The Early Edition: February 3, 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 voted on Friday against allowing new witnesses and evidence in President Trump’s impeachment trial, paving the way for Trump’s almost certain acquittal this week. The resolution failed 51-49, with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) joining Democrats’ drive to hear testimony from witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton, who is thought to have first-hand knowledge of Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon report at Foreign Policy.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the trial was a “sham” and a “tragedy.” “To not allow a witness, a document — no witnesses, no documents — in an impeachment trial is a perfidy,” Schumer said after the vote. “America will remember this day, unfortunately, where the Senate did not live up to its responsibilities.” The House managers criticized Republicans who voted against witnesses as having set “a dangerous precedent that will have long-lasting repercussions for the United States Congress, the balance of powers, and our democracy as a whole.” Dartunorro Clark reporting for NBC News.

Lead House manager Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) refused yesterday to say whether the House will issue a subpoena to Bolton, saying only that “the truth will come out” in one form or another. Alison Main and Devan Cole report at CNN.

In the hours before the vote, new revelations dropped showing that Trump had a direct role in the Ukraine pressure campaign earlier than previously known, and top White House advisers were aware of it. On Friday, the New York Times reported new details from Bolton’s upcoming book, in which he describes how he was asked by Trump last May during an Oval Office meeting to assist in efforts to pressure Ukraine to dig up potentially damaging information on the president’s political rivals. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who has led the president’s defense during the impeachment trial, were also in on the meeting, Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt report at the New York Times.

The Justice Department revealed in a court filing around midnight Friday the existence of 24 emails related to Trump’s hold on nearly $400 military assistance to Ukraine that could have shed light on the president’s reasons for the freeze a revelation that came just hours after senators voted against hearing new evidence. A lawyer in the White House Office of Management and Budget (O.M.B.) wrote to the court that the two dozen emails between June and September 2019 should stay confidential because the emails describe “communications by either the President, the Vice President, or the President’s immediate advisors regarding Presidential decision-making about the scope, duration, and purpose of the hold on military assistance to Ukraine.” The filing is in response to a freedom of information request for documents related to the Ukraine aid. Andrew Desiderio reports at POLITICO.

A growing number of Republicans have acknowledged that Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine was “wrong” — but they argue that it doesn’t merit his removal, Felicia Sonmez and Rachael Bade report at the Washington Post.

“The impending judgment that the president’s actions do not warrant his removal from office serves as a testament to Washington’s extraordinary partisan divide and to Trump’s uncontested hold on the Republican base … the expected acquittal also has profound and long-term ramifications for America’s institutions and the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches, according to numerous historians and legal experts,” Philip Rucker writes at the Washington Post.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the impeachment trial, made clear Friday night that he has no intention of getting involved in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial by casting a tie-breaking vote. A chief justice had previously settled Senate deadlock in an impeachment trial — back in 1868 — Schumer noted. Dan Berman reporting for CNN.

Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Collins and Romney have been the critical swing votes to help shape Trump’s trial, and they have been in “constant communication” for weeks — but on the matter of witnesses — the issue that was most in question during the contentious proceedings — the group was divided. POLITICO’s Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine take a look at how the moderate G.O.P. senators voted on bringing in new witnesses.

An account of how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and enough Senate Republicans blocked witnesses from entering Trump’s trial, based on interviews with 13 senators and other officials familiar with the talks, is provided by Seung Min Kim and Rachael Bade at the Washington Post.

Unlike the last president to be acquitted, Trump is expected to claim vindication and continue to proclaim his innocence, people close to the President said. Jeremy Diamond and Kristen Holmes report at CNN.

Trump’s impeachment trial resumes today at 11 a.m. with closing arguments, and senators will have a chance to give floor speeches tomorrow. The final vote, on whether to remove Trump from office, is set for Wednesday afternoon,  according to a bipartisan resolution negotiated by party leaders. John Bresnahan, Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine report at POLITICO.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Key takeaways from Friday’s impeachment trial are provided by Eileen Sullivan at the New York Times.

“The fact that Bolton’s book is in the hands of [government] censors does not mean that Bolton could not share his story with the public now, if he wanted to,” Jameel Jaffer and Ramya Krishnan explore the options available to the former national security adviser at Just Security.

President Trump’s corrupt scheme to persuade Ukraine’s leaders to slander a political rival did not succeed — but U.S. senators appear to be doing the job instead, the Washington Post editorial board comments.

“In ducking [impeachment that provided for Trump’s exit] the Republican party must ask itself when it would be prepared to turn against their norm-violating president,” The Guardian editorial argues.

A look at how each senator voted on a measure to consider calling new witnesses and evidence in Trump’s impeachment trial is fielded by the New York Times.

SYRIA-TURKEY RELATIONS

Turkey today struck dozens of Syrian targets in the country’s north after four Turkish soldiers were killed and nine wounded by Syrian government shelling, in an intensification of fighting in Idlib, the last major Syrian rebel stronghold. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan pledged that Turkey will continue to retaliate against attacks on its forces and said, without offering evidence, that there were between 30 and 35 casualties on the Syrian side. AP reporting.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has urged an immediate ending to hostilities in northwest Syria, expressing “deep concern” about the ongoing military operation in the region, according to a statement issued Saturday by his spokesperson. The U.N. News Centre reports.

IRAN

The European Union (E.U.)’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell is visiting Iran, his first trip since taking office in December, in an effort “to de-escalate tensions [over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program] and seek opportunities for political solutions to the current crisis,” according to a statement by his office. During his two-day trip that began today, Borrell will meet President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, the statement said. Al Jazeera reports.

Iran’s military is no longer on an enhance war footing, but the U.S. continues to brace for further retaliation, one month after the U.S. strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a senior military official said yesterday. Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie Jr., who heads U.S. Central Command, said Iran had “de-escalated” its ballistic missile force and returned its air defense forces to a “normal state of readiness” following its retaliatory attack on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq. McKenzie said Iran’s maritime forces likewise had shown a “fairly normal” level of activity in recent weeks. Missy Ryan reports at the Washington Post.

Did Iran use civilian passengers as human shields? In a powerful analysis at Just Security, Adil Ahmad Haque writes that Iran failed to take passive precautions to protect civilians under its control, “with the [criminal] intent that those civilians shield military targets from attack,” violating the law of armed conflict.

IRAQ

Iraqi President Barham Salih appointed Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi as the new prime minister Saturday, ending more than two months of political deadlock that set off widespread protests. Demonstrators in Iraq criticized the designation, calling Allawi Iran’s choice and saying he is “little different” from the predecessor they forced to step down. Isabel Coles reports at the Wall Street Journal.

For over 18 years, the “forever war” on terrorism has been used as the basis for an ever-expanding range of military actions — and many Americans are now calling for an end to the U.S.’s involvement in such wars, Edward Wong writes in an analysis at the New York Times.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Saturday a cut of all ties with Israel and the U.S., including security cooperation, following the introduction earlier in the week of President Trump’s Middle East peace plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We’ve informed the Israeli side … that there will be no relations at all with them and the United States including security ties,” Abbas told a group of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo that has backed the Palestinians’ rejection of the U.S. proposal. AP reporting.

If implemented, experts say the White House plan would breach international law prohibitions against annexation and the crime of apartheid. It would further violate the principle of self-determination, a core value of international law, Mia Swart reports at Al Jazeera. 

“It may be years before the likely truth emerges: that Trump has done more damage to Israel than any president before him,” Jackson Diehl argues at the Washington Post, commenting, Trump’s “fervent embrace of Netanyahu and his annexationist agenda” is weakening U.S. support for the Jewish state.

AFGHANISTAN

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today requested “demonstrable evidence” from the Taliban that they can and will cut violence before signing a deal that would lead to Afghanistan peace talks and a withdrawal of American troops from the country. Speaking at a news conference in neighboring Uzbekistan, Pompeo said a deal is near but that they have come close before and failed because the Taliban was unable to show seriousness. AP reporting.

“Despite a concerted bombing campaign and American and Afghan offensive ground operations, the number of attacks in 2019 show Taliban fighters are still able to attack at levels similar to those a decade ago,” Thomas Gibbons-Neff reports at the New York Times, highlighting the limits of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

AL-QAEDA  

U.S. officials believe they killed the leader of al-Qaeda’s branch last week in Yemen using a drone strike after months of tracking him. According to three current and former American officials, the administration is confident that the al-Qaeda leader, Qassim al-Rimi, was killed in a January airstrike in Yemen but has not yet confirmed the death. President Trump highlighted reports of al-Rimi’s death on Saturday, sharing a message on Twitter from a reporter and a member of a group that tracks terrorists online who had posted about al-Rimi’s apparent killing. Rukmini Callimachi, Eric Schmitt and Julian E. Barnes report at the New York Times.

Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen claimed yesterday that it ordered a Saudi military officer to carry out the Dec. 6 attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola, according to S.I.T.E., a group that tracks jihadist media. The group offered no evidence that it had trained the shooter, Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, but provided a copy of his will that suggested he had been in contact with Al Qaeda. Declan Walsh reports at the New York Times.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The administration on Friday expanded President Trump’s contentious travel ban to include six new nations. Nigeria, Myanmar, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Tanzania will all face varying degrees of restrictions, Geneva Sands reports at CNN.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv last week, during Trump’s impeachment trial. Edward Wong at the New York Times provides an account of the trip. 

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).