The Early Edition: December 13, 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

The House Judiciary Committee abruptly postponed the vote to advance articles of impeachment against President Trump after more than 14 hours of debate yesterday, setting up a historic vote to approve charges that Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress for today. Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) announced the panel would recess after 11 p.m. ET, stating, “it is now very late at night … I want the members on both sides of the aisle to think about what has happened over these past two days and to search their consciences before we cast our final votes.” Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

Nadler said his committee would instead reconvene this morning at 10 a.m. ET to cast the impeachment votes, with little doubt about the outcome. Trump is accused, in the first article of impeachment, of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in exchange for nearly $400 million in military assistance. In the second article, Trump is accused of obstructing Congress by blocking the House’s efforts to probe his actions. Siobhan Hughes and Natalie Andrews report at the Wall Street Journal.

The schedule switch enraged Republicans on the committee, who said they felt blindsided by Nadler’s surprise decision to call a recess and adjourn the vote. One member likened the move to “kangaroo court,” Rachael Bade, John Wagner, Colby Itkowitz and Toluse Olorunnipa report at the Washington Post.

Before the pause in the hearing, the committee had debated the two articles of impeachment against the president. Lawmakers sparred at length over amendments to remove the “abuse of power” article and to replace Biden’s name in the resolution with that of his son Hunter and the Ukrainian energy company Burisma that employed him. Both Republican proposals were defeated in party-line votes. Tom McCarthy, Lauren Gambino and Maanvi Singh report at The Guardian.

Both sides remained “entrenched” during yesterday’s session — “with little indication that either party was prepared to concede on even a single point of debate,” Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) asserted yesterday there was “no chance” Trump would be removed from office after an impeachment trial in the Senate. “The case is so darn weak coming over from the House … we all know how it’s going to end,” McConnell said in an interview on Fox News. The leader also said he hoped that none of the members of his caucus would vote for either of the articles of impeachment, adding that it “wouldn’t surprise” him if some Democrats split from their party and voted in the president’s favor. Lauren Egan reports at NBC News.

The Justice Department yesterday released some never-before-seen internal legal opinions that could strengthen Trump’s claim of executive privilege in blocking congressional requests as he faces impeachment by the U.S. House and a trial in the Senate. The opinions, which date back to the 1970s and the early 1980s, were written during previous Democratic and Republican administrations by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal opinions for the executive branch. “Eight of the opinions appear to bolster the White House’s stonewalling of Congress on witness testimony and document subpoenas,” Katelyn Polantz reports at CNN, noting, “the collection could be a valuable central resource for the President in the coming weeks, fleshing out the authority the executive branch has given itself to ignore congressional requests.”

Republicans are banding together over a plan that could quickly acquit Trump of articles of impeachment while giving them the chance to call witnesses later in the trial if Republicans and the president are not appeased with how things are going, according to interviews with nearly a dozen Republican senators yesterday. Heading into the trial, Republicans’ strategy would be to summon no witnesses and simply allow House Democrats and then the president’s attorneys to argue their case before the public; afterward the Senate would weigh calling people either for live testimony or closed-door depositions — “a plan they believe will insulate the Senate G.O.P. from pressure to call a host of controversial witnesses,” Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine report at POLITICO.

A close look at the legal experts tasked with investigating, litigating — and now impeaching — President Trump is provided by Darren Samuelsohn at POLITICO.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Highlights from yesterday’s 14-hour House Judiciary Committee debate, including Republicans’ “five attempts to derail or water down the articles of impeachment with amendments,” is provided by Michael D. Shear at the New York Times.

“Democratic and Republican lawmakers spoke past one another, unable to coalesce even on a common set of facts,” Stephen Collinson writes in an analysis of yesterday’s hearing at CNN.

Which Democrats will House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) appoint to prosecute the impeachment trial against President Trump in the Senate? Paul Kane seeks to provide some clarity in an analysis at the Washington Post.

Yesterday’s markup hearing “underlined the yawning gap … between Republicans and the truth,” the Washington Post editorial board argues, noting, “not one G.O.P. member of the Judiciary Committee was ready to acknowledge that there was anything wrong with Trump’s demand that a foreign government pursue false charges against one of his most likely Democratic opponents in the 2020 election.”

“After three years in which Democrats accused President Trump of a host of criminal acts … they have finally introduced articles of impeachment that allege none of those things,” Marc A. Thiessen comments that the charges are a “major retreat” for Democrats at the Washington Post.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea accused the U.S. of “hostile provocation” yesterday for criticizing its ballistic missile tests during a U.N. Security Council meeting and warned that the Trump administration may have squandered the opportunity to salvage nuclear negotiations. An unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman said the “foolish” U.S. comments helped North Korea make a clear decision about its unspecified next steps as it approaches the year-end deadline set by leader Kim Jong-un for Washington to soften its approach to stalled denuclearization talks. The spokesperson’s comments came after U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft on Wednesday called Pyongyang’s missile program “deeply counterproductive,” Tal Axelrod reports at the Hill. 

The U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun will arrive in South Korea on Sunday for discussions with his counterpart Lee Do-hoon and other officials, Seoul said today. “The two sides will exchange extensive views on the recent situation on the Korean peninsula and discuss ways to bring substantial progress on achieving a complete denuclearization and enduring peace,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement. Reuters reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said yesterday he was stunned by a Taliban attack near Bagram airfield this week, declaring “we’re taking a brief pause,” apparently in reference to peace negotiations that had recently resumed with the militant group. Phil Helsel reports at NBC News.

Saudi Arabia is seeking to ease tensions with Iran and other regional adversaries as officials in the kingdom have grown increasingly concerned about the risks conflict poses to its oil-dependent economy. Benoit Faucon, Summer Said and Warren P. Strobel report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. yesterday conducted its first flight test of a new land-based ballistic missile since the demise of the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty banning ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Ryan Browne reports at CNN.

The F.B.I. is investigating Tuesday’s New Jersey shooting as an act of domestic terrorism, officials said during a press conference yesterday. The attack left three civilians and one police officer dead, Joseph De Avila reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Top Democratic and Republican lawmakers reached a tentative agreement on federal government spending, totaling $1.3 trillion, giving Congress and the White House about a week to approve the particulars before funding runs out after Dec. 20. Kelsey Snell reports at NPR.

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution yesterday formally recognizing as an act of genocide the mass killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1922, a move blasted by the Turkish government. Al Jazeera reports. 

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).