News Brief: Kavanaugh Confirmation Preview, U.S. Pakistan Aid, Myanmar Journalists

Sep 3, 2018
Originally published on September 3, 2018 7:26 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Brett Kavanaugh will have his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. He is of course President Trump's pick to replace retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The hearings are expected to be lengthy and partisan. Democrats say they're worried that Kavanagh's confirmation could mean restrictions on abortion rights or weaker environmental protections. Liberal advocacy groups are working to mobilize their supporters to oppose his nomination and of course fire up voters before the midterm elections. However, Republicans hold a 50-49 majority in the Senate, which means that if they stay together, they can confirm Kavanaugh even without Democratic support.

GREENE: And we have Tamara Keith here. She's NPR's White House correspondent. She also hosts the NPR Politics podcast. Hi there, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So this hearing is supposed to last, like, a good part of this week, right? But it's not all going to be Kavanaugh facing questions.

KEITH: Right. And this is a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, so it makes sense that it would be a - basically a full week of hearings. We start tomorrow with a lot of statements - a lot of opening statements both from senators, from people introducing Portman - introducing Kavanaugh, including Senator Rob Portman. And then ultimately, finally, Kavanaugh at the end of the day will get to deliver his opening statement. Then questioning begins on Wednesday and could continue into Thursday. And then there's a whole nother panel of people who will speak. And that's the part that most people won't pay attention to.

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GREENE: Some people will be paying attention to it, I mean, if you're covering it. Well, I mean, you mentioned the stakes of this. I mean, this is a lifetime appointment. And, you know, there are Democrats who are ready I'm sure to go at Kavanaugh in every way they can. How does the nominee prepare for something like this?

KEITH: Well, they actually sort of do murder boards. They practice. He even had senators come in and do a mock hearing - Republican senators came in and worked with him. So he had these full, day-long sessions where they really worked on his answers and smoothed out his answers to get them ready for a hearing type setting. The last one of those was last Monday, and since then he has been sort of hanging back and preparing his opening statement.

GREENE: Can I just be a fly on the wall next time you have senators from one party playacting and trying to act like senators (laughter) from the other party in terms of what questions they might ask? So when do we actually get a vote here?

KEITH: They expect to hopefully - the Republicans want a vote by the end of September because the next session of the court starts next month.

GREENE: OK, so a fairly quick timeline. NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam...

KEITH: Yeah.

GREENE: ...Thanks as always.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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GREENE: All right, so the Pentagon announced this weekend that it is going to scrap $300 million of planned aid to Pakistan pending approval by Congress.

INSKEEP: Yeah, $300 million, part of a program designed to pay U.S. allies who support U.S. counterinsurgency operations. But the Pentagon says Pakistan isn't keeping its end of the bargain, not taking sufficient action against terrorists. In May, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, acknowledged that those funds were being looked into.

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MIKE POMPEO: With respect to Pakistan, we released far fewer funds in '18 than in the year prior. The remainder of the funds available are under review. My guess is that that number will be smaller still.

INSKEEP: Apparently so small it may be zero. All of this as Pompeo prepares to meet with Pakistan's newly elected prime minister, Imran Khan, later this week.

GREENE: All right, let's bring in NPR's Diaa Hadid to talk about this. Hi, Diaa.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Hello.

GREENE: So even though Pompeo is going to Pakistan, this is just the latest in, I mean, in what has been a deteriorating relationship between these two countries.

HADID: Right. Basically, the U.S. administrations have long accused Pakistan of harboring militants who they say conduct cross-border attacks into Afghanistan where they target U.S. forces and their allies. But it really stepped up with the Trump administration. In January, the White House suspended most of its military aid to the country. But this $300 million suspension seems to include a new twist because recently the White House changed its policy on Afghanistan. It now wants to bring the Taliban to the negotiations table. And this cut in aid may be partly to pressure Pakistan to pressure the Taliban.

GREENE: But just the timing of this - I mean, the White House, the administration had to plan to make this announcement just before Pompeo goes. There must be some sort of strategy here, right?

HADID: Right. And the strategy seems to be a bit of arm twisting because we have a new government in Pakistan. It's barely been around for two weeks, and it's already shown itself to be antagonistic towards the United States. Just days after it was formed there was already a dust-up in Islamabad because the Foreign Ministry accused the United States of misrepresenting a congratulatory phone call between Mike Pompeo and the prime minister Imran Khan. And the first foreign minister actually welcomed into the country was the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

GREENE: Oh, interesting. Well, I - talk about this move, though. I mean, given the context you're describing, is this actually going to push Pakistan to act and to put more pressure on the Taliban? Or might the Pakistan government make - I mean, will it just anger them and make them less willing to help?

HADID: Right. Well, it's hard to tell. I mean, first of all, if you're not giving aid and you're not giving military support, it's hard to have direct influence in Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistan is likely to seek a bailout worth billions of dollars from the International Monetary Fund. To do that it will need U.S. support. So there is still some leverage here.

GREENE: And has the Pakistan government responded to this yet?

HADID: Indeed it has. The foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, says they want to improve their ties with the United States. And they'll make their point of view clear when Pompeo comes. In reality, though, analysts say it's not the Foreign Ministry that controls relations with Washington; it's the military, which is Pakistan's most powerful institution.

And I just got off the phone with a Pakistani official who works closely with the military. And he had some really interesting to say here. He said that military officials are actually a bit nervous about the pressure to pony up Taliban insurgents to the negotiating table because Pakistan's influence over the Taliban is waning. The Taliban is widely believed now to receive support from Iran and other countries. And so it's not clear how Pakistan is actually going to do this.

GREENE: Oh, interesting, so the message to Pompeo from Pakistan might be we really - there's not much we can do here despite the...

HADID: Shoulder shrug.

GREENE: ...Pressure you're putting. Yeah, wow. NPR's Diaa Hadid, interesting stuff. Thanks so much.

HADID: Thank you.

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GREENE: OK, two journalists working for Reuters in Myanmar have been found guilty of breaking a law on state secrets.

INSKEEP: Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December and charged while investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the northern part of Myanmar. A judge sentenced them to seven years in prison. Now, the massacre took place during a crackdown by the Myanmar army sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing into Bangladesh. Last week, the United Nations said the Myanmar military should be investigated for genocide.

GREENE: All right, we're joined now by Reuters regional editor for Asia Kevin Krolicki. He works with the two journalists who were sentenced. He was in the courtroom in Myanmar's capital when the verdict was handed down. Kevin, I know this must be a rough day for your organization. Thanks for taking the time for us.

KEVIN KROLICKI: Thank you. It's a disappointing day.

GREENE: Yeah, what was the reaction in the courtroom?

KROLICKI: The courtroom - the district court in Yangon was packed today even more than it has been. This case has been followed closely by a number of diplomatic delegations within Myanmar and seen rightly as a watershed for the free press in Myanmar. Halfway through today's hearing the lights went out, the room went dark, and shortly after the judge read the verdict. It's a heartbreaking moment for Wa Lone, for Kyaw Soe Oo, for their young families and for their colleagues.

GREENE: You said the room went dark? I mean, that the lights went off? What was happening?

KROLICKI: The lights went out, and we lost power. It's not unusual. It's happened before. But it happened as the verdict came down today.

GREENE: That's so eerie, like almost some kind of metaphor that I'm trying to sort of confront as you describe it. Can you just tell me - remind me how your two colleagues were detained? I mean, the details of this case are pretty shocking.

KROLICKI: Yeah. You know, journalism is not a crime. That shouldn't be a political or controversial statement. Myanmar's own constitution safeguards a free press. And in this case there was a real crime, and you referenced it. They were reporting at the time of their arrest in December on the mass killing of 10 boys - I'm sorry, 10 men and boys in a village called Inn Din.

A prosecution witness, a police officer, testified that he had been with other police when they talked about setting up Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe and stopping this reporting. They were looking specifically at the involvement of Myanmar's security forces in that killing. They met a police contact who handed them documents they didn't solicit and never had time to read. And shortly after they left that meeting on the outskirts of Yangon, they were arrested.

GREENE: That was the setup that you're describing. Even though they are now sentenced to prison, can you just tell us the impact of the reporting that they were able to do?

KROLICKI: Well, you know, there was a mass killing that would not have come to light had it not been for their reporting. You know, despite this attempt to stop that reporting - and with their support, we published that story in February. And they believe - and we have drawn strength from their strength in all of this - that the truth matters, that facts matter. They're committed and professional journalists. But they also believe that doing their jobs and reporting is their contribution. It's their contribution to democracy in Myanmar and their way of securing a better future for the next generation.

GREENE: Speaking to Kevin Krolicki, who is the Reuters regional editor for Asia. Two of his colleagues have been sentenced to seven years in prison after their reporting in Myanmar. Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

KROLICKI: Thank you.

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