The Early Edition: July 29, 2019

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

The House Judiciary Committee formally asked a federal judge to release the grand jury material underlying former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation Friday with a view to deciding whether to recommend articles of impeachment against U.S. President Trump. The petition, which was filed in the Washington, D.C., District Court, states: “because Department of Justice policies will not allow prosecution of a sitting president, the United States House of Representatives is the only institution of the federal government that can now hold President Trump accountable for these actions,” adding “to do so, the House must have access to all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise all its full Article I powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity — approval of articles of impeachment,” Nicholas Fandos and Charlie Savage report at the New York Times.

“The Committee’s request is consistent with numerous prior instances in which it has sought and obtained grand jury materials when evaluating allegations of misconduct by government officials … including allegations against a sitting President,” the court filing states, likening the committee’s position to the one Congress was in during the Nixon era, Morgan Chalfant, Jacqueline Thomsen and Olivia Beavers report at the Hill.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) stated yesterday that Trump “richly deserves impeachment,” making the comments in the wake of Mueller’s congressional testimony on his investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. Appearing on C.N.N.’s “State of the Union,” Nadler – whose committee has the power to launch proceedings to remove the president from office – said Trump “has done many impeachable offenses, he’s violated the law six ways from Sunday,” adding that what matters is whether the committee can produce enough evidence to convince the American people of that, Catie Edmondson reports at the New York Times.

Nadler maintained that it was too soon to begin formal impeachment proceedings against Trump but said that he does not see a deadline for opening such proceedings. Nadler stated that Trump has to pay a penalty “so that that kind of conduct is not normalized and legalized … for the next president,” adding “so, we have to do this, whatever time frame there is … and we’re doing it now,” Maya Parthasarathy reports at POLITICO.

Nearly half of all House Democrats back launching impeachment proceedings against Trump, suggesting that impetus is growing behind opening an inquiry. Over a dozen Democrats — including Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), a member of Pelosi’s leadership team — have indicated their support since Mueller’s testimony before Congress last Wednesday, Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has defended the House Democratic leadership’s restrained approach toward launching impeachment proceedings against Trump, explaining that a failed impeachment fight could end up sending the wrong message. While asserting “there is great weight” to the impeachment argument, Schiff said: “I worry equally about the message of taking an impeachment case to trial, losing that case, having the president acquitted, and then having an adjudication that this conduct is not impeachable,” making the comments in an exclusive interview with “Meet the Press,” Ben Kamisar reports at NBC.

A group of Senate Democrats introduced a bill Friday intended to limit the impact of foreign influence campaigns during elections, citing the findings of Mueller’s probe, which noted that between 2013 and 2018 a Russian “troll farm” created accounts on social media platforms and shared content that reached around 126 million Americans. The Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Act would create a grant program at the Department of Education “to help educate the public on how to identify misinformation on social media platforms,” Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

An analysis of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (S.S.C.I.)’s first report about its own investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, including the committee’s “troubling” conclusions on U.S. election infrastructure, is provided by Just Security.

A look at how Congress can access the legal powers of impeachment without opening a formal inquiry is fielded by Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman and John T. Nelson at Just Security, who comment on the court petition brought by the House Judiciary Committee Friday.

“Mueller did acknowledge that he did not believe the president was always truthful in his written answers,” Kate Brannen writes at Just Security, exploring the more significant and revealing moments from the former special counsel’s congressional testimony overlooked by the news media.

The TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) is tapped to be the director of national intelligence – replacing Daniel Coats who steps down on Aug. 15 – President Trump announced yesterday. “I am pleased to announce that highly respected Congressman John Ratcliffe of Texas will be nominated by me to be the Director of National Intelligence … a former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves,” the president stated in a message sent on Twitter, Audrey McNamara reports at The Daily Beast.

Coats’s letter of resignation, in which he thanked Trump for the opportunity to lead the intelligence community and listed some of his achievements during his tenure, such as his establishment of an election security executive, is available at the Hill.

CHINA, HONG KONG AND TAIWAN

Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets Saturday to try to break up crowds as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators gathered in the residential neighborhood of Yuen Long to protest an attack by suspected triad gang members at a train station there last weekend – in defiance of authorities’ order not to march. The clashes, which left at least two dozen people injured, continued yesterday and Hong Kong police said protesters “hurled bricks and hard objects” at them, NBC reports.

China’s top policy body on Hong Kong affairs is set to hold a rare press briefing today, following weeks of increasingly violent demonstrations. The protests, originally in opposition to a controversial extradition bill, have progressed with wider demands for the city’s C.E.O. Carrie Lam’s resignation and an independent investigation into police tactics against demonstrators, AFP reports.

China’s military is set to hold exercises this week in waters near Taiwan, China’s maritime safety agency revealed, just days after Beijing declared it was prepared to fight if there was “any move towards independence” for the self-ruled island, Reuters reports.

IRAN

Iran’s recent missile tests were a “natural” part of its “defensive needs” and were not directed against any country, a military source said Saturday in comments carried by Iranian news agencies. The source stated that Iran “only aims to respond to possible aggression,” adding that the country “does not need the permission of any power in the world for its self-defense;” the remarks came after Washington said Tehran had test-fired a medium-range missile, Reuters reports.

Iran considers Britain’s seizure of an Iranian oil tanker earlier this month a violation of the 2015 nuclear deal, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told journalists yesterday, as remaining parties to the accord – Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China – met in Austria’s capital Vienna for emergency talks. “Since Iran is entitled to export its oil according to the J.C.P.O.A. (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), any impediment in the way of Iran’s export of oil is actually against the J.C.P.O.A.,” Araghchi said; Washington withdrew from the accord in May 2018, AFP reports.

“The atmosphere [of the emergency meeting] was constructive and the discussions were good,” Araghchi told reporters after the meeting ended, adding “I cannot say that we resolved everything … as we have said, we will continue to reduce our commitments to the deal until Europeans secure Iran’s interests under the deal.” The remaining signatories remain determined to save the deal, with China’s representative Fu Cong stating all parties had “expressed their commitment to safeguard the J.C.P.O.A. and … expressed their strong opposition against the U.S. unilateral imposition of sanctions,” the BBC reports.

Talks between Iran and the U.S. would be possible if negotiation was based on an agenda that could lead to “tangible results,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi said today in a news conference broadcast live on Press TV. Mousavi added that Washington is “not seeking dialogue,” Reuters reports.

Britain today rejected the notion of releasing the Iranian tanker in exchange for a British vessel captured by the Islamic Republic in the Gulf. “There is no quid pro quo,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reports, explaining: “this is not about some kind of barter … this is about the international law and the rules of the international legal system being upheld and that is what we will insist on,” Reuters reports.

LIBYA AND YEMEN

At least five doctors were killed Saturday in an air attack on a hospital carried out by forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar near the Libyan capital of Tripoli, the U.N.-recognised Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) said yesterday. Seven other people, including rescuers, were also wounded, according to health ministry spokesperson Lamine al-Hashemi, the BBC reports.

The U.N. has blacklisted for a third year a Saudi-UAE-led military coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels over the killing and wounding of hundreds of children. In a report submitted to the Security Council on Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the coalition killed and wounded 729 Yemeni children in 2018 – which accounts for almost half of the total child casualties in the war-torn country, Al Jazeera reports.

Libya’s G.N.A. attacked an airbase Friday used as a strategic staging post by forces loyal to Haftar in transporting troops and supplies. “The air force struck a gathering of mercenaries at the Al-Jufra base, destroying a hangar for drones belonging to a hostile country,” the G.N.A. stated in a Facebook post, Al Jazeera reports.

AFGHANISTAN

At least 20 people were killed and 50 others wounded yesterday in a suicide attack at vice presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh’s office in the Afghan capital of Kabul. No militant group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, which came at the start of official campaigning for presidential elections scheduled for Sept. 28, the Guardian reports.

The Taliban quickly rejected the Afghan government’s announcement Saturday that it was readying for direct negotiations with the Taliban in the next two weeks, a key step in the peace process to end the 18-year war. The militant group’s spokesperson said the Taliban was unwavering in its refusal to directly negotiate with the Afghan side until the U.S. confirms a schedule for withdrawing the remainder of its 14,000 troops in the country, Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

At least 65 people were killed and ten others injured in an attack by suspected militant Islamist group Boko Haram on a funeral gathering in northeastern Nigeria Saturday, according to local officials, Stephanie Busari, Isaac Abrak, Sophie Sherry and Braden Goyette report at CNN.

Weekend demonstrations took place in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum after the head of the official Sudanese investigative committee Fath al-Rahman Saeed declared a death toll of 87 Saturday from when security forces broke up a protest on Jun. 3 – a figure that opponents of Sudan’s military rulers have dismissed as far too low, Reuters reports.

Palestinians will no longer abide by agreements previously made with Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Saturday following an emergency meeting over the destruction of Palestinian buildings. Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have escalated in recent days after Israel demolished buildings it claims were “illegally built” on the edge of Jerusalem, the BBC reports.

Syrian government forces have regained control of two villages in northwestern Syria from rebel fighters who retreated following “intensive air and artillery bombardment,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Reuters reports.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Turkey would “turn elsewhere” for fighter jets if the U.S. does not sell it the F-35 aircraft. “Are you not giving us the F-35s? OK, then excuse us but we will once again have to take measures on that matter as well and we will turn elsewhere,” Erdogan told members of his ruling party, adding that Ankara planned to start using the Russian S-400 missile defence system in April 2020; the U.S. announced last week it had cut Turkey from the F-35 programme after Ankara acquired the Russian systems which are seen as a threat by Washington, Reuters reports.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un personally arranged the test-fire of a new and more advanced missile last Thursday to counter South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s “double-dealing,” the North have said, referring to Moon holding peace talks with North Korea while purchasing sophisticated F-35 stealth jets and planning joint military drills with the U.S., Chloe Sang-Hun writes at the New York Times.

Bangladesh’s government has dismissed as “baseless” a report by international human rights group World Organization Against Torture (O.M.C.T.) which accuses law enforcement agencies of using systematic torture on detainees to suppress dissent, Reuters reports.

Nearly 1,400 people were arrested Saturday by Russian police as they gathered in central Moscow at a protest demanding free and fair elections, the biggest such crackdown in years, AFP reports. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).