The Early Edition: December 16, 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 on Friday approved two charges against President Trump, setting up a full House vote to impeach the president for abusing his powers and obstructing Congress. Members of the panel voted along strict party lines, 23 to 17, to approve the two articles stemming from the president’s dealings with Ukraine after a contentious 14-hour debate the previous day. Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

“Today is a solemn and sad day,” committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said after the vote. “For the third time in a little over a century and a half, the House Judiciary Committee has voted articles of impeachment against the president.” The full House is likely to vote on Wednesday, Siobhan Hughes and Natalie Andrews report at the Wall Street Journal.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) proposed calling acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security advisor John Bolton as witnesses for Trump’s likely impeachment trial in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) yesterday evening. Schumer proposed that the Senate subpoena four administration officials who are close to the president or are expected to know about the delay of about $400 million in military aid to Ukraine: Mulvaney, Bolton, senior adviser to Mulvaney Robert Blair, and Michael Duffey, associate director for national security at the Office of Management and Budget (O.M.B.). The move from the Senate Republicans would be unlikely, unless approved by the White House, Burgess Everett reports at POLITICO.

The Democratic senator also laid out in his letter detailed plans for a Senate impeachment trial, proposing a trial beginning Jan 6. that would allow up to eight hours of testimony per witness. Schumer also called for documents that could shed light on the events at the heart of the charges against Trump. “The trial must be one that not only hears all of the evidence and adjudicates the case fairly; it must also pass the fairness test with the American people,” Schumer wrote in the letter, Seung Min Kim, Karoun Demirjian and Steven Mufson report at the Washington Post.

The House Judiciary Committee released its report on the impeachment of Trump early today, ahead of consideration by the full House. The 658-page report explains in four parts the committee’s process and justification for recommending two articles of impeachment against Trump. Jeremy Herb reports at CNN.

A group of 30 freshman Democrats is trying to draft Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) as an “impeachment manager” in the Senate trial of Trump, an effort to “reach conservative voters in a way Democrats can’t, potentially bolstering their case to the public.” Amash left the Republican Party earlier this year. Rachael Bade reports at the Washington Post.

Democrats have criticized Republican senators for indicating how they will vote in the probable Senate impeachment trial. Lawmakers expressed fury after McConnell asserted that he would coordinate with White House counsel on “everything” regarding Trump’s trial — despite his role as a juror. McConnell’s comments, according to Nadler, were akin to “the foreman of the jury saying he’s going to work hand in glove with the defense attorney.” Allan Smith reports at NBC News.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“The partisanship of [President Trump’s] looming Senate trial is casting doubt on whether polarized Washington can hold a President to account — now and in the future,” Stephen Collins writes in an analysis at CNN.

In Trump’s case, “the system will not even make a pretense of weighing the evidence,” the Financial Times editorial board predicts, noting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)’s remarks and commenting, “a one-sided Senate trial will be anything but a balanced reckoning.”

“McConnell told the world he wants to rig the process to produce maximal benefit for Trump … that allows Democrats to make a public case for a much fairer and more open process,” Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman argue at the Washington Post, suggesting that the leader “handed Democrats a big opening.”

“The current proceedings have demonstrated how fragile the Constitution’s impeachment clause is — it’s now clearer than ever that it doesn’t work very well in the context of a very partisan political atmosphere,” Elizabeth Drew argues at the New York Times.

A guide to the expected Senate impeachment trial is provided by Paul LeBlanc and Zachary B. Wolf at CNN.

INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) defended the F.B.I.’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible links with Russia yesterday, adding that the omissions found by the Department of Justice Inspector General (I.G.) Michael Horowitz’s report were not “apparent” two years ago. The chair insisted in an interview that while the bureau made “serious” error relating to surveillance of Trump campaign aides under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.S.A.), the investigation was still justified. Justine Coleman reports at the Hill.

Horowitz’s conclusions are “a scathing indictment of F.B.I. investigative practices,” Neema Singh Guliani argues at the Washington Post, citing the “litany of errors in efforts to surveil targets” and “shocking lack of basic safeguards” found by the I.G.

“Many journalists seem determined not to explain how the [I.G.] report vitiates the “Steele dossier” and discredits its author, Christopher Steele, a former British spy who peddled third-hand hearsay to gullible paymasters at … the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” David J. Garrow comments on media coverage of Horowitz’s report at the Wall Street Journal.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea announced Saturday it had successfully conducted another “crucial test” at its long-range rocket launch site, saying the unspecified test would help bolster the country’s nuclear deterrent. The test, conducted Friday evening, was the second in less than a week at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri, a site near the Chinese border. Reuters reporting.

U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun said today that the U.S. would not accept Kim Jong-un’s year-end deadline for Washington to soften its approach to stalled denuclearization talks and called on Pyongyang to come to the negotiating table immediately. “On this point, let me be absolutely clear: The United States does not have a deadline,” Biegun told reporters, warning that if North Korea conducted a major weapons test in the coming days, it would be “most unhelpful,” as Washington tried to de-escalate tensions with the country and achieve “lasting peace.” AP reporting.

Biegun described Pyongyang’s statements as “hostile, negative and so unnecessary,” adding that Washington had a “goal … not a deadline.” The representative appealed to his North Korean counterparts, saying: “it is time for us to do our jobs … let’s get this done … we are here and you know how to reach us.” BBC reporting.

What could North Korea’s ‘Christmas gift’ to the U.S. be? Paula Hancocks explores Pyongyang’s cryptic threats in an analysis at CNN.

AFGHANISTAN

At least 23 Afghan soldiers were killed while they slept in an attack by a Taliban member who had infiltrated their unit, officials said, though the exact number of casualties was unclear. Fahim Abed reports at the New York Times.

U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad briefed Pakistani leaders on Friday on last week’s formal peace negotiations with the Taliban, the first official talks since President Trump declared a near-certain peace deal with the insurgents dead in September, AP reporting.

The Trump administration plans to announce a reduction of about 4,000 troops from Afghanistan as early next week, amid a diplomatic push to restart peace talks with the Taliban, according to three current and former U.S. officials. The drawdown would leave between 8,000 and 9,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan, the officials said. Courtney Kube and Carol E. Lee report at NBC News.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday downplayed a bombshell report on the Afghanistan war published last week as not particularly “revelatory,” while pointing out headway in fighting the Taliban. “Well, it is investigative reporting … I think it’s been well done in that sense, but I have a hard time seeing it as all that revelatory,” Mattis told reporters. The Washington Post has released a series of articles showing that U.S. officials in the Bush and Obama administrations knowingly lied to the public about their progress throughout the 18-year war in Afghanistan, painting a rosier picture of the state of the war than they knew to be true, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

Several other top Defense Department officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, also sought to dismiss questions surrounding the so-called Afghan papers, with experts saying it is unlikely the documents will alter the administration’s stance on the long-running conflict. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Two Chinese diplomats were quietly expelled from the U.S. after breaching a military base in September, the first time in more than 30 years that the American government has expelled Chinese Embassy officials on suspicion of espionage. Edward Wong and Julian E. Barnes report at the New York Times.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday that Ankara would not pull out of its deal with Russia over the S-400 missile defense system “whatever the consequences,” and issued again a retaliation threat against any U.S. sanctions over the purchase: “sanctions and threatening language never work … but if sanctions are placed, Turkey will have to reciprocate,” Cavusoglu said at a conference in Qatar’s capital, Doha. Al Jazeera reporting.

Sudan’s former President Omar al-Bashir was sentenced on Saturday to two years in detention by a court in Khartoum after being convicted of money laundering and corruption. AP reporting.

Fewer administration officials are allowed to listen to President Trump’s phone calls with foreign leaders after the president’s July 25 call with the leader of Ukraine became a central part of the ongoing House impeachment inquiry. Alex Marquardt, Zachary Cohen and Pamela Brown report at CNN.

“The unique conditions of [immigration] tent courts [at the border] deny migrants due process by depriving them of meaningful access to lawyers or interaction with judges, making the setup essentially a rubber stamp for deportation,” Michelle Hackman and Alicia A. Caldwell report at the Wall Street Journal. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Assistant 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).