News Brief: Drone Attack, Lewandowski Hearing, Israeli Election
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right. Satellite images are now emerging of the damage caused to the Abqaiq oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Yeah. The images show that the facility was hit by what is thought to be some combination of drones and missiles. What's unclear is who did it. Washington and Riyadh say they suspect Iran. Here's U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
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RICK PERRY: Make no mistake about it, this was a deliberate attack on the global economy and the global energy market.
KING: But the Iranian government denies it.
GREENE: All right. Let's bring in NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre, who's been following this. Hi there, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, David.
GREENE: OK. So at this point, what is the state of the investigation into who carried this out in Saudi Arabia?
MYRE: So the Saudis are saying that Iranian weapons were used. But they're not saying who actually fired these weapons or what the location was when they were fired. President Trump says it looks like Iran, but he'd like to avoid war. And that's sort of a bit of a step back from his initial reaction, when he was talking about being locked and loaded for a confrontation.
And so I think all this reflects two things. One, there still is an investigation going on to determine the specifics of who fired these weapons and where. And there seems to be a hesitancy to make a big, escalatory rhetoric out of it and indicate that there's going to be some sort of retaliatory strike.
GREENE: Well, let's just suppose Iran was responsible here. Is there a reason that they would want to organize an attack like this? Would this makes sense?
MYRE: Well, if you look historically, Iran has always been very good at punching back. It doesn't sit there and just take blows. So it often approaches this line of hitting at an adversary, but it doesn't cross the line. But right now, the oil sanctions are really biting. Its economy is really suffering. And Iran seems to be taking the position that it's not going to just sit there and not export its oil. It feels like it has to punch back in some way. And we've seen this sort of series of attacks or these drone attacks on tankers - Iran shot down a U.S. drone in June - and now this. This would represent a real break in the rules of the game.
GREENE: Well, and it's an attack that a lot of people are talking about could really affect the oil market. And we're seeing prices go up already. But there is still a lot of oil on the market. The price has been low for years. Is this attack going to fundamentally change energy supplies in the world?
MYRE: So far? No. If it's just a one-off attack, the Saudis can recover. I mean, their production has gone down by about half. But there's the expectation that it shouldn't take too long. You may be looking at weeks or perhaps a little longer than that. Nobody knows for sure. But if it's just a one-off attack, it can recover.
We've seen oil - Brent crude oil, sort of the international standard - go from about 60 to about $70 a barrel. So that's a hit, but not a huge one. The real risk would be if there's some sort of shipping war in the Gulf, if the tankers - if it would be a concerted attack on tankers in the Gulf.
GREENE: And then all eyes now on President Trump, I mean, who, as you said, seems to be backing off some of the tough rhetoric. But how might the administration respond here?
MYRE: Well, President Trump has always had two approaches. He talks tough on Iran, but he doesn't want another conflict in the region. So he's going to have to reconcile that. And I think we're going to see Iran also take a tough position.
GREENE: All right. We'll be watching. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Greg, thanks.
MYRE: Thanks, David.
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GREENE: OK. So Congress is back in session, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to be growing a little tired of an issue reporters keep pushing her on.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you uncomfortable with the term impeachment inquiry? Is there another term we should be using?
NANCY PELOSI: I'm not - thank you all very much. Let me see. We are on our path. Where it takes us is where the - we will follow the facts.
KING: That fact-finding mission continues today. President Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski will appear before the House Judiciary Committee.
GREENE: And let's preview that with NPR congressional correspondent Sue Davis, who's here. Hi, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: OK. So what exactly do lawmakers want to know from Lewandowski? What are they going to be asking him?
DAVIS: So he's the first fact witness from special counsel Mueller's investigation to come before the Judiciary Committee. And the questioning is expected to focus on Lewandowski's role in one of the most damning accounts that was included in the Mueller report about the president's ultimately unsuccessful efforts to curb the Russia investigation.
And that was in the summer of 2017, the president met with Lewandowski and dictated a message to him that he wanted to deliver to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, telling him to restrain the Mueller investigation or risk getting fired. Lewandowski did try to meet with Sessions to deliver that message, but the meeting was canceled. He didn't follow through with it.
About a month later in that summer, the president again asked him about it. Lewandowski instead shared the directive with a White House aide named Rick Dearborn, asked him to deliver the message. Ultimately, neither Lewandowski nor Dearborn ever delivered any message to Sessions. And the investigation, of course, continued unimpeded.
GREENE: All right. But still, as you said, a damning account. And it could be even more damning if Lewandowski is actually detailing it to Congress. But we should say, he's - was a loyalist to President Trump and has remained so, right?
DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, there's expectations that it could be a pretty contentious hearing today. I did speak to a spokeswoman for Lewandowski. She told me he's very much looking forward to his appearance before lawmakers. Lewandowski is not Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen, of course, was the former lawyer for President Trump who is now serving in prison who provided damning testimony about the president back in February before the Oversight Committee.
Lewandowski's a Trump ally. He is not expected to go before the committee and criticize the president today. He's also considering a run for the Senate in New Hampshire to challenge the incumbent senator, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. The president has all but endorsed him. This is important to understand the context of him appearing before this committee. As a result, Democrats have been strategizing here. They want to maximize the impact. They've been coordinating lines of questioning.
It's also the first committee hearing under recently changed rules that will allow staff lawyers to question Lewandowski. Also expect him to have some backup from Republicans on the committee, who have called this hearing a waste of time, saying the committee already knows all of this information.
GREENE: Well, it's been - how long now? - five months since the Muller report was...
GREENE: ...Released. And this committee is just now turning to its first major witness. Is this just the beginning? Are we going to see more people coming?
DAVIS: Well, that's what Democrats would like to see. Lewandowski's unique because he's never worked in the White House. So he was a campaign aide. He is not affected by the terms of executive privilege for White House employees. Should note...
GREENE: Oh, important to realize that. Yeah.
DAVIS: ...Important distinction. However, the White House is claiming he is bound by some executive privilege. And they're going to send a lawyer for the White House today to advise him at the hearing on that. The Judiciary Committee has filed suit to compel testimony from other witnesses, namely former White House Counsel Don McGahn. How the courts rule in that suit will provide a roadmap for how much information Democrats will ultimately be able to get from White House employees.
GREENE: NPR congressional correspondent Sue Davis for us this morning. Thank you, Sue.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
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GREENE: OK. Israelis are heading to the polls today - again.
KING: Again. Israel had elections less than six months ago. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed for this redo after he failed to form a coalition government. Netanyahu is now the longest-serving prime minister that Israel has ever had. But at the moment, he is also politically very weak.
GREENE: All right. For more on this, let's turn to NPR's Daniel Estrin, who is in Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv. Hi, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So what is happening so far? And what are voters telling you today?
ESTRIN: Well, I'm right outside a polling place. And it's a lot of people coming in and out voting this morning. And most of the voters we've met here have been upset that they have to go to repeat elections because they didn't change their mind between the last elections in April and today's elections. They're voting for the candidate they elect before...
GREENE: So voters are unified around not wanting to vote again (laughter)?
ESTRIN: Yes, they are. And - although, they're divided on the question of Bibi or no Bibi. Bibi's Benjamin Netanyahu's nickname. So take a listen to this voter, Yossi (ph).
YOSSI: It's a horror. It's really bad. It's - you know, it's like nightmare.
YOSSI: I didn't believe that Bibi Netanyahu take all the country to another election just because he afraid what the police get against him will take him to the jail. So he take all the country as a - kidnapped.
ESTRIN: And what he's talking about there is that Netanyahu pushed for these second elections - and he's facing corruption allegations - because he could face a criminal indictment by the end of the year. And if he wins these new elections and forms a right-wing government, his partners could help him with - get immunity from prosecution. Those corruption allegations, however, don't bother Netanyahu's supporters. And listen to one of them, Sandra Ozkur (ph).
SANDRA OZKUR: I think just Bibi. There is no one else. Everybody like us all over the world. And everybody has jobs. And I don't think someone else will be good as him.
ESTRIN: So she's saying the economy's improved in the last decade since Bibi came to office. And Israel has more and more friends around the world than it had before, friends like Trump and Putin.
GREENE: Well, Daniel, remind me - for voters like Yossi who don't like Netanyahu, who is the alternative? Who's running against him?
ESTRIN: Benny Gantz is Netanyahu's main contender. He's a former army chief of staff. He's a centrist. And he's presenting himself as the non-Netanyahu. He says he'll be a unifier. Where Netanyahu plays on rifts in Israeli society, like Jews against Arabs and left versus right, Gantz says he'll be a unifier. And he says he wants to change the way that things have been here for the last decade. And he doesn't want any Orthodox Jewish parties in the government. There's been a lot of resentment over Orthodox politicians' power.
GREENE: Are people really giving him a chance? I mean, is there a real sense that Netanyahu could actually lose this race?
ESTRIN: Too close to say right now because the polls have been really close. Netanyahu seems to have a slight advantage. But it could result in what happened last time, a deadlock, and maybe even third elections.
GREENE: Oh, wow. So all the voters who don't want to vote again could actually have to vote yet again if there's another deadlock. That's a possibility here.
ESTRIN: It's a possibility that people don't want, but it's a possibility.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Daniel Estrin covering the Israeli elections. He is just south of Tel Aviv for us this morning. Daniel, thanks a lot.
ESTRIN: You got it.
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