Impeaching Mayorkas: Take Two

Happy Friday! As journalists, we spend a lot of time and energy digging up the next scoop. Sometimes it’s a long and laborious process—and sometimes, the New Jersey governor inadvertently adds a reporter to a text thread between him and his staff telling them he’s “white-hot mad.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Russia’s prison service said Friday morning that Alexei Navalny—the Russian opposition leader who was poisoned with a nerve agent in 2020 and had been jailed since 2021 and sentenced last year to 19 years in prison on charges of extremism widely viewed as politically motivated—has died at the age of 47. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the prison service was looking into Navalny’s death, which occurred just a month before Russia’s next presidential election, in which President Vladimir Putin is expected to secure a fifth term.
  • Israel Defense Forces (IDF) officials said Thursday that a strike in southern Lebanon on Wednesday killed Ali Al-Dabs—a leader of an elite unit of Iran-backed Hezbollah—and his deputy. Hezbollah launched a barrage of rockets into northern Israel yesterday in retaliation, raising concerns of escalation and Israel’s war against Hamas broadening to a new front. Ahead of Israel’s telegraphed offensive into the southern part of the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that Egypt is building a walled enclosure to contain the flood of Palestinian refugees expected to try to flee from Rafah across the border. 
  • The Justice Department’s inspector general released a report on Thursday that found the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had endemic problems with negligence, understaffing, and operational failures that ultimately contributed to 344 inmate deaths—almost 200 by suicide—across the system from 2014 to 2021. “Staff did not sufficiently conduct required inmate rounds or counts in over a third of the inmate suicides during our scope,” the DOJ watchdog reported. “We found significant shortcomings in BOP staff’s emergency responses to nearly half of the inmate deaths that we reviewed, ranging from a lack of urgency in responding, failure to bring or use appropriate emergency equipment, unclear radio communications, and issues with naloxone administration in opioid overdose cases.” 
  • New York Judge Juan Merchan on Thursday rejected former President Donald Trump’s attempt to dismiss the charges against him in the case brought against him by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, which alleges the former president falsified business records to pay hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels in an effort to suppress news of the affair ahead of the 2016 election. The case will move forward as originally scheduled, with a jury trial set to begin on March 25.
  • Special counsel David Weiss, who is leading an investigation into Hunter Biden, charged Alexander Smirnov, a longtime FBI confidential informant, with lying about President Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s involvement with Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company. In an indictment unsealed yesterday, the DOJ claimed Smirnov lied when he suggested the younger Biden was hired as a paid member of Burisma’s board in order to protect the company—through the influence of his father—from investigation by the Ukrainian prosecutor general. Smirnov also lied, the DOJ alleges, when he suggested the company’s executives paid both Bidens $5 million while Joe Biden was vice president as an incentive to use his political influence to shield the company. “In short, the Defendant transformed his routine and unextraordinary business contacts with Burisma in 2017 and later into bribery allegations against [Joe Biden], the presumptive nominee of one of the two major political parties for President, after expressing bias against [Joe Biden] and his candidacy,” the indictment says. Smirnov—whose claims were touted by some congressional Republicans for months as they attempted to build an impeachment case against the president—was arrested in Las Vegas on Thursday.
  • Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis took the stand on Thursday in an effort to fend off allegations of misconduct. During a hearing on her racketeering case against former President Donald Trump, Willis disputed the testimony of a witness who suggested that she has had an improper relationship with Nathan Wade, one of the prosecutors involved in the investigation. The hearing, which continues today, could affect whether Willis is allowed to remain as the lead prosecutor in the historic case that alleges the former president and more than a dozen co-defendants attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.
  • NBC News reported Thursday that the U.S. military conducted a cyber attack earlier this month on an Iranian military vessel collecting intelligence on cargo ships in the Red Sea. The attack—aimed at preventing the ship from transmitting its intelligence to Houthi rebels in Yemen—was reportedly part of the slate of attacks in retaliation for the deaths of three U.S. service members at a base in Jordan late last month. 
  • The Justice Department revealed Thursday that, during a January operation, it had “neutralized a network” of hacked small or home office routers infiltrated by the Russian intelligence service (GRU). According to the DOJ, the Russian government used malware developed by a known criminal organization to gather information from “targets of intelligence interest to the Russian government, such as U.S. and foreign governments and military, security, and corporate organizations.” The DOJ, with allied foreign agencies, removed the malware from the affected routers and withdrew future access to the network. 
  • White House spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the Russian anti-satellite technology, about which Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio sounded the alarm earlier this week, poses “no immediate threat to anyone’s safety.” Kirby added, “We are not talking about a weapon that can be used to attack human beings or cause physical destruction here on earth.” U.S. officials, he said, have had knowledge of the Russian weapon for many months and said it had not yet been deployed.

Mayorkas Have Another?

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas holds a press conference at a U.S. Border Patrol station on January 8, 2024 in Eagle Pass, Texas. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

House Republicans learned a valuable lesson in perseverance on Tuesday, bringing to life the age-old adage: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try Mayorkas.

In their second attempt to do so in as many weeks, Republicans voted to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas—by a razor-thin margin of 214-213—on two charges: willfully refusing to comply with the law and breaching public trust. Though he is unlikely to be convicted and removed from his post by the Senate, Mayorkas’ impeachment represents just how bitter the battle over the border has become in Washington. And although both parties admit that the country is experiencing a migrant crisis of historic proportions, tangible legislation to solve the issue seems all but dead.

Mayorkas’ impeachment was the first of a Cabinet secretary since 1876, and it only succeeded this time because House Majority Leader Steve Scalise had returned to work from cancer treatments to cast the deciding vote. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Rep. Mark Green of Tennessee, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, explained why Republicans had decided to take the step:

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