The Early Edition: December 24, 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.  

The Early Edition will take a break between Wednesday, Dec. 25, and Wednesday, Jan. 1, for the holidays.

KHASHOGGI MURDER

Saudi Arabia has been accused of engaging in a “mockery” of justice by protecting the alleged masterminds of the murder of Washington Post columnist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, after a court sentenced five men to death and three men to prison over the murder — but exonerated senior officials in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle. The Saudi court contradicted a C.I.A. assessment, which found that the crown prince ordered the killing, an allegation the kingdom has strongly denied. Bethan McKernan reports at The Guardian.

A senior Trump administration official called the sentencing “an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable,” adding, “we encourage Saudi Arabia to continue with a fair and transparent judicial process.” President Trump has repeatedly defended Prince Mohammed, saying it was not clear whether he had any part in the 2018 murder. Summer Said reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Washington’s reaction was an outlier among the international community, which censured Riyadh for its opaque justice system and failing to hold senior officials accountable for the Saudi journalist’s death. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.

Turkey pledged today to continue pushing for accountability “regardless of how high it goes” over the murder of Khashoggi, after what it denounced as a “sham trial” of 11 individuals. Reuters reporting.

The kingdom’s handling of the case raises further questions over Prince Mohammed’s role in the murder and the fairness of criminal proceedings, Ben Hubbard reports at the New York Times.

KHASHOGGI MURDER: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

A detailed look at Saud al-Qahtani – the most influential aide of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is provided by Martin Chulov at The Guardian.

It’s a documented lie that “there was no prior intention to kill” Khashoggi and the murder was “a snap decision,” the Washington Post editorial board comments on the Saudi court ruling, citing the inquiry into the journalist’s death by U.N. special rapporteur Agnès Callamard, which heard audiotapes of the doctor and the head of the hit team discussing Khashoggi’s dismemberment before he entered the consulate.

“These verdicts are the antithesis of justice: the hit men are sentenced to death … but the apparent masterminds walk free — barely touched by the investigation and trial,” Callamard comments at the Washington Post.

A timeline of key events in the Khashoggi murder is provided by Bethan McKernan at The Guardian.

The profiles of some of the individuals who have been held, investigated, or sacked in Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case, based on media reports and photos, plus information from officials and sources, are provided by Reuters.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Lawyers for the Judiciary Committee floated the possibility that the panel could take up additional articles of impeachment against President Trump, according to an appeals court filing yesterday as part of the Democrats’ effort to press the case that they still needed the testimony of former White House counsel Donald McGahn. House Counsel Douglas Letter urged the court to compel McGahn to testify, arguing that his testimony could uncover new misconduct. The Democratic-led House impeached Trump last week on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) yesterday requested in a letter to his fellow senators multiple documents that Democrats would like to review, including internal emails and records held by the White House, the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget (O.M.B.) connected to the president’s effort to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Trump’s political opponents. The document request followed the release of emails Friday indicating that military aid to Ukraine was suspended just 90 minutes after President Trump’s controversial July phone cal with Zelensky. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Catie Edmondson report at the New York Times.

Congress yesterday appeared deadlocked on the key questions surrounding Trump’s trial in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he remains at an impasse with Democrats over the next stage of the impeachment process, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declined to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate until she knows what the rules will be for Trump’s trial. John Wagner and Paul Kane report at the Washington Post.

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) yesterday argued that House Democrats no longer have a need to access grand jury materials from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe because the charges against Trump did not cover matters from the Russia investigation. Lawyers for the D.O.J. told a federal court that House Democrats’ move last week to vote to impeach Trump on two articles that looked narrowly at his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of Congress undercut their claims that Trump’s alleged obstruction of the special counsel probe was relevant to their impeachment efforts. John Kruzel reports at the Hill.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani is employing new efforts to “flip the script” on Trump’s impeachment, including advancing with fresh allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden and former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Josh Lederman reports at NBC News.

When Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Giuliani, traveled to Ukraine last year to help the president’s attorney find dirt on Trump’s political rivals, they were accompanied by American David Correia. Vicky Ward reports on the former golfer’s role in the Ukraine scandal at CNN.

Parnas and Fruman leveraged their ties to the president’s attorney and other power brokers in the U.S. and Ukraine to seek a natural gas deal with Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state oil-and-gas company, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Christopher M. Matthews and Georgi Kantchev report at the Wall Street Journal.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

An analysis of President Trump’s latest “technical argument” against impeachment is provided by Zachary B. Wolf at CNN.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Democrats should agree to the witnesses that Trump says he wants, including the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, Eric Schmeltzer comments at NBC News, arguing, “there is no real downside.”

The courts could decide whether Trump was impeached by votes in the House last week, or whether the matter must proceed to the Senate before he has been formally impeached, Scott Douglas Gerber argues at CNN, citing an op-ed by constitutional law professor, Harvard’s Laurence Tribe.

The next steps in the impeachment of Trump are set out by Amber Phillips at the Washington Post.

AFGHANISTAN

At least 15 members of Afghanistan security forces were killed in an attack today by Taliban militants at a government checkpoint in Balkh province in Afghanistan’s north, local officials said. Reuters reports.

The Pentagon identified the soldier killed in combat yesterday in Afghanistan as Michael Goble, a U.S. Army sergeant from New Jersey. AP reporting.

A deep dive on the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.)’s historic hearing on whether to open an investigation into alleged war crimes related to the armed conflict in Afghanistan, including crimes committed by the C.I.A. and the US military, is provided by Katherine Gallagher and Nikki Reisch at Just Security.

SYRIA

At least eight civilians were killed yesterday when a car bomb went off in a Turkish-held area in northern Syria, the defense ministry said. The explosion took place in the village of Suluk about 12 miles southeast of the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad, Al Jazeera reporting.

The attack came as a Turkish delegation was in Russia yesterday to discuss the situation in Syria, following reports that Russian-backed airstrikes in Idlib province have forced tens of thousands more Syrians to flee towards Turkey. Reuters reporting.

An analysis of overlooked aspects of President Trump’s “outrageously rash” decision to disengage with Syrian Kurds and side with Turkey is provided by top C.I.A. official Marc Polymeropoulos at Just Security.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Iran revealed yesterday that it is redeveloping its Arak heavy water reactor, which does not breach the terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers but nonetheless shows that it is still expanding its nuclear sector despite significant economic pressure from the U.S.. Reuters reports.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said today that South Korea, China, and Japan agreed to help advance North Korea-U.S. dialogue to end North Korea’s nuclear program, during their trilateral meeting in China. Al Jazeera reporting.

Popular chat App ToTok is actually a spying tool used by the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) government to track its users, Mark Mazzetti, Nicole Perlroth and Ronen Bergman report at the New York Times.

A House subcommittee has launched an inquiry into immigrant detainees’ medical care after allegations surfaced of negligence, abuse, injury and death at detention centers. Justine Coleman 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).