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August 20, 2019

Enough with the worrying, former Vice President Joe Biden's brain surgeon says.

As some voters murmur that the gaffe-prone Democratic presidential candidate's age is cause for extra concern this campaign cycle, Dr. Neal Kassell — the man who performed surgery on Biden three decades ago following two brain aneurysms — came out swinging for his former patient.

Kassell dismissed fears about the 76-year-old Biden's mental faculties, noting that he's "as sharp as he was 31 years ago" and assuring people that the hemorrhage and subsequent operations did not result in any brain damage. "I am going to vote for the candidate who I am absolutely certain has a brain that is functioning," Kassell told Politico. "And that narrows it down to exactly one."

Biden's physician, Dr. Kevin O'Connor, backed up Kassell. "Vice President Biden is in excellent physical condition," he said. "He is more than capable of handling the rigors of the campaign and the office for which he is running."

In fact, several experts told Politico that voters are placing too great an emphasis on the age of several candidates, particularly the five septuagenarians who are running, including Democratic candidates Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), 70, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), 77, as well as 73-year-old President Trump and his lone Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is 74.

"They have prospects for survival that extend well beyond the four-year term of the office," said Dr. Jay Olshansky, who led an American Federation of Aging Research study last month that sought to determine how likely it is that a candidate would die while in office. "The bottom line is their chronological age does not matter at all." Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

11:19 p.m.

During a chaotic interview Thursday night with CNN's Chris Cuomo, President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani was happy to accuse former Vice President Joe Biden of bribing Ukrainian politicians, but he grew enraged when asked about Trump's relationship with the country's leader.

Throughout the rambling, nearly 20-minute interview, Giuliani made it clear that he doesn't like Biden, whistleblowers, CNN, or using his inside voice. His appearance coincided with The Washington Post's report that a U.S. intelligence whistleblower filed an "urgent" complaint last month about President Trump's communications with someone in Ukraine. Giuliani didn't want to talk about that, though, instead telling Cuomo the real story is his allegation that Biden bribed the former president of Ukraine to fire a prosecutor investigating his son.

Giuliani also claimed that several Ukrainians tried to tell him that there was collusion between Ukrainian politicians, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic National Committee, but the U.S. ambassador blocked them. This has all the trappings of an "astounding scandal of major proportions," he said, but it's "being covered up by the news." Cuomo finally got a question in about the whistleblower, which Giuliani immediately shot down. "I'm here on television," Giuliani said, while "this guy is hiding somewhere, skulking around."

Cuomo reminded the former U.S. attorney that there are protections in place for whistleblowers. Giuliani said sure, but "some whistleblowers are liars." Giuliani went on to insult Cuomo and CNN several more times, accusing the network of favoring Democrats and covering up their scandals, and patted himself on the back for insulting Cuomo "directly to your face and not behind your back." Lower the volume on your computer, and watch the video below. Catherine Garcia

9:58 p.m.

The whistleblower complaint filed Aug. 12 by a U.S. intelligence official involves Ukraine, two people with knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the Post reported that the complaint centers around Trump's communications with a foreign leader, and a "promise" he made. The intelligence official was so troubled by this that they notified Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who marked the complaint as being of "urgent concern" and passed it along to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

By law, Maguire was supposed to pass this complaint on to Congress, but he said he talked to Justice Department officials, who claimed it did not meet the definition of an urgent concern and was not under the DNI's jurisdiction. Maguire's refusal to notify lawmakers about the complaint has sparked a battle between Democratic lawmakers and the acting DNI. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Thursday that someone is "trying to manipulate the system to keep information about an urgent matter from the Congress. ... There certainly are a lot of indications that it was someone at a higher pay grade than the director of national intelligence."

Trump had a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky two-and-a-half weeks before the complaint was filed. Zelensky is an actor and comedian who was elected in May, and House Democrats are already investigating that call as part of a probe into whether Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani tried to manipulate the Ukrainian government into assisting with Trump's re-election campaign. Catherine Garcia

8:29 p.m.

Southeastern Texas is still being pounded by rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda.

The region has been experiencing heavy rains since Tuesday, and officials in Jefferson County on Thursday said they recorded 43.15. inches of rain. The National Weather Service's Houston office said that Imelda is the seventh wettest tropical cyclone in U.S. history, and the fourth wettest to ever hit Texas.

Thirteen counties have been declared disaster areas, with thousands evacuated from their homes due to floodwaters. In Harris County, first responders said they have responded to 133 high-water rescue calls since noon. At least three deaths have been linked to the storm. Catherine Garcia

7:45 p.m.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday warned that if the United States or Saudi Arabia launches an attack on his country, it will launch an "all-out war."

Over the weekend, Saudi oil facilities were damaged in a drone and cruise missile attack. The Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen took credit for the incident, but the U.S. and Saudi Arabia say Iran was behind it, an allegation Tehran denies. Zarif told CNN that Iran "won't blink to defend our territory," but does not "want war. We don't want to engage in a military confrontation. We believe that a military confrontation based on deception is awful."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is visiting the United Arab Emirates, and responded by saying he was doing "active diplomacy while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war to fight to the last American." Catherine Garcia

6:51 p.m.

A federal judge in Sacramento issued a temporary injunction on Thursday against California's new law that requires candidates for president and governor to release their tax returns in order to appear on the primary ballot.

U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. said a final ruling will be made in a few days. Since Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the law in July, five lawsuits have been filed, including one by President Trump. Under the law, any candidate for president or governor who wants to get on the statewide primary ballot must turn over to state officials their last five years of federal tax filings. Those documents are then made public, with personal financial information redacted.

Trump's attorneys say such a requirement violates his right to privacy. The president wants to appear on the March 2 primary ballot, but does not want to release any of his financial documents. Catherine Garcia

4:25 p.m.

The Colt AR-15 is off the market.

Colt announced Thursday that it is suspending production of its popular AR-15 rifle for its civilian market. The gunmaker will continue to produce the weapons for its military and law enforcement markets.

Company CEO Dennis Veilleux in a statement sought to reassure customers that Colt is still "committed to the consumer market" and the Second Amendment, explaining that demand for Colt rifles had dwindled; American Military News writes that could be due to Colt's relatively high prices for popular rifle models. The suspension could be temporary, as Veilleux said Colt will "adjust as market dynamics change" and Colt executive Paul Spitale said "it's not forever." Of course, other gunmakers will continue to manufacture AR-15 rifles.

AR-15s have been at the center of a national gun control debate because of their use in mass shootings. Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke has pledged to take AR-15s and other military style weapons away from Americans in mandatory buyback programs, prompting an ironic criticism from the NRA posted just Thursday morning.

Gun control advocates also celebrated the suspension. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:06 p.m.

North America's bird population is in a swan dive.

The number of birds across the continent has fallen by about 2.9 billion since 1970, experts estimate in a report published Thursday in Science. That's about a 30 percent reduction in their populations, marking what National Audubon Society President David Yarnold is calling a "a full-blown crisis."

Ornithologists' first reliable estimates of bird populations begin in 1970, and stem from volunteer surveys of amateur birdwatchers, The New York Times writes. Researchers used that data to estimate 529 bird species populations between 2006 and 2015, finding a remarkable decline largely among the most common species of birds across North America. In fact, 90 percent of the loss seems to come from dramatic reductions in finches, sparrows, warblers, and other everyday species.

A bit of ornithological good news did come out of the survey: Waterfowl and other wetland birds saw big population growth since the '70s. That's because "recreational waterfowl hunters ... saw to it that conservation programs and policies were put in place," the study's lead author Ken Rosenburg tells Scientific American. Other birds weren't so lucky, and saw their numbers drop due to habitat loss, insect-killing pesticides, and other climate change-related causes. And due to their irreplaceable positions in every type of biome, this population drop all essentially guarantees "other parts of the ecosystem are also in decline and degradation," Rosenburg continued.

Let's see if President Trump stays worried about bird deaths now that they have nothing to do with green energy. Kathryn Krawczyk

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