The Early Edition: January 27, 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

A draft of a forthcoming book from former national security adviser John Bolton alleges that President Trump told him in August that he wanted to keep $391 million in military aid to Ukraine suspended until the country investigated former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, according to multiple sources familiar with the unpublished manuscript. Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt report at the New York Times.

Bolton’s memoir also includes details of cabinet officials’ discussions about Ukraine and about Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who led the pressure campaign in Ukraine. Bolton wrote that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo privately acknowledged to him last spring that Giuliani’s claims about Marie Yovanovitch, the then-American ambassador to Ukraine, “had no basis.” Pompeo suggested to Bolton that Giuliani may have wanted to expel Yovanovitch because she might have been targeting his business clients in her anti-corruption efforts. Paul LeBlanc, Jeremy Diamond and Jim Sciutto report at CNN.

Trump denied Bolton’s allegations in a series of messages late last night. “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens … if John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book,” the president said in a message sent on Twitter. Fred Barbash reports at the Washington Post.

Democrats immediately renewed their demand for Bolton and other witnesses to testify in Trump’s impeachment trial, arguing that the revelation challenges the defense offered up by Trump and his attorneys in his Senate trial. In a joint statement, the seven House impeachment managers said Trump’s purported statement, as described by Bolton, “confirms what we already know” and “directly contradicts the heart” of the president’s defense — that there was no “quid pro quo” which offered aid in return for investigating Biden. “There is no defensible reason to wait until his book is published, when the information he has to offer is critical to the most important decision senators must now make — whether to convict the president of impeachable offenses,” the managers added. Andrew Desiderio, Kyle Cheney and Meridith McGraw reports at POLITICO.

A new recording made public Saturday appears to capture Trump telling Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, former associates of the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, he wanted Yovanovitch fired during a private April 2018 dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The hour-long audio contradicted Trump’s repeated statements that he does not know the two men and largely confirmed Parnas’s account of having raised with Trump disapproval of Yovanovitch, and the president’s immediate order that Yovanovitch should be ousted from the post. Josh Lederman reports at NBC News.

House managers wrapped up their oral arguments on Friday, focusing largely on the obstruction of Congress charge against the president. House impeachment managers concluded their three-day presentation to the Senate by accusing Trump of embracing Russian propaganda at the expense of U.S. national security. Lead House impeachment manager Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) warned in a remarkable Senate-floor appeal that Trump would remain an “imminent threat” to American democracy if he stays in power. Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

Highlights of Friday’s trial are provided by Eileen Sullivan at the New York Times.

The White House team on Saturday offered a brief two-hour preview of its defense against the two articles of impeachment. Trump’s legal defense team sought to cast doubt on Democrats’ case that president tried to pressure Ukraine into investigating Biden, accusing Democrats of seeking to overturn the result of the 2016 election and charging that central witnesses who testified before the House did not have firsthand knowledge of the discussions around the decision to hold up the Ukraine aid. Elise Viebeck, Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade report at the Washington Post.

Trump’s defense team will resume its case today and the question of subpoenaing more documents and calling new witnesses will come up again after arguments from both sides and questions from senators. If a motion to call additional witnesses is defeated, the Senate could move swiftly to its vote on whether to remove or acquit Trump. AP reporting.

Key takeaways from Trump’s defense’s opening arguments are provided by Daniel Strauss at The Guardian.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

An analysis of how the purported revelations from former national security adviser John Bolton might impact on this week’s vote on witnesses and documents in President Trump’s impeachment trial is provided by Paul LeBlanc and Zachary B. Wolf at CNN.

Five takeaways on Trump and Ukraine from Bolton’s unpublished book are provided by Noel Weiland at the New York Times.

If hearsay issues in the trial are to be governed by the Federal Rules of Evidence, most of the House record will not be affected, Jonah B. Gelbach comments at Just Security, explaining that a lot of key evidence either is not hearsay at all or would be admissible anyway.

Four significant questions related to Ukraine and the actors involved in Trump’s efforts there raised by the newly released recording of Trump and Lev Parnas are provided by Philip Bump at the Washington Post.

The recording shows “just how alive and well special-interest access and influence remains in Washington,” Kenneth P. Vogel and Eric Lipton write in an analysis at the New York Times.

The president’s team’s claims about the Impeachment Clause are “brazenly wrong,” leading scholar on the history of impeachment and the author of a recent book on the topic, Frank O. Bowman, III, writes in a scathing critique of the Alan Dershowitz argument featured in the White House trial brief at Just Security.

A fact-checker on the opening statements from Trumps legal team is provided by Tara Subramaniam, Marshall Cohen, Holmes Lybrand, Daniel Dale and Kevin Liptak at CNN.

An explainer on the legal limits of executive privilege, as Republican senators are increasingly arguing that the Senate should not call witnesses or subpoena documents for Trump’s impeachment trial, is provided by Charlie Savage at the New York Times, who notes that “it is far from clear that Trump has the power to gag or delay a witness who is willing to comply with a subpoena and tell the Senate what he knows about the president’s interactions with Ukraine anyway — as … Bolton has said he would do.”

IRAN

President Trump responded to reports that Iran would like U.S. sanctions to be removed before any talks by saying “No Thanks!” The president posted a message on Twitter in English and later in Farsi on Saturday that U.S. sanctions would not be lifted after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif appeared open during an interview to negotiations if the sanctions were removed. Justine Coleman reports at the Hill.

Zarif shot back soon after, saying Trump “is better advised to base his foreign policy comments & decisions on facts, rather than @FoxNews headlines or his Farsi translators.” Al Jazeera reporting.

An Iranian official said Saturday that the country’s nuclear agency now has the capacity to enrich uranium at any percentage if leaders in Tehran give the go ahead. “At the moment, if [Iranian authorities] make the decision, the Atomic Energy Organization, as the executor, will be able to enrich uranium at any percentage,” the agency’s deputy head, Ali Asghar Zarean, said in a post on its website. Reuters reporting.

Washington’s campaign of maximum pressure could bring Tehran to the negotiating table, Richard Goldberg argues at the New York Times.

“As the United States expands its sanctions, Iran has been ramping up its use of cryptocurrencies to get around them,” Tanvi Ratna comments at Foreign Policy.

IRAQ

Twelve people were killed and 230 others were injured in protests in Iraq over the last three days, the Independent High Commission for Human Rights of Iraq said yesterday, as Iraqi security forces continue to clash with anti-government demonstrators. Nine protesters were killed in the capital Baghdad and three more in the southern city of Nasiriyah, according to the statement. Mohammed Tawfeeq and Raja Razek report at CNN.

Three rockets struck the U.S. embassy in Baghdad yesterday, wounding at least one person. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted a dining area and marked a dangerous escalation in the spell of rocket attacks in recent months. AFP reporting.

The Pentagon said Friday that 34 U.S. service members sustained traumatic brain injuries from Iran’s retaliatory missile strikes earlier this month on Iraqi bases that house U.S. forces, a number higher than the military had previously announced. Half of the troops identified remained in Iraq and have returned to active duty, while the other 17 are under medical observation in Germany and America, chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon, just days after President Trump downplayed the injuries as “headaches.” Nancy A. Youssef reports at the Wall Street Journal.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghan forces launched ground attacks and air strikes in multiple operations against the Taliban over the weekend, killing 51 fighters in an escalation that indicated renewed stalemate in peace talks. Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry said yesterday that government forces had carried out 13 ground offensives and 12 air strikes in nine provinces, adding that 51 “terrorists” had been killed, 13 injured and six arrested. Reuters reporting.

The Taliban expressed anger with what they describe as “additional U.S. demands” in peace talks — even after they had put forward a “reduction of violence.” In a wordy commentary published on their website, the insurgents did not explain the new Washington demands. Amnesty International said in a statement Friday that the group’s gesture of “reduction of violence” was an “absurdity.” AP reporting.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Palestinian leaders threatened yesterday to withdraw from the Oslo Accords signed with Israel if President Trump unveils his Middle East peace plan this week. Trump was scheduled to disclose his long-delayed proposal in advance of his meeting in Washington tomorrow with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinian leadership was not invited to the talks and has rejected Trump’s initiative, AFP reporting.

Netanyahu said he aims to “make history” during his upcoming trip to the White House. In a speech to his cabinet before departing for the U.S., the Israeli prime minister described the current situation, characterized by close connections with Trump, as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that Israel should “not miss.” The president’s plan is expected to be extremely beneficial to Israel, The Guardian reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Heavy fighting has erupted in Libya, killing at least three people and wounding two dozen others as forces from Libya’s two rival governments fight, further wearing down a crumbling ceasefire brokered earlier this month. Al Jazeera reporting.

A critical North Korean missile research center has seen a flurry of vehicle activity in recent days, according to U.S. officials, citing satellite imagery. The vehicles are not believed to be fueling missiles, but the “activities are consistent with what we’ve seen prior to other missile tests,” a senior U.S. official said. Barbara Starr and Zachary Cohen report at CNN.

U.S. state attorneys general will meet Justice Department (D.O.J.) lawyers next week to share information on their investigations into Google, a move that could eventually lead to both groups combining forces, according to two sources familiar with the matter. The probes center on monopolistic behavior that may hurt consumers, John D. McKinnon, Ryan Tracy and Brent Kendall report at the Wall Street Journal. 

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).