Morning Brief

White House Won’t Cooperate With Impeachment Inquiry

Plus: Turkey’s offensive in Syria, Ecuador’s president in trouble, and the other stories we’re following today.

U.S. President Donald Trump waves while departing the White House on Oct. 3 in Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump waves while departing the White House on Oct. 3 in Washington. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The White House rebukes the U.S. House impeachment inquiry, Turkey prepares to launch an offensive in northern Syria, and Ecuador’s government faces a crucial test.

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Trump Administration Sets Up Clash with House

In a letter to U.S. Democratic leaders on Tuesday, the White House announced that it would not cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry—refusing to provide documents or allow testimony from executive branch staff. The White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, labeled the inquiry “partisan and unconstitutional.”

The letter followed the Trump administration’s move to block the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, from testifying before the House. Text messages provided the House last week show that Sondland worked with other diplomats and U.S. President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son’s connections in the country.

What can the House do? House Democrats consider the administration’s refusal to cooperate with Congress another item of the list of Trump’s impeachable offenses. “The president is obstructing Congress from getting the facts we need,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday. “It is an abuse of power for him to act in this way.” Still, it could prevent the House from obtaining the evidence or witnesses it needs to charge the president.

Will Yovanovitch testify? Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is expected to testify before the House on Friday, but the letter released Tuesday suggests that the White House will also block her deposition. Yovanovitch was recalled from Ukraine in May and was blasted in the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as FP’s Amy Mackinnon and Robbie Gramer reported.

What We’re Following Today

Turkey prepares offensive in Syria. U.S. and Kurdish officials expect Turkey to launch a major offensive today in northeastern Syria—a potentially devastating attack against America’s Kurdish allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), FP’s Lara Seligman reports. The Turkish government said early Wednesday that it would begin operations “shortly.” The move comes as the Trump administration sought to backtrack on the surprise announcement that the United States would withdraw troops in the region, leaving space for Turkey to move in. Reports have emerged that the SDF could consider partnering with the Syrian government against a Turkish incursion.

Ecuador’s government on edge. Facing nearly a week of indigenous-led mass protests against austerity measures, Ecuador’s President Lenín Moreno relocated the government from the capital of to the coastal city of Guayaquil on Tuesday and called for a curfew around state buildings. A general strike has been called today, and the next few days are expected to be crucial for the president. Moreno has accused ex-President Rafael Correa—a former ally—of engineering the protests as a coup.

Boris Johnson’s plan doomed? British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan appears to be off the table after a day in which Britain and the European Union traded blame over the failure to reach an agreement, particularly over the Irish border. (Johnson and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar are expected to meet later this week.) The European Union now could extend talks over Britain’s exit until as late as next summer. The Times reported early that five of Johnson’s cabinet ministers could resign over concerns about a no-deal Brexit.

Keep an Eye On

Problems at the World Food Program. A confidential survey of staff attitudes at the U.N. World Food Program reveals that its senior leadership have abused their authority, committed or enabled harassment, and participated in discrimination. The survey’s findings are a blow to a U.N. agency that has long been in favor in Washington, FP’s Colum Lynch reports.

Pre-election violence in Mozambique. Authorities in Mozambique have confirmed that police officers are among the suspects in the murder of a local election observer—just a week before the presidential vote. On Oct. 15, President Filipe Nyusi is running for a second term in an election that has already been plagued by violence between political parties.

A mystery oil spill in Brazil. Around 100 tons of crude oil are drifting toward Brazil’s northeast, polluting pristine beaches across nine states. Officials say the state oil company is not to blame for the spill, which President Jair Bolsonaro has suggested is the fault of another country. The spill comes amid growing criticism of Bolsonaro’s environmental policies.

U.S. visa restrictions on Chinese officials. The United States has for the first time imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials it believes are responsible for the repression of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. Their names have not been made public. The move comes just days before trade talks are set to resume between the United States and China.

[In FP, Uighur scholar Nur Iman writes a personal essay demanding that China release her detained family members.]

Reclaiming Their Country, One Mine at a Time

Layegha Marfat, 22, works on the demining team in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, on Sept. 18.

Layegha Marfat, 22, works on the demining team in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, on Sept. 18. Kern Hendricks for Foreign Policy

Layegha Marfat, above, is one of 40 members of Afghanistan’s first all-female demining team in Bamiyan province—part of a pilot program to train women to clear their communities of the remnants of war. Thanks in part to their work, Bamiyan will soon be declared officially mine-free. The team will then move on to training women across the country, Kern Hendricks reports for FP.

Odds and Ends

A court in Venice has temporarily suspended the loan of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man to the Louvre in Paris after a request by a group that says the masterpiece shouldn’t leave Italy. The Italian Culture Ministry—which signed a deal to secure the loan—has called the move “incomprehensible.” The artwork is part of an exhibition set to open this month.

That’s it for today. 

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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