The Early Edition: January 16, 2020

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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 yesterday delivered two articles of impeachment charging President Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress to the Senate after voting to approve seven impeachment managers to prosecute the case, effectively launching the trial to determine whether the president will remain in office. The crux of the case is the allegation that Trump withheld military aid and a White House meeting to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents, including former Vice President Joe Biden. Elise Viebeck, Rachael Bade and Seung Min Kim report at the Washington Post.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that the pair of impeachment articles would be formally read to the chamber today at noon, after which Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will be sworn in to preside over the trial. Senators will then be sworn in as jurors, and preparations will get underway for an impeachment trial that will begin next Tuesday, Nicholas Fandos and Sheryl Gay Stolberg report at the New York Times.

“So sad and so tragic for our country that the actions taken by the president to undermine our national security, to violate his oath of office and to jeopardize the security of our elections has taken us to this place,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said shortly before signing the documents. Meg Wagner, Mike Hayes and Fernando Alfonso III report at CNN.

The White House released a statement yesterday saying “President Trump has done nothing wrong” and “expects to be fully exonerated.” Tom McCarthy, Lauren Gambino and David Smith report at The Guardian.

The diverse team of seven impeachment managers includes six lawyers and will be led by Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). In addition to Schiff and Nadler, Pelosi named Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Jason Crow (D-Colo.), Val Demings (D-Fla.) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) as managers. Emily Cochrane reports at the New York Times.

Pelosi said she decided on a team heavy with “litigators” who will “present the strongest possible case against Trump — both substantively and procedurally — to the Senate.” Heather Caygle and Sarah Ferris report at POLITICO.

The Senate leadership announced new rules on behavior and movement in the Capitol during the impeachment trial. The decorum guidelines include a ban on smart phones and restrictions that affect conversations on the Senate floor. Ali Zaslav and Ted Barrett report at CNN.

Republicans are distancing themselves from proposed restrictions on reporters covering the impending Senate impeachment trial, with Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) calling the plans a “huge mistake.” The Standing Committee of Correspondents said on Tuesday that the Senate sergeant-at-arms and the Senate Rules Committee are preparing to force new restrictions on press in the Capitol during the trial, including limiting the movements of reporters and the ability for them to speak to senators. Marianne Levine and Burgess Everett report at POLITICO.

Trump’s legal team is aiming to have the president acquitted by the Senate “without witnesses and after just a few days of proceedings,” according to senior administration officials. Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.

President Trump “knew exactly what was going on” with efforts to pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, despite his repeated denials of wrongdoing, according to Lev Parnas, an associate of the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and a central figure in the White House’s alleged Ukraine pressure campaign. Parnas told M.S.N.B.C. that he was the one “on the ground” doing Trump and Giuliani’s work, and that other members of the administration knew about the scheme; Attorney General William Barr “was basically on the team,” Parnas said. The comments represent Parnas’ most forceful implication of Trump yet, Phil Helsel reports at NBC News.

Parnas also said in the interview that he warned a top aide to the newly elected president of Ukraine about a potential freeze on military aid to the country if it did not commit to investigations that could benefit Trump politically. Parnas passed on the message at the direction of Giuliani in a May meeting with Serhiy Shefir, he told M.S.N.B.C.. Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

House impeachment investigators released a second set of documents yesterday turned over by Parnas, showing how he used the extensive access he had to Trump’s world to help carry out Giuliani’s shadow Ukraine campaign. Hundreds of pages of photos, messages and calendar entries show Parnas communicated regularly with top Republican fund-raisers about what he was up to. Colby Itkowitz, Paul Sonne and Tom Hamburger report at the Washington Post.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has asked for materials concerning potential threats to former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s safety after “profoundly alarming” messages handed over to Congress suggest that she may have been surveilled before Trump fired her in May. In a letter to the undersecretary of state for management, Chair Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) wrote that he was “deeply concerned” about the apparent efforts of Parnas and Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde to track and potentially threaten Yovanovitch while she was still the ambassador. “I cannot overstate the profound security risk that this poses to the U.S. mission and our interests in Ukraine,” Engel wrote. Nahal Toosi and Natasha Bertrand report at POLITICO.

Hyde has emerged as an “unlikely new impeachment figure,” Michael Rothfeld, William K. Rashbaum and Ben Protess write at the New York Times.

“The previously untold story of how Giuliani and his associates reached out to [Parnas] shows the lengths Giuliani went to in his campaign to defend Trump in the Russia investigation and undermine Biden,” Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger, Paul Sonne and Josh Dawsey report at the Washington Post.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“As with other bombshells made public since the Dec. 18 impeachment, this one offers overwhelming evidence of malfeasance … but unlike other recent revelations, this looks like a snapshot of the underworld, filled with profanity, intimidation and possibly worse,” CNN’s Frida Ghitis comments on the newly released documents from Lev Parnas.

“The president’s radically expansive understanding of executive privilege lacks legal merit,” Ronald J. Krotoszynski Jr. argues at the New York Times, explaining why Trump cannot actually stop the Senate from hearing from witnesses.

A comprehensive guide on what to expect in the early stages of Trump’s Senate trial is provided by Ted Berrett at CNN.

IRAN

The State Department abruptly canceled two classified congressional briefings to address embassy security and Iran policy yesterday, vexing lawmakers and staffers who had expected to hear from top State Department officials about the administration’s Iran policy and authorities for the use of force following President Trump’s decision to kill top Iranian commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Nahal Toosi reports at POLITICO.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned yesterday that European soldiers in the Middle East “could be in danger” after Britain, France and Germany triggered a formal dispute-resolution mechanism challenging Tehran over violations of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. “Today, the American soldier is not safe, tomorrow it could be the turn of the European soldier,” Rouhani said in a televised address to his cabinet. AFP reporting.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif acknowledged that people “were lied to” for days about their military accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing all 176 people on board. Iranian authorities refused for days to disclose the cause of the crash and their belated admission triggered demonstrations and rare internal criticism of the country’s clerical leadership. Joanna Slater and Kareem Fahim report at the Washington Post.

Former senior C.I.A. official Douglas London explains how Trump officials may selectively pick intelligence to create false narrative of the threat posed prior to a strike at Just Security.

Key questions to ask at the worldwide threats briefing, a rare public opportunity for answers, including about the intelligence behind the Soleimani killing, are fielded by Joshua Geltzer and Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman at Just Security.

“A vibrant protest movement is visible in Iran and across the Middle East — but it isn’t calling for Islamic revolution … it’s a bottom-up rebellion against the corrupt elites who rule Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries,” David Ignatius argues at the Washington Post.

IRAQ

The U.S. military resumed joint operations with Iraq against Islamic State militants yesterday, military officials said, ending a 10-day break that began after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian military commander in Baghdad. The decision to restart military operations came less than two weeks after Iraq’s Parliament voted to expel all American troop from the country. Alissa J. Rubin and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said he would leave a decision whether to oust U.S. forces from the country to his successor, potentially relaxing a push that could spark American military-aid cuts and sanctions. In a cabinet meeting, Abdul-Mahdi called on the president, speaker of Parliament and political blocs to name a candidate for his position and establish a new government to resolve the status of U.S. troops. Isabel Coles reports at the Wall Street Journal.

TURKEY

Turkey is starting to deploy troops to Libya in support of the internationally recognised government in Tripoli, President Tayyip Erdoğan announced today, days before a summit in Berlin which will address the Libyan conflict. Reuters reporting.

Erdoğan and President Trump discussed developments in the Middle East in a phone call yesterday, the White House and Turkey’s presidency said. The two leaders covered the situation in Iran and the conflicts in Libya and Syria, Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

F.I.S.A.

The F.B.I.’s proposals to fix problems with its national security surveillance “do not go far enough,” an expert in surveillance law told a secretive court yesterday in a 15-page brief. Actions that the bureau listed in a filing last week “fail to adequately ensure that judges receive a complete and accurate portrait of the facts about suspects before deciding whether to let the F.B.I. invade their privacy,” David Kris, an expert in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (F.I.SA.), said. Charlie Savage reports at the New York Times.

“The most obvious takeaway from [D.O.J. Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s] report is that we need far more comprehensive ‘deep dive’ investigations into the use of intelligence tools,” Julian Sanchez writes at Just Security, part of a series on F.I.S.A. reform as the fallout continues from Horowitz’s findings that the bureau botched wiretap applications in the Russia investigation.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

At least 18 civilians were killed yesterday in air strikes that hit areas of the Syrian rebel-held city of Idlib despite a fresh Russian-sponsored truce. The BBC reporting.

The Taliban have provided Washington’s envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, with a document laying out their offer for a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan that would hold for between seven and 10 days, Taliban officials familiar with the negotiations said today. The offer is viewed as a chance to open a window to an eventual peace deal for Afghanistan that would allow the United States to wind down the 18-year war. AP reporting.

Yemeni separatists and forces loyal to the country’s U.N.-recognized government whose deadly infighting broke out last summer in the war-torn Arab country are withdrawing from a key southern city, military officials said today. AP reporting. 

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has resigned from government along with all of his ministers after President Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes that could extend his hold on power past the end of his term. Mary Ilyushina and Sheena McKenzie report at CNN.

Security agencies in Britain, France and Belgium “cannot indiscriminately sweep up personal data from phone and internet service users” even during terrorism probes, an adviser to the European Union (E.U.)’s top court said yesterday. Ben Kochman reports at Law360.

House Armed Services Chair Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is exploring options to prevent President Trump from taking a further $7.2 billion in Pentagon funds for construction of his southern border wall. Rebecca Kheel 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).