The Early Edition: December 10, 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.  

INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT

A highly anticipated Justice Department watchdog review of the origins of the federal investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election found no evidence of political bias in the F.B.I.’s decision to initiate its probe — but identified a slew of “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the bureau’s applications for court-ordered surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page as well as flawed vetting of the Trump-Russia dossier compiled by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. The 434-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that the F.B.I. had an “authorized purpose” when it launched its investigation, known as Crossfire Hurricane, into the Trump campaign, rejecting key elements of the president’s theory about partisan motivations. Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky, Karoun Demirjian and Ellen Nakashima report at the Washington Post.

President Trump yesterday hailed the watchdog report, claiming it showed F.B.I. officials attempted “an overthrow of government” by investigating his 2016 presidential campaign and the origins of the ensuing Russia investigation. In comments to reporters at the White House, Trump said he had been briefed on the report and called its findings “far worse than anything I would have imagined” and an “embarrassment to our country.” The president has long-claimed that the Russia investigation was a politically driven “witch hunt” against him, Caitlin Oprysko reports at POLITICO.

Attorney General William Barr rejected the watchdog’s key conclusion that the overall investigation was legally justified and not motivated by politics, insisting that the F.B.I.’s probe into Moscow’s interference was “intrusive” and had been launched “on the thinnest of suspicions.” Barr, who has begun his own re-investigation of the Russia inquiry, said in a lengthy statement issued immediately following the report’s release that F.B.I. officials, in their haste to obtain surveillance warrants, had “omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source.” Sadie Gurman reports at the Wall Street Journal.

John Durham, a federal prosecutor whom Barr appointed to lead a separate criminal investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, voiced support for Barr’s conclusions in his own statement, saying he disputed some of the findings of the inspector general’s report and had a directive to conduct a broader, more thorough inquiry. Katie Benner reports at the New York Times.

The inspector general provided a close look at what appeared at times to be “a bungled relationship” between Steele and the bureau, Scott Shane reports at the New York Times.

F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray yesterday said he has ordered more than 40 “corrective steps” to address the report’s findings, including changes to the F.B.I.’s confidential human-source program, under which Steele provided information to the F.B.I.. “The F.B.I. accepts the Report’s findings and embraces the need for thoughtful, meaningful remedial action,” Wray said in a response included in the report. Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“The F.B.I. corrupted the secret court process for obtaining warrants to spy on former Trump aide Carter Page … [a]nd it did so by supplying the court with false information produced by Christopher Steele,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board comments, reflecting on the report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

“[Attorney General William] Barr needs to stop acting like a Trump spokesperson,” former Director of the F.B.I. and former Deputy Attorney General James Comey writes in a Washington Post op-ed, arguing, “it appears that Barr will continue his practice of deriding the Justice Department when the facts don’t agree with Trump’s fiction.”

“Rather than allowing this or a future president to invest in a single individual the authority to make ad hoc classification and declassification decisions based upon purely partisan motives as opposed to national security considerations, Congress can instead specifically provide for a deliberate, considered and informed process,” J. William Leonard argues at Just Security, commenting on Barr’s personal and “unprecedented authority delegated to him by President Trump to unilaterally declassify information under the control of Intelligence Community agencies.”

The main findings from the inquiry by the Justice Department’s inspector general are provided by Sharon LaFraniere, Eileen Sullivan and Michael S. Schmidt at the New York Times.

Key takeaways from the watchdog report are provided by Natasha Bertrand and Darren Samuelsohn at POLITICO.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

House Democrats are expected to unveil two articles of impeachment against President Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — at a news conference this morning, according to three officials with knowledge of the private talks yesterday night between Democratic committee leaders and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The House judiciary will reportedly vote on the articles later this week. Rachael Bade, Mike DeBonis, Elise Viebeck and Toluse Olorunnipa report at the Washington Post.

The meeting took place after the conclusion of a fiery Judiciary Committee hearing where lawyers for both Democrats and Republicans testified for nine hours on findings from the Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry over allegations that Trump withheld aid to Ukraine in order to pressure its government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden in the last scheduled impeachment hearing. Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

A summary of the evidence presented by both sides during yesterday’s “marathon” House Judiciary Committee hearing is provided by Adam Edelman at NBC News.

Takeaways from yesterday’s impeachment hearing are provided by Michael D. Shear and Peter Baker at the New York Times.

Democrats made a “tight” and “powerful” case for impeaching Trump as they opened the second House hearing on impeachment yesterday, Jennifer Rubin comments at the Washington Post.

Trump’s actions responding to Russian meddling in the 2016 election should be included in the House’s impeachment charges, Kate Martin argues at Just Security.

“Narrow is better than broad” for impeachment, Ruth Marcus argues at the Washington Post, commenting that “the president’s bad conduct with respect to Ukraine was significantly worse than his bad conduct elsewhere.”

AFGHANISTAN

Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) yesterday urged the panel to hold a hearing to look into U.S. strategy in the 18-year Afghanistan War following the publication by the Washington Post of a cache of documents that revealed senior U.S. officials knowingly lied to the public about their progress throughout the 18-year war in Afghanistan, consistently painting a rosier picture of the state of the war than they knew to be true. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Key takeaways in the newly released Afghanistan Papers are provided by Lara Jakes at the New York Times.

An analysis of the report on the more than 2,000 pages of memos and transcripts of interviews with U.S. officials and experts involved in the Afghan war is provided by Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post.

The KOREAN PENINSULA 

The Trump administration has refused to support a push by members of the U.N. Security Council for a meeting today on the human rights situation in North Korea, effectively blocking the meeting for the second year in a row. The White House action appeared aimed at stifling international criticism of Pyongyang’s human rights record in the hope of avoiding a breakdown in diplomatic relations between President Trump and the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report at Foreign Policy.

The U.N. Security Council instead will meet tomorrow, at the request of the U.S., to discuss North Korea’s recent missile launches and the prospects of an “escalatory” provocation from the isolated nation after Pyongyang conducted what it described as a key test at satellite launch site. Reuters reporting.

An assessment of Trump’s assertion of a “strong Denuclearization Agreement,” in the light of a looming hard deadline for negotiations with North Korea, warnings from the North of an unwelcome “Christmas gift” and the country’s continued insults of Trump, is provided by Adam Taylor at the Washington Post.

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

President Trump will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today during the diplomat’s visit to Washington, the White House confirmed late yesterday. The pair are likely to discuss nuclear arms control, including extending the last major nuclear treaty between the U.S. and Russia: the Obama-era New START treaty. Lavrov will also meet with Pompeo today to discuss various regional and bilateral issues, according to the Kremlin, David E. Sanger reports at the New York Times.

Lavrov’s meeting with Pompeo and Trump is a chance to move toward Trump’s goal of a nuclear arms deal with China and on tactical nuclear weapons — which should begin by extending New START, Daryl G. Kimball argues at Just Security.

Trump’s indifferent approach to the extension of the New START treaty is “puzzling,” the Washington Post editorial board comments.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky agreed to a renewed ceasefire and to exchange all prisoners when they met for the first time in Paris yesterday, making modest progress on appeasing five and half years of war in eastern Ukraine. AP reporting. 

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).