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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
House Democrats charged with prosecuting the impeachment case against President Trump yesterday began setting out their case for Trump’s removal from office for pressuring Ukraine in a bid to improve his re-election prospects at home. Democratic impeachment managers spent eight hours offering their opening arguments — presenting what they said was clear-cut evidence that Trump pressured Ukraine for investigations that could benefit him politically in exchange for a White House meeting and the release of nearly $400 million of military aid. John Wagner, Felicia Sonmez and Colby Itkowitz report at the Washington Post.
Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) spoke for more than two hours and said Trump had pursued a “corrupt scheme” to abuse his presidential power and then obstruct Congress’s investigation. He appealed to senators not to be “cynical” about the politics of impeachment, asking them to draw on the intent of the nation’s Founding Fathers: “[the founders] feared that a president could subvert our democracy by abusing the awesome power of his office for his own personal or political gain,” Schiff said, “and so they devised a remedy as powerful as the evil it was meant to combat: Impeachment.” Michael D. Shear reports at the New York Times.
Schiff and the other prosecutors displayed screenshots of transcripts of key testimony from current and former government officials, emails, text messages and around 50 video clips to make their case. “It was a presentation that seemed designed to demonstrate what Democrats have long professed: that the facts of the Ukraine scandal threatening Trump’s presidency are so overwhelming as to be almost infallible,” Kyle Cheney and Andre Desiderio report at POLITICO.
Democrats also referred to evidence obtained after Trump was impeached last month from Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and a central figure in the alleged scheme. Kyle Cheney and Andre Desiderio report at POLITICO.
The managers continued to lobby the Senate for additional witness testimony and documents from the Trump administration, which so far has refused to provide them. Reviving their Tuesday pleas, Democrats argued that the case against Trump would be “even clearer” to both the Senate jurors and the public if senators voted to obtain further evidence. Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju report at CNN.
“Republicans complained [yesterday] that the trial had not revealed any new evidence against the president … less than 24 hours earlier, those same senators had voted four consecutive times against hearing from new witnesses,” Lauren Gambino and Tom McCarthy write at The Guardian.
Senior Republican lawmakers were “privately questioning” the Trump administration over the freeze on U.S. military aid to Ukraine last year, newly released emails and documents show, suggesting that concerns about the policy extended well beyond senior Trump advisors such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-national security advisor John Bolton. A number of those Republican lawmakers, including Sens. Jim Inhofe and Rob Portman, are now serving as jurors in Trump’s ongoing impeachment trial, Robbie Gramer reports at Foreign Policy.
Trump yesterday declared he would prefer a longer impeachment trial so that current and former top administration officials could testify, throwing cold water over Senate Republicans’s carefully assembled and approved impeachment trial framework. Trump said that he would like to see Bolton, Pompeo and former Energy Secretary Rick Perry testify at his Senate impeachment trial, making the remarks in an impromptu press conference at the mountain side retreat for the world’s elite. Trump then indicated that he might try to block the witnesses if called saying it could be a national security risk if they shared private conversation they had with the president, Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan report at POLITICO.
Senate Democrats ruled out any deal that would involve calling Hunter Biden, the son of the former vice president, as a witness in the trial in exchange for Republicans agreeing to hear testimony from Bolton. “That trade is not on the table,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters during a break in the trial. Responding from Iowa where he was campaigning, Joe Biden himself also said he had no intention of taking part in some kind of testimony tradeoff, saying of the president, “I’m not going to play his game.” Matt Viser reports at the Washington Post.
Pompeo said yesterday he would be ready to testify in Trump’s impeachment trial if legally obliged to. House managers arguing for the removal of the president seek information from Pompeo about what he knew of Trump’s alleged pressure campaign on Ukraine. Pompeo said he had not been tracking the impeachment proceedings while on a cross-global tour this week. Laura Kelly reports at the Hill.
TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS
“[Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.)] and his fellow House prosecutors … began to lay out labyrinthine details that punched home the thoroughness of the record against [Trump],” Jonathan Allen writes in an analysis at NBC News, though noting, while “the Democratic case so far adds up … the math that matters — acquittal votes — remains on the G.O.P.’s side.”
“The flurry of video underscored how Trump’s torrent of verbiage often contains comments that hurt his own interests … or even appear to openly reveal malfeasant behavior,” CNN’s Stephen Collinson comments on the clips aired by the lead impeachment manager.
“On a strategic level, Schiff’s presentation was masterful … he methodically went through a timeline of the President’s alleged improper conduct,” Raul A. Reyes comments at CNN.
“The contrasting amount of material the two legal teams brought into the Senate chamber to support their initial arguments foreshadowed a broader difference in their approaches to the trial,” Charlie Savage writes in an analysis at the New York Times, commenting, “as House impeachment managers emphasize the facts, President Trump’s defense team calls the process unfair.”
“With each passing hour, the evidence against the president piled higher,” Michelle Cottle writes at the New York Times.
“[T]he House’s impeachment logic is [a danger] to future Presidents and the Constitution’s separation of powers … especially pernicious is the new House “corrupt purposes” standard for removing a President from office,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues.
A “fact check” on claims made by Trump’s legal team during Senate impeachment proceedings is provided by Daniel Dale at CNN.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday his country will never seek nuclear weapons, with or without a treaty in place, and urged European powers not to violate the 2015 deal that President Trump withdrew from in 2018. “We have never sought nuclear weapons … we will never seek [them],” Rouhani said, according to his website. “If you violate, if you renege on an agreement, you are responsible for all consequences. We are not responsible for the consequences,” the president added. Al Jazeera reporting.
A comprehensive guide to every state in the world’s reaction to the U.S. killing of top Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and to Iran’s military response is provided by Mehrnusch Anssari and Benjamin Nußberger at Just Security.
Iraq is happy with U.S. troops there, President Trump asserted yesterday at talks with Iraqi President Barham Salih about the fate of the mission, which has been in suspense since a U.S. drone strike killed a senior Iranian commander in Baghdad. President Salih’s office said he and Trump had talked about cutting the number of foreign troops in Iraq at a meeting on the sidelines of an economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, after Iraq’s parliament responded with a non-binding vote to oust the U.S. forces. Reuters reporting.
The Pentagon acknowledged that additional service members were being examined for possible traumatic brain injury caused by Iran’s missile strike on a military base in Iraq earlier this month, even as Trump downplayed the injuries as “headaches” and “not very serious.” Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander of the coalition to defeat the Islamic State terrorist group, said yesterday that the number of service members being treated for possible concussion-like symptoms is now “in the teens” — up from 11 who the Defense Department acknowledged last week had been flown out of the country to Germany for further medical evaluation following Iran’s Jan. 8 attack. Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.
JEFF BEZOS PHONE HACK
U.N. experts demanded an immediate investigation yesterday into allegations that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (M.B.S.) was involved in a plot to hack the cellphone of Amazon C.E.O. and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. The U.N. special rapporteurs, Agnes Callamard and David Kaye, said in a statement that they believed the hack was carried out “in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia” and called for an “immediate investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities,” citing a forensic analysis of evidence from Bezos’s phone. Miriam Berger reports at the Washington Post.
Bezos’s cellphone was believed to have been infiltrated by spyware in May 2018 via an MP4 video file sent from the crown prince. Shortly after receipt of the video, a huge “exfiltration” of data began. The surveillance was believed to have continued for nine months, until February 2019, Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports at The Guardian.
“The White House has declined comment on the episode [which] raises further questions about [President] Trump’s past deference to Riyadh and the security of his own team’s communications with Saudi leaders,” Kevin Liptak writes at CNN.
President Trump told his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, yesterday that there cannot be “meaningful” peace negotiations until the Taliban significantly reduces its violence, the White House said in a statement. Al Jazeera reporting.
The U.S. State Department has appointed a new special envoy with a mandate to counter China’s growing influence at the U.N. and other international organizations that the Trump administration has, until now, largely brushed off, according to several U.S. sources. Colum Lynch reports at Foreign Policy.
Efforts to denuclearize North Korea will carry on despite a new foreign minister in Pyongyang who is considered a hard-liner and could take a stronger stance in stalled negotiations, a senior State Department official said yesterday. Lara Jakes and Edward Wong report at the New York Times.
The most vexing issues as to whether the International Criminal Court (I.C.J.) has jurisdiction to hear Palestine’s case regarding “the situation” there are explored by Todd Buchwald in the first of a two-part piece at Just Security.
Major U.S. intelligence powers are due for renewal by Congress in March, paving the way for a potential showdown over the wider framework of government surveillance after a recent watchdog report called out F.B.I. blunders in seeking to wiretap a onetime Trump campaign adviser. Dustin Volz and Aruna Viswanatha report at the Wall Street Journal.
A secret domestic terrorism probe has uncovered that a violent neo-Nazi group, known as the Base, was recruiting cells across America. “The Base illustrates what law enforcement officials and extremism experts describe as an expanding threat, particularly from adherents who cluster in small cells organized under the auspices of a larger group that spreads violent ideology,” Neil MacFarquhar and Adam Goldman report at the New York Times.