The Early Edition: December 4, 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 evidence for impeaching President Trump for misconduct in office and obstruction is “overwhelming,” the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee said yesterday in a highly anticipated report of its findings in the impeachment inquiry against Trump. The 300-page report, meant as the basis for articles of impeachment, accused the president of abusing his office for political gain — by trying to leverage military assistance and an Oval Office meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for investigations of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, and a debunked theory alleging Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election — and obstructing the Ukrainegate investigation. Michael D. Shear and Nicholas Fandos report at the New York Times. 

The report said that Trump “placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States,” seeking to undermine American democracy and endangering U.S. national security.  “The President’s actions have … challenged the very core of our constitutional system of checks and balances, separation of powers, and rule of law,” the chairs of the House committees pursuing the impeachment inquiry said yesterday in a statement. Karoun Demirjian, Rachael Bade and Seung Min Kim report at the Washington Post.

The sweeping summary includes phone logs and records describing a more extensive set of contacts than previously known between Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif..) The March 26 to Aug. 8 call records, which the committee obtained from telecommunications company AT&T, show Giuliani’s deep involvement in several key episodes at the center of the impeachment probe, including his efforts first to oust the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, then to force Ukraine’s new government to publicly commit to criminal investigations for Trump’s political benefit. Sharon LaFraniere and Julian E. Barnes report at the New York Times.

The report also notes a number of Giuliani calls later in the year with an individual at an unidentified number — appearing only as “-1” in phone records — amid a series of phone calls and text messages with numbers associated with the White House. House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said yesterday he suspects the number could be Trump’s and that his panel is trying to find out whether calls logged as “-1” indeed came from the president. Felicia Sonmez, Colby Itkowitz and John Wagner report at the Washington Post.

The House Intelligence Committee voted 13 to 9 in a closed-door meeting yesterday to formally adopt and issue the report to the House Judiciary Committee, which is tasked with determining whether the allegations against Trump meet the bar for removing him from office; if so, the panel would draft articles of impeachment that would eventually be presented to the full House for approval. Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio report at POLITICO.

The report was immediately dismissed by the White House as the product of a “one-sided sham process” in which Democrats and Schiff “utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump.” The report “reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing,” White House spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. Siobhan Hughes and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.

A federal judge is considering whether to order the State Department to release internal communications between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and two of three men tasked by President Trump to direct Ukraine policy — potentially sensitive records at the center of the impeachment probe. Former State Department envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, were responsible for pushing Trump’s policies on Ukraine, bypassing traditional diplomatic channels. Spencer S. Hsu reports at the Washington Post.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

An analysis of the “revelatory” phone records from President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry report, which show how, “at key moments, Giuliani was actively engaged in discussions with figures central to the inquiry,” is provided by Philip Bump at the Washington Post.

“The audacity and gravity of the charge against Trump, in historical and constitutional terms, is stunning,” Stephen Collinson writes at CNN, noting the accusation spelled out in the Democrat’s impeachment report.

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.)’s “300-page opus … reveals the weakness of the Democratic case,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues. 

An analysis of Trump’s repeated solicitation of foreign interference in U.S. elections, amid the ongoing impeachment inquiry, is provided by Kate Brannen at Just Security, who comments, “[t]he pattern is more than clear.”

“[T]he established facts and the fleshed-out timeline — including a new revelation about when Ukraine knew about the hold — strongly suggest that aid was an effective, deliberate point of pressure for Trump and his team,” Philip Bump comments at the Washington Post, throwing doubt on Trump’s assertions that the package of assistance was not used as leverage to force Ukraine to launch investigations for his own benefit.

The key takeaways from the Democrats’ impeachment report are explored at CNN, POLITICO and the New York Times.

An annotated version of the executive summary to the report is provided by Zachary B. Wolf and Sean O’Key at CNN.

A guide to watching the impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee, as the panel begins proceedings today to debate and determine articles of impeachment, is provided by Michael D. Shear at the New York Times and Kyle Cheney at POLITICO.

TURKEY 

President Trump signaled yesterday he was weighing imposing sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the S-400 Russian air-defense missile system, slating his predecessor Barack Obama for not selling Ankara a U.S. missile system. Trump made the comments on the sidelines of a summit in London marking N.A.T.O.’s 70th anniversary. Reuters reporting.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote next week on legislation to impose new financial penalties on Turkey. The committee’s chair Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) announced yesterday plans to bring up his sanctions bill for a vote. Risch introduced a measure earlier this year with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) that would place restrictions on U.S. weapons sales to Turkey and sanction Turkish officials and those involved in providing arms to Turkish forces in Syria. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

U.S. MILITARY

“President Trump’s decision to grant clemency to U.S. service members accused of war crimes was a ‘serious disservice’ to troops,” the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), told the leaders of each military service yesterday at an unrelated hearing. “The president has the power to pardon, but he has a responsibility to use that power wisely, not recklessly,” Reed told a witness panel that included Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

The U.S. Navy will spend about $22 billion to purchase nine new nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines, part of its most expensive shipbuilding contract to date, according to a Navy release Monday. Brad Lendon reports at CNN.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

The House yesterday overwhelmingly approved a bill demanding a tougher response from the Trump administration over reports of mass detention centers run by the Chinese government in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. The Uighur bill, which passed 407 to 1 in the House, requires the U.S. president to condemn abuses against Muslims and calls for sanctions on senior Chinese officials who are “credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang,” as well as for immediate closure of the mass detention camps, where at least one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are thought to be detained. The Guardian reporting.

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad will meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghan today for talks on  resuming peace negotiations, Afghan government officials said, after discussions with the Taliban ended in September. Reuters reporting.

One of Trump’s personal lawyers is seeking to block efforts by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to launch a war crimes investigation that would examine the actions of American forces abroad. Reuters reports.

A U.N. special investigator said yesterday that the world has “failed” in its duty to bring the killers of Washington Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi to justice. Agnes Callamard, a U.N. rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, told reporters in Brussels that the European Union and the U.S. need to do more in response to Khashoggi’s murder by Saudi operatives at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year. Reuters reports.

A federal appeals court yesterday ordered Deutsche Bank and Capital One to comply with subpoenas from the House Financial Services and House Intelligence committees seeking information about Trump’s personal and business financial information, a ruling that will most likely be appealed to the Supreme Court. Allan Smith reports at NBC News.

A long-awaited watchdog report is expected to outline “significant problems” with how the F.B.I. has shared information with the D.O.J. and could spark changes to those practices and the bureau’s culture, according to people familiar with the findings. The conclusions are expected to be contained in a report to be published Monday by D.O.J. Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Byron Tau, Aruna Viswanatha and Sadie Gurman report at the Wall Street Journal.

Documents released by the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) in response to a lawsuit by BuzzFeed and C.N.N. “help paint a clearer picture of activities by the Trump campaign and by White House aides” documented in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s heavily redacted report into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. The newly released documents include summaries of interviews with Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump campaign aide Hope Hicks and Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Maggie Haberman and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

An account of how consulting giant McKinsey & Company helped Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) carry out the Trump administration’s immigration policies, informed by newly uncovered documents, is provided by Ian MacDougall at the New York Times and nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate 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).