News Brief: Kavanaugh And Ford Hearings Preview, Iran Sanctions

Sep 27, 2018
Originally published on September 27, 2018 10:15 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Before the testimony of his Supreme Court nominee and before the testimony of his accuser, we have testimony, or strictly speaking, a press conference, from the president of the United States.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The president took reporters' questions yesterday for well over an hour. The move refocused attention on the president himself just as his nominee Brett Kavanaugh prepares for even more intense scrutiny today. It was a chance for Trump to defend Kavanaugh's record and also, not coincidentally, his own record with women. Kavanaugh faces allegations of sexual misconduct or assault from decades ago. The president said he felt sympathy for the accused since he has been accused of various offenses by more than a dozen women.

INSKEEP: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe and NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell are both with us.

Good morning, guys.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK. Ayesha, wide-ranging discussion here in this, I think, 81-minute press conference - is that right?

RASCOE: Very long.

INSKEEP: Very long, very long.

INSKEEP: What did the president say about his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who seemed about to be fired or forced to resign just a few days ago?

RASCOE: I asked him whether he was going to fire the deputy attorney general. As you may recall, Rosenstein reportedly talked about secretly recording the president and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. Here's some of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would certainly prefer not doing that. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. I mean, if you - unless you call obstruction the fact that I fight back. I do fight back. I really fight back.

RASCOE: So basically, the two were supposed to meet today, Rosenstein and President Trump. But Trump kind of suggested that that might not happen. So we'll have to keep an eye on that.

INSKEEP: And you notice, he said I'd prefer not doing that and then switched to his constant message, essentially proclaiming his innocence in the face of an investigation in which many people have been indicted or pled guilty to a variety of crimes - although the president himself has not been charged with anything.

Now, the president was also asked a number of questions about the story that's dominating the news today. This is the day that a Senate committee hears from Brett Kavanaugh, his Supreme Court nominee, and from Christine Blasey Ford, one of the women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct or sexual assault in incidents from decades ago when Kavanaugh was in school. And what did the president say about his nominee?

RASCOE: He stood up for Kavanaugh. He basically said he's a fine man. And he kind of - in many ways, he was all over the place. He said that he could relate to what Kavanaugh was going through because he says that he's had false allegations against him and that - he said, without evidence, that women had been paid off to make statements against him. But then he would also say that he could be convinced. His mind is open. So he wants to hear from Ford and see what she has to say.

MARTIN: I mean, that sounds like he's considering other people on his shortlist. That doesn't sound like Brett Kavanaugh's future is very secure right now.

RASCOE: He did not rule it out. But he said that he could be convinced of anything, so he wants to hear from Ford.

INSKEEP: So he said without evidence that women had been paid off to make statements against him. What is in evidence, actually, is that at least one person has been paid - or more than one person has been paid not to make statements about the president of the United States if we talk about someone like Stormy Daniels, who received that $130,000 payment.

But let's hear the president's perspective on this, the way that he thinks about Kavanaugh. And the subject shifts to himself.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I've had a lot of false charges made against me - really false charges. I know friends that have had false charges. People want fame. They want money. They want whatever. So when I see it, I view it differently than somebody sitting home watching television.

INSKEEP: Ayesha, what did you hear there?

RASCOE: He was really kind of saying, expressing this kind of kinship with Kavanaugh. And he was asked why he seems to go with the accused instead of the accuser. And he said, well, he looks at every situation. And - but he didn't really have a great answer for that other than that he can relate to it and that he feels that false allegations, I guess, come out. And so he's skeptical.

MARTIN: It also plays to something his base loves about him, that he's this rich, famous guy. And the subtext is, the normal folks don't know. But when you're rich and famous like me, people, like, make false allegations about you all the time.

INSKEEP: And portrays himself as a victim all the time.

MARTIN: Right.

RASCOE: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about one other thing if I can, Ayesha Rascoe, a statement the president made that he has made a number of times before. He talked about the 2016 election, as he often does. And he said he won the women's vote. He said that he received 52 percent of the votes of women. Is that correct?

RASCOE: That is not correct. He won 52 percent of the vote from white women. Actually, from women overall, he only won 41 percent. But he says this often. It does - it raises questions. There are definitely more women in this country than just white women. But he - this is one of those things that he says that is incorrect and that he just repeats over and over.

INSKEEP: OK. Let's bring in Kelsey Snell now, who covers Congress and will be one of many people covering today's hearing in which we'll hear from the Supreme Court nominee and from one of his accusers.

And Kelsey, I understand that we now have some of their own words in advance of the formal testimony. What are they saying and in what form?

SNELL: Yeah, that's right. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh both submitted written testimony ahead of the hearing today. We'll hear first from Blasey Ford at the hearing. And she says in her written testimony that she doesn't want to be at this hearing. She says she's terrified. But she thinks it's her civic duty to appear. She also says she wishes she remembers more about the night, like how she got to the party or where it took place. But she says she doesn't have all of those answers and doesn't remember as much as she'd like to about that. But she says the details that compelled her to speak up are seared into her memory and still haunt her as an adult.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, can I note? - I read a lot of this testimony last night, this prepared testimony. There was no information in it that I hadn't heard before because...

SNELL: Right.

INSKEEP: ...She told her story to a reporter. But it's somehow different to read it in her own words.

SNELL: Yeah, it is eight pages. And it is - it's very direct. And it is very compelling.

INSKEEP: And we will hear her in her own words today and also hear Brett Kavanaugh. Aren't there some words of Kavanaugh's that are now out in the public domain?

SNELL: Yeah. And you know, Kavanaugh's statement is much more brief. And it kind of is a lot of what we already heard him say. In fact, we heard him say much of this when he did an interview with Fox before the hearing set up. He says he didn't do this. And he says that there's been a frenzy to derail his nomination but he won't back down. He says sexual assault is deplorable, illegal and against his religious beliefs. And he says women who have been assaulted deserve to be heard. But he also goes on to say that he will not be swayed by outside political pressure now or as a judge.

INSKEEP: Very briefly - do you have any idea how it is that the senators intend to handle some other allegations that have come up just in the last day or two?

SNELL: Yeah. We don't know exactly how they will handle it. But Republicans are going to be allowing an outside counsel to ask their questions. We may hear it from Democrats, though, who will take five minutes apiece to ask their questions.

INSKEEP: And let's conclude this part of the discussion here by just hearing from Jeff Flake. He's a Republican senator. He's a key vote. He gave a speech on the Senate floor yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF FLAKE: Up or down, yes or no - however this vote goes, I'm confident in saying that it will forever be steeped in doubt. This doubt is the only thing of which I am confident about this process.

INSKEEP: That's Senator Jeff Flake, Republican senator from Arizona. And we were also hearing from NPR's Kelsey Snell and Ayesha Rascoe.

Thanks to both of you. Really appreciate it.

SNELL: Thank you.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: We'll be covering that hearing throughout the day.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBYN SONG, "MISSING U")

INSKEEP: Now, when President Trump spoke to reporters last night, he was in New York. He's been there for the United Nations meetings. He's been telling other countries to stop doing business with Iran - or else.

MARTIN: Yeah. This all goes back to the 2015 nuclear agreement, which lifted a lot of sanctions against Iran. In exchange, Iran then had to limit its nuclear program. The U.S. is reinstating sanctions against Iran starting in November. The Trump administration is warning other countries that if they help Iran do a workaround these sanctions, they will be blocked from the U.S. financial system.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: It doesn't matter what world leaders think on Iran. Iran's going to come back to me, and they're going to make a good deal - I think - maybe not.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jackie Northam has covered Iran for years, and she's on the line.

Jackie, good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So we have a bunch of other countries that would like to continue doing business with Iran in the context of this still-existing nuclear deal. How did they avoid getting economically hammered by the United States?

NORTHAM: Well, yesterday - or early this week, France and Germany and the U.K. announced a plan just to do that, they hope. They're going to try and set up a special payments system. And this would allow a company, whether it's an energy company or an oil trade or anything like that, to continue trading with Iran after the U.S. imposes more sanctions in early November. And you know, this includes Iran's oil exports, which account for 80 percent of the tax revenues. So it's huge. China and Russia have also signed on to this plan. And all five are signatories to the Iran nuclear deal. And they want to save it. They say Tehran is complying with the agreement. And you know, they want to continue doing business with Iran. But as we know, President Trump has called it the worst deal ever. And he wants to renegotiate a tougher deal.

INSKEEP: So you have these really large and important countries coming up with a mechanism to keep buying Iranian oil. And isn't it true that the U.S. government's goal, one of its principal goals, is to get Iranian oil exports down as close to zero as possible? Can the U.S. possibly do that in the face of this resistance?

NORTHAM: Well, it's - you know, the threat of sanctions is having an impact. Iranian oil sales are down already more than 30 percent from what they were in April, the month before Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal - or said he was. Many European countries - you know, they've dramatically reduced their oil imports. Korea and Japan is down to zero, and other countries are following suit. But you know, Steve, exports to China, Iran's biggest oil customer, are holding steady. And analysts think it'll start to reduce imports as the November deadline approaches but that it may find its own ways around sanctions, whether using small, insulated banks that they can funnel these transactions through - they're usually state-backed - or even moving transactions through some of China's biggest banks that are either too big to fail or to sanction.

INSKEEP: You've just raised - in about 10 seconds - a key question. Is the United States going to be willing to go after China - sanction China, such a huge trading partner, over something like this?

NORTHAM: You know, I've spoke with analysts about this all week. And they said it's unlikely because all transactions between the U.S. and China go through something like the Bank of China.

INSKEEP: OK.

NORTHAM: And if you sanction it, it could have a dramatic effect on global trade.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jackie Northam, thanks very much.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.