September 17, 2019

President Trump said he has not promised Saudi Arabia the U.S. will offer protection in the event the kingdom goes to war with Iran, but Saudi investments in the U.S. over the years have at least inspired the president to consider sticking by the U.S. ally. And he apparently really appreciates that the country "pays cash" when making those investments.

Trump made the cash comment in response to a question about whether the U.S. was prepared to enter a conflict alongside Saudi Arabia in the wake of drone strikes on two major Saudi oil production facilities that may or not have been orchestrated by Tehran. Trump maintained that he doesn't want to get involved in a conflict, but added that he is willing to "work something out with" Saudi Arabia, whose allegiance with the U.S. has raised many an eyebrow thanks to human rights abuse allegations against the kingdom.

"They've been a great ally," he said to reporters Monday before a White House meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. "They spend $400 billion in our country over the last number of years." And, unlike other countries, Trump said, Saudi Arabia does not want any conditions. "No. No," the president said. "Saudi Arabia pays cash." Tim O'Donnell

8:33 a.m.

Google just announced a major computing breakthrough.

The company on Wednesday said it has achieved "quantum supremacy," meaning getting a quantum computer to perform a task that a classical computer cannot, The New York Times reports.

Specifically, Google says its researchers' quantum computer performed a calculation in just over three minutes that would take the fastest supercomputer in the world around 10,000 years. The milestone, detailed in a Nature article, is one that the Times points out scientists have been working toward since the 1980s and that University of Texas at Austin computer scientist Scott Aaronson compared to the Wright brothers' first flight.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a blog post explained that "we're now one step closer to applying quantum computing to — for example — design more efficient batteries, create fertilizer using less energy, and figure out what molecules might make effective medicines." He also described this as the "the 'hello world' moment we've been waiting for — the most meaningful milestone to date in the quest to make quantum computing a reality."

This announcement was seemingly made prematurely last month when a paper featuring the claim briefly appeared online, but it's now official from Google. In anticipation of the unveiling Wednesday, though, IBM disputed Google's claim in a blog post, arguing that actually, "the same task can be performed on a classical system in 2.5 days and with far greater fidelity."

Even if Google's claim is correct, Engadget notes the "feat has almost no practical use" right now and "was designed simply to show that a quantum computer could perform as expected." Pinchai acknowledged that in his blog post by saying that "we have a long way to go between today's lab experiments and tomorrow's practical applications." But as he explained in an interview with Technology Review, "if in any field you have a breakthrough, you start somewhere." Brendan Morrow

7:29 a.m.

Another day, another poll showing rising support for the House impeachment inquiry of President Trump.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released early Wednesday, 55 percent of U.S. voters support the impeachment inquiry, a jump of 4 percentage points from Quinnipiac's previous poll, released just last week, while 43 percent disapprove. For the first time, a plurality of voters, 48 percent, want Trump impeached and removed from office while 46 percent disagree; last week, those numbers were reversed.

There is a wide partisan split in the results, but 58 percent of independents support the House impeachment inquiry and 49 percent want him booted from office, versus 41 percent who don't. As support for impeaching Trump rose, his job approval number dropped to 38 percent, with disapproval at 58 percent, tied for the lowest net approval of his presidency. In last week's poll, Trump's approval rating was 41 percent to 54 percent disapproval. A brutal 66 percent of women disapprove of Trump's job performance.

In FiveThirtyEight's aggregation of impeachment polls, support for the impeachment inquiry is now at 51.1 percent, with 42.7 percent not supportive, while 48.7 percent back impeaching Trump and/or removing him from office versus 43.4 percent who don't.

Quinnipiac's poll, conducted Oct. 17-21 among 1,587 self-identified registered voters nationwide; has a margin of error of ±3.1 percentage points. Peter Weber

6:36 a.m.

On Tuesday, William Taylor, a career U.S diplomat and the top U.S. official at America's Ukraine embassy, was deposed by House impeachment investigators. His testimony, described by Democrats as extremely damning, was conducted behind closed doors, but his opening statement was made public. In his 15-page statement, Taylor detailed how he came to learn that President Trump was withholding both U.S. military aid approved by Congress and also a White House meeting until Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly committed to investigating a company that hired Hunter Biden and a conspiracy theory involving the Democratic National Committee.

ABC News ran through the highlights of Taylor's "explosive testimony" Tuesday night.

"If this were a trial you'd call Ambassador Taylor the star witness," congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes said at CBS News. "What he's been describing in great detail all day is exactly the quid pro quo that the president had been denying."

NBC News anchor Lester Holt said "Trump's oft-repeated impeachment defense that there was no quid pro quo may have crumbled today under the weight of [Taylor's] explosive testimony." CNN's Anderson Cooper said Taylor "revealed in great detail and no uncertain terms that President Trump himself directed his people to push for a quid pro quo with the president of Ukraine," making Tuesday perhaps "one of the most consequential days in the impeachment inquiry as well as, possibly, this presidency."

At Fox News, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) argued, unchallenged, that "there is no quid pro quo until someone from the Ukraine says 'We knew military aid was being withheld during the July 25 call' [between Trump and Zelenksy], and that testimony hasn't come and it's not coming." CNN's Chris Cuomo saw the upside to America finally learning the truth.

"The real only question that remains," Cuomo said, is "what should the consequence be" for Trump. Peter Weber

4:36 a.m.

The more we learn about President Trump's apparent shakedown of Ukraine, the worse thinks look for Trump's personal legal adviser Rudy Giuliani, Stephen Colbert said on Tuesday's Late Show. "Since the original whistleblower report, Rudy has been on TV doing damage control, minus the control."

Trump's "three amigos" in the Ukraine fiasco — U.S. EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and U.S. Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker — have all fingered Giuliani as a key player in the pressure campaign to get Ukraine to pursue debunked conspiracy theories and politically motivated investigations of Democrats, Colbert noted, and now Giuliani is apparently the subject of a counterintelligence investigation that has already snared two of his Ukraine-linked business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

"Of course, there's no proof connecting these guys to Giuliani, unless you count the photos of them smoking cigars together, this video of them drinking together in the Trump hotel, and the fact that Giuliani was paid $500,000 by their company, which is called — and this is real — Fraud Guarantee," Colbert said. "Yes, Fraud Guarantee. He even did a little work for their retail outfit, Krime Mart. So did Rudolph Giuliani and his Fraud buddies lead the president into impeachment by pushing debunked conspiracy theories?" For answers, he turned to Giuliani, as portrayed in manic, wine-guzzling fashion by John Lithgow.

"Democrats say the impeachment might take longer than expected because each witness keeps providing even more leads," Jimmy Fallon said at The Tonight Show. "So basically, Trump's legal strategy is commit so many crimes they can never finish the investigation. 'They're almost done? Tell Don Jr. to rob a bank!' And today the top official from the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine testified, and one congressman called it his 'most disturbing day in Congress' — and that's counting the day Mitch McConnell walked out of the sauna without a towel." Peter Weber

3:38 a.m.

The Justice Department announced Tuesday that Imaad Shah Zuberi, a 49-year-old California venture capitalist and prolific political donor, had pleaded guilty to "falsifying records to conceal his work as a foreign agent while lobbying high-level U.S. government officials." The charging document does not name any of the recipients of Zuberi's illegal campaign contributions, though his $900,000 contribution to President Trump's inaugural fund put Zuberi on the map for federal prosecutors in New York. Zuberi previously donated to Democrats, including former President Barack Obama.

"In addition to violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Zuberi is charged in a criminal information with tax evasion and making almost $1 million in illegal campaign contributions that included funneling money from foreign entities and individuals to influence U.S. elections," the Justice Department said. "While some U.S. officials were willing to take action on issues Zuberi put forward, most of Zuberi's business efforts were unsuccessful and his clients suffered significant losses."

The Justice Department singled out Zuberi's work on behalf of Sri Lanka and for a Bahraini citizen seeking U.S. pressure on Bahrain to lift sanctions. Zuberi also reportedly worked with Michael Cohen, then Trump's personal lawyer and fixer, to leverage their connection with Trump to obtain lucrative business deals. Zuberi faces up to 15 years in prison once he pleaded guilty.

"This case should deter individuals who seek to provide false statements to the department and covertly influence our political process on behalf of foreign governments," Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a statement. "The Department of Justice treats these crimes with the gravity that they deserve and will continue to aggressively identify, investigate, and prosecute FARA violations." Peter Weber

2:08 a.m.

"Since we are here in New York, I thought it would be fun to see if I could get, and maybe you could get, a cartoon published in The New Yorker," Jimmy Kimmel said on Tuesday's Kimmel Live, taped in Brooklyn. Fun did not turn out to be the operative word — it turns out, The New Yorker is pretty picky about which cartoons it buys. But Kimmel's dejection did not last long — Jon Stewart helped him bounce back; malign The New Yorker and its editor, David Remnick, and cartoon editor Emma Allen, who gamely took it onstage; and revel in Benedict Cumberbatch's delightful scent. Watch below. Peter Weber

2:04 a.m.

After more than a week of violent protests over economic inequality, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced reforms on Tuesday that he hopes will quell the demonstrators' anger.

Piñera said the basic pension will go up by 20 percent, the minimum wage will rise, electricity rates will go down, and the government will introduce a new higher tax bracket and cover the cost of expensive medical treatments, BBC News reports.

The protests began in the capital, Santiago, with people angry over an increase in subway ticket prices. The demonstrations soon swept across the country, and thousands took to the streets to speak out against inequality, low wages, and the high cost of living. The protests have left at least 15 people dead, and more than 5,000 have been arrested. Because of looting and arson, 10 cities are under a nightly curfew. Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads