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News brief: Russia-Ukraine crisis, Trump ruling, IOC president's news conference

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's high-stakes diplomacy as the U.S. insists Russia is preparing for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia claims it's not, but it's got Ukraine surrounded. An outbreak of shelling in the east yesterday, the worst since a cease-fire was reached two years ago, set off alarms that it could spiral into something bigger.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

At the White House, President Biden said there was a very high threat that Moscow could go ahead with a military invasion of Ukraine.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Every indication we have is they're prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine.

MARTINEZ: Today, Vice President Harris is in Munich, Germany, where she plans a series of meetings this weekend about the crisis, including one with Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is traveling with Harris. He joins us now. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So, Franco, bring us up to speed on the latest developments. A real sense of urgency from U.S. officials, right?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. You know, the United States is taking the threat very seriously from the president on down. I mean, as you just heard him say yesterday, the sense is that the invasion will happen in the next several days. And that's because Russia has moved more troops in. And there are all these signs of the kind of false flag operation the White House has been warning about. You know, it's the kind of thing that creates a pretext for Russia to move in. Biden is holding a call with more allies today, and he says there is still a chance for talks to avert this. Here's actually what Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told our colleague Mary Louise Kelly last night.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I'd like to think that our diplomacy, our exposure of this has delayed their planning. And we're going to keep leaning in and keep pushing to delay their moving in this direction and hopefully come to the negotiating table.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, it's not yet clear whether that will happen. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is here in Munich, too, and a State Department spokesman said last night that Blinken is set to meet with Russia's foreign minister sometime next week. That's, of course, as long as there is no invasion.

FADEL: So this is all coming as the annual Munich Security Conference takes place. It usually draws top national security officials from Europe and the U.S. What will the vice president be doing while there?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, she's going to be addressing the conference tomorrow, and she'll be talking about how the U.S. sees the threat posed by Russia and how the U.S. believes it has brought its allies closer together. You know, I expect she'll make a strong statement about how the U.S. supports Ukraine's right to sovereignty. And just to underscore that, she plans to meet with President Zelenskyy on the sidelines of the conference. It's one of the many meetings with leaders she is planning and as the White House tries to show that everyone is on the same page about Russia. Today, she's meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and later the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the three Baltic states whose borders are also close to Russia and who are very nervous.

FADEL: So the administration has made it clear that an invasion could be imminent. If it happens, how does that affect terrorist plans?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, I've asked about that, and the administration acknowledges that the situation is extremely fluid. They say they've spoken a lot about the likelihood of an invasion, pointing out that it can happen at any time. Now, they won't say what Harris will do if there is an invasion. But when asked about those kind of contingency plans, you know, we reporters are told that the administration is determined to stand together with Europe and NATO.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez traveling with the vice president in Munich. Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Leila.

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FADEL: Former President Donald Trump and two of his adult children must testify under oath.

MARTINEZ: That is the ruling of a New York judge in response to arguments by lawyers for Donald, Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump. The Trumps were trying to avoid questions from the New York attorney general about alleged fraud at The Trump Organization. Earlier this week, it was announced that Trump's longtime accounting firm has cut ties with the ex-president.

FADEL: NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering this investigation, and she joins us now. Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So they have to testify - sounds like a legal setback for The Trump Organization. Is this the final word on this?

BERNSTEIN: Well, probably not. What happened yesterday was that there was a court hearing in New York, and lawyers for Donald, Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump and The Trump Organization made pretty vociferous arguments that it would be unfair for them to be required by the New York attorney general to answer questions because her office is also involved in a separate criminal probe of the Trump family business. The judge, Arthur Engoron, who is a Supreme Court judge in New York, just made mincemeat of the Trump argument. He said it completely misses the mark. He said that for the attorney general not to investigate the Trumps would have been a blatant dereliction of duty. And in New York, it's a little confusing, but the Supreme Court is actually not the highest court, so it can be appealed. And there's been an indication by Trump lawyers that they will appeal.

FADEL: OK, so let's say the Trumps testify under oath. What would they be asked?

BERNSTEIN: So we know from previous court filings that the attorney general is especially interested in the way that Donald Trump and Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump overvalued properties when it was in their interest and undervalued them when it was not. For example, when they had to pay taxes on a property in the suburbs of New York, they said the value was pretty low, but when they wanted to later donate it to the state so they could get a big tax deduction, they said, for example, that the property had big potential because it was zoned in a certain way when it was not. There was also intrigue about Trump's apartment, according to these documents, that Donald Trump said his apartment in Trump Tower was bigger and worth more, way more, than it was. So these are the kinds of things that the attorney general says she needs to know.

FADEL: Will they have to answer?

BERNSTEIN: So this is what the judge kept saying. They have the right to take the Fifth Amendment, just as Eric Trump, a third Trump child, did when he was previously questioned by the attorney general. That was 500 times. The Trumps said this is unfair because not answering questions, taking the Fifth Amendment, can be used against them as a negative inference in a civil case, and the judge said, yeah, well, that's the law. It applies to everyone, Trumps, too. to.

FADEL: How are the Trumps reacting?

BERNSTEIN: So The Trump Organization issued a statement last night saying the entire system is corrupt. Donald Trump himself had one of those all-caps statements - THERE IS NO CASE. And his lawyer called the statements by the attorney general politically motivated and abhorrent. Should say the judge backed up the attorney general and said he'd seen the evidence, and he believed that it was not in any way brought by personal animus but by facts and the law.

FADEL: Reporter Andrea Bernstein, thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

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FADEL: The International Olympic Committee is dealing with the fallout from yesterday's women's figure skating event.

MARTINEZ: Today, IOC President Thomas Bach talked about it at length in his final press conference at the Games. The event was not the kind the IOC likes. Fifteen-year-old Russian star skater Kamila Valieva left the ice in tears after a disastrous performance, and it came at the end of a week when she was at the center of a relentless controversy because of her pre-Olympics positive tests for a banned drug.

FADEL: NPR's Tom Goldman is in Beijing and joins me now. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So as we both know, the IOC traditionally is expert at dodging thorny issues.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

FADEL: None were as thorny as Kamila Valieva this week. Why do you think he spoke about it?

GOLDMAN: He had to. It has consumed the Games for the past week or so, as you well know. But, you know, knowing how the IOC likes to dodge, we came to this press conference ready to have to pry out information about Valieva. It was notable that he spoke about her unprompted in great detail, and he talked about watching on TV. He wasn't there, which drew other criticism. But he watched Valieva's painful meltdown. And then he said he was very disturbed by the images after when Valieva's coaches treated her with what Bach called a tremendous coldness. Here he is.

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THOMAS BACH: It was chilling to see this, rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her.

GOLDMAN: And Bach said he can only wish for her to get support and hope that this all is addressed in the right way and doesn't continue being a traumatic experience for Valieva.

FADEL: She's only 15. Wishing and hoping are nice, but shouldn't the IOC be doing something? I mean, it oversees the Olympics.

GOLDMAN: Well, absolutely. And Bach said the IOC has contacted the Russian Olympic Committee about Valieva's welfare. He also said discussions need to happen on many issues related to the scandal, including possible limits on minors - senior competitions and more scrutiny of entourages, the people closest to athletes, like coaches. And Bach said those discussions have begun, and the IOC is dedicated to getting it right.

FADEL: OK, Tom, but critics say there's often a big disconnect between what the IOC does and what it says.

GOLDMAN: They do, and there often is. And, you know, consider Valieva's controversial coach, Eteri Tutberidze. She churns out female teenagers who burn brightly and win titles, but their shelf lives often are short, due in part to their bodies giving out and reported severe diet restrictions. Now, the skating world has known about these questionable practices. The IOC should have too because after last night, the coach's skaters have won gold and silver in the individual women's competition in the last two Winter Olympics.

FADEL: Any other issues of note from President Bach?

GOLDMAN: Well, there was this crazy moment yesterday, as we've been reporting, when an official with the Beijing Organizing Committee, known by the acronym of BOCOG, went off at the daily briefing, calling reporters' questions lies when asked about Chinese human rights violations, forced labor of the Uyghur minority - very uncomfortable moment for the IOC, which has a carefully crafted public position that it's politically neutral and only about bringing the world together. So Bach was asked about this Chinese official, and he said after her comments, they all had a conversation. Here he is.

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BACH: And then both organizations, BOCOG and the IOC, have restated their unequivocal commitment to remain politically neutral as it is required by the Olympic Charter.

GOLDMAN: So the IOC again is in its comfort zone - no politics.

FADEL: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman in Beijing. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.