US briefing: Don McGahn, Nato's future and carbon emissions cuts

Tim Walker
Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Good morning, I’m Tim Walker with today’s essential stories.

Ruling could affect other key White House witnesses

Donald Trump’s loyal Republicans may be keen to wrap up the impeachment inquiry, but a federal judge landed a blow to those hopes on Monday, ruling that the former White House Counsel, Don McGahn, must testify to Congress in the impeachment hearings. The White House had argued McGahn’s position as a top adviser to the president gave him “absolute immunity” from a congressional subpoena. The justice department quickly moved to appeal the decision, meaning the dispute could end up at the supreme court.

  • Bolton and Mulvaney. McGahn is a key witness in his own right, but the ruling also affects other potential witnesses who previously claimed immunity, including Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton and his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

Trump halted disciplinary measures for war crimes officer

Edward Gallagher was acquitted of a murder charge related to the 2017 stabbing of an Isis militant, but found to have posed for a ‘trophy’ photo with the corpse. Photograph: John Gastaldo/Reuters

Trump issued a direct order to halt disciplinary measures against a Navy Seal officer who was accused of war crimes in Iraq, the US defence secretary has said. Navy Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher was convicted of posing for “trophy” photos with the body of an Isis militant, but acquitted of murdering the stabbed captive, of shooting civilians, and of threatening to kill fellow Seals if they reported him. Trump ordered the reversal of his demotion by a navy disciplinary board.

  • Trident pin. Trump’s decision means Gallagher will retain the right to wear the Trident pin, insignia of the elite Navy Seal unit, when he retires at the end of this month.

  • Navy secretary. Esper suggested he was uncomfortable with the decision but said “I’ll own it”. The defence secretary was on Sunday forced to fire his top navy official, Richard Spencer, for resisting the president’s intervention in the case.

Nato mulls its future after Macron bemoans state of alliance

President Macron lamented the lack of coordination between Nato allies over Syria in an interview with the Economist. Photograph: Christophe Petit-Tesson/AP

The US-European Nato military alliance will use its 70th birthday summit in London next week to consider whether a “group of experts” is needed to chart the organisation’s path forward. The soul-searching comes after the French president, Emmanuel Macron, gave an interview to the Economist, in which he described Nato as “brain dead” and bemoaned the lack of coordination between its members over Syria.

  • Transatlantic alliance. The team of experts would publish a report next November, after the US presidential election, when the politics of the transatlantic alliance – on which Trump has repeatedly cast doubt – would be more clear.

  • Mali deaths. Thirteen French troops have been killed in a helicopter collision in Mali, where the French military has been fighting Islamic militants since 2013.

UN calls for annual 7.6% emissions cuts to avoid catastrophe

Morning smog in the Indian capital, New Delhi. Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP

Global carbon dioxide emissions went up to more than 55 gigatonnes in 2018, and have risen by an average 1.5% a year for the past decade, according to an annual report by the UN environment programme. That, warned the UN, means countries must collectively cut their emissions by 7.6% every year between now and 2030 to remain under the 1.5C ceiling on temperature rises that scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic consequences.

  • Almost unprecedented. The only time in recent history when any nation has had such a drop in emissions was in Russia immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Cheat sheet

  • Three men convicted of the 1983 killing of a Baltimore teenager have been exonerated by a judge in Maryland, after serving 36 years in prison for murder.

  • A Google software engineer who was involved in internal protests against the company’s work with US Customs and Border Patrol has been fired by the search giant, prompting accusations of retaliation by other protest organisers.

  • The Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have shown little willingness to compromise with the city’s protest movement, despite a landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates in local elections over the weekend.

  • The meme-hosting site Giphy has reinstated all its GIFs of the so-called “Baby Yoda” character from Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian, after apologising for having pulled them from the web last week over what it described as “confusion” around the images’ copyright status.


What does Netflix’s first cinema mean for Hollywood?

The Paris, a beloved 70-year-old Manhattan movie theatre, closed its doors in August, another victim of the changes sweeping film exhibition. Now it has been rescued by an unlikely saviour: Netflix, the company responsible for many of those changes. It’s a game-changing move for the Oscar-hungry firm, writes Jordan Hoffman.

The artists and activists changing the face of a US city

Many US cities that were once economic powerhouses now face significant challenges. The Guardian is highlighting the remarkable people working to improve the lives of others in one such city: Cleveland, Ohio. Today in the City Champions series, Lauren Aratani reports on a billboard campaign aimed at inspiring change.

How Bolsonaro is threatening archaeology in the Amazon

Recent finds in the Amazon rainforest have dramatically altered our understanding of the region’s prehistory. But archaeologists tell Laurence Blair that Brazil’s rightwing government will cut funding, endanger priceless physical evidence and displace the indigenous communities with the local knowledge needed to reconstruct the Amazon’s past.

Reining in the $1.2bn prison phone industry

For years, prison reform advocates have been trying – and failing – to fix the $1.2bn prison phone industry, more than 70% of which is controlled by two companies, who often charge inmates and their loved ones exorbitant rates just to hear each other’s voices. Michael Sainato reports.


Ilana Cohen and Camilla Ledezma were among the hundreds of student climate protesters who invaded the pitch at this year’s Harvard-Yale football game. By continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry, they argue, America’s elite universities are complicit in the climate crisis.

Our universities are not immune to narratives of climate disaster and injustice. Yet so long as they continue to invest in an extractivist industry, they undermine the voices of these lived narratives within their walls.


The World Anti-Doping Agency is set to recommend that Russian athletes receive a four-year ban from global sporting events including the Tokyo Olympics, after investigators found positive drugs tests had been deleted from a database at a Moscow lab.

A new documentary charts Andy Murray’s recovery from a hip injury that he thought might end his tennis career. And in the film, writes Tumaini Carayol, the former world No 1 explains how tennis was an escape from the most terrible year of his childhood.

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