The Early Edition: February 4, 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 House impeachment managers and President Trump’s legal defense team presented their closing arguments to the Senate yesterday, wrapping up the president’s impeachment trial and setting the stage for his likely acquittal tomorrow. Elise Viebeck, Mike DeBonis and Robert Costa reporting for the Washington Post.

Lead House manager Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) made a forceful and personal appeal for conviction, calling Trump a man with no moral compass who must be removed to protect American democracy. “You can’t trust this president to do the right thing, not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country,” Schiff said in a speech on the Senate floor. The lawmaker told the 100 senators who will decide Trump’s fate that the founders of the United States “gave you a remedy and they meant for you to use it,” arguing that history will judge them poorly if they vote to acquit. Nicholas Fandos and Catie Edmondson reporting for the New York Times.

Schiff appealed to the Republican senators who had signaled an open mind to the case — acknowledging the House managers were unlikely to hit the high bar needed to remove the president from office and imploring at least for a symbolically bipartisan vote to convict. “Every single vote, even a single vote by a single member can change the course of history … it is said that a single man or woman of courage makes a majority … is there one among you who will say, ‘Enough?’” Schiff asked. Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney reporting for POLITICO.

Trump’s defense team hit back that Democrats were trying to undermine two elections. White House counsel Pat Cipollone argued that Trump has done “nothing wrong” and told senators to “leave it to the voters.” Cipollone portrayed Democrats’ pursuit of impeachment as purely “political” and called for an end to the partisan “era of impeachment.”  Natalie Andrews reporting for the Wall Street Journal.

Mike Purpura, a deputy White House counsel, denied a quid pro quo in Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The lawyer noted comments from Zelensky that he never felt any pressure to probe the Bidens, ignoring testimony and other evidence which pointed toward a pressure campaign. Dareh Gregorian reporting for NBC News.

In an interview yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats had compelled Republicans to do what Trump never has: Admit that he was wrong to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents. “I think that we have pulled back a veil of behavior totally unacceptable to our founders, and that the public will see this with a clearer eye, an unblurred eye,” she said, adding: “Whatever happens, he has been impeached forever … and now these senators, though they don’t have the courage to assign the appropriate penalty, at least are recognizing that he did something wrong.” Sheryl Gay Stolberg reporting for the New York Times.

With the trial now in recess, senators have a chance to speak during floor sessions, with 10 minutes allotted to each of them to make their own statements about why they intend to vote for or against Trump’s conviction. The sessions began yesterday afternoon, and will continue this morning and tomorrow. Jeremy Herb reporting for CNN.

The Senate will vote at 4:00 p.m. tomorrow on the two charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Trump will almost certainly be acquitted as Democrats do not have the 67-vote majority needed under the Constitution to convict him. Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon reporting for Foreign Policy.

A handful of senators in both parties have still not said whether they will vote to convict or acquit the President on the two articles of impeachment. POLITICO’s Burgess Everett takes a look at the five senators whose votes will determine “whether Trump gets a bipartisan acquittal, a bipartisan condemnation — or, perhaps, both.”

The Department of Justice (D.O.J.) has released a further 300 pages of notes from key witness interviews in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the 2016 Trump campaign. The documents, released yesterday to CNN and BuzzFeed News in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, include memos from senior administration and campaign witnesses such as Jared Kushner, Andrew McCabe, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen and Steve Bannon. Katelyn Polantz, Marshall Cohen, Sara Murray, Kara Scannell and Em Steck reporting for CNN.

TRUMP AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

5 key takeaways from yesterday’s Senate impeachment trial are provided by Eileen Sullivan at the New York Times.

In blocking witnesses like John Bolton from testifying in Trump’s impeachment trial, Senate Republicans showed serious contempt for the public’s right to make an informed decision about Trump’s misconduct — and how they might vote in the November 2020 elections, Just Securitys co-editor-in-chief Ryan Goodman comments, explaining why the Senate vote was so profoundly anti-democratic.

“A hallmark of presidential democracy … is that it is difficult to remove the chief executive before his or her elected term expires,” Charles Lane argues at the Washington Post, commenting that Trump’s impending acquittal is not a sign of constitutional failure, but regrettably shows that the Constitution is working.

If Republican Senators justify acquittal on the basis of a rejection of the House Managers’ facts, this will be damaging to the White House down the line, Ryan Goodman and Danielle Schulkin warn at Just Security, noting, this approach “provides incentives for media outlets to continue to investigate this space, for the House to continue to oversee the matter after the Senate votes, and for political opponents competing for these Senate seats to continue to press the issue.”

“Democrats should put forward a censure resolution saying that the extortion of Ukraine’s president was ‘inappropriate.’” The Washington Post editorial board explores ways the Senate can still hold Trump accountable.

Alan Dershowitz, one of the attorneys defending the president, clarifies the thrust of his “distorted” opening presentation in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, arguing that Democrats’ “false narrative of impeachment could set a dangerous precedent.”

SYRIA-TURKEY

Turkey launched multiple attacks on Syrian troops yesterday after eight of its military personnel were killed in Syrian shelling in the north of the war-torn country. Turkey’s strikes marked a rare confrontation between Turkey and the Syrian regime and threatened to upend Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fragile security pact with Damascus’s main ally, Russia. Kareem Fahim and Sarah Dadouch reporting for the Washington Post.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said the retaliatory airstrikes had “neutralized” 76 Syrian government soldiers — a term the Turkish military usually uses to describe combatants who have been killed, captured or injured. Syrian state media denied its forces suffered any casualties. The BBC reporting.

IRAN

Iran has ceased co-operation with Ukraine in its investigation into the downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet by Iranian missiles last month after leaked remarks suggest Iran knew immediately that it had struck the plane. The audio recording, broadcast on a Ukraine channel late Sunday, included an exchange between an Iranian air traffic controller and a pilot who said he witnessed a missile hit the airliner on Jan. 8. The plane crash killed all 176 people on board, Erin Cunningham and Isabelle Khurshudyan reporting for the Washington Post.

“Flares on route, as if from a missile,” the pilot said to the controller, according to the transcript. The controller responded that the tower was not aware of any missile activity in the area; “That surely is the light from a missile,” the pilot replied. Andrew E. Kramer reporting for the New York Times.

Iran is preparing to a launch a satellite into space this week after three major failures last year, the latest for a program that the U.S. claims helps Tehran develop intercontinental ballistic missile technologies. Reuters reporting.

An Iranian man convicted of spying for the C.I.A. and trying to share details of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program will be executed in the near future, authorities said today. Reuters reporting.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have grown increasingly angry at White House resistance over plans to immediately annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank as envisioned in President’s Trump Middle East peace plan, with their frustration concentrated in particular on presidential adviser Jared Kushner, according to Israeli media reports. Sources among Israeli settler groups and within the prime minister’s circle, blame Kushner for a divide in the administration, painting U.S. Ambassador David Friedman as more willing to see Israel annex the settlements expeditiously and Kushner pushing back on fast action. Steve Hendrix and Ruth Eglash reporting for the Washington Post.

“U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has become, under Trump, a byproduct of a self-serving alliance between two populist leaders who are now under duress and suspicion in their own countries,” Avner Cohen and Jason Blazakis argue at Foreign Policy, warning that the current Trump-Netanyahu bond is endangering both American and Israeli citizens.

LIBYA

Representatives of the warring parties in Libya began meeting in Geneva yesterday in a U.N.-sponsored joint military commission, the world governing body said. Five senior officers appointed by the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (G.N.A.) and five appointed by renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar are taking part in the talks which are aimed at securing a ceasefire after 10 months of fighting on outskirts of Tripoli, the statement said. Al Jazeera reporting.

The U.N.’s special representative for Libya said he is hopeful that the discussions will lead to an accord that can persuade foreign powers to stop pouring in weapons and violating an international arms embargo. AP reporting.

A roundup of notable national security developments at the United Nations last week, including the breach of a U.N. Security Council arms embargo in Libya, is provided by Jared LeBrun at Just Security.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Islamic State (ISIS) extremists have stepped up their attacks in Syria and Iraq following their territorial losses in both countries and are plotting for the escape of their fighters in detention facilities, U.N. experts said in a new report. The panel of experts said in the report to the U.N. Security Council that the militant group is also capitalizing on weaknesses in security in both countries. AP reporting.

The case of an Iraqi professor who fled as Saddam Hussein’s defeated security forces sought revenge highlights the U.S. misuse of an exclusion to refugee status that harms innocent asylum seekers, Niku Jafarnia writes at Just Security. 

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).