Early Edition: January 26, 2021

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A curated guide to major national security news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news.

FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP

House impeachment managers yesterday walked over the article of impeachment of former President Trump to the Senate, officially kicking off the countdown to his second Senate impeachment trial, expected to start the week of Feb.8. Kristina Peterson and John McCormick reports for the Wall Street Journal.

House managers are thinking trial strategy — apparently, they plan to focus on what Trump said in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, what he said during a rally that day, as well as how his words were interpreted within the White House and beyond, according to people familiar with internal conversations. Managers are trawling evidence and are currently drawing up a detailed timeline, including footage from the conservative social media site Parler and other sites. “One item of particular interest … is a 10-minute video released Monday by Just Security … which shows how Trump’s words were heard and interpreted by those who ransacked the Capitol, according to the people familiar with the managers’ trial preparations.” Seung Min Kim, Tom Hamburger, Josh Dawsey and Karoun Demirjian report for the Washington Post.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will preside over Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial, after Chief Justice John Roberts, who under his constitutional duty presided over Trump’s first trial, pulled out. The Constitution states, “when the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside” — however, Trump is no longer president, so Roberts is not duty-bound. Joan Biskupic reports for CNN.

Democrats are undecided on whether to call witnesses for Trump’s impeachment trial  and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) must still finalize the detail and structure of the trial, which will include length of arguments, motions to call witnesses, and a possible motion to dismiss the trial at its outset. “Perhaps no procedure is more complicated than the question of witness testimony, with Democrats divided over whether witnesses are even necessary to prosecute the case against Trump, whose alleged conduct occurred mostly in public view. Senators from both parties also want the trial to be even swifter than Trump’s first trial, which lasted three weeks.” Andrew Desiderio and Marianne Levine report for POLITICO.

Schumer said yesterday night that the trial will be “relatively” quick, suggesting that not many witnesses are needed. Jordan Carney reports for The Hill.

Trump aides and allies are raising the pressure on GOP senators not to convict: “The message to wavering GOP senators is that anyone who votes to convict Trump is guaranteeing a tough primary challenge that could end their political career.” Jonathan Easley reports for The Hill.

Brian Jack, Trump’s former political director at the White House, reassured senators that Trump did not intend to start his own party but instead remain tied to the GOP, a reality that could make some senators think twice about voting to convict over fears that Trump could seek revenge in future primaries. Burgess Everett, Marianne Levine and Meridith McGraw reports for POLITICO.

Trump has started trial strategizing with Butch Bowers, the South Carolina lawyer who is expected to represent him; however, Trump is apparently struggling to find a full legal defense team, with some firms wary of the reputational damage and also not being paid. Jeff Zeleny and Manu Raju report for CNN.

Trump has established an Office of the Former President in Palm Beach County, Florida. Brett Samuels reports for The Hill.

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION

The Senate will today vote on Antony Blinken’s nomination to serve as President Biden’s secretary of State. Jordain Carney reports for The Hill.

The Senate yesterday confirmed, in an 84 to 15 vote, Janet Yellen as the new secretary of the Treasury Department. Jeff Stein and Rachel Siegel reports for the Washington Post.

OTHER US DEVELOPMENTS

Around 5,000 National Guard troops will remain in Washington DC until mid-March, acting Secretary of the Army John Whitley said in a press briefing on yesterday. 50,000 troops currently remain in the city, which is expected to reduce to 7,000 by the end of the week and 5,600 by mid-March, according to National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson. Over the next two weeks, 500 members will support the US Park Police and 550 members will support the Metropolitan Police Department. Another 5,000 will continue to support Capitol Police and 600 will support the Secret Service until mid-March, Whitley said. Ellie Kaufman reports for CNN.

The Justice Department’s inspector general yesterday opened an investigation into whether current or former department officials tried to use their positions in an effort to help Trump overturn the election result. The inquiry, led by Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz, comes after The Times reported that Trump tried to use department officials to challenge results, including considering ousting then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and replacing him with department lawyer Jeffrey Clark, a Trump loyalist. Katie Benner reports for the New York Times.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) yesterday agreed to allow a power-sharing deal to go ahead, after two Democrats confirmed they would not vote to end the legislative filibuster under dispute, ending a stalemate over how to organize the evenly split 50-50 Senate. By Manu Raju and Ted Barrett report for CNN

A prominent “Stop the Steal” activist who spoke at a pro-Trump rally Jan. 5 was arrested yesterday on charges of impeding police during riots at the Capitol. Brandon Straka, 44, of New York was arrested in Nebraska on a felony charge of interfering with police during civil disorder, as well as unlawful entry and disorderly conduct on restricted Capitol grounds. Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu report for the Washington Post.

Election technology company Dominion Voting Systems, which was the target of attacks by Trump and his allies during the election drama, has sued former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani for defamationafter he pushed the “Big Lie” about election fraud on numerous platforms. The company is seeking more than $1.3 billion in damages, the lawsuit revealed. Katelyn Polantz reports for CNN.

President Biden yesterday signed an executive order repealing the Trump administration’s ban on most transgender people serving in the military. Rebecca Kheel reports for The Hill.

135 unarmed Black people have been killed by US police since 2015: 75 percent of officers are White, 19 officers involved in the shootings had only served a short time on the force, and many had red flags on their record, found an investigation by NPR. Cheryl W. Thompson reports for NPR.

Former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley warned yesterday against Biden’s pledge to rejoin the UN’s Human Rights Council: “The UN Human Rights Council is a cesspool of political bias that makes a mockery of human rights. If Biden rejoins the council whose membership includes dictatorial regimes & some of the world’s worst human rights violators, it will fly in the face of our fight for human rights,” she said in a post on Twitter. John Bowden reports for The Hill.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) will not seek a third Senate term in 2022, stating: “It has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock.” he said in a statement. Burgess Everett and James Arkin report for POLITICO.

US-CHINA-TAIWAN RELATIONS

China will conduct military exercises in the South China Sea this week, with the country’s Maritime Safety Administration issuing a notice prohibiting all entry into a portion of the sea in the Gulf of Tonkin to the west of the Leizhou Peninsula in southwestern China between Jan. 27 and Jan. 30. The news comes after a group of US ships including the USS Theodore Roosevelt sailed into the South China Sea over the weekend to promote “freedom of the seas,” according to the US military. Al Jazeera reporting.

In a show of strength and military power, Taiwan sent air force jets rocketing into the sky today during a drill to simulate a war scenario, after Chinese warplane flew into the island’s airspace over the weekend. Yimou Lee reports for Reuters.

OTHER US RELATIONS

The Biden administration yesterday temporarily lifted some of the terrorism sanctions recently placed on Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebel group by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Treasury Department said it would exempt from sanctions some transactions involving the Houthis, although the license does not reverse Pompeo’s designation and does not apply to specific members of the group who have been otherwise sanctioned. “The exemption will expire Feb. 26, according to a statement from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announcing a general license for transactions that involve entities owned by the Iran-backed Houthis.” AP reporting.

The US has expanded its forces in Saudi Arabia, using a number of ports and airbases in the Kingdom’s western desert, which could be used in the event of a conflict with Iran, said Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, adding that new basing plans have given the United States additional flexibility in the region. Gordon Lubold reports for the Wall Street Journal.

President Biden will keep all options open as he considers how to respond to Russia’s detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki yesterday. Reuters reporting.

CORONAVIRUS

The novel coronavirus has infected over 25.29 million and now killed over 421,000 people in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Globally, there have been over 99.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 2.14 million deaths. Sergio Hernandez, Sean O’Key, Amanda Watts, Byron Manley and Henrik Pettersson report for CNN.

President Biden das extended a travel ban on Brazil, the UK, Ireland and 26 other European countries which was set to expire today, and has also added South Africa to the list of barred countries. Lori Aratani reports for the Washington Post.

Biden said he hopes the US will be able to ramp up its vaccine capacity to over 1.5 million shots per day. “I think we may be able to get that to 1.5 million [shots] a day, rather than 1 million a day. But we have to meet that goal of a million a day,” Biden told reporters shortly after signing an executive order tightening “Buy America” rules, adding, “We’re trying to get out a minimum of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days, and move in the direction where we’re well beyond that in the next 100 days, so we can get to the point where we reach herd immunity in a country of over 300 million people.” Nick Niedzwiadek reports for POLITICO.

A tracker for the number of people in the US who have received one dose of the vaccine is provided by the Washington Post.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the US is available at the New York Times.

US and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.

GLOBAL DEVELOPMENTS

The Canadian legislature’s lower chamber yesterday passed legislation calling for the far-right Proud Boys group to be classified as a terrorist entity, a post on Twitter by the House of Commons Chamber said. The legislation will now be considered by leadership in Ottawa, where a final decision will be made. Aris Folley reports for The Hill.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen led a delegation of officials in the country’s first official visit to Sudan after the two nations recently agreed to normalize relations. Al Jazeera reporting.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres yesterday called for coordinated international action to form an alliance against the growth and spread of neo-Nazism and white supremacy as well as the resurgence of xenophobia, anti-Semitism and hate speech. He also called for global action “to fight propaganda and disinformation.” AP reporting. 

About the Author(s)

Siven Watt

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK. Follow him on Twitter (@SivenWatt)