President Donald Trump just played his most significant moves yet in Washington's new game of impeachment chess: He blocked a deposition by US diplomat Gordon Sondland, who faces scrutiny over Trump's request that Ukraine probe his rival Joe Biden. And the White House said it would not cooperate in the impeachment inquiry since the effort had not begun with a formal vote.
The US President's gambit is the biggest test for Democrats so far. Can they stop Trump from jamming their impeachment machine? They did hit back fast, promising subpoenas to compel Sondland's testimony and evidence. If he still doesn't show, they could even hold him in contempt and arrest him -- but the legal battle would slow down this impeachment train.
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An alternative would be to conclude Trump's obstruction is an abuse of power in itself -- one more item on the list of charges. But that's risky. The President would brandish it as evidence of a "kangaroo court," as he tries to turn the American public against impeachment. Several new polls now show that more than half of Americans favor an impeachment inquiry but that there is not a majority for removing Trump.
A titanic political struggle is developing, and it's bigger than Trump's fate. At stake is the balance of power between Congress and the President: Will precedents be set that could leave it impossible for lawmakers to keep future commanders in chief in check?
CNN's incomparable Jeanne Moos says the orange has lost its job as the fruit emoji avatar for Trump. Now the peach is pick of the crop. Peach, impeach -- geddit?
"The days of playing nice are done"
Or so a source familiar with the discussions going on inside the President's impeachment brain trust told CNN's Jim Acosta. We hadn't actually noticed Trump playing nice, after his two-week tear of falsehoods and personal attacks. But things can always get uglier.
"The real risk of genocide"
The implications of Trump's decision to cede northeast Syria to Turkey are just beginning to be felt.
A commander in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces warned: "Today, after all these Turkish threats to attack our people and regions, this collective is exposed to the real risk of genocide." The group also said Tuesday that Turkey is already shelling one of its posts in northeastern Syria.
Geopolitical jockeying has also begun. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyau has been in touch with Russia -- as has US Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Israeli former National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror sketched out the new great game: "The Iranians will feel more freedom to maneuver. The Russians will understand that they are the only superpower involved in this area [which] gives them more flexibility but at the same time more responsibility. Maybe we will see new forces coming in once the Americans are out. The vacuum is not a situation that the world can live with."
More on that vacuum and the chances of an ISIS resurgence from CNN's Nick Paton Walsh.
It's personal between Rudy Giuliani and Joe Biden. Way back when the presidency was just a twinkle in Trump's eye, the pair were already fighting for it.
Giuliani was not always a cable TV carnival barker. As mayor of New York, he was a steadying presence at Ground Zero in the terrible hours after 9/11 -- drawing comparisons to Winston Churchill while President George W. Bush was nowhere to be seen. Dubbed "America's mayor," he was tough on crime, hawkish on foreign policy and socially liberal on paper -- and pundits tipped him as a formidable 2008 Republican presidential candidate.
But Giuliani's campaign fizzled -- not least because his onstage repertoire heavily relied on old yarns about the world's worst terror attack. Biden, then fighting for the Democratic nomination, mercilessly mocked him with the legendary debate zinger: "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence -- a noun, a verb and 9/11."
Giuliani, now Trump's top flamethrower, is back in Biden's sights after accusing the Biden family of "selling Joe's office to a Ukranian crook." At the news that Republicans had invited Giuliani to speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee about Ukraine, a Biden campaign spokesperson responded, "All that comes out of Rudy Giuliani's mouth is just a noun, a verb, and disproven lie about Joe Biden."
It's the equivalent of an aging easy rock band strumming a golden oldie hit, but the jab did rekindle a simmering feud. And it raises the question of Giuliani's motives. Just as Trump is still fuming at Obama's 2011 mockery, could his fellow trash-talking New Yorker still hold a grudge of his own, born of a long-ago humiliation?
Number of the day: 9
Nine Democratic presidential candidates will appear at a CNN LGBTQ town hall in Los Angeles on Thursday night. Bernie Sanders qualified, but canceled after suffering a heart attack last week.
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