News Brief: Impeachment Vote, FBI Rebuked, Haiti Protests Ease

Dec 18, 2019
Originally published on December 18, 2019 6:22 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Today, the House of Representatives will vote on whether to impeach President Trump.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So it's worth thinking back to when this all started. It began in July with a phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine. A whistleblower filed a complaint about that call. There were months of closed-door depositions. There were public hearings, reports.

This process, no doubt, has been partisan. The facts are not really in dispute. President Trump asked Ukraine's leader to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden. What is in dispute - is that impeachable?

KING: And we should know more today. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is on the line. Good morning, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So what are the mechanics of this vote today? How's it going to work?

SNELL: Well, the day will begin at 9 a.m. here in Washington when the House comes into session for the day. We expect them to get started pretty soon after with debate on a procedural measure called a rule. And it is very much related to how the rest of the day will go. It's a kind of a necessary step before they can get to the final vote. The House Rules Committee kind of already established the parameters for how they would like the debate to go. But first, the House has to vote to make sure that those rules are established.

Now, then they go on to debate. Now, I should say that that vote should happen sometime in the late morning. And then they'll move on to debate for the actual articles of impeachment. They agreed last night in the Rules Committee to six hours of debate, but Republicans can still throw up some procedural roadblocks and delays. All in all, we expect this to wrap up sometime in the evening today.

KING: OK, so a lot of process there...

SNELL: Yeah.

KING: ...And worth noting that President Trump has said a lot about this process so far on Twitter. But he hadn't really been interacting with Democratic lawmakers in any real way. And then yesterday, he sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi. And it was remarkable.

SNELL: It was. It was six pages sent yesterday afternoon. And it was very much in Trump's own voice. There were capital letters and exclamation points. He called the entire process a coup. He called it unconstitutional and repeated that there just - he doesn't believe that there were any crimes. He had said he wasn't going to get involved, and he says he won't watch.

But it was very striking to see him respond to a process that he, by and large, has not engaged in directly. His lawyers have not engaged. They have said that they're waiting for the Senate trial, which they deem to be a fairer process. But this was a very clear and direct response to the vote that's coming today.

KING: And directly addressed to Nancy Pelosi.

SNELL: That's right.

KING: What did she say about the letter?

SNELL: Well, she sort of responded. She sent a letter to her own members following that - the letter from President Trump. And she never really references the letter from Trump but clearly kind of has it in her mind. She says that Democrats should proceed in a manner worthy of our oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. And she repeated a phrase that Trump himself criticized in his own letter, that she was approaching this prayerfully.

KING: Today's vote is almost certainly going to set up a trial in the Senate, which, of course, is controlled by Republicans. What are senators saying?

SNELL: Well, it kind of depends on who you ask. There are kind of two camps here, people who have decided that they are on Trump's side and people who say that they are impartial jurors. In the first camp, we have Senator Mitch McConnell, who was speaking to reporters yesterday.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I'm not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There's not anything judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision. The House made a partisan, political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate. I'm not impartial about this at all.

SNELL: And then there are people like Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who told our own Mary Louise Kelly that she is going to be impartial. And that's something that we're going to have to watch as we go through - who falls into what camp?

KING: All right. Really interesting as we move forward. NPR's Kelsey Snell, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you.

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KING: There is a secretive court in this country that oversees the collection of intelligence.

GREENE: You say secretive, Noel. It is normally secretive. But yesterday, this court made an unusual move, issuing an order in public. It accused the FBI of misleading the court when it got approval for surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.

KING: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been following this. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right, so what is this court that we're talking about?

LUCAS: So this is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It's the court that has to sign off for the FBI to, in essence, wiretap people on U.S. soil, people who are suspected of being agents of a foreign power. And as you said, this is a very secretive court. It operates behind closed doors. It's incredibly rare to hear anything from it in the public. But clearly, in this case, the Chief Judge Rosemary Collyer felt compelled to speak out.

KING: And what did she say exactly?

LUCAS: Well, she says that the FBI misled the court in its applications to conduct surveillance on that former Trump campaign adviser you mentioned, Carter Page. There were a number of significant errors in the applications. There were a number of omissions in the applications. And she says the court relies on the information provided by the government to make its decision in a case. The FBI has a duty to be upfront, to be forthcoming with the court. And in Page's case, she says the FBI wasn't.

And that could point to a broader problem. She says the frequency of the FBI's omissions and unsupported assertions raises questions about whether the FBI's information is reliable in other applications that the bureau makes for this kind of surveillance before the court.

So what is she doing? She says the government has to say what it has done so far and what it plans to do to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen again. And she's given them a deadline of January 10 to do so.

KING: To get it done, OK. If we're talking about Carter Page, though, we're talking about something that happened, like, three-plus years ago. Why is this coming up now in such a big way?

LUCAS: So this is part of the fallout from the Justice Department inspector general's big report last week on the early stages of the Russia investigation. And remember; a big part of that focused on the FBI's surveillance of Page. And the inspector general found 17 significant errors or omissions in the FBI's applications for surveillance on Page.

And a few days after that report came out, remember; the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on it. And there was a lot of posturing on both sides of the aisle, but Republicans and Democrats did agree on one thing, and that's that there may be a need to look at possible changes to the process for getting court approval for foreign intelligence surveillance like they had on Page.

KING: Right, right. You have people in the know now saying this surveillance process should be reformed. Is that likely to happen?

LUCAS: You know, it's hard to say right now. It is still very early in this. The inspector general's report just came out last week. But certainly, advocates for change are eager to seize on this opportunity. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, said in a statement yesterday that Congress has to radically reform this whole process to increase accountability. They say that this process as it is now is really ripe for abuse.

National security folks, though, say, look; this surveillance power is critical for the FBI in both counterintelligence and counterterrorism cases. Not defending the errors that were made in the case of Carter Page, but the FBI director Christopher Wray has said he accepts the inspector general's findings. The FBI has vowed to make sure that the sort of information that they are providing the court is accurate and complete going forward.

KING: OK. NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you.

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KING: So in Haiti today, things are looking up, at least for the moment.

GREENE: That's right. We've been reporting over the past few months about these massive demonstrations that have paralyzed the Haitian economy, caused food shortages, even some deaths. Today, Port-au-Prince is almost back to normal.

KING: And NPR's Carrie Kahn is there in the Haitian capital. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So what have these protests been about?

KAHN: People are upset here about corruption, specifically with regards to billions of dollars opponents of the current president, Jovenel Moise, says were stolen, mismanaged and just gone. That money was part of a low interest program by Venezuela that provided oil to its ideological allies and neighbors. And there's just no accounting for that money. And Haiti is unable to repay the billions now that they'd borrowed.

And like David was saying, the president, well, he hiked the gas prices last year, which just set off this crisis. And it really intensified this fall and turned deadly with more than 40 people killed. Inflation is rising. Food and gas prices have just gone through the roof. And basic services have practically come to a halt here.

KING: But today, things are calm. Does this mean the protesters have backed down?

KAHN: No, not at all.

KING: OK.

KAHN: They haven't given up. There still is no political resolution. But what we are seeing is there's definitely a drop-off in the size and the scope of the protests. You know, many Haitians here are tired of what they call peyi lok (ph) - the lockdown on the country.

And Haiti has long been, you know, tumultuously political, politically and economically in dire straits. But this current crisis - longtime activists and analysts just say it's worse than they've ever seen. Schools are not operating very well. Hospitals, businesses have been shuttered or barely in business for months. And more than 3 million people are near starvation, according to international aid agencies.

KING: People in Haiti really are training their anger on the president, Jovenel Moise. How is he responding to the very real hardships that brought people out into the street in the first place?

KAHN: He just consistently says he's done nothing wrong and he will not step down until his term is over in 2022. But this week, it's interesting. We've been seeing him making several public appearances. And he took some bold moves to break the stalemate with particular - with regards to energy here. There's a big problem with blackouts and barely electricity three to four hours a day. And he seized the largest private electricity provider in the country. He says they owe him money - the government money. They say the government owes them money. And he even over the weekend moved to arrest some company officials. The head of the company is one of his biggest critics.

And so here's Moise yesterday standing in front of a huge public works equipment just touting his plan to build the nation's roads.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOVENEL MOISE: (Non-English language spoken).

KAHN: He's standing in front of this equipment. He's just saying, all of this equipment isn't to build roads to my house, but they are used to build roads to everyone's house. He's decrying corruption here. And he just keeps urging the people to be patient. However, that's what he's been saying since he took office in 2017 - that fixing Haiti's problems will take time. And it's - clearly, patience has just run out.

KING: OK. NPR's Carrie Kahn in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where, for the moment, at least, protests have died down a bit. Carrie, thanks so much.

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