The Early Edition: November 1, 2019

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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 of Representatives yesterday approved a resolution formalizing the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry into President Trump, moving the investigation to a new and more public phase which could potentially see articles of impeachment recommended against the president. The measure, which passed in a largely party-line vote of 232-196, lays out the rules for the impeachment process, and establishes guidelines for open hearings and the questioning of witnesses by members and staff. Nicholas Fandos and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report at the New York Times.

Republicans unanimously opposed the resolution, accusing it of attempting to undo the 2016 election. Only two Democrats — Reps. Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.) — broke with their party to vote against the measure, while the House’s one independent, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted in support of it. Natalie Andrews and Vivian Salama report at the Wall Street Journal.

“The stark division in the 232-to-196 vote made clear that the accelerating impeachment inquiry will continue to be highly partisan as it moves into its more public phase, with the two parties pulling ever further apart as they dig in deeper on the righteousness of their respective causes,” Carl Hulse reports at the New York Times.

As the vote was announced, Trump blasted the process as “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!” In a statement, the White House insisted, “the president has done nothing wrong” and called the investigation “a blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the president.” Tom McCarthy and Lauren Gambino report at The Guardian.

Senior National Security Council aide Tim Morrison yesterday corroborated key impeachment testimony from U.S. Ambassador William Taylor who described last week efforts by the Trump administration to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rivals, including former Vice President and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, in exchange for nearly $400 million in military aid. In a closed-door deposition, Morrison, who is leaving his post as a top White House adviser on Russia and Europe, confirmed the substance of earlier testimony given by Taylor, in particular that the Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland conveyed to a Ukrainian official that the package of military assistance would not be released until the country committed to investigations the president sought. Carol D. Leonnig, John Hudson, Karoun Demirjian and Rachael Bade report at the Washington Post.

Morrison told investigators he did not necessarily consider the president’s demands to be improper or “illegal,” and suggested that Sondland was unilaterally conducting a rogue foreign policy in Ukraine. “Ambassador Sondland told [assistant to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy Andriy Yermak] that security assistance money would not come until President Zelenskiy committed to pursue the Burisma investigation,” Taylor testified, referring to the U.S. military aid for Ukraine suspended on Trump’s orders in mid-July, and to the energy firm tied to Biden’s son. Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report at CNN.

A federal judge yesterday sharply challenged a Justice Department lawyer about Trump’s attempt to block a congressional subpoena to his former White House counsel Donald McGahn, testing the limits of the Trump administration’s legal arguments which possibly pose a threat to constitutional checks and balances. During the hearing, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson grilled the lawyer about the administration’s claims that McGahn has “absolute immunity” from being questioned by House impeachment investigators — meaning he is not compelled even to show up — and that the House cannot request that courts enforce its subpoenas against executive branch officials. Charlie Savage reports at the New York Times.

Former Trump adviser Charles Kupperman’s lawsuit over a subpoena he received may draw out so long that he will not testify before House impeachment hearings conclude, according to comments at a court hearing yesterday. While House Democrats have indicated that they are keen to wrap up impeachment hearings by the end of the year, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon scheduled a Dec. 10 hearing on a planned House motion to toss out the lawsuit and suggested that he would like to rule on the case by late December or early January. Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

“[Both McGahn’s and Kupperman’s] cases — heard simultaneously in neighboring courtrooms in the District Court in Washington — set up a separation-of-powers test between the White House and Congress that could affect other impeachment-related testimony,”  Spencer S. Hsu and Ann E. Marimow report at the Washington Post.

“When the Trump administration first decided to sell Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, officials at the Office of Management and Budget (O.M.B.) moved to temporarily pause the effort,” a move that reportedly has been discussed during Congress’ closed-door impeachment inquiry as investigators are increasingly interested in the history of the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy. Betsy Swan and Sam Brodey report at The Daily Beast.

Trump is apparently rewarding G.O.P. senators who have supported him during impeachment proceedings with cash for their re-election bids, using their struggles for funding as leverage to protect him against impeachment. The Trump re-election campaign appealed to his vast fundraising network on Wednesday asking donors to give money to a pot that would be divided by the president and three senators who have all signed onto a Republican-backed resolution condemning the impeachment inquiry as “unprecedented and undemocratic.” Alex Isenstadt reports at POLITICO. 

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Key takeaways from the House of Representative’s impeachment inquiry vote are provided by Amber Phillips at the Washington Post.

The resolution adopted by the House includes a key provision that has the potential to become a game changer: “a discretionary measure that would keep Trump’s lawyers from participating in the impeachment process if the White House continues to refuse to produce documents and bar witnesses from testifying.” Former White House Counsel W. Neil Eggleston at Just Security explains the value of this “smart” provision, which “possibly even alters the current balance of power between Congress and the White House.”

“The House resolution confirms the developments that will almost definitely end in the president’s impeachment,” Joshua C. Huder argues at the New York Times.

An analysis of Senior National Security Council aide Tim Morrison’s testimony yesterday, hailed a “game-changer” by Republicans, is provided by Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.

“What is not in dispute [about Morrison’s testimony] is that the quid pro quo was articulated plainly and clearly,” Greg Sargent comments at the Washington Post.

ISIS

The Islamic State group (ISIS) yesterday for first time confirmed the death of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi days earlier in a U.S raid in northwestern Syria — and named his successor. An ISIS outlet announced on the messaging service Telegram that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi was the group’s new leader and “caliph.” The speaker in the audio also confirmed the death of Abu Hassan al-Muhajir, a close aide of al-Baghdadi and a spokesperson for the group since 2016. Al Jazeera reports.

The Defense Department is on alert for possible retaliation from ISIS in the wake of Baghdadi’s killing, according to Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command who oversaw the weekend raid by U.S. special forces.  McKenzie spoke of the possible threat Wednesday as part of the most detailed account to date of the operation and echoed warnings by both critics and allies of President Trump that the successful raid had not eliminated the threat from the terror group, it was reported yesterday. The AP reports.

“Iraq’s ISIS proceedings are inherently unfair and replete with due process violations, with suspects, including Western nationals, facing a real risk of torture in custody,” Belkis Wille comments at Just Security, arguing, “in the short term and given the urgency of the situation, countries that uphold rule of law should swiftly do all they can to bring their own citizens home … to be investigated,  and, if appropriate, monitored or prosecuted in line with international human rights standards.”

TURKEY AND SYRIA

Syrian Kurds have called on the Pentagon to block U.S.-controlled air space over north-eastern Syria to Turkish armed drones which they say are causing “significant civilian casualties.” Head of the Syrian Democratic Council (S.D.C.) Ilham Ahmed said the Kurds would hold the Pentagon responsible for Turkish war crimes if they did not act to guarantee protection from the air, adding that armed Turkish drones were “a constant presence in the air above north-eastern Syria, striking at will against both military and civilian targets.” Julian Borger reports at The Guardian.

Turkey and Russia are conducting joint patrols in an area in northeastern Syrian under a peace deal brokered by Russia between Kurdish forces in the region and Ankara that halted Turkey’s offensive there. The AP reports.

CYBERSECURITY, TECHNOLOGY AND PRIVACY

Senior government officials in multiple U.S.-allied countries were among those targeted in April and May with hacking software that used WhatsApp to take over users’ phones, according to people familiar with the messaging service’s internal investigation. The hacking of a broader group of high-profile government and military officials’ smartphones than previously reported “suggests the WhatsApp cyber intrusion could have broad political and diplomatic consequences.” Christopher Bing and Raphael Satter report at Reuters.

India has denied claims alleging it was behind the WhatsApp cyber-attacks that infiltrated devices earlier this year after activists and politicians accused the state following WhatsApp’s discovery that Indian journalists and activists were among those targeted with spyware on its platform. The BBC reports.

In the face of questioning from lawmakers, Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg and his platform have two choices: “they could continue to argue that theirs is a tech, not a media, company and is therefore not responsible for the content that utilizes them as a conveyor … or they could embrace a media identity and accept the responsibility of monitoring the truth and falsehood of, at the least, political advertisements that appear on their site,” Stanley Fish argues at CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Beijing has announced plans to “improve” the system by which Hong Kong’s leader is appointed or removed, after nearly five months of anti-government protests in the Asian financial hub. Ben Westcott and Steven Jiang report at CNN.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels downed a U.S.-made drone today along the border with Saudi Arabia, according to a statement by the group’s spokesperson. The AP reports.

The U.S. has imposed new sanctions on Iran’s construction sector and its trade in four materials used in its military or nuclear programs, the U.S. State Department announced yesterday. The Department simultaneously waived sanctions to allow foreign firms continue non-proliferation work in Iran, a source confirmed. Reuters reports.

President Trump has nominated North Korea envoy Stephen Biegun to serve as deputy secretary of State, the White House announced yesterday. If confirmed, Biegun will replace John Sullivan, who is expected to be confirmed to serve as U.S. ambassador to Russia. Reuters reports.

The Senate yesterday failed to advance a spending package that was expected to include defense funding amid  disagreement over how to pay for Trump’s border wall. POLITICO 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).