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5 things to know for November 20: Impeachment, Syria, UK election, Bolivia, Epstein

Some parts of fire-ravaged Southern California could get a little bit of good news: The area is predicted to have its first significant rainfall since May. (Unfortunately, with rain may come flash flood warnings. They just can’t catch a break.)

Here’s what else you need to know to Get Up to Speed and Out the Door. (You can also get “5 Things You Need to Know Today” delivered to your inbox daily. Sign up here.)

1. Impeachment investigation

We’re in the thick of some of the most important — and compelling — impeachment hearings to date. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council’s Ukraine expert, offered testimony yesterday about the pivotal July 25 call, saying he knew immediately that it was inappropriate. He also said President Trump and his administration pushed “false narratives” about Ukraine, namely that the country helped Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and did not adequately look into allegations regarding the Biden family. For his troubles, Vindman, an immigrant from the former USSR and a Purple Heart recipient, was blasted by the official White House Twitter account. US Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker also took the stand. Republicans were hoping Volker’s testimony would support Trump’s interpretation of events, but their ace in the hole ended up revising key points of his prior closed-door testimony, including when and how aid to Ukraine was mentioned in some conversations.

Today, the House Intelligence Committee will hear from the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland. There’s a lot of pressure on Sondland: Some Democrats have accused him of lying in his closed-door testimony, and Republicans worry he may turn on Trump once he’s forced to speak publicly.

2. Syria

Predictions of an ISIS resurgence in war-torn Syria have come to fruition. According to a new Pentagon report, Turkish operations targeting America’s Kurdish partners in northern Syria and the US retreat in the area have given ISIS an opening to rebuild. The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency also said the diminished attention on counterterrorism in the area has given the terrorist group a greater ability to launch attacks abroad. The much-touted ceasefire between Turkey and Syria would theoretically help the situation, but Turkish-backed groups have continued to launch attacks. Ironically, a recent report by the nonpartisan Institute for Economics & Peace found a “dramatic decline” in ISIS activity in 2018.

3. UK election

The first debate in the UK general election was, well, inconclusive, to say the least. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn faced questions about Brexit, the future of the union and a path forward in a fractured political atmosphere. Corbyn seemed to shirk a lot of Brexit issues, glossing over his party’s plan to negotiate a new deal with the EU in favor of criticizing the country’s current Conservative rule. Johnson tried to paint Corbyn as a threat to the unity of the four nations of the UK. However, many believe Johnson essentially threw Northern Ireland under the bus during recent Brexit dealings, so it’s a bit of a pot-and-kettle situation.

4. Bolivia

It has been a month since deadly protests ignited in Bolivia following the country’s presidential election, and the death toll continues to rise. Three people were killed yesterday when Bolivian security services tried to clear a path for gas tanks to leave a plant near the administrative center of La Paz. That brings the number of people killed in the political unrest to 23. The protests began after reports of irregularities in the election. President Evo Morales eventually resigned and fled to Mexico. But Morales’ supporters aren’t backing down. They took to the streets after his ousting, saying he was the victim of a coup. An interim government has since taken power but hasn’t been able to restore peace.

5. Jeffrey Epstein

Two prison guards are facing federal charges in connection with their actions the night Jeffrey Epstein died in prison three months ago. The guards allegedly failed to complete the required counts of prisoners on their watch, including Epstein. Instead, they napped and browsed the internet. When they realized they hadn’t completed their duties, they allegedly falsified forms saying they did. A federal grand jury just charged them with conspiracy and filing false records. The indictment also serves another purpose as conspiracy theories still swirl around the convicted sex offender’s death: It provides a detailed timeline leading up to the discovery of Epstein’s body.


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