The Early Edition: December 6, 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

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) announced yesterday that she has instructed top Democrats to move forward with articles of impeachment against President Trump for alleged abuse of power, a historic move that signals the House is increasingly likely to vote to impeach Trump before the end of this year. Speaking at a news conference, Pelosi argued that the facts of Trump’s alleged wrongdoing involving Ukraine “are uncontested” and left Democrats with “no choice but to act.” The speaker asserted that Trump abused the powers of the presidency, “by withholding military aid and a crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement for an investigation into his political rival.” Mike DeBonis, Karoun Demirjian and Seung Min Kim report at the Washington Post.

Pelosi’s announcement came as the House Judiciary Committee set out the next steps for its formal impeachment proceedings against Trump. The committee is scheduled to meet Monday for presentations on Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine from lawyers for the Intelligence Committee. The hearing may cover one of the few remaining internal disputes among Democrats in the inquiry, namely “whether to limit their case to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, or include earlier allegations that he obstructed justice in trying to thwart the special counsel’s Russia investigation.” Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

The House Judiciary Committee could draft and recommend the articles of impeachment to the House as early as Dec. 12, according to two people with knowledge of the process. Reuters reporting.

Trump reacted to Pelosi’s announcement by saying Democrats have “gone crazy,” and urged them in a pair of messages sent on Twitter to move quickly if they were going to impeach him. Quint Forgey reports at POLITICO.

 White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Democrats were “abusing their power” and Pelosi was overlooking “the needs of the American people” to “advance her selfish political desires.” Natalie Andrews reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Phone calls Democrats claim show communication between Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani and the White House budget office may have simply been calls to and from the White House, Trump administration officials said — explaining the phone number cited by the House Intelligence Committee in its impeachment inquiry report is not directly linked to the Office of Management and Budget (O.M.B.) but instead a generic line that can come from several different offices in the White House. The disclosure casts doubt on whether Giuliani was speaking to the O.M.B. in the spring, a significant period during which the ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch came under fire for apparently not being loyal enough to the president. Lauren Fox, Pamela Brown and Dana Bash report at CNN.

The newly released phone records show “no indication that those calls were encrypted or otherwise shielded from foreign surveillance,” providing “fresh evidence suggesting that the president continues to defy the security guidance urged by his aides and followed by previous incumbents,” Paul Sonne, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller report at the Washington Post.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday dismissed a report by the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee of its findings in the impeachment inquiry against Trump as “just all wrong.” The 300-page report accused the president of abusing his office for political gain and also suggested that Pompeo was among senior officials who were aware of or were involved in the effort to pressure Ukraine’s government. Reuters reporting.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“Reviving the controversy over [former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe] could blur the much clearer current abuse of power case and play into [President] Trump’s claims that both Washington intrigues are all part of the same ‘hoax,’” Stephen Collinson writes in an analysis at CNN, while noting, “including elements of Mueller’s report suggesting Trump was guilty of obstruction would help arguments he did exactly the same in the Ukraine investigation.”

Why does Gordon Sondland still have a job? Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security Ryan Goodman explains why the U.S. ambassador to the European Union should resign or be removed from office for his role in conditioning U.S. military aid on the Ukraine president’s public commitment to an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden — and why the timing for this effort should start now.

An analysis of George Washington University Law School professor Jonathan Turley’s testimony Wednesday, part of the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment hearing, is provided by John Avlon at CNN. Turley was the only expert witness who disagreed that there was adequate evidence that Trump committed offenses necessary for removal.

An explainer on how Senate impeachment proceedings work as well as some of the “strategic maneuvres” available to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is provided at Reuters.

IRAN

Three European powers have accused Iran of developing ballistic missiles intended to avoid missile defenses in violation of a Security Council resolution that calls on Iran not to develop “nuclear capable” systems. The ambassadors for the United Kingdom, Germany and France to the U.N. Security Council wrote to U.N. chief Antonio Guterres saying Iran’s missile program was “inconsistent” with the missile provision in the Security Council resolution underpinning the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and six world powers. All three countries objected to President Trump’s decision in mid-2018 to pullout from the agreement, David E. Sanger and Farnaz Fassihi report at the New York Times.

Iranian officials yesterday responded defiantly to the European powers’ intervention, asserting that Tehran was determined to proceed with its ballistic missile program, which it has repeatedly described as defensive in purpose and unrelated to its nuclear activity. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected as a “desperate falsehood” the letter from three European countries accusing Tehran of developing missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads. AP reporting.

Iranian security forces may have killed more than 1,000 demonstrators since anti-government protests began in mid-November, the State Department’s special envoy to Iran Brian Hook said yesterday. Hook said the Trump administration will request that Congress issues harsh sanctions against officials who are to blame for the alleged atrocities and mistreatment of thousands of protesters. Carol Morello and Missy Ryan report at the Washington Post.

AFGHANISTAN

At least 57 pro-government forces and 27 civilians were killed during the last week of fighting in Afghanistan, Fahim Abed reports in a casualty report at the New York Times.

Afghanistan will still need billions of dollars in international aid over many years following a peace deal with the Taliban in order to deliver basic services and sustain any potential peace, the Word Bank has warned in a new report as the United States urgently pushes a ceasefire. 18 years of costly American and N.A.T.O. military presence marked by “inefficient funneling of billions of dollars” has “shaped an economy almost entirely dependent on foreign aid,” Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The House yesterday adopted two amendments to a controversial measure supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. The changes to the text were intended to satisfy Republican and Democratic demands to achieve bipartisan consensus ahead of a vote today on the full resolution. House Resolution 326, which advocates for a negotiated, long-term solution that ensures Israel’s security as a democratic, Jewish nation while also establishing an independent Palestinian state, is seen as contradicting the Trump administration’s efforts to propose a peace plan and has been denounced by the G.O.P. as redundant and partisan. Laura Kelly reports at the Hill.

The Israel Defense Forces (I.D.F.) said yesterday that the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group has “beefed up” its presence along the volatile frontier and is undeterred by recent setbacks, including the destruction of the tunnels and Hezbollah’s recent domestic issues, in preparing for renewed conflict with Israel. “We have a very serious enemy,” Col. Roy Levy, the military’s Northern Border Brigade commander, said, adding: the group’s main aim is to entrench itself along the border area and “plan to attack us.” AP reporting.

IMMIGRATION AND BORDER SECURITY

The Trump administration has scrapped plans to use devices to scan the faces of all travelers leaving or entering the U.S., following pressure from Congress and privacy experts. Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) officials told reporters yesterday that the plans had been set aside following consultation with lawmakers. Reuters reporting.

The number of workplace investigations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) in the year ended Sept. 30 was four times higher than that compared with the close of the Obama administration, while fewer cases were opened related to gangs, weapons and financial crimes, according to new figures from the agency. “I.C.E.’s focus on workplace enforcement — targeting both immigrants working illegally and their employers — has increased in the past two years,” Michelle Hackman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

ARMS CONTROL

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday offered to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty immediately without preconditions, but a senior Pentagon official indicated Washington would like a wider deal involving China. The Trump administration is “not interested” in an immediate extension and “sees no rush” as New START does not expire until Feb. 2021, the official said. AP reporting.

“The reasons for the modernization of arms control should be apparent to all,” Tim Morrison argues at CNN, advocating for President Trump’s approach which “wipe[s] away the distinction between Russia and China — and between types of Russian weapons — that has dominated traditional arms control approaches.” 

ISIS

Does “de-platforming” ISIS work? Terror analyst Mia Bloom at Just Security assesses the impact of reducing ISIS’s presence on technology platforms on the terror group’s operations and its expansion in Iraq and Syria.

President Trump was right to press his French counterpart on European irresponsibility in the battle against Islamic State, the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues, commenting on an exchange between the two leaders at the N.A.T.O. summit this week.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

North Korea has again described President Trump as a “dotard” after he called its leader, Kim Jong-un,  “Rocket Man” and threatened military action. The foreign ministry said if Trump was confrontational, it “must really be diagnosed as the relapse of the dotage of a dotard,” Joshua Berlinger reports at CNN.

Trump yesterday asked the Supreme Court to block a subpoena from a Democratic-led congressional panel for his financial records, arguing in a lengthy filing that the Court “should take up the case because it was the first time a president’s personal records have been subpoenaed by Congress.” Andrew Desiderio and Darren Samuelsohn report at POLITICO.

A look at why the State Department recently rejected a proposal to train the Saudi intelligence service motivated by fears that the kingdom lacks proper safeguards to prevent lawless covert operations like the murder last year of Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi is fielded by David Ignatius at the Washington Post. 

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).