Morning news brief
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Ukraine has faced a brutal invasion, missile strikes on hospitals and apartment buildings, power outages and now a dam break.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The dam collapsed in southern Ukraine in a region controlled by Russia. It's on the Dnipro River, the great waterway that winds through the middle of the country. People downstream now face a risk of floods. Just upstream is a nuclear power plant that depends on the river for cooling water.
MARTIN: For the latest, we're joined now by NPR's Greg Myre, who is in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Good morning, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: Could you just start by telling us what we know about the situation at this dam?
MYRE: Right. We're talking about the Kakhovka dam. It's on the big broad Dnipro River in southern Ukraine. A video on social media shows a big chunk of the dam collapsed overnight, and early Tuesday, you just see water rushing through the breach. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is blaming Russia and called an emergency meeting of his security advisers. Russia, in turn, is blaming Ukraine. Now, neither side is providing proof, and the dam, we should note, was damaged last year in some shelling. It's been under stress from record high waters, and we even saw photos in recent days where the water was so high it was flowing over the top of the dam.
MARTIN: So whatever caused this, what are the potential consequences?
MYRE: Well, the most immediate is major flooding in southern Ukraine further to the south of the dam along the river. Ukrainian officials say there's about 80 cities, towns and villages in this area - as well, we should note, some Russian troops. Now, we're already getting reports that water levels are rising rapidly and low-lying areas are being evacuated. And the land on the eastern side of the river is actually a little bit lower than the land on the western side of the river. So it's the eastern side where some of these Russian troops are that faces the greater potential danger.
MARTIN: And we've already mentioned that there could be serious consequences upriver, too, where there's a nuclear power plant. Can you talk more about that?
MYRE: Sure. We're talking about this already troubled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest nuclear plant in Europe. Russian troops seized the plant in the early days of the war. There's been periodic shelling around the plant. The U.N. nuclear agency has warned repeatedly about the threat of an accident. It now says it's closely monitoring these latest developments.
MARTIN: But could you tell us more about how the dam collapse could endanger the nuclear plant?
MYRE: So the dam is about 100 miles south, or downriver, from the nuclear plant, and the dam creates a reservoir to its north, and so this large pool of water cools the nuclear power plant. So the risk is, now that the dam is collapsed, the reservoir is going to drain very quickly, and the nuclear plant may not get enough water for cooling. However, we should stress it's still too early to tell what the actual risk might be.
MARTIN: Greg, before we let you go, is it possible one way or another that this collapse, this dam collapse, is related to this long-awaited Ukrainian offensive?
MYRE: It's certainly possible, Michel. We just don't know. Russia claimed Monday that it had rebuffed a Ukrainian push in the eastern Donbas region, and it said that marked the start of the offensive. But Ukraine said that was delusional, and it's not saying when the offensive starts. However, Ukraine has stepped up attacks in the east. President Zelenskyy praised Ukrainian soldiers who were fighting around the town of Bakhmut, but he didn't say whether this was a larger offensive that was underway.
MARTIN: That was NPR's Greg Myre in Kyiv. Greg, thank you.
MYRE: Sure thing, Michel.
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MARTIN: Chris Christie declares his campaign for president today.
MYRE: He's a former New Jersey governor who has a very particular history with Donald Trump. In 2016, Christie became one of the first mainstream Republicans to endorse Trump for president. He even led Trump's presidential transition team until Trump fired him. He's been a critic since then.
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CHRIS CHRISTIE: If we put him back in the White House, the reruns will be worse than the original show was.
INSKEEP: And today in New Hampshire, Christie joins the Republican race that Trump is leading.
MARTIN: With us now to tell us more about all this is Josh Rogers, political reporter for New Hampshire Public Radio. Josh, good morning.
JOSH ROGERS, BYLINE: Good morning to you.
MARTIN: So Chris Christie has pitched himself as a candidate willing to take on Donald Trump. How compelling does that sound for the voters in New Hampshire?
ROGERS: Well, we'll see exactly what Chris Christie says tonight, but obviously taking out Donald Trump, a figure of durability under some pretty extreme situations, is probably easier said than done. But Christie, unlike some other candidates getting into the race, is, you know, a known quantity to lots of Republican voters in New Hampshire.
MARTIN: Say more about that. Why is he well known in New Hampshire?
ROGERS: Well, I mean, it may have been out of sort of desperation, but in 2016, he basically focused his entire campaign here. He did the things that you purportedly need to do to be successful here. He started early. He did a lot of retail campaigning. He took whatever question voters cared to ask him. But he did end up finishing sixth here and then dropped out of the race. And while there are anti-Trump Republicans you can find who like the idea of Christie mounting a kind of kamikaze candidacy, you know, bent on ending Trump at whatever cost to himself, I'm not at this point finding many Republicans pining for Christie's entrance into this race as a candidate they see as a plausible winner.
MARTIN: Another Republican who's - who has been in the conversation over 2024 is the governor from your state, the state of New Hampshire...
MARTIN: ...Chris Sununu. He - it seems that he'd been considering a run as an alternative to Trump, but he now says he's out. What can you tell us about his decision-making there?
ROGERS: Well, Governor Sununu spent the last six months or so really riding the circuit of Republican events, making the rounds on talk shows. And, you know, there's no real sense he truly caught on with Republican voters. He has definitely been successful here. He's in his fourth term and is popular with a range of voters but says now instead of running in 2024, he'll work to steer the Republican Party away from Trumpism and towards what Governor Sununu believes would be a more successful path, particularly in general elections. You know, it ought to be said, Sununu is kind of a latecomer to this point of view. He did back Trump in 2016 and 2020 and has said that if Republicans nominate him again, he'll be voting for him. So there's that. And, you know, despite Sununu's popularity with most voters here in New Hampshire and a generally conservative record, lots of Republican activists in New Hampshire don't much trust him. Some see him as too moderate. Some see him as too self-interested. And so we'll see how that goes.
MARTIN: Josh, finally, you said that you had not run into Republicans pining for Chris Christie's entrance into the race, but what are they pining for?
ROGERS: Well, voters certainly are saying they want Joe Biden gone and are excited with the potential of electing a Republican. That goes for voters who turn out to see Donald Trump, who leads, and voters who turn out to see Ron DeSantis, who's leading everyone else. But, you know, for candidates not named Trump, success is going to depend on Republican voters wanting or being willing to vote for something new, and, you know, that willingness that may yet exist, but all polling here, while obviously early, does give Donald Trump a big lead. And, you know, there are Republicans who will tell you they wish Donald Trump weren't running, but it's not how - it's not clear how many of them would actually end up refusing to vote for him if it comes to that. And, you know, as Governor Sununu noted yesterday when he announced he wasn't going to be running in 2024, that Trump's numbers remain higher here and elsewhere than he and others expected at this point.
MARTIN: OK. We have to leave it there for now. That's Josh Rogers of New Hampshire Public Radio. Josh, thank you.
ROGERS: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: In the world of crypto, another major company is in trouble.
INSKEEP: Binance - like finance, but with a B - Binance operates the world's largest platform for trading cryptocurrencies, and now it's facing a massive lawsuit from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
MARTIN: NPR's David Gura is with us now to tell us more. David, good morning.
DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.
MARTIN: What is Binance accused of?
GURA: So this company faces more than a dozen charges, some of which are quite serious, Michel, in a complaint that is more than 100 pages long. And when you dig into it, Binance is accused of misleading customers, of steering their money to another company that's controlled by Binance's CEO and of putting investors' assets at risk, according to the SEC, which describes Binance as an opaque web of corporate entities that does business around the world. And interestingly, it has no physical headquarters anywhere, which may sound unusual, but this is how many crypto companies operate. They believe there's no need for a headquarters. There are no borders. There's no need for government oversight. Binance's chief executive, who goes by his initials CZ, says Binance's headquarters is wherever he's sitting. Regulators have gotten fed up with this. And what the SEC alleges broadly, Michel, is CZ and Binance have violated and continue to violate the law.
MARTIN: You know, you said that the complaint is 100 pages long, but of those charges, are there some that stand out?
GURA: Yeah, several of these have to do with Binance not complying with regulations. The SEC says the company has made a deliberate decision not to register with the SEC. And, you know, this gets to the heart of the battle. The head of the SEC, Gary Gensler, often says that crypto is like the Wild West. And if you play out that metaphor, Gensler sees himself as the sheriff. You know, like I said, crypto companies envision a future with a financial system that's not government regulated. But Gensler wants to impose order and have crypto companies operate under existing securities laws. Lee Reiners teaches cryptocurrency law at Duke University.
LEE REINERS: He has been, in essence, warning the crypto industry for the better part of a year and giving them an opportunity to come in and get, you know, in compliance and register with the SEC. And, you know, that is not something the crypto industry took him up on.
GURA: Now, recently, Gensler has been saying the runway for crypto companies to come into compliance is running out. And something Reiners told me is this lawsuit is a pretty sure sign there is no runway left. And we're seeing Binance customers getting skittish, Michel. They've withdrawn hundreds of millions of dollars worth of crypto from Binance since these charges were announced, according to the blockchain data firm Nansen.
MARTIN: Say more about the company, how it fits into the world of crypto.
GURA: Yeah, Binance may not be a household name, but if you're in crypto, you'll know it. This is a company that's a little like a crypto supermarket. It has a little bit of everything. It runs two large exchanges where you can buy and sell cryptocurrency. But Binance is also a brokerage. It clears trades. There are funds that are affiliated with it. Binance is big, and it's only gotten bigger since FTX imploded just a few months ago.
MARTIN: And does the collapse of FTX relate to what we're seeing here?
GURA: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, these two companies were rivals. CZ famously balked when FTX asked him for a bailout when FTX was on the brink of bankruptcy. But beyond that, FTX's collapse changed regulators' approach to crypto, Michel. It was catalytic. Since then, the SEC has gone after a lot of crypto companies. The SEC recently sent a warning to Coinbase saying it's under investigation. So this Binance lawsuit is not going to be the last. There are going to be more fights ahead, including civil suits like this one. And of course, there's the criminal trial against FTX's founder, Sam Bankman-Fried. That's scheduled to start in October. And if he's found guilty, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
MARTIN: That is NPR's David Gura. David, thank you.
GURA: Thank you.
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