The Early Edition: January 21, 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

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.y.) unveiled his long-awaited organizing resolution yesterday setting the initial parameters for President Trump’s impeachment trial. According to the four-page resolution, oral arguments would begin tomorrow at 1 p.m., giving both Trump’s legal team and House impeachment managers 24 hours over two days each to make opening statements. The opening arguments will be followed by 16 total hours of questions and answers, then a four-hour debate, and finally, a vote on whether to admit witnesses or new evidence, pushing off any votes on witnesses until later in the process, rather than upfront, as Democrats demanded. Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine report at POLITICO.

Senators will debate and vote on the rules when they convene for the trial today. Peter Baker, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Fandos report at the New York Times.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called McConnell’s resolution a “national disgrace” and vowed to offer a series of amendments today “to address the many flaws in this deeply unfair proposal.” “After reading his resolution, it’s clear Senator McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Schumer said in a statement. Lauren Fox, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb report at CNN.

Earlier yesterday, Trump’s lawyers filed a lengthy legal brief arguing the president did “absolutely nothing wrong” and urging the Senate to “swiftly” reject the impeachment charges and acquit him, while offering for the first time a detailed legal defense for why he should not be removed from office. The 110-page Trial Memorandum — submitted as a counter to a document filed by the House Democrats on Saturday — sought to undercut charges that the president abused his power and obstructed Congress, casting the impeachment case against him as “flimsy” and a “dangerous perversion of the constitution.” Seung Min Kim and Karoun Demirjian report at the Washington Post.

The White House announced yesterday that it will add eight House Republicans to Trump’s team in order “to combat this hyper-partisan and baseless impeachment.” G.O.P. Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), John Ratcliffe (Texas), Mike Johnson (La.), Mark Meadows (N.C.), Debbie Lesko (Ariz.), Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Doug Collins (Ga.) will provide guidance to the White House team, according to a White House news release. Juliegrace Brufke and John Bowden report at the Hill.

The House impeachment managers filed yesterday their rebuttal to the White House’s Saturday pleading that the impeachment articles were “constitutionally invalid,” arguing that the President’s assertions were “chilling” and “dead wrong.” By charging that abuse of power is not an impeachable offense, Trump’s lawyers were in effect asserting that “the American people are powerless to remove a president for corruptly using his office to cheat in the next election,” House Democrats wrote. Jeremy Herb reports at CNN.

Trump’s legal defense team and Senate G.O.P. allies are working to ensure that any testimony from former national security adviser John Bolton be kept private as they prepare contingency plans in the event Democrats garner enough votes to force witnesses to testify in the impeachment trial. Robert Costa and Rachael Bade report at the Washington Post.

Lawyers for Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Guiliani who was involved in the campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rivals of Trump, asked yesterday that Attorney General William Barr recuse himself from Parnas’s criminal case because he has too many conflicts of interest. They asked that a special prosecutor be appointed from outside the Department of Justice. The Soviet-born business was charged in October with violating federal campaign finance laws, Tom Winter reports at NBC News.

A look at how McConnell’s rules depart from the precedent set during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999 is fielded by Nicholas Fandos at the New York Times.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

An analysis of the 110-page brief submitted by President Trump’s legal team to the Senate yesterday is provided by Charlie Savage at the New York Times.

A look at the group of lawyers defending Trump in the Senate trial is provided in an analysis by Amber Phillips at the Washington Post, who notes that “Trump’s legal team does not include House Republicans who have sat through hours of depositions and vociferously defended the president during the House inquiry and impeachment vote.”

Trump’s Saturday “answer” to the articles of impeachment “doesn’t bother to present a coherent factual response to the impeachment charges … instead, it relies on bare conclusions, pointless irrelevancies and outright misstatements,” George T. Conway III argues at the Washington Post.

A Senate predetermined to acquit the president will not uncover the facts about Ukraine — there needs to be a subsequent House investigation which could fight in court to obtain the additional evidence and testimony Democrats seek, “establishing important legal precedents and ensuring that misconduct is not hidden from public view,” Renato Mariotti argues at POLITICO.

Highlights from Trump’s legal defense are provided by Sarah N. Lynch at Reuters.

A summary of the two articles of impeachment against Trump is provided by Joanna Walters at The Guardian. 

A recently updated collection of all publicly available documents in Trump’s impeachment in connection with Ukraine, including relevant legislation, letters, subpoenas, deposition transcripts, executive branch communications, and litigation documents, is helpfully provided by Julia Brooks and William Dawley at Just Security.

IRAN

Iran has threatened to withdraw from the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (N.P.T.) if European countries refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council over alleged violations of a 2015 nuclear agreement. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif issued the warning yesterday saying the Islamic Republic could take other steps before quitting the N.P.T., without specifying them. Reuters reporting.

Iran’s civil aviation authority said today the country’s military fired two missiles at a Ukrainian commercial jet that went down shortly after taking off from Tehran earlier this month, killing all 176 people on board. The new preliminary report by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization identified the missiles as being the TOR-M1 model, a type of Russian-made, surface-to-air missile. AP reporting.

When President Trump publicly claimed earlier this month that he had seen intelligence suggesting top Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani was planning assaults on “four [American] embassies,” senior officers in Trump’s national-security equipment “puzzled aloud” whether or not the president had misrepresented the intelligence. “There were definitely questions [at the time, internally] about whether he had just made it up on the spot,” one White House official said. Asawin Suebsaeng and Erin Banco report at The Daily Beast.

The Trump administration is looking to maintain pressure on Iran without driving the region to a fraught new confrontation, U.S. and regional officials said. Key members of Trump’s national-security team see a weakened Tehran as hoping to avoid direct clash and are calling on Trump to “stand firm, keep imposing economic sanctions and wait to see if European leaders move to reimpose United Nations sanctions on Iran for violating [the 2015] deal.” Dion Nissenbaum, Benoit Faucon and Felicia Schwartz report at the Wall Street Journal.

“Confronting and containing Iran may sound wise,” but a strategy that worked in the past will not work this time, given the reality of today’s Middle East,” Vali R. Nasr argues at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

The death toll in Saturday’s drone and missile attack on a government military training base in central Yemen rose to at least 111 yesterday, the country’s government said, marking “one of the bloodiest single attacks since the conflict in Yemen escalated five years ago.” The BBC reporting.

Three Katyusha rockets landed today in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq’s government and home to several foreign embassies, but caused no casualties, two security officials said.  The rockets were launched from the Zafaraniyah district outside Baghdad, the sources said, adding that two rockets fell near the U.S. embassy. Reuters reporting.

Amir Mohammed Abdul Rahman al-Mawli al-Salbi has been named as the new leader of Islamic State, officials from two intelligence services said. Salbi “is one of the terror group’s founding members … and has overseen operations around the globe,” Martin Chulov and Mohammed Rasool report at The Guardian as officials piece together his profile.

North Korea has fired its foreign minister and named Ri Yong Ho as its new top diplomat, an ex-military officer “with a reputation for being a hard-line,” in a move that could change the course of stalled nuclear negotiations between Kim Jong-un and President Trump. Simon Denyer and Min Joo Kim report at the Washington Post.

New data illuminates the extent to which the Trump administration has struggled to fill jobs as it heads into its fourth year,” Nancy Cook reports on presidential appointees at POLITICO.

The case for repealing the “toothless” War Powers Resolution of 1973 and replacing it with a War Powers Consultation Act, as recommended by the bipartisan National War Powers Commission, is laid out by James A. Baker III 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).