The Early Edition: October 2, 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

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday pushed back against a request by House Democrats to depose five current and former State Department officials in the House impeachment inquiry into U.S President Trump, suggesting it was an intimidation attempt. “I’m concerned with aspects of the committee’s request that can be understood only as an attempt to intimidate, bully, & treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State,” Pompeo wrote in a message sent on Twitter accompanying a letter to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y..) Citing “profound procedural and legal deficiencies” in the subpoenas, Pompeo said he would “use all means at [his] disposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals” of the State Department; Democrats last week launched the impeachment effort following a whistle-blower complaint against Trump, which accused him of soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. election, for his personal political benefit, during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July. Karen DeYoung, Josh Dawsey, Karoun Demirjian and John Hudson report at the Washington Post.

On Just Security this morning, Mike Stern has an expert explainer, “Deciphering the Pompeo-House Clash Over Witnesses.”

The leaders of three House committees rebuffed Pompeo’s suggestion of intimidation, accusing the secretary of “intimidating department witnesses in order to protect himself and the president.” In a joint statement issued in response to Pompeo’s position, Engel, House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote that blocking witnesses from showing up as scheduled was illegal and would constitute obstruction of Congress’ work, adding that “Congress may infer” from such obstruction that any withheld information would corroborate the whistleblower complaint that helped spark the impeachment inquiry. Nicholas Fandos and Lara Jakes report at the New York Times.

Two officials asked to testify in the impeachment inquiry have agreed to provide depositions, despite Pompeo’s assertions that State Department officials scheduled to appear this week before committees conducting the impeachment inquiry would not show up. Kurt Volker, who resigned last week as Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine, has confirmed he will appear at a deposition before Congress tomorrow, while former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch has agreed to appear on Oct. 11, not today as originally requested.  The State Department inspector general also scheduled an “urgent” briefing for today with staffers from a group of House and Senate committees on documents related to the State Department and Ukraine. Erin Banco reports at The Daily Beast. 

Zelensky said yesterday that it was not explained to him why millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to his country was delayed, dismissing suggestions that Trump halted the funding to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President and Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden. Yuras Karmanau and Angela Charlton report at the AP.

Zelensky also said he had never met or spoken to Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, whose meetings with Ukrainian officials are now part of the impeachment inquiry. “I have never met Rudy Giuliani … never … and never had any phone calls with him,” Zelensky told reporters in Kiev following the release of a declassified whistleblower complaint last week which alleges that Trump pressured Zelensky to “meet or speak with” Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr. Rebecca Klar reports at the Hill.  

Giuliani said in an interview yesterday that he believes Congress’ investigation into Trump is “wrong,” and indicated that would like to sue House Democrats behind the probe. Giuliani suggested that Congress’ actions violate Trump’s constitutional rights: “they are violating — they’re interfering with the president in exercising his rights under Article II: the president United States conducts the foreign policy of the United States,” Giuliani said, explaining “they’re calling foreign leaders … they are going to foreign capitals.” Matthew Choi reports at POLITICO.

The whistleblower who reported concerns over Trump’s call with Zelensky “should be heard out and their identity protected,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement yesterday, explaining that “we should always work to respect whistle-blowers’ requests for confidentiality.” Grassley added that “this person appears to have followed the whistleblower protection laws” and “no one should be making judgments or pronouncements without hearing from the whistleblower first and carefully following up on the facts.” Reuters reports.

Grassley’s statement came amid a pair of messages sent on Twitter by Trump, including one questioning why he is not “entitled to interview & learn everything about” a whistleblower whose identity is protected by federal statute. Eileen Sullivan reports at the New York Times.

Trump yesterday ramped up his criticism of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry — claiming the process resembled a “coup.” “As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP,” the president said in a message sent on Twitter, adding that the investigation into his alleged abuse of power is “intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!” AFP reports.

The president’s two highest-profile lawyers are struggling to get on the same page — complicating Trump’s impeachment defense, Rebecca Ballhaus, Sadie Gurman, Andrew Restuccia and Michael C. Bender write at the Wall Street Journal, commenting that “Trump is receiving advice from two very different lawyers: Giuliani, who blankets the airwaves morning and evening with combative interviews and is prone to exaggeration; and Barr, a more measured figure but one who has drawn criticism for appearing overly close to Trump.”

Ukraine launched an investigation yesterday into Yuriy Lutsenko — a former prosecutor who provided Giuliani with information about the Biden family, shortly after he left the country, apparently for an English language course. It was not immediately clear whether the investigation might be intended as political retribution for Lutsenko’s role in the Ukraine scandal, Andrew Roth reports at the Guardian.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A detailed look at Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s roles in the Ukraine scandal is fielded by James Hohmann at the Washington Post.

An analysis of the State Department’s request for an “urgent” briefing with congressional committees about documents related to the Ukraine scandal is provided by Stephen Collinson at CNN.

What can Congress do if Pompeo won’t cooperate with its impeachment inquiry? Amber Phillips at the Washington Post explores the options.

Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker resigned in part because he “couldn’t be effective in mounting his own defense if he was still beholden to the administration’s supervision,” Josh Rogin writes at the Washington Post, commenting that Volker was not informed of President Trump’s efforts to solicit dirt from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and is willing to testify against Giuliani’s narrative.

The Constitution assigns the House the impeachment power precisely to address situations where an urgent national security risk means accountability can’t simply wait for the next election cycle, Lawrence Friedman and Victor Hansen argue at Just Security, commenting that potential harm to national security interests through an impeachment investigation should not deter Congress from conducting such an investigation.

“Trump used his official powers to press a foreign government for help with his reelection … now, it appears that Barr might also be using the authority of his office for Trump’s political gain,” the Washington Post editorial board argues.

IRAN

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said today that Iran supports a proposal by European countries to strengthen a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, from which the U.S. withdrew last year. Rouhani said the plan included “preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, securing its support for regional peace, lifting U.S. sanctions and the immediate resumption of Iranian oil exports.” The AP reports.

Iran has sentenced one person to death and three others to 10 years in prison on charges of spying for the U.S. and Britain, Iran’s judiciary said. The person sentenced to death was not identified, but he was described as someone who spied for the C.I.A and “whose range of espionage activities has been vast.” The BBC reports.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

“Increased scrutiny of the real perpetrators of [Washington Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi’s] murder could galvanize the push to end the war in Yemen,” Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkol Karman suggests at the Washington Post.

“Across the Arab world, intellectuals, writers, activists and ordinary citizens are increasingly censoring themselves out of fear of their governments,” co-founder of the Sana Center for Strategic Studies Farea al-Muslimi comments at the New York Times, citing Khashoggi’s murder.

AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban have sent a high-level delegation — led by the group’s co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar — to Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, for talks, as part of a tour that has included Russia, China and Iran in an effort to garner support to resurrect a peace deal with Washington after U.S. President Trump last month announced U.S.-Taliban talks were “dead.” The AP reports.

The Taliban visit comes as U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and top U.S. negotiator in the peace talks Zalmay Khalilzad met Pakistani counterparts in Islamabad this week, following discussions held between Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan during the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week. Reuters reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea fired what appeared to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile toward the East Sea today, South Korea’s military and Japan’s government said, just days before Washington and Pyongyang were set to resume long-stalled nuclear talks. The country has not tested an underwater-launched missile in three years. Song Jung-a, Demetri Sevastopulo and Robin Harding report at the Financial Times.

The launch was “an apparent display of [the North’s] expanding military capabilities” ahead of the planned negotiations this weekend, the AP writes.

The U.S. called on Pyongyang today to “refrain from provocations” and “remain engaged in negotiations to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and achieve denuclearization,” after North Korea fired the ballistic missile. Reuters reports.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

The 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule in China yesterday was “one of Hong Kong’s most violent and chaotic days,” the city’s police chief has said after an 18-year-old protester was shot in the chest with a live bullet and 103 others were taken to hospital. Activists, armed with petrol bombs and other projectiles, clashed with police in several parts of Hong Kong, leading to 180 arrests. The BBC reports.

“If we want a democratic China, we need to push it rather than pull it … that means holding out access to global markets as a carrot dependent upon further political liberalization and pulling that carrot away if China refuses,” Henry Olsen writes at the Washington Post in support of Trump’s approach to the country.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS   

Two people were killed and more than 200 were wounded yesterday in clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters in the capital and other provinces, according to a statement by the government’s media. Al Jazeera reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-awaited pre-trial corruption hearing will begin today. Both the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the police have already indicted that indictments are likely in three cases, including multiple fraud and breach of trust charges, and a bribery charge. Oliver Holmes reports at the Guardian.

A helpful analysis of recent progress for the rule of law in Sudan is provided by Rebecca Hamilton at Just Security.

The State Department has approved a potential $39 million sale of additional Javelin anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, according to a congressional aide. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The Department of Homeland Security reportedly affirmed white supremacist terrorism as a primary security threat in a “little-noticed” strategy document published last month. Zolan Kanno-Youngs reports at the New York Times.

A federal judge told the Justice Department Monday that they needed to charge former acting F.B.I. Director Andrew McCabe within six weeks or stop investigating whether he lied to authorities about a media disclosure, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. The judge apparently criticized prosecutors for leaving the decision “in limbo.”

U.S. President Trump previously suggested shooting migrants in the legs to slow them down as a method of deterring migrants from crossing the southern border. The New York Times 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).