News Brief: Russia Investigation, Turkish Military Strikes

Jan 25, 2018
Originally published on January 25, 2018 11:13 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump made this surprise appearance in front of reporters last night and during the session he made some promises.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah, he said he'd be willing to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Russia investigation - investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. And the president added he would do it under oath.

GREENE: Well, let's explore this with NPR's Mara Liasson, who was one of the reporters in the room at - what - Mara, was this like an impromptu press conference, or what happened here?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: It was absolutely impromptu. We were in the office of a senior White House official who was going to brief us off the record about immigration. In walks the president, presumably on his way out the door to go to Davos. And he started talking on the record, and he kept on talking. And he did...

GREENE: Doesn't happen every day when you're covering the White House, does it?

LIASSON: Doesn't happen every day. He did say he would do it under oath - as in talk to Robert Mueller. He said he'd love to do it. He said he was looking forward to it. He said, subject to my lawyers and all of that. And of course later, one of his lawyers, Ty Cobb, gave a statement to The New York Times that tried to walk back Trump's promises a little bit. He said Trump was not volunteering to go before a grand jury. But there it is - I would do it under oath.

GREENE: OK - with the caveat, subject to my lawyers, which leaves all options open, I guess.

LIASSON: Yes.

GREENE: What else stood out to you as he was discussing this investigation?

LIASSON: Well, two other things stood out to me. One is he said he doesn't recall asking Andrew McCabe who he voted for - McCabe was the acting director of the FBI - although he said that question would be unimportant.

He also talked about obstruction in a new way. He said there was no obstruction. He said, quote, "oh, well, did he fight back? Did he fight back? You fight back, and they say it's obstruction." In other words, he was suggesting that his efforts to defend himself against the investigation were unfairly interpreted as obstruction. Presumably, that includes firing Jim Comey.

GREENE: Wow, he got into a lot of details about this investigation...

LIASSON: Yeah.

GREENE: ...This impromptu session.

LIASSON: Yeah.

GREENE: So - OK, you said you were originally there to talk to a senior administration official about immigration. And I mean, I guess sometimes when you're talking to a senior White House official, they might say, well, you have to hear from the president himself on that. And you got to hear from the president himself...

LIASSON: Yes.

GREENE: ...On that. What did he say?

LIASSON: That was the most interesting part. Also, Congress has been asking - even begging to find out, what does the president want in a deal on immigration for the DACA recipients? What would he sign? And he was very specific. He said he wanted a path to citizenship. He said, quote, "over a period of 10 to 12 years." He said he wanted $20 billion for the wall for 800 miles of wall.

We asked him, what does he want on chain migration or family unification? That's a very important sticking point here. He said we want a new standard. He said you can't just bring anybody you've ever met into the country. But wives, husbands, sons and daughters would be OK. And then he said he wants the visa lottery system either gone or replaced. So that's a framework for a deal.

GREENE: Yeah, those are details - although details like the wall, money for the wall - didn't Minority Leader Chuck Schumer say that the wall is now off the table?

LIASSON: Yes because he had offered Trump the wall in exchange for legalizing the DREAMers. And when Trump didn't take that, he said that's off the table. But that would absolutely be part of a final deal. He also said that he had a message for DACA recipients. He said they shouldn't worry. Tell them not to be concerned. So this is something new. Donald Trump is getting involved in the details of legislation, and he actually is trying to make a deal. He will have to sell this to his hard-line conservatives in the House if something like this passes the Senate, and maybe he will be able to.

GREENE: NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: OK, President Trump had another conversation yesterday. And unlike that meeting with reporters we just heard about, we do not have an audio recording.

INSKEEP: Nope. This was a phone call between President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The two countries, Turkey and the United States, have reached an awkward moment. Turkish jets have been bombing Kurdish forces, Kurdish forces armed by the United States to fight ISIS. Yes, a NATO ally of the United States bombed forces allied with the United States. The White House said President Trump warned that Turkey's operations threaten their shared goals. Turkey does not agree, though, on what was said.

GREENE: And let's turn to NPR's Peter Kenyon who is in Istanbul.

Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So they call this a readout. This is when the White House, you know, types up an account of what the president discussed with a world leader. We see this all the time. It's usually a lot about cooperation and shared goals. This feels different, like the readout's being, you know, studied more closely now.

KENYON: Very different. The White House went first - quickly sent out its own summary of the call - and it was pretty sharp. It focused on President Trump's concerns over this military operation against the fighters that the Pentagon, you know, thinks are crucial to this fight against ISIS. The White House says Trump spoke about escalating violence, undercutting the goals in Syria. And since then, we've seen even stronger language.

Now the White House homeland security adviser is quoted as saying it would be preferable if Turkish troops would remove themselves from the conflict in Syria. Now, there's one particular worry for the U.S., and that's Turkey's intention to move from Afrin, where they are now, toward a place called Manbij, further east. And there are U.S. forces there. Now, Turkey's foreign minister has responded to U.S. statements by saying - well, we've got trust issues with the U.S. right now, and that makes it impossible for us to really talk seriously about our plans in northern Syria.

Ankara's version of this exact same call is remarkably different, basically accusing the White House of misstating the content of what was said. Never brought up - several phrases in the White House readout were completely denied in the Turkish one. So two remarkably different summaries.

GREENE: How serious is this in Turkey, I mean, this disagreement over a very important phone call?

KENYON: Well, it's the latest in a series of disagreements. I mean, it's just sort of the latest sign that anti-American sentiment here is running stronger than it has in years. Meanwhile, you've got some conservatives in the U.S. questioning whether Turkey even belongs in NATO anymore. Now, if the polls are to be believed, Turkey's people are rallying behind Erdogan. We'll see how it goes.

INSKEEP: You know, this is a reminder of something that was said by the very first president, George Washington, who observed that countries do not act based on friendship; they act based on interests. And this is a circumstance where the U.S. and Turkey, though they're allies, just don't see their interests exactly the same way in northern Syria.

GREENE: Something we're seeing exposed here. NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul.

Peter, we appreciate it.

KENYON: Thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, we're going to turn now to the question of, who is to blame for a long, long pattern of abuse?

INSKEEP: Yeah. And this number is stunning. More than 150 women say they were sexually abused by Larry Nassar. The former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison yesterday. His crimes go back decades. And so people are asking, how could that happen, and how could it happen so long? Who was in charge? Well, the former CEO of USA Gymnastics resigned last year. And now the longtime president of Michigan State University, where Nassar also worked, has stepped down.

So what do we know about what they knew?

GREENE: OK, we have USA Today sportswriter Christine Brennan with us.

Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN: Hey, David. How's it going?

GREENE: It's going OK.

BRENNAN: Yeah.

GREENE: But this a - I mean, this is a terrible story to cover. And I guess we're seeing the fallout now. And I guess - can you just remind us about this former university president and why she says she's now resigning?

BRENNAN: In 2014, David, she received a Title IX complaint and word that there was an investigation, and this would be, of course, of Larry Nassar, the man who did these horrible things to so many gymnasts. And she said that she really didn't have the curiosity to even go any further and find out what it was about.

And when you consider that this was less than three years after the horrors at Penn State involving Jerry Sandusky and you've got a university president at Michigan State just a few hundred miles away - it is just unbelievable that a university president wouldn't look into this and take it a step further and see what this was about.

So President Simon was under fire and under pressure. The board of trustees was very supportive of her up until about, you know, last night. But clearly, the waves and waves of victim impact statements, the continuing storyline here that riveted the nation - horrified the nation - it just became too much for her to keep her job.

GREENE: And so - I mean, first this started out as USA Gymnastics. Now we're saying the head of Michigan State having to resign. I mean, Christine, you've covered scandals involving sexual abuse by powerful figures in athletics. You mentioned Sandusky of Penn State. I mean, have you - are there solutions out there to prevent something like this from happening? Why does this keep happening?

BRENNAN: Proactive, new-age leadership. It's just amazing that these young women feel powerless to speak out, even as they are some of the most powerful and successful athletes in the world. And that's, of course, what we're talking about with these Olympic gold medal gymnasts who felt they had no place to - nowhere to go, no one to tell, almost paralyzed in their fear over this doctor as they're in the Olympic pipeline and don't want to, obviously, lose their place by speaking out.

So a whole new day has to dawn here. And it has to happen with the U.S. Olympic Committee leading the way - and they're very concerned - but to have younger voices and openness, liaisons with athletes. But it is just appalling, frankly, that now we've had two of these in this decade involving two of the most respected sports programs, Penn State, Michigan State - and of course Michigan State with USA Gymnastics because this doctor did all these terrible things at both places.

GREENE: Christine Brennan covers sports for USA Today.

Christine, thanks a lot.

BRENNAN: David, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF VETIVER'S "STRANGER STILL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.