Security Brief

After First Public Hearings, Impeachment Battle Lines Are Drawn

Testimony from U.S. diplomats pushes both Democrats and Republicans back into their corners.

Top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine William Taylor departs during a break while testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 13 Washington.
Top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine William Taylor departs during a break while testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 13 Washington. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief Plus. What’s on tap today: The fallout from day one of public impeachment hearings, a diplomatic win in Washington for Erdogan, and mounting tensions between Israel and Gaza.

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U.S. Diplomats Weather the Impeachment Storm

The first public impeachment hearings on Wednesday unsurprisingly morphed into a partisan clash, with U.S. Democrats and Republicans taking shots at one another as the probe into whether U.S. President Donald Trump improperly pressured Ukraine into investigating his potential political rivals moved into the television spotlight. 

The two witnesses, acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, relayed their alarm over how Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, opened a diplomatic backchannel in Ukraine that went against official U.S. policy. Taylor did provide new information: that one of his aides, David Holmes, overheard Trump on the phone with Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland asking for an update on the “investigations” by Ukraine into 2020 presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

How will things shake out? At the end of the day, the two diplomats’ testimony pushed both parties further into their respective corners. Democrats say the testimonies painted a shocking abuse of presidential power, while Republicans say Trump didn’t act improperly and the testimonies constituted hearsay. (The White House refuses to let those with first-hand knowledge of the pressure campaign testify.) Meanwhile, career diplomats say that Taylor and Kent largely held their own in Congress, as FP reports. 

What’s up next? More public hearings and closed-door testimonies are expected in the coming days and weeks. Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will testify publicly on Friday, and eight other administration officials are currently scheduled for public hearings next week.


What We’re Watching 

How Erdogan played Trump. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a coveted White House meeting on Wednesday to defend his invasion of northeastern Syria and attack the Kurds. But it wasn’t clear that Trump, who praised Erdogan despite his flagrant violations of Western conventions, got much in return. Instead, it seems the Turkish leader once again pulled a fast one on the U.S. president over Turkey’s controversial purchase of a Russian missile system, FP’s Lara Seligman reports. The Trump administration has quietly floated a deal that would involve Ankara agreeing not to activate the S-400 system in exchange for waiving harsh U.S. sanctions and potentially re-admitting it to the U.S. F-35 program. But short of Turkey shipping the missiles out of the country, the technology will still be a threat to the U.S. fighter jet. 

Israel and Gaza trade fire. Tensions are rising despite a fragile cease-fire after two days of violence between Israel and Gaza. On Tuesday, Israel launched a targeted strike into Gaza, killing Islamic Jihad (PIJ) senior commander Baha Abu al-Ata. Abu al-Ata is believed to be behind a series of rocket attacks in southern Israel in April, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described him as a “ticking bomb” who was planning more attacks. The PIJ launched retaliatory strikes into southern Israel, which sparked further Israeli airstrikes. Hours after the cease-fire was declared on Thursday, Gaza militants launched five more rockets at Israel. Although most of the PIJ rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile-defense system, 50 people were reportedly injured in Israel. Twenty-one people have been killed and a further 70 wounded in Gaza.

Embargoed. Now it’s Britain’s turn to debate Russian influence. A new parliamentary investigation found that Russia operates a sprawling network of friendly British diplomats, lawyers, and politicians to influence British politics. The investigation came after allegations emerged that Moscow had interfered in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, possibly tipping the scales in favor of the Leave vote. Johnson has so far refused to publish the details of the report, drawing criticism from opponents who suspect it could contain embarrassing information about the Conservative Party’s relationship with Russia.

Leaderless no more. After three days of uncertainty, Bolivia finally has an interim president. Senator Jeanine Áñez has assumed the role after President Evo Morales stepped down following pressure from the military and weeks of widespread protests. Áñez, who was deputy leader of Bolivia’s senate, was a vocal critic of Morales during his tenure, which he sought to extend through constitutional changes. She now faces pressure to call new elections and restore order.


Foreign Policy Recommends

The next nuclear disaster. The United States built a massive concrete dome to store radioactive materials in the Marshall Islands after years of nuclear testing there during the height of the Cold War, between 1946 and 1958. A report by the Los Angeles Times reveals that the dome is now at risk of collapse as seas rise due to climate change, and the United States is ignoring the Marshall Islands’ pleas for help.


Quote of the Week

“You can’t promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people.”

—Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, on former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch angering some Ukrainians with her anti-corruption priorities, speaking during Wednesday’s impeachment hearings


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Odds and Ends

Feline felon. In case you missed this important piece of news, last month a cat was caught red-handed trying to smuggle drugs into a Russian prison in its collar. The cat belonged to one of the inmates. Surprisingly (or not?), this is not the first time a cat has been accused of being a drug mule for Russian prisons. 


That’s it for today. For more from FP, subscribe here or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to securitybrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Dan Haverty contributed to this report. 

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

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