The Early Edition: December 20, 2019

Signup to receive the Early Edition in your inbox here.

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

President Trump has demanded “an immediate trial” from Democrats, after the timing of the Senate hearing was thrown into doubt just a day after the House impeached the president on charges of abusing his power and obstructing Congress — based on his pressure campaign on Ukraine to dig up dirt on his political rivals as he withheld crucial military aid from the country. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would not hand off impeachment to the Senate until she learned how Republicans would manage the proceeding, a move apparently designed to offer leverage to Democrats’ leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in bargaining over the contours of a trial. Demetri Sevastopulo reports at the Financial Times.

“So after the Democrats gave me no Due Process in the House, no lawyers, no witnesses, no nothing, they now want to tell the Senate how to run their trial,” Trump said in a message sent on Twitter. “Actually, they have zero proof of anything, they will never even show up … they want out … I want an immediate trial!” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos report at the New York Times.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled the standoff with Democrats over trial particulars would continue into the new year. “We remain at an impasse, because my friend, the Democratic leader, continues to demand a new and different set of rules for President Trump,” McConnell said on the floor, after a brief 20-minute meeting with Schumer, as he announced the Senate had completed its business until January. Adam Edelman, Allan Smith and Frank Thorp V report at NBC News. 

McConnell jabbed at Pelosi and the House process yesterday, suggesting that the delay reflected a weak case against Trump. The majority leader accused House Democrats of “getting cold feet,” charging that the speaker might be “too afraid” to transmit “their shoddy work product” to the Senate. Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner, Colby Itkowitz and Elise Viebeck report at the Washington Post.

Pelosi hit back at McConnell during her comments yesterday, saying the founders suspected there could be a rogue president when they penned the Constitution, but “I don’t think they expected that we could have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.” McConnell had earlier called the impeachment a “slapdash case,” Claudia Grisales and Deidre Walsh report at NPR.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Should the lawmakers have taken into account what might happen during a Senate trial when voting on the articles of impeachment? Danny Cevallos takes a look in an analysis at NBC News.

The two articles of impeachment against Trump “both got more votes than either of the other two impeachments in American history,” Domenico Montanaro explores the origins of a partisan impeachment at NPR.

If the Senate upholds its obligation to do impartial justice, there are simple actions to ensure Trump’s impeachment trial is serious and fair. Conor Shaw at Just Security lays down the standards to ensure a full and fair impeachment trial in Senate including subpoenaing key witnesses and an impartial, nonpartisan framework for determining whether evidence should be admitted. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) should hold on to the articles of impeachment until Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agrees to a fair trial, Kurt Bardella argues at NBC News, urging Democrats to use “what little leverage they have left.”

“Pelosi’s goal seems to be to turn the Senate trial into a second impeachment investigation ad infinitum … keep the machinery running, and who knows what else might turn up that pressures Republicans to convict,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues.

TRUMP-RUSSIA

President Trump told a former senior White House official that he knew Ukraine was responsible for 2016 election meddling because Russian President Vladimir Putin told him so. While the president embraced theories about Ukrainian interference “almost from the moment he took office,” he grew more insistent after he met privately in July 2017 with Putin. After meeting with the Russian leader, Trump repeatedly said he believed that Putin did not interfere in the 2016 election — despite the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies — and that Ukraine had helped Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Shane Harris, Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig report at the Washington Post.

Putin yesterday ridiculed what he described as an attempt by Democrats to undo the 2016 election, scoffing at the “baseless” impeachment process in Washington which is “destined to fail.” “This is nothing but a continuation of an internal political struggle, with the party that lost the election, the Democratic Party, trying to reach its goal by different means,” Putin said during his annual end-of-year news conference. Andrew Higgins reports at the New York Times.

The federal prosecutor investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia probe has begun examining the role of former C.I.A. director John Brennan in how the intelligence community assessed Russia’s 2016 election meddling, according to three people briefed on the inquiry. John Durham, the U.S. attorney leading the investigation, is honing in on Brennan’s communications over the notorious Steele dossier with other officials, including former F.B.I. director James Comey, by requesting Brennan’s emails, call logs and other C.I.A. documents, one person said. Katie Benner and Julian E. Barnes report at the New York Times. 

IRAN

The U.S. yesterday imposed sanctions on two Iranian judges whom the administration accused of giving out harsh and excessive sentences for human rights activists, political prisoners and protesters, including the death penalty, 100-year prison terms and public lashings, as Washington ramped up its pressure campaign on Tehran. The Trump administration also said it will restrict visas for Iranian officials for their alleged roles in suppressing peaceful protests in the country that started last month. Laura Kelly reports at the Hill.

Both Iran and the U.S. are “undermining” the groundbreaking 2015 deal to oversee Iran’s nuclear program, which remains a “cornerstone of international peace and security”, U.N. political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo said yesterday in a brief to the Security Council on nuclear non-proliferation. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The U.S. said fresh evidence and analysis of weapons debris recovered from an attack on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14 suggests the strike likely came from the north, reinforcing its earlier assessment that Iran was behind the assault. In an interim report of its inquiry, Washington assessed that before hitting its marks, one of the drones passed through a location approximately 124 miles to the northwest of the attack site. Reuters reporting.

“The tensions rising between Iran and the United States aren’t a signal that diplomacy will fail … they are a warning that negotiations are a must — and soon.” Policy experts Vali R. Nasr and Ali Vaez make the case for Washington taking diplomacy seriously at the New York Times.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

The U.S. is closely monitoring North Korea for hints of a possible missile launch or nuclear test in the coming days that officials are alluding to as a “Christmas surprise.” A significant launch or drill would conclude North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium and heighten tensions in the region; it would also be a severe blow to one of the Trump administration’s major foreign policy initiatives: the push to resume negotiations with North Korea aimed at eliminating its nuclear weapons and missiles. AP reporting.

“A last minute flurry of diplomacy aimed at engaging with North Korea ahead of its declared year-end deadline for talks has been met with stony silence from Pyongyang so far,” Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Despite the new U.S. position that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not “per se” illegal, international accountability for Israeli settlement activity remains a real possibility, Victor Kattan comments at Just Security.

India’s foreign minister has “abruptly cancelled” a meeting with senior U.S. Congress legislators after his demand to exclude a congresswoman critical of India over Kashmir was rejected. John Hudson reports at the Washington Post.

The Senate confirmed a dozen of Trump’s judicial nominations yesterday, just hours before departing for Christmas recess. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

The Senate yesterday confirmed North Korea negotiator Stephen Biegun as the next deputy secretary of state. AFP reporting.

“Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is widely expected to leave his current position once the Senate wraps up its impeachment trial and the intense scrutiny of the West Wing settles down, according to five aides and confidants to President Trump.” Nancy Cook reports at POLITICO. 

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).