News Brief: Russia Probe, Trump To Address U.N. General Assembly

Sep 19, 2017
Originally published on September 19, 2017 12:46 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's start with these reports that President Trump's campaign manager may have been wiretapped

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Yeah, so here are the details. This is a report that investigators got a warrant to wiretap Paul Manafort both before and after the election. And President Trump will be digesting this news this morning at the U.N. That's where he is set to address the General Assembly.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We must ensure that no one and no member state shoulders a disproportionate share of the burden - and that's militarily or financially.

KELLY: Now the president gets to elaborate some more about his view of America's role in the world.

GREENE: And let's talk to NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith about all of this.

Tam, good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So these reports that Paul Manafort, former campaign chairman for Trump, was wiretapped - what exactly do we know at this point?

KEITH: Yeah, and we should say that NPR hasn't independently confirmed these reports. But what they're saying is that he was wiretapped going back well before the presidential campaign, related to work that he had done in the - in Ukraine, but that it also continued even after the election. What this really tells us that we know for sure is that Paul Manafort is in the crosshairs of this investigation being led by Robert Mueller.

And, you know, the Trump administration has already tried to distance itself from Manafort with the president saying, you know, he was a good guy, but he only worked on the campaign briefly. This is also just another reminder that this Russia stuff is not going away for President Trump, even as his day job continues as president of the United States.

GREENE: Mary Louise, when you're not hosting with us, you cover things like this Russia stuff, the investigation. Is it...

KELLY: Oh, yes.

GREENE: Is this a big development?

KELLY: This is a big deal, yeah. I mean, what leaps out at me are two quick things. One, the standard of evidence this - the - that investigators would have to have to get a FISA warrant from the special FISA court - the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court - to get a wiretap on the president's campaign manager - that standard would be high. They must think they have something.

The other thing that leaps out is just - this is across two administrations. This started under President Obama, continued under President Trump. Federal investigators are supposed to be independent and stay out of politics, but still, this was a ongoing effort.

GREENE: Well, as we said, this is all swirling as the president is going to be at the United Nations in New York giving a big speech. And Tam, what do we expect him to say about America First? Those are two words that a lot of other world leaders are curious to get more details about.

KEITH: Yeah, and this is something that he has said before and he's likely to say again today at the U.N., which is that America First does not mean America alone, that every country should and does put their own people first. But a senior aide who briefed reporters says an argument we can expect to hear from President Trump is that nations putting their own interests first will find a need for global cooperation to counter some of the world's most pressing issues. And as President Trump sees them - and the case he'll make is that it's aggression from North Korea, from Iran and also, of course, terrorism.

GREENE: Hasn't he been really critical of the U.N. in the past, which makes this a kind of awkward moment?

KEITH: Yeah, and there was this great moment yesterday. He was asked by a reporter what his message to the General Assembly will be, and he said, I think the main message is, make the United Nations great - not again. Make the United Nations great.

GREENE: Well, that - you can see the meaning in that line.

KEITH: Yes.

GREENE: All right, NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks a lot.

KEITH: You're welcome.

GREENE: Now, one world leader noticeably absent from the U.N. General Assembly is Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi

KELLY: Yeah, that is because she is facing a crisis at home - reports of the military burning down villages where ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims live. Those reports are widespread. The government in Myanmar has described its actions as a counterterrorism effort and say they follow an attack on police by Rohingya militants last month. But at the U.N., officials have described what's going on in Myanmar as ethnic cleansing. And in an address to her country's parliament today, Aung San Suu Kyi condemned all human rights violations.

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STATE COUNSELLOR AUNG SAN SUU KYI: There has been much concern around the world with regard to the situation in Rakhine. It is not the intention of the Myanmar government to apportion blame or to abnegate responsibility.

GREENE: OK, journalist Poppy McPherson was listening to her remarks. We've reached her in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar.

Hi, Poppy.

POPPY MCPHERSON: Hi, hi.

GREENE: So what did you hear from Aung San Suu Kyi in this address?

MCPHERSON: Sure. Well, she implored the world, really, to give her a bit of a break and to give Myanmar a break. She's said that, you know, the government - her government - is under two years old. And Burma is a complex nation, and the situation in Rakhine is very complex. That's something that she's been saying over and over. And she also appeared to cast some doubt on the accusations themselves - that the military has been burning down homes and committing atrocities - saying that there had been allegations and counterallegations, and that she wants to find out what the real problems are on the ground. So there's a bit of fake news accusations here.

GREENE: But, I mean, we should say it's not clear if other world leaders are going to let her off the hook at all, hearing a message like that. I mean, they have been so critical, suggesting this has been ethnic cleansing, right? What - why are they so adamant about what's going on there?

MCPHERSON: Well, the reports are so widespread, as you said. It's not only the testimony of hundreds of thousands of refugees who've fled into Bangladesh, but human rights groups have documented burnings of entire villages, entire villages razed to the ground and - Muslim villages.

So in Rakhine, the state that - where this is happening, there are both Muslim, and Buddhist and other minority groups living there. And human rights groups have documented the burning of Muslim villages while Buddhist areas have not been burned down. So there's - the evidence here is, human rights groups say, overwhelming.

GREENE: And we've seen hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who have fled. What do we know about them right now and what they're experiencing as they've moved into Bangladesh?

MCPHERSON: Sure. I was actually recently in Cox's Bazar where - which is the port town where they've been arriving, and the situation there is absolutely horrendous. It's monsoon season. Many people have arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs. They're staying under plastic tarps. There's not enough food and water. It's a very serious situation for them right now.

GREENE: All right, journalist Poppy McPherson, joining us on Skype from Myanmar.

Poppy, thanks a lot.

MCPHERSON: Well, thanks for having me.

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GREENE: All right, turning now to a story it seems like we keep covering because there is another hurricane - Hurricane Maria - which rapidly strengthened overnight in the Caribbean.

KELLY: And that is true. Hurricane Maria is a Category 5 storm bearing down on areas of the Caribbean still reeling from Hurricane Irma. Maria made landfall last night on the island of Dominica and ripped the roofs off home after home, including the prime minister's. Guillaume Kuster was visiting the island of Martinique when locals heard that Maria would hit the island, and this is what it sounded like from his hotel room just a few minutes before we reached him.

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GUILLAUME KUSTER: We are heavy - really heavy rain up to the point where streets below me flooded. I can do - something like maybe 6, 7 inches of water. It's right below me.

KELLY: And the worst of it is not over. One area that is of particular concern is the British Virgin Islands, where one military officer said the destruction he was seeing from Irma was worse than what he saw in Afghanistan - the war zones there. So how does all this bode for these islands as they are preparing, David, for another hurricane to hit?

GREENE: Yeah, that's the big question. BuzzFeed UK's Jim Waterson has been with British military officials preparing for Hurricane Maria on the Virgin Islands. He's now on the line with us from Barbados.

Good morning, Jim.

JIM WATERSON: Good morning.

GREENE: So we know the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit hard by Irma - not even as bad as the British Virgin Islands in Irma. I mean, you saw it. I know an island like Jost Van Dyke was just nearly almost wiped away and just destroyed. How are things looking bad there right now as they prepare for this other hurricane?

WATERSON: Yeah, so I just got back from the British Virgin Islands. And sometimes, you just have to revert to cliches, and it does look like a nuclear bomb's gone off. If you can imagine a sort of green Caribbean island with lush forests coming down the hillside with nice little houses tucked among them - every single bit of greenery on the entire island has been stripped off by the hurricane. It's just one big, brown mess of trees down in the villages on - and the towns on the edge of - above the shoreline. There's boats still just strewn across the road. There's shipping containers just lying at the wrong place. I mean, you find upside-down, multimillion-pound catamarans just deposited on the roads.

GREENE: God, that's amazing.

WATERSON: And the main thing at the moment is trying to secure some living quarters for the people of the islands so that they have somewhere to go when this hits in the next few hours.

GREENE: Yeah, I just can't even imagine being in a place that has barely even started to recover from another storm, getting ready for what could be another hit.

WATERSON: Exactly. And the British military are really worried because the thing that they were telling me was that the amount of debris around - they fear that if high winds pick that up - if they pick up the glass, the metal, the sheeting that is just lying by the sides of the roads, which came after Irma - then they are very worried that that will then just get thrown around. It - you know, you'll be standing by outside your house, and suddenly, shards of glass will start coming towards you. And even if that doesn't happen, then the amount of rainfall will not be stopped because no there's forest to soak it up. There's nothing left on the hills to slow it down.

GREENE: That's just amazing.

WATERSON: And it will rush down into the villages as flash floods.

GREENE: All right, the BuzzFeed UK's Jim Waterson speaking to us as Hurricane Maria bears down on parts of the Caribbean. Jim, thank you.

WATERSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREE THE ROBOTS' "GLOBAL WARNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.