The Early Edition: December 19, 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 Democratic-led House of Representatives yesterday voted to impeach President Trump for obstruction of Congress and abuse of power related to his dealings with Ukraine, making Trump only the third president in United States history to face trial in the Senate. The historic vote on impeachment came after a months-long inquiry by House Democrats, who accuse the president of withholding military aid to Ukraine and pressuring its government to open an investigation into the president’s political rival — former Vice President and Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden. They also charge that the president obstructed their investigation by refusing to comply with subpoenas and directing members of his administration to do the same. Nicholas Fandos and Michael D. Shear report at the New York Times.

The House voted 230-197 to charge Trump with abuse of power and 229-198 to charge him with obstruction of Congress.  The votes were almost entirely split along party lines: no Republicans voted to impeach Trump and just two Democrats voted against both articles, Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.), who plans to soon switch parties. A third, Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), voted for one impeachment article, with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) voting present on both articles. Siobhan Hughes and Natalie Andrews report at the Wall Street Journal. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested in comments to reporters following the vote that the House might at least temporarily delay sending the two articles of impeachment to the Senate — until it was assured the process would be fair. “We cannot name [impeachment] managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” Pelosi said, referring to the House members responsible for prosecuting the case in the Senate. “So far, we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us,” the Speaker added. Mike DeBonis reports at the Washington Post.

The White House said it was assured the U.S. Senate would exonerate Trump in a trial. “Today marks the culmination in the House of one of the most shameful political episodes in the history of our nation. Without receiving a single Republican vote, and without providing any proof of wrongdoing, Democrats pushed illegitimate articles of impeachment against the president through the House of Representatives,” White House spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “The president is confident the Senate will restore regular order, fairness, and due process, all of which were ignored in the House proceedings … he is prepared for the next steps and confident that he will be fully exonerated,” Grisham said. Reuters reporting.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a pair of orders yesterday relating to ongoing legal attempts to obtain records and testimony bearing on alleged misconduct by Trump — instructing House attorneys to confirm whether lawmakers are still pursuing testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn and portions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report containing information extracted from secret grand jury testimony. The court made the two orders shortly after the first impeachment vote was gaveled to a close, Josh Gerstein reports at POLITICO.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said yesterday that he would be willing to testify for a Senate impeachment trial of Trump if that would be mandated by law. “I’m happy to do document productions, I’m happy to testify if that’s appropriate, required by the law,” Pompeo said at a news conference. Early in the inquiry, Pompeo sternly opposed efforts to obtain depositions from current and former State Department officials and accused Democrats of “bullying” and “intimidation.” Reuters reporting.

Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor was directed by a top aide to Pompeo to give up responsibilities for his post just days before the secretary of state’s planned trip to the Ukrainian capital, according to a person familiar with the situation. “That timing countered earlier suggestions that Taylor’s precise departure date was predetermined, and will allow Pompeo to avoid meeting or being photographed with an ambassador who has drawn President Trump’s ire for his testimony in the congressional impeachment inquiry, according to this person and to Ukrainian officials,” Michael R. Gordon and Georgi Kantchev report at the Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Four takeaways from the impeachment of President Trump are provided by Aaron Blake at the Washington Post.

A roundup of standout lines from yesterday’s House debate is provided by Adam Edelman at NBC News.

“[Trump’s] defiant disregard for red lines arguably made him an impeachment waiting to happen,” Peter Baker writes in an analysis at the New York Times.

An analysis of the “sharply partisan” impeachment vote and how it was decided is provided by Philip Bump at the Washington Post.

“Not a single House Republican voted to open an impeachment inquiry, and party officials have faithfully defended the president by denying facts and evidence that are beyond dispute and disseminating false narratives,” press secretary to President Bill Clinton Joe Lockhart comments on Republicans’ partisan solidarity at the New York Times.

“Whether or not a Senate trial leads to his conviction and removal from office, Trump has deservedly suffered an indictment imposed on only two previous American presidents,” the Washington Post editorial board argues.

“That Trump didn’t get away with [the abuse of investigatory and other powers for political ends] is a relief, not an exoneration,” Bret Stephens makes the Conservative case for impeachment at the New York Times.

“[Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.)] doesn’t want a Senate trial … he wants a Senate cover-up,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) writes in an op-ed at the New York Times.

A guide to how the House voted on Trump’s impeachment is provided by the New York Times.

Next steps in the impeachment process are explored by the BBC.

SYRIA

Russia and China are in discord with other U.N. Security Council countries over the delivery of humanitarian aid across borders and conflict lines to over one million Syrians in mainly rebel-held areas. The sponsors of this year’s aid resolution — Germany, Belgium and Kuwait — shared a draft that would introduce a new crossing point in Turkey and extend cross-border operations for a year; Russia and China, allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, circulated a rival measure that aims to close the crossing points in Iraq and Jordan, leaving only two in Turkey while not adding the third proposed in the rival resolution, and renew the cross-border operation for only six months. AP reporting.

Turkey has presented to the U.N. detailed proposals for the resettlement of Syrian refugees in north Syria, raising concerns over forced involuntary returns and demographic engineering. The six-page document, presented by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres at a Nov. 1 meeting, details large public construction projects which will require more than $26 billion in foreign funding to resettle a million of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. Colum Lynch and Lara Seligman report at Foreign Policy.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Iran’s nuclear experts are testing a new type of advanced centrifuges, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced today, according to the state-run I.R.N.A. news agency. Joshua Berlinger and Mallory Gafas report at CNN.

U.S.-Taliban Afghan peace talks aimed at ending the 18-year-old war in the country have reached an “important stage” amid a revived push to reach accord, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said in a series of messages sent on Twitter following his two-day trip to Kabul. Al Jazeera reporting.

 The U.N. General Assembly yesterday censured “the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in and by” North Korea in an annual resolution that Pyongyang’s U.N. envoy dismissed. The non-binding resolution, sponsored by the United States as well as dozens of other countries, was adopted by the 193-member General Assembly without a vote. Reuters reporting.

The Trump administration yesterday proposed new regulations that would bar immigrants convicted of minor crimes in the United States from obtaining asylum. The new rule, issued by the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, would extend the list of crimes that deny asylum protections to migrants to include some low-level offenses and misdemeanors, including driving under the influence, use of false documents and drug possession. Nick Miroff reports at the Washington Post.

“The National Defense Authorization Act (N.D.A.A.) … contains a small victory for congressional oversight of the U.S. military’s response to civilian harm in its operations,” Joanna Naples-Mitchell argues at Just Security, commenting, “members of the congressional defense committees should seize the opportunity to ask tough questions about the U.S. military’s handling of such losses and its efforts to prevent them.”

“The sheer quantity of serious defects in the F.I.S.A. applications targeting [former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page] … raises an obvious and disturbing question: If they’re this sloppy with a target involved in a presidential campaign, how bad is it in ordinary cases, which the public will never learn about and which are unlikely to ever be the topic of congressional hearings?” Julian Sanchez comments on the recent report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz at the New York Times.

Department of Defense (D.O.D.) adviser Ambassador Tina Kaidanow announced her resignation yesterday, marking the fifth top official to leave or announce their departure in one week. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill. 

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).