Morning Brief

Trump Impeachment Trial Enters Second Day

Although Trump’s defense team underwhelmed in opening presentations, acquittal still seems the most likely outcome.

The U.S. Capitol on February 9, 2021 in Washington, DC.
The U.S. Capitol on February 9, 2021 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The U.S. Senate continues the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump, a WHO investigative team concludes its Wuhan mission, and Palestinian leaders agree on election timetable.

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A Bizarre Opening to Second Trial

The impeachment trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump continues today in the Senate after an emotional—and sometimes bizarre—opening day on Tuesday.

Trump’s supporters will expect more from his legal team after they mounted a less than stirring defense of the former president. “The first lawyer just rambled on and on,” Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, told reporters afterwards, referencing the presentation of attorney Bruce Castor, who began his speech by complimenting the strength of the Democratic House managers’ case.

The lawyer also questioned whether the trial was really about Trump’s alleged incitement of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. “We are really here because the majority of the House of Representatives doesn’t want to face Donald Trump as a political rival in the future,” Castor said.

The GOP shield. Whether Trump will face any concrete consequences from the impeachment trial depends entirely on how many of the 50 Republican Senators (20 of whom face reelection in 2022) are willing to break ranks with their extremely popular figurehead and help Democrats reach the 67 votes they need for a conviction. Based on the 55-45 Senate vote on the constitutionality of the proceedings taken before the trial, Trump looks likely to continue  what would be a historic streak of impeachment acquittals.

What next? House managers and Trump’s defense team now have 16 hours each in which to present their arguments, a process that is expected to take several days—and longer if Senators vote to allow the calling of witnesses.

A foreign policy history lesson. Although this trial lacks the international basis of last year’s impeachment proceedings, Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin and Joe Neguse did find time on Tuesday to educate Senators on historical precedents for the trial. Both representatives mentioned the case of Warren Hastings, the de facto first Governor-General of India who was impeached by the British House of Commons in 1786 for crimes committed in India, facing trial four years after he had left his position.

Despite that trial being of interest to at least one U.S. Founding Father, Trump’s lawyer Bruce Castor dismissed the reference. “We left the British system,” Castor said.

Castor will be hoping his client faces the same fate as Hastings: He was eventually acquitted—albeit after a seven-year trial.

What We’re Following Today

Myanmar protests. One protester was severely wounded after being shot in the head by police using live bullets to disperse crowds in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, on Tuesday. The violence against protesters was condemned by Ola Almgren, the U.N. representative in Myanmar, who said the use of force was “unacceptable.” Also on Tuesday, police raided the party headquarters of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. Despite the previous day’s violence, protests across the country continue today.

WHO in Wuhan. A World Health Organization investigative team has dismissed conspiracy theories surrounding a local virology lab as they concluded their mission to Wuhan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.

Bats still remain the likely source of the virus, WHO’s Peter Ben Embarek told a press briefing, although the experts are still no closer to identifying how the coronavirus made its way to the fish market where the first outbreaks were reported. “The possible path from whatever original animal species all the way through to the Huanan market could have taken a very long and convoluted path involving also movements across borders,” Embarek said.

Somalia pressure. The U.N. Security Council has called on Somalia’s central and regional governments to resume dialogue “urgently” with a view to holding elections “as soon as possible” as the country faces a leadership crisis following the collapse of talks on Saturday. The central government and semi-autonomous regions are split on how to administer new elections as the term of Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has technically expired. Fresh talks are scheduled for Feb. 15.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Hodan Isse and Sagal B.H. Musa explain why Somalia’s problems extend far beyond its current political crisis.

Keep an Eye On

Palestinian elections. In a joint statement on Tuesday, Hamas and Fatah agreed to an election timetable in Gaza and the West Bank, adding that they would both “respect and accept” the results. Parliamentary elections are due to be held on May 22, while a presidential election is slated for July 31. If the elections go ahead, they will be the first Palestinian votes since 2006.

Writing in Foreign Policy on Feb. 2, Dalia Hatuqa pointed to the deeper problems facing Palestinian leadership. “Palestinians can’t hope for a successful election—whether presidential, parliamentary, or local—without long-overdue institutional overhaul,” Hatuqa writes.

Japan’s vaccines. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced today that the country would begin coronavirus vaccinations by the middle of next week, making it the final G-7 nation to start inoculating its citizens. The program already faces its first hurdle, as a shortage of specially-designed syringes means medical workers will only be able to extract five doses from each vial, rather than the standard six.

Odds and Ends

A video that purportedly showed members of Colombia’s ELN guerrilla force pledging support to Ecuadorian leftist presidential candidate Andrés Arauz has been debunked after an ornithologist identified a bird call on the recording that cast doubt on its authenticity.

“I recognized the whistle instantly and I knew that the video could not have been filmed in Colombia,” said Manuel Sánchez, an ornithologist and bird guide. Sánchez identified the bird as a pale-browed tinamou, whose only habitat extends from western Ecuador to northwest Peru—not Colombia.

The attempted smear appeared after a Colombian magazine said it had found documents connecting Arauz to the ELN.

Twittering aside, Ecuador’s voters appeared unperturbed by the video as they granted Arauz frontrunner status in last weekend’s presidential election ahead of an April runoff vote.

That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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