Analysis | The Daily 202: Ousted Navy secretary warns Trump that ‘the rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries’

Analysis | The Daily 202: Ousted Navy secretary warns Trump that ‘the rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries’

Richard V. Spencer visits the Blue Angels at the squadron’s hangar in Pensacola, Fla., on Nov. 5. He was forced out on Sunday as secretary of the Navy. (Timothy Schumaker/Navy/EPA-EFE/Rex)

With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: What makes America exceptional isn’t any arsenal. It’s moral authority.

That’s the upshot of Richard V. Spencer’s Sunday letter to President Trump, acknowledging his “termination” as secretary of the navy. The messy circumstances surrounding Spencer’s exit should not overshadow another damning resignation letter from another Trump appointee.

Spencer explained that he has strived over two-plus years on the job to ensure judicial proceedings are “fair, transparent and consistent,” from ensigns to admirals. “Unfortunately, it has become apparent that in this respect, I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline,” he wrote. “I cannot in good conscience obey an order that I believe violates the sacred oath I took in the presence of my family, my flag and my faith to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

His language goes further than Jim Mattis’s letter last December when he resigned as secretary of defense to protest Trump ordering U.S. troops to withdraw from Syria, but there are echoes. Both Spencer and Mattis said Trump deserves someone whose views are better aligned with his own.

Spencer was ousted over his efforts to resolve a dispute between the White House and Navy commanders who wanted to strip Edward Gallagher of the Trident pin that makes him a Navy SEAL. Gallagher’s was one of three cases in the military justice system that Trump intervened in 10 days ago. The chief petty officer was accused of committing war crimes during a 2017 deployment in Iraq. He was acquitted of murder but convicted in July of posing with the corpse of an Islamic State prisoner. Trump reinstated Gallagher’s rank after he was demoted as part of his punishment. The president tweeted on Thursday that he doesn’t want Gallagher, who has become a cause celebre on Fox News, kicked out of the SEALs.

“The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries,” Spencer told Trump, offering a brief history lesson. “Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again, from Captain Lawrence’s famous order ‘Don’t Give up the Ship,’ to the discipline and determination that propelled our flag to the highest point on Iwo Jima. The Constitution, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, are the shields that set us apart, and the beacons that protect us all.”

Disdain for the rule of law has been a recurring feature of Trumpism.

— Spencer, 65, served in the Marines as an aviator from 1976 to 1981, separating as a captain, before making a fortune on Wall Street. He has been secretary of the Navy since the Senate confirmed him in August 2017. In his letter, he praised the troops who will soon miss their Thanksgiving dinners at home so that they can continue the watch beyond the curve of the horizon.

“As Secretary of the Navy, one of the most important responsibilities I have to our people is to maintain good order and discipline throughout the ranks,” Spencer wrote. “I regard this as deadly serious business. The lives of our Sailors, Marines and civilian teammates quite literally depend on the professional execution of our many missions, and they also depend on the ongoing faith and support of the people we serve and the allies we serve alongside.”

Edward Gallagher and his wife, Andrea Gallagher, celebrate in July after a military jury in San Diego acquitted the Navy SEAL of premeditated murder in the killing of a wounded Islamic State captive under his care in Iraq. (Gregory Bull/AP)

— Pentagon spokespeople said Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked for Spencer’s resignation after losing confidence in him. Their explanation is that Esper became “deeply troubled” when he discovered Spencer was backchanneling with the White House to offer a secret deal in which a review board would decide to let Gallagher keep his Trident pin – and affiliation with the SEALs – if Trump didn’t directly meddle in the official peer-review process, thereby maintaining the appearance of independence.

— “Spencer had tried to find a compromise,” David Ignatius reports in his column, “after Trump tweeted Thursday, ‘The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin.’ Spencer feared that a direct order from Trump to protect Gallagher, who is represented by two former partners of Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, would be seen as subverting military justice. After that Trump tweet, Spencer cautioned acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney that he would not overturn the planned SEAL peer review of Gallagher without a direct presidential order; he privately told associates that if such an order came, he might resign rather than carry it out. …

‘It was a hold-your-nose solution,’ said a source close to Spencer about his effort to broker an arrangement that would allow Gallagher to retire at the end of November with his former rank, an honorable discharge and his Trident pin, as Trump wanted, but without direct presidential interference in the SEAL review process. As so often happens with attempts to work with Trump’s erratic demands, this one ended in disaster. ‘The president wants you to go,’ Esper told Spencer on Sunday … Esper then toed the White House line and announced Spencer’s dismissal. …

Trump began lobbying Spencer to exempt Gallagher from Navy discipline back in March, when he ordered the Navy secretary in an early-morning phone call to release Gallagher from the brig and give him more comfortable quarters. Presidential pressure has been relentless, ever since. … While Gallagher is celebrated on Fox, current and former senior officers of the SEALs and other elite units told me this weekend that his case has little support within the community of Special Operations forces. One former SEAL commander noted that maintaining discipline among these elite units is so important that the SEAL peer-review panels have removed more than 150 Trident pins since 2011, or more than one a month.”

— Trump now gets the outcome he wanted: Esper’s aides said he will let Gallagher keep his Trident pin without even the pretense of a review board. And Trump has rid himself of someone he came to disregard as disloyal, based on his threat to resign.

— Spencer joins a growing list of former Trump appointees who have spoken critically, to varying degrees, about the president after leaving his employ. This includes, among others, John Bolton, Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, Tom Bossert, Fiona Hill and Gary Cohn.

— Spencer took the sting out of this punch by vigorously denying well-sourced press reports on Saturday that he had threatened to resign. In the version of his letter distributed to media outlets last night, the date “24 Nov 19” has been scrawled by hand on the top right of a letter that was reportedly drafted last week. The denial of accurate media accounts muddies the narrative around the secretary’s departure.

— This appears to be the coda of a contentious chapter in a civilian-military relationship that has grown increasingly fraught. Trump avoided military service by claiming bone spurs. He has stated that avoiding sexually transmitted infections while bedding models in New York during the 1970s was “my personal Vietnam.” Trump has insulted several war heroes, as well as their families, and never apologized.

Gen. Mark Milley arrives in Bahrain on Monday. (Idrees Ali/Reuters)

— The top U.S. military officer voiced public support today for Esper’s decision to allow Gallagher to remain a Navy SEAL and to fire Spencer. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s case closed now,” Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him in the Middle East, including Missy Ryan. “It’s time to move on and address the national security of the United States. … Esper made decisions for good reasons that are within his power. I’ll support the secretary of defense in those decisions.”

— Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he spoke by phone with Spencer on Sunday night: “I told him he’s a patriot, that he served the Navy and the nation well and he will be missed,” Schumer said in a statement. “Secretary Spencer did the right thing and he should be proud of standing up to President Trump when he was wrong, something too many in this administration and the Republican Party are scared to do. Good order, discipline, and morale among the Armed Services must transcend politics, and Secretary Spencer’s commitment to these principles will not be forgotten.”

— Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Trump notified him personally that Spencer was being fired. “Both Secretary Esper and President Trump deserve to have a leadership team who has their trust and confidence,” Inhofe said in a statement, adding: “It is no secret that I had my own disagreements with Secretary Spencer over the management of specific Navy programs.”

— Other lawmakers offered praise for Spencer:

I worked very closely with him on expanding our Naval fleet, strengthening both our public and private shipyards, and supporting our troops. His departure is a great loss to the Department of Defense and our country. (2/2)

— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) November 25, 2019

As we often find from this White House, there are multiple “official” versions of the secretary of the Navy’s departure. In every telling, though, President Trump undermines military discipline and the Rule of Law with his words and actions.

— Justin Amash (@justinamash) November 25, 2019

— Trump tweeted that he will nominate Kenneth Braithwaite, a retired Navy rear admiral who is currently the ambassador to Norway, to be Spencer’s replacement. Esper recommended him.

— In an interview Sunday morning on “Fox & Friends,” Gallagher said the Navy was only trying to take his Trident pin away as “retaliation” for Trump intervening on his behalf. “They could have taken my Trident at any time they wanted,” he said on a show the president often watches. “Now they’re trying to take it after the president restored my rank.” Speaking of Rear Adm. Collin Green, who is in charge of the SEAL program as commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, Gallagher said: “What the admiral is doing is showing complete insubordination.”

— Ray Mabus, who served as Navy secretary under Barack Obama, said on MSNBC that he’s been stunned that a sailor on active duty is going on cable television to criticize his commanding officers. “It’s so dangerous for good order and discipline … to get this politicized,” Mabus said Sunday on MSNBC. “You simply cannot have good order and discipline. You simply cannot hold people accountable. You simply cannot have the elite fighting force if you allow things like this to happen. If you set this sort of precedent, then how do you tell the next SEAL that is up on charges not to go public, not to try to undermine their superiors, not to try to change a military judgment and make it a political one?”

— The Post’s Editorial Board says Trump’s intervention in the Gallagher case, including Spencer’s ouster, dishonors the troops who uphold American values: “Restoring to service someone who was turned in by members of his unit who wouldn’t tolerate his behavior sends precisely the wrong message. … Most offensive is what Mr. Trump’s actions say about his view of the military. ‘We train our boys to be killing machines, then prosecute them when they kill!,’ he tweeted in October when he announced he would review these cases. Perhaps Mr. Trump has watched too many bad war movies, but if he were to consult with his military leaders or talk to the many fine men and women in uniform, they would tell him they are trained to engage in combat while following the laws of war and upholding the country’s ideals.”


A lawyer for Gallagher, Tim Parlatore, welcomed last night’s news and expressed amazement at the turn of events that led to Spencer’s ouster. “This case is bananas,” he said. “Yes, you can quote that.” (Ashley Parker and Dan Lamothe)

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<p><strong>THE IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY: </strong></p>
<p><strong>— A confidential White House review of Trump’s decision to place a hold on military aid to Ukraine has turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision and a debate over whether the delay was legal, according to three people familiar with the records. </strong><a href=Josh Dawsey, Carol D. Leonnig and Tom Hamburger scoop: “The research by the White House Counsel’s Office … includes early August email exchanges between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House budget officials seeking to provide an explanation for withholding the funds after the president had already ordered a hold in mid-July on the nearly $400 million in security assistance … White House lawyers are expressing concern that the review has turned up some unflattering exchanges and facts that could at a minimum embarrass the president. …

In the early August email exchanges, Mulvaney asked acting OMB director Russell Vought for an update on the legal rationale for withholding the aid and how much longer it could be delayed. Trump had made the decision the prior month without an assessment of the reasoning or legal justification … Emails show Vought and OMB staffers arguing that withholding aid was legal, while officials at the National Security Council and State Department protested. OMB lawyers said that it was legal to withhold the aid, as long as they deemed it a ‘temporary’ hold …

Mulvaney’s request for information came days after the White House Counsel’s Office was put on notice that an anonymous CIA official had made a complaint to the agency’s general counsel about Trump’s July 25 call to [Volodymyr] Zelensky … This official would later file a whistleblower complaint with the intelligence community’s inspector general …

The document research has only exacerbated growing tension between [White House Counsel Pat] Cipollone and Mulvaney and their offices, with Cipollone tightly controlling access to his findings, and Mulvaney’s aides complaining Cipollone isn’t briefing other White House officials or sharing important material they need to respond to public inquiries … The emails revealed by White House lawyers include some in which Mulvaney urges Vought to immediately focus on Ukraine’s aid package, making clear it was a top priority for the administration. [Mulvaney’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, declined to comment.]

The legal office launched this fact-finding review of internal records in a protective mode, both to determine what the records might reveal about internal administration conversations and also to help the White House produce a timeline for defending Trump’s decision and his public comments. Along with examining documents, the review has also involved interviewing some key White House officials involved in handling Ukraine aid and dealing with complaints and concerns in the aftermath of the call between Trump and Zelensky. Cipollone’s office has focused closely on correspondence that could be subject to public records requests, those which involve discussions between staff at the White House and at other agencies. Internal White House records are not subject to federal public records law, but messages that include officials at federal agencies are.”

— Follow the money: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the Rudy Giuliani associates who have been indicted, tried to recruit a Ukrainian energy executive to join them in a proposed takeover of the state oil-and-gas company. From the Wall Street Journal: The two men described the “company’s chief executive and [Marie Yovanovitch] as part of ‘this Soros cartel’ working against [Trump.] ‘You’re a Republican, right?’ Andrew Favorov, the head of natural gas for state-run Naftogaz, recalled the men … asking him, after their reference to investor and Democratic donor George Soros. ‘We want you to be our guy.’ … Mr. Favorov described the efforts of Messrs. Fruman and Parnas to enlist his help in an effort to oust Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev. Naftogaz is the most important company in Ukraine, representing nearly 10% of the country’s gross domestic product and supplying virtually all of the country’s natural gas. Mr. Favorov said he was bewildered by Messrs. Parnas and Fruman’s pitch to stage a takeover of Naftogaz and put Mr. Favorov in place as CEO. On one hand, the pair appeared to know little about the natural gas business; on the other it was clear to him they had significant political connections. ‘They don’t teach you how to deal with this in business school,’ Mr. Favorov said.”

— So many potential conflicts: Giuliani also discussed representing a state-owned Ukrainian bank in a legal dispute over the summer, even as he publicly pressed Ukraine on behalf of Trump. From Bloomberg News: “Though he ultimately did not take on the client, the talks expose his enthusiasm for foreign business and his willingness to insert himself in matters rife with potential conflicts. In fact, the Ukrainian bank is entangled in a legal dispute with its former owner who has ties to Ukraine’s president and is the subject of a federal investigation in the U.S. … [Giuliani] said he was approached by lawyers for Privatbank seeking to recover assets linked to the previous owner. They wanted to know if Giuliani — who had written tweets critical of the man — could assist their civil suit, Giuliani confirmed by phone on Thursday.”

— “What we still don’t know about the Ukraine affair,” by deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl: “Let’s start with the distinct possibility that Trump’s demand that [Zelensky] launch politicized investigations in exchange for military aid and a White House meeting was only the last of a series of quid pro quos he forced on Ukrainians.” Giuliani met with Zelensky’s predecessor at least twice in 2017 as Ukraine’s former chief prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko transferred an investigation into secret payments to Paul Manafort, effectively stalling it, and the U.S. released the sale of Jaevelin missiles to Ukraine. “Let’s see: a White House meeting and weapons … for favorable actions on an investigation? There’s no proof. But no wonder Trump complained to Zelensky in their July 25 phone call that ‘I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair.’ One of Zelensky’s first acts had been to fire Lutsenko.

“The prosecutor has also been blamed for Trump’s recall of [Yovanovitch]. But the full story behind her dismissal is still not known. … Trump began demanding Yovanovitch’s removal a year earlier, after meeting with [Parnas and ­Fruman]. Why did Parnas and Fruman want the ambassador out? It’s still not clear. … One person who probably could shed light on this is Rick Perry. … According to testimony by U.S. Embassy staffer David Holmes, Perry used a meeting with Zelensky to give him a list of ‘people he trusts’ on energy matters. The Times reported that these included a couple of Texas businessmen whom Perry wanted appointed to the supervisory board of the Ukrainian state gas company. That’s the same company Parnas and Fruman were trying to deal with. … We may eventually learn more about Ukraine from federal prosecutors in New York, who have already indicted Parnas and Fruman and are said to be looking at Giuliani. But you have to wonder if Democrats are making a mistake by not pursuing these matters themselves.”

— Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said reports that he met with ex-Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin in Vienna to obtain information about the Bidens were false. Elise Viebeck and Felicia Sonmez report: “The allegation … was made by the attorney for [Parnas]. … On Fox News, Nunes declined to answer further questions about the accusation … A person close to Shokin also has denied the claim. … Nunes has also threatened to sue two of the news outlets that reported Parnas’s accusation. On Fox News, Nunes claimed that CNN and the Daily Beast were ‘likely conspiring to obstruct justice’ by basing their reporting on interviews with a lawyer for Parnas. … House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Saturday that it was ‘quite likely, without question’ that Nunes would face an ethics investigation following media reports of a meeting with Shokin. … Several other Democratic lawmakers have said that Parnas’s testimony could be helpful to impeachment investigators or that Nunes should face an ethics probe.”

— Lordy, there are tapes? Parnas has provided the House Intelligence Committee with audio, photos and video recordings, but what these records show is unclear. From ABC News: “[The] tapes were provided as part of that congressional subpoena issued to Parnas, and the former Giuliani ally also provided a number of documents both in English and Ukrainian to the committee in two separate productions … However, some of the material sought by congressional investigators is already in possession of federal investigators within the Southern District of New York and thus held up from being turned over, according to sources familiar with the matter.”

— House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said his panel will press ahead with preparing its impeachment report, even though several key witnesses have refused to testify. Felicia Sonmez and Elise VIebeck report: “In an interview on CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’ Schiff said the evidence against Trump is ‘already overwhelming,’ although he stopped short of saying whether he would support impeachment himself. ‘Yes, we’d love to have these witnesses come in,’ Schiff said. ‘But we’re not willing to simply allow them to wait us out — to stall this proceeding — when the facts are already overwhelming.’ … Several key figures, including [Mulvaney], Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton and [Giuliani], have declined to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. A federal judge is expected to rule [today] on whether [former White House counsel Don McGahn] must testify under subpoena. …

Schiff said Sunday that time is of the essence and that Democrats will continue to investigate even after they have submitted their report to the House Judiciary Committee. … ‘The investigation isn’t going to end,’ he said, adding that ‘we may have other depositions and hearings to do.’ He took particular aim at Bolton, arguing that the former national security adviser will have to explain why he chose to give his account of events ‘in a book’ rather than show the ‘courage’ that Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council Russia adviser, did in testifying before lawmakers last week. Schiff declined to say how long it might take impeachment investigators to finish their report, saying only that ‘we’ll take the time that’s necessary.’”

— Amid tensions between the Trump administration and Democrats, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin must work out a spending deal. Luckily, they appear to maintain a good rapport. From the Journal: “While the Office of Management and Budget leads the administration’s efforts on spending, Mr. Mnuchin has emerged as the public face of the administration on Capitol Hill in the spending talks, which took a positive turn this weekend even as impeachment strains the broader relationship between the two branches. Mr. Mnuchin’s role speaks to the rapport and goodwill he has built up with lawmakers and, in particular, Mrs. Pelosi … Mrs. Pelosi has clashed with two of the administration’s other top negotiators, [Mulvaney] and [Vought], with whom she refused to negotiate last summer’s budget deal. … House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D., Ky.) said … that Mr. Mulvaney would normally play a more visible role in the negotiations, ‘but I think Mick, he has other distractions.’


— Hong Kong’s pro-democracy parties swept aside the pro-Beijing establishment during local council elections in a significant endorsement of the protest movement that’s shaken the territory. Shibani Mahtani, Simon Denyer, Tiffany Liang and Anna Kam report: “Voters took to the polls in record numbers to cast ballots in the only fully democratic election in the Chinese territory, an early sign that they wanted to send a strong message to their government and to the Communist Party in Beijing. Early results compiled by the South China Morning Post showed pro-democracy parties winning 278 of the first 344 seats to be declared, pro-Beijing parties taking 42, and independents 24. Many prominent figures in the protest movement won, and many leading pro-establishment figures were unseated. Pro-democrats look to be able to secure 12 of 18 district councils available in Hong Kong — before this vote, they did not have a majority in any. … The turnout — 2.94 million, or more than 71 percent of the 4.13 million eligible voters — was more than double the 1.4 million who voted in local elections in 2015. Voter registration was also a record high, driven in part by 390,000 first-time voters.”

— The election’s results will pressure Beijing to rethink its approach. Shibani, Simon and Tiffany report: “With this rebuke of its affiliates in the city, Beijing faces a choice among opening up politics as promised in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, extending a crackdown on the pro-democracy protesters by the city’s police force and government, or trying to navigate a delicate middle path. Beijing can continue to dig in, but it would risk escalating and prolonging the conflict now that the electorate has spoken, said Ho-Fung Hung, an expert on the Chinese political economy and Hong Kong politics at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. …. Reacting to the outcome on Monday, Chinese state media accused foreign forces, particularly the United States, of interfering. … [Carrie] Lam, Hong Kong’s embattled leader, said in a statement Monday that her government respects the election results and acknowledged ‘various analyses and interpretations.’ … Susan Shirk, a China expert and former official in the Clinton administration who is now at the University of California at San Diego, said it was possible that Chinese leader Xi Jinping had not been receiving accurate information from lower-level officials on the public dissatisfaction in Hong Kong, despite months of protests.”

— A growing body of evidence from former detainees, human rights groups and reporters details the Chinese government’s efforts to detain more than 1 million ethnic minorities in camps. Hannah Knowles, Kim Bellware and Lateshia Beachum report: “Papers released Sunday pierce a culture of intense secrecy to add a new piece of corroboration: the government’s own classified directives. Provided to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists by an anonymous source, the documents lay bare a crackdown in Xinjiang that has sought to stamp out minority culture, language and religion — with a particular focus on the Muslim Uighurs, whom the government blames for regional unrest. A manual, the first of its kind to be made public, details the inner workings of the three-year-old detention camps, while four intelligence briefings illuminate the mass surveillance that identifies people for internment on merely the suspicion that they may cause trouble. …

“Camps are heavily secured and full of surveillance, according to the manual signed by Zhu Hailun, who used to be in charge of security in Xinjiang. … Some communication with outsiders is allowed to put family ‘at ease.’ Detainees are supposed to have phone conversations with relatives at least once a week and video chats every month.”

— A “phase two” trade deal between the U.S. and China is looking less likely. From Reuters: “Officials in Beijing say they don’t anticipate sitting down to discuss a phase two deal before the U.S. election, in part because they want to wait to see if Trump wins a second term. ‘It’s Trump who wants to sign these deals, not us. We can wait,’ one Chinese official told Reuters…. Trump’s main priority at the moment is to secure a big phase one announcement, locking in big-ticket Chinese purchases of U.S. agricultural goods that he can tout as an important win during his re-election campaign, according to a Trump administration official.”

— Pope Francis called for the abolition of nuclear weapons while visiting Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Akiko Kashiwagi and Chico Harlan report: “Pope Francis called Sunday for a ‘world without nuclear weapons,’ which he said are ‘immoral’ for war or deterrence. ‘We will be judged on this,’ Francis said. In Hiroshima, the pope met with bomb survivors and spoke vividly of the ‘black hole of death and destruction’ atomic weapons could cause. Earlier, in a somber address in Nagasaki delivered in the driving rain, he spoke about the weapons in policy terms and expressed concern that a ‘climate of distrust’ was endangering international arms control efforts. … Francis used the first papal trip to Japan since 1981 to emphasize one of his signature issues in cities that remain lasting symbols of atomic destruction (though both have been fully rebuilt in the decades since the 1945 attacks). … After laying a wreath to the Nagasaki bombing’s victims, the pope said the arms race creates a false sense of security, poisoning international relationships. He described nuclear weapons as wasteful and environmentally damaging. … By saying that weapons shouldn’t be held for deterrence — a stance he first outlined in 2017 — Francis has gone further than his predecessors. The only other pope to visit Japan, John Paul II, said during the Cold War that deterrence could be ‘morally acceptable,’ so long as it was a step toward disarmament.”

— A couple kidnapped by Islamists was rescued in the Philippines during a military operation. Regine Cabato reports: “Allan Hyrons, 71, and Wilma Hyrons, 59, were abducted last month by Abu Sayyaf fighters at a beach resort the couple owned in the southern Philippines. They were rescued around 8 a.m. Monday in the island province of Sulu after a 20-minute firefight, said regional military commander Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, who attributed the operation’s success to support from the public. … The rescue of the Hyrons came at the end of a three-day operation, which the military said left six militant fighters dead.”

— The White House asked Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to block the resolution that would have formally recognized Turkey’s genocide of the Armenian people. From Axios:  Graham was leaving the Oval Office after he joined a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when a senior White House staff asked him to object on the floor to the resolution that had passed the House to avoid upsetting Erdogan. “Graham confirmed this in a phone interview on Saturday. … A White House legislative affairs official told Graham that Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was going to bring up his Armenian genocide resolution and asked if Graham could ‘please object.’ ‘I said sure,’ Graham said. ‘The only reason I did it is because he [Erdoğan] was still in town. … That would’ve been poor timing. I’m trying to salvage the relationship if possible.’ Asked whether he felt uncomfortable blocking the Armenian genocide resolution, Graham replied: ‘Yeah. … I’m not going to object next time,’ Graham added.” The White House prodded Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) to object the next time, and he obliged.

— Threatening more arrests, Iran restored Internet access in large parts of the country after a weeklong shutdown aimed at nationwide protests. From the Journal: “Tehran’s response to the unrest indicates its willingness to resort to deadly force to push back against what it sees as U.S. attempts to weaken and eventually oust the country’s leaders. It also comes amid a growing pushback in the region, where Iraqi and Lebanese protesters have railed against the influence of Iran and its local allies. … Iranian authorities haven’t released an official number of arrests, but state media said authorities had arrested 180 ‘ringleaders’ and ‘rioters’ connected with such disparate groups as Islamic State, the MeK and Kurdish militants. Iran’s internet blackout stemmed the sharing of videos and photos of the demonstrations, helping contain coverage to inside Iran, while making it difficult for those outside the country to assess the state of the protests and the brutal crackdown.”

Reuters chronicles the role Iran’s leaders had in plotting the September attacks on the world’s biggest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia. “This account [was] described to Reuters by three officials familiar with the meetings and a fourth close to Iran’s decision making … These people said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the operation, but with strict conditions: Iranian forces must avoid hitting any civilians or Americans. … The plan by Iranian military leaders to strike Saudi oil installations developed over several months, according to the official close to Iran’s decision making. … The official close to Iran’s decision making said the group settled on the plan to attack Saudi Arabia’s oil installations because it could grab big headlines, inflict economic pain on an adversary and still deliver a strong message to Washington.”

— Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces his first serious leadership challenge from his own party. Ruth Eglash reports: “The first public cracks in [Netanyahu]’s Likud party appeared over the weekend, days after the country’s attorney general indicted the longtime leader on charges of bribery and fraud in three criminal cases. The move comes after a year of political limbo that could send Israelis back to the polls for an unprecedented third general election in less than a year. Gideon Saar, Netanyahu’s most outspoken challenger within Likud, told an Israeli news show Saturday that it was time for the party to hold primaries to decide its leader and keep it from losing power. Saar, a 52-year-old former minister who returned to politics last year after a four-year hiatus, said he himself could end the political crisis. On Sunday, he submitted a request to the party’s central committee calling for a leadership vote to be held in the next three weeks — the deadline for the country’s lawmakers to form a long-elusive government before another general election must be called.”

— Uber lost its license to operate in London after authorities discovered that more than 14,000 trips were taken with uninsured drivers. From the Guardian: “Transport for London announced the decision not to renew the global ride-hailing firm’s licence at the end of a two-month probationary extension granted in September. Uber was then told it needed to address issues with checks on drivers, insurance and safety, but has apparently failed to satisfy the capital’s transport authorities. … The decision is unlikely to see Uber cars disappear from London, as the firm is expected to appeal, and can continue to operate pending the outcome, provided it launches official proceedings within 21 days.”

— Not only will England’s Prince Andrew stand aside from all of his 230 patronages after a scandalous interview about his relationship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, he also won’t be able to throw a birthday bash next year, under orders from the Queen. From the Guardian: “The blanket move represents a key step in Buckingham Palace’s attempts to limit the damage to the British monarchy from the prince’s association with Epstein and his interview with BBC Two’s Newsnight last weekend in which he was widely thought to have shown insufficient concern for Epstein’s victims. … Andrew’s withdrawal from public life coincides with Charles’s wish for a more streamlined and cost-effective monarchy when he becomes king. Sources close to the Prince of Wales, who is on an official visit to the Solomon Islands, denied reports that he was ‘angry and frustrated’ by the publicity his younger brother was attracting. It was also reported that the Queen has cancelled a planned 60th birthday party for Andrew in February and has downsized it to a small family gathering.”

— A small plane crashed in eastern Congo, killing at least 27 people. From Reuters: “The propeller plane, which was operated by local company Busy Bee, crashed shortly after take-off en route to the city of Beni.”

2020 WATCH:

— Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg officially announced his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Michael Scherer reports: “Bloomberg has promised a disruptive campaign that could break spending records with a massive advertising buy aimed at states that vote in March and April. … Without offering specifics, the announcement video says he will push for the wealthy to pay more in taxes and to guarantee health care to all Americans without removing private insurance from anyone who wants it. His campaign has made more than $30 million in television advertising reservations to help introduce him as a candidate. The ads will start [today]. … Bloomberg has also announced a $100 million ad campaign to criticize Trump in key battleground states and a $15 million voter registration effort in those same places. Those initial spending plans are already double the amount raised by the top fundraiser in the Democratic field, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), through September.”

— The billionaire’s news outlet, Bloomberg News, announced it will stop writing unsigned editorials about its founder and its reporters will avoid investigating him or his Democratic rivals as long as he stays in the race. Paul Farhi reports: “In an extraordinary memo to his newsroom on Sunday, Bloomberg News Editor in Chief John Micklethwait outlined steps designed to steer his reporters through a potential journalistic minefield: how to cover the campaign of the man who owns the news organization that is covering him. … Bloomberg operates one of the world’s largest media organizations, with about 2,700 journalists in TV, radio, magazine and digital operations … Micklethwait’s memo Sunday laid out what he called ‘basic principles’ in covering Bloomberg’s political aspirations. Most notably, he said his newsroom would continue ‘our tradition’ of not investigating Bloomberg, his family and his wealth, ‘and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries.’ A Bloomberg News spokeswoman, Kerri Chyka, also said the company won’t initiate stories about Bloomberg L.P., following a long-standing policy. The hands-off policy puts Bloomberg News in the awkward position of passing on such critical stories as Trump’s unfounded allegations of corruption against [Biden] and his son Hunter. At the same time, Micklethwait said Bloomberg News would continue to investigate the Trump administration.”

— “America already elected a builder,” White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said of Bloomberg’s announcement, which uses the tagline “Rebuild America.” “His new ad that he put millions behind is all unicorns and rainbows. Keep your health care if you’d like to — and if you don’t, I have something better. Rebuild America. We heard that from Obama-Biden,” Conway said. (Politico)

— Biden is struggling in Iowa and his supporters blame a lack of enthusiasm and a spotty campaign operation. From the Times: “Voters at Mr. Biden’s events, along with county chairs and party strategists, characterize his on-the-ground organization as scattershot, visibly present in some counties but barely detectable in others. His events are often relatively small and sometimes subdued affairs, and in a state where enthusiasm can make or break a candidate on caucus night — a big part of caucusing centers on persuading friends and neighbors — Mr. Biden’s operation has found it difficult to build contagious excitement, these Democrats say. … ‘This is prime political season in Iowa and most candidates are spending a good deal of time visiting Iowa,’ said Joey Norris, the Democratic chair in Montgomery County, Iowa, where [Pete] Buttigieg plans to campaign on Monday. ‘The Biden campaign has been notably absent.’”

— Sanders’s loyal voters could keep him in the race for months. From the Journal: “Sanders’s campaign has made it clear that to win the nomination, he would have to pull off an ambitious expansion of the electorate. His campaign says it is banking on turning out a coalition of young, working-class and minority voters. But polls show the Vermont independent’s base is more loyal than that of any other 2020 Democrat, and in interviews over the last four months, Mr. Sanders’s supporters [have said] that they wouldn’t support any other candidate as long as he is running. Those backers—and his massive fundraising—mean that, unlike many of his rivals, Mr. Sanders might not need a marquee win in an early state to stay in the presidential race for months.”

— Sen. Cory Booker keeps winning praise for his presidential campaign. What he’s not winning is much support. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Michael Scherer report: “As he struggles with low-single-digit polling and the prospect of missing the cut for next month’s debate, Booker has become a symbol for the harsh reality of this year’s nominating process. It is just not enough to win plaudits for performance, as he has after multiple events, or to execute a clear campaign strategy. In the shadow of Trump’s potential reelection, Democratic voters have become focused on winning and are unforgiving with their doubts. Booker has sought to answer that concern by preaching the power of empathy. He appeals to white Iowa and New Hampshire voters by talking about the problems of inner cities and poverty. He has confronted Trump by explaining his compassion for his supporters. And unlike other campaigns that have pivoted on message and policy, he has made clear he will not change his strategy to win.”

— Sarah Sanders left Washington less than six months ago. Now the former White House press secretary has returned to Arkansas in search for a new political role. From the Times: “‘There are two types of people who run for office,’ Ms. Sanders said over breakfast tacos at a diner in downtown Little Rock last week. ‘People that are called and people that just want to be a senator or governor. I feel like I’ve been called.’ … As the daughter of Mike Huckabee, who served as governor from 1996 to 2007 and twice ran for president, she is seen as political royalty in Arkansas, and Mr. Trump himself urged her to run for governor when she left the West Wing. That job will open in 2023, when Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s term is up, and Ms. Sanders is giving every indication that she plans to run. …

“In the 23 months that Ms. Sanders served as Mr. Trump’s chief spokeswoman, her battles with the White House press corps were epic. … Ms. Sanders’s relationship with reporters reached a nadir in April after it was revealed that she had admitted under oath to investigators working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, that her claim at a press briefing that ‘countless members of the F.B.I.’ told her they had lost confidence in the bureau’s director, James B. Comey, was a ‘slip of the tongue’ that was not based on any facts. … ‘I was attacked for everything, not just my performance,’ she said of her time in Washington. ‘I was called a fat soccer mom, my kids were threatened, my life was threatened. It was a lot. I hate harping on it, but to be in the position I’m in and to have Secret Service, that’s not normal.’ Ms. Sanders paused. ‘I don’t like being called a liar,’ she said.”

— Doctors who previously worked at the White House and those who are currently in touch with the White House said the mysterious and unannounced visit Trump made to the hospital last weekend was highly unusual. From CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta: “Given that the White House had previously given plenty of advance notice about the President’s past physical exams, last weekend’s visit to Walter Reed reportedly took everyone by surprise, including much of the staff at the hospital itself. Whenever the President is planning a visit to Walter Reed, an institution-wide notice goes out, making staff aware of certain road and corridor closings. According to a person familiar with the matter, that didn’t happen last weekend. Also striking: the fact that the president’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley, rode with Trump in the presidential motorcade. Typically, the doctor rides separately from the President for security reasons. A former White House doctor [said] it had never happened during their time there. …

“All tests Conley described could’ve been performed at the White House instead of the hospital. Many blood tests require the patient to fast overnight and are thus performed first thing in the morning — not in the middle of the afternoon, as apparently happened with the President. And remember, the President had these tests just nine months ago. One of the reasons doctors wait a year to order labs for a routine physical is to better assess the impact of medication and lifestyle changes over a consistent interval of time. There is no benefit to drawing the blood early, unless there is a concern about something. Finally, there is no such thing as a phased physical exam, as Trump had described it in his tweet from last weekend.”

— Another health scare: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was released from the hospital on Sunday after going in with chills and a fever. Robert Barnes reports: “The court announced in a news release Saturday evening that the 86-year-old had been seen at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington and then transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where doctors were more familiar with her medical history. She was treated for a possible infection.  ‘With intravenous antibiotics and fluids, her symptoms have abated,’ the court said in the Saturday release. The court provided no other details.”


The Intelligence chairman reacted to The Post’s scoop:

Trump has waged an unprecedented campaign of obstruction against our inquiry.

Today we learned about more damning evidence that he is withholding from Congress.

If we allow this to stand, Trump will do permanent damage to our system of checks and balances.

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) November 25, 2019

The Post’s Shane Harris had this reminder after an assertion by Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) on “Fox News Sunday”:

A reminder that the US has intelligence, which members of Congress have access to, that the Ukraine-did-it story was concocted and peddled by Russia.

— Shane Harris (@shaneharris) November 24, 2019

On Saturday, Rudy Giuliani made this comparison:

The Mafia couldn’t kill me so NO, I am not worried about the swamp press!

— Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) November 23, 2019

This scandal from a decade ago seems so quaint:

10 years ago, two reality TV stars got past security into a state dinner uninvited. @_RoxanneRoberts and I broke the news and thought at this time this would certainly be the wildest White House story ever and oh go ahead make up your own joke.

— Amy Argetsinger (@AmyArgetsinger) November 25, 2019

Bernie Sanders went out dancing:

Bernie Sanders hits the dance floor in New Hampshire

— Reuters (@Reuters) November 25, 2019

It’s almost Thanksgiving, which means a pair of turkeys are having the time of their lives in D.C.:

In (way) other news, the official White House turkeys have arrived. They’re staying @WillardHotel. Their names will be revealed tomorrow and on Tuesday @realDonaldTrump will do the pardon.

— Kate Bennett (@KateBennett_DC) November 25, 2019

And border officials detained a shipment of illegal cold cuts, which led to this killer lede:

“A driver crossing the Mexican border said he was hauling turkey ham, but CBP officers thought it was a bunch of bologna. “

Greatest double entendre in a lede ever? @RodriguezCodell

— Michael McDevitt (@MikeMcDTweets) November 23, 2019


Taylor Swift broke Michael Jackson’s record for winning the most American Music Awards of all time. Jackson won 24. Swift has 29 after last night:

(Find the complete list of winners here.)

“Saturday Night Live” spoofed last week’s Democratic debate:

 “Weekend Update” pointed out that testimony on impeachment concluded in the House last week and “now the debate will shift to your house for Thanksgiving”:

 “The Daily Show” set out to investigate who will win the black vote in 2020:

And Trevor Noah interviewed Hillary and Chelsea Clinton:

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