Morning News Brief

May 24, 2018
Originally published on May 24, 2018 10:01 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So is this all about transparency, or are President Trump and his allies in Congress trying to back up the narrative of a witch hunt?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So we're talking about two briefings that the White House has set up for today. The first one is for House Republicans who have been pushing for details about an FBI source attached to the Trump campaign back in 2016 who gave the FBI information about the campaign. So Republicans have insisted on this briefing, but Democrats wanted to see the same information. So the Justice Department has relented. And now they're going to do back-to-back briefings.

GREENE: And let's talk to NPR's Mara Liasson about those briefings.

Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, David.

GREENE: OK. So tell us about these meetings today. Who's going to be there? Why are they important?

LIASSON: The first meeting at noon is going to be with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, FBI Director Chris Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, White House chief of staff John Kelly and the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, two Republicans.

But, as you said, Democrats objected. And they added a second meeting at 2 o'clock with the Gang of Eight. The Gang of Eight is the House and Senate leadership - bicameral, bipartisan - as well as the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees. These are the people designed to receive highly classified briefings from the executive branch. This is the traditional way that you would share information like that.

GREENE: OK. So President Trump has said that this is all about, you know, transparency, letting lawmakers know about this FBI informant - that it's not trying to undercut the Justice Department in any way. Let's just listen to a little bit of the president this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want them all to get together. And I want them - 'cause everybody wants this solved. But a lot of bad things have happened. We now call it Spygate. You're calling it Spygate. A lot of bad things have happened. I want them all to get together. They'll sit in a room. Hopefully, they'll be able to work it out among themselves.

GREENE: OK, the president there yesterday. So what is driving this? Is he trying to drive a narrative, or is it all about transparency?

LIASSON: Well, as you heard him say, we now call it Spygate. You're calling it Spygate. What he really means is he's calling it Spygate. He's branded it Spygate. He's created a new narrative. He has said that there was a spy embedded in his campaign from the criminal deep state in the intelligence community. There's no evidence of that. We do know there was an FBI informant who spoke to campaign officials to find out what the Russians were up to.

But we know that if the president wanted to, he can declassify anything he wants. He could simply ask one of his intelligence chiefs to tell him if there was a spy embedded in his campaign. But his critics say that he doesn't really want to do that. What he wants to do is create a new narrative to help him chip away at the credibility of the Mueller investigation, undermine the credibility of Mueller. So when he finally does come up with something, the president can dismiss it as a partisan witch hunt.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you one question about the Mueller investigation that's related to all this. The president's son-in-law Jared Kushner has found out that he has now full permanent White House security clearance. Does that suggest that he is no longer in potential legal trouble with the special counsel at all?

LIASSON: Well, it's not a conclusive sign that he's out of Mueller's crosshairs, but it is very good news for Jared Kushner. He does have his security clearance back. We also found out that he was interviewed by the special counsel for seven or eight hours in mid-April.

GREENE: All right, lots to report on - NPR's Mara Liasson.

Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All of those niceties from when the U.S. and North Korea started talking about a potential summit - they seem like they're out the window now. Don't they?

MARTIN: Right. So North Korea issued yet another threat yesterday to back out of the summit. This is the big negotiation set for Singapore on June 12. And the North is singling out recent comments made by Vice President Mike Pence, the North calling the vice president's comments ignorant and stupid.

GREENE: All right, let's turn to NPR's Elise Hu who covers the Koreas for us. She joins us from Seoul.

Hi, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hi, there.

GREENE: So what is what exactly is North Korea reacting so angrily to here?

HU: They're reacting to the continuation of a suggestion brought out by White House national security adviser John Bolton. A few weeks ago, he suggested a Libya-style denuclearization for North Korea. He was referring to how Libya swiftly gave up its then-nascent nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief and normalizing relations with the international community. But, as you recall, several years later, its former leader Gadhafi was killed by mobs of rebels. So...

GREENE: Right.

HU: ...Trump himself has publicly backed away from such a Libya model. But then this week, Vice President Pence went on Fox News and said that things could end that way for Kim.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE STORY")

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: You know, as the president made clear, you know, this will only end like the Libya model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn't make a deal.

MARTHA MACCALLUM: Some people saw that as a threat.

PENCE: Well, I think it's more of a fact.

GREENE: OK. So Pence there continuing this Libya comparison potentially. So - I mean, North Korea is known for, you know, having reactions that try to get attention. But this response - tell me more about it.

HU: The vice foreign minister put out a statement. And it says, (reading) I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice president.

He then went on to say that if the U.S. continues to offend North Korea's goodwill, then he's going to suggest to Kim Jong Un to reconsider this summit. It's the second threat to back out in two weeks now.

GREENE: OK, so specifically tying Pence's words to the chances for that summit.

Well, I mean, even as that is all happening, North Korea seems to be showing some goodwill ahead of this summit. They're hosting foreign journalists to come witness a gesture - right? - shutting down this nuclear test site. Do we think that demolition is going to still go forward?

HU: We don't know if it's already happened, it's about to happen or it's happening now because the journalists who did get into North Korea for this have to make an estimated 18-hour journey...

GREENE: Oh, wow.

HU: ...From the coastal city of Wonsan, where they flew in, in order to get to Punggye-ri, which is the site. It's in a remote, mountainous part of the country. And they left for this site about this time yesterday. It's 12 hours on a train, four hours on a bus and a two-hour hike. There's no connectivity to the outside world from this part of North Korea. So whatever is happening there at Punggye-ri, we won't know until these journalists can get out of there and get connected again.

GREENE: There's something so old-fashioned about that, having to wait for news to travel, like, hours and hours and hours.

NPR's Elise Hu talking to us about the situation in North Korea and the chances for that summit next month. Elise, thanks as always.

HU: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. So the National Football League is going to have a new policy this coming season that requires players to stand during the national anthem before games.

MARTIN: This all started in 2016 when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the pregame national anthem. He was protesting racial inequality and police brutality in this country. Then people started to mimic him. The protests spread, and more and more players were kneeling during the anthem. Many fans thought this was a good idea. They supported the silent act of protest. Others, including President Trump, did not. Here's what the president had to say about it at a rally in Alabama last fall.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a [expletive] off the field right now? Out. He's fired.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: He's fired.

MARTIN: Well, yesterday the owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that players and league personnel on the sidelines are going to have to stand during the anthem. And if they don't want to stand, then the alternative is to stay in the locker room.

GREENE: OK. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins me now to talk about this.

Hey there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: OK, so the owners approved this policy in Atlanta during their spring meeting. Why now? What's the timing of this announcement?

GOLDMAN: We're less than four months away from the start of the 2018 regular season. And I know you're excited.

GREENE: I am.

GOLDMAN: And the NFL doesn't want to go through another season like the last one. The protests during anthems became a major issue, highly politicized after Trump said what he did. And it was bad for business, a really big business. NFL revenues estimated at $14 billion last season.

GREENE: So what's the reaction been so far?

GOLDMAN: Well, the union is upset because it wasn't consulted before the NFL owners voted on the new policy. And the NFL says...

GREENE: The players' union, right?

GOLDMAN: The players' union, yeah.

The NFL says the consultation wasn't required because what they did was make a change in the NFL's game operations manual, which the league says is not subject to collective bargaining with the union.

Now, among the players who've been involved in the protests, the reaction has been negative - no surprise there. Members of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles were quite outspoken after the NFL announced the policy. Defensive end Chris Long sent this tweet.

(Reading) There is fear of a diminished bottom line. It's also fear of a president turning his base against a corporation. This is not patriotism. These owners don't love America more than the players demonstrating and taking real action to improve it. I'm someone who's always looked at the anthem as a declaration of ideals, including the right to peaceful protest. Our league continues to fall short on this issue.

GREENE: Wow.

GOLDMAN: His teammate Malcolm Jenkins said while he disagrees with the decision, he won't let it silence him or stop him from fighting for social change. So the guys involved in the protests - obviously not happy with this.

GREENE: Yeah. And it sounds like this policy change is not going to put all of this to rest, as much as the league might want it to, come the beginning of this new season.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, that's probably the case.

GREENE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman talking to us about that new policy coming from the NFL yesterday.

Tom, we appreciate it.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIRTY ART CLUB'S "FULL METAL JACKET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.