The Early Edition: January 28, 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

President Trump’s legal team resumed its defense of the president yesterday, focusing its eight-hour presentation on attacking the House impeachment managers’ case and going after former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump attorneys Pam Bondi and Eric Herschmann stressed that the president’s request that Ukraine investigate the Bidens was motivated by concerns about corruption in Ukraine, charging Trump was serving the U.S. national interest  and describing what they said was significant evidence of corruption that merited the probes. John Wagner, Elise Viebeck, Brittany Shammas and Mike DeBonis report at the Washington Post.

Senators also heard from a long list of conservative lawyers, including Ken Starr and Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz, who argued on behalf of Trump against the constitutionality of Democrats’ impeachment case. Dershowitz wrapped up Trump’s defense by arguing that both of Democrats’ articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — are not legitimate impeachable offenses. Sharon LaFraniere reports at the New York Times.

The president’s defense largely ignored the weekend revelations outlined by former national security adviser John Bolton in his forthcoming book, which claims that Trump told him last August that he wanted to continue a freeze on nearly $400 million of military aid to Ukraine until officials there agreed to investigate Biden, one of Trump’s potential presidential Democratic rivals. “We deal with publicly available information,” Trump defense attorney Jay Sekulow said as the trial got started, without mentioning Bolton. “We do not deal with speculation, allegations that are not based on evidentiary standards at all.” Jeremy Herb, Manu Raju, Lauren Fox and Betsy Klein report at CNN.

Dershowitz argued that even if Bolton’s accusations against Trump are true, they would not justify the president’s removal from office. “Nothing in the Bolton revelations — even if true — would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense,” the constitutional law scholar said during opening arguments yesterday. “You cannot turn conduct that is not impeachable into impeachable conduct simply by using words like ‘quid pro quo’ and ‘personal benefit,’” Dershowitz added. Rebecca Shabad reports at NBC News.

Calls for witnesses intensified, and two Republican senators — Mitt Romney (Utah) and Susan Collins (Maine) — indicated they would consider voting with Democrats to allow new witnesses to testify at the trial. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she was “still curious” about Bolton’s testimony. At least four Republicans would need to support Democrats’ call for testimony for such a measure to pass, Burgess Everett, Marianne Levine and John Bresnahan report at POLITICO.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) has proposed a ‘one-for-one’ witness deal that would see G.O.P. senators summoning just two witnesses to Trump’s impeachment trial, with one called by Republicans and one by Democrats, according to three Republican officials. Toomey has discussed the plan with several colleagues in recent days, arguing that such an arrangement could compel Democrats to accept a Republican witness against their wishes or else risk having Republicans move ahead to acquit Trump, the officials said. Robert Costa reports at the Washington Post.

The trial will reconvene today at 1:00 p.m., and Trump’s legal team will conclude their arguments by the day’s end.  Senators are expected to submit written questions to the prosecution and defense later in the week before a vote on whether to call new witnesses or admit new documents. NBC News reporting.

Four key takeaways from the second day of opening arguments by Trump’s defense at his impeachment trial are provided by Amber Phillips at the Washington Post.

Highlights from yesterday’s trial are provided by Eileen Sullivan at the New York Times.

A roundup of key moments is provided by reporters at POLITICO.

Bolton told Attorney General William Barr he had concerns about Trump giving favors to the leaders of Turkey and China, according to a manuscript of his forthcoming book. Barr, according to Bolton’s account, responded that he was worried that Trump gave off the impression that he had influence over independent Justice Department investigations involving companies based in those two countries during personal conversations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman report at the New York Times.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

An in-depth look at how disclosure about the Ukraine scandal from former national security adviser John Bolton pokes holes in the defense Trump’s team is currently presenting is provided by CNN’s Marshall Cohen.

Four key facts Trump’s attorney omitted from her arguments about Joe Biden and Ukrainian gas firm Burisma are highlighted by Daniel Dale at CNN.

“Scant precedent and gaps in written procedures make the rules for calling witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial debatable,” Charlie Savage notes at the New York Times, writing, “it is not clear whether or how many Republican senators would have to be willing to break partisan ranks and vote with Democrats to call witnesses.”

Chief Justice Roberts, as the presiding officer, has unilateral power to subpoena witnesses because a clause in the 1986-era rules for impeachment trials says presiding officers may issue orders on their own, legal experts Neal K. Katyal, Joshua A. Geltzer and Mickey Edwards write in an opinion article at the New York Times.

A complementary piece on how Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase navigated the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, which suggests how Roberts can more actively manage the question of whether to issue subpoenas to witnesses, is published by historian Aaron Astor at Just Security.

Trump’s tweets about the forthcoming book by Bolton demolish his claim of executive privilege, Barbara McQuade writes at the Washington Post.

Four solid reasons why executive privilege cannot block John Bolton’s testimony are outlined at Just Security by Harold Hongju Koh, Rosa Hayes, Annie Himes, Dana Khabbaz, Michael Loughlin and Mark Stevens.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has withdrawn his bid for immunity from prosecution on corruption charges, just minutes before Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, was set to convene a committee expected to strip it from him. Israel’s attorney general has now submitted the indictments against Netanyahu — for bribery, breach of trust and fraud — to the Jerusalem district court, paving the way for a trial to begin. Axios reporting.

President Trump is set to unveil his long-awaited Middle East peace plan at the White House today at noon after meeting yesterday with Netanyahu and his chief rival, Benny Gantz. Though details of the plan remain unknown, reports have speculated Trump’s proposal, developed under the oversight of the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is overwhelmingly biased toward Israel and could include the possible annexation of large pieces of territory that the Palestinians seek for a future independent state. Felicia Schwartz And Michael R. Gordon report at the Wall Street Journal.

Palestinian leaders have already rejected Trump’s plan, denouncing it as an effort to “finish of the Palestinian cause.” “We reject it and we demand the international community not be a partner to it because it contradicts the basics of international law and inalienable Palestinian rights,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said yesterday. Justine Coleman reports at the Hill.

Analysts are skeptical about the timing of the peace plan, Joshua Mitnick reports at Foreign Policy.

IRAN

New imagery from commercial satellites suggest Iran is preparing to a launch a satellite into space after three major failures last year, the latest for a program which the U.S. claims helps Tehran develop intercontinental ballistic missile technologies. Satellite images from San Francisco-based firm Planet that have been annotated by experts at Middlebury Institute of International Studies shows work at a launchpad at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in northern Iran. Geoff Brumfiel reports at NPR.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for unity ahead of Iran’s parliamentary elections yesterday, accusing the U.S. of attempting to sow discord within the country. “We should not let [President] Trump succeed in creating gaps between the establishment and people. … we should remain united. … don’t turn your back on elections … let’s have a high turnout,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on his official website. Reuters reporting.

AFGHANISTAN

The U.S. military has confirmed one of its aircrafts crashed in Taliban-controlled territory in the eastern Afghan province of Ghazni yesterday, but disputed allegations that the plane had been brought down intentionally. “While the cause of crash is under investigation, there are no indications the crash was caused by enemy fire,” spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan Colonel Sonny Leggett said in a statement. Al Jazeera reporting.

At least 11 Afghan police officers were killed today after Taliban fighters stormed a police base in northern Baghlan province, local government officials said. The militants first overran a checkpoint near the base late yesterday, and were apparently able to breach the compound with ease because a “sympathetic” policeman opened a door for them. AP reporting.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

A narrowly divided Supreme Court yesterday allowed the Trump administration to begin implementing a rule making it more difficult for low-income immigrants seeking to come to or trying to remain legally in the United States. Pete Williams reports at NBC News.

“The quiet successor to Trump’s fiery former national security advisor couldn’t be more different,” Lara Seligman explores the contrasts between John Bolton and his successor, Robert O’Brien, at Foreign Policy. 

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).