Impeachment trial begins; Putin’s tech push; Who has mercs in Libya?; WH banishes Russia aide; And a bit more.

The third impeachment trial in American history begins today as senators will hear opening arguments in the case over President Donald Trump’s over alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. As the BBC reports, “Many believe it's a foregone conclusion that Mr Trump — who denies the charges — will be acquitted at the end of this process because his party controls the Senate.” But that doesn’t stop the British broadcaster from lining up “five possible twists ahead” in a video report that clocks in at under three minutes, here.

Review the charges via a tidy Reuters explainer, here.

What to expect: The Associated Press predicts, “The first several days of the trial are expected to be tangled in procedural motions playing out on the Senate floor or, more likely, behind closed doors, since senators must refrain from speaking during the trial proceedings.” 

After four days of opening arguments, “senators will be allowed up to 16 hours for questions to the prosecution and defense, followed by four hours of debate. Only then will there be votes on whether or not to call other witnesses. At the end of deliberations, the Senate would then vote on each impeachment article.”

Quick reminder from AP: “No president has ever been removed from office. With its 53-47 Republican majority, the Senate is not expected to mount the two-thirds vote needed for conviction.”

Catch a livestream of today’s developments via C-Span, here; or at the Washington Post’s developing news page, here; or via Fox News, here.

FWIW: The number of easily disproved false statements from Trump has accelerated since a whistleblower disclosed the July 25 phone call in which the president, who had placed a hold on Congressionally mandated aid to Ukraine, asked his Ukrainian counterpart to produce dirt on a domestic political rival, the Washington Post notes

“Almost 1,000 of the false and misleading claims made by the president deal with the Ukraine investigation, even though it only became a category four months ago,” the Post’s fact-checking team writes. “For instance, nearly 70 times he has claimed that a whistleblower complaint about the call was inaccurate. The report accurately captured the content of Trump’s call and many other details have been confirmed,” Read on, here.

From Defense One

Putin Seeks to Plug Gaps in Russia's State-Driven Tech Efforts // Samuel Bendett: His Wednesday speech acknowledged difficulties Russian researchers, engineers, and entrepreneurs face, particularly in the realm of finance.

Sending Troops Back to the Middle East Won’t Stop Iran // Chris Dougherty and Kaleigh Thomas: Knee-jerk deployments only distract from the president’s bigger priorities: China and Russia.

Donald Trump Stumbles Into a Foreign-Policy Triumph // Tom McTague, The Atlantic: The president, however inadvertently, may be reminding the world of the reality of international relations.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1954, The world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, ws launched at Groton, Connecticut.

Both Turkey and Russia are believed to have sent about 2,000 mercenaries to Libya to fight on opposing sides. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday how this war-by-proxy “threatens to unravel efforts to establish a long-term truce in the oil-rich North African country.”
The latest in Libyan diplomacy efforts featured a seven-nation assembly in Berlin on Sunday. That summit involved the host country as well as reps from Russia, Turkey, France, Italy, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. 
There wasn’t much of a breakthrough in Berlin, the Journal writes, since the participants merely “agreed to support a cease-fire and uphold a previously existing arms embargo in an attempt to quell the fighting.” What's more, "leaders of the two main forces... didn’t meet or talk directly at the gathering, though their representatives contributed to the discussions." 
The latest from Turkey: "Haftar must immediately fall back to the political solution line and take concrete and positive steps in line with calls of the international community for calm on the ground," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said today (Reuters) from the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Meanwhile in Libya, Russia-backed Gen. Haftar’s men managed to “shut down oil facilities cutting the country’s production by more than half on the eve of the conference, squeezing an important source of funds for the U.N. backed government.”
The U.S. Embassy in Libya wants that spigot turned back on, it announced this morning in a tweet. Voice of America has a bit more, here. Or read more about Libyan crude exports and how the global oil markets appear to be largely unbothered by Haftar’s advances, via Reuters, here.
ICYMI, from the region: 

  1. Pentagon to decide soon on possible troop cut in West Africa,” ABC News reported last week. That “soon” could be “within four to eight weeks,” according to Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
  2. How AFRICOM plans to counter Russian, Chinese influence in Africa,” via Military Times, also last week after AFRICOM director of operations U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Gayler briefed reporters.
  3. Don’t miss our latest podcast all about Russian mercenaries and their ever-expanding operations since 2013. Listen or read the transcript, here.

POTUS45’s Russia adviser "was escorted off the White House compound on Friday" and is now "on administrative leave pending a security-related investigation," AP reported Sunday. 
The adviser in question: Andrew Peek, who has been on the job since November. He was previously former deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran; and before that he was a U.S. Army intelligence officer. Tiny bit more, here

New restrictions for foreign military personnel training in U.S. All such training was suspended after a Saudi flight officer killed three and wounded more at the Navy’s Pensacola flight school on Dec. 6. Military Times reports that training will soon resume for the thousands of foreign military personnel who remain on U.S. soil. But they will be:

  • Less able to buy guns
  • Barred from various base areas
  • Have their social media monitored
  • Restricted in travel around the country. Read on, here.

South Korea is sending a counter-piracy navy unit to the Strait of Hormuz, Reuters reports today from Seoul. You may recall this was first teased in mid-November, and concerns South Korea’s Cheonghae unit featuring 302 personnel, as well as the destroyer Dae Jo-yeong, an anti-submarine helicopter and three speed boats. 
According to RoK’s defense ministry, “The Strait of Hormuz is a busy passageway into the Gulf, with vessels sailing through it approximately 900 times a year for South Korea, which gets more than 70% of its oil from the Middle East.” 
For the record, South Korea is “the world’s fifth-largest crude oil importer and one of Iran’s major oil customers,” Reuters writes. Read on, here

And lastly today: Navy names a carrier for Doris Miller. The fourth Ford-class warship will be named for Ship’s Cook Third Class Doris Miller, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced in a Monday ceremony at Pearl Harbor. The mess cook-turned-gunner of Pearl Harbor fame will be the first black American to become the namesake of an aircraft carrier.
Read Miller’s Navy Cross citation, here. He was up for the Medal of Honor, according to his biographers, but his award was downgraded at the request of  Georgia Sen. Carl Vinson — himself a future carrier namesake
The USS Doris Miller is slated to join the fleet in 2030, following sister ships Gerald R. Ford, John F. Kennedy, and Enterprise. To be laid down in 2023, CVN-81 is expected to cost about 10% more than its predecessors — more than $15 billion in 2018 dollars – and it’s “not exactly clear” why, The Drive reported.