US briefing: Sondland to testify, Ilhan Omar and Facebook lobbyists

Tim Walker
Photograph: Pablo Martínez Monsiváis/AP

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

Key witnesses recall concern over Trump’s Ukraine call

Donald Trump’s ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, faces a public interrogation at the impeachment inquiry on Wednesday, with the hearing expected to focus on a phone call he took from the president in a Ukrainian restaurant in July, when the two allegedly discussed Trump’s desire for investigations of his political rival, Joe Biden. The White House is reportedly fearful of what might emerge from Sondland’s session, after a day of damning testimony from officials including Lt Col Alexander Vindman.

  • ‘Three amigos’. Sondland was one of the so-called “three amigos” used by Trump to bypass normal diplomatic channels to Ukraine, along with the energy secretary, Rick Perry, and the diplomat Kurt Volker, whose testimony backfired on Republicans on Tuesday when he appeared to implicate the president.

Omar urges compassion for man who threatened to kill her

The Democratic Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar urged a New York judge to show mercy to the man who this week pleaded guilty to threatening her life. Patrick Carlineo called Omar’s office in March, telling a staffer the progressive lawmaker was a “terrorist” and that “somebody ought to put a bullet in her skull”. In an open letter to Judge Frank Geraci, Omar suggested a prison sentence “would only increase his anger and resentment”, saying: “The answer to hate is not more hate; it is compassion.”

  • Community service. Carlineo’s crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but Omar suggested community integration and social services would be a better solution.

Fossil fuel output to double safe limit set by Paris deal

The Oseberg offshore gas platform in the North Sea near Norway. Photograph: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The first report to compare countries’ stated plans for fossil fuel extraction with the goals of the Paris climate accord has found the world is on track to produce more than double the amount of coal, oil and gas in 2030 than is considered safe to avoid global temperatures rising by more than 1.5C. Produced by the UN Environment Programme and a coalition of research organisations, the report compounds an earlier UN analysis suggesting even the Paris emissions targets will lead to a disastrous 3-4C rise.

Investigation finds Facebook lobbyists’ deep ties to Congress

Facebook lobbyists have previously worked for several top Democrats including Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

This year, Facebook has employed 68 federal lobbyists and spent more than $12m on its lobbying efforts. An investigation by investigative news website Sludge, in partnership with the Guardian, has found that those lobbyists have previously worked for 29 members of Congress, including several senior Democrats, potentially giving them special access to promote the firm’s interests at a time when it is under heavy scrutiny for its policies on privacy and political advertising.

  • Pelosi and co. Four of the lobbyists have worked in the office of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, while others have worked for the House Democratic Caucus chair, Hakeem Jeffries, the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, and the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer.

Cheat sheet

  • Trump has insisted his unscheduled visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center over the weekend was for nothing more than “a very routine physical”, amid speculation that the president may have suffered a heart attack.

  • China has condemned a bill passed by the US Senate, aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong amid the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by the city’s authorities, saying it “seriously violated international law”.

  • The former vice-president to ousted Bolivian leader Evo Morales has told the Guardian the pair made mistakes during their 14 years in power, but that Morales, the country’s first indigenous leader, had been toppled by a rightwing, racist coup.

  • A pregnant, 29-year-old French woman has been killed by a pack of deer hunting hounds while out walking her own dog in woods outside the town of Villers-Cotterêts, near Paris.

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Must-reads

My beloved Hong Kong has become a war zone

Like many other Hongkongers, five months of unrest have left Verna Yu feeling helpless, anxious and overwhelmed. With schools, roads and public transport paralysed by another week of violence, she writes, normal life in her beloved city is simply on hold.

The doulas dealing with a black infant mortality crisis

Black babies die at twice the rate as white, Asian and Hispanic babies in the US, which suggests the single biggest factor in America’s shameful infant mortality rate is simple racism. In Cleveland, a grassroots collective is providing support to black mothers whom the system has let down, as Nina Lakhani reports.

How Bikram’s yoga empire was built on abuse

Bikram Choudhury, the speedo-clad creator of the cultish Bikram yoga, built a worldwide brand based on sweat and devotion. But as Adrian Horton learns from a new Netflix documentary, Choudhury’s success was undergirded by sexual harassment, rape and maniacal control.

Democrats to woo black voters in Atlanta

The leading 10 Democratic presidential candidates will take to the stage for their fourth televised debate on Wednesday night. This time the venue is Atlanta, where black voters will hold the balance of power in the Georgia primary – and perhaps, writes Oliver Laughland, in the general election.

Opinion

At a meeting of wealthy Democratic donors last week, Barack Obama appeared to caution the party against adopting an overtly progressive platform in 2020. These patronising lectures are getting old, says Arwa Mahdawi.

We have run out of time for vague promises of hope. Obama may think he is being practical, but he misunderstands the urgency of the current moment.

Sport

The moody, magisterial Portuguese José Mourinho has been unveiled as the new manager of Tottenham Hotspur, following the struggling Premier League side’s shock decision to sack Mauricio Pochettino on Tuesday evening.

The former New England Patriots wide receiver Antonio Brown has publicly apologised to the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, for comments he made after he was released in September, about Kraft being caught in a prostitution sting at a Florida massage parlor. Brown was let go following accusations of rape and sexual misconduct.

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