News Brief: Impeachment Inquiry Latest, Turkey Suspends Incursion, Mexico Violence
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Was it a quid pro quo, or was it not? Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney can't seem to make up his mind.
NOEL KING, HOST:
Yeah. That's right. Yesterday, Mulvaney told reporters that President Trump held up around $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to at least, in part, try and get Ukraine to investigate Democrats.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: The demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered to withhold funding to Ukraine.
MICK MULVANEY: The look-back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Withholding the funding?
KING: That sounds a lot like a quid pro quo, military aid in exchange for digging up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Mulvaney says it's not. Now, in the middle of all this, it's been a busy week in the House impeachment inquiry. Some key witnesses testified - a former ambassador to Ukraine, Trump's former top adviser on Russia, a top State Department aide and the current ambassador to the European Union. So what have House investigators learned?
MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been following it all. And he joins us in the studio. Happy Friday, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thank you.
MARTIN: (Laughter) So it has been a week. Can you just sort of give us the big picture? What is it - what is important for us to have taken away from all the testimony, especially this week?
LUCAS: So on a 30,000-foot level, what has emerged so far from the testimony is that senior national security and foreign policy folks, such as national security adviser John Bolton, were very concerned about Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, and Giuliani's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and Democrats more broadly.
LUCAS: They viewed what Giuliani was doing on Ukraine as a sort of shadow foreign policy that was icing out officials whose actual job it was to handle foreign affairs and national security. And we learned that the president directed three officials - the U.S. special representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry - to work with Giuliani on Ukraine.
LUCAS: We also learned that acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who you talked about earlier, played a role in helping arrange all of this. It's important to say that we don't have full visibility on this. These are closed-door interviews, so we don't know exactly everything that witnesses are saying. Mulvaney's comments, though, linking aid to Ukraine to investigating Democrats was very much public.
MARTIN: Right. This happened at the podium in the briefing room in the White House, this long press conference yesterday. Did Mulvaney, in those remarks, in the Q&A yesterday - did he mention Rudy Giuliani?
LUCAS: Giuliani came up. And he defended the president's kind of delegating authority to Giuliani. He said that the president has the right to dictate foreign policy, delegate authority to whomever he wants. And he said that some of the criticism of this that has come out of the impeachment inquiry is unfounded.
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MULVANEY: I have news for everybody. Get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: What about the Bidens?
MULVANEY: That is going to happen. Elections have consequences. And foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.
LUCAS: Now, the argument from Democrats is that this is not about a change in foreign policy. The argument from Democrats is that foreign policy should be driven by national interests and that the policy that Giuliani was pursuing was driven solely by the president's own domestic political interests.
MARTIN: Right. So can you help us pivot forward to next week? What else is happening in the inquiry?
LUCAS: There are a couple of names bouncing around of people who are expected to testify. One really catches our attention, though. And that is of William Taylor, who is the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine right now.
MARTIN: He was the guy who texted with Gordon Sondland.
LUCAS: Expressing reservations that there may be some sort of quid pro quo holding up aid in exchange for investigations.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, we appreciate it. Thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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MARTIN: All right. Another question - is it a pause? Is it a cease-fire, something in between? Is it the greatest deal in the history of civilization, as President Trump characterized it? What exactly is the 120-hour agreement that the U.S. helped broker with Turkey?
KING: Many questions, in fact. But we at least know how this agreement happened. President Trump ordered all U.S. troops to leave northeast Syria. And then he sent Vice President Mike Pence to push Turkey to stop its military incursion into Syria. Here's the president talking about this last night at a rally in Dallas.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And it was unconventional what I did. I said, they're going to have to fight a little while. Sometimes, you have to let them fight a little while. Then people find out how tough the fighting is. These guys know right up here. These guys know.
TRUMP: Right? Sometimes, you have to let them fight. It's like two kids in a lot. You got to let them fight. And then you pull them apart.
MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin is near the border with Syria in Dohuk, Iraq. Daniel, first question - has the fighting stopped?
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, the cease-fire is mostly holding. The spokesman of the Turkish-backed force told us that most of the fighting has stopped. There are still some clashes, though, some reports of Turkish shelling. So it may take some time before things do quiet down.
MARTIN: So just explain exactly the content of this deal because the Trump administration says it's this huge deal, that it's this big cease-fire. Turkey has described it otherwise.
ESTRIN: Right. Turkey's foreign minister says it's not a cease-fire. It's a five-day pause. That's the word that's in the Turkish-U.S. statement. And Kurdish forces say that they've accepted it. One Kurdish leader said, we will not surrender. But actually, this deal gives Turkey everything it wants. According to the deal, the Turkish side will pause its military operation in Syria to allow for the withdrawal of the YPG. That's the Kurdish group that Turkey wants away from its border. And the deal also says that the military campaign will stop completely once those Kurdish-led forces are out of what Turkey calls a safe zone, a 20-mile-deep zone into Syrian territory.
MARTIN: I mean, so Kurds, I imagine, are glad that at least the fighting is paused. But they kind of lose in a bigger way, don't they?
ESTRIN: Well, in the short term, take a listen to how many Syrian Kurds were celebrating this last night.
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ESTRIN: They were honking their horns, shooting guns in the air in celebration, right?
ESTRIN: We heard from some Syrians in one town who just wanted the fighting to end. But we did speak to one who is worried about what this means in the long run, Sevinaz Evdike. We've been speaking to her ever since the start of the fighting. She's still in northeast Syria. And she says she has family who's part of the Kurdish forces. Take a listen.
SEVINAZ EVDIKE: I don't know if this is good news or bad news. The people do not agree that our forces go away from us and we stay under the mercy of - I don't know who. I am confused.
ESTRIN: Still a lot of questions about how this is actually going to work.
MARTIN: Right. So it's not as easy as saying, hey, mission accomplished - right? - which is kind of what President Trump is saying. What are the big questions going forward?
ESTRIN: Well, first of all, how much land will the Kurdish forces actually need to retreat from? The U.S. says they'll need to leave the so-called Turkish safe zone. But at one point, the Turks said that should be an area that's 300 miles wide. The Kurdish commander is saying they're only going to retreat from a much smaller area.
Another question - what's the Kurds' political future? They've led a secular democratic enclave in the area. Is that over now? And then we spoke to Brett McGurk. All Things Considered on NPR spoke to him yesterday. He used to be the presidential envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS. He says the - that Russia is now the power broker here. Turkey's leader, Erdogan, is going to Russia next week to work out the details here. So U.S. out, Russia in.
MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin, thanks. We appreciate it.
ESTRIN: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: All right. We want to tell you about some pretty dramatic events that unfolded in a city in Mexico that is home to the Sinaloa Cartel.
KING: Yeah. Gunmen went on a shooting rampage yesterday in the city of Culiacan. This happened after the Mexican military found and briefly detained one of the sons of the former head of the Sinaloa Cartel, El Chapo Guzman. And you might remember that a couple of months ago, El Chapo went on trial in New York. He's now in prison in the U.S.
MARTIN: Yeah. So NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City is following this and joins us now. Hi, Carrie.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So this all happened in the capital of Mexico's Sinaloa state. What more can you tell us about what went down?
KAHN: It was a very chaotic and terrifying afternoon in the capital. Images and video streaming out of the urban core of the city were just incredible. It really looked like a war zone. There were running gun battles in major thoroughfares. People were running for cover in shopping centers, hiding in supermarket aisles. Vehicles were being burned at strategic points throughout the city to cut off security forces' access to the fighting.
KAHN: We saw these cartel gunmen using some amazing firepower. One video on social media showed a gunman in a pickup truck operating a .50-caliber machine gun bolted to the back. And it was incredible. In the evening, the head of Mexico's public security broadcast - a short statement. And he was flanked by the country's top military leaders. But he really left more questions than answers.
He said that around 3:30 in the afternoon, military personnel on a routine patrol were attacked by gunmen holed up in a house. They were - managed to get control of the house. And when they entered, they found one of the sons of Chapo Guzman. But then the security head said the patrol was overwhelmed and outpowered by cartel gunmen. And they had to retreat. And he said they, quote, "suspended" the operation for the good of peace in the city.
MARTIN: So who is this guy? El Chapo's got a lot of sons.
KAHN: Yes, he does.
MARTIN: What's the deal with this one?
KAHN: He is 28 years old. His name is Ovidio Guzman Lopez. He's one of four sons from Chapo's second wife. He's not one of the more well-known sons. But it is believed, along with two other brothers, that he is now in charge of the Sinaloa Cartel, a role the sons of Chapo took over when Guzman was extradited to the U.S. in 2017 and, as you said, convicted this year. In the New York court, Ovidio Guzman Lopez is also facing criminal charges in the U.S. An indictment was unsealed right after his dad's sentencing this year, charging him, too, with cocaine trafficking.
MARTIN: So is he free now? Did he get away? Do we know where he is now?
KAHN: We do not know. There are rumors flying around Mexico that the federal forces let the son go. Some sources are quoting authorities saying, for the sake of the peace and welfare of the city, they had to do that. We'll know later today when the Mexican president holds his early morning, every weekday press conference. This will definitely be topic number one because it'll be an incredible embarrassment to the president if they actually captured Chapo's son and then released him.
KAHN: And, you know, the president is already under heavy criticism for his handling of Mexico's deteriorating security system. So this is just going to make that criticism even greater.
MARTIN: Plus, I imagine people are just still freaked out. How can this big battle happen in the middle of the city?
KAHN: They were clearly overpowered and overrun by these cartel gunmen, so the president is going to be facing a lot of criticism. His strategy - he says he wants to alleviate poverty and not fight fire with fire. That's how he's going to attack the violence in the city. He says he's all about hugs, not bullets. So this is going to be talked about a lot today.
MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Kahn. Thanks, Carrie. We appreciate it.
KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.