What to Know in Washington: Trump’s Defense is Work in Progress

Donald Trump’s impeachment trial is expected to begin next week, but the president has yet to settle on either his defense strategy or the team that will represent him in the Senate.

Trump has sent conflicting signals about key aspects of the Senate trial, including how long it should last and whether witnesses should testify. He is still considering whether to make additions to his defense team, which will be led by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his personal attorney Jay Sekulow, according to people familiar with the matter.

The process is about to begin moving quickly. The House is poised to vote tomorrow on the impeachment managers named by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and authorizing transmittal of the articles to the Senate, according to a person familiar with the plans. Opening arguments in the trial could begin in the Senate as soon as Jan. 21, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said yesterday.

On Sunday, Trump suggested in a tweet that he’d prefer a quick dismissal of the two articles rather than a full trial that would lend “credence” to the charges against him, though that doesn’t appear likely. Democrats accused Trump of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals last year and obstruction of Congress by refusing to comply with demands for witnesses and documents in the House impeachment inquiry.

While Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the majority Republican Senate, the conduct of the trial will help determine his judgment by voters, who will render their own verdict in the November election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has fought to keep a firm grip on the proceedings, and rebuffed Democrats’ demands that he guarantee testimony from White House officials who Trump blocked from appearing.

Senators are debating whether to include the ability to quickly dismiss the charges in the organizing resolution for the trial, according to a person familiar with the matter. While no final decision has been made, the White House is asking that such language be included in order to preserve the president’s options, according to a White House official who declined to be named to discuss internal thinking.

Cornyn and other GOP senators said they doubted there would be a quick dismissal of the articles of impeachment before the case is argued.

“My understanding is that most Republicans want to have a full trial,” Cornyn said. Read more from Jordan Fabian and Josh Wingrove.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Trump at the White House Monday with Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Elections & Politics

Last Debate Before Iowa Will Test Warren-Sanders Pact: The stage will be smaller, the spotlight brighter, and the stakes higher for the seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines today — the last such forum before the Iowa caucuses next month. A winnowed slate of six candidates — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar — will gather for a televised event that will likely expose the growing rifts between and within the Democratic Party’s moderate and progressive flanks. The two-hour debate sponsored by the Des Moines Register and CNN will be shown on CNN and cnn.com beginning at 9 p.m.

The debate will likely test the resilience of the nonaggression pact between Sens. Sanders (I-Vt.) and Warren (D-Mass.), who have refrained from attacking each other so as not to weaken the progressive wing of the party.

That alliance has been beset in recent days by tensions that could spill over to the debate stage. Yesterday, Warren said Sanders told her at a private meeting in 2018 he didn’t think a woman could win against Trump. Sanders had earlier denied making the comment after CNN reported the exchange. “I thought a woman could win; he disagreed,” Warren said in a statement, adding that she and Sanders remained “friends and allies.” Gregory Korte previews the debate.

Trump to Hold Rally in Iowa Before Caucuses: Trump will hold a rally in Des Moines just four days before the Democrats gather for their first presidential nominating contest in Iowa, his campaign announced yesterday, Justin Sink reports. Trump’s Jan. 30 event will turn the political spotlight to the president as Democratic candidates are in the crucial final stretch of campaigning before the Feb. 3 Iowa Caucuses. It will be the president’s first visit to Iowa since June, when he traveled to the state to discuss his administration’s plans to change ethanol standards.

The president is not facing a serious challenge for the Republican nomination, so the Iowa rally is largely an effort by the campaign to capture some of the attention emanating from the Democratic nominating contest. Trump placed second in the Republican caucus contest in 2016, but won the state by more than 9 percentage points in the general election showdown against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Where Green Issues Could Matter on Campaign Trail: Three major energy and environmental issues debated in the Democratic-controlled House—climate change, offshore oil drilling, and “forever” chemicals—are starting to surface in the 2020 fight for the majority. While they will likely again take a back seat in voters’ minds to health care and the economy, and the presidential election will undoubtedly be a heavy factor in down-ballot races, Tiffany Stecker has identified seven races in which green issues could become wedges on the campaign trail as the election year progresses. Read more.

New York to Set April 28 Election to Fill Collins’ House Seat: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) office expects to schedule a special election on April 28 to fill the House seat previously held by Rep. Chris Collins, according to spokesman Rich Azzopardi, Keshia Clukey reports. Collins resigned and pleaded guilty to insider trading last year. The election would be the same day as the state’s presidential primary.

Happening on the Hill

Vote on War Powers Sought This Week: Sen. Cornyn yesterday said there’s “some hope“ the Senate could vote on a resolution to limit Trump‘s military options against Iran this week, before the House delivers the articles of impeachment. Cornyn’s comments echo McConnell’s speech on the Senate floor earlier yesterday when he said he expects to consider a war powers resolution sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) “very soon.” The House adopted a similar resolution last week, using a slightly different procedure.

It’s not clear whether the Kaine resolution would have enough votes to pass in the Senate. Even if the House and Senate eventually pass the same version, the push is mostly symbolic since neither is likely to override a veto by Trump. Read more from Daniel Flatley and Erik Wasson.

Scrapping’s F-35 Office an Option to Cut Upkeep Costs: House lawmakers trying to reduce the projected $1.1 trillion cost of maintaining the F-35 over 60 years are considering options including eliminating the Pentagon’s central office in charge of the fighter jet built by Lockheed Martin. Dispersing responsibility to the three military services that are getting variations of the plane is among possibilities drafted by the Defense Department that will be reviewed today in a closed-door briefing of two House Armed Services subcommittees. The proposal to “potentially dissolve and disaggregate the F-35 Joint Program Office” is aimed at gains in “efficiency and effectiveness,” Monica Matoush, a spokeswoman for the Armed Services Committee, said in an email. Read more from Tony Capaccio.

GOP Presses Companies on Opioids: House Republicans are pushing opioid manufacturers for answers on their practices leading up to the opioid crisis, including interactions with the Food and Drug Administration. Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in letters released today, asked Insys Therapeutics, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, and Purdue Pharma to respond to questions they initially sent in August 2018 about possible breakdowns in the controlled substances supply chain. Read more from Shira Stein.

Group Pushes Free School Lunches: New legislation should expand access to free school lunches to cut down on hunger and unpaid meal debts, a group of nutrition advocates argue. “There are families really struggling to afford that reduced price co-pay,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, media relations director for the nonprofit School Nutrition Association, which released a new report yesterday calling on Congress to shore up meal programs. Child nutrition and access to school meals should be at the top of lawmakers’ priorities lists, the report said, specifically calling for giving students free meals instead of reduced co-pays for breakfast and lunch. Read more from Megan U. Boyanton.

Halting Executives’ Trading During Reporting Gap: A House bill intended to ensure company insiders don’t profit from trading on certain confidential information is headed to the Senate for consideration. Lawmakers in the House passed the 8-K Trading Gap Act on a 384-7 vote yesterday. The measure from Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) generally would bar executives from buying and selling their company shares during an “8-K trading gap” when market-moving info isn’t public. Read more from Andrew Ramonas.

Defense & National Security

Iran Makes Arrests Over Jet Disaster: Iran said it’s arrested a number of people linked to the Jan. 8 downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet, and the country’s president called on the judiciary to form a special court and fully investigate the disaster. Hassan Rouhani said today that while U.S. policies toward the Islamic Republic were the root cause of the mistake, that didn’t excuse Iranian officials from confronting their own responsibility in the disaster. All 176 people on board were killed when Iranian defense units fired at the plane, bringing it down shortly after take-off from Tehran. “I promise that the government, with all its ability and using everything at its disposal, will investigate this matter,” Rouhani told officials in remarks broadcast live on state TV. “This is not an ordinary case. The entire world will be watching.” Read more from Golnar Motevalli and Abeer Abu Omar.

Pompeo Claims Iraq Wants Troops to Stay: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down Iraqi demands to expel U.S. troops, claiming the country’s leaders have “privately” told him in repeated calls they want U.S. troops to stay, despite their public pronouncements to the contrary. Pompeo said that he’s had some 50 phone calls with Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders in Iraq in the days since a U.S. strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, and suggested the public outcry from the country’s parliament and senior leadership was not genuine. Read more from Nick Wadhams.

  • Also yesterday, Attorney General William Barr said the killing of Soleimani was legally justified and Trump had the authority to order it, adding that “the Department of Justice was consulted.” Barr called debate in Congress over whether Soleimani was planning an imminent attack “something of a red herring.” Read more from Chris Strohm.

Russian Hackers Attacked Burisma: In the midst of the impeachment investigation into Trump, Russian hackers attacked the Ukrainian gas company linked to the inquiry, according to cybersecurity experts. Researchers at Area 1, a security company run by a former National Security Agency official, said Russian hackers sent phishing emails to subsidiaries of Burisma Holdings to try to penetrate the Ukrainian energy company. The email accounts of Burisma employees were accessed, but it’s unclear how that was used or what material may have been gained, according to the report released yesterday.

Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, was on Burisma’s board from 2014 until last year. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has alleged that the elder Biden, when he was vice president, derailed an investigation into Burisma to protect his son. Read more from Kartikay Mehrotra.

Trade and Foreign Affairs

Xi Strikes Optimistic Tone After Riding Out Trade War With Trump: With China on the verge of signing a deal with Trump to defuse a nearly two-year trade war, Xi Jinping is exuding confidence. After he warned last year about threats to Communist Party rule and “changes unseen in 100 years,” Xi began 2020 touting “extraordinary Chinese splendor and Chinese strength.” “In the face of severe and complex domestic and foreign situations and various risks and challenges, we have been able to move forward firmly,” the Chinese president told party leaders last week.

A big reason for Xi’s new optimism is the phase-one trade deal the world’s biggest economies plan to sign tomorrow in Washington. While party leaders still face a slowing economy, surging debt and new challenges in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the trade agreement has at least given them some certainty that Xi can manage Trump’s penchant for diplomatic brinkmanship. Read more.

U.S., EU Square Up for Trade Brawl: The European Union’s new trade chief will be in Washington for the next three days trying to head off a transatlantic commercial war on several fronts. The prospects for success look slim. Phil Hogan is due to meet U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and other American officials during a visit starting today that follows a general fraying of ties in recent months between the world’s biggest economic partners. While Trump has held back on a threat to hit European cars and auto parts with tariffs that are much dreaded in the EU, both sides have revived old disputes and triggered new ones as a result of fundamental disagreements over trade policy. Read more from Jonathan Stearns and Shawn Donnan.

China Currency-Manipulator Tag Lifted: The Trump administration yesterday lifted its designation of China as a currency cheat, saying the country has made “enforceable commitments” not to devalue the yuan and has agreed to publish exchange-rate information. The change in the U.S.’s stance was outlined in the Treasury Department’s foreign-exchange report to Congress, released two days before America and China are set to sign a phase-one trade deal in Washington. The document listed no major U.S. trading partner among the 20 economies it monitors for potential manipulation. Read more from Saleha Mohsin.

U.S. Tightens Foreign Deal Risk Reviews: The Trump administration yesterday issued long-awaited rules that would intensify scrutiny of foreign investment in U.S. companies. The final regulations, which will go into effect Feb. 13, put teeth in a 2018 law that expanded the power of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to probe national security risks posed by foreign deals. More cross-border transactions will now be subject to investigations by the panel, exposing a greater number of deals to the risk of rejection by the U.S. government. Read more from Jacob Rund and Ben Brody.

Trump Planning Maiden India Visit in February: Trump is planning his maiden India visit in February, an official said, in a trip that may coincide with an impeachment trial that is likely to get underway in Washington next week. The two countries are in touch to work out mutually convenient dates for the visit, according to a senior Indian government official, who asked not to be identified citing rules. Trump and Modi are expected to sign an agreement on civil aviation apart from the long-pending bilateral trade deal, The Hindu newspaper reported citing sources it didn’t identify. Read more from Archana Chaudhary.

What Else to Know

Mueller Witness Pleads Guilty in Child Porn Case: George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman whose name had appeared 125 times in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election pleaded guilty to criminal charges for possession of child pornography. Nader also admitted to transporting a 14-year-old boy into the U.S. to have the child engage in criminal sexual activity. He entered his plea yesterday before U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Va., Andrew Harris reports.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com