The Early Edition: January 30, 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 INVESTIGATION

Senators grilled both the House impeachment managers and President Trump’s defense team yesterday during the first of two question-and-answer sessions in Trump’s impeachment trial. The format, requiring Chief Justice John Roberts to read the senators’ written queries, set up clashes over Trump’s motives, the authority of Congress to call witnesses from the executive branch and the need – or not – for the former national security adviser John Bolton and potentially other witnesses to testify at the trial. The question of testimony from Bolton has been hanging over the trial since the revelation that he had alleged in a forthcoming book that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine to secure an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. Tom McCarthy reports at The Guardian.

Alan Dershowitz, one of the attorneys representing the president, made a stark claim of broad executive power — so broad that anything a president does to win re-election, he said, is inherently in the public’s interest, including a “quid pro quo.” Dershowitz make the stunning assertion in response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about what is considered standard practice for a president when conducting foreign policy. Erica Werner, Karoun Demirjian and Elise Viebeck report at the Washington Post.

The lead house manager, Rep. Adam Schiff, called Dershowitz’s new theory “very odd.” Schiff said that if the Senate adopted that position, it would give “carte blanche” for more foreign interference in the future. Dareh Gregorian reports at NBC News.

Democrats pushed hard to force the Senate to call more witnesses to testify at Trump’s impeachment trial, but Republicans, seeking a speedy acquittal, resisted Democratic efforts. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)  said procuring additional testimony would be an “uphill struggle,” suggesting White House pressure was working. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Michael D. Shear report at the New York Times.

The trial will reconvene today at 1 p.m., and senators will have another opportunity to ask questions of Trump’s defense team and the Democratic impeachment managers. Once the question-and-answer portion of the trial is complete, senators are expected to vote tomorrow on whether to hear new witnesses. POLITICO reporting.

“[Yesterday] marked a new phase of the impeachment inquiry, one more likely to reveal what Roberts believes it means for the chief justice of the United States to “preside” over an impeachment trial of the president … he displayed no inclination to play a more active role,” Robert Barnes writes at the Washington Post.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement yesterday that Bolton first told his panel in September to examine the ouster of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, and that he “strongly implied” that the diplomat’s removal was improper. Engel’s disclosure of the phone call — which he allegedly described to the House’s investigative committees last year appears timed to dial up pressure on Senate Republicans weighing whether to vote in favor of calling additional witnesses as part of the impeachment trial. Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney report at POLITICO.

The White House sent a letter to Bolton seeking to block publication of certain parts of his forthcoming book. The letter dated Jan. 23 from National Security Council (N.S.C.) senior director Ellen Knight said the manuscript based on a preliminary review appeared to contain “significant amounts of classified information” and could not be published without the deletion of this material. Jake Tapper reports at CNN.

Bolton’s lawyer Charles Cooper disputed the White House assessment that his book manuscript contains classified information and asked for a speedy review of a chapter relating to Ukraine in case the former national security adviser is called to testify in the Senate impeachment trial. “We do not believe that any of the information could reasonably be considered classified,” Cooper wrote in a Jan. 24 email in response to the letter from the N.S.C. a day earlier. Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey and Karen DeYoung report at the Washington Post. 

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“When the Q&A period … began, it rapidly became clear that we were unlikely to get any sort of thoughtful debate regarding the case at hand,” Chris Cillizza writes in an analysis at CNN.

“Trump’s impeachment lawyer Alan Dershowitz [yesterday] rolled out a novel and very Trumpian legal argument in his client’s defense: The President’s personal interest is the national interest when he’s up for reelection,” CNN’s Zachary B. Wolf writes in an analysis.

“Dershowitz is extending the president’s leeway to such a degree that it becomes hard to take seriously his claims,” Philip Bump comments at the Washington Post.

“Impeachment was meant to punish Trump’s unrestrained use of his authority, but the grounds on which Republican senators plan to acquit him may instead give him a green light to use his power however he wants to win reelection,” Stephen Collinson comments on Dershowitz’s new theory at CNN.

The implications of Republicans’ extraordinary claim are “frightening,” the Washington Post editorial board warns.

Dershowitz’s position runs counter to his own prior views, the views of almost all legal scholars, and the articles of impeachment voted against President Richard Nixon by the House Judiciary Committee, Elizabeth Holtzman argues at the Washington Post.

A collection of obituaries of every Republican who voted for or against Nixon’s articles of impeachment, giving insight into how this Senate’s historic votes — on whether to have a fair trial with witnesses and whether to acquit — will be remembered, is provided by Just Security’s Co-Editor-in-Chief Ryan Goodman.

Takeaways from yesterday’s session of Trump’s impeachment trial are provided by Eileen Sullivan at the New York Times.

The most significant questions and answers from yesterday’s session are fielded by Kyle Cheney, Andrew Desiderio and Darren Samuelsohn at POLITICO.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

The Israeli army beefed up its presence in the West Bank and near Gaza yesterday evening, as President Trump’s controversial Middle East peace plan sparked fury among Palestinians, with protests erupting in the West Bank and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. The proposal, seen as biased towards Israeli goals and drafted with no Palestinian input, gives the Jewish state U.S. approval to annex key parts of the occupied West Bank. AFP reporting.

Israel has delayed a move to annex large parts of the West Bank, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said yesterday, explaining that the cabinet vote has been put off for technical and procedural reasons. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pledging to quickly act on the Trump administration’s Mideast plan, had initially said the vote — on whether to apply Israeli sovereignty to most Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the strategic Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea — would take place on Sunday. AP reporting.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“U.S. policy for the Middle East cannot work because it requires the Palestinians to accept they are a defeated people,” Rashid Khalidi writes in an insightful piece at The Guardian.

“[President] Trump’s Middle East plan deprives the Palestinians of nearly everything they had been fighting for: East Jerusalem as their national capital, the removal of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, and territorial contiguity and control over their own borders and security that a sovereign state normally enjoys,” David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner write in an analysis at the New York Times, outlining the “few good options” remaining for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

“The White House initiative is a piece of political malware masquerading as a credible diplomatic initiative … the goal is not peace but the permanent normalization of Israel’s military rule over millions of Palestinians,” Khaled Elgindy comments at Foreign Policy.

“Trump’s … Israel policy is really about ticking off the wishlist of evangelical Protestant voters in the U.S., who may decide the outcome of November’s election,”David Gardner argues at the Financial Times, predicting, “there is not the remotest chance any Palestinian leadership could accept these terms of surrender.” 

“Trump … should urge Israel to demonstrate restraint [on annexation] so the plan has a chance,” Dennis Ross and David Makovsky propose at the Washington Post.

“Is the plan truly the antithesis of the international community’s longstanding approach to the conflict?”  Nathan Thrall at the New York Times argues that the administration’s proposal is “the natural culmination of decades of American policy.”

The KINGDOM

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) yesterday called on the F.B.I. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (D.N.I.) to investigate recent reports that Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos’s phone was hacked by Saudi Arabian officials. Murphy also requested that the intelligence agencies brief Congress on “all preliminary and final conclusions” involved in a potential probe into the alleged hacking incident. Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

The U.S. is expanding its troop and fighter jet presence in the Saudi Kingdom. The number of American soldiers there has increased to around 2,500 since last summer, AP reporting.

Saudi Arabia is using its Specialized Criminal Court — devised to counter terrorism — to suppress political dissent, Beth Van Schaack and Edward Crouse write at Just Security, noting, the prosecution of Salman Alodah, a reform-minded Saudi scholar, is “emblematic” of this trend.

AFGHANISTAN

The Pentagon yesterday identified the two airmen who died in a U.S. military plane crash in Afghanistan earlier this week. Lt. Col. Paul Voss was assigned to Headquarters Air Combat Command at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., while Capt. Ryan Phaneuf served on the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. Both were supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the military’s official designation for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, the Pentagon statement added. Caroline Kelly and Ryan Browne report at CNN.

Afghan forces rescued 62 hostages held by the Taliban at a compound in Bala Murghab, a district of Badghis province, in a successful Tuesday night operation, a U.S. defense official has confirmed. Maj. Sayed Rahimullah, the Afghan special forces commando who led the raid, said five Taliban fighters were taken into custody and at least eight were killed; the U.S. official however disputed that any Taliban fighters had been killed in the operation. Sharif Hassan and Susannah George report at the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Republicans are seething over a planned move by Democrats to consider Iran legislation alongside a commemorative coin bill, saying the floor maneuver is aimed at preventing amendments to the Democratic-backed measures curbing President Trump’s ability to wage war. Juliegrace Brufke reports at the Hill.

U.S. special operations forces — such as the Army’s Green Berets and the Navy SEALs — have developed a troubling culture that overemphasizes combat “to the detriment of leadership, discipline and accountability,” according to a wide-ranging review conducted by the military’s Special Operations Command. John Ismay reports at the New York Times.

The United Nations did not publicly disclose a major hacking attack into its databases in Europe – “a decision that potentially put staff, other organizations, and individuals at risk,” according to data protection advocates. The U.N. offices in Geneva and Vienna were infiltrated by hackers last year, according to classified documents. The New Humanitarian reporting. 

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).