The Early Edition: October 3, 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

The House Committees leading an impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Trump said yesterday they will subpoena the White House by the end of the week if officials refused to produce documents related to Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other efforts to persuade the country’s leader to investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden. “Over the past several weeks, the Committees tried several times to obtain voluntary compliance with our requests for documents, but the White House has refused to engage with — or even respond to — the committees,” House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote in memo to his panel notifying them that he would issue the subpoena tomorrow on behalf of his panel; “we’re not fooling around here … we don’t want this to drag on months and months and months,” House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said as he appeared with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at a news conference on Capitol Hill. Schiff and Cummings are leading the impeachment inquiry with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y..) Nicholas Fandos and Peter Baker report at the New York Times.

Trump lashed out yesterday at House Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry into him, accusing them in a message sent on Twitter of “wasting everyone’s time and energy on BULLSHIT” moments after Pelosi and Schiff warned of subpoenas if the White House stonewalled their requests for documents and witnesses. Trump later railed against both Democrats and the media during a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, calling Schiff a “lowlife” and a “shifty, dishonest guy” who “should resign from office in disgrace” and telling reporters that only “legitimate” whistleblowers should be protected. John Hudson and John Wagner report at the Washington Post.

The full press conference with Trump and the president of Finland is available at NPR.

The State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick yesterday briefed House and Senate committee staff on what Democrats said covered “conspiracy theories” about Ukraine, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and the Bidens. Engel, Schiff and Cummings released a joint statement about the hour-long closed-door briefing, deemed “urgent” when it was announced on Tuesday: “the documents provided by the Inspector General included a package of disinformation, debunked conspiracy theories, and baseless allegations in an envelope marked ‘White House’ and containing folders labeled ‘Trump Hotel’  … these documents also reinforce concern that the President and his allies sought to use the machinery of the State Department to further the President’s personal political interests,” they wrote. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill. 

There were “intriguing potential leads” in the briefing, Nicholas Fandos and Catie Edmondson write at the New York Times, noting that “among the documents were what appeared to be notes of interviews involving Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and Ukrainian officials about the Bidens.”

The whistleblower at the center of the impeachment probe provided an account of his concerns to a congressional aide, who relayed them to Schiff, before filing his complaint, it was reported yesterday. The whistleblower approached the aide out of concern about how his allegations were being handled after he first had a colleague pass them along to the C.I.A.’s top lawyer. Schiff’s aide suggested the whistleblower file a complaint, according to a spokesperson and current and former U.S. officials. Julian E. Barnes, Michael S. Schmidt and Matthew Rosenberg report at the New York Times.

Trump repeatedly involved Vice President Mike Pence in efforts to pressure Zelensky to solicit dirt on Biden  although officials close to Pence say that he was unaware of allegations in the whistleblower complaint, current and former U.S. officials said. Trump used Pence to inform the Ukrainian leader that U.S. military aid was still being withheld while calling for more aggressive action on corruption; at that time — following Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenksy — “the Ukrainians probably understood action on corruption to include the investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden,” Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Ashley Parker report at the Washington Post.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged for the first time yesterday he listened in to the phone call between Trump and Zelensky that has become the subject of a whistleblower’s complaint that triggered an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats.  “I was on the phone call,” Pompeo said at a news conference in Rome, saying the conversation occurred in the context of normal U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine. The secretary did not say whether he thought the contents of the call were inappropriate. Quint Forgey reports at POLITICO.

Former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker reportedly met last year with officials from Burisma — the Ukrainian firm denounced by the Trump administration as corrupt. The meeting, which took place as Giuliani was pushing Ukraine’s government to investigate the company and the Bidens’ ties with it, “highlights the dissonance between Giuliani’s assertions on Twitter that Burisma was a ‘corrupt company’ and demands that the Bidens’ role be investigated, and the envoy’s efforts to conduct day-to-day relations with Ukraine’s government and corporate interests.” Volker, who abruptly resigned his post last week, is expected to voluntarily give a deposition before a House committee today, the AP reports.

Giuliani apparently consulted several times with Trump’s imprisoned former campaign chair Paul Manafort in recent months through the federal prisoner’s lawyer, seeking information about a disputed ledger that would strengthen his theory that Ukraine supported Hillary Clinton in her unsuccessful 2016 presidential race against Trump. Josh Dawsey, Tom Hamburger, Paul Sonne and Rosalind S. Helderman report at the Washington Post.

Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) yesterday asked several foreign governments to continue to assist Attorney General William Barr with his investigation into the origins of former special counsel Robert Muller’s investigation. In a letter to the prime ministers of Australia, Italy and Britain, Graham requested their “continued cooperation with Attorney General Barr as the Department of Justice continues to investigate the origins and extent of foreign influence in the 2016 election.” Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

Trump says he will likely sue some individuals who were involved in Mueller’s probe into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. “I probably will be bringing a lot of litigation against a lot of people having to do with the corruption investigation having to do with the 2016 election,” Trump told a joint news conference with the president of Finland, without specifying any names. Reuters reports.

Justice Department lawyers promised a federal judge yesterday that the White House will not destroy records of Trump’s phone calls and communications with foreign leaders while the court considers a lawsuit brought by historians and watchdog groups. Justice Department lawyer Kathryn L. Wyer told a judge in a filing that the Trump administration and executive office of the president “voluntarily agree . . . to preserve the material at issue pending” litigation; three organizations — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (C.R.E.W.), the National Security Archive and the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations (S.H.A.F.R.) — claimed that the White House was failing to create and save records as required of Trump’s contacts with foreign leaders. Spencer S. Hsu report at the Washington Post.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A guide to the key figures in Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Trump is provided by Demetri Sevastopulo, Aime Williams and Roman Olearchyk at the Financial Times.

The Trump administration is trying to block the impeachment inquiry “with all the subtlety and nuance of medieval siege warfare,” Dana Milbank comments on the administration’s defense at the Washington Post.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s Tuesday letter — telling the House that he intended to block State Department employees from cooperating with the impeachment inquiry because the House, in his view, was being overly aggressive in its investigative approach — “lacks even a token gesture to the accommodations process,” Austin Evers argues at Just Security.

The Ukraine controversy is essentially the same thing as the Russia investigation — “a battle over  Trump’s legitimacy fought out with allegations of foreign interference,” Rich Lowry argues at POLITICO.

“Pompeo stood by while Trump and his personal lawyer twisted Ukraine policy to their own ends, and he enabled their vicious attack on the State Department’s ambassador in Kiev,” the Washington Post editorial board comments.

“Congress needs to repair the damage the president has caused to the effectiveness and morale of the nation’s diplomats,” Nicholas Burns argues at the New York Times.

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that he would not object to his phone calls with U.S. President Trump being published because there was nothing incriminating in their conversations, adding that he always assumed his words could potentially be made public whenever he speaks. Putin’s remarks came just days after his spokesperson Dmitri Peskov had said the Kremlin would not want records of the two presidents’ talks released amid the backlash caused by the White House’s release of a rough transcript of a call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Ivan Nechepurenko reports at the New York Times.

Putin reportedly joked that Moscow would hack the U.S. presidential election in 2020. When asked about concerns that Russia might interfere in next year’s elections, he replied: “I’ll tell you a secret: yes, we’ll definitely do it,” adding in a stage whisper “just don’t tell anyone.” Nathan Hodge, Olga Pavlova and Mary Ilyushina report at CNN.

The Russian president backed Trump over accusations that he pressured Zelensky to solicit damaging information on Democratic political rival Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election. “We see what’s going on in the United States — all pretexts are being used to attack President Trump … now it’s Ukraine … it became clear there was no secret deal between Russia and Trump’s team … now another pretext has been found linked to Ukraine,” Putin told a conference in Moscow. Reuters reports.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea today confirmed it successfully test-fired a new type of a ballistic missile yesterday, a significant escalation from the short-range tests it has conducted since May. The missile, fired from a platform at sea, was capable of being launched from a submarine, marking a “new phase” in the country’s defense capability. AFP reports.

Analysts believe the latest launch may be used as leverage in denuclearization talks expected to resume with the U.S. this weekend. North Korean’s leader Kim Jong-un “sent warm congratulations” to those who had conducted the successful test-firing, the North’s K.C.N.A. state news agency reported, suggesting that Kim was not at the site. The Guardian reports.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

Hong Kong police relaxed guidelines on the use of force by police officers in the run-up to protests on Oct. 1, giving them greater power to deal with demonstrators in difficult situations, it was reported today. The updated police documents removed a line that said “officers will be accountable for their own actions,” stating only that “officers on the ground should exercise their own discretion to determine what level of force is justified in a given situation,” a change described as “significant” by Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan; “it told officers that they would be personally liable, which has become quite an issue now … by deleting this line, it gives the impression that the police force will support officers in whatever they do,” Tanya said. Reuters reports.

An Indonesian journalist has been left permanently blinded in her right eye after a rubber bullet was reportedly fired by police during the recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. The BBC reports.

The teenager who was the first victim of police gunfire in Hong Kong’s demonstrations was charged today with rioting and attacking police, the AP reports.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

The fiancée of murdered Washington Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi — Hatice Cengiz — said yesterday during a vigil held for him that she was still seeking justice. “I want to know what happened to his body … I want his friends to be released from jail … I want that those in power are held accountable for their actions,” Cengiz said in a speech at the vigil marking the one-year anniversary of his killing. The BBC reports.

A year on from Khashoggi’s murder “there is no evidence that Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler has shed his reckless streak,” Roula Khalaf comments at the Financial Times, adding that “the handling of the Khashoggi affair remains shrouded in mystery.”

IRAN

“The very reasons that hawks in the Trump administration wanted to hamstring Iran and get out of the nuclear agreement are those that make attacking it so dangerous,” Sam Kiley comments in an analysis at CNN.

“The United States’ ability to project power into the Persian Gulf region via carrier strike groups … is not what it used to be, nor what it might have been,” and “it will be years before the United States can regain its previous naval edge,” Michael Moran argues at Foreign Policy, warning that the U.S. navy is not ready to take on Iran.

IMMIGRATION 

The Trump administration is moving to collect D.N.A. samples from hundreds of thousands of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and others in immigration detention for use in a national criminal database, a significant expansion of the use of technology to enforce the nation’s immigration laws. Michelle Hackman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The proposed rule for the broad collection of D.N.A. from immigration detainees would bring the government in better compliance with a 2005 federal law that requires border officials to collect biometric information from detained criminal immigrants, senior Justice Department officials said. Ted Hesson reports at POLITICO.

An in-depth look at how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) “picks its targets in the surveillance age” is provided by McKenzie Funk at the New York Times, who notes that “to arrest someone, I.C.E. had to know who was who, who was undocumented, who lived where, and who drove what.”

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS   

“Peace talks in Afghanistan must resume as soon as possible,” both Pakistan and the Taliban militant group urged today after Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi met a Taliban delegation visiting Islamabad. Reuters reports.

A look at what former Obama White House counsel and veteran Washington lobbyist Greg Craig’s case tells us about the Justice Department’s emerging priority of greater enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (F.A.R.A.) is provided by Andy Wright and David Peet at Just Security. 

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).