With Mariana Alfaro
THE BIG IDEA: Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement this morning that the House will vote tomorrow on transmitting the two articles of impeachment to the Senate sets the stage for the trial of President Trump to begin this week.
Even presuming Trump’s acquittal, this process could still play out more unpredictably than you might think. After all, this is only the third time that the Senate has held such a presidential impeachment trial in the 232 years since the Constitution was ratified. In the Trump era, it also feels like a safe bet to always brace for chaos. The fact that Pelosi has refused until now to send over the articles that passed on Dec. 18 is a reminder of the imperative to expect the unexpected.
-- Two stories that broke overnight underscore the inherently unpredictable nature of a sprawling investigation that includes international intrigue and involves several state and non-state actors.
A cybersecurity firm released a report alleging that the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, successfully hacked into Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company that put Hunter Biden on the board of directors when Joe Biden was vice president. Democrats impeached Trump for abusing his power by allegedly pressuring Ukraine’s president to announce an investigation of that company in exchange for a meeting at the White House and the release of hundreds of million dollars in security assistance that Congress approved but the president froze in the hours after his July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky.
And Lev Parnas, one of Rudy Giuliani’s Soviet-born associates who says he was helping the president’s personal lawyer with his work in Ukraine until getting arrested as he tried to leave the United States with a one-way plane ticket, turned over thousands of pages of documents and text messages to House investigators, some of which his lawyer says could be relevant to the impeachment trial.
-- Against this backdrop, here are 10 known unknowns as the Senate trial looms:
1) What did the Russians get from Burisma?
Area 1 Security, a California cybersecurity company, said it discovered on New Year’s Eve that the GRU had launched a successful cyber “phishing” campaign against Burisma Holdings, as well as several subsidiaries and partners, so that hackers could gain access to internal email accounts. “It was not known what material the GRU gained access to, and if any of it will be released,” Ellen Nakashima reports. “The GRU also targeted a media organization founded by Zelensky, the firm said.” (Read Area 1’s eight-page report here.)
The GRU is the entity that hacked the servers of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta in 2016, releasing their emails that summer and fall at strategically inopportune times for the victims. If the Russian government releases hacked materials from Burisma, how will the media cover it and how would politicians react compared to four years ago? What if the Russians put out fabricated emails that look like they’re authentic but are intended only to sow disinformation about the son of a leading Democratic presidential candidate?
2) What did the Democrats get from Parnas?
Parnas’s attorney Joseph Bondy tweeted that he traveled to Washington over the weekend to deliver the contents of an iPhone 11 to Democratic staffers on the House Intelligence Committee. Bondy also said that Parnas has provided investigators with materials from a Samsung phone, and he added that material from an iPad and another iPhone will be shared. “After our trip to DC, we worked through the night providing a trove of Lev Parnas' WhatsApp messages, text messages & images—not under protective order—to [investigators], detailing interactions with a number of individuals relevant to the impeachment inquiry,” Bondy tweeted, adding the hashtags #LetLevSpeak and #LevRemembers.
Parnas's lawyer also posted this video with pictures of his client that featured the song “U Can’t Touch This,” by MC Hammer:
The Wall Street Journal reports that the messages include exchanges not just between Parnas and Giuliani but also messages that he exchanged with former Texas congressman Pete Sessions, current Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and former Hill columnist John Solomon. Giuliani, Parnas, Sessions and Solomon were all involved in the efforts to recall Marie Yovanovitch as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine to replace her with someone they thought would be more pliable.
Bondy said he expects at least some of what he provided will become public and/or shared with the Senate. He told Axios that the materials “aren’t helpful” to the president and added that his client, who is currently under house arrest, wants to testify before Congress.
3) Who will Pelosi pick as her impeachment floor managers?
The San Francisco Democrat did not name the floor managers during a closed-door meeting with her members this morning. These people will essentially perform the role of prosecutors during the Senate trial. It’s widely expected that Pelosi will pick House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), but there are other slots to be filled.
Some Democrats had been pushing for her to tap Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), for example, the Republican-turned-independent who voted for impeachment. But while he’d add a nonpartisan veneer to the process, he could also be less predictable than a Pelosi loyalist like Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who sits on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.
Just how close is Pelosi holding her cards to the vest? House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 in Democratic leadership, told reporters last night that even he doesn’t know whom she’ll pick. “Do I have some ideas? Yes. But I’m not going to share them,” the Marylander said. “Do I know all the names? No. By the end of the week, you’re going to know.”
4) Will the Senate vote on a motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment?
In a strategic shift, Trump called over the weekend for the charges against him to be promptly dismissed by the Senate as soon as they arrive instead of holding a trial. Top Senate Republicans rejected this idea yesterday, saying that they don’t have the votes locked down to do so and expressing concern that it would hurt the president and vulnerable lawmakers up for reelection this fall if it looks like the GOP is short-circuiting the process.
“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that he wants the trial … to follow the format used 21 years ago in the trial of President Bill Clinton. In that case, the Senate approved a resolution that would have allowed the Senate to vote to dismiss the charges. But senior Republicans signaled Monday that they are not inclined to include such a provision in the resolution that will kick off Trump’s trial,” Seung Min Kim, Mike DeBonis and Elise Viebeck report.
“Several closely watched Republican senators said Monday that they would reject immediate dismissal of the charges against Trump, including Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Susan Collins (Maine). … Chatter about dismissing the charges began to ramp up last week after Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced a measure to alter Senate rules to allow for dismissing articles of impeachment, but only if the House had failed to transmit them to the Senate within 25 calendar days. …
“A senior administration official … said the White House wants the dismissal option ‘available to the president’ and not necessarily tucked into the organizing resolution. The official also noted that a motion to dismiss could come later in the trial, once the senators have had ample time to digest opening arguments and ask questions. Any senator can move to dismiss the charges, as long as it is done in writing.”
5) How many Republican senators will vote to call witnesses?
“Senior White House officials … increasingly believe that at least four Republicans, and likely more, will vote to call witnesses,” CBS News reports. “In addition to Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, [Collins], [Romney] and possibly Cory Gardner of Colorado, the White House also views Rand Paul of Kentucky as a ‘wild card’ and [Alexander] as an ‘institutionalist’ who might vote to call witnesses, as one official put it.”
Collins told reporters she’s trying to ensure the process hews as closely as possible to what the Senate did for Clinton. Murkowski said she wants to make sure there’s an ability to get additional information, including witnesses, if the opening arguments don’t answer all her questions.
6) Does John Bolton testify?
The former national security adviser said last week that he would be willing to testify if he receives a Senate subpoena. At least four Republicans would need to join all the Democrats to vote for witnesses for this to happen.
Romney said yesterday that he plans to vote against early motions by Democrats to get witnesses before opening arguments, but he said he could vote to hear from witnesses later. “I presume I’ll be voting in favor of hearing from John Bolton, perhaps among others,” he told reporters yesterday. “That could change depending on what happens in the ensuing days and during those arguments, but I’m not going to be voting for witnesses prior to the opening arguments.”
A new Quinnipiac University poll finds that two-thirds of Americans want to see Bolton testify during the Senate trial. For context, the survey found that 51 percent of respondents approved of the House voting to impeach Trump.
7) How aggressively does Trump assert executive privilege?
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley suggested on Fox News this morning that the president’s lawyers would probably invoke executive privilege to limit testimony, especially from Bolton. “We’re happy for anyone to come forward and testify,” Gidley claimed. “There are obviously rules of executive privilege that past administrations have [claimed]. We will most likely do the same thing.”
8) If Bolton appears, do Republicans vote to compel Hunter Biden too?
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this morning that he “can’t imagine” a scenario where Bolton appears but Trump allies don’t try to call their own witnesses whose testimony would help the president. “I can just assure you and all your listeners that it will not be a one-sided proceeding where only the Democrats have a chance to even attempt to call witnesses,” Cotton told Hewitt.
Paul threatened last night to force a vote on calling the former vice president’s son if Democrats succeed in getting Bolton:
My colleagues can’t have it both ways. Calling for some, while blocking others. If we are going to give a platform to witnesses the Dems demand, I look forward to forcing votes to call Hunter Biden and many more! https://t.co/hrOzVyiG9x— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 14, 2020
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also held open the possibility that more witnesses can still be called:
Those claiming Senate GOP going to hold trial without witnesses is lying:— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 13, 2020
We are using same rules used in Clinton trial:
1. During INITIAL arguments will only consider testimony of witnesses used in House;
2. After initial phase Senate can hear additional witnesses if needed
9) Does Giuliani get his wish to defend Trump on the Senate floor?
The former New York mayor told reporters as he prepared to celebrate with the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s Eve that he’d love to try the case.
“Giuliani, whose dealings with Ukraine are a key facet of the impeachment case, has been lobbying the President to join his legal team on the Senate floor during his upcoming trial,” CNN reported yesterday. “Giuliani has pressed Trump to make him part of the team of lawyers who will argue the case, [according to] a White House official and two sources close to the President. Giuliani has argued that he knows the case against the President inside-out. The White House declined to comment. … Sources said they did not expect Giuliani to ultimately join the team and said Trump has been advised against tapping Giuliani because of his involvement in the key facts at the heart of the impeachment case against Trump.”
HuffPost reported that Giuliani “desperately” wants to appear on Trump’s behalf but that it’s very unlikely.
Appearing Saturday night on Fox News, Giuliani claimed that he would ask the Supreme Court to dismiss the case against Trump. This is not something they have constitutional standing to do, but the president approvingly tweeted the clip:
10) Could the State of the Union be postponed?
Trump is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 4. There is a precedent for this happening during an impeachment trial: Clinton delivered his State of the Union on the night of Jan. 19, 1999, after his lawyers spent that day defending the president in the Senate.
And Trump relishes this kind of showmanship. For example, his 2020 reelection campaign just announced a rally in Iowa on the Thursday night before the caucuses. It will take place at Drake University, which is also hosting tonight’s Democratic debate.
But some congressional Republicans are starting to suggest that maybe Trump should hold off until after his expected acquittal so that he could take a victory lap. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) accused Pelosi this morning of delaying the articles until now so that the “impeachment cloud hangs over the president during his State of the Union address.” The congressman said the president should “tell her he'll deliver the State of the Union only after our country clears the divisive impeachment hurdle.”
“It’s not just America watching the State of the Union each year,” Banks wrote on Twitter. “Tehran is watching. Hong Kong is watching. Taipei is watching. Each have made clear in the last year they want their cities & nations to look more like USA. Trump must deliver message of peace, strength & unity to freedom-loving peoples around the globe! Getting impeachment out of the way makes that message and State of the Union address stronger!”
-- Notable commentary from The Post’s opinion page:
- Dana Milbank: “Suddenly Trump has lost enthusiasm for his trial.”
- Michael McFaul: “Be prepared to fight a dangerous new wave of disinformation during the Senate trial.”
- Henry Olsen: “Nancy Pelosi gamed the impeachment trial brilliantly.”
- Jonathan Turley: “Is an attempt to abuse power as impeachable as actually doing it?”
- Eugene Robinson: “To lie or not to lie? The answer is easy for the GOP.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- “The National Security Agency recently discovered a major flaw in Microsoft’s Windows operating system — one that could potentially expose computer users to significant breaches or surveillance — and alerted the firm of the problem rather than turn it into a hacking weapon,” Ellen Nakashima reports. “The disclosure represents a major shift in the NSA’s approach, choosing to put computer security ahead of building up its arsenal of hacking tools that allow the agency to spy on adversaries’ networks … Microsoft plans to issue a patch for the flaw on Tuesday.”
-- Louisiana State University won an exhilarating national championship game over Clemson. Chuck Culpepper and Des Bieler report: “In becoming the second 15-0 team ever from college football’s top tier, following Clemson last year, LSU left even Clemson (14-1), that five-time College Football Playoff participant, four-time finalist and two-time champion with a 29-game win streak and a quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, who had never lost a college game, deluged in numbers. … LSU tore through Clemson as if it had not read Clemson’s astounding recent-years CV. It went 75 yards in five plays, 87 yards in six and 95 in 11 as its halftime lead reached 28-17. It beautified the field with a stream of breathtaking football plays, mainly [Joe] Burrow passes that traveled downfield and tucked themselves precisely into the right arms and guts.”
-- In other huge sports news: The Houston Astros fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow an hour after the MLB suspended them for a year for their roles in an extensive sign-stealing scheme. Dave Sheinin reports: “An investigation by MLB found the Astros used cameras and video monitors to steal the signs of opposing catchers at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, then signaled those signs to their hitters before pitches throughout the 2017 regular season and playoffs and at least part of the 2018 season. ... Commissioner Rob Manfred fined the team $5 million and took away its top two draft picks in both 2020 and 2021.”
-- Elizabeth Warren accused Bernie Sanders of telling her during a private dinner at her Washington condo last year that a woman couldn’t beat Trump. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed,” Warren said in a statement last night, confirming a CNN report that landed with maximum impact on the eve of the final debate before the Iowa caucuses. “I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common than our differences on punditry.”
Sanders said it’s ludicrous to suggest that he’d tell his colleague from Massachusetts that a woman couldn’t win at a dinner where she told him she planned to run. “What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could,” the Vermont senator said in a statement. “Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.”
“Two people with knowledge of the conversation at the 2018 dinner at Warren’s home told The Washington Post that Warren brought up the issue by asking Sanders whether he believed a woman could win,” Annie Linskey and Sean Sullivan report. “One of the people with knowledge of the conversation said Sanders did not say a woman couldn’t win but rather that Trump would use nefarious tactics against the Democratic nominee. … A September Washington Post poll found 23 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said a man would be more likely than a woman to defeat Trump.” Joe Biden said during a recent event that Clinton faced “unfair” sexism during her campaign, but then he added: “That’s not going to happen with me.”
-- Pete Buttigieg is trying to stay out of the Warren vs. Sanders food fight. He's not holding gaggles so he doesn't have to weigh in. Instead, the former mayor is wooing moderates – and some Republicans – in his push to close the deal in Iowa. Chelsea Janes and Holly Bailey report: “The message he has delivered in Iowa lately makes clear overtures to disgruntled Republicans — or what he calls ‘future former Republicans’ — whom he argues he can attract. He suggests he will be able to build bipartisan consensus. And he, more than any candidate in the field, suggests that Republicans have co-opted faith, arguing that religious Americans can find a like-minded leader in him. … The campaign is also doubling down on its robust organizing operation in the final weeks before the vote. Though Buttigieg started far behind his Democratic rivals in building a ground game — waiting until around Labor Day to begin opening field offices — he has now assembled one of the largest operations in the state. … But that may not be enough. In recent weeks, some county chairs have sensed shifting feelings about Buttigieg.”
-- Sanders said he’s willing to release a shortlist of his potential Supreme Court picks if he becomes the Democratic nominee. He told the New York Times Editorial Board that he would only appoint judges who “100 percent” support Roe v. Wade. (Kayla Epstein)
-- Trump and his campaign have also launched their most sustained attacks yet on Sanders. Toluse Olorunnipa reports: “Trump and his allies have trained their sights on Sanders, seeking to tarnish his foreign policy credentials and commander in chief appeal. … Trump’s allies say the president drives the campaign’s political strategy, acknowledging that he is an avid consumer of the public polling and the cable-TV punditry that has documented Sanders’s growing strength … Trump mentioned Sanders by name 10 times during his rally last week in Ohio — more than any other candidate. He continued the attacks on Twitter over the weekend and on Monday … Trump’s campaign has released three statements in the last week specifically attacking Sanders on foreign policy.”
-- Tonight’s Democratic debate will begin at 9 p.m. Eastern at Drake University in Des Moines. It will air on CNN and stream on the Des Moines Register’s website. Andrew Yang, who was onstage in December, did not qualify. Mike Bloomberg can’t qualify because he doesn’t accept donations. Also not qualifying but still in the race: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), former congressman John Delaney of Maryland and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick.
-- The latest Monmouth University Poll shows how fluid the race in the Hawkeye State remains: Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders and Warren are all grouped near the top of the leaderboard. Most significant, though, is that 4 in 10 voters likely caucus-goers said there’s at least a "moderate" chance that they will support a different candidate on caucus night. That's good news for Amy Klobuchar.
-- What’s top of mind for voters in Iowa? From the Register: “Caucusgoers in the first-in-the-nation presidential voting state have been thinking about candidates' stances on three key issues: health care, climate change and education, according to extensive Des Moines Register reporting and data from Iowa Polls of likely Democratic caucusgoers. … Still, other news may dominate Tuesday's debate stage conversation. Although Iowans generally haven't been asking about the nuances of foreign policy at campaign events, the killing of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani is expected to be a major topic of conversation, with candidates touting their foreign policy credentials. … The issue of impeachment is also expected to loom large.” The latest episode in the Register’s podcast series, “Three Tickets,” touches on what it’s like to live in the state during a caucus year: “It’s a strange and wonderful kind of chaos." (Listen here.)
-- “It’s make-or-break time for anyone not named ‘Biden’ or ‘Sanders,’” columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his curtain-raiser on the debate.
-- The Post has asked all the remaining Democratic candidates where they stand on more than 85 policy questions. We've created a 20-question quiz that measures which of the candidates agrees with you the most on some of the biggest flashpoints of the cycle.
-- And if you think that's cool, The Post’s Opinions team has also created a simulation that lets you design your own Iowa caucus.
-- Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) dropped out of the race after failing to qualify for the debate. Amy B Wang and David Weigel report: “Booker, who recently announced he had surpassed his fourth-quarter fundraising goal, said his operation would not have the money ‘to scale up and continue building a campaign that can win,’ particularly with a Senate impeachment trial looming and because he would be absent from Tuesday’s debate. … Booker plans to run for reelection to the Senate, his campaign said. ... Booker is the latest candidate of color to leave a Democratic field that had started out as historically diverse, exiting about two weeks after former HUD secretary and San Antonio mayor Julián Castro said he was suspending his campaign.”
- Karen Tumulty: “Booker was a candidate of grace in an ugly political climate. On the campaign trail, voters were skeptical that leading with love is the answer in 2020.”
- Eugene Scott: “There was never much ‘love’ for Cory Booker’s campaign.”
-- Booker gave an exit interview last night to Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. Asked if he’ll endorse, the senator replied: “I don't know. I'm taking a break for a little bit.”
-- If winning the White House doesn’t work out, Mike Bloomberg says he has a fallback plan: helping defeat Trump and remaking the Democratic Party. Michael Scherer reports: “Bloomberg is running aggressively to win the Democratic nomination, but he is simultaneously building out a general election machine to defeat [Trump], with a new structure — data, field organizing, advertising and policy — that aims to elect Democrats up and down the ballot even if the party’s voters reject the former New York mayor this spring. ... The president has been monitoring Bloomberg’s campaign, impressed by his extraordinary spending and fearful of his potential rise, according to Trump confidants with whom the president has discussed Bloomberg. … Bloomberg’s aides, in turn, have delighted in trying to find ways to get Trump’s attention and increase his anxiety."
-- Updates from the 2020 battle for control of the House:
- Prosecutors recommend that former congressman Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), one of the first lawmakers to endorse Trump in 2016, receive nearly five years in prison for his insider trading conviction. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday. (Renae Merle)
- The Democratic operative who was set to manage the reelection campaign of Rep. Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey until he switched parties will now run the campaign of his Democratic challenger Amy Kennedy. (NJ.com)
- Former Trump State Department official Matt Mowers announced that he'll challenge freshman Rep. Chris Pappas (D) in New Hampshire. (WMUR)
- The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee filed an ethics complaint against its GOP counterpart for using “trackers” in House office buildings. (Felicia Sonmez)
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- France, Britain and Germany launched a process to hold Iran accountable for violating the nuclear deal. Loveday Morris reports: “Iran said it would not comply with any restrictions on enriching uranium after Washington’s targeted killing of [Soleimani] … It had gradually reduced its commitments under the deal since the United States withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions in 2018. In a joint statement Tuesday, Britain, France and Germany ... said that they had ‘sought to persuade Iran to change course’ and ‘worked hard’ to address its concerns. However, the European countries said they now have ‘been left with no choice, given Iran’s actions, but to register today our concerns that Iran is not meeting its commitments.' ” The three countries said in their statement they still want to preserve the deal and are not immediately joining the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign.
-- Iran announced today that an unspecified number of arrests have been made in the Ukrainian passenger plane crash that Tehran admits was mistakenly shot down, and President Hassan Rouhani called for a special court to investigate the crash. Kareem Fahim reports: “The world is going to watch this trial," Rouhani said, in comments carried by the state news agency. "We should assure people it will not happen again.”
-- The announcement followed a third day of significant street protests against the regime. Erin Cunningham, Kareem Fahim and Adam Taylor report: “Videos posted on social media showed hundreds of students gathered Monday in a courtyard at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, a wellspring of anger at the cleric-led government. The university said 13 of its students and alumni were killed when the plane was shot down. … There were signs that the government, forced onto the defensive, was pursuing a harsher crackdown on the demonstrations. Videos from Sunday night showed demonstrators fleeing from tear gas and in one case a woman bleeding from her leg — a wound that protesters said was caused by live ammunition. In other videos posted on social media that could not immediately be verified, sounds of gunfire could be heard at protests in Azadi Square in the capital, as well as in the city of Shiraz. … Tehran’s police chief denied that police shot at protesters, saying they are under orders to show restraint.”
-- And while Trump remains muted on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrations, he’s showering support on the Iranian protesters. David Nakamura compares the reactions: “Trump issued a series of tweets aimed at pressuring Tehran, demanding that human rights groups be allowed in to ‘monitor and report’ on the unrest. … Several hours later in Hong Kong, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, was denied entry after landing at the airport. A Chinese government spokesman in Beijing said the ban was the nation’s ‘sovereign right’ given such groups’ support of mass pro-democracy protests since last summer. Trump was silent on Roth’s plight.”
-- U.S. commanders at the Iraqi military base targeted by Iranian missiles say they believe the attack was intended to kill American personnel. Louisa Loveluck reports: “The missile barrage last week against the sprawling Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq left deep craters and the crumpled wreckage of living quarters and a helicopter launch site. At least two soldiers were thrown through the window of a meters-high tower, and several dozen U.S. troops were later treated for concussion as a result of the missile strikes, military officials on the base said."
-- Trump’s claim that Tehran was plotting to bomb four U.S. embassies is at best an unfounded theory and at worse a falsehood. Philip Rucker, John Hudson, Shane Harris and Josh Dawsey report: “At each turn in the commander in chief’s rapidly evolving narrative of why he authorized the Jan. 3 drone strike that killed [Qasem Soleimani], the machinery of government scrambled to adapt and respond. The result is a credibility crisis ... Inside the Pentagon and elsewhere in the government, there was skepticism about the president’s claim, as well as about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement that the threat from Soleimani was ‘imminent’ and that hundreds of American lives were at risk. One senior administration official said the remarks from both men were unnecessary distractions from what many officials believed was a defensible policy decision. …
“Despite Trump’s claim that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was one of four facilities under threat of attack, some embassy officials there said they did not receive an alert commensurate to the threat Trump described … Pompeo pushed back Monday against the charge that a notification was not sent, but he did not specify when or how it was transmitted. … But there is no indication that embassy employees were warned of a credible threat, and the State Department did not respond to questions about whether the embassy in Baghdad took other measures that are typical when a specific threat is uncovered. With the question of imminence dogging the administration’s public defense of the Soleimani strike, other senior administration officials have shifted to vouching for the quality of the intelligence, rather than what it said about timing or particular targets. None of them has backed up Trump’s claim that four embassies were being targeted. Even if evidence of Trump’s claim exists, there was no interagency process or decision made to release such information or for the president to say what he said, according to a senior administration official.”
-- In a tweet, Trump claimed it “doesn’t really matter” after all whether Soleimani posed an imminent threat because of his “horrible past.” Karen DeYoung reports: “In a separate tweet, Trump emphasized Soleimani’s past actions rather than the threat of future attacks. ‘The Democrats and Fake News are trying to make terrorist Soleimani into a wonderful guy, only because I did what should have been done for 20 years,’ he wrote."
-- Trump also retweeted a volley of incendiary tweets about Pelosi, falsely accusing the House speaker of downplaying protests in Iran and supporting the regime. Brittany Shammas reports: “One of them, a fake photo of Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wearing photoshopped Islamic head coverings and standing in front of the Iranian flag, drew swift condemnation. ‘DEMOCRATS 2020’ read the text below the image, which was originally tweeted by an anonymous user with the caption, ‘The corrupted Dems trying their best to come to the Ayatollah’s rescue.’ … Schumer soon weighed in. ‘President Trump: How low can you go?’ he tweeted. … Asked about the criticism during a Fox News appearance, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham backed Trump’s decision to amplify the tweet. She said he did so to make a point.”
-- Pompeo has refused an invitation to discuss the Iran situation with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) said that ‘each passing day raises new questions’ about the Jan. 3 drone strike," John Wagner reports.
-- Now that Pompeo announced his decision not to run for Senate, Democrats see an opportunity to capture Kansas’s open seat. Annie Gowen reports: “Since Pompeo bowed out of the race, the leading Democratic contender, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, has announced that she raised more than $1 million in her first quarter in the contest, unprecedented for a Democratic Senate hopeful in Kansas. … Pompeo was courted by [McConnell] for months and would have entered the race as a hands-down favorite for the seat. Now Republicans face a bruising primary battle between Kris Kobach, a former secretary of state and ally of [Trump] who lost the governor’s race a year ago, and a host of ho-hum establishment candidates who have not inspired confidence in the Republican leadership.”
-- Attorney General Bill Barr declared that the December shooting that killed three U.S. sailors on a Florida naval base was an act of terrorism, and he publicly called on Apple to help unlock phones for the government. Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky report: “Barr said investigators had found evidence that Ahmed Mohammed al-Shamrani, a Royal Saudi Air Force member training at the base, was motivated by ‘jihadist ideology’ and had posted anti-American messages on social media about two hours before his attack. FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said that during the attack, Shamrani fired shots at pictures of [Trump] and a past U.S. president, and witnesses at the scene said he made statements critical of American military actions overseas. Bowdich said that while Shamrani did not seem to be inspired by one specific terrorist group, he harbored anti-American and anti-Israeli views and felt ‘violence was necessary.’ Bowdich said the gunman’s social media comments echoed those of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemeni American cleric tied to the terrorist group al-Qaeda who was killed in a drone strike in 2011. …
“Investigators have been stymied in trying to access two key pieces of evidence — the gunman’s iPhones. Standing before giant photographs of two severely damaged devices, the attorney general publicly urged Apple to act. ‘So far, Apple has not given us any substantive assistance,’ Barr said, though aides later clarified that Apple had, in fact, given investigators access to cloud data linked to the gunman. … Barr did not say whether the Justice Department would seek a court order to force Apple’s compliance. The department filed legal papers on a similar case in 2016, but the issue was never resolved by a higher court. … In a lengthy statement, Apple disputed the attorney general’s description of its role, saying the company began responding within hours of the first FBI request on Dec. 6, and has turned over ‘many gigabytes’ of data in the case. … Even without the phone data, investigators were able to review Shamrani’s social media postings, which were critical to the officials’ determination. … Justice Department officials … said that while officials were confident Shamrani had no U.S.-based co-conspirator, they were still interested in potential interactions he might have had with those in Saudi Arabia. Barr said investigators had found evidence that 17 Saudis had through social media shared jihadist or anti-American material and 15 — including some of those who had shared anti-American material — were found to have had contact with or possessed child pornography.”
-- George Nader, a key witness in special counsel Bob Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, admitted to bringing a 14-year-old boy to the United States for sex and to possessing child pornography. Rachel Weiner reports: “A wealthy Lebanese American businessman with long-standing political influence in Washington and the Middle East, Nader faces at least a decade in federal prison after his guilty plea in federal court in Alexandria, Va. While the charges carry a maximum penalty of 30 years, prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia agreed to recommend the mandatory minimum of 10 years. … He already has a conviction in the same court for transporting child pornography in 1991, for which he served six months in prison. …
“Nader still faces charges in Washington federal court of conspiring to funnel illegal campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans. As an adviser to the leadership of the United Arab Emirates, Nader met several times with officials and associates of [Trump] during the early days of the administration. He helped set up a January 2017 meeting between Trump associate Erik Prince and a Russian official close to Russian President Vladimir Putin that was closely scrutinized” by Mueller.
-- France’s Emmanuel Macron will deploy more soldiers to West Africa, where terrorist groups are growing. Danielle Paquette reports: “The leaders of Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania met their French counterpart in southwestern France, where they agreed to build a shared command structure with the European power that once colonized much of West Africa. … France, which has roughly 4,500 troops in the region — the most of any outside nation by far — plans to deploy another 220 soldiers, Macron said alongside the West African presidents. In a joint statement, the leaders said they would keep working together to protect civilians and ‘prevent an extension of the terrorist threat.’”
-- A U.S. citizen died in an Egyptian jail after a lengthy hunger strike. Carol Morello and Kareem Fahim report: “Mustafa Kassem, who was 54, died of heart failure following his hunger strike, according to Pretrial Rights International, a nonprofit organization that represented Kassem. David Schenker, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, confirmed Kassem’s death and expressed the U.S. belief that the terrorism charges against him were meritless. Schenker told reporters he was saddened at Kassem’s death in custody, calling it ‘needless, tragic and avoidable.’ He vowed to continue raising U.S. concerns about human rights abuses in Egypt and Americans detained in the country.”
-- The Syrian army is urging civilians to leave the last rebel enclave while the Russian Defense Ministry is offering them three ways out. Sarah Dadouch reports: “The warning was issued on the day that a cease-fire brokered by Turkey and Russia took effect, as Russia and its allies promised to halt airstrikes. Russia has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally, alongside Iran, during the war, which started in 2011 as a revolt against the government. … The cease-fire follows a series of broken truces, and few expect the respite to last. Artillery fire continued Monday, the head of the Idlib branch of Syrian Civil Defense — a volunteer organization more commonly known as the White Helmets — told The Washington Post.”
-- The Treasury Department dropped China’s designation as a “currency manipulator,” greasing the wheels for the scheduled signing of a U.S.-China trade deal tomorrow. David J. Lynch reports: “In a semiannual report, department officials said no countries met the standards set by Congress for the ‘manipulator’ label. But the political context for the decision was hard to miss. … The move reversed the department’s decision in August to add China to the list.”
-- Talks are underway for Trump to visit India as early as next month, possibly during the impeachment trial. Joanna Slater reports: "If finalized, the visit would be Trump’s first to India as president. The United States has sought to cultivate India as a partner and potential counterweight to China, and Trump has spoken of his ‘great admiration’ for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. … The ‘two sides are in touch’ and ‘trying to work out a mutually convenient date,’ said one Indian official. Another said the visit could take place in February or March.”
-- Queen Elizabeth II agreed to a “period of transition” in which Harry and Meghan get to spend time in Britain and Canada. Karla Adam and William Booth report: “In a statement, the queen wrote: ‘Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working Members of the Royal Family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family.’ The queen acknowledged that Harry and Meghan — she omitted their royal titles — ‘made clear that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives,’ but she did not describe their new duties or ventures.”
-- Oceans are warming at the same rate as if five Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs were dropped in every second, a new study shows. From CNN: “An international team of 14 scientists examined data going back to the 1950s, looking at temperatures from the ocean surface to 2,000 meters deep. The study, which was published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, also showed that the oceans are warming at an increasing speed. While the past decade has been the warmest on record for global ocean temperatures, the hottest five years ever recorded all came in the last five. … The study shows that while the oceans warmed steadily between 1955 and 1986, warming has accelerated rapidly in the last few decades. Between 1987-2019, ocean warming was 450% greater than during the earlier time period.”
-- Australia is seeing sci-fi weather. Andrew Freedman and Sarah Kaplan report: “Climate change has pushed natural phenomena, such as wildfires, to mutate into more disastrous and deadly versions of themselves. Temperatures are soaring to heights scientists did not expect to see for decades. Landscapes that are usually resistant to fire — including rainforests home to rare, vulnerable species — are going up in flames. The blazes are so big they generate their own hellish weather. Fire tornadoes, formed when spinning winds generate a massive rotating column of fire, ash, vapor and debris, are impossible to control. A volunteer firefighter in New South Wales was killed on Dec. 30 when one of these twisters overturned his truck.”
-- Microscopic grains of dead stars are the oldest known material on the planet – older than the moon, Earth and the solar system itself. Ben Guarino reports: “By examining chemical clues in a meteorite’s mineral dust, researchers have determined the most ancient grains are 7 billion years old — about half as old as the universe. Rocks don’t get much more classic than this.”
DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS THAT SHOULD NOT BE OVERSHADOWED:
-- The Trump administration is planning on diverting an additional $7.2 billion in Pentagon funds for the border wall, five times what Congress authorized the president to spend on the project in the 2020 budget. Nick Miroff reports: “The Pentagon funds would be extracted, for the second year in a row, from military construction projects and counternarcotics funding. According to the plans, the funding would give the government enough money to complete about 885 miles of new fencing by spring 2022, far more than the 509 miles the administration has slated for the U.S. border with Mexico. … The move would bring the total amount of federal funds allocated to border fencing to $18.4 billion under Trump … The Trump administration has completed 101 miles of new barriers so far, according to the latest figures, far less than the 450 miles the president has promised to erect by the end of the year.”
-- The U.S. is putting asylum seekers on planes to Guatemala – often without telling them where they’re going. Kevin Sieff reports: “When the migrants land in Guatemala City, they receive little information about what it means to apply for asylum in one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. Those who don’t immediately apply are told to leave the country in 72 hours. The form is labeled ‘Voluntary Return.’ ‘In the U.S., the agents told us our cases would be transferred, but they didn’t say where. Then they lined us up to get on the plane,’ said Marta, 43, from Honduras. She sat in a migrant shelter here with her 17-year-old son, who nursed a gunshot wound in his left cheek — the work, mother and son say, of a Honduran faction of the MS-13 gang. ‘When we looked out the window, we were here,’ she said. ‘We thought, ‘Where are we? What are we supposed to do now?’’”
-- Texas became the first state to take up Trump’s offer to let governors close their borders to new refugees. Columnist Catherine Rampell shares the story of an Iraqi refugee who’s resettled in a state that now wants to shut out people like her: Marwa Sabah “is one of nearly 57,000 refugees who have resettled in Texas over the past decade, of whom about 12,000 are from Iraq. Like most refugees, she didn’t want to leave behind nearly everyone and everything she knew. But facing death threats, she and her husband had no choice. They requested refuge in the United States and specifically asked to be resettled in Fort Worth. … [On Friday], Republican Gov. Greg Abbott declared that Texas was full. … He suggested that Texas lacks the resources to absorb additional refugees, playing into stereotypes of refugees as dangerous, destitute and typically on the dole. Perhaps if he got to know refugees such as Sabah, he’d think differently.”
-- The Trump administration’s restrictions on fetal tissue research have unsettled scientists and disrupted key studies in ways that could undermine public health. Amy Goldstein reports: “The controversial federal funding rules, announced seven months ago, are reshaping scientists’ research paths and the grants they seek from the National Institutes of Health. Graduate students cannot get training grants if their research involves fetal tissue. Senior researchers are cautioning emerging scientists to avoid this type of research. And a university program that produces and sells mice containing human fetal tissue is forgoing the federal funding it has relied on for nearly three decades, imperiling the work of scores of biomedical researchers who depend on these lab animals. The disruption is occurring, in part, because the administration has imposed an extra requirement for NIH grant applications that is not yet possible to meet. Under the rewritten rules that took effect early in the fall, a new ethics advisory board must assess all grant requests involving fetal tissue — but the board has not yet been established, and it may not be convened for many months.”
-- Trump falsely claimed, nearly 70 times through Dec. 10, that he has sought to protect patients with preexisting conditions through his various efforts to eliminate the Affordable Care Act. Fact Checker Glenn Kessler says the president’s tweets about the subject on Monday were something more — “a virtual traffic jam of false claims.”
-- Product recalls under the Trump administration have fallen to their lowest level in 16 years, but there are signs that the new head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission plans a more aggressive approach to companies selling potentially unsafe products. Todd C. Frankel reports: “The 2019 total was down 7 percent from 2018, which itself was 8 percent lower than in 2017. That’s the year that Republican Ann Marie Buerkle took over as the commission’s acting chairwoman … Now, with a new acting chairman running the CPSC, Democrat Robert Adler, the agency is trying a different tactic to force the hand of reluctant companies. The CPSC last Wednesday issued a rare product safety alert — and made it clear the agency wanted the product taken off the market. The warning said a four-drawer dresser made by Hodedah was a tip-over risk and that the CPSC ‘intends to continue pressing the case for a recall with Hodedah.’ The notice was unusual because it acknowledged that the agency and company disagreed about the need for a recall. Negotiations over recalls normally are not revealed to the public, giving companies considerable leverage.”
-- Four gun-control bills advanced in Virginia’s newly gun-free Capitol. In a show of opposition to the bills, gun rights activists swarmed the Capitol, but the state Senate's Judiciary Committee advanced most of the gun legislation proposed by Democrats. (Laura Vozzella and Gregory S. Schneider)
-- Lawyers allege that the California scuba boat fire that killed 34 last year was a result of safety violations and a charging station that was not up to code. (Miranda Green)
-- St. Louis’s first black chief prosecutor, claiming a racist conspiracy, is suing the city under a law created to fight the Ku Klux Klan. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Garden alleges that her agenda to “redress the scourge of historical inequality and rebuild trust in the criminal justice system among communities of color” has been thwarted by a campaign of “collusive conduct” aimed at removing her from office. (Antonia Noori Farzan)
-- The Supreme Court will not review the conviction of Michelle Carter, the woman who went to jail for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself. (Ann E. Marimow)
-- An off-duty Secret Service agent shot and killed a dog on a leash in Brooklyn. The female Belgian shepherd was being walked by her owners when she startled the agent, officials said. (New York Daily News)
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) weighed in on behalf of Sanders over Warren:
I also met with @BernieSanders before announcing my candidacy. We had a nice one-on-one conversation and I informed him that I would be running for President. In that meeting, he showed me the greatest respect and encouragement, just as he always has.— Tulsi Gabbard 🌺 (@TulsiGabbard) January 14, 2020
Mandy Moore, a star in NBC’s “This is Us,” showed up in Iowa last night to support Pete Buttigieg:
Cory Booker joked about a headline on his departure from the presidential race:
The president’s claims about Saudi Arabia on Fox News are specious:
Trump claimed that he's gotten $1 billion in the bank from the Saudis to pay for US troops. But the Pentagon just confirmed to me the Saudis still have not paid their outstanding bill for refueling costs in the Yemen war. So let's label Trump's statement as highly doubtful.— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) January 13, 2020
This is how the White House press secretary defended Trump retweeting a doctored image of Democratic leaders in Islamic garb:
Stephanie Grisham on Trump retweeting an image mocking how Muslims dress: "I think the president is making clear that Democrats are parroting Iranian talking points and almost taking the side of terrorists and those who were out to kill Americans." 😳 pic.twitter.com/zCY6xUUj9p— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 13, 2020
Views of the Confederate flag vary widely across the South:
|QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Right now we are entering a historic time,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn). “We have to put country above party, put aside partisanship."|
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
A man whose remote cabin burned down was rescued by Alaska State Troopers after surviving subzero temperatures for 23 days:
Stephen Colbert took a look at the different explanations members of the Trump administration have given for Soleimani’s killing:
Trump’s team appears to be borrowing directly from George W. Bush’s playbook, argued Seth Meyers:
Trevor Noah did an explainer on the scandal unraveling in England:
And Jimmy Kimmel pointed out that there are more minorities in Trump’s Cabinet than among the Oscar nominees:
In case you missed it, here's a complete list of the Oscar nominees: