👋 Away Message: It's infrastructure week at WTF HQ! This will be the last edition of WTFJHT until May 31. WTF is taking a much needed break to retool ahead of what is shaping up to be a very consequential midterm cycle (we've also had a few unresolvable scheduling snafus/conflicts here, so I'm just going to take a mulligan on this one). In the mean time, we've built a little news aggregator tool – currentstatus.io – to keep you up-to-date on the daily shock and awe. Thanks for understanding! I'm going to miss you. You'll hear from us again on Tuesday, May 31. Thanks for being here.
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1/ Mitch McConnell told Republicans he has the votes needed to begin Trump’s impeachment trial without committing to calling new witnesses or admitting new evidence, rebuffing demands from Democrats. McConnell believes he has at least 51 votes from his 53-member Republican conference to start the trial, offering no guarantee that the Senate will issue subpoenas for witnesses and documents beyond what the House’s inquiry gathered. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has withheld the articles of impeachment since the House voted in December to charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, in an effort to push Republicans to agree to fair rules for the trial. (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / Bloomberg / Politico / NBC News / CNN)
Minority Leader Charles Schumer said Senate Democrats will force votes on witnesses and documents at the start of the impeachment trial, putting Republicans on record about “a fair trial.” (Washington Post / The Hill)
📌 Day 1082: Former national security adviser John Bolton said he is “prepared to testify” in Trump’s impeachment trial if subpoenaed by the Senate. Bolton, who so far has complied with a White House directive to not cooperate in the inquiry, has direct knowledge of Trump’s actions and conversations regarding Ukraine that could fill in blanks in the impeachment case. A Senate subpoena requires at least 51 votes, which means four Republicans would need to vote with Democrats to call a witness. (New York Times / Washington Post / Politico / NBC News / CNN / ABC News / Axios / Associated Press)
2/ Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Trump’s threat to bomb Iranian cultural sites would constitute a war crime, which the U.S. has no intention of doing so. Trump twice threatened on Twitter he would strike Iranian cultural sites that were “very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” warning that Iran “WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if it follows through with its threats of retaliation in the wake of Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s assassination. Esper added that the U.S. is “not looking to start a war with Iran, but we are prepared to finish one.” (New York Times / CNN)
- 📌 Day 1081: Trump threatened – twice – to target Iranian cultural sites if Iran retaliated. Trump tweeted a day earlier that the U.S. was prepared to strike 52 Iranian assets, including some “at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.” Two senior U.S. officials, meanwhile, described widespread opposition within the administration to targeting cultural sites in Iran. “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,” Trump said. “And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site? It doesn’t work that way.” Destroying cultural sites could be considered a war crime under international agreements, such as the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. (Washington Post / New York Times / Wall Street Journal / CNN / Associated Press)
3/ Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called killing Iranian General Qasem Soleimani “the right decision, we got it right,” claiming there was intelligence showing an “imminent attack” on Americans and U.S. interests across the Middle East. Pompeo, however, failed to provide any evidence to show what might have been targeted, or how soon an attack was expected, which is required to legally justify the strike. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, called on Trump to declassify the White House notification to Congress of the drone strike, saying “It is critical that national security matters of such import be shared with the American people in a timely manner.” Pompeo also insisted that any retaliatory measures by U.S. forces against Iran would abide by the laws of war, contradicting Trump’s previous suggestion that he might target Iran’s cultural sites. Later, Trump told reporters he would avoid targeting cultural sites in any future military attacks, walking back his earlier threats. (New York Times / CNN / Wall Street Journal / Politico / Washington Post)
- Pompeo ordered U.S. diplomats to limit any contact with Iranian opposition groups, saying meetings with the groups could jeopardize U.S. diplomacy with Iran. (Bloomberg)
4/ Iran is considering 13 scenarios to inflict a “historic nightmare” on the U.S. for killing Soleimani. The Iranian parliament also designated the Pentagon and affiliated companies as terrorists. Iran’s foreign minister, meanwhile, accused the U.S. of engaging in “state terrorism” by assassinating Soleimani. Javad Zarif said Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Deal and adopt a hardline approach toward Iran has “destroyed stability” in the Middle East, warning that things would get worse if the U.S. doesn’t change its approach. Zarif also said Iran plans to “respond proportionally not disproportionally” and “lawfully, we are not lawless people like President Trump.” (Bloomberg / Reuters / CNN / Wall Street Journal)
5/ The Pentagon mistakenly released a memo that said the U.S. would pull troops out of Iraq. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley told reporters that the letter was a draft and that its release was an “honest mistake.” The document was an unsigned draft memo from the U.S. Command in Baghdad notifying the Iraqi government that the U.S. planned to reposition some of its troops and suggested the removal of troops from the country. When asked about the memo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said it was “inconsistent of where we are right now.” (Washington Post / CNN / The Guardian / Reuters)
📌 Day 1082: The U.S. military will reposition troops within Iraq in preparation for a possible withdrawal. In a draft letter to Iraqi military officials, U.S. forces will be relocated “to prepare for onward movement” and says that “we respect your sovereign decision to order our departure.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper, meanwhile, said the U.S. has not made any decision to leave Iraq. The letter was released a day after Iraqi lawmakers passed a nonbinding resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country. (Washington Post)
Russia offered Iraq an air defense system to “ensure the country’s sovereignty and reliable protection of airspace,” according to the Russian Ministry of Defense. (Al-Masdar News)
The Trump administration has begun drafting sanctions against Iraq after Trump threatened the country with economic penalties if it expelled U.S. troops. Iraq is an ally that the United States has spent almost two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars supporting. (Washington Post / New York Times)
A captain at a for-profit immigrant detention center in Nevada is a neo-Nazi. Travis Frey is currently employed at the Nevada Southern Detention Center, which is run by private prison giant CoreCivic and is contracted with ICE. Frey posted at least a dozen times on a neo-Nazi while serving as head of security at a different for-profit ICE detention center in Indianapolis. Using the screen name “In Hoc Signo Vinces,” Frey self-identified as a “fascist” in his profile and started putting out feelers in 2017 in an attempt to establish a white nationalist chapter in Nevada. (Vice)
Mike Pompeo informed Mitch McConnell that he will not run for Senate in Kansas. Senate Republicans believed Pompeo would be the strongest candidate to win the seat being vacated by Pat Roberts, a Republican who is retiring at the end of the year after four terms. The filing deadline for the primary is in June. (New York Times / NBC News / Washington Post)
The Justice Department – in a reversal – no longer supports a lenient sentence for Michael Flynn. Instead, prosecutors recommend that Trump’s former national security adviser be sentenced for up to six months in prison for lying to investigators in the Russia inquiry, saying Flynn failed to accept responsibility for his actions and undermined a separate criminal case. A year ago, the government said Flynn deserved credit for admitting his misconduct and for cooperating with prosecutors in investigating his former business partner. (Politico / Washington Post / New York Times / NBC News / CNN)
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