Federal authorities are issuing four “immigration subpoenas” to the city for information about inmates wanted for deportation. Is it a new tactic in the escalating conflict over New York City’s so-called sanctuary policies?
“This is not a request — it’s a demand,” Henry Lucero, a senior U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, told The Associated Press. “This is a last resort for us. Dangerous criminals are being released every single day in New York.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration said Saturday the city would review the subpoenas.
“New York City will not change the policies that have made us the safest big city in America,” spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said in an email.
The development comes days after ICE sent similar subpoenas to the city of Denver, a move that reflected the agency’s mounting frustration with jurisdictions that do not honor deportation “detainers” or provide any details about defendants going in and out of local custody.
The subpoenas sent to New York seek information about three inmates — including a man wanted for homicide in El Salvador — who were recently released despite immigration officials requesting the city turn them over for deportation.
The fourth subpoena asks for information about a Guyanese man charged this month with sexually assaulting and killing Maria Fuertas, a 92-year-old Queens woman.
That case became a flashpoint in the conflict after ICE officials said the city had released the woman’s alleged attacker, Reeaz Khan, 21, on earlier assault charges rather than turn him over for deportation. Khan was charged with murder Jan. 10 and remains in custody.
New York City police say they didn’t receive a detainer request for Khan, though ICE insists it was sent. Either way, the city would not have turned him over under the terms of New York’s local ordinance governing how police work with immigration officials.
Hours before the subpoenas were issued on Friday, the acting ICE director, Matthew Albence, told a news conference in Manhattan that city leaders had blood on their hands in Fuertas’ death.
“It is this city’s sanctuary policies that are the sole reason this criminal was allowed to roam the streets freely and end an innocent woman’s life,” Albence said.
Goldstein said in an email Saturday that “the Trump administration’s attempt to exploit this tragedy are absolutely shameful.”
De Blasio has accused ICE of employing “scare tactics” and spreading lies. He said on Twitter this week that the city has passed “common-sense laws about immigration enforcement that have driven crime to record lows.”
City officials in Denver said they would not comply with the requests, saying the subpoenas could be “viewed as an effort to intimidate officers into help enforcing civil immigration law.”
“The documents appear to be a request for information related to alleged violations of civil immigration law,” Chad Sublet, Senior Counsel to the Department of Safety in Denver, wrote in a letter to ICE officials.
Court order next?
But Lucero, ICE’s acting deputy executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations, said the agency may consult with federal prosecutors to obtain a court order compelling the city’s compliance. “A judge can hold them in contempt,” he told The AP.
Meanwhile, ICE is considering expanding its use of immigration subpoenas in other sanctuary jurisdictions.
“Like any law enforcement agency, we are used to modifying our tactics as criminals shift their strategies,” Lucero said in a statement. “But it’s disheartening that we must change our practices and jump through so many hoops with partners who are restricted by sanctuary laws passed by politicians with a dangerous agenda.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden accused rival Bernie Sanders’s campaign on Saturday of disseminating a “doctored” video edited to falsely appear to show the former vice president supporting cutting Social Security, and called on the Sanders campaign to disown it.
In response, Sanders’ campaign refused to back down and continued to cite the video as evidence that Biden wants to limit the government-run retirement and disability program.
With about two weeks until the primary selection process kicks off in Iowa, Sanders and his campaign have ramped up their attacks on opponents, escalating their criticism of Biden and fellow liberal U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Sanders and Biden are locked in a tight, four-way race in Iowa along with Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in November.
Biden denied wanting to cut Social Security when asked at an Iowa campaign event on Saturday about rumors he wants to change the program, and he lambasted Sanders’ campaign.
Biden accused “Bernie’s people” of putting out a “doctored video” that was edited to appear to show him agreeing with former Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan that Social Security should be privatized.
“It’s simply a lie, that video is a lie,” Biden said. “I’m looking for his campaign to come forward and disown it but they haven’t done it yet.”
In response, Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir doubled down on the attack, saying in a statement, “Biden not only pushed to cut Social Security — he is on tape proudly bragging about it on multiple occasions.”
At the center of the back-and-forth is a newsletter the Sanders campaign distributed recently that pointed to a speech Biden gave to the Brookings Institution think tank in 2018. Biden is quoted as saying, “Paul Ryan was correct when he did the tax code. What’s the first thing he decided we had to go after? Social Security and Medicare.”
However, the video of the speech makes clear Biden was actually mocking Ryan for the proposal. He leans into the microphone and says in a deep, menacing stage whisper: “Social Security and Medicare.” Biden then goes on to say – in remarks not disseminated by the Sanders campaign – that the tax code needs to be reformed so enough revenue is raised to save Social Security and Medicare.
PolitiFact, an independent fact-checker, rated the Sanders newsletter as false.
On Friday Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu had posted a respond to Republican Rep. Devin Nunes who threated of a lawsuit to Ted Lieus’ colleagues.
Lieu said that Nunes had threatened to sue him, a fact he first made public on Wednesday. In a tweet on Friday, Lieu shared a picture of a letter from Nunes’ attorney, with the subject line “RE: Nunes v. Lieu.” Though Lieu only shared the first of what he said was five pages of the letter, the visible text made clear that Nunes’ complaint almost certainly involved defamation, for which the Republican has been suing many of his critics in recent months.
In addition to the page from Nunes’ lawyer, Lieu also shared his response. His letter, addressed to Nunes lawyer Steve Bliss, was scathing:
Dear Mr. Biss,
I received your letter dated December 31, 2019 in which you state your client Congressman Devin Nunes will sue me if I don’t, among other actions, issue a public apology to Devin Nunes. It is true that I stated Congressman Nunes worked with Lev Parnas and conspired to undermine our own government. As you know, truth is a defense. So go read the documents and text messages provided by Lev Parnas to the House of Representatives, and watch his interview on the Rachel Maddow Show, which aired on January 15, 2020, that directly implicates Rep Nunes.
I welcome any lawsuit from your client and look forward to taking discovery of Congressman Nunes. Or, you can take your letter and shove it.
Attached is the first page of a five page letter in which the lawyer for @DevinNunes threatens that Rep Nunes will sue me.
Attached is my response. pic.twitter.com/bWAqdRhq97
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 17, 2020
This letter indicated that Nunes threatened to sue Lieu over his remarks about the Republican’s connections to Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani who has been indicted on campaign finance charges. This week, Parnas made a big splash by coming forward to talk publicly about his involvement in the Ukraine scandal that has led to President Donald Trump’s impeachment. He has made many explosive and provocative claims, some of which have been backed up by text records and other evidence. Previously, phone records showed calls between Nunes and Parnas, but the Republican congressman claimed he wasn’t sure if he knew the man.
Speaking on MSNBC on Wednesday, Parnas said he was introduced to, and worked through, Nunes aide Derek Harvey, but he was working on Nunes’ behalf.
“Does it strike you as unusual or inappropriate that Devin Nunes would be one of the lead investigators?” Maddow asked.
“I was in shock when I was watching the hearings and when I saw Devin Nunes sitting up there,” Parnas said. “Because they were involved in getting all this stuff on [former Vice President Joe] Biden.”
After Parnas came forward, Nunes admitted that he did, in fact, talk to Parnas.
Conveniently, Nunes now remembers talking to Parnas pic.twitter.com/dg6KiK6CcW
— Nicole Lafond (@Nicole_Lafond) January 16, 2020
And on Friday night, new text message evidence released by the House of Representatives showed that Parnas did communicate extensively with Harvey.
This is the Impeachment Briefing, The Times’s newsletter about the impeachment investigation. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every weeknight.
What happened today
President Trump’s impeachment team is taking final shape. He tapped the former independent counsel Ken Starr, the celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz and several other prominent attorneys to join the group, which will be led by Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Jay Sekulow, one of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers.
Mr. Trump initially wanted some of his favorite House Republicans, such as Jim Jordan, to be on the defense team, but Senator Mitch McConnell rejected the idea. Other advisers to Mr. Trump also expressed concerns about having members of the House involved.
Meet the Trump Team
Mr. Trump’s defense team will be a collection of some of his favorite television personalities, several of his personal lawyers and the top White House lawyer. Here’s a look at who they are.
Pat Cipollone: As White House counsel, Mr. Cipollone has been the legal brain behind Mr. Trump’s responses to the impeachment battle. In October he signed a blistering eight-page letter to top House Democrats arguing against cooperating with the impeachment inquiry. Viewed as a calmer version of his predecessor, Don McGahn, he is said to be more temperamentally agreeable to the president. [Read more.]
Jay Sekulow: A frequent presence on Fox News and on Christian television, Mr. Sekulow is one of Mr. Trump’s longest-serving personal lawyers, and he coordinates a group of attorneys from a cooperative working space a few blocks from the White House. Mr. Sekulow also defended the president in Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. [Read more.]
Ken Starr: Mr. Starr was a household name in the ’90s, after he led the investigation into President Bill Clinton that resulted in his impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice. He and the president haven’t always been close: Mr. Trump told interviewers in 1999 that Mr. Starr was a “wacko” and a “lunatic.” But recently the president is said to have enjoyed watching him on television, where Mr. Starr has frequently defended and praised him. [Read more.]
Robert Ray: Mr. Ray succeeded Mr. Starr as the independent counsel on the Clinton case, and reportedly negotiated a final settlement with Mr. Clinton that included a fine and law license suspension, according to people briefed on the plan. He has lately been a constant on Fox News, arguing that there was not enough evidence to convict Mr. Trump of a crime. [Read more.]
Alan Dershowitz: Yes, that Alan Dershowitz. The longtime defense lawyer, cable news staple and professor emeritus at Harvard prides himself on being a contrarian who isn’t afraid to defend the seemingly indefensible: His past clients include O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson and Jeffrey Epstein. [Read more.]
Pam Bondi: A lawyer and lobbyist, Ms. Bondi has been working at the White House as a spokeswoman on impeachment issues. She and the president have a controversial past: The now-dissolved Trump Foundation once donated $25,000 to a group supporting Ms. Bondi when she was Florida’s attorney general, potentially in order to sway her office’s review of fraud allegations against Trump University.
Jane Raskin: Ms. Raskin, a Florida-based lawyer, worked behind the scenes to defend Mr. Trump during the Mueller investigation. Since then, as the impeachment inquiry has taken shape, she has quietly advised Mr. Sekulow, according to people familiar with the discussions. [Read more.]
What do Mr. Trump’s choices mean?
Mr. Trump chose names familiar to cable news viewers, but his decision still surprised political observers. What is the president thinking in organizing this team? I asked my colleagues Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, who wrote today about the defense team.
Peter, Ken Starr! What is this move about?
PETER: Two words: Fox News. He sees Ken Starr defending him on TV. He also thinks, here’s a guy whose investigation led to the impeachment of the last president but thinks this impeachment is illegitimate. In Mr. Trump’s mind, who would have better credibility than him?
Do the two have a relationship?
PETER: Mr. Starr is not close to Mr. Trump in any way. He’s very different from Mr. Trump. And here’s the interesting thing: There are a lot of things in Mr. Trump that he didn’t like in Mr. Clinton — this raffish, undisciplined, morally suspect figure who in his view disgraced the Oval Office. Mr. Trump in some ways would touch off some of the same concerns, given his history with women and marriage and honesty.
Do you think there’s any power in the symmetry of Mr. Starr going up against Democrats then and now?
PETER: What his hiring reinforces is how so many people have simply flipped sides, depending on which political party is in which position, whether it be the Democrats who decried the witch hunt against their president 20 years ago and today talk very soberly about the rule of law, or the Republicans who 20 years ago talked about the rule of law and today talk about witch hunts.
Maggie, how much of this is about television?
MAGGIE: That’s a big part of it. He wants people he thinks are going to fight and be aggressive and “perform” well in a TV context. He wants them to look commanding. He wants people who he thinks can notch political victories, even if they’re incremental.
How much is Mr. Trump himself organizing this effort?
MAGGIE: I think Mr. Sekulow and Mr. Cipollone are the ones thinking about what roles people actually play. And they’re thinking about this in a pretty comprehensive way — for example, Mr. Dershowitz is coming in for a pretty narrow part, and just for next week. But they’re in consultation with Mr. Trump on these choices. He’s very involved in all of this.
What else we’re reading
Twenty-one years ago, Capitol Hill carpenters designed a pair of curved tables to serve as work space during the Clinton impeachment trial. Those tables are being dusted off and moved to the Senate floor. Read more about the Senate’s makeover, which features cubbies for senators’ phones and an office for Chief Justice John Roberts.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday that he “never heard” that Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, might have been under surveillance before she was recalled to Washington. He also said that he had “never met” Lev Parnas, the associate of Rudy Giuliani.
“We’ll take pictures behind the Resolute Desk,” Mr. Trump told the Louisiana State University football team at the White House when he celebrated their recent national championship. “It’s been there a long time. A lot of presidents. Some good, some not so good. But you’ve got a good one now, even though they’re trying to impeach the son of a bitch. Can you believe that? Can you believe that?”
A certain former impeachment figure had thoughts about Mr. Trump’s legal team.
The Impeachment Briefing is also available as a newsletter. Sign up here to get it in your inbox every weeknight.
The Pentagon has received a request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to divert funds to help build roughly 270 miles of fencing on the southern U.S. border with Mexico, according to a senior U.S. Defense Department official.
The Defense Department “is now beginning an assessment of that request for assistance,” which was sent Wednesday, the official said.
The request calls for building fences, roads and lighting across multiple states in six “highly trafficked” sectors along the southwest border, including some urban areas.
The official did not know how much the request from DHS would potentially cost the Pentagon because the request was for “border miles” and not for a specific funding amount.
DHS has asked for the assistance under the Pentagon’s Title 10 U.S. Code 284, which authorizes the military to defend the U.S. from drug trafficking.
“It has to be in drug-smuggling corridors. DHS, as you know, has designated the southwest border a drug-smuggling corridor,” the official told a small group of reporters.
A spending deal by Congress that was signed into law in December granted the administration about $1.4 billion for border wall construction. Administration officials, however, had asked for $5 billion.
According to the defense official, the Pentagon will take about two weeks to provide a recommendation to the secretary of defense, who would be responsible for approving any requests.
That recommendation will include a determination from the Army Corps of Engineers on whether the requested projects are feasible, an assessment from the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the impacts that could be made on military preparedness, and an identification from the comptroller of potential funding sources.
Last year, the Trump administration took $2.5 billion from military counter-drug programs for border barrier construction and about $3.6 billion from military construction funding. Congress did not replace the money taken from those accounts in the current budget.
The Jewish Democratic group condemned Trump’s policies of attempt to chip away at the separation of church and state.
“The ‘religious freedom’ regulations announced by the White House regarding prayer in school and at nine federal agencies represent a concerted attempt to chip away at the critically important separation of church and state,” Jewish Democratic Council of America executive director Halie Soifer told Salon by email. “It’s also a transparent attempt by the President to pander to his Evangelical base. President Trump is using the pretext of ‘religious freedom’ to fulfill his broader political agenda as opposed to prioritizing the actual freedom of Americans, as protected by the First Amendment.”
On Thursday the Trump administration announced a number of measures that further the agenda of Christian conservatives. Nine federal agencies — including the Department of Justice, the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services — will remove restrictions on religious social service providers that use federal tax money requiring them to inform beneficiaries of secular organizations that could provide the same services. The Education Department will compel states to inform the federal government if there are complaints regarding students’ rights to pray, even though this requirement does not apply to other discrimination accusations. The department will also submit a guidance letter to the states requiring local districts to certify that they have no rules or regulations conflicting with students’ right to pray. In addition, according to BuzzFeed, the Department of Education will issue a draft regulation requiring all public colleges and universities that receive federal funding to provide the same rights, privileges and money to religious students groups that secular student groups have.
“We’re trying across the board to invite religious institutions and people of faith back into the public square and say, ‘Look, your views are just as valid as anybody else’s,’ ” White House Director of the Domestic Policy Council Joe Grogan told NPR. ” ‘And, by the way, they’re protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.’ ”
During a press call on Thursday, Grogan also said that “President Trump is committed to making sure that people of faith, particularly children, are not subjected to illegal punishment or pressure for exercising their constitutionally protected rights. The guidance will remind school districts of the rights of students, parents and teachers and will empower students and others to confidently know and exercise their rights.”
On Thursday the White House hosted a number of children from Christian, Jewish and Muslim backgrounds who claimed to have suffered discrimination while practicing their religion for National Religious Freedom Day.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, students are protected in their expression of religious conviction in a number of ways.
“You have the right to express your religious beliefs at school,” the ACLU explains. “For example, you may pray individually or in groups and discuss your religious views with your classmates during student activity times like recess or lunch, provided that you are not disruptive. You may express your religious beliefs in your schoolwork if they are relevant to the assignment. You may pass out religious literature to classmates, subject to the same rules that apply to other materials students distribute.”
The ACLU further explained that schools may also be required to allow students to wear certain types of religious clothing and to excuse absences for religious holidays. That said, schools are banned from incorporating prayer or other religious activities in class or school events, cannot encourage prayer or other religious activities, and may not teach religious doctrine such as creationism or “display religious symbols and iconography in school unless they have a secular, academic reason for doing so and unless the display avoids signaling support for religion generally or any particular faith.”
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa administered the oath to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in the well of the Senate, asking him to swear “that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States,” he would deliver impartial justice, after 2 p.m. on Thursday.
At the White House at that precise moment, President Trump was scheduled to be hosting an event promoting the administration’s attempt to empower religious students to exercise their rights to pray at school. But for the next hour as, one by one, 99 senators signed the oath book, the president kept the students waiting. Finally, he allowed reporters into the Oval Office, where he sat behind the Resolute Desk and took their questions.
The day before, Mr. Trump had presided over a celebration of a trade deal with China, calling out some of the nation’s biggest corporate leaders as if they were his golf buddies. Earlier Thursday, the Senate had given final approval to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Now he had to talk about the attempt to remove him from office.
“I did the biggest deal ever done in the history of our country yesterday in terms of trade,” he said, referring to (and exaggerating the size of) the China deal, “and that was the second story to a total hoax. Today, we just had passed the U.S.M.C.A. It’s going to take the place of NAFTA, which was a terrible deal, and the U.S.M.C.A. will probably be second to this witch hunt hoax, which hopefully everyone knows is not going anywhere.”
The president claimed that he did not know Lev Parnas, an associate of his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani who said in interviews this week that the president knew everything about the effort to push Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son, as well as the 2016 election, the reason for his impeachment.
He described Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the Intelligence Committee chairman who had read the articles of impeachment to the assembled Senate, as “a corrupt person. He’s a corrupt politician.”
He said the entire impeachment inquiry was “a hoax,” adding, “Everybody knows that.”
Referring to a July phone call he had with the president of Ukraine that helped touch off the impeachment inquiry, he said Democrats “picked up a phone call that was perfect, but they didn’t know it was perfect.”
And then, minutes after dismissing the reporters from the Oval Office, Mr. Trump issued the Twitter version of a shout.
“I JUST GOT IMPEACHED FOR MAKING A PERFECT PHONE CALL!” he wrote.
The all-caps tweet only underscored how Mr. Trump has become increasingly unnerved by the prospect of a Senate trial, even one in which his Republican allies are widely expected to acquit him. And by the few times the president did anything in public on Thursday, it was clear he was looking for ways to do something about it.
On Twitter, he gave an unusual plug to Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who is retiring at the end of the year and has said he may vote to hear from more witnesses during the Senate impeachment trial.
Mr. Trump appeared to offer his conditional support for a bill introduced by Mr. Alexander that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to a Tennessee native, Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, an American prisoner of war who helped save Jewish lives during World War II. “Looking at this strongly!” the president tweeted.
Democrats need four Republican votes to force the Senate to subpoena witnesses like John R. Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, to testify, and Mr. Alexander is one of four who have signaled a potential openness to breaking ranks.
The president’s school prayer event appeared to be a direct appeal to the evangelical Christians who are an important part of his political base.
There was very little new to announce, and the American Civil Liberties Union called the guidance issued Thursday a “copycat document” almost identical to one released by the George W. Bush administration in 2003, which reinforces existing legal parameters for schools that receive federal funding to allow students to pray individually and in groups. But Mr. Trump framed the new guidelines as a landmark, saying that there was a “growing totalitarian impulse on the far left that seeks to punish, restrict and even prohibit religious expression” and said that the new guidance ensures the “right to pray.”
The president capped his day with a meeting with several campaign aides, where he grilled them on how voters were receiving impeachment.
In his conversations with advisers on Thursday, Mr. Trump repeated once again that he could not believe he was facing such a predicament as impeachment. He said he wanted people to be prepared for a motion to dismiss and has hoped for one, even though Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has said the Senate will have to take up the matter.
At different times, Mr. Trump has also told aides he wants the opportunity to call witnesses he believes could help him politically, like Hunter Biden, Mr. Biden’s son, as well as the whistle-blower, a C.I.A. officer who first alerted the Intelligence Committee to Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on the Ukrainian government.
Mr. Trump, always concerned about optics and how things play, has also expressed reservations about whether his lawyers will be aggressive enough during the televised Senate trial.
Mr. McConnell has advised the president that the best trial is a short one and that witnesses can only create more unknowns.
On a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, senior Trump officials said it would be extraordinarily unlikely for a trial to take longer than a few weeks, calling theirs an easy case, even as new details about Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine have continued to come out.
In a meeting with conservative leaders at the White House the same day, two officials who have become the public face of the White House impeachment response, Tony Sayegh and Pam Bondi, said much the same thing.
Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, meanwhile, used the events of the day as a fund-raising opportunity, directing voters through targeted digital ads to an “official impeachment defense fund,” which acted as a portal to the campaign’s website.
The message delivered from Mr. Trump online was simple: “FIGHT BACK.”
Editor’s note: Russia’s prime minister, Dmitry A. Medvedev, and cabinet resigned on Jan. 15.
Russian politics are often not what they seem, especially to those in the West. We asked Regina Smyth, a Russia scholar at Indiana University, to help readers understand what’s going on.
1. What just happened?
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been in power for 20 years and faces term limits in 2024, has begun his effort to consolidate control and maintain his hold on power after the next elections. The cabinet and prime minister’s resignations are part of that effort.
Putin wants his majority in the parliament – the State Duma – to pass constitutional amendments that will allow him to remain in political control.
This move is not unexpected, at least among Kremlin watchers and scholars like me who have studied Russian elections over 30 years. Putin signaled the change in his annual press conference in December, where he spoke about the potential for constitutional reforms.
On Jan. 15, Putin gave his annual state of the nation address and unveiled “serious changes to the political system.” In response to the proposed constitutional amendments, which Putin is promoting as “reforms,” Prime Minister Medvedev and his government resigned.
This move should not be seen as protest, although it might be useful for Medvedev, a longtime ally of Putin’s, to feign independence and appear as if he made the move in dissent. He and Putin orchestrated similar actions in 2008 and again in 2011.
The goal of Putin and his allies is to forestall popular protest among those tired of Putin’s long reign.
Putin’s proposal to redefine the separation of power between the Duma, presidency and prime minister would allow parliament to select the prime minister, a power now in the hands of the president. Together with an agreement to impose strict two-term limits on future presidents, this change suggests that Putin will leave the presidency.
Future presidents would retain control of the security forces and the military but must consult the State Council.
The proposal is being touted in leading Russian newspapers as “democratic reform.” In fact, while appearing to redistribute power among the high-level players in the Kremlin, the details that will determine power relations remain vague.
On Monday, Putin’s spokesman stated that specifics will be developed in consultation with the Russian people. Given regime controls over voting and national campaigns, this nod to the people is a form of window dressing.
In making these changes and accepting the government’s resignation, President Putin is laying the groundwork for several paths to retain power, including as prime minister or head of a strengthened State Council, an advisory body to the president.
Putin’s proxies are already arguing that these reforms will prevent political crisis in 2024 and increase living standards.
2. Why did it happen?
President Putin faces two potential roadblocks if he wants to maintain political control through the next election cycle – parliamentary elections in 2021 and presidential elections in 2024.
The first problem is term limits that mandate he leave the presidency. In the face of growing urban protest and declining support for his regime’s policies, any political reforms that prolong Putin’s tenure are risky. Reform must be seen by the public as a step forward and not a step toward stagnation.
The second problem is that Putin and his United Russia party need to win large majorities in parliamentary and presidential elections. Russia’s sluggish economy and citizens’ frustration with poor government services will undermine support for regime candidates.
This plan, betting on the regime’s capacity to control elections, is risky. Outright electoral fraud will almost surely provoke protest.
Still, these so-called reforms are timed well before the election to allow Putin and his allies to rebuild support in the wake of any negative reaction. The Kremlin is preserving room to respond and correct course.
In accepting the government’s resignation, Putin blamed it for the country’s economic decline, and placed recovery and improved standards of living at the top of his political agenda.
3. What’s next?
Putin’s regime has successfully sold unpopular reforms to skeptical voters in the past. Earlier government attempts to promote pension and housing program changes provide a model for superficial responsiveness to popular demands.
To channel discontent Putin proposed a national referendum on the changes.
So Duma deputies will hold meetings in their districts. Party leaders will meet with constituents and hear their concerns. Officials will make amendments to the proposed changes that appear to address those concerns, but in ways that don’t fundamentally change their intent. The process will occur quickly to thwart any opposition organization.
The new prime minister will announce economic reforms and an infusion of state funds into the economy. These actions will also create an impression of responsiveness and win voter support.
As elections approach, the Kremlin will warn of potential crisis, offering Putin as the guarantor of stability. The message will be, as it has been in the past, that Putin is the bulwark against crisis.
4. What does this mean to the US?
While the Putin regime’s domestic policy is not popular, his ability to project Russian power abroad is. The U.S. can expect Putin to challenge its policies, as he has since the U.S. imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of eastern Ukraine.
I believe Putin will continue to meddle in U.S. politics and elections to prolong the country’s democratic crisis. This effort will serve both domestic and international agendas, by destabilizing the U.S. and making democracy look unappealing to ordinary Russians, who associate the dismal economic and political conflicts of the 1990s with Russian attempts at democratic reform.
The trajectory is clear in Russia’s newly revealed hack of the Ukrainian firm Burisma, where Joe Biden’s son Hunter served as a board member. This effort by Russia, presumably to unearth embarrassing information about the Biden family, is likely intended to inflame partisan tensions around the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
Distracting the U.S. with domestic strife also limits its capacity to challenge Russia abroad.[ You’re smart and curious about the world. So are The Conversation’s authors and editors. You can get our highlights each weekend. ]
Regina Smyth, Associate Professor of Political Science, Indiana University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
What did Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders say to each other in a heated exchange after Tuesday night’s Democratic debate? Debate host CNN revealing that Warren accused Sanders of calling her a liar on national television.
In an exchange caught on camera after the debate but unable to be heard by the television audience, Sanders responded to Warren that it was she who had called him a liar. Moments earlier Warren had refused to shake Sanders’ hand.
The two U.S. senators and liberal standard bearers in the Democrats’ nominating contest to pick a candidate to take on Republican President Donald Trump in November had been locked in a dispute before and during the debate over an allegation by Warren that Sanders had told her in a private 2018 meeting that a woman could not be elected president.
Sanders disputed that claim before and during the debate but Warren insists it’s true.
CNN said on Wednesday that its microphones had caught the post-debate exchange and released its contents.
After failing to shake Sanders’ hands, Warren said: “I think you called me a liar on national TV.”
“What?” Sanders replied.
“I think you called me a liar on national TV,” Warren repeated.
Sanders replied: “You know, let’s not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion.” Warren said: “Anytime.”
Sanders said: “You called me a liar. You told me – all right, let’s not do it now.”
Another Democratic candidate, billionaire Tom Steyer, who was standing behind the two, said: “I don’t want to get in the middle. I just want to say ‘hi’ to Bernie.”
Warren and Sanders, both progressives, had been abiding by an informal non-aggression pact for the entire campaign, but with less than three weeks until the first nomination contest in Iowa, and locked in a tight race, that pledge to go easy on each other now appears over.
The process has begun! The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to send two formal charges against President Donald Trump to the Senate, clearing the way for only the third impeachment trial of a U.S. president to begin in earnest next week.
Lawmakers voted 228 to 193 to give the Senate, controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, the task of putting him on trial on charges of abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and obstruction of Congress for blocking testimony and documents sought by Democratic lawmakers.
The vote, which also approved a team of seven Democratic lawmakers named by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to serve as prosecutors in the trial, was largely along party lines.
The 100-seat Senate is expected to acquit Trump, keeping him in office, given that none of its 53 Republicans has voiced support for removing him, a step that under the U.S. Constitution would require a two-thirds majority.
But Trump’s impeachment by the House last month will remain a stain on his record and the televised trial in the Senate could be uncomfortable for him as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3, with Biden a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge him.
“We are here today to cross a very important threshold in American history,” Pelosi said on the House floor before the vote.
Pelosi launched the impeachment inquiry in September after earlier resisting such a move centered on Trump’s actions to impede a federal investigation that documented Russian interference in the 2016 election to boost his candidacy.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Trump nemesis who served as a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles for six years, was selected to head the team of House “managers.” The White House has yet to unveil its defense team. The trial will overseen by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.
Trump, during a White House signing ceremony for a China trade deal, took a few shots at what he called the impeachment “hoax.” He excused House lawmakers who needed to go to vote on impeachment and singled out for praise every Republican senator in the audience, whose support he will need at the trial.
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said Trump “expects to be fully exonerated,” adding in a statement, “President Trump has done nothing wrong.”
Opening statements in the trial are expected next Tuesday, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose fellow Republicans will set the rules for the trial.
The seven House managers marched the two articles of impeachment over to the Senate on Wednesday where McConnell’s office said they would be formally presented on Thursday.
A pivotal event in Trump’s impeachment was a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Ukraine’s president to open a corruption investigation into Biden and his son, as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election.
Democrats have called this an abuse of power because Trump asked a foreign government to interfere in a U.S. election for his own benefit at the expense of American national security. Biden, the former U.S. vice president, is one of 12 candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in November.
Republicans have argued that Trump’s actions did not rise to the level of impeachable offenses. They have accused Democrats of using the Ukraine affair to try to nullify Trump’s 2016 election victory.
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) signs the two articles of impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump before sending them over to the U.S. Senate during an engrossment ceremony at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis
‘PRIVATE ATM MACHINE’
Democrats also accused Trump of abusing his power by withholding $391 million in security aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure Kiev into conducting investigations politically beneficial to him. The money – approved by Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists – was provided to Ukraine in September after the controversy spilled into public view.
“The president considered that his private ATM machine, I guess,” Pelosi said of the aid on Wednesday.
Schiff, 59, spearheaded the House impeachment investigation and he is a frequent target of Trump attacks. Trump in December called Schiff “a deranged human being.” The House managers also included Jerrold Nadler, who crafted the two articles of impeachment against Trump as House Judiciary Committee chairman, and Val Demings, a former police chief of Orlando, Florida.
Schiff urged Republicans to allow more evidence and witnesses at the trial. McConnell has resisted the idea of calling witnesses, saying senators should consider only the evidence amassed by the House.
“If McConnell makes this the first trial in history without witnesses, it will be exposed for what it is, and that is an effort to cover up for the president,” Schiff told reporters.
Democrats want Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton summoned as a witness. Other impeachment witnesses have said Bolton was a vocal critic of the effort by Trump’s administration to pressure Ukraine.
The U.S. Constitution allows for the impeachment of a president for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But no U.S. president has been removed as a direct result of impeachment. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 in the Watergate scandal before the full House could vote to impeach him. The House impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, but the Senate did not convict them.
Clinton’s trial lasted five weeks. If the Senate conducts the Trump trial along those lines, as McConnell has suggested, the televised proceedings would occur even as the first nominating contests of the 2020 presidential race are held in Iowa and New Hampshire in February.
Documents released on Tuesday as part of the impeachment case included encrypted messages between Florida businessman Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and Robert Hyde, a Republican congressional candidate in Connecticut, disparaging the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine before Trump removed her from the post in May.
Democrats on Wednesday released several hundred more pages of messages and other evidence obtained from Parnas’s phone, detailing conversations with Giuliani and others.
In an interview with MSNBC, Parnas said he was acting on Trump’s directions: “President Trump knew exactly what was going on. He was aware of all of my movements.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, a Democrat, on Tuesday announced an investigation into the “profoundly alarming” messages suggesting Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was subject to surveillance.