The Early Edition: November 13, 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 Intelligence Committee yesterday announced a spate of additional hearings for next week as part of the impeachment inquiry, scheduling eight witnesses for public appearances next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The hearings will feature current and former senior officials from across the National Security Council, the State Department and the Pentagon, all of whom have already testified behind closed doors. Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney yesterday called off plans to file a lawsuit asking the courts to rule on whether he should comply with a House subpoena to testify in the impeachment inquiry. Instead, Mulvaney announced he would follow President Trump’s broad directive barring aides from giving testimony. Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio report at POLITICO.

Trump has apparently discussed firing the Intelligence Community’s Inspector General (I.C. I.G.) Michael Atkinson over his reporting of a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine to Congress after he determined it was credible, according to four people familiar with the discussions. Trump first voiced his alarm about Atkinson around the time the complaint was released to the public in September, and has continued to raise with aides the possibility of dismissing Atkinson, saying he “does not understand why [the I.C. I.G.] shared the complaint,” and believes Atkinson has been “disloyal,” one of the people said. Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt report at the New York Times.

While Trump has sought to distance himself from associates of his personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani arrested on campaign finance charges — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — the three men discussed Ukraine as early as April 2018, at a dinner for big donors of a super P.A.C. connected to Trump. Parnas and Fruman apparently spoke to the president at the dinner and told him the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was damaging to him and his interests. According to Parnas, Trump reacted strongly to what the pair said, and immediately suggested Yovanovitch be fired. Rosalind S. Helderman, Matt Zapotosky, Tom Hamburger and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.

The White House is seeking to undermine the accounts of three witnesses who have given testimony in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, claiming in an email sent yesterday to GOP congressional offices that the depositions of top Defense official Laura Cooper as well as Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, two advisers to former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, “were filled with hearsay.” The White House alleged that all three witnesses “based everything on second, third, and fourth hand information,” contending that none of them were listening in on the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Olivia Beavers reports at the Hill.

Aides in Zelensky’s office are reportedly pushing back against U.S. Ambassador William Taylor’s testimony last month to congressional Democrats’ closed-door impeachment inquiry, in which Taylor suggested that two Zelensky aides blamed Ukraine, rather than Russia, for the long-running war in the eastern part of the country. Critics of the country’s newly elected president used Taylor’s testimony as evidence that Zelensky’s team is “running interference for Russia.” Betsy Swan reports at The Daily Beast.

A look at reporter John Solomon, known for his part in the disinformation campaign surrounding former Vice President Joe Biden and corruption in Ukraine, and his work, is provided by Jeremy W. Peters and Kenneth P. Vogel at the New York Times.

An “explainer” on the public phase of the House’s impeachment inquiry, which begins today with testimony from top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine William Taylor and deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs George Kent, is provided by Amy Mackinnon at Foreign Policy.

An assessment of the impeachment defenses offered by Trump and his allies, including claims of “no quid pro quo” and attacks on impeachment inquiry witnesses, is provided by Linda Qiu at the New York Times.

ROGER STONE TRIAL

President Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Richard Gates testified in court yesterday that longtime Trump associate Roger Stone told the campaign as early as April 2016 about WikiLeaks’s plans to release damaging emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, an effort that began months before the hack of Democratic emails was publicly known, Stone’s trial has shown. The revelation suggests the Trump campaign was aware of a hacking and dumping operation directed against the Democratic Party much earlier than previously understood. Byron Tau and Shelby Holliday report at the Wall Street Journal.

Gates’ testimony also revealed that the president himself was involved in conversations about the WkikLeaks dumps, something Trump has previously denied. The White House declined to comment on Gates’s testimony. Darren Samuelsohn and Josh Gerstein report at POLITICO.

IMMIGRATION

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority signaled support yesterday for President Trump’s bid to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (D.A.C.A.) policy — an Obama-era program that has protected nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants, known as “Dreamers,” from deportation. The Supreme Court heard nearly an hour and a half of oral arguments yesterday and questions asked by the court’s five conservative-leaning justices did not indicate any doubt over whether Trump’s Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) acted properly in its decision to cancel the program back in 2017. A ruling is due by June 2020, ahead of the U.S. presidential election. Robert Barnes reports at the Washington Post.

The important first stage of the asylum-seeking process has nearly been “extinguished” at the largest immigrant family detention center in the U.S., according to a lawsuit. Plaintiffs claim that since mid-July “the number of women and children at Dilley family detention center in Texas who pass the first interview necessary to apply for asylum has dropped from 97% of applicants to fewer than 10%.” Amanda Holpuch reports at The Guardian.

TURKEY AND SYRIA

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday threatened to continue repatriating foreign suspected Islamic State group (ISIS) militants to their home countries — even if those countries deny responsibility for the prisoners — if Western governments continued to pressure Turkey with sanctions. “It does not concern us if they are stuck at the border or not,” Erdoğan said, referring to an American detainee who was deported by the Turkish authorities on Monday and became trapped at the Greek-Turkish border after being turned back by the Greek border police, adding, “we will continue sending them, so if they take them or do not take them doesn’t really concern us.” Carlotta Gall reports at the New York Times.

Erdoğan also hinted the “gates will open” for ISIS members to enter Europe. “You should revise your stance toward Turkey, which at the moment holds so many IS members in prison and at the same time controls those in Syria,” Erdoğan warned European nations, a day after the European Union (E.U.) imposed sanctions on Turkey over its drilling for gas in Mediterranean waters off Cyprus. The AP reports.

The 10,000 ISIS prisoners currently held in camps in northeastern Syria present “a major security risk,” a senior State Department official said yesterday, calling on nations to take back their citizens who joined the insurgent group and were captured. Reuters reports.

U.S. drone feeds apparently show Turkish-backed Arab gunmen targeting civilians during their offensive on Kurdish fighters in northeastern Syria, attacks Americans military officials reported to their commanders as potential war crimes after watching the videos, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the incidents said. Surveillance footage of two incidents, which provides what some of the U.S. officials consider firsthand evidence of apparent war crimes by forces backed by Turkey, was included in an internal report compiled by State Department officials setting out concerns relating to four “credible” cases of alleged war crimes. Dion Nissenbaum and Gordon Lubold report in an exclusive at the Wall Street Journal.

President Trump has proposed Erdoğan, due to visit the White House today, a package of incentives for improved U.S.-Turkey relations that is almost indistinguishable from those the administration offered last month in an unsuccessful effort to halt Turkey’s invasion of Syria. In a new letter sent last week, Trump told the Turkish president that a $100 billion trade agreement, and a workaround to avoid U.S. sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, are “still possible,” senior administration officials said, an offer likely to anger some of the House that voted last month to impose sanctions against Turkey over its incursion into Syria, and a bipartisan group of senators who introduced a similar measure. Karen DeYoung, Missy Ryan and Kareem Fahim report at the Washington Post.

Former national security adviser John Bolton criticized Trump’s foreign policy at a private gathering last week, accusing the president of being motivated primarily by personal or financial interests in his dealings with Turkey. Stephanie Ruhle and Carol E. Lee report at NBC News.

A detailed look at the U.S.-Turkish relationship ahead of Erdoğan’s visit to the White House today is provided by Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.

“[Trump] has long had a soft spot for Erdoğan that all but guarantees the relationship will endure,” Aaron David Miller argues at CNN.

SYRIA

“[E]xperts and insiders say there is little reason to believe a newly formed constitutional committee that met in Geneva this month will yield concrete results.” Lara Seligman and Colum Lynch report on the latest round of U.N.-sponsored Syria peace talks at Foreign Policy.

An analysis on the viability of the current U.S. military mission in Syria, and the legal, messaging and strategic considerations, is provided by former Senior Director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council Joshua Geltzer at Just Security.

AFGHANISTAN

At least seven civilians were killed and 10 others were wounded after a car bomb exploded this morning in Afghanistan’s capital, officials said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility in the rush-hour attack. Al Jazeera reports.

Afghanistan’s government yesterday released three high-ranking Taliban figures as part of a prisoner exchange in an effort to get the insurgents to free two university professors — an American and an Australian — they abducted three years ago. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that his government had agreed to the “conditional release” of the three Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, according to multiple reports. It was not clear when or where the Western hostages would be freed. The AP reports.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli airstrikes killed nine Palestinians in Gaza today, medical officials said, raising the Palestinian death toll to 19 in the heaviest round of fighting in months. The exchanges of fire erupted following an Israeli strike yesterday that killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander accused of being the mastermind of recent attacks. Reuters reports.

The State Department sent a top official to Israel amid renewed violence between the country’s military and militants in the Gaza Strip. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper will meet with senior officials this week for talks on “a wide range of political-military issues, including regional strategic priorities, defense trade, and military-to-military cooperation,” the State Department said. Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller pushed white-nationalist materials, drawn from prominent white nationalists and Islamophobes, on staffers at the right-wing website Breitbart in the runup to the 2016 presidential election, according to a new investigative report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (S.P.L.C..) Correspondence between Miller and a former Breitbart writer shows Miller’s obsession with injecting racist ideas and “white nationalist-style talking points on race and crime, Confederate monuments, and Islam” into the website’s campaign coverage, the S.P.L.C. report says. “Miller has been credited with orchestrating Trump’s restrictionist immigration policies,” Jason Wilson reports at The Guardian.

The Justice Department inspector general has started scheduling witnesses to review draft parts of his report on the F.B.I.’s probe of Trump’s 2016 campaign, suggesting that the long-awaited document will soon be published, people familiar with the matter said. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report at the Washington Post.

A look at why having the top two positions at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (D.N.I.) unfilled is “outright dangerous” is provided by former Senior Director for Intelligence Programs on the National Security Council (NSC) Brett Holmgren at Just Security.

America’s nuclear and non-nuclear weapons are becoming “dangerously entangled” in a knot that risks leading to nuclear annihilation, James M. Acton and Nick Blanchette argue at Foreign Policy. 

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).