Stonecipher, had decided it was time to put some distance between themselves and the people actually making the company’s planes. How much distance? This flight—a PR stunt to end the two-month contest for Boeing’s new headquarters—would reveal the answer. Once the plane was airborne, Boeing announced it would be landing at Chicago’s Midway International Airport.
The secretary of state has been trying to distance himself from the impeachment hearings, but today’s explosive testimony put him at center stage.
This article was updated at 2 p.m.
Mike Pompeo tried to stay out of it. He tried to block certain State Department officials from testifying in the House impeachment inquiry. He didn’t admit for days that he had listened in on the phone call at the heart of that inquiry, in which President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a domestic political rival. He’s referred to the hearings as “noise” and been out of town a lot—both abroad and in Kansas.
Today that effort fully collapsed.
In explosive public testimony on Wednesday, Gordon Sondland, Pompeo’s own ambassador to the European Union, put the secretary of state right in the middle of the scandal. Sondland confirmed not only that the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani insisted on a quid pro quo with the Ukrainians—a White House visit by Zelensky in exchange for announcing investigations into Burisma, a company where Joe Biden’s son served on the board, and into the 2016 election—but that Pompeo himself was fully in the loop the whole time.
Ambassador Gordon Sondland delivered a bombshell this morning.
“Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”
Those are the two most important sentences in today’s opening statement by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Sondland’s public testimony was the most hotly anticipated of the impeachment inquiry, and even before Sondland uttered a word this morning, he’d lived up to his billing.
In a blistering statement, Sondland testified that the president had personally directed American efforts to extort Ukraine’s president into announcing two investigations that would aid Donald Trump in his 2020 reelection effort.
“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland said. “The answer is yes.”
This is a good day, Samantha tells me: 10 on a scale of 10. We’re sitting in a conference room at the San Marcos Treatment Center, just south of Austin, Texas, a space that has witnessed countless difficult conversations between troubled children, their worried parents, and clinical therapists. But today promises unalloyed joy. Samantha’s mother is visiting from Idaho, as she does every six weeks, which means lunch off campus and an excursion to Target. The girl needs supplies: new jeans, yoga pants, nail polish.
At 11, Samantha is just over 5 feet tall and has wavy black hair and a steady gaze. She flashes a smile when I ask about her favorite subject (history), and grimaces when I ask about her least favorite (math). She seems poised and cheerful, a normal preteen. But when we steer into uncomfortable territory—the events that led her to this juvenile-treatment facility nearly 2,000 miles from her family—Samantha hesitates and looks down at her hands. “I wanted the whole world to myself,” she says. “So I made a whole entire book about how to hurt people.”
Gaps in the ambassador’s recollection frustrated Democrats and offered Republicans an opportunity to undermine his revelations.
Gordon Sondland this morning delivered the most damning congressional testimony against President Donald Trump since that of James Comey, the former FBI director whose firing led to a two-year investigation that consumed Trump’s presidency.
But Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, is no Comey, whose seemingly photographic memory and extensive contemporaneous note-taking provided key evidence for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice probe.
“I’m not a note-taker, nor am I a memo writer. Never have been,” Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee this morning. Nor, it appears, does he have a particularly strong memory, and the frequent gaps in his recollection frustrated Democrats and emboldened Republicans, who used them to undermine his credibility.
The tidying guru helped America clean out its closets. Now she wants to fill them back up.
Marie Kondo has had a few bouts of American fame. Around 2015, the Japanese cleaning guru’s best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up inspired untold closet clean-outs and garage declutterings. In 2019, her Netflix series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, performed a similar trick, emptying overstuffed American homes by teaching their harried owners her joy-prioritizing “KonMari” method.
Now Kondo is back for her third act. Instead of imparting further organizational wisdom or deepening her theories of domestic joy, though, she’s trying something new: selling $275 distressed-brass vases and other housewares and wellness products to fill up all that newly empty space.
Earlier this week, Kondo announced a new online shop on her KonMari website. She has been selling a line of storage boxes for her tidying methods since 2018, but this new venture is different. Much of its inventory is mundanely minimalist, such as dove-gray bath linens and food-storage containers in neutral shades. (Even KonMari obsessives have leftovers.) The store ships only to the United States, but sells many high-end Japanese tools, such as handmade matcha whisks and hand-whittled shiatsu sticks.
Yet his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein—which continued after the latter’s conviction for solicitation of prostitution involving a minor—is disturbing on another level. The prince’s decision this weekend to give an interview to the BBC about that friendship, which entirely lacked empathy or remorse, compounds the offense.
From the start, it was apparent that the queen’s second son dwells not on Earth, but on Planet Aristocracy. It is a land governed by rules and codes that are unfathomable to the rest of us. When the BBC’s Emily Maitlis asked whether he had invited Epstein to a party, Andrew quickly corrected her: “It was a shooting weekend … a straightforward shooting weekend.” The distinction—between an evening event and staying with friends to fire guns in muddy fields—is meaningless to anyone who grew up outside the English upper classes. Throughout, he seemed to adhere to an honor code where ghosting a friend is unconscionably discourteous, but exploiting underage girls is merely a “manner unbecoming.” It is essentially a two-tier view of the world, where people are divided into equals and human chaff.
Many Americans are fascinated by the child-rearing practices of other countries, but those practices might be harder to import than they seem.
Pity the American children: No one is writing books about how great they are. Instead, praise has lately been reserved for kids overseas, who—according to a profusion of books and articles in the past decade—possess deep stores of resourcefulness and resilience, those sought-after traits that allegedly set kids up for a lifetime of contentment, or at least success.
These thriving children develop under the guidance of parents who are in some cases carefree and in others completely overbearing. In 2011, the author and law professor Amy Chua detailed the strictures—and the payoffs—of a hard-driving “Chinese” (as opposed to “Western”) approach to parenting in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The following year, Pamela Druckerman, an American writer living in Paris, walked American parents through the seemingly effortless child-rearing techniques of the French in Bringing Up Bébé, telling of “a fully functioning society of good little sleepers, gourmet eaters, and reasonably relaxed parents.”
Thirteen years ago, a young woman was found dead in small-town Texas. She was nicknamed “Lavender Doe” for the purple shirt she was wearing. Her real identity would remain a mystery until amateur genealogists took up her case.
The dead girl had perfect teeth.
That’s what so many of the strangers who obsessed over her case online noticed, and one of the few things that could even be noticed. Her body was burned so badly as to be unrecognizable when she was found in the early hours of October 29, 2006, near Longview, Texas.
The two men who saw her thought, at first, that they had stumbled across a mannequin set on fire, perhaps as an early Halloween prank. It was the smell that alerted them to something more sinister in the woods—a smell like charred hot dogs. When they stepped closer, they realized the awful and obvious truth. A human being had been killed, then doused in gasoline and set on fire, and probably only minutes before: Her body was still ablaze.