By Robert A. Vella
There’s lots of news to get to today, so I’ll omit my usual commentary. If readers have specific questions, I’ll answer them in the comment section.
Impeachment trial update
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Senate was poised to hear opening arguments Wednesday in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, with Democratic House managers set to make their case that Trump abused power and should be removed from office.
After late-night deliberations over the rules that will govern the process, the trial was on fast track, with almost no signs of Republican resistance to quickly assessing, and voting, on charges related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Senators rejected all attempts to bring in new witnesses — including top Trump aides — and are likely to do so again next week shutting out any chance of new testimony.
Trump, who was in Davos, Switzerland, attending a global economic forum, suggested he would be open to his advisers testifying, then quickly backtracked, saying there were “national security” concerns to consider.
(Bloomberg) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the last minute changed his rules proposal for President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, offering a modified resolution at the start of Tuesday’s trial to make some concessions to Democrats and moderate Republicans.
The changes will ease the frenzied schedule for opening arguments and will accept evidence from the House inquiry. The new version of the rules resolution sticks more closely to the precedent set by Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial but still allows for a potentially quick conclusion.
New Giuliani scandal
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – At a lavish August gathering at a private estate in Spain, a wealthy Venezuelan businessman under criminal investigation in the United States introduced Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, to the father of Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido.
The affair was part of a campaign for leniency for the businessman, Alejandro Betancourt, who sought to demonstrate his close ties to opposition figures looking to oust Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro – a key objective of the Trump administration.
Betancourt told Giuliani he secretly helped bankroll Guaido’s efforts to take over the leadership of Venezuela, according to four people familiar with the situation, two of whom provided details about the meeting in Spain. Betancourt hoped those bona fides would enable Giuliani, his lawyer, to persuade Trump’s Justice Department to drop its probe of Betancourt in connection with a Florida money laundering and bribery case, the people said.
A month later, at a meeting in Washington, D.C., Giuliani urged Justice Department prosecutors to go easy on Betancourt, according to a person with direct knowledge of the meeting, and Lev Parnas, a former Giuliani associate, who said Giuliani told him about it soon afterward.
The intelligence community’s top election security official says no other country influenced the 2016 presidential election in a manner comparable to the systemic and wide-ranging campaign waged by Russia, contrary to allegations made by President Trump and some Republicans that Ukraine engaged in election interference against Mr. Trump’s campaign.
“Countries seek to influence each other all the time. And when it becomes particularly problematic is when it’s covert, when it’s subversive, when it’s illegal,” said Shelby Pierson, who serves as the intelligence community’s election threats executive. “And we do not assess that any other country influenced the United States election in 2016 on the scale of what the Russians did.”
In an interview with Intelligence Matters host and CBS News senior national security contributor Michael Morell, Pierson, who was named to the newly created role in July by then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, declined to discuss whether Russian intelligence operatives were behind the seeding or propagation of the notion that Ukraine sought to interfere in 2016.
Refugees fleeing their native countries due to the effects of the climate crisis in future years may not be forced to return if their lives are in danger, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said in a ruling Monday. The committee anticipates a flood of “millions” of climate refugees in the near future.