News Brief: Russia Probes, North Korea Summit Canceled
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Even though President Trump has called off the summit, North Korea says it's still willing to meet President Trump, quote, "at any time."
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah. And an official at North Korea's Foreign Ministry said Trump's decision to cancel the summit runs counter to the global community's wishes for peace on the Korean Peninsula. Now, President Trump pulled the plug on this meeting yesterday, citing what he called open hostility on the part of North Korea. He also warned that in the event of a perceived nuclear threat, the United States would be ready to take military action.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I've spoken to General Mattis and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And our military, which is by far the most powerful anywhere in the world and has been greatly enhanced recently, as you all know, is ready if necessary.
MARTIN: All right, we're joined by NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley this morning.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: That quote from the president sounds just a bit harrowing, frankly. Where do things stand right now?
HORSLEY: Well, for the moment at least, the maximum pressure campaign of tough economic sanctions against North Korea will continue. And you're right - we heard some of the sort of characteristic Trumpian bluster yesterday. In his letter calling off the summit, Trump cautioned Kim about the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which dwarfs North Korea's own. But at the same time, the president did offer an olive branch to the North Korean leader, saying Kim should call or write anytime if he wants to restart the negotiations.
MARTIN: But then didn't North Korea say - hey, we're willing to talk anytime? So what's going to give? Could the summit still possibly happen?
HORSLEY: Well, you're right. The North Koreans said in their statement that they are eager to sit down with the U.S. to solve problems. What the White House is saying is they're going to need some actual demonstration of that beyond just a statement. A White House official says they have seen a trail of broken promises from the North Koreans over the last nine days or so. North Korea, of course, called off a meeting with the South Koreans and complained about the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, even though they'd said earlier that those exercises were OK.
North Korea refused to allow nuclear experts to witness the demolition of their nuclear test site yesterday. So the White House says there's no way to tell if that site's really been disabled. And what's more, when the White House sent a team to Singapore last weekend for a scheduled meeting to lay the groundwork for the summit, they say the North Koreans never showed up.
MARTIN: That's not good. It's never good when your date just doesn't show. That's, like, a bad sign.
So it is an election year, and it's hard not to think about the political consequences of this for a president who was staking a lot on being able to secure a really big deal in North Korea.
HORSLEY: Yeah, I think this will at least silence, for the moment, those chants of the Nobel Peace Prize at Trump rallies. There was some criticism from the top Democrat yesterday on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said the Trump administration had been ill-prepared for this summit and had not adequately vetted Kim's interest in actually dismantling his nuclear weapons program.
The interesting thing is how this plays internationally. Will other countries, especially China...
HORSLEY: ...Be willing to maintain that tough economic pressure on North Korea, especially when - in public at least - it's the U.S. side that pulled out of negotiations.
MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.
Thanks so much, Scott.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: OK. So did those classified briefings on Capitol Hill yesterday put to rest questions about the FBI's actions during the 2016 presidential campaign?
GREENE: Yeah, so the Justice Department agreed to brief this select group of lawmakers yesterday about an informant who made contact with the Trump campaign and gave information to the FBI. Republicans had been really pushing for this information. The Department of Justice had been reluctant, but they finally made it happen after getting pressure from the White House.
MARTIN: All right, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sat down with NPR's Capitol Hill team right after he attended that briefing. And NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now to talk about that conversation.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So what did Senate Majority Leader McConnell have to say?
DAVIS: So the Senate leader is part of that group of eight, which is the top lawmakers who regularly get these classified briefings. He did not discuss, obviously, the classified substance of the meeting. But this is what he told us.
MITCH MCCONNELL: There are two investigations going on that I think will give us the answers to the questions that you raise, the IG investigation in the Justice Department and the Mueller investigation. I support both of them.
DAVIS: He supports both of them. That is a consistent position for Mitch McConnell. Even as these investigations have been questioned, he and - I would say - other leaders, including Speaker Paul Ryan, have said that they have faith in the investigations and they should be able to run their course.
MARTIN: How significant is it that a senior Republican like McConnell has such a different view of the special counsel investigation than the president, than the president's close allies - like House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes - all people who continue to question the integrity of the investigation?
DAVIS: There is absolutely a split inside the Republican Party on this. And on one end, I think you have the McConnells and the Paul Ryans and committee chairmen and other senior Republicans who maybe don't like to talk about it as much publicly but do fundamentally support what Robert Mueller is doing. But yes, you do have this rhetorical echo chamber by other prominent Republicans like Devin Nunes - that you said.
And also, I would note, on the campaign trail - a lot of the Republicans who are running for office this year in the House and Senate and in these primaries are backing up the president and rhetorically saying they agree with him on things like the Mueller investigation being, in his words, a witch hunt and wanting to call for it to end soon. So how Republican leaders have been balancing this is something that we have been consistently watching and why we continue to ask them at every turn if they do continue to have confidence in the investigation.
MARTIN: We should back up for just a second and explain that the IG investigation - so there's the special counsel investigation. And then the inspector general investigation at the Justice Department is actually looking into the FBI's behavior and its handling of this particular informant.
DAVIS: And there is also the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also looking into the allegations of collusion or election interference as well.
MARTIN: Right. So are the questions around the FBI's political motives settled business now?
DAVIS: (Laughter) I don't think that's possible because it is so clear that this is a priority for President Trump. The meetings that happened on Capitol Hill this week were driven by him. They were orchestrated by his White House chief of staff, John Kelly, who appeared at both meetings - briefings that happened yesterday that also included appearances at the top of the meetings by the president's personal attorney Emmet Flood, who was not expected to be there but did show up to deliver a message from the president that he would like to see as much openness in these investigations as possible.
MARTIN: But interesting that they showed their faces before those hearings began.
NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis - thanks, Sue.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
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GREENE: All right, film producer Harvey Weinstein is set to turn himself in to police in Manhattan today.
MARTIN: Yeah, dozens of women have accused Weinstein of unwanted sexual advances and even rape. He is expected to be taken into custody today on rape and other charges brought by two of his victims. And we're joined now by NPR's Elizabeth Blair, who's been following this story.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: Who are these two accusers? And what are the charges?
BLAIR: The Manhattan DA is bringing charges on behalf of two women. And according to law enforcement sources quoted in The New York Times, one case carries charges of first-degree rape and third-degree rape. In that one, the alleged victim's name is being withheld. In the other, Weinstein is charged with a first-degree criminal sex act. The alleged victim in that case is Lucia Evans. Evans told The New Yorker magazine last fall that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in his Manhattan office, where he'd invited her on the pretext of talking career opportunities. At the time - this was 2004 - Evans was an aspiring actress still in college.
MARTIN: A scenario we've heard from other women.
But I mean, there have been so many allegations against Weinstein. Why has it taken so long to get to the point of criminal charges?
BLAIR: Well, according to The New Yorker's Ronan Farrow, the Manhattan DA took all this time because they wanted to secure the strongest case they could. Rape and sexual assault cases are notoriously hard to prove in court. There are often no direct witnesses or physical evidence, and that's especially the case if a victim doesn't seek help right away.
Also - and Farrow makes a point of this - it took this long because Evans had to take that pretty bold step of coming forward and pressing charges, knowing the toll these cases can take on a victim, especially when the case is surrounded by this level of publicity. Farrow quotes investigators saying they gave her the time to arrive at that place where she felt she could confront all that.
MARTIN: So what's likely to happen today exactly?
BLAIR: After his arrest, he'll be taken to a Manhattan criminal court to be arraigned on criminal charges. And to be clear, none of this comes as a surprise to Harvey Weinstein. You may recall that back in October when the first accusations came to light, he announced that he had hired a team of criminal defense attorneys. According to The New York Times, those attorneys have already worked out a bail package with the Manhattan DA, with Weinstein putting up $1 million cash and agreeing to wear a monitoring device. His travel is restricted, and he gives up his passport.
And, I should say, he has maintained that he's innocent, denying that any of the sex was nonconsensual. His lawyer Benjamin Brafman asserts that his client did not knowingly violate the law. He calls the allegations entirely without merit.
MARTIN: All right, NPR's Elizabeth Blair reporting on the fact that Harvey Weinstein will face criminal charges today in Manhattan.
Elizabeth, thanks so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.
BLAIR: All right. Thank you, Rachel.
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