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By Adam Bienkov

President Donald Trump's decision to assassinate Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani has exposed a growing rift between the US and its historically closest allies in Europe. The attack was met with a remarkable level of criticism by European leaders. The UK threatened to cut back on its long-standing defense alliance with Trump, and Germany suggested openly that the importance of its relationship with the US was declining. Trump responded by threatening European leaders with a new trade war if they remained committed to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.

Yet rather than bring US allies into line, Trump's threats merely highlighted the declining importance that many European leaders now place in the transatlantic alliance. Here's how Trump's international allies are increasingly abandoning the president as his administration alienates them.

UK threatens to cut defense ties

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was endorsed by Trump when he entered office and has previously been keen to stay close to the Trump administration. Trump's order to kill Soleimani, however, has triggered a remarkable turnaround in the UK prime minister's approach to the US. In the immediate aftermath of Soleimani's assassination in a drone strike in Iraq, an operation the US did not warn the UK would take place, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab declared that the conflict was "in none of our interests," adding that the only winners of an Iranian war would be the Islamic State terrorist group. Johnson also spoke out against the US policy, urging Trump to "dial this down" and warning that targeting Iranian cultural sites, as Trump threatened, would be a war crime.

By Kieran Corcoran

As President Donald Trump heads closer to becoming only the third president in US history to weather an impeachment trial in the Senate, a familiar pattern is emerging in the associations that got him in this position. At the same time, expectations that he could speed through the process with a fast, clean acquittal are beginning to evaporate. A striking interview with a figure from the Ukraine pressure campaign underpinning the case of impeachment helps illustrate how Trump finds himself in this bind.

Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, gave a long interview to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow this week in which he described at great length the mechanics and experience of enacting shadow foreign policy on behalf of the White House. Pursued by federal prosecutors on unrelated charges of campaign-finance violations, Parnas broke his silence for reasons he is yet to fully explain. According to Maddow, he seems motivated mainly by fear, and perhaps the prospect of lenient treatment.

Speaking out now, he told Maddow he felt like somebody who had just emerged, blinking, from a cult.
—Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) January 17, 2020

He described a sense of unthinking idolatry when doing Trump's bidding and belief that the president would help protect him. He told The New York Times that he "thought by listening to the president and his attorney that I couldn't possibly get in trouble or do anything wrong." Parnas even had a shrine to Trump in his house.

CBS This Morning

The U.S. military now says several Americans were injured when Iran fired missiles at troops at an Iraqi air base in retaliation for killing its most powerful general. This most recent statement comes after the Pentagon reported that no Americans were harmed in the attack. David Martin is at the Pentagon to break down the shifting accounts.

By Kaitlan Collins and Pamela Brown, CNN

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump is adding three seasoned lawyers to his impeachment legal defense team, people familiar with the matter said, including Kenneth Starr, the hard-charging prosecutor whose work led to President Bill Clinton's impeachment. Alan Dershowitz, the constitutional lawyer, and Robert Ray, Starr's successor at the Office of Independent Counsel during the Clinton administration, are also joining the team, the people said. The three are expected to join a legal team headed by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and outside attorney Jay Sekulow, who are still expected to deliver statements on the President's behalf on the Senate floor. Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Trump's longtime personal counsel Jane Raskin will also supplement the President's impeachment legal team, a person familiar with the matter said.

Trump's impeachment trial over the Ukraine scandal officially began on Thursday. The outcome is all but determined, as the two-thirds vote required to remove the President would need 20 Republican senators to break rank. The White House did not mount a formal defense during the House's investigation as it refused to cooperate with the Democratic-led probe. A spokesman for Trump's legal team said Dershowitz will present oral arguments at the Senate trial.

By Evan Perez and David Shortell, CNN

Washington (CNN) Justice Department prosecutors are investigating a media leak tied to the FBI's Hillary Clinton email probe, a person familiar with the matter said, an unusually belated move that is prompting questions about political motivations since the new inquiry could involve one of the President Donald Trump's most vocal critics, James Comey. The former FBI director in 2017 told Congress about a piece of classified evidence that played a role in his decision to unilaterally announce no charges against Clinton in a press conference that usurped the role of his superiors at the Justice Department. Before that testimony, news reports had described the classified information.

But in recent months, investigators in the Washington US Attorney's office have been looking into possible legal violations in the disclosure of that information. Investigators have interviewed witnesses about the media disclosure, according to another person familiar with the matter. It's not clear who the target of the probe is. But Comey's role in the matter raises the prospect that prosecutors could end up examining his conduct as part of the probe. The New York Times first reported the new investigation.

By Lisa Eadicicco

On Monday, Attorney General Barr said Apple had not provided any "substantive assistance" with unlocking two iPhones belonging to a Saudi shooter who killed three people at Navy base in Florida last month. Now, a new report from The Wall Street Journal suggests that some in the Federal Bureau of Investigation disagree with those remarks.

Some officials within the bureau were surprised at Barr's words because they felt that Apple had provided adequate help with the investigation, the Journal reports. Another concern among some agents is that the push for Apple to create a backdoor that would enable access to private data stored on iPhones could also sour the bureau's relationship with the tech giant, the report also says.

The report comes after Barr held a press conference on Monday, where he called on Apple and other tech firms to help the FBI gain access to two iPhones used by the shooter, Mohammad Alshamrani. Apple has since pushed back against Barr's claims that the tech giant hasn't provided "substantive assistance," saying that it has shared "many gigabytes" of information with the FBI.

By Eugene Kiely

Since announcing on Jan. 2 that a U.S. operation had killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Trump administration has offered various accounts of the intelligence assessments that President Donald Trump relied on to make his decision. Initially, Trump administration officials said Soleimani was planning an “imminent attack” against U.S. service members and diplomats without providing any evidence or offering any details. “We don’t know precisely when and we don’t know precisely where — but it was real,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a Jan. 9 interview.

Over the course of two days, Jan. 9 and Jan. 10, the president escalated the imminent threats posed by Soleimani with new details — but no evidence — that even members of Congress were not given in their classified briefings. On Jan. 9, Trump told reporters Soleimani was threatening to “blow up” the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and later told his supporters at a political rally that Soleimani “was looking very seriously at our embassies and not just the embassy in Baghdad.” A day later, Trump told Fox News, “I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies.”

But, in the Fox News interview, Trump hedged his revelations with the words “I believe” and “I think.” He went on in that interview to say, “I think it would have been four embassy, could have been military bases, could have been a lot of other things too.” Two days later, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he “didn’t see” any intelligence that indicated the Iranians would attack four embassies. He also said the president was merely expressing his belief that there “could have been attacks against additional embassies.”

By Mark Morales and Frank Bivona, CNN

Avon, Connecticut (CNN) FBI investigators on Thursday visited both the home and business of Connecticut congressional candidate Robert Hyde, who this week was implicated in the Ukraine scandal. The agents were seen by CNN and their presence was confirmed by a law enforcement official. They were at the home early Thursday morning in Weatogue, Connecticut, before going to Hyde's business in nearby Avon. Hyde runs both his landscaping company and his campaign headquarters from the office. The investigators did not answer questions as to Hyde's whereabouts or why they wanted to speak with him. No other details were provided. Text messages show Hyde was involved in efforts to surveil and remove former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from her post in Kiev.

“Remember, people who go on TV are never under oath,” Conway remarked at one point.
By Matt Wilstein

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway was asked four times by Fox News on Thursday morning to “flat-out” refute claims from Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas that President Donald Trump was fully “aware” of what he was up to in Ukraine. She didn’t give a straight answer once. After Fox aired a clip of Parnas’ interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow from Wednesday night, they asked her to refute his central claims. Conway first tried to laugh it off, joking with no sense of irony, “Remember, people who go on TV are never under oath.” Meanwhile, the Trump White House has blocked witnesses from testifying under oath and criticized the credibility of those who have.

But that argument didn’t satisfy Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer, who repeatedly grilled Conway on the substance of what Parnas was saying. “Are you saying flat-out, 100 percent what he alleges is not true, yes or no?” Hemmer asked. Instead of answering yes or no, Conway went on to offer up an “objection” to the idea that Parnas could know Trump was aware of his movements. “You cannot say what someone else knew or thought,” she said. “That was a TV show, not a court of law.”

By Jeremy Herb, CNN

(CNN) The third Senate impeachment trial of a US president in history convened on Thursday with the reading of the two impeachment articles charging President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The seven House impeachment managers who will prosecute the case against the President marched the articles from the House to the Senate on Thursday, beginning the ceremonial functions of the impeachment trial in which senators will decide whether Trump should be removed from office. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and the lead impeachment manager, read the articles in the chamber shortly after noon ET.

The outcome of the trial is all but determined, as the two-thirds vote required to remove the President would need 20 Republican senators to break ranks. But that doesn't mean the trial itself won't have twists and turns — and potentially some surprises — as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell navigates the demands of his Senate conference, pressures from Democrats and the whims of Trump and his Twitter account. Already this week, indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas has upended the impeachment conversation by providing the House Intelligence Committee with a trove of evidence about his work with Giuliani's efforts to oust former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch last spring and then pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. And the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, said Thursday that the Trump administration violated the law when it withheld Ukraine security aid that Congress has appropriated.

By Bart Jansen, Christal Hayes, Nicholas Wu - USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – House lawmakers, who are called managers and who will prosecute the impeachment case against President Donald Trump, carried the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Thursday and read the charges aloud to formally begin the third trial of a sitting president.

The seven House managers were recognized at 12:06 p.m. and were escorted to the well of the Senate. The lead manager, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., then read the articles aloud as senators sat at their mahogany desks. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the longest-serving senator known as the Senate president pro tem, presided over the reception of the articles.

After the reading, the Senate recessed to await the arrival of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial. Four senators – Republican Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chairman of the Rules Committee, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the longest-serving senator, and Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee – will escort Roberts into the chamber.

Lev Parnas told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that he didn't do anything "without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president."
By Phil Helsel

Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani who has been implicated in an alleged attempt to pressure the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, says, "President Trump knew exactly what was going on." "He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn't do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president. I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials," Parnas, who faces campaign finance charges, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow in an interview that aired Wednesday night.

"I mean, they have no reason to speak to me. Why would President Zelenskiy's inner circle or Minister Avakov or all these people or President Poroshenko meet with me? Who am I? They were told to meet with me. And that's the secret that they're trying to keep. I was on the ground doing their work," Parnas said. Volodymyr Zelenskiy was elected president in April, defeating incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Arsen Avakov is Ukraine's interior minister.

By Jeremy Herb, CNN

(CNN) The Government Accountability Office says the Trump administration broke the law when it withheld US security aid to Ukraine last year that had been appropriated by Congress -- an issue at the center of the impeachment of President Donald Trump. The GAO, a nonpartisan congressional watchdog, said in a decision issued Thursday that the White House budget office violated the Impoundment Control Act, a 1974 law that limits the White House from withholding funds that Congress has appropriated.

The Office of Management and Budget told the GAO it "withheld the funds to ensure that they were not spent 'in a manner that could conflict with the President's foreign policy,'" said Thomas Armstrong, the GAO's general counsel. "Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law," the GAO wrote. "OMB withheld funds for a policy reason, which is not permitted under the Impoundment Control Act. The withholding was not a programmatic delay. Therefore, we conclude that OMB violated the ICA."

The decision will add fuel to the Democratic allegations that Trump's conduct ran afoul of the law when the his administration withheld $400 million in security aid to Ukraine while the President and his team pushed Ukraine to open an investigation into the President's political rivals.

A federal judge on Wednesday halted President Donald Trump's executive order that gave state and local officials the ability to shut the door on refugees and ignited a fierce debate in communities about how welcoming the United States should be
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN and JULIE WATSON Associated Press

SILVER SPRING, Md. -- A federal judge on Wednesday halted President Donald Trump's executive order that gave state and local officials the ability to shut the door on refugees, and ignited a fierce debate in communities about how welcoming the United States should be. U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland said in his ruling that the president's order “flies in the face of clear Congressional intent" of the 1980 Refugee Act by allowing state and local governments to block the resettlement of refugees in their jurisdictions. In issuing a preliminary injunction, Messitte said the process should continue as it has for nearly 40 years, with refugee resettlement agencies deciding where a person would best thrive.

Church World Service, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and HIAS — a Jewish nonprofit — filed the lawsuit in Greenbelt, Maryland, on Nov. 21. They said they already work closely with state and local officials before resettling refugees in an area. They called the order an attempt at a state-by-state ban on refugees. Messitte agreed. “It grants them veto power. Period,” the judge wrote.

Soleimani’s “horrible past," as Trump put it, cannot justify the strike.
By Rebecca Ingber

President Trump and officials in his administration have put forward shifting explanations to justify the strike on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, most involving unsupported claims that he had been planning “imminent” attacks. Trump recently asserted Soleimani was targeting four U.S. embassies, a claim Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper declined to defend. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) went so far as to say the claim about the embassies “seems to be totally made up.” On Monday, Trump tweeted affirmation that Soleimani posed an imminent threat but also said the question “doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past.”

In fact, the question of imminence is crucial under both domestic and international law. Under the U.N. Charter, the president’s authority to kill Soleimani required that the United States was facing an armed attack — as well as that the use of force was necessary to repel or prevent it. The United States has long understood that doctrine to also permit force necessary to stop an imminent attack. Whether an attack was truly imminent is also key to the domestic legal question, because U.S. law does not permit the president to use force unilaterally (that is, without congressional authorization) outside of the most exigent circumstances. These legal questions are no mere technicalities. The purpose behind the law is to limit unnecessary war to the greatest possible extent. U.S. presidents have at times pushed the limits of such laws, but doing so has dire consequences — including unnecessary conflict, civilian casualties and the lost trust of our allies, as well as of the U.S. public.

By Adam Gabbatt

The president is about as far from a model of piety as can be imagined but many reach for a biblical figure to justify their support Before the end of 2016 there was little in Donald Trump’s life, or frequently offensive political campaign, to suggest that as president he would be hailed as God’s appointee on Earth, be beloved by born-again Christians, or compared to a biblical king. Yet that is exactly what has happened in the three years since Trump took office, as he has surrounded himself with a God-fearing cabinet and struck up an unlikely but extremely beneficial relationship with white evangelical supporters.

It’s a relationship that, for the president, has ensured unwavering support from a key voter base and for his religious supporters, seen a conservative takeover of the courts and an assault on reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights. It’s also a relationship that is raising concerns about what another four years of Trump governance could achieve when it comes to fulfilling the policy ambitions of his evangelical backers. “It’s incredibly troubling,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to the separation of church and state.

“Trump is conferring unparalleled privilege on one narrow slice of religion,” Laser said. “He confers privilege in exchange for constant loyalty at the ballot box, no matter what he does.” The unlikely alliance between those nominally following biblical interpretations of right and wrong, and a thrice-married man who has been credibly accused of sexual assault and infamously paid off a pornographic actor, has thrown up a rich – and bizarre – cast of characters.

By MARTIN MATISHAK

The U.S. intelligence community is trying to persuade House and Senate lawmakers to drop the public portion of an annual briefing on the globe’s greatest security threats — a move compelled by last year’s session that provoked an angry outburst from President Donald Trump, multiple sources told POLITICO.

Officials from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, on behalf of the larger clandestine community, don’t want agency chiefs to be seen on-camera as disagreeing with the president on big issues such as Iran, Russia or North Korea, according to three people familiar with preliminary negotiations over what's known as the Worldwide Threats hearing.

At the last such threats briefing a year ago, the chiefs presented findings that diverged from the president’s statements on the longevity of Islamic State terror group, as well as Iran and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. He blistered them on Twitter the following day, labeling them “passive” and “naive” while writing that “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!"

Trump later claimed his top intelligence chiefs, including then-DNI Dan Coats and CIA Director Gina Haspel, told him that they had been misquoted in the press — even though their remarks had been broadcast and the video footage was publicly available.

By Dan Evon

U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president." In December 2019, as members of the U.S. House of Representatives gathered to vote on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, a quote ostensibly uttered by President Teddy Roosevelt about patriotism and putting country above party circulated on social media:

By John Hudson and Souad Mekhennet

A week before Germany, France and Britain formally accused Iran of breaching the 2015 nuclear deal, the Trump administration issued a private threat to the Europeans that shocked officials in all three countries. If they refused to call out Tehran and initiate an arcane dispute mechanism in the deal, the United States would impose a 25 percent tariff on European automobiles, the Trump officials warned, according to European officials familiar with the conversations.

Within days, the three countries would formally accuse Iran of violating the deal, triggering a recourse provision that could reimpose United Nations sanctions on Iran and unravel the last remaining vestiges of the Obama-era agreement. The U.S. effort to coerce European foreign policy through tariffs, a move one European official equated to “extortion,” represents a new level of hardball tactics with the United States’ oldest allies, underscoring the extraordinary tumult in the transatlantic relationship. President Trump has previously used the threat of a 25 percent tariff on automobiles to win more-favorable terms in the country’s trade relationship with the Europeans, but not to dictate the continent’s foreign policy.

“The tariff threat is a mafia-like tactic, and it’s not how relations  between allies typically work,” said Jeremy Shapiro, the research  director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.


Democrats in the US House of Representatives have unveiled new evidence as part of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. On Tuesday, they released a trove of documents relating to the allegation that Mr Trump put pressure on Ukraine to investigate a political rival. The president denies the allegation and has branded the inquiry a "witch hunt". The new materials include text messages that suggest the former US ambassador to Ukraine was put under surveillance.

They were obtained from the Ukrainian-American businessman Lev Parnas, an associate of Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Senior Democrats said they would send the documents to the Senate alongside the formal articles of impeachment. The House will vote on Wednesday on whether to send these articles to the Senate. As Democrats control the House, this vote is expected to pass meaning the impeachment trial can begin in earnest next week.

Mr Trump was impeached by the House last month, on accusations of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He denies trying to pressure Ukraine to open an investigation into his would-be Democratic White House challenger Joe Biden.

What is the new evidence?

The materials include letters, phone records, notes and flash drives from Mr Parnas, who was born in Ukraine and is a close associate of Mr Giuliani. They were made available to investigators earlier this week and then sent to the House Judiciary Committee.

New documents show why the president has been trying to hide evidence from Congress.
By Neal Katyal and Joshua A. Geltzer

Americans who have been wondering why President Trump has taken the extraordinary step of trying to block every document from being released to Congress in his impeachment inquiry need wonder no longer. The new documents released Tuesday evening by the House Intelligence Committee were devastating to Trump’s continuing — if shifting — defense of his Ukraine extortion scandal, just days before his impeachment trial is likely to begin in the Senate. These new documents demolish at least three key defenses to which Trump and his allies have been clinging: that he was really fighting corruption when he pressured Ukraine on matters related to the Biden family; that Hunter Biden should be called as a witness at the Senate impeachment trial; and that there’s no need for a real, honest-to-goodness trial in the Senate.

The most basic principles of constitutional law require relevant information, including documents and executive branch witnesses, to be turned over to Congress in an impeachment proceeding. Particularly because sitting presidents cannot be indicted, impeachment is the only immediate remedy we the people have against a lawless president. For that remedy to have any teeth, relevant information has to be provided. That’s why President James Polk said that, during impeachment, Congress could “penetrate into the most secret recesses of the Executive Departments … command the attendance of any and every agent of the Government, and compel them to produce all papers, public or private, official or unofficial.” No president, not even Richard Nixon, thought he could just say “no” to impeachment. That’s why the House added Article II to Trump’s impeachment: “Obstruction of Congress.” It was a response to an unprecedented attempt by a president to hide the truth.

By Philip Rucker, John Hudson, Shane Harris and Josh Dawsey

The theory was born last Thursday in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, where President Trump stood before men in hard hats and orange construction vests for an environmental announcement and offered a fresh rationale for his controversial order to kill a top Iranian general. “They were looking to blow up our embassy,” Trump said, referring to the heavily secured Baghdad facility that had become a magnet for protesters. Later that night, at a raucous campaign rally in Ohio, Trump added to his story. The Iranians, he claimed, were planning to attack not only the U.S. Embassy in Iraq but also an undisclosed number of embassies in other countries.

And then Trump fleshed out his claim even further. “I can reveal I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” he said in an interview Friday with Fox News Channel. Based on what is known so far, Trump’s statement was at best an unfounded theory and at worst a falsehood. At each turn in the commander in chief’s rapidly evolving narrative of why he authorized the Jan. 3 drone strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the machinery of government scrambled to adapt and respond.

The result is a credibility crisis for an administration that has long struggled to communicate factual information to the public. At a perilous moment for the nation’s security, with the United States at the brink of war with Iran, Trump is unable to rely on trustworthiness to justify his decision to take out Soleimani, both because of his lengthy record of exaggerations and lies and because of his ever-shifting rationales.

By Kylie Atwood, CNN

Washington (CNN) State Department officials involved in US embassy security were not made aware of imminent threats to four specific US embassies, two State Department officials tell CNN, further undermining President Donald Trump's claims that the top Iranian general he ordered killed earlier this month posed an imminent threat to the diplomatic outposts. Without knowledge of any alleged threats, the State Department didn't issue warnings about specific dangers to any US embassy before the administration targeted Qasem Soleimani, Iran's second most powerful official, according to the sources.

The State Department sent a global warning to all US embassies before the strike occurred, a senior State Department official said and the department spokesperson confirmed, but it was not directed at specific embassies and did not warn of an imminent attack. One senior State Department official described being "blindsided" when the administration justified the deadly Reaper drone strike on Soleimani by saying Iran's "shadow commander" was behind an imminent threat to blow up US embassies. CNN has reached out to the White House for comment on claims that the State Department officials were taken by surprise.

Trump claimed at an Ohio rally that Soleimani "was actively planning new attacks," then told Fox News, "I believe it probably would've been four embassies," naming Baghdad as one. Senior administration officials around the President have repeatedly pointed to danger facing US embassies in the Middle East.

The timing raises new questions about the Trump administration's stated justification for taking out the top Iranian general.
By Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump authorized the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani seven months ago if Iran's increased aggression resulted in the death of an American, according to five current and former senior administration officials. The presidential directive in June came with the condition that Trump would have final signoff on any specific operation to kill Soleimani, officials said. That decision explains why assassinating Soleimani was on the menu of options that the military presented to Trump two weeks ago for responding to an attack by Iranian proxies in Iraq, in which a U.S. contractor was killed and four U.S. service members were wounded, the officials said. The timing, however, could undermine the Trump administration's stated justification for ordering the U.S. drone strike that killed Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3. Officials have said Soleimani, the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Quds Force, was planning imminent attacks on Americans and had to be stopped.

By Kara Scannell, CNN

(CNN) An attorney for Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, has turned over photos, dozens of text messages and thousands of pages of documents to House impeachment investigators in an effort to win his client an audience with lawmakers. Joseph A. Bondy, Parnas' New York attorney, traveled to Washington, DC, over the weekend to hand-deliver the contents of an iPhone 11 to Democratic staff on the House Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, according to a series of Bondy's tweets. "After our trip to DC, we worked through the night providing a trove of Lev Parnas' WhatsApp messages, text messages & images—not under protective order—to #HPSCI, detailing interactions with a number of individuals relevant to the impeachment inquiry. #LetLevSpeak #LevRemembers," according to Bondy's tweet.

  After our trip to DC, we worked through the night providing a trove of Lev Parnas' WhatsApp messages, text messages & images—not under protective order—to #HPSCI, detailing interactions with a number of individuals relevant to the impeachment inquiry. #LetLevSpeak #LevRemembers pic.twitter.com/HdHaCyZXIm
  — Joseph A. Bondy (@josephabondy) January 13, 2020

Parnas has also provided investigators with documents, recordings, photos, text messages on What's App, an encrypted messaging platform, and materials from a Samsung phone, according to Bondy. Material from two other devices, an iPad and another iPhone, are also expected to be shared with them.

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

(CNN) President Donald Trump's reputation for bending truth for political ends and conflicting administration rationales for taking out Iran's top general are stirring a new debate over intelligence with troubling echoes in recent history. Administration officials are tying themselves in knots to avoid contradicting Trump's statement that Qasem Soleimani was planning attacks on four US embassies and that the President was therefore justified in ordering his killing. Lawmakers say the hugely significant claim was not included in briefings on Capitol Hill last week by the administration to explain the Soleimani strike amid a fast widening controversy over whether its risks were justified. Given the serious nature of Trump's claim, arguments that intelligence surrounding the attack is too sensitive to be released is unlikely to quell the controversy. Discord over the rationale for the Soleimani attack is awakening history's ghosts of US foreign interventions that went bad after questionable rationales for war -- for instance in Iraq -- as well as contemporary questions about this administration's attitude toward trust and truth.

By Daniel Politi

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday that he did not see any specific evidence that showed Iran planned to attack four U.S. embassies as President Donald Trump had claimed. The Pentagon chief later appeared to try to row back what he had said, insisting he shared the same assessment as the commander in chief but refused to detail whether there was any actual intelligence that would back up the claim. “I didn’t see one, with regard to four embassies,” Esper said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “What I’m saying is that I shared the president’s view that probably—my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies. The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking this isn’t a decision.
By Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick

One thing few people know about the architecture of the U.S. Supreme Court building concerns the turtles. They are built into the lampposts around the exterior courtyard of the building. They are adorable, but they are also meaningful—they are meant to signify the slow deliberative pace of justice. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor liked to call attention to the turtles as emblematic of an institutional virtue in a high-speed world: “They move slowly,” she said, in 2005. “That’s what we do.”

Justices and judges may pride themselves on not being rushed into precipitous action, but the judiciary also has the capacity to move very quickly when circumstances demand it. That’s why it is particularly noteworthy that the current failure to move things along is so advantageous to Donald Trump and his chances for success in the November 2020 election, and also so obviously disadvantaging the Democratic-held House of Representatives. One could be forgiven for starting to wonder whether the courts are taking sides but doing it in a way that looks measured and restrained. The thing is: Sometimes not resolving an exigent case is a decision.

By Max Fisher and Amanda Taub

Allegations that killing Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani crossed a line draw on two definitions of the term — one legal, one colloquial — whose dissonance reveals how far executive power has expanded. A single word has become a focal point of concerns about President Trump’s decision to kill Iran’s top general: assassination. There is no fixed, formal definition of assassination. But, as with many politically charged labels, the word has taken on significance broader than any one meaning, shorthand for concerns that Mr. Trump’s decision to kill Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani was unethical, illegitimate or dangerous.

The Trump administration says that its strike on General Suleimani was not an assassination, calling it a lawful and justifiable use of force. Assassination is colloquially defined as a killing, or sometimes murder, for political purposes, particularly but not necessarily of a senior political leader. Mr. Suleimani’s killing seems to fit that description. He was one of the senior-most figures in the government of Iran, a country that is not formally at war with the United States. While the Trump administration’s justifications have focused on halting what it says was an “imminent” attack, they have also included political aims, such as changing Iran’s behavior.

But there is also a second definition.

The United States banned assassination in 1976 but did not define it. Ever since, decades of legal interpretation and precedent-setting have evolved into a legal understanding of assassination that is intricate, disputed and narrower with each administration.

By Adam Bienkov

Donald Trump's decision to assassinate Qassem Soleimani has triggered a major rupture between the United States and its historically closest ally in the United Kingdom. In remarkably outspoken comments, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Sunday that Trump's isolationist foreign policy stance meant the UK was now looking for alternative allies around the world. "I worry if the United States withdraws from its leadership around the world," he told the Sunday Times. He added: "The assumptions of 2010 that we were always going to be part of a US coalition is really just not where we are going to be." The comments came after Boris Johnson's government distanced itself from the attack last week, with the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab labelling it a "dangerous escalation," which risked a conflict in which "terrorists would be the only winners."

By Colby Itkowitz

Disgraced former House speaker Dennis Hastert’s name was trending on Twitter Saturday morning after President Trump suggested “Nancy Pelosi will go down as the absolute worst Speaker of the House in U.S. History!” Trump’s morning tweet is the third time in 24 hours the president has made this prediction about the California Democrat’s legacy, placing the first woman in the role below the 53 other men to have served as speaker since 1789.

“She is obsessed with impeachment, she has done nothing. She is going to go down as one of the worst Speakers in the history of our country,” Trump said Friday night during an interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham. “And she’s become a crazed lunatic. But she will go down as — I think maybe the worst speaker in the history of our country.”

But some Twitter users were quick to point out the track record of other past speakers, namely Hastert (R-Ill.), the longest -running Republican speaker, from 1999 to 2007, and an admitted sex offender who molested teenage boys he had coached in high school wrestling. Hastert was convicted of bank fraud in a scheme to buy the silence of his victims.

By Chandelis Duster, CNN

Washington (CNN) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's supporting a resolution to dismiss the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump a "cover up." "The dismissing is a cover-up. Dismissing is a cover-up," Pelosi said during an interview on ABC's "This Week." "If they want to go that route, again the senators who are thinking now about voting for witnesses or not, they will have to be accountable for not having a fair trial." McConnell signed onto a resolution from Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri last week to allow for the dismissal of the obstruction of Congress and abuse of power charges against Trump because Pelosi has not yet transferred the articles to the Senate for a trial. Republicans don't have the votes to dismiss the articles. The California Democrat, who has so far withheld the articles as congressional leadership disagree on the shape of trial procedures, said in a letter to her caucus on Friday she was prepared to send the articles of impeachment this week.

By Nicole Gaouette and Jamie Gangel, CNN

(CNN) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a driving force behind President Donald Trump's decision to kill a top Iranian general, sources inside and around the administration tell CNN, a high-stakes move that demonstrates Pompeo's status as the most influential national security official in the Trump administration. Taking Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani "off the battlefield" has been a goal for the top US diplomat for a decade, several sources told CNN. Targeting Iran's second most powerful official -- the leader of the Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force, the politically and economically powerful military group with regional clout -- was Pompeo's idea, according to a source from his inner circle. That source said the secretary brought the suggestion to Trump. Pompeo "was the one who made the case to take out Soleimani, it was him absolutely," this source said.

By Joshua Keating

In the wake of the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iraq says it wants Americans gone once and for all. In a conversation with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi asked the U.S. to send a delegation to set up a mechanism for withdrawing U.S. troops from his country. This came after a confusing and violent week in which the Iraqi Parliament voted to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the U.S. sent and then disavowed a letter agreeing to do so, and Iran launched a missile strike against bases hosting U.S. troops.

The U.S. response to Mahdi’s demand has been more or less “No.” A State Department statement on Friday, after beginning dramatically, “America is a force for good in the Middle East,” made clear that any future negotiations would be “dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership—not to discuss troop withdrawal.”

The president’s first rally of 2020 put his hostility to blue-state Democrats on stark display.
By Aaron Rupar

President Donald Trump had a brief, unusual moment of radical honesty toward the end of his rally on Thursday night in Toledo, Ohio. During a portion of his speech in which he was heaping scorn on the “stone-cold crazy” and “radical” Democrats, Trump paused and said, “You know, it’s interesting, as I’m saying this stuff — you know, ‘they want crime, they want chaos’ — I’m saying all this stuff, and then I say, ‘Gee, I understand why they hate me!’” But as soon as those self-reflective words left his lips, Trump returned to bashing Democrats as “vicious, horrible people.” “What they do to people is a disgrace,” Trump said.

By Amanda Macias

WASHINGTON — The State Department said in a statement Friday that the U.S. will not hold discussions with Iraq regarding American troop withdrawal from the country. “At this time, any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “There does, however, need to be a conversation between the U.S. and Iraqi governments not just regarding security, but about our financial, economic, and diplomatic partnership. We want to be a friend and partner to a sovereign, prosperous, and stable Iraq,” Ortagus added, writing that “America is a force for good in the Middle East.” The latest revelation from the State Department further deepens confusion over plans for U.S. troops in the region.

Published Thu, Jan 9 20203:50 PM ESTUpdated 2 hours ago
By Christina Wilkie @christinawilkie

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he would support witnesses testifying in his upcoming Senate impeachment trial, as long as it meant his legal team could summon House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, and the anonymous whistleblower whose 2019 complaint sparked the probe that ended in Trump’s impeachment.

“I’m going to leave it to the Senate, but I’d like to hear from the whistleblower, I’d like to hear from shifty Schiff, I’d like to hear from Hunter Biden and Joe Biden,” Trump told reporters at a White House event. The president said he also wanted “the second whistleblower” to testify, referring to a second official who sought legal protections in order to share concerns about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president. - If Biden or his son has to testify then Trump, Pompeo, Pence, Giuliani and Bolton have to testify.

By Heidi Glenn

GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah says he found a classified military briefing from administration officials Wednesday so "upsetting" that he will now back a proposal to limit President Trump's power to take military action against Iran and to reassert Congress' role in authorizing the use of military force.

Lee says that at the Senate briefing about the military strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was led by administration officials, including Defense Secretary Mike Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and CIA Director Gina Haspel. He said the briefers instructed lawmakers not to ask tough questions about the president's ability to use military force against Iran.

"It was terrible. It was an unmitigated disaster," Lee told Morning Edition host Rachel Martin Thursday. Lee says his frustration is not over Soleimani's killing. "It was instead about the possibility of future military action against Iran. And it was on that topic they refused to make any commitment about when, whether and under what circumstances it would be necessary for the president — for the executive branch of government — to come to Congress seeking authorization for the use of military force," he says. "I find that unacceptable."

By Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN

Washington (CNN) The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel is arguing that the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment has expired, a blow to supporters' push to enshrine the long-sought effort. "We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA and, because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the States," the OLC said in an opinion released Wednesday. The opinion, issued in response to a lawsuit filed by three conservative-leaning states, effectively prevents the archivist of the United States, who administers the ratification process, from verifying that the amendment is valid and part of the Constitution after the necessary number of states approve it. But his authority doesn't prevent states from acting on their own to ratify the amendment -- or preclude them from legally challenging the Justice Department's opinion in court.

"OLC's opinion doesn't directly affect the litigation, but unless it is overruled by the attorney general or the President, it likely will bind the archivist -- meaning that the only way a new ratification by a state like Virginia would likely be effective is if the courts say so," Stephen Vladeck, a CNN legal analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNN. "This opinion suggests that, from the Executive Branch's perspective, the matter is closed." Supporters say the ERA would ban discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantee equality for women under the Constitution, while opponents argue that the ERA would allow more access to abortion and that many protections are already enshrined at the state level. ERA proponents see Virginia as the next, and 38th, state to ratify the amendment, which would meet the three-fourths threshold necessary for an amendment to be added to the Constitution. Virginia's state legislature returned to session on Wednesday and its Democratic lawmakers, who control both chambers, have said passing the ERA is a priority.


By Susan Page USA TODAY

Americans by more than 2-1 say the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani has made the United States less safe, a nationwide USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll finds, amid broad concerns about the potential consequences ahead. A majority of those surveyed, by 52%-34%, called Trump's behavior with Iran "reckless." Americans were divided on the wisdom of the drone strike at the Baghdad airport last week that killed Soleimani and others: 42% supported it, 33% opposed it; 25% said they didn't know what to think. Republicans were much more supportive than Democrats; independents were almost evenly split. But there was overwhelming agreement – in each case by more than 6-1 – that the attack made it more likely Iran would strike American interests in the Middle East (69%), that there would be terrorist attacks on the American homeland (63%), and that the United States and Iran would go to war with each other (62%).

By Maegan Vazquez, Betsy Klein, Veronica Stracqualursi and Dan Berman, CNN

Washington (CNN) The Trump administration plans to rewrite decades-old regulations to make it easier to build major infrastructure such as pipelines, which would have the effect of relaxing government efforts to fight the climate crisis. President Donald Trump announced Thursday morning the changes to National Environmental Policy Act rules, which requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impact of projects such as the construction of mines, highways, water infrastructure and gas pipelines.

Trump and administration officials said the changes are necessary to speed up approval for needed infrastructure projects. "These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground and deny jobs to our nation's incredible workers. From day one, my administration has made fixing this regulatory nightmare a top priority," Trump said at the White House. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said NEPA rules are a "Frankenstein of a regulatory regime" and "welfare project" for trial attorneys.

The proposal would set time limits on environmental assessments and changes what impacts must be considered, two significant moves that could make it easier to approve projects. Agencies will no longer have to consider "cumulative" effects of new infrastructure under the new rule, which courts have interpreted as a mandate to study effects of emitting more greenhouse gas emissions, according to The New York Times and The Washington Post, which reported the proposals earlier Thursday. That includes the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels.

By Greg Farrell

The New York City Bar Association has asked Congress to investigate U.S. Attorney General William Barr, saying his recent actions and statements have positioned the Justice Department and its prosecutors as “political partisans willing to use the levers of government to empower certain groups over others.” The request disclosed on Thursday appears to be the first time the New York bar or any comparable bar association has asked Congress to investigate a sitting attorney general. Last year, 450 former federal prosecutors from Republican and Democratic administrations signed a statement chastising Barr for his handling of the Mueller report on Russian election interference.

In a letter sent this week to the majority and minority leaders of the U.S. House and Senate, New York City Bar leaders described public statements by the attorney general as troubling for an official whose job is to enforce the law without bias. “The duties to act impartially, to avoid even the appearance of partiality and impropriety, and to avoid manifesting bias, prejudice or partisanship in the exercise of official responsibilities are bedrock obligations for government lawyers,” according to the letter, which was posted Thursday on the association’s website. “Mr. Barr has disregarded these fundamental obligations in several public statements during the past few months,” the letter continued.

By Geoff Brumfiel

Satellite photos taken Wednesday show that an Iranian missile strike has caused extensive damage at the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq, which hosts U.S. and coalition troops. The photos, taken by the commercial company Planet and shared with NPR via the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, show hangars and buildings hit hard by a barrage of Iranian missiles that were fired early Wednesday morning local time.

At least five structures were damaged in the attack on the base in Anbar province, which apparently was precise enough to hit individual buildings. "Some of the locations struck look like the missiles hit dead center," says David Schmerler, an analyst with the Middlebury Institute. Iran's attack targeted at least two military bases in Iraq. The extent of the damage to the second base, in Irbil, was unclear.

By Nicole Gaouette, Hamdi Alkhshali, Ryan Browne, Barbara Starr and Tamara Qiblawi, CNN

(CNN) President Donald Trump, facing the gravest test of his presidency, signaled a de-escalation of tensions with Iran Wednesday in the wake of Iran's retaliatory attacks against Iraqi bases housing US troops. "Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world," Trump said, striking a somber tone during his White House statement.

An early warning system worked well and no American or Iraqi lives were lost, Trump said. The President also outlined new sanctions on Iran and reiterated his vow that "Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon." "The United States will immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime," Trump said during an address to the nation from the White House, noting his administration is continuing to review other options to respond to the Iranian missile strike on Tuesday.

By Scott Neuman

A clear majority of people living outside the U.S. do not trust President Trump to do the right thing in world affairs, with fewer than one-third expressing confidence in him — an opinion also reflected in attitudes toward America generally, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. However, the metrics have improved somewhat for the president since a similar survey two years ago, increasing to 29% expressing confidence from 22%.

The survey published Wednesday was conducted in 33 countries from the spring to early autumn of last year, after relations between the U.S. and North Korea had thawed somewhat but just as tensions were ratcheting up between Washington and Tehran. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that the percentage of those surveyed who expressed "no confidence" in Trump (64%) was a mirror image of the 64% who expressed confidence in President Barack Obama in a survey published in June 2017. In the earlier survey, favorable views of the United States dropped from 64% at the end of the Obama presidency to 49% when Trump became president. That "favorable" opinion of the U.S. had edged up to 54% in the report published Wednesday.

Trump last among five leaders

The Pew study also sought to gauge respondents' opinions on other world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Analysis by Nick Paton Walsh, International Security Editor, CNN

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) It is perhaps the most brazen attack Iran has launched against the United States in four decades of simmering covert and overt conflict. The timing. The target. The threats of heavy retaliation already "locked and loaded," as President Trump would have had it. Yet Wednesday morning's missile strikes against al-Asad airbase and Erbil airport -- both of which play host to US troops -- were clearly not an act designed to kill the most Americans possible.

Iran will have known that the troops are normally asleep in the early hours of the morning. Choosing to attack then likely minimized the number of personnel roaming around the base who could be killed or injured. It will also have known the US has a strong air defense system that would have been on high alert. Tehran should have a grasp of how well its missiles would fare against such technology. The missile attacks don't make sense if Tehran's goal was to really hurt US troops in large numbers -- as some had been pledging to do.

Analysis by Nick Paton Walsh, International Security Editor, CNN

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) It is perhaps the most brazen attack Iran has launched against the United States in four decades of simmering covert and overt conflict. The timing. The target. The threats of heavy retaliation already "locked and loaded," as President Trump would have had it. Yet Wednesday morning's missile strikes against al-Asad airbase and Erbil airport -- both of which play host to US troops -- were clearly not an act designed to kill the most Americans possible.

Iran will have known that the troops are normally asleep in the early hours of the morning. Choosing to attack then likely minimized the number of personnel roaming around the base who could be killed or injured. It will also have known the US has a strong air defense system that would have been on high alert. Tehran should have a grasp of how well its missiles would fare against such technology. The missile attacks don't make sense if Tehran's goal was to really hurt US troops in large numbers -- as some had been pledging to do.

By Sarah Blaskey and Nicholas Nehamas

The ritzy Mar-a-Lago club — one-time Jeffrey Epstein hangout, target of eccentric intruders, nexus of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation — had another unusual occurrence Monday evening. Palm Beach police say they are conducting an “open and active criminal investigation” at the club, also President Donald Trump’s South Florida home, following an unspecified incident.

The Secret Service is leading the investigation and no arrest has been made, according to the Palm Beach Police Department. “During an encounter with local law enforcement, an individual made non-threatening statements about a person under Secret Service protection,” a law enforcement official with knowledge of the incident told the Miami Herald. “As part of standard practice, Palm Beach police contacted the local Secret Service office.”

By Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner

Federal prosecutors Tuesday recommended that former national security adviser Michael Flynn serve up to six months in prison, reversing their earlier recommendation of probation after his attacks against the FBI and Justice Department. The government revoked its request for leniency weeks after Flynn’s sentencing judge categorically rejected Flynn’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct and that he had been duped into pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents about his Russian contacts after the 2016 U.S. election.

“In light of the complete record . . . the government no longer deems the defendant’s assistance ‘substantial,’ ” prosecutor Brandon Van Grack wrote in a 33-page court filing. He added, “It is clear that the defendant has not learned his lesson. He has behaved as though the law does not apply to him, and as if there are no consequences for his actions.”

By Joshua Keating

Yesterday, the future status of U.S. forces in Iraq was plunged into confusion by a withdrawal announcement that may or may not have been intentionally sent. Today, the story somehow got even more ridiculous. To recap, on Monday the Iraqi prime minister’s office circulated a letter from the commander of U.S. forces in the country indicating that those forces would be repositioned in preparation for “onward movement” in response to a recent Iraqi Parliament vote calling for their removal. The U.S. military confirmed the letter was real and it was generally interpreted as statement of intent to remove the troops.

But back in Washington, things got complicated. After some initial suggestion from the Pentagon that the letter was a fake and potentially an Iranian intelligence operation, senior officials then settled on the line that the letter was real, but they had not meant to send it —an “honest mistake” in the words of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley. The line the Pentagon is going with is that it was a “poorly worded” draft that meant to suggest the repositioning of U.S. troops rather than their withdrawal, and as CNN puts it, it was “shared with the Iraqi military for the purposes of coordination and was never sent as a formal memorandum.” Someone in the Iraqi military seems to have shared it with the prime minister’s office.

By Manu Raju and Phil Mattingly, CNN

(CNN) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he has the votes to set the ground rules of the impeachment trial for President Donald Trump -- without Democrats' support. McConnell first made the remarks during a closed-door lunch with his fellow Republican senators on Capitol Hill, an official in the room told CNN, before McConnell made the announcement publicly during a news conference following the lunch. McConnell made clear he had no plans to move forward on a trial until the two articles of impeachment are sent to the Senate, as he has said publicly.

"We have the votes once the impeachment trial has begun to pass a resolution essentially the same, very similar to the 100-to-nothing vote in the Clinton trial, which sets up what's best described as a phase one," McConnell said Tuesday. All McConnell needs is 51 senators -- or a simple majority of the 100-member chamber -- to vote to approve those ground rules. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah have said they back the leader's approach. This is different than the Senate trial for then-President Bill Clinton in 1999, when the ground rules were set by a 100-0 vote. This time it will likely be approved on a party-line vote.

Democrats want a deal up front to hear from witnesses and get documents, but McConnell says those matters should be dealt with later after opening statements. Republicans won't act until they get the two articles of impeachment from the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has held on to them since they were voted on in the House in December. "It continues to be my hope that the speaker will send them on over," McConnell said Tuesday at his news conference.

By Nicole Gaouette and Jennifer Hansler, CNN

Washington (CNN) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday defended the basis for killing Iranian General Qasem Soleimani because of the threat of an imminent strike but declined to present any evidence, saying President Donald Trump's decision was "entirely legal." "There's been much made about this question of intelligence and imminence," Pompeo said at the State Department. "Any time a president makes a decision of this magnitude, there are multitude pieces of information that come before him." "It's the right decision, we got it right, the Department of Defense did excellent work," he said, adding that it was an "entirely legal decision."

Pompeo made his remarks as questions continue to mount about the justification for the strike as well as the administration's overall level of strategic planning for the fallout from killing the second most powerful man in Iran. Pompeo spoke a day after the Pentagon issued contradictory and confusing signals about whether US troops would be pulled from Iraq and Trump doubled down on his threats to strike Iranian cultural sites -- an international war crime that Pompeo had earlier tried to deny the President had said at all. His appearance Tuesday failed to clear up lingering uncertainty or quell calls for more information.

By Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne and Paul LeBlanc, CNN

Washington (CNN) Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday contradicted President Donald Trump by asserting the US would not target Iranian cultural sites amid rising tensions after a US strike killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. "We will follow the laws of armed conflict," Esper told CNN Monday. When pressed if that meant not targeting Iranian cultural sites, Esper replied, "That's the laws of armed conflict." The comments come one day after Trump reiterated his threat to target Iranian cultural sites in a conversation with reporters aboard Air Force One.

"They're allowed to kill our people, they're allowed to torture and maim our people, they're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people, and we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way," Trump said, according to a pool report. The threats have been met with criticism because it is against international law to target cultural rather than military sites, and the US military's policy has long been to avoid striking areas of cultural importance. Two senior US officials told CNN Sunday there was widespread opposition within the administration to targeting cultural sites in Iran should the United States launch retaliatory strikes against Tehran.

"Nothing rallies people like the deliberate destruction of beloved cultural sites. Whether ISIS's destruction of religious monuments or the burning of the Leuven Library in WWI, history shows targeting locations giving civilization meaning is not only immoral but self-defeating," one of the officials told CNN. "The Persian people hold a deeply influential and beautiful history of poetry, logic, art and science. Iran's leaders do not live up to that history. But America would be better served by leaders who embrace Persian culture, not threaten to destroy it," they added. "Consistent with laws and norms of armed conflict, we would respect Iranian culture," the second senior US official said.

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