10 things you need to know today: October 18, 2019

Harold Maass

1.

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday admitted that the Trump administration held back military aid to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats, then hours later walked back the comments. In his first comments, Mulvaney said the White House held back $400 million in security funding to get Ukraine to investigate a debunked theory that the country was involved in 2016 election campaign hacking in a bid to help Hillary Clinton beat President Trump. He said the aid was never linked to Trump's desire for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. In his later statement, Mulvaney said "there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election." [CNBC, The Washington Post]

2.

Turkey agreed to a five-day ceasefire in Syria to allow Syrian Kurdish forces to withdraw from areas under attack by the Turkish military, Vice President Pence said Thursday after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara. Pence said the U.S. had committed to helping the Kurds, who fought alongside American troops against the Islamic State, and Erdogan had agreed to halt his offensive, although the fighting did not appear to cease immediately. President Trump's decision to move U.S. forces out of the area cleared the way for Turkey to launch its operation. The House on Wednesday passed a bipartisan measure opposing Trump's move, with critics saying he abandoned strong allies. [The Washington Post]

3.

Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told House impeachment investigators on Thursday that President Trump delegated Ukraine policy to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Sondland, testifying under subpoena after declining a request to appear last week, said in an opening statement obtained by The New York Times that the president had rebuffed his top diplomats' advice to meet with Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, without any preconditions. "We were also disappointed by the president's direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani," Sondland said. "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 toward Ukraine." [The New York Times]

4.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Thursday told President Trump he plans to resign by the end of the year. Perry's decision came as he became a focus of the House impeachment inquiry of Trump. Perry, a former Texas governor, was one of three political appointees referred to as the "three amigos" who oversaw Ukraine policy for Trump after acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney transferred the job away from career staff, State Department official George Kent told lawmakers in closed-door testimony. Perry reportedly urged Trump to take the July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that prompted a whistleblower complaint and then the impeachment inquiry. Perry had recently denied press reports that he was planning to step down. [USA Today, CNBC]

5.

The White House announced Thursday that President Trump would host next year's Group of Seven summit at his Doral resort near Miami, Florida. Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Trump's property would host the event "at cost" so that Trump would not profit from the summit. Democrats criticized Trump's decision to award the contract to his own hotel, noting it will bring hundreds of foreign leaders and staff to the financially struggling resort. The move was "among the most brazen examples yet of the president's corruption," said House Judiciary Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), whose committee is one of three conducting the impeachment inquiry of Trump. "He is exploiting his office and making official U.S. government decisions for his personal financial gain." [The Washington Post, The New York Times]

6.

European Union leaders unanimously backed a proposed Brexit deal on Thursday, hours after EU and U.K. negotiators reached the draft agreement. The deal would prevent a hard border between EU member Ireland and Britain's Northern Ireland, the two sides of the U.K.'s only land border with the EU. The deal now goes to British Parliament, which rejected proposals presented by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May. Johnson said the proposal was "a great deal for our country." Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn disagreed. "It seems the prime minister has negotiated an even worse deal than Theresa May's, which was overwhelmingly rejected," Corbyn said. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the agreement was "fair and balanced." [The Associated Press]

7.

Mexican security forces captured drug boss Ovidio Guzman Lopez, a leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel and son of imprisoned drug boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, but promptly released him. The federal officers who detained Guzman came under intense fire from suspected Sinaloa cartel members, and violence erupted across the Mexican city of Culiacan, with masked men firing high-powered weapons and blocking roads with burning vehicles. City residents were forced to take cover, many left with no choice but to lie flat in the street as bullets flew overhead. The release of Guzman was seen as a humiliating defeat for Mexico's government. Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the decision was necessary to protect lives. [Los Angeles Times, CNN]

8.

A powerful nor'easter storm hammered New England with winds gusting to 90 miles per hour and heavy rains on Thursday. The storm caused floods and cut power to hundreds of thousands of people. The intense weather also caused train delays and forced authorities to cancel classes at many schools. Many roads and businesses also were closed. CBS News weather contributor Jeff Berardelli said the storm became a "bomb cyclone," which occurs when a storm's pressure drops 24 millibars within 24 hours. CBS Boston reported that this storm's central pressure plunged by 30 millibars in just 15 hours, setting a record for lowest pressure during October in the area. [CBS News, NPR]

9.

The Trump administration on Friday imposed tariffs on $7.5 billion worth of European Union goods, including parts and planes made by Boeing-rival Airbus, French wine, and Scottish whiskies. The tariffs took effect at midnight after U.S. and European negotiators failed to agree on a deal in last-minute talks. Aircraft from Britain, France, Germany, and Spain imported to the U.S. now will face a 10 percent tariff, a move the Trump administration announced earlier this month after the World Trade Organization ruled the U.S. could impose tariffs to offset illegal preferential treatment of Airbus by the EU. French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, who is scheduled to meet U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Friday, warned that "Europe is ready to retaliate." [France24, MarketWatch]

10.

President Trump blasted Democrats during a rally in Texas on Thursday, calling them "crazy" for pursuing an impeachment inquiry against him. "At stake in this fight is the survival of American democracy itself," Trump said. The remarks hit what has become a recurring theme for Trump as House Democrats investigate Trump's relationship with Ukraine. A day earlier, he denounced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as "crazy Nancy" after she walked out of a meeting on Syria that devolved into insults. During the rally, Trump also continued his attacks on former Vice President Joe Biden over his son's work for a Ukraine energy company, the issue at the heart of the House inquiry into whether Trump used his office to undermine a political rival. [MarketWatch]