The Early Edition: September 25, 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 AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday announced that the Democratic-controlled House was moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Trump following reports he withheld aid to Ukraine while he was pressing the country to investigate former Vice President and current Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and his son. Pelosi, who for months had been reluctant to embrace an impeachment effort, made the formal announcement from the speaker’s office at the Capitol, saying “the president must be held accountable … no one is above the law.” Kyle Cheney, Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan report at POLITICO.

“The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office … betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said. “Therefore, today, I am announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry … I am directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry,” the speaker continued. Rachael Bade, Mike DeBonis and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.

Trump reacted quickly to Pelosi’s announcement, accusing Democrats of “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT” and calling the inquiry “Witch Hunt garbage” in a message sent on Twitter. The president noted that Pelosi’s announcement came as he met with world leaders at the U.N., saying: “such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage … so bad for our Country!” Before the announcement, Trump asserted that an impeachment inquiry would be “positive for me.” Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

Trump promised earlier yesterday to release “the complete, fully declassified and unredacted” transcript of his controversial July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In a message sent on Twitter, Trump said the transcript would be released today and would show the call was “totally appropriate.” Rebecca Ballhaus and Catherine Lucey report at Wall Street Journal.

Republicans and Trump allies hit back at the news of an impeachment inquiry, brushing off the main allegation that Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate Biden’s son after withholding nearly $400 million in military aid. “Dems have no basis for impeachment … they should be investigated for obstructing justice,” Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a post on Twitter, adding: “their whistleblower may turn out to have no direct evidence … the story is so far off it sounds like another Dem-Media frame-up.” David Smith reports at the Guardian.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“Now, Democrats who had been hesitant to open an inquiry are all in,” Carl Hulse at the New York Times writes in an analysis of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that the House will launch a formal impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Trump.

“The whistleblower complaint involving Trump and Ukraine appears to be the precipitating factor for several Democratic impeachment skeptics in the House.” Amber Phillips at the Washington Post explains why.

A breakdown of the moments that moved Pelosi and House Democrats toward impeachment is provided by JM Rieger, Kate Rabinowitz, Chris Alcantara and Kevin Uhrmacher at the Washington Post.

“Gaping questions” remain about how the investigation will unfold, Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade point out at the Washington Post.

“The House must avoid at all costs the debacle that has occurred regarding other investigations,” Jennifer Rubin warns at the Washington Post, noting “without the power to enforce subpoenas for administration figures to testify and to produce documents, the House Judiciary Committee hearings have bogged down into endless procedural delays, process fights and nonproductive inquiries.”

Helpful guides on how impeachment works are provided by Charlie Savage at the New York Times and Amber Phillips at the Washington Post.

A transcript of Pelosi’s statement on impeachment is available at the New York Times.

U.S.-UKRAINE RELATIONS

The Senate approved a resolution yesterday calling on the Trump administration to immediately provide the House and Senate intelligence committees a copy of the whistle-blower complaint involving U.S. President Trump. The measure put forward by Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) passed by a voice vote after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) endorsed the idea. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared that the House would vote on a similar resolution today. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The White House is preparing to release both the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Inspector General report that prompted House Democrats to announce a formal impeachment inquiry, a senior administration official said. The president has reportedly signed off on the move; Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire has so far refused to turn over the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees as required by law. Nancy Cook reports at POLITICO.

Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said his panel is liaising with a lawyer representing the whistleblower who came forward to raise concerns about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky and that the intelligence staffer would like to testify this week. The whistleblower’s lawyer is communicating with Maguire about how to proceed, Schiff said in a post on Twitter. Reuters reports.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Fox News yesterday that the State Department personally requested him to get in touch with Ukrainian officials and inquire about probes into Biden. Reacting to reports that he had inserted himself in the Trump administration’s foreign policy to pursue a “shadow Ukraine agenda,” Giuliani insisted “I never talked to a Ukrainian official until the State Department called me and asked me to do it … and then I reported every conversation back to them.” Justin Baragona reports at The Daily Beast.

U.S.-UKRAINE RELATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A list of 10 questions about the Trump whistleblower complaint, answered is provided by Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.

A look at the “winners” and “losers” of the Ukrainian scandal is fielded by Paul Krugman at the New York Times.

A detailed chronology of events in the months-long campaign by U.S. President Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to reportedly pressure the Ukraine government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden is provided by Viola Gienger and Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman at Just Security. The Washington Post calls it “an epic big-picture timeline of the Trump-Ukraine scandal that illustrates the story’s larger themes.”

A close look at the political context on Ukraine, including Biden’s work in the country and Trump and Giuliani’s actions is provided by Viola Gienger  and Ryan Goodman at Just Security.

“The White House move to withhold cash to Ukraine is the most high-profile example of how President Donald Trump has used federal money to stretch the powers of the executive branch to get what he wants … but it’s certainly not the first time,” Jennifer Scholtes and Caitlin Emma argue at POLITICO.

U.N. GENERAL ASSEMBLY

French President Emmanuel Macron said yesterday that conditions were now set for the leaders of the U.S. and Iran to meet at the U.N., but it remained their decision on whether to return to negotiations. “There is a common intent to progress and to not just find the terms of a de-escalation, but to build a long-term accord … but it depends on the will of both sides,” Macron told reporters after holding separate meetings with U.S. President Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Al Jazeera reports.

Macron’s efforts to facilitate a meeting between Trump and Rouhani appeared to have failed when the Iranian side maintained the U.S. first needed to agree to easing sanctions. Rouhani expressed being open to “small changes, additions or amendments” to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but only if the U.S. lifted sanctions on the country; Rouhani is scheduled to deliver his speech to the General Assembly today. Laurence Norman and Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump insisted yesterday he was in a “very strong position” with Iran, adding “I think they’d like to do something and it would be a smart thing for them if they did.” Reuters reports.

Trump celebrated nationalism and rejected “globalists” yesterday at the U.N. General Assembly in New York, pushing the “America First” ethos on issues of defense, trade and immigration while asserting that a view of the world as a global commons had “exerted a religious pull over past leaders” at the expense of their own nations. “The future does not belong to globalists … the future belongs to patriots,” Trump said, urging other countries to place priority on their own citizens to ensure global peace and prosperity; many of the world’s leaders have used their speeches so far to defend the multilateralism embodied by the U.N.. Anne Gearan and Seung Min Kim report at the Washington Post.

Rouhani accused the U.S. of being the main inciter of terrorism in the Middle East, saying in a Fox News interview “wherever America has gone, terrorism has expanded in the wake.” The Iranian president made the remarks in response to Trump slamming Iran during a speech at the U.N. earlier in the day. Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

Air strikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in southern Yemen killed at least 16 people, including seven children, in al-Dhalea province yesterday, the state news agency I.R.N.A. said. Reuters reports.

Saudi Arabia yesterday warned that “U.S. patience with Iran is not inexhaustible” and suggested that America was still weighing military options following the attack on major Saudi oil facilities earlier this month. The Saudi foreign affairs minister Adel al-Jubeir also said the U.N.-commissioned report into the origins of the attack would be released in the near future, while describing the European Union (E.U.)’s Monday statement pinning blame for the strikes on Iran as “very significant.” Patrick Wintour and Julian Borger report at the Guardian.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

An airstrike by the U.S. military against the Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) in Libya killed 11 militants yesterday. The AP reports.

Police clashed with protesters demonstrating outside the Indonesian parliament and in other cities in the country over a controversial new bill that would prohibit sex before marriage, outlaw most abortions and make insulting the president illegal. The BBC reports.

A congressionally appointed bipartisan panel has recommended the U.S. pause its withdrawal from Syria to prevent an Islamic State group (I.S.I.S.) resurgence, ward off Iranian influence in the country and provide leverage to negotiate an end to the Syrian civil war. The recommendation was contained in the 80-page final report published yesterday by the Syria Study Group. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said that Afghanistan’s election on Saturday “should be scrapped” because it threatens the country’s best chance of achieving peace with the Taliban. Holding the vote now “is like asking a heart patient to run a marathon” Karzai said, explaining that it could trigger Taliban attacks that would “seriously destabilize” the war-torn nation. Al Jazeera reports.

Are Arab Israelis having their political moment?  Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash at the Washington Post take a look at the surge of Arab voters after Israeli’s general election produced a deadlock last week.

A detailed look at how people make moral judgments of soldiers is fielded by Hanne Watkins and Geoffrey Goodwin at Just Security following their empirical study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday rejected the notion that that the Supreme Court is becoming politicized or that the justices’ decisions are steered primarily by their partisan affiliation. “When you live in a polarized political environment, people tend to see everything in those terms. That’s not how we at the court function and the results in our cases do not suggest otherwise,” Roberts said. Reuters reports.

Over 31,000 people were refused entry to the U.S. under President Trump’s travel ban, a State Department official said yesterday while testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. Rachel Frazin reports at the Hill. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate 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).