News Brief: Impeachment Inquiry, India Protests, Australia's Wildfires

Dec 23, 2019
Originally published on December 23, 2019 9:14 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

About 90 minutes after President Trump talked to Ukraine's president on July 25 of this year, a White House official was voicing concerns about military aid to Ukraine in an email.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, this sounds like something that we already know. But newly released emails give new details about the timing of this aid delay. That phone call, of course, is what led to a whistleblower complaint and eventually led to the president being impeached.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has been following all of this. She's on the line. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: OK. So let's talk about these emails. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday that those emails - these newly released emails - are exactly why it's important to have White House witnesses in the Senate trial. Let's listen to him.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: Until we hear from the witnesses, until we get the documents, the American people will correctly assume that those blocking their testimony were aiding and abetting a cover-up, plain and simple.

KING: What do you know about those emails and the impact that they might have on this process?

KEITH: Yeah. The emails were released through a Freedom of Information Act request, and they do fill in the timeline around the withholding of aid to Ukraine. And one email that is getting a lot of attention - that you mentioned - was from an Office of Management and Budget official to folks at the Pentagon about the hold on funds. He sent that email just 90 minutes after the president's now infamous phone call. And it includes the line (reading) given the sensitive nature of this request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held.

In the email, he was talking about an ongoing review of funding to Ukraine and saying that they would be formalizing that within the day. That official who sent that email is one of four who Chuck Schumer wants to come testify before the Senate in the impeachment trial. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear he has absolutely no desire to call witnesses for that trial.

You know, for McConnell, he knows that if the vote were held right now, Trump would be acquitted. And he has said that he doesn't see his job as being helping the Democrats make their case. This, of course, is one of several items at the heart of negotiations between the two leaders about how that trial will unfold.

KING: Now, Tam, I know that you have been doing some reporting on how President Trump is reacting to impeachment, on whether or not he seems affected by this whole thing. What are you finding?

KEITH: You know, impeachment is the ultimate form of censure. But for President Trump, there is very little indication that he's been chastened by last week's vote. He says he doesn't feel like he's been impeached. And he is just doing the Trump thing, only more. So like, he's always tweeted a lot, but now he is setting records for the numbers of tweets and retweets.

And he's always delivered insult-laden rally speeches that lurch from one topic to the next and back again and include all kinds of random stuff. And he did that again. He held a rally on the very night that he was impeached, and it was his longest rally speech ever.

KING: So one comparison we can try to draw here is with President Clinton, who was the most recent president to be impeached prior to President Trump. How did he handle the situation?

KEITH: Yeah. So I actually went back and found audio of Bill Clinton on the day that he was impeached by the House. He had a bunch of Democrats over to the White House in the Rose Garden to show solidarity, and he delivered a speech that is just so vastly different from what President Trump delivered. It's truly remarkable.

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BILL CLINTON: I ask the American people to move with me - to go on from here, to rise above the rancor, to overcome the pain and division, to be a repairer of the breach - all of us.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Crazy Nancy Pelosi's House Democrats...

(BOOING)

TRUMP: ...Have branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame. And it really is; it's a disgrace.

KEITH: They are obviously different presidents...

KING: Yes.

KEITH: ...Accused of different misdeeds. But Trump's strategy for survival all along has been about maintaining total Republican fidelity. And part of that is keeping his base along and not worrying about the rest of the country.

KING: NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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KING: All right. In India over the past two weeks, hundreds of thousands of people have been out in the streets protesting this new citizenship law.

GREENE: That's right. So this law offers a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan - but only if they are not Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is defending this bill. He says the demonstrators want to destroy India.

KING: Washington Post India correspondent Niha Masih is in New Delhi. She's on the line via Skype. Good morning.

NIHA MASIH: Hi. Hi.

KING: All right. So you've been covering these protests since they started a few weeks ago. What are you seeing?

MASIH: Right. So as you said, thousands of protesters are out there every single day across India from major cities like Delhi and Bombay to smaller towns in the south and western part of the country - everywhere, really. And there are people from all faiths. There are people from all ages. People are bringing in their young kids. There are elderly people who have come out to say that they've not seen anything like this before. And they feel, at this point, the country is at a position where they have to come out and register their protest against what they view as a discriminatory citizenship law, which discriminates against Muslims. And they've not stopped coming out.

The authorities have, of course, tried to stem these protests by shutting down the Internet, closing metro stations - in Delhi, for instance, banned gatherings. But people are out there chanting slogans of freedom, reciting the national anthem. Over the weekend in Hyderabad, for instance, which is a city in the south of India, thousands of people gathered and read out the preamble of the Constitution in a bid to remind the government that the country is a secular nation and should not discriminate on the basis of religion in any which way.

KING: You mentioned how the authorities are handling this. Around two dozen people have been killed. Now, that is a death toll, and it's significant. It is not as high, I think, as some people might fear given the sheer number of people out in the streets. If you characterize how law enforcement is handling this, are they doing it with restraint? How are they operating?

MASIH: Right. So since they are - the protests are widespread across the country, the response to these protests have been different by different states. And police action has also been significantly different. So for instance, in Delhi, police stormed a university campus after a protest turned violent, fired tear gas into a library and assaulted students. In the southern state of Karnataka, police killed two people by firing at them. In the state of Uttar Pradesh, police have responded to protests by detaining nearly 5,000 people. So the police action has also spurred anger.

However, there are many, many other places, like Bombay, like Bangalore, where protests have been very, very peaceful. And these are thousands of people out there. So it's obviously a challenge to make sure that protests remain peaceful. And people say that they are committed to maintaining peace, but the police also have to ensure that they, you know, exercise restraint. The police officials, of course, in these different states say that they have not used force unless there has been some form of provocation from the protesters.

KING: Niha Masih, India correspondent for The Washington Post - thank you so much.

MASIH: Thank you.

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KING: Two-hundred bushfires are burning across Australia.

GREENE: That's right. And people there are furious right now that their prime minister, Scott Morrison, decided to take a family vacation in the middle of this crisis. He has now come home.

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PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON: I've obviously returned from leave. And I know that that has caused some great anxiety in Australia, and Jenny and I acknowledge that. If you had your time over again and you had the benefit of hindsight, then would have made different decisions.

GREENE: Now, these bushfires in Australia have killed at least nine people, and they've destroyed nearly a thousand homes since September.

KING: Julia Holman is a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and she is joining us via Skype from Sydney. Hey, Julia.

JULIA HOLMAN: Hi. How are you?

KING: Good. Thank you. We have been reporting on these fires for a couple of days now. What are you seeing today?

HOLMAN: Well, today, the situation is - I would say there's a lull. But as you said, there's 200 fires burning. So that shows you the scale of this tragedy, when 200 fires is a relatively good day here. So there's fires burning. The weather conditions are calmer. But it's kind of the calm before the storm at the moment because those - these terrible, catastrophic conditions are set to return within a week. So a lot of containment is happening at the moment.

KING: What are the terrible, catastrophic conditions expected to return? Is this weather?

HOLMAN: Absolutely dire weather conditions. Winds of, you know, 60 miles an hour, temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit - conditions that really cannot be - that mean that firefighters just cannot fight these fires. Like, the fires are huge. The area that's being burned is 7 1/2 million acres. That's what's been burned...

KING: Wow.

HOLMAN: ...Already. And the fires are still raging. So the area is just too large for firefighters, with all their equipment, to contain. So the catastrophic conditions just whip that up into something - into a frenzy. And that's when homes and lives are really at risk.

KING: Regarding the prime minister who came home - cut short his vacation, he must been facing some serious complaints. Who was doing the complaining?

HOLMAN: Just about everybody in the country, I would say...

KING: OK.

HOLMAN: ...Was complaining. He told people he'd made a promise to his daughters that he would take them on a holiday. And he does have young family. But at the same time, the majority of the firefighters who are fighting these fires are volunteers. So they're breaking promises to their children. They're breaking promises to their partners.

They're taking time unpaid from work to go out and fight fires. Many of them will be working on Christmas Day. So this is just not washing very well with the Australian public at all that he's giving this explanation - oh, sorry, I told my daughters I'd take them on a holiday, whoops.

KING: That's quite a whoops. Julia, just lastly - as you'd expect, some people are saying this is related to climate change. And I know that you've reported the Prime Minister Morrison has been a little bit cagey about whether or not that's the case. Right?

HOLMAN: Absolutely. I mean, there is no doubt that climate change is contributing to the terrible conditions we're seeing. The prime minister, though - and many within his government - have been less than forthcoming about that. In fact, many in his government deny links to climate change. So there's a huge amount of debate in this country. You'd think that the science is settled. The scientists are certainly settled about the debate; there is no debate in their mind. At Australia's political level - and for many voters - there is debate.

KING: Reporter Julia Holman with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Thanks, Julia. We appreciate it.

HOLMAN: Not a problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.