News Brief: Impeachment Trial, Coronavirus, U.K.-Huawei Deal

Jan 30, 2020
Originally published on January 30, 2020 1:20 pm
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NOEL KING, HOST:

There were eight hours of questions and answers on the Senate floor yesterday.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Eight hours. One by one, senators, including Republican Susan Collins from Maine, wrote their questions on little notecards.

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SUSAN COLLINS: Mr. Chief Justice.

JOHN ROBERTS: The senator is recognized.

COLLINS: I send a question to the desk on behalf of myself, Senator Murkowski and Senator Romney.

INSKEEP: And then, Chief Justice John Roberts read their question out loud. Now, in that case, Collins, Murkowski and Romney asked about motive. What, they asked, if the president had mixed motives for demanding investigations in Ukraine - pursuing his personal political interests but also the national interest?

KING: That was one of many questions posed to the prosecution and the defense. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is on the line. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: OK. So eight hours of questions and answers - what can we learn from the answers?

LIASSON: Well, there's been a real shift in the president's defense argument from he did nothing wrong, the call was perfect, there was no quid pro quo to whatever he did wasn't serious enough to warrant removal, wasn't impeachable - to abuse of power isn't impeachable to it doesn't matter what he did, as long as his intentions were good. Here's Alan Dershowitz answering a question from the Democrats about this.

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ALAN DERSHOWITZ: If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.

LIASSON: So in other words, if the president thinks his reelection is in the public interest - and what president wouldn't think that...

KING: Right.

LIASSON: ...Then anything that he does to help himself get reelected is just fine. So the president's personal political interest in getting reelected is the same thing - is equal to the public interest. Now, Democrats say that's pretty close to a very Trumpian defense. Remember Donald Trump says Article II of the Constitution lets him do whatever he wants. They say this is the same thing as saying - as the president is above the law.

KING: OK. Aside from the shift in defense strategy, there was also, yesterday, a big disagreement about what constitutes campaign interference. Why did that come up so much? Why was that significant?

LIASSON: Well, it came up because the president was asking a foreign government to help him dig up dirt on his rival. Now, one of the president's lawyers said it's not campaign interference if there's credible information about wrongdoing to be brought to light, even information from overseas. Adam Schiff, who has led the House managers, said that's not a policy; that's corruption. So this is just another example of the evolution of the president's legal team arguments - Democrats would call it a devolution - to whatever the president does can't be wrong.

KING: OK. Then, of course, there were questions about John Bolton and whether he should testify. How did that evolve in the question-and-answer session yesterday?

LIASSON: Well, you know, The New York Times reported that Bolton says in the manuscript of his book that Donald Trump told him in August that he wanted to hold back the aid for Ukraine until investigations were started. Yesterday we learned that the National Security Council told Bolton's lawyer that there is classified information in the manuscript so it can't be published.

Bolton's lawyer says none of the information in the Ukraine chapter could possibly be classified, so we don't know whether Bolton's book will be coming out anytime soon. But how it entered into the arguments in the Senate is that the president's legal team is saying it doesn't matter what's in Bolton's book. It's irrelevant, it won't change the outcome of this, and you don't need to hear from him.

KING: Well, in that event, I wonder, do you get the sense that there is any momentum in the Senate to hear what Bolton and maybe even some of the other top advisers to the president have to say?

LIASSON: We still haven't seen any sign that there are four Republican senators that want to join forces with Democrats and push for witnesses. That decision will come later this week after the question-and-answer session is over.

KING: NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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KING: There are now more than 7,700 confirmed cases of the coronavirus - most of them in China. And that number has health officials worried.

INSKEEP: In part because this virus is similar to SARS. The number of confirmed SARS cases was similar in another outbreak, but it took a much longer period of time to hit that number. Now in this instance, the coronavirus, at least 170 people have died since the outbreak started in December.

KING: NPR science correspondent Richard Harris is with us with the latest. Good morning, Richard.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So this story keeps moving every day, every day. At times, it seems like it's moving fast; at times, it seems like it's slowing down. What is the latest news that we have?

HARRIS: Yeah. Well, I think it's been moving pretty fast in the last several days for sure. And I'll start here in Washington. The White House late yesterday decided to form a task force that will respond to the outbreak that will incorporate the health officials who've been on this case already since early January. What it really does is bumps up the profile of the outbreak within the White House.

But there's also a bit of news from China, as well. Researchers there yesterday published a detailed report of the first 425 cases in Wuhan, where the outbreak started. And what we're seeing from that report is that, at least at the outset of this disease, it was affecting mostly older people - an average age around 60 and not a single child under the age of 15.

KING: Really?

HARRIS: Yeah. And these are the cases that are most severe. There may be many cases that are actually not severe enough to have ended up in the hospital. So we're looking at the most severe cases. And the researchers estimate that the incubation time is around five days. And in most cases, almost all of them had shown signs by 12 days. The sort of safety margin right now is keeping an eye out for 14 days, and that seems sensible based on the data that came out of China.

KING: Fourteen days, OK.

Yesterday, some American citizens were evacuated from Wuhan city, and they were brought back to the United States. Where were they sent?

HARRIS: They were sent to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County outside of Los Angeles. There were 195 passengers plus some crew. And there was a fair amount of confusion about this episode. But we now understand that they are not being held under quarantine, but they've all agreed to stick around for up to three days, plus or minus, as the CDC interviews them and runs blood tests on those who wish to look for signs of the coronavirus.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier from the CDC held a press conference late in the day yesterday to clear up a little bit of the confusion around this plan.

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NANCY MESSONNIER: Right now all 195 of these travelers are willing and eager to cooperate because they also want to make sure that they're taking care of their own health, the health of their families and the health of their communities. So they are voluntarily cooperating with us.

KING: OK. That's a doctor from the CDC. In the meantime, what's really interesting is that the CDC hasn't declared this a global health emergency yet. Why are they holding back?

HARRIS: Yeah, it's actually not the CDC. That would be a job of the World Health Organization...

KING: OK.

HARRIS: ...And they use that to marshal international resources. Last week, the WHO met to talk about this but decided the outbreak didn't quite reach their threshold. But things have changed so much, they're meeting again today to reconsider. The WHO officials who gave a press conference yesterday point out that cooperation is already quite remarkably good.

For example, when somebody who returned to China from a trip to Germany fell ill, the Chinese health officials immediately informed their German counterparts that, you know, watch out for somebody who may have been infected. And that's a huge improvement over how China treated the SARS epidemic about - what? - 17 years ago?

KING: NPR's Richard Harris. Richard, thank you.

HARRIS: Anytime.

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KING: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the U.S. will, quote, "evaluate Britain's decision to allow Huawei to help build out the country's 5G infrastructure."

INSKEEP: The U.K. announced on Tuesday that Huawei would be given permission to build some of the less sensitive parts of the 5G network. With that decision, Britain's leadership rejected calls from the Trump administration to effectively boycott the Chinese tech company over security concerns. Secretary Pompeo is expected to raise this issue during his meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab today. Raab addressed the U.K. parliament following the government's decision. Let's listen.

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DOMINIC RAAB: Nothing in this review affects this country's ability to share highly sensitive intelligence data over highly secure networks both within the U.K. and with our partners.

INSKEEP: So does this much exposure to Huawei pose a security risk?

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following all of this from London. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So Pompeo has not met with Boris Johnson yet. But has he said anything that gives us a sense of what his mindset is going into this meeting, what he's going to say?

LANGFITT: Well, I think he's been holding his cards relatively close to his vest. Of course, he's disappointed by this decision, obviously. On the flight over, he reiterated to reporters that he sees Huawei essentially as an extension of China's Communist Party and - pointing out that they could be legally required to hand over info to the Chinese government. And he still sees this decision as a real risk.

And he says there's maybe a chance here for the U.K. to rethink its position. But I'll be honest with you, Noel, Johnson's government seems pretty firm for now. They've been talking about this for a long time in this country and how to handle it. And they basically are continuing to say what Raab has said, which is they feel they can manage this risk.

KING: Is everyone in the U.K. on board with this decision?

LANGFITT: No. I think it's - what's really interesting is to hear some of the complaints from not only inside the Conservative Party itself - Johnson's party - but other parties, as well. And what we heard particularly was a guy named John Nicolson of the Scottish National Party, who said that a lot of this is a failure of this government to have other options - have homegrown options so they wouldn't be reliant on a company with very close ties to the Communist Party. And this is what John Nicolson said earlier this week in the House of Commons.

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JOHN NICOLSON: Many will think that this decision is borne out of weakness. It has come about as a result of short-termism and decades of underinvestment.

UNIDENTIFIED MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: Hear, hear.

NICOLSON: The Prime Minister has gone for the cheapest, least secure option. And the Conservative government has chosen low cost over security.

KING: That's interesting because he's essentially saying China got this done and we didn't, and we should have gotten it done if we wanted to avoid this.

LANGFITT: It's a great point, absolutely.

KING: The big issue between the U.S. and the U.K. is intelligence-sharing because the U.S. has said if the U.K. goes ahead with this, it might limit intelligence-sharing with the U.K. So bigger picture, what does this mean for the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom?

LANGFITT: I mean, I think the position here in the U.K. is - is this something that the United States would do? Or is it a bluff?

KING: Ah, OK.

LANGFITT: Would they really limit it? - because this would drive a wedge between the U.K. and the U.S. on intelligence, which is exactly what the Communist Party would love to see. And this partly would accomplish some of its geostrategic goals. So I think we're going to see maybe more today what the reaction is of the Brits to this.

KING: OK. NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.