News Brief: Mueller Report, North Korea, Brain Tests On Dead Pigs
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
This morning, the American people will see for themselves at least some of what Robert Mueller knows.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The Justice Department plans to release a redacted report of the investigation of Russia's role in the 2016 election. Already, Democrats in Congress are questioning the way that Attorney General Bill Barr plans to release it. He holds a press conference this morning and then makes the report public.
His critics dislike that Barr will be able to describe the report before everyone else sees it and then take questions from reporters who don't know what's in it.
GREENE: Well, we are joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith to talk us through this. Hi, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi.
GREENE: Well, let's start with the controversy that's brewing even before this report comes out. Why are Democrats so upset?
KEITH: Well, there's a lot of anticipation for this report, obviously a lot riding on it. Democrat Jerry Nadler is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He held a press conference last night after learning about Attorney General Barr's plan to hold his own press conference later today.
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JERRY NADLER: The central concern here is that the - Attorney General Barr is not allowing the facts of the Mueller report to speak for themselves, but is trying to bake in the narrative about the report to the benefit of the White House.
KEITH: You know, it's pretty unusual that there would be a press conference before anyone in the public or the press or Congress has seen the document being discussed. You know, it's possible that Barr is just trying to explain the process that he went through - along with the special counsel's office and other Justice Department lawyers - to decide what should be redacted and why.
But as Nadler said, Democrats and others are worried that Barr is just trying to set the narrative. And this, of course, follows a lot of sensitivity about - earlier last month when Barr released a letter laying out his - the principal findings of the Mueller report before anyone had seen the Mueller report.
GREENE: OK. So Democrats keep saying - don't believe Barr's letter; don't believe Barr's press conference; look at what is actually in some of the words from Mueller and his team. So what might be in this redacted report? Is there - are we going to see light shed on new things in some way?
KEITH: In theory, we should see a lot. It's supposed to be about 400 pages long. One big question is - how much will be redacted? Other questions include whether Barr's description of the report was accurate in that letter that he sent to Congress. And of course, the very big question is on obstruction of justice. Why didn't Robert Mueller make a determination on that? And was he leaving it for Congress to do, or did he want Barr to step in as he did and make a decision that there was nothing to prosecute?
You know, many of the president's actions were questionable, like the firing of FBI Director Jim Comey. But that was done in public. What didn't happen in public, we might learn more about that through this report.
GREENE: Any idea yet how President Trump and his White House are going to handle today's release?
KEITH: Well, President Trump yesterday floated the idea of a press conference in an interview that he did with talk show host Larry O'Connor. He said, you'll see a lot of strong things come out tomorrow - in reference to the report. It's unclear whether he based that on some briefings that some outlets have reported the Justice Department gave the White House or what.
But President Trump has been pretty consistent from Day 1. He says no collusion, no obstruction and that he's fully exonerated.
GREENE: And so...
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The special counsel completed its report and found no collusion and no obstruction.
As far as I'm concerned, I don't care about the Mueller report. I've been totally exonerated.
The collusion delusion is over.
GREENE: So is this all over after this report comes out, Tam? Or what more happens after this?
KEITH: Of course it's not over. This is not the end. This may just be the beginning of a fight about those parts that are redacted and House Democrats fighting to get that information released.
GREENE: All right - so just one more step, but a pretty significant one today. NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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GREENE: All right. So let's remember. Back in February, President Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un gathered in Vietnam for a second nuclear summit.
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LEADER KIM JONG UN: (Speaking Korean).
INSKEEP: Responding to questions from foreign journalists for the first time, Kim Jong Un said he'd do his best to bring about a good result. His optimism was apparently shared by the White House, but the discussions broke down. And now North Korea has said it has tested an unidentified new tactical weapon.
GREENE: Yeah. Let's bring in NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who is tracking this from South Korea. Anthony, an unidentified new tactical weapon - what do we know?
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, we know that it has a guidance system and a powerful warhead. So that sounds like something that flies, hits a target and blows up. It could be a short-range missile. It could be some sort of rocket or artillery.
I spoke to a political scientist, Park Hwee-Rhak at Kookmin University in Seoul. And he says, the main thing to know here is that North Korea describes this as a tactical weapon, something that's used on the battlefield. And that means it can hit South Korea but not the U.S - probably, he says, their testing this shows that they've developed some sort of new capability.
GREENE: So what kind of message is Kim sending by doing this?
KUHN: Well, Kim has been saying for months that his patience is not unlimited. And if the U.S. is unwilling to play ball, to compromise and offer some sort of sanctions relief in exchange for steps towards denuclearization, then Kim has other options. He can include - he can resume testing weapons; he can adopt a less friendly policy towards the U.S.
But the sanctions in place on North Korea are believed to be having a very negative impact on his country's economy. And so in that respect, time is not on his side. It is on his side, though, in that the longer this stalemate goes - (inaudible) - time he has to beef up his military capabilities. And he's clearly sending a signal that that's just what he intends to do.
GREENE: Well, looking at this broadly, Anthony, I mean, the North had been observing a moratorium - I mean, albeit a voluntary moratorium - since, like, the end of 2017. Right? Does this mean that that's over now?
KUHN: Not necessarily. In November of last year, they tested, again, what they called an unidentified tactical weapon. And we don't even know what that is. But there was little reaction from the U.S. or South Korea. And there's no real reaction from the two governments this time.
Basically, analysts believe that this moratorium is really on strategic long-range weapons, and it's not in writing. It's not the product of an agreement, so the U.S. can't say you went back on your word.
GREENE: And in terms of what we might expect next - I mean, could Kim be changing his strategy here compared to what it was going into the two summits with President Trump?
KUHN: He was clearly very disappointed by the outcome of those summit and - outcome of the summit. And by all appearances, he seems to be hunkering down for the long run and preparing to tough it out against sanctions and wait out the Trump administration.
GREENE: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in South Korea this morning. Anthony, thanks.
KUHN: Sure thing, David.
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GREENE: All right. It's not pigs flying, but it's close. The brains of dead pigs have been somewhat revived by scientists hours after the animals were killed in a slaughterhouse.
INSKEEP: The Yale University team that led the research published their findings in the journal Nature. They described a surprising amount of cellular function that was either preserved or restored. The implications of this study have staggered ethicists as we all contemplate our understanding of what separates the living from the dead.
GREENE: Let's bring in NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce, who covers science for NPR - and apparently also necromancy as well. Hi there, Nell.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Hello.
GREENE: So what exactly did researchers do here?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: So these researchers were trying to find a new way to study brains in the lab. So they went to this local slaughterhouse, and they bought pig heads. And then they surgically removed the brains, hooked their blood vessels up to this device in the lab that pumped in a special solution. And the solution had oxygen, nutrients, cell-protective ingredients.
And all this happened hours after the pigs were killed, but it had a dramatic effect. I mean this regimen - this technique reduced cell death and revived cell function in these brains.
GREENE: So what you're describing there - I mean, can we actually say that pig brains were brought back to life? Or is it less clear?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: So the really important thing here is that they monitored electrical activity in the brains, and they saw none of the kind of global, organized activity that we associate with consciousness...
GREENFIELDBOYCE: ...Or awareness. And they didn't want to see that. They actually used an anti-seizure drug in their mixture to make sure the cells stayed quiet. And the question is - if they'd taken that drug away, what kind of function could they have restored? Would they have seen something like more normal brain activity? They did not try that because they know it raises all kinds of issues. They actually worked with a bioethicist at Yale named Stephen Latham.
STEPHEN LATHAM: No one has ever thought about how to deal with this question of - what if we induced consciousness in a brain that's not connected to any living animal? So nobody has jurisdiction over that.
GREENE: OK. So that was the big ethical question here. They seem to be working with an ethicist, as you said. But are other people still worked up over this and the possible ethical implications?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yeah, because this challenges a lot of the assumptions we've had in neuroscience about what separates dead from alive. And those assumptions underlie all of our research regulations. Like, this particular study was exempt from animal welfare regulations because the pigs they used were, you know, dead.
So it's still early days. This needs to be replicated in another laboratory. But the real question is - how much function could be restored to brains? And what does that mean? You know, I mean, this is potentially a powerful new research tool for studying whole brains in the lab to explore things like brain injury. But there's a lot of discussion needed to see how to move forward responsibly.
GREENE: One of the stranger stories you've covered?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: You know, I cover a lot of different things.
GREENE: (Laughter) NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce covers science for NPR. Nell, thanks.
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