The Early Edition: December 11, 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 Democrats yesterday unveiled two narrowly drawn articles of impeachment against President Trump, charging him with abuse of power in the Ukraine affair and obstruction of Congress. The first of the two articles alleges that Trump “corruptly solicited the government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations” into former Vice President Joe Biden and a conspiracy theory alleging Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election. Trump also “conditioned two official acts on the public announcements that he requested,” Democrats wrote, citing nearly $400 million in military assistance and an official White House meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

The second article, focused on obstructing Congress, charges Trump impeded the impeachment inquiry by refusing to let senior officials testify or produce documents pursuant to Congressional subpoenas. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the articles of impeachment sketch out how Trump “compromised our national security and threatened the integrity of our elections.” Andrew Desiderio, Kyle Cheney and Heather Caygle report at POLITICO.

The House decided to exclude an obstruction of justice charge relating to Trump’s conduct during special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow. Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times. 

Trump dismissed the impeachment charges against him yesterday, calling them “flimsy, pathetic, ridiculous.” Lauren Egan reports at NBC News.

The White House in a statement called the formal charges “baseless” and said Trump will address them during the trial phase. “The president will address these false charges in the Senate and expects to be fully exonerated, because he did nothing wrong,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said. John Wagner, Kayla Epstein and Michael Brice-Saddler report at the Washington Post.

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote this week on whether to send the formal charges to the full House of Representatives. The panel said it would aim to meet today to consider the two articles of impeachment.  Siobhan Hughes and Natalie Andrews report at the Wall Street Journal.

A federal judge yesterday heard final arguments in a lawsuit brought by Trump’s former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman, who sought a ruling on whether he is required to testify to Congress in the impeachment inquiry. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon gave no immediate decision, but appeared to lean toward “dismissing the case on the grounds that the House has dropped the demand for [Kupperman’s] testimony,” Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

The articles of impeachment with context and analysis are provided by Peter Baker at the New York Times.

An assessment of the Democrats’ case for impeaching President Trump is provided by two prominent Washington legal experts, Michael Zeldin and Robert Ray, at CNN.

“[A] quick, narrow impeachment isn’t the way to go … there’s still a lot to learn about the president’s behaviors, hints of corruption and illegality that should be pursued,” Jamelle Bouie argues at the New York Times, commenting on the two charges against Trump.

INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT

Attorney General William Barr yesterday escalated his attacks on the F.B.I.’s 2016 investigation into possible links between President Trump’s campaign and Russia — asserting that the bureau may have acted in “bad faith” when it carried out its probe. In an interview with NBC News, Barr said he disagreed with the findings in the Justice Department’s internal watchdog report on the origin of the Trump-Russia investigation that there was no evidence of political bias in the launching of the inquiry, indicating that a final judgment on F.B.I. misconduct cannot be made until the separate investigation by Barr’s chosen prosecutor, John Durham, was completed. Ken Dilanian reports at NBC News.

Barr’s comments came after Trump had blasted the F.B.I. and its director, Christopher A. Wray, in a message sent on Twitter. “I don’t know what report current Director of the F.B.I. Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me,” Trump wrote, taking a swipe at Wray’s response to inspector general Michael Horowitz’s report, adding, “with that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the F.B.I., which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!” Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey, Matt Zapotosky and John Wagner report at the Washington Post.

A balanced and in-depth analysis of the Inspector General report is provided by Julian Sanchez at Just Security.

A guide to the “misleading spin” on the watchdog report is provided by Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post, who notes that “in response to the report, Republicans often falsely suggested that it confirmed what it actually disputed about the origin of the probe.”

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

President Trump held a private meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the White House yesterday, but the two men gave contradictory accounts of what was discussed. The White House issued its readout of the meeting, which said Trump warned the Russian diplomat against “any Russian attempts to interfere in United States elections;” later in the day, Lavrov told a press conference the pair did not discuss elections during their Oval Office sit-down. Julian Borger reports at The Guardian.

Trump hailed the meeting in a message sent on Twitter: “Just had a very good meeting with Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov and representatives of Russia … discussed many items including Trade, Iran, North Korea, I.N.F. Treaty, Nuclear Arms Control, and Election Meddling … look forward to continuing our dialogue in the near future!” Trump wrote.  John Hudson and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.

Lavrov also met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who apparently told the Russian foreign minister that interference in U.S. domestic affairs is “unacceptable.”  The two diplomats clashed during their bilateral meeting over U.S. conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election; the pair also discussed matters including “arms control, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, unrest in Venezuela, the Syrian civil war and denuclearization of North Korea.” Courtney McBride and Vivian Salama report at the Wall Street Journal.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM

The U.N. is “unable to independently corroborate” that missiles and drones used in the attacks on Saudi oil facilities in September “are of Iranian origin,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council yesterday, following a United Nations inspection of debris of weapons used in the Sept. 14 attacks on the Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq. The U.S., European nations and Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran for the assault, allegations which Iran has denied. Reuters reporting.

The Trump administration yesterday issued a sanction against Mohammed al-Otaibi, a Saudi diplomat in Turkey who served as the Saudi consul general in Istanbul when Washington Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi was killed in his consulate in 2018, and other individuals suspected of human rights violations yesterday. The State Department has announced 72 sanctions designations since last week, barring from entering the U.S. individuals who are accused of “gross violations of human rights” and their families, a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. Justine Coleman reports at the Hill.

Arab Gulf leaders and representatives met in Saudi Arabia yesterday for an annual summit amid an ongoing diplomatic dispute in the region. The gathering of members of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, intended as a display of their unity in the face of common threats, featured discussion around aggression from Iran. AP reporting.

AFGHANISTAN

At least one person was killed and six others were wounded in a powerful suicide bombing today that targeted the U.S.’ key military base of Bagram and an under-construction medical facility, Afghan and N.A.T.O. officials said. The attack was “quickly contained and repelled” and no U.S. or coalition casualties were reported, the N.A.T.O.-led mission in Afghanistan Resolute Support said in a statement. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, Reuters reporting.

“Excessive” U.S. spending in Afghanistan has fueled widespread corruption there, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai asserted yesterday following the Washington Post’s publication of a cache of U.S. government documents that show U.S. officials knowingly misled the American public, concealing information on the war in Afghanistan and turning a blind eye to widespread fraud. Siobhán O’Grady reports at the Washington Post.

The Afghanistan Papers show “how little has changed since the Vietnam era,” Ross Douthat argues at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

The Defense Department’s inspector general yesterday announced that it is conducting an evaluation into the use of military personnel on the U.S. border with Mexico. Courtney Kube and Julia Ainsley report at NBC News.

Immigrants who have been granted asylum in the U.S. are being denied the opportunity to remain in the country and are being forced to stay in Mexico while Homeland Security officials appeal their cases. Such individuals “fall within the jurisdiction of the Migration Protection Protocols (M.P.P.), a Trump administration policy that keeps asylum-seekers in Mexico as their immigration cases proceed,” Marty Johnson reports at the Hill.

“Iran will overcome U.S. sanctions by either bypassing them or through negotiations, and it will not cross its red lines in any talks with arch-adversary Washington,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said today. Reuters 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).