The Early Edition: December 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

The House Judiciary Committee has given the White House a Friday deadline for President Trump and his lawyers to specify whether they intend to call witnesses or present evidence as part of their defense against possible impeachment articles stemming from allegations that the president enlisted Ukraine, a foreign power, to investigate his political rivals, namely former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Michael D. Shear reports at the New York Times.

Trump and his attorneys will not participate in the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment hearing on Wednesday, the White House said yesterday, citing a lack of “fundamental fairness.” White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote a five-page letter to committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) accusing the committee of a “complete lack of due process and fundamental fairness afforded the president” in the impeachment process, saying the invitation would not give the White House adequate time to prepare and did not provide details about the witnesses summoned to help inform the committee’s debate over whether Trump’s conduct warrants impeachment. Mike DeBonis and Felicia Sonmez report at the Washington Post.

Cipollone did not rule out White House participation in the inquiry entirely, instead requesting information from Nadler on how the inquiry will be conducted and saying the president’s team would respond separately to the Friday deadline about joining future hearings. Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

Members of the House Intelligence Committee will begin reviewing a report today on the panel’s findings on Trump’s pressure campaign in Ukraine. The panel is expected to approve the report tomorrow — likely on a party-line vote — after which it will be forwarded to the Judiciary Committee for consideration of articles of impeachment against Trump. Melanie Zanona, Kyle Cheney and Heather Caygle report at POLITICO.

The Ukrainian prosecutor who led the investigation into the energy company where Hunter Biden previously served on the board, Kostiantyn Kulyk, is among the prosecutors who will be dismissed as part of sweeping professional reviews under Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelensky’s new Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka last week gave a dismissal notice to Kulyk, a key contact for Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, after Kulyk failed to attend an exam last month required of all General Prosecutor’s Office employees and neglected to provide justification for his absence. Michael Birnbaum and David L. Stern report at the Washington Post.

The Ukrainian government is looking for ways to improve its relationship with Trump and could still announce investigations that may politically benefit him, according to two sources who recently met with Ukrainian officials. It is not clear what those probes could cover or when they would be announced. Kylie Atwood reports at CNN.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A close reading of the publicly available evidence shows that the phone call between President Trump and U.S. ambassador to the European Union (E.U.) Gordon Sondland, in which Trump claims he denied a quid pro quo, did not occur. Susan Simpson proves in an analysis at Just Security how that claim arose out of efforts to coordinate testimony.

“[Trump] now faces a critical choice: whether to legitimize the proceedings by allowing his lawyers to participate or refuse to take part in an inquiry he says is a sham,” Maeve Reston writes at CNN as the White House “weighs the risks and potential reward of intervening in the House proceedings.”

Five events in the early part of last week may turn out to be determinative in the unfolding impeachment inquiry, Jennifer Rubin argues at the Washington Post.

AFGHANISTAN

“Neither the Taliban nor the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani indicated that a cease-fire was near, or even being discussed in resumed U.S. negotiations,” it was reported Saturday, contradicting Trump’s assertion during his surprise visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan last Thursday that the Taliban were keen to restart peace talks with America and would agree to a truce. “We are ready to talk, but we have the same stance to resume the talks from where it was suspended,” Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid said, while a spokesperson for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told the newspaper that Trump’s Thanksgiving Day trip to Afghanistan was “important” but that “we will have to see” whether it changed anything. Karen DeYoung and Susannah George report at the Washington Post.

The Islamic State group (ISIS)’s principal stronghold in eastern Afghanistan “collapsed” in recent weeks, according to American and Afghan officials, but the group could continue to pose a threat in Afghanistan “even if it does not hold territory,” Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of all American and N.A.T.O. forces in Afghanistan, warned in an interview yesterday. General Miller stressed that attention was needed “to track militants on the move” as well as the group’s remaining urban cells. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Mujib Mashal report at the New York Times.

SYRIA

At least 10 people were killed today in an airstrike in a rebel-held northwestern town in Syria, Syrian opposition activists said. The AP reporting.

A second week-long round of Syrian constitution talks ended last Friday without consensus on a common agenda, a U.N. official said. The newly established constitutional committee, with 150 members, was asked to agree upon an agenda, including a list of constitutional principles to be drafted by a smaller group of 45 delegates. Al Jazeera reporting.

IRAN

Iran continues to sell its oil notwithstanding U.S. sanctions on Tehran’s exports, the country’s Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri reportedly has said, adding that Washington’s “maximum pressure” on Tehran was unsuccessful. “Despite America’s pressure … and its imposed sanctions on our oil exports, we still continue to sell our oil by using other means … when even friendly countries have stopped purchasing our crude fearing America’s penalties,” Jahangiri was quoted today as saying by state T.V.. Reuters reports.

President Trump yesterday discussed Iran and other matters with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House said in a brief email statement. “The leaders discussed the threat from Iran, as well as other critical bilateral and regional issues,” the statement said. Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

North Korea on Saturday warned Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that he could soon see a “real ballistic missile” while denouncing him as an “imbecile and political dwarf” for calling Pyongyang’s latest test of a large multiple-rocket launcher a ballistic missile launch. Reuters reports.

Efforts by Chinese officials to “stymie” reporting on the incarceration of Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in northwest China’s Xinjiang region have not deterred the journalists, Fred Hiatt argues at the Washington Post.

Saudi Arabian authorities have released 11 citizens who were held for a number of days last month for questioning over suspected ties to foreign entities, in “the latest wave in a crackdown on dissent,” according to activists. None of the individuals were indicted but the case remains open and charges could still be made, a Saudi official said. Reuters 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).