The Early Edition: November 22, 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

Former White House Russia expert Fiona Hill yesterday gave testimony at the House impeachment inquiry looking into efforts by the president and administration officials to pressure Ukraine into launching investigations that would benefit Trump politically in exchange for military aid. Vivian Salama reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternate narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine – not Russia – attacked us in 2016,” Hill said in her testimony, rebuking attempts by Republican allies of Trump in Congress – including the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Republican Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.) – to cast doubt on Russian interference in 2016. Greg Miller reports at the Washington Post.

“In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests,” Hill told lawmakers, condemning the “fictional narrative” pursued by the president and his allies that it was Ukraine, rather than Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Nicholas Fandos and Michael D. Shear report at the New York Times.

Hill said that it “appears to be the case” that President Trump disregarded the advice of senior officials about Russian interference and instead listened to the views of his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The BBC reports.

“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” Hill said of the conspiracy theory that Ukraine hacked the Democratic National Committee’s (D.N.C.) server and fabricated the records to then blame Russia for the interference. David Smith reports at the Guardian.

Hill told lawmakers that she was “angry” with U.S. ambassador to the European Union (E.U.) Gordon Sondland for failing to coordinate with her on Ukraine policy, but later realized that the lack of communication was due to Sondland’s involvement in “a domestic political errand” rather than national security foreign policy. Kadhim Shubber reports at the Financial Times.

Hill described an incident at the White House in which the former national security adviser John Bolton told her he didn’t want to be involved in any “drug deal” being planned by Sondland and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to pursue the desired Ukrainian investigations. Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare and Eric Tucker report at the AP.

U.S. foreign service officer David Holmes also gave testimony to the impeachment inquiry yesterday and told lawmakers about the extraordinary call between Trump and Sondland on July 26, stating that it was “obvious” that the president was asking for Ukraine to launch the desired investigations. Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

“This is beyond anything Nixon did,” the House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said yesterday after three days of explosive witness testimony. The AFP reports.

“President Trump wants to have a trial in the Senate because it’s clearly the only chamber where he can expect fairness and receive due process under the Constitution,” White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley said in a statement yesterday. Reuters reports.

Top White House officials and Trump allies in the Senate met yesterday to discuss impeachment strategy and agreed on the need for a full trial. Marianne Levine, Burgess Everett and Meridith McGraw report at POLITICO.

The impeachment proceedings in the Senate could be limited to around two weeks, according to multiple officials familiar with the private meeting between officials and Republican senators to discuss strategy. Seung Min Kim and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.

The indicted associate of Guiliani, Lev Parnas, was present at Giuliani’s meeting with senior Ukrainian officials in Spain earlier this year, according to the Ukrainian official Andriy Yermak; with an attorney for Parnas saying in a statement that his client met Giuliani and witnessed Giuliani’s attempts to pressure Yermak on the desired investigations. Betsy Swan reveals at The Daily Beast.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has launched an inquiry into former Vice President Joe Biden and his communications with then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and other Ukrainian officials. Colby Itkowitz reports at the Washington Post.

The Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz will release a report on the 2016 Trump campaign’s links to Russia on Dec. 9 and testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 11, Sen. Graham said in a statement yesterday. Marianne Levine and Darren Samuelsohn report at POLITICO.

The Inspector General report is expected to find that a former F.B.I. lawyer altered an investigative document related to the surveillance of Trump 2016 campaign adviser Carter Page, Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez report at CNN.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION & ANALYSIS

Highlights of yesterday’s testimony by Fiona Hill and David Holmes are provided by Adam Edelman at NBC News.

Hill’s testimony made the most effective case against President Trump: she placed the Ukraine scandal within the broader political context and Russia’s attempts to sow division in the U.S., Stephen Collinson writes at CNN.

Hill’s testimony tore apart the Republican’s false narrative about Ukraine and Russian interference, the Washington Post editorial board writes.

What happens next and how can a president be impeached? Jan Wolfe and Richard Cowan explain at Reuters.

The testimony by Ambassador Gordon Sondland demonstrates the problem raised when candidates for ambassadorship are nominated on the basis of their ability to bankroll presidential campaigns, Robbie Gramer explains at Foreign Policy.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

South Korea announced today that it would maintain its intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, reversing a decision made amid an ongoing dispute between the two countries over history and trade relations. The pact between the two countries was agreed after U.S. efforts for a more coordinated response to the threat from North Korea. Al Jazeera reports.

The parents of U.S. student Otto Warmbier, who was held hostage in North Korea and died after release, have vowed to hold Pyongyang responsible and work to “recover and discover” the regime’s assets across the world. The AP reports.

CHINA

“We are aware that China is attempting to apply pressure through various means on Taiwan,” the top U.S. official in Taiwan, Brent Christensen, said today, expressing concern about Chinese interference in democratic processes. Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. has been “working very closely [with Taiwan] to combat these disinformation efforts,” Christensen said. The AP reports.

The U.S. should compromise with China to help build bilateral relations, the senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said today. Reuters reports.

SYRIA

Rebel shelling yesterday killed at least seven civilians in the Syrian government-controlled city of Aleppo, coming a day after the Syrian government struck a camp of internally displaced civilians in the rebel-held Idlib province. The AP reports.

The U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis called Wednesday’s Syrian government on the camp in Idlib a “horrific incident” that needs to be fully investigated. The BBC reports.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu claimed in an interview published today that his country’s forces captured an “important” Islamic State figure who was the alleged mastermind behind attacks in Russia and Germany. The AP reports.

IRAN

“Iran has become so unstable that the regime has shut down their entire Internet System so that the Great Iranian people cannot talk about the tremendous violence taking place within the country,” President Trump said in a message on Twitter yesterday, referring to unrest over fuel price rises and the economic situation. The AFP reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called on Iranian protestors to send videos of the “regime’s crackdown,” saying in a message on Twitter that the U.S. “will expose and sanction the abuses.” The AP reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Israeli prosecutors announced yesterday in a move that deepens the political crisis in the country following deadlocked elections. Mehul Srivastava and Ilan Ben Zio report at the Financial Times.

Technology firms are considering introducing measures that would limit narrowly targeted political advertising, Emily Glazere reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) yesterday introduced a bipartisan bill that would require congressional oversight of the Afghanistan peace process. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sun today welcomed a letter written by President Trump which discussed the relationship between the two countries. Sohpeng Cheang reports at the AP. 

About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK