The Early Edition: December 12, 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

Justice Department Inspector General (I.G.) Michael Horowitz testified for six hours yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his conclusions in his new long-awaited report regarding alleged surveillance abuse during the 2016 election. The I.G.’s dual findings have fueled fresh debate over the Russia case amongst lawmakers: though Horowitz found no evidence of political bias in the F.B.I.’s investigation into a possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, as President Trump and his allies have long-claimed, his 434-page report released Monday found that the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) committed serious lapses in seeking and renewing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.S.A.) warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, leading Republicans to believe it backs up their assertion that the F.B.I. abused its power. Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.

Horowitz testified to lawmakers that neither Attorney General William Barr nor John Durham — the prosecutor who has been tasked by Barr with conducting a broader inquiry into the origins of the Russia probe — presented any information before his report was released to convince him that the F.B.I. lacked a valid basis to initiate the investigation, which ultimately was taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Horowitz said Durham agreed that opening a preliminary investigation was justified, but not a full field investigation, as the F.B.I. opened. Only in a full counterintelligence probe are agents permitted to conduct court-ordered surveillance of the kind deployed against Page, Sadie Gurman and Byron Tau report at the Wall Street Journal. 

Horowitz cautioned that no one should view his report as a vindication of officials involved in the investigation. “We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams on one of the most sensitive F.B.I. investigations after the matter had been briefed to the highest levels within the FBI,” Horowitz said, underscoring what he saw as serious failures by the F.B.I. after opening the case, adding the bureau’s former leaders had not adequately explained their actions. Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.

INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Key highlights from Horowitz’s testimony, including his interactions with Barr and Durham, are provided by Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage at the New York Times.

“[The inspector general’s] study amounted to the most searching look ever at the government’s secretive system for carrying out national-security surveillance on American soil,” Charlie Savage writes in an analysis at the New York Times, commenting that Horowitz’s findings about surveillance “are important beyond partisan politics.”

“Barr has made it his primary goal in office to manage Trump’s crisis communications … it should come as no surprise that, as a consequence, law enforcement itself is the victim when the head of federal law enforcement engages in political hackery,” Sarah Longwell at “Republicans for the Rule of Law” comments at NBC News.

“[I]t [is] extraordinary to watch the nation’s chief law enforcement official claim — without offering any evidence — that the F.B.I. acted in “bad faith” when it opened an inquiry into then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign,” former U.S. attorney general from 2009 to 2015 Eric H. Holder Jr. argues at the Washington Post, commenting that Barr has made a series of public statements and taken actions that are “deeply inappropriate” for his role as America’s chief law enforcement official.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

The House Judiciary Committee opened debate yesterday night on two articles of impeachment against President Trump, one day after unveiling the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The panel is planning to vote on the articles today and send the measure to the full House for approval next week. Rebecca Shabad reports at NBC News. AFP 

“Despite charged testimony, compelling witnesses and some significant revelations, no major players of either party have shown any sign of budging from their partisan bunkers,” Mark Leibovich reports on yesterday’s committee debate at the New York Times.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) yesterday publicly named the alleged whistleblower whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry against Trump while the House Judiciary Committee debated the articles of impeachment. During his opening remarks, Gohmert said he wanted to call “fact witnesses” during the impeachment hearings: “we needed to hear from those witnesses,” he said, before listing a number of people — including the alleged whistleblower. No other lawmaker has named the alleged whistleblower during proceedings, Kyle Cheney and John Bresnahan report at POLITICO.

Trump apparently is now open to the idea of having a shorter impeachment trial in the Senate, according to two sources familiar with the situation, after he initially declared he wanted a full-blown, potentially lengthy hearing. A shorter trial would allow the president to “move past the threat to his presidency more quickly,” the sources said. Reuters reporting.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is set to hold a final vote to acquit Trump should he be impeached, when a majority of senators consider his trial has “run its course” rather than holding a vote on dismissing the articles of impeachment, two Republican senators said yesterday. The move is “significant” because it means that Republicans intend to have a vote on acquittal to clear the President of the charges against him “not simply rely on a 51-vote threshold procedural motion to dismiss the hotly disputed case,” Ted Barrett and Manu Raju report at CNN.

The White House budget office claimed in a new legal memo that it withheld military aid to Ukraine as a temporary measure to ensure the spending complied with U.S. policy. When asked by the Government Accountability Office why the aid was being delayed, Office of Management and Budget (O.M.B.) general counsel Mark Paoletta insisted the move was in response to a Trump administration directive “pending a policy decision.” Paoletta said discussions for this decision began on June 19, the same day Trump reportedly learned about the aid and questioned the spending. The freeze on military aid is at the center of Trump’s impeachment inquiry. Jeff Stein and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan have asked a judge to return Rudy Giuliani’s indicted associate Lev Parnas to jail for lying about his assets and hiding a $1 million payment he got from Russia in September. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York called Parnas a “flight risk” after he allegedly misrepresented his income and concealed the payment from Russia. Tom Winter and Dareh Gregorian report at NBC News.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A guide to watching the House Judiciary Committee debate the charges against President Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress before sending them to the full House is provided by Michael D. Shear at the New York Times.

A helpful explainer on the “deliberative, sometimes tedious process” by which the Judiciary Committee will formally consider the two articles of impeachment, a process “bound by strict rules and long-held traditions,” is provided by Michael D. Shear at the New York Times.

“Adding extensive obstruction of justice charges based on Mueller’s report to the articles of impeachment would overwhelm their straightforward narrative,” Renato Mariotti writes at POLITICO Magazine in support of the “simple,” narrowly drawn articles. 

TURKEY AND SYRIA

A Senate committee yesterday advanced legislation to impose sanctions on Turkey after its military offensive in Syria and purchase of a Russian S-400 missile system, despite opposition from the Trump administration and Ankara. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted by 18-4 to send the “Promoting American National Security and Preventing the Resurgence of ISIS Act of 2019” for a vote in the full Senate. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Turkey slammed U.S. senators for backing the sanctions bill, denouncing the latest initiatives in Congress as “a new manifestation of disrespect for our sovereign decisions regarding our national security.” Al Jazeera reports.

American commanders in northern Syria now see military units from Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Syrian government as a greater danger than the Islamic State (ISIS) forces they were sent to combat. When commanders sought guidance outlining how American troops might deal with an attack from the assortment of armed groups, they “received muddled direction from the Pentagon,” according to two Defense Department officials. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

The KOREAN PENINSULA 

The U.S. cautioned North Korea yesterday that its “deeply counterproductive” ballistic missile tests risk “closing the door” on chances for negotiating peace, but said it is “prepared to be flexible” and take “concrete, parallel steps” with Pyongyang toward accord. U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft passed on the message at a Security Council meeting less than three weeks before North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s end-of-December deadline for the Trump administration to suggest new proposals to restore nuclear diplomacy. AP reporting.

The resumption of missiles testing by North Korea is “deeply troubling,” the U.N.’s Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Khaled Khiari said in a briefing yesterday to the Security Council. In total, there have been thirteen missile tests so far this year, despite United Nations resolutions which ban the country from conducting any launches that use ballistic missile technology. The U.N. News Centre reporting.

North Korea censured the U.S. for convening the U.N. Security Council and warned that it is “ready to respond to any corresponding measure that Washington chooses,” state news agency K.C.N.A. said today, citing a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson. Reuters reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

The Trump administration yesterday placed new sanctions on Iran targeting a number of transportation firms as part of its “maximum pressure campaign” against the Islamic Republic over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The sanctions are intended to limit the activities of Iran’s state shipping lines as well as one of its subsidiaries, E-Sail Shipping, based in Shanghai; the State Department also add a layer of new penalties to a previously sanctioned Iranian airline, Mahan Air. AP reporting.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack yesterday that targeted the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan and killed two people and injured several others. Reuters reporting.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday insisted that President Trump and a Russian diplomat spoke about election meddling at a recent White House meeting despite the Russian official’s claims to the contrary. John Bowden reports at the Hill.

The House passed a $738 billion defense policy bill yesterday, 377 to 48, establishing the U.S. Space Force and introducing paid parental leave for federal workers. Trump said in a message sent on Twitter that he would sign the compromise bill “immediately!” Lindsay Wise reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations yesterday voted unanimously for a bipartisan bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing the U.S. from N.A.T.O., sending the legislation to the Senate. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the bill’s lead Democratic sponsor, said it was a response to concerns that the Trump administration is actively considering a pull-out from the alliance. Julian Borger reports at The Guardian.

“U.S. immigration officials deported approximately 12,000 family members and unaccompanied minors last fiscal year,” far fewer than the “millions” Trump vowed to arrest months ago in anger about rising border crossings, according to a federal report released yesterday. Maria Sacchetti reports at the Washington Post. 

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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).