Newsletter: ‘Presidents are not kings’

Donald McGahn, former White House counsel.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Here are the stories you shouldn’t miss today:


‘Presidents Are Not Kings’

A federal judge has strengthened the power of Congress in its battles with President Trump, ruling that former White House Counsel Donald McGahn may be required to testify under oath about what he heard and saw during special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe of Russian election meddling.

The judge’s decision represents a victory for House Democrats who have been eager to establish a legal precedent that could force other top Trump administration officials to testify before Congress, including in the impeachment inquiry. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the administration would appeal the ruling.


In a 120-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson rejected Trump’s claim that McGahn was “absolutely immune” from being called to testify, even though he was no longer a White House employee. “Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings,” she wrote.

More From Washington

— Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that Trump gave him a direct order to allow a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes to retire without losing his SEAL status.

Michael R. Bloomberg held his first presidential campaign event, and if it sets the pattern for the rest, don’t expect to see the newly minted candidate in public very much.

— The Supreme Court refused to shield two conservative writers from being sued for defamation by a climate change expert whom they accused of having “molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science.”

The Reality of War in Ukraine


As the impeachment inquiry focused on Trump’s withholding of military aid from Ukraine plays out in Washington, the reality of the war can sometimes seem abstract. Not so at Avdiivka City Hospital, which sits three miles from the front line of the five-year war between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists. There, amid the sound of shelling, doctors have performed surgery by candlelight in the basement of the maternity ward.

Fire and Rain

With a major storm bearing down on California, it seemed as if the end of fire season was in sight. But on Monday, a wind-driven brush fire in Los Padres National Forest near Highway 154 in Santa Barbara County broke out, threatening homes and forcing evacuations. Tonight, the storm should start moving in, bringing rain across the state and snow levels so low in elevation they could close major freeways like interstates 5, 15 and 80 — making for a wet Thanksgiving and potentially dangerous conditions.

The Keeper of Mister Rogers’ Legacy

What is the true meaning of Mister Rogers’ legacy? It’s a question that’s been pondered in countless think pieces as a documentary last year and a Tom Hanks film last week have been released. But to get a true understanding, spend some time with Joane Rogers, who was married to Fred Rogers for more than 50 years until his death in 2003. Times reporter Amy Kaufman did, and this is what she learned.

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On this date in 1936, many Angelenos ate a free Thanksgiving dinner at charitable institutions like the Union Rescue Mission downtown. Such organizations served thousands during the depths of the Depression, as The Times reported the previous year. “Bounteous Los Angeles saw to it yesterday that the unfortunates within her gates had reason to be thankful for at least one plate of hot, steaming turkey fit for a king,” a 1935 story said.

At the Midnight Mission, which hosted the biggest free meal, “[e]ach man got a good portion of the 700 pounds of turkey, 800 pounds of veal, 1,200 pounds of potatoes and other trimmings, topped off with thirty-five gallons of ice cream.” Here are more archival photos of it and the meal served to children at Los Angeles General Hospital.


— The Conception dive boat, on which 34 people died in a Labor Day fire, had been exempted by the U.S. Coast Guard from stricter safety rules designed to make it easier for passengers to escape, documents and interviews by The Times show. It’s unclear whether such measures would have made a difference in modern California’s worst maritime disaster.

— Authorities say a shooting at the Valley Plaza Mall in Bakersfield left at least two people injured.

— The FBI says four people with ties to Colombia ran a long-running lottery ticket scheme targeting older Latina women in Southern California and bilking them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

— San Diego city officials say an upscale gated community isn’t eligible to have the city put its power lines underground. It’s part of a dispute that has revived many of the old arguments over gated communities from when they first became popular in the 1980s and ‘90s.


— Security efforts to keep the plot of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” under wraps before its release are, to quote director J.J. Abrams, “insane.” And they were almost spoiled when a script one actor left under their hotel room bed landed on EBay.

— Nothing has slowed Alan Alda — not Parkinson’s, and not almost dying in Chile. “My whole life is like an improvisation,” he says.

— If he nabs a nomination, Alda could put “Marriage Story” in position for a SAG Awards sweep.

— Sam Mendes’ World War I drama “1917” is a technical triumph and a half-successful experiment, our critic writes.


— From Iran to Chile to Sudan, protests are taking hold around the world, fueled by social media and the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis.

— A federal judge has sentenced a Chinese businesswoman to eight months in prison for trespassing at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and lying to Secret Service agents.

— A Hong Kong boy band is taking on China with songs and more.


Google fired four employees for accessing internal documents in what it called violations of data security policies. But workers say it’s retaliation.

— The CEO of the world’s biggest real estate services firm, based in L.A., told us what to expect in local commercial real estate, and why he’s betting on coworking despite WeWork and on London despite Brexit.

— One of the nation’s oldest arthouse movie theaters just got a lifeline from a new and very new-fangled tenant.


— Quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens embarrassed the Rams on Monday night and dealt their playoff hopes a crippling blow.

Rich Hill had arm surgery last month and won’t be ready for the start of next season, according to a person familiar with the situation.

— The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both have the exact same opinion of the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic.


— Saudi money in U.S. horse racing is the sport’s next moral jam, writes John Tirman, the executive director of the MIT Center for International Studies.

— The head of a venture capital firm thinks California’s new labor law goes too far in curbing the use of independent contractors. He writes that Uber drivers and their ilk should be deemed dependent contractors, not employees, so that money-losing companies like Uber can become profitable.


— How Instagram killed the paparazzi, domesticated celebrity culture and fetishized feminine consumption. (New York Times)

Amazon‘s obsession with speed has turned its warehouses into injury mills, a Reveal investigation found. Says one former Inland Empire worker: “I’m still too young to feel like I’m 90 years old.” (Reveal / The Atlantic)

— How Texas Instruments and its $100 calculators monopolized math class. (GEN)


They heard it through the grapevine. There was dancing in the street. And it was not just your imagination: Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Thelma Houston and Debbie Allen got together to honor the founder of Motown Records for the naming of Berry Gordy Square at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Argyle Avenue in Hollywood. It also turned into an early birthday party for Gordy, who turns 90 this week, complete with a vegan cake and Wonder leading a round of “Happy Birthday,” Motown-style.

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