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National Politics

Impeachment festers as Washington eyes war

Washington (rightfully) continues to be focused on potential war with Iran after President Donald Trump authorized the killing of the country’s top general, who the US long ago designated as a terrorist.

The Pentagon said Tuesday that Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases that hold US troops in response to the US airstrike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the top Iranian general, last week.

I looked at how the administration’s justification for Soleimani’s killing has evolved from heading off an imminent attack, as Trump first said, to retribution, which he said earlier Tuesday. Read that here.

How the public perceives Trump’s strike against Iran — decisive or impulsive — will have serious implications for his presidency. But there is also the matter of his Senate trial, which has yet to be resolved after last month’s House impeachment vote.

The latest mood on the Hill, from CNN’s Lauren Fox:

A handful of Senate Democrats have made clear they are ready for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move on from her withholding of the two articles of impeachment of Trump. And some Senate Republicans are threatening they’d be open to overhauling the Senate rules and starting a trial without them if Pelosi waits much longer, something Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been clear he isn’t open to doing.

After a two-week holiday recess and an announcement by McConnell that he has the votes to launch an impeachment trial without getting bipartisan agreement on whether there should be witnesses, some Senate Democrats are arguing that Pelosi’s gamble to withhold the articles of impeachment has served its purpose. Now, they say, it’s time for Pelosi to select House managers and move on.

“I’m hoping they will come over here soon,” Democratic Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat from Alabama who is up for reelection, told CNN. “I think most people are ready to get moving on this.”

Two sources told CNN that during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday evening, Pelosi continued to emphasize to her members that she wants to see a fair process in the Senate trial. There was no word yet on a timeline for sending the articles to the Senate, according to sources in the room.

Read more here.

McConnell has votes to move ahead with the trial he wants

McConnell said Tuesday that he has the votes — meaning Republicans are united or close to it — to push the three-stage impeachment trial he favors.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be witnesses as Democrats have demanded, but it does mean McConnell believes he can delay that decision. Read the full story.

The three stages of the trial would be:

This format is similar to the way the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton was conducted. That ultimately included videotaped testimony by three witnesses.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a key Republican voice on these matters, said he’d like to hear what former national security adviser John Bolton would have to say at a Senate trial, but he stopped short of saying directly he’d vote to subpoena Bolton.

McConnell has essentially bought some time and punted a decision on whether to hear from witnesses. What he does not yet have in hand are the articles of impeachment.

In a letter to her colleagues on Tuesday evening, Pelosi called for McConnell to “immediately” publish the resolution detailing the rules for the trial, saying that step had to be taken before the articles would be sent to the Senate.

“It is important that he immediately publish this resolution, so that, as I have said before, we can see the arena in which we will be participating, appoint managers and transmit the articles to the Senate,” she wrote.

Side note: Both Pelosi and McConnell were briefed Tuesday on intelligence that led to Trump’s strike in Iraq against Iran’s general. But that seems like an odd place for them to have a sidebar on Trump’s impeachment trial.

David Chalian talked about all of this with John King and impeachment expert Ross Garber on the Impeachment Watch podcast Tuesday. Listen here.

Trump on Bolton

Trump offered his first public reaction Tuesday to the news that Bolton is prepared to testify if issued a subpoena for the Senate trial.

The President said Bolton “would know nothing about what we’re talking about,” despite the fact that Bolton was his adviser at the time, met with him about Ukraine, and has first-hand knowledge of the hold on Ukrainian aid.

9 things Bolton could reveal

CNN’s Marshall Cohen outlined many of the things Bolton could reveal if he testifies at a Senate trial. This one is worth your time and serves as a reminder of how closely Bolton was woven into this process — even as he tried to distance himself from it.

Meanwhile, Trump’s first national security adviser faces prison time

Federal prosecutors reversed course and recommended six months in prison for Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, who was ousted in February 2017 over his interactions with Russian officials. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI but, according to the DOJ, has failed to accept responsibility for his actions and should be punished accordingly. Read more here.

Interview special: Top White House congressional liaison on the coming trial

Eric Ueland, the White House director of legislative affairs, talked to CNN’s Phil Mattingly about McConnell’s moves on the structure of the impeachment trial — and about how Trump will deal with efforts in Congress to curb his power with regard to Iran.

Q&A:

Both the managers and the defense team have the option of calling witnesses — is that something your defense team is considering at this point?

I’m not going to talk about our defense strategy. We do like the opportunities that the Clinton process protects for both us and the full Senate as we go through this conversation and are able to refute the House case on the merits, refute the House case on the process and point to ultimately vindication for the President when it comes to not guilty verdicts on these two articles.

Will the White House exert executive privilege if Bolton is subpoenaed?

It’s way premature to talk about those kinds of things.

Is White House Counsel Pat Cipollone your lead on the Senate floor?

I think the President has been very clear about Pat’s leading role on all of this. Any other additional announcements in terms of the team I’ll leave for the President to make, but we’ll have a very strong team, make a very effective case. People have been working on this since the morning the speaker announced the beginning of this back in September and we’re prepared to go as quickly as we can get under way.

We’re very gratified with the construct the majority leader and the Senate majority has agreed upon in order to actually conduct this trial when the trial actually starts.

What does the White House see as the urgency in terms of starting this trial?

I think any innocent individual wants to go to trial as quickly as possible in order to clear his or her name. We are very interested in having the opportunity to speedily make the President’s case on the facts, make the case on the process.

Is the President concerned about Congressional action to restrict his Iran effort with a War Powers resolution?

The President is not worried about what Congress might do. The President is looking forward to a strong endorsement by Congress of the actions that he took on the basis of significant and clear threats to US personnel in the region as evidenced by the action he took last week, as well as the explanations that his senior team has laid out here over the past several days. We’ll continue to engage with members of Congress, and we’ll continue to aggressively make our case. We’ll continue to explain the rationale behind what we did. We continue to invite Iran to take de-escalatory and positive steps forward.

What was the White House thinking behind congressional engagement post-Soleimani strike?

We made an affirmative decision that as soon as the strike was over we were going to communicate fully with Congress. From the very beginning of the strike’s conclusion we had administration principals engaged with Democrats as well as Republicans up here on the Hill. For example, the speaker had a 13-minute conversation with Secretary of Defense (Mark) Esper the night of the strike. This is part of a very aggressive, leaning forward engagement with Congress.

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