Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Iran Backs Off Of More JCPOA Commitments, Increasing Concerns About the JCPOA’s Future
The Iranian government announced on September 7 it was now capable of raising uranium enrichment past the 20% level and had launched advanced centrifuge machines in further breaches of commitments to limit its nuclear activity under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “We have started lifting limitations on our Research and Development imposed by the deal … It will include the development of more rapid and advanced centrifuges,” Iranian nuclear agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said in a televised news conference. The JCPOA curbed Iran’s disputed nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions but has unraveled since the Trump Administration, at the encouragement of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, pulled out of it last year and acted to strangle Iran’s oil trade to push it into wider security concessions unrelated to the original scope of the JCPOA.
Since May of this year, Iran has begun to exceed limits on its nuclear capacity set by the pact in retaliation for US pressure on Iran to negotiate restrictions on its ballistic missile program and support for Shi’a sociopolitical organizations throughout the Middle East. Iran says its measures are reversible if European signatories to the accord manage to restore its access to foreign trade promised under the nuclear deal but blocked by the reimposition of US sanctions. The deal capped the level of purity to which Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67 percent, suitable for civilian power generation and far below the 90% threshold of nuclear weapons-grade. UN nuclear inspectors reported in July that Iran had cranked up enrichment to 4.5% purity. Behrouz Kamalvandi said Iran could now exceed the 20% level, a significant leap toward the critical 90%, “but right now there is no need for that.” Kamalvandi added, however, that “European parties to the deal should know that there is not much time left, and if there is some action to be taken (to rescue the pact), it should be done quickly.”
2. House Judiciary Committee Lays Out Procedures For Potential Impeachment Hearings Against President Donald Trump
On September 9, the House Judiciary Committee laid out specific committee procedures governing hearings moving forward as part of what it is calling an ongoing “impeachment investigation” of President Donald Trump, setting the stage for a vote to define that probe which could come this week. The release of the resolution comes after the committee’s chairman, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) declared last month that his panel was proceeding with an impeachment investigation despite there being no vote to do so.
The vote, expected to take place on September 12, will include language that is expected to follow the procedures the Judiciary Committee used in 1974 during the Nixon impeachment proceedings. The resolution, should it pass, would make the following four changes to the committee rules governing hearings:
- It would allow the chairman to designate full committee or subcommittee hearings as part of the impeachment probe.
- It would allow staff to question witnesses for an additional hour, equally divided between the majority and minority.
- It would allow for secret grand jury material to be reviewed in a closed executive session.
- It would allow for the president’s counsel to respond to information and testimony presented in committee in writing and give the chairman authority to invite the president’s counsel to review and respond in writing to executive session materials.
These procedures are expected to follow those the Judiciary Committee used in 1974 during the Nixon impeachment proceedings.
“President Trump went to great lengths to obstruct Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller’s investigation, including the President’s attempts to remove the Special Counsel and encourage witnesses to lie and to destroy or conceal evidence,” Congressman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement accompanying the release. “Anyone else who did this would face federal criminal prosecution.” “No one is above the law,” Nadler added. “The unprecedented corruption, coverup, and crimes by the President are under investigation by the Committee as we determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment or other Article 1 remedies. The adoption of these additional procedures is the next step in that process and will help ensure our impeachment hearings are informative to Congress and the public while providing the President with the ability to respond to evidence presented against him.” The committee has also filed two lawsuits against the Trump administration after senior officials blocked the panel from obtaining documents and testimony.
The first hearing under the new impeachment rules would be with Corey Lewandowski on September 17, the panel also announced on September 9. Lewandowski was frequently mentioned in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which the committee has been investigating. According to Mueller’s report, President Donald Trump asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to limit Mueller’s investigation. The committee has also invited two other witnesses mentioned in the report, former White House aides Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter. The Trump Administration has previously blocked former employees from testifying, but Lewandowski never officially worked for the White House.
The procedural vote comes as the panel broadens its impeachment probe beyond Mueller’s report, which has consumed most of the committee’s energy since it was released in April. The Judiciary panel, along with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced on September 6 that they are demanding information about the spending of taxpayer money at President Donald Trump’s hotels and properties, partly to inform the impeachment investigation. The committees said there have been “multiple efforts” by Trump and administration officials to spend federal money at his properties, including Vice President Mike Pence’s stay last week at a Trump resort in Ireland.
3. The CIA Pulled A Clandestine Officer from Russia in 2017 Amid Concerns They Would Be Impacted Due To Mishandling Of Intelligence by President Trump
According to a CNN report issued on September 9, the US extracted “one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government” in 2017 in part because of concerns that mishandling of classified intelligence by President Donald Trump and his administration could jeopardize the source’s safety. The CNN report cited “multiple Trump administration officials with direct knowledge” of the matter and said “a person directly involved in the discussions” said the move was made because Trump and his officials could not be fully trusted. Describing a “culmination of months of mounting fear within the intelligence community”, CNN said the decision to carry out the extraction was made shortly after a infamous Oval Office meeting in May of 2017 in which Trump, who had recently fired the FBI director, James Comey, discussed highly sensitive intelligence concerning ISIS in Syria with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, The report also said US officials had been alarmed by Trump’s private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July of 2017.
CNN cited “a source with knowledge of the intelligence community’s response” to the Trump-Putin meeting as saying: “Officials again expressed concern that the president may have improperly discussed classified intelligence with Russia.” It also said Trump and “a small number of senior officials” were “informed in advance of the extraction.” The report added: “Details of the extraction itself remain secret and the whereabouts of the asset today is unknown to.” The leak in 2010 of classified US diplomatic cables revealed how successive US administrations have struggled to find high-level assets inside the Russian government with a genuine awareness of key decisions and players. Generally speaking, US diplomats have relied on a public network of scholars and Russian journalists to make sense of Russian affairs. On September 9, John Sipher, a former member of the CIA Senior Intelligence Service, wrote on Twitter that “Supplying a source with key access is extremely hard. A source in a key position may happen once a generation, if ever. Keeping him or her safe is daunting work. It is a big deal to lose these kinds of sources.”
The Russian government under the leadership of Vladimir Putin is paranoid about spies, especially American ones. The penalty for cooperating with Western intelligence services has been laid bare in a series of extraterritorial assassinations, including the 2006 polonium murder in the UK of Alexander Litvinenko, and the 2018 attack on the former GRU military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal also in the UK. In 2017 Russia arrested two top cybersecurity officials in the FSB security services and charged them with treasonous links to the CIA. Russian media reported that one of the men had been marched out of a gathering at the FSB with a bag over his head. The last-known US intelligence asset to be exfiltrated from Russia was Alexander Poteyev, a deputy director of the “illegals” program of spies operating in the US run by Russia’s foreign intelligence service. He escaped Russia in 2010, shortly before the FBI rounded up 10 Russian agents in the US whose identities it is believed he gave away to the US.
In response to the report, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said that CNN’ reporting was “not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger”. The CIA director of public affairs, Brittany Bramell, said its “narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false. “Misguided speculation that the president’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence, which he has access to each and every day, drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.” Shortly after the CNN report was released, President Donald Trump attacked the network in a Twitter post. President Trump did not immediately mention the report, instead of commenting on the network’s corporate fortunes and adding: “But most importantly, CNN is bad for the USA.”
4. Congressional Democrats Release Comprehensive Prescription Drug Price Reform Plan
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to release an ambitious drug-pricing bill as early as this week that would allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices on hundreds of drugs in Medicare that do not have competitors and would offer those prices to all consumers, according to a summary of the bill released on September 9. The proposal is unlikely to gain support from Congressional Republicans, who oppose allowing the federal government to negotiate because they say it violates free-market principles and is unlikely to be taken up by the Republican-controlled Senate. “We continue to engage members across the caucus as the committees of jurisdiction work to develop the boldest, toughest possible bill to lower prescription drug prices for all Americans,” said Pelosi spokesperson Henry Connelly.
Despite much opposition to prescription drug reform within the Republican party as a whole, President Donald Trump is eager to sign legislation taking action on drug prices as he ramps up his 2020 reelection bid. The Trump administration has engaged with Pelosi’s office on the drug-pricing initiative for several months, but senior House Democratic aides said the discussions were to keep the White House informed, rather than engage in negotiations. It remains unclear whether Trump supports the House proposal and, if he does, whether he will be able to pressure Republicans to get on board.
The bill would allow the HHS Secretary to directly negotiate prices on the 250 drugs that pose the greatest total cost to Medicare and the US health system that do not have at least two competitors. That would include some insulins, cancer treatments, and specialty drugs. Those negotiated prices would then be available to all consumers, not just Medicare beneficiaries, according to the bill summary. “Speaker Pelosi put forward a more progressive bill than anticipated and one she knows is dead on arrival in the Senate,” said Chris Meekins, a research analyst at Raymond James, a financial services company and former Health and Human Services official. “This proposal reiterates our belief that nothing on drug pricing will be done before the 2020 election,” he said.
These elements of the House proposal echo a drug-pricing package in the Senate, which was unveiled in July and has been endorsed by the Trump administration. The Senate bill would cap seniors’ out-of-pocket costs in Medicare Part D and would limit price increases to the rate of inflation. It also limits price increases in Medicare Part B. The Senate bill passed through the Senate Finance Committee, but a majority of Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, and it is not yet clear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who opposes fundamental elements of the bill, will bring it to the Senate floor for a vote.