The Early Edition: December 5, 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

Three constitutional scholars yesterday bolstered Democrats’ case for impeaching President Trump by saying Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine for political gain were clear grounds for removal, as the inquiry entered a new phase in Congress. In a daylong hearing convened by the Judiciary Committee, three legal scholars invited by Democrats testified that the president’s actions toward Ukraine are the worst examples of misconduct in U.S. presidential history, adding that his defiance of Congress’s investigative requests was further grounds for charging him. Nicholas Fandos and Michael D. Shear report at the New York Times.

“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable … this is precisely the misconduct that the framers created the Constitution, including impeachment, to protect against,” Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina, told the hearing. “On the basis of the testimony and evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency,” Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman told the hearing; “we three are unanimous” in that view, Gerhardt stated, referring to himself and fellow witnesses Feldman and Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan. Colby Itkowitz, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner report at the Washington Post.

A fourth witness strongly dissented, arguing that there was inadequate evidence that Trump committed offenses necessary for removal. George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley —  the only expert invited by Republicans — said the inquiry was moving too quickly and lacked testimony from people with direct knowledge of the relevant events.  Jonathan Allen reports at NBC News.

The written testimonies of Gerhardt, Feldman, Karlan and Turley are provided by the Washington Post.  

House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.)’s opening statement yesterday signaled that Democrats are weighing tying special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings — on Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s efforts to shut down that probe — to the impeachment inquiry, which has focused primarily on allegations of Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine. House Democrats at the first Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing yesterday gave the clearest sign yet of the scope of their likely articles by unveiling posters featuring three possible charges: abuse of power and bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice. Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio report at POLITICO.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani met this week with former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, who made claims about former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 election that are now central to the House’s impeachment inquiry. Giuliani traveled to Budapest on Tuesday to speak with Lutsenko, and also met Wednesday in Kyiv with other former Ukrainian prosecutors, including Viktor Shokin and Kostiantyn Kulyk, who could have information that would support Trump’s fight against impeachment. The lawyer is using the trip to prepare episodes of a documentary series for conservative T.V. outlet One America News promoting his anti-impeachment narrative. Kenneth P. Vogel and Benjamin Novak report at the New York Times.

Trump yesterday sought to downplay Giuliani’s multiple phone conversations with an individual in the Office of Management and Budget (O.M.B.), brushing off records disclosed Tuesday as “no big deal” after reporters asked about the string of calls in August. Phone records obtained for the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment report show that on Aug. 8, as nearly $400 million in military aid for Ukraine was being held up and several U.S. officials were calling on Ukrainian officials to commit to investigations that could politically benefit Trump, Giuliani received a phone call lasting 12 minutes from someone using a phone number associated with the White House O.M.B.. Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“Democrats are injecting an urgent new argument into their already fast-moving impeachment drive: President Trump poses such a flagrant threat to the republic that there is no time to waste,” Stephen Collinson writes in an analysis at CNN.

An assessment of whether lawmakers are “rushing” the impeachment process and should instead allow court battles over access to key witnesses play out, as suggested by George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley in the hearing yesterday, is provided by Charlie Savage at the New York Times.

The House Judiciary Committee in framing the articles of impeachment should also include non-Ukraine-related abuses, Elizabeth Holtzman argues at the Washington Post.

Highlights from the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment hearing yesterday are provided by NBC News and the New York Times.

A round-up of key moments from yesterday’s “sharply partisan debate” over whether to recommend Trump’s impeachment is provided by Michael D. Shear at the New York Times.

The key excerpts, with context, from the prepared opening remarks that each witness submitted for the record are provided by Adam Liptak at the New York Times. 

A profile containing relevant background on each of four academics who testified Gerhardt, Feldman, Karlan and Turley — is provided by Emily Cochrane, Lola Fadulu, Eileen Sullivan and Charlie Savage at the New York Times.

IRAN

A U.S. Navy warship last week seized suspected Iranian missile parts headed to rebels in Yemen from a stateless vessel it had stopped in the northern Arabian Sea, U.S. officials said yesterday. In a statement, the Pentagon confirmed that, last Wednesday, a U.S. warship found “advanced missile components” on a small boat and an initial investigation indicated the parts were of Iranian origin. NBC News and AP reporting.

Iran has been secretly stockpiling missiles inside areas of Iraq controlled by Shiite militant groups, “part of a widening effort to try to intimidate the Middle East and assert its power,” according to American intelligence and military officials. The build up of a hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles is “the latest sign that the Trump administration’s efforts to deter Tehran by increasing the American military presence in the Middle East has largely failed,” Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said yesterday there were indications that Iran could potentially carry out attacks in the future on U.S. forces or interests in the Middle East. “We do remain concerned about potential Iranian aggression,” the top Pentagon official told reporters in Washington, D.C., adding, the U.S. has sent “very clear and blunt” signals to the Iranian government about the potential consequences should any aggression occur. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The Pentagon yesterday disputed a report that the U.S. was considering sending as many as 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East to counter a perceived threats to American interests from Iran, but did not refute discussions about some level of additional deployment. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday the potential deployment would include “dozens” more ships and double the troop presence in the region since the beginning of this year, citing unnamed U.S. officials. Al Jazeera reports.

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad traveled to Kabul yesterday as the White House seeks to restart peace negotiations with the Taliban in a bid to end the war in Afghanistan. Khalilzad met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani yesterday to discuss steps that could lead to a ceasefire and will meet with Taliban officials in their bureau in Doha, Qatar, according to a U.S. State Department statement. AP reporting.

The International Criminal Court launched a three-day hearing yesterday at which prosecutors and victims aim to overturn a ruling refusing to authorize an investigation into allegations of war crimes and other abuses by government forces, the Taliban and U.S. military and intelligence operatives during Afghanistan’s conflict. Fergal Gaynor, a lawyer representing 82 Afghan victims, described it as “a historic day for accountability in Afghanistan.” AP reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

A separatist commander was killed after clashes in Yemen’s south erupted between Saudi-backed Yemeni government troops and separatists backed by the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Yemeni security officials said, the first unrest since the two sides struck a power-sharing accord last month to end their infighting that erupted over the summer. AP reporting.

“The U.S. has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria, settling into a more stable posture of about 600 troops in the rest of the country after repositioning and reducing forces,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said late yesterday. Reuters reporting.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said today global diplomatic efforts to sooth the nuclear standoff with North Korea are at a “critical crossroads” and urged China to continue playing a “positive role” in “denuclearizing … the Korean Peninsula and permanently stabilizing peace.” AP reporting.

An important warning about Monday’s meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President  ‎Volodymyr Zelensky and the leaders of France and Germany for peace talks is provided by top expert on the matters Michael Carpenter at Just Security, who cautions that “Ukraine’s Western partners [France, Germany, US] might be willing to hand control of Ukraine to Putin.”

The U.S. and Sudan plan to begin exchanging ambassadors after a 23-year gap, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced yesterday in the latest boost to diplomatic relations between the two countries. Jessica Donati reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The prosector chosen by Attorney General William Barr to investigate the origins of the probe into the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia’s election interference has found no evidence to support claims from conservatives that the case was a setup by U.S. intelligence officials. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report at the Washington Post.

The Supreme Court is “mired in dark money,” former Rhode Island Attorney General and U.S. Attorney Sheldon Whitehouse writes at Just Security, making the case that knowing donors’ identities is necessary to root out conflicts of interest and bias. 

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).