Security Brief

What to Watch Today in Trump’s Impeachment Trial

A key unanswered question is whether the U.S. Senate will vote to allow witnesses.

Rep. Adam Schiff and other Democratic lawmakers walk through the U.S. Capitol on their way to the Senate on Jan. 16 in Washington, DC.
Rep. Adam Schiff and other Democratic lawmakers walk through the U.S. Capitol on their way to the Senate on Jan. 16 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. What’s on tap today: U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial continues in the Senate, new details emerge of an attack on a U.S. military outpost in Kenya, and the State Department taps a new envoy to counter Chinese influence at the United Nations.

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Impeachment Day Two Kicks Off

Today marks the second day of the historic impeachment trial against U.S. President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, House Democrats gave nine hours of opening arguments to the Senate about what they said was irrefutable evidence that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure it to investigate his Democratic political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and then obstructed the subsequent investigation in Congress.

Just in time for the trial, a new trove of internal emails shed new light on the behind-the-scenes confusion during the months that the Trump administration withheld the military aid last year, FP’s Robbie Gramer reports. Email exchanges between White House Office of Management and Budget officials, Pentagon officials, and Republican lawmakers show the Pentagon was confused about why military aid to Ukraine was withheld, while impatient Republican lawmakers quietly pushed the White House to lift the hold.

Wednesday highlights. The House Democrats leading the prosecution outlined why Trump should be impeached to U.S. senators, who appeared impassive, bored, or restless during the long day. In his closing argument, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff urged senators to be open to receiving new evidence during the trial and learn the “full truth” of what happened. “More emails are going to come out. More witnesses are going to come forward,” he said. “And the only question is, do you want to hear it now? Do you want to know the full truth?”

Meanwhile, Trump raged about the proceedings with 142 tweets alone on Wednesday.

What to watch for today. House Democrats will flesh out their arguments, alleging Trump’s abuse of power. One of the biggest unanswered questions is whether the trial will have witnesses. There will likely be behind-the-scenes wrangling as Democrats push to win four Republican votes to gain a majority to vote for allowing witnesses in the trial.

Republicans have pushed for Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son and the former board member of a Ukrainian energy company accused of corruption, to testify. Democrats want to call former National Security Advisor John Bolton as a witness.


What We’re Watching 

Manda Bay attack. The New York Times went behind the scenes of a deadly attack by al Shabab fighters on a U.S. military outpost on Jan. 5 in Manda Bay, Kenya, that killed three U.S. troops and destroyed a U.S. surveillance plane. News of the attack was overshadowed hostilities with Iran after the assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani. But the Kenya attack—the worst on U.S. personnel since the October 2017 ambush in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers— highlights the precarious nature of the U.S. military presence in Africa.

The attack comes as the Pentagon considers winding down its footprint on the continent, though Defense Secretary Mark Esper said this week that no final decisions had been made. The potential drawdown has drawn criticism from members of Congress, including Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Trump meets Iraqi counterpart. Trump met with Iraqi President Barham Saleh on Wednesday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It was the first meeting between the leaders since the U.S. assassination of Suleimani. After the strike, the Iraqi parliament passed a resolution calling for the immediate and full withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country, and Washington responded by threatening to impose sanctions. At Davos, neither Trump nor Saleh committed walking back the threats, but both leaders discussed the importance of the U.S.-Iraqi relationship.

The meeting occurred against the backdrop of renewed threats from Shiite militia groups in Iraq against the United States. Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group, warned Saleh not to speak to Trump and previously threatened lawmakers from voting against the resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Pompeo meets Guaidó. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó on the sidelines of a counterterrorism conference in Bogotá on Monday. There, Pompeo told journalists that “I would fully expect there will be further action that the United States would take to continue to support President Guaidó and the Venezuelan people.” On Tuesday, the United States blacklisted 15 planes that belonged to the state oil company. Pompeo’s comments came just weeks after tensions rose between Guaidó and Nicolás Maduro’s government, which blocked Guaidó and opposition lawmakers from entering the National Assembly.

The Berlin conference on Libya. World powers met in Berlin on Sunday in the latest attempt to help bring Libya’s long civil war to an end. Turkey, Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates—all major players in the conflict—attended, as well as representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. The leaders of the two main factions, the Government of National Accord Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and leading warlord Gen. Khalifa Haftar, attended but did not participate. The powers signed a communiqué pledging to respect a U.N.-imposed arms embargo, an attempt to build upon a cease-fire forged by Russia and Turkey earlier this month.


Movers and Shakers

Another shake-up at the NSC. The National Security Council’s senior director for Europe and Eurasia, Andrew Peek, was abruptly placed on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation, though it’s unclear what it is about. He will be temporarily replaced by a Pentagon staffer, Tom Williams, according to CNN. The last two people in Peek’s position, Fiona Hill and Tim Morrison, departed their jobs before testifying in the ongoing impeachment investigation.

New envoy at State. FP’s Colum Lynch broke the story on Wednesday that Mark Lambert, a former U.S. envoy for North Korea, has been tapped as new special envoy charged with countering China’s clout in international organizations. Until now, the Trump administration has largely ignored that growing influence.

Revolving door. Steven Walker, the former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who left the Pentagon late last year, began his new job as vice president and chief technology officer of Lockheed Martin effective Jan. 13. Walker is credited with reinvigorating DARPA’s hypersonic weapons and space efforts, as well as developing and fielding a new long range anti-ship Missile—built by Lockheed.


Foreign Policy Recommends

Found in translation. The Monterey County Weekly obtained a cache of documents through Freedom of Information Act requests from the Pentagon’s Defense Language Institute. The result is a fascinating deep dive into what the Pentagon’s foreign language programs reveal about shifting U.S. foreign policy priorities over time.


Odds and Ends

Indian space robot. The Indian Space Research Organization recently unveiled a robot called Vyom Mitra that will lead a mission to space. The robot is designed to resemble a human woman. Though it is limited in its mobility, it is highly sophisticated in other ways: notably in its ability to recognize and communicate with other astronauts, respond to their questions, and detect environmental changes.


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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