The Early Edition: January 22, 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 Senate early this morning approved ground rules for President Trump’s impeachment trial after 12 hours of rancorous debate on the first day. The rules resolution from Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was approved 53-47 on a party-line vote that puts off the question of whether the Senate should subpoena witnesses and documents until later in the trial. Seung Min Kim, Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis report at the Washington Post.

The Senate killed 11 Democratic amendments aimed at introducing new evidence. Senators voted 53-47 to block four separate motions from Democratic leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to subpoena records from multiple government agencies, including from the White House, State Department, Defense Department and Office of Management and Budget related to the Ukraine probe. By the same tally, senators also rejected requests for subpoenas seeking the testimony of acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former national security adviser John Bolton, White House aide Robert Blair and White House budget official Michael Duffey. Nicholas Fandos reports at the New York Times.

McConnell made last-minute changes to the trial rules before they were read aloud in the Senate after Democrats and key Republicans raised concerns about the effort to compress the timeline for the trial. Under the hastily revised schedule, each side will get 24 hours for opening arguments over three days, instead of two, and House evidence will be admitted unless there is a vote in opposition to it. The two changes marked a small victory for Democrats, Siobhan Hughes reports at the Wall Street Journal. 

Chief Justice John Roberts delivered a sharp rebuke to both sides for their lack of decorum. Roberts told both Trump’s legal team and the House impeachment managers that they need to “remember where they are” after a feisty exchange. Paul Kane and Elise Viebeck report at the Washington Post.

Several Senate Democrats are privately weighing a witness deal in Trump’s impeachment trial: the testimony of Hunter Biden in exchange for the testimony of Bolton or another administration official with possible firsthand knowledge of the Ukraine controversy.  Though most Democrats have publicly mocked the growing G.O.P. clamor to hear former vice president Joe Biden’s son testify, dismissing him as irrelevant to the charges against Trump, a small group of Democratic senators and aides has begun to consider backing the unusual trade. Rachael Bade, Robert Costa and Seung Min Kim report at the Washington Post.

Trump plans to claim executive privilege if Bolton is called to testify at the Senate impeachment trial, according to several Republicans. Hallie Jackson, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Julie Tsirkin and Dareh Gregorian report at NBC News.

“Officials at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (O.M.B.) were laying the groundwork to freeze military aid to Ukraine the night before Trump’s controversial phone call with the Ukrainian President, newly released, heavily redacted emails show.” Sara Murray, Marshall Cohen and Katelyn Polantz report at CNN.

Schiff seems to have “mischaracterized” a text message exchange between Lev Parnas and another player in the Ukraine controversy, according to documents obtained by POLITICO — a possible mistake Republicans will likely condemn as another example of the Democrats’ rushed effort to impeach Trump. Unredacted material suggests the Democratic leader may have referred to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky instead of Mykola Zlochevsky, the founder of gas company Burisma, in a letter sent to House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) last week summarizing a cache of evidence turned over by the indicted associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. Melanie Zanona reports at POLITICO.

Attorney General William Barr previously contradicted a key argument of Trump’s lawyers that abuse of power is not by itself an impeachable offense. In a 19-page memo for the Trump team during the Russia probe, the attorney general asserted that presidents who misuse their authority are subject to impeachment. “The remedy of impeachment demonstrates that the president remains accountable under law for his misdeeds in office,” Barr wrote, citing from a 1982 Supreme Court case. Charlie Savage reports at the New York Times.

“Trump’s case against his removal from office … relies on an argument that his Justice Department and White House lawyers have explicitly rejected,” POLITICO’s Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio explain how the president’s lawyers made an “impeachment U-turn” yesterday that could have immediate consequences for ongoing legal fights between Congress and the White House.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Highlights from yesterday’s Senate trial are provided by Amber Phillips at the Washington Post.

A scathing critique of President Trump’s Trial Memorandum to Senators is provided by leading impeachment law scholar Michael J. Gerhardt at Just Security, who highlights four of the Memorandum’s deficiencies “that make it more of a political screed than a legal document deserving of respect and serious consideration.”

An analysis of the performances of Trump personal attorney Jay Sekulow and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone during yesterday’s trial is provided by Philip Bump at the Washington Post.

The White House defense that Trump cannot be impeached for behaviors that are not actual crimes is baseless and “at odds with history and the purpose of the Constitution,” George Washington University Law School professor and G.O.P. impeachment expert witness Jonathan Turley argues at the Washington Post.

“By asking senators to ratify [the brazen case being laid out bythe president’s legal team],Trump and his lawyers are, in effect, seeking consent for an extraordinary expansion of his powers,” the Washington Post editorial board argues.

“Lacking any Republican support, [Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)]’s amendments failed as expected … with a jury this conspicuously biased, it’s hard to imagine any other outcome,”  Michelle Cottle comments at the New York Times.

Trump’s legal “claptrap” argument is almost certainly going to work “because the Republican majority in the Senate knows that its own survival is tied to Trump’s, and cares more about its grip on power than its fidelity to constitutional governance,” Jesse Wegman argues at the Washington Post.

The impeachment trial will resume today with arguments by the prosecution, to be followed by the defense and questions. Peter Baker at the New York Times provides a guide to watching today’s trial.

A guide to how the two sides diverge on the evidence underlying the charges against Trump, based on legal briefs, reports from the impeachment inquiry and public statements, is provided by Weiyi Cai and Alicia Parlapiano at the New York Times ahead of the Senate hearing opening arguments today.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

A U.S. envoy said yesterday that Iran would be sending a “very, very negative message” if it withdraws from the 1970 global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (N.P.T) after European countries accused Tehran of violating a separate 2015 agreement with world powers. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Monday that the Islamic Republic  would quit the N.P.T. if Europeans continued with what he called “their improper behavior” or referred Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its alleged violations of the 2015 deal. U.S. disarmament envoy Robert Wood yesterday urged Iran to “sit down with the United States and negotiate an agreement that deals not only with the nuclear issue but also with the other issues that concern us like the ballistic missile proliferation.” Al Jazeera reporting.

Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos’ cellphone was “hacked” in 2018 after he communicated with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (M.B.S.) through WhatsApp. An encrypted message sent from M.B.S.’s personal account to Bezos on May 1, 2018, apparently contained an infected file, which likely triggered the hack of Bezos’ phone, according to a digital forensic analysis. Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports at The Guardian.

A proposal to achieve more sustainable peace in Afghanistan, through extensive peacebuilding efforts by civil society, is put forward by Managing Director with Peace Training and Research Organization (P.T.R.O.) Mirwais Wardak at Just Security as U.S.-Taliban negotiations continue to go off and on.

Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a new government yesterday, bringing in some fresh faces but retaining many senior ministers. The new cabinet included a new economy minister and a new first deputy prime minister, but the finance, foreign, defense, energy and agriculture ministers all kept their jobs. AFP reporting.

President Trump plans to expand his controversial travel ban with an announcement expected on Monday, administration officials said. Nations under consideration for new restrictions include Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. Michelle Hackman reports 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).