News Brief: Giuliani Subpoenaed, China Anniversary, Hong Kong Protests
NOEL KING, HOST:
Democrats conducting an impeachment inquiry are looking into one of President Trump's closest allies.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has been at the center of White House efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, one of the president's political rivals. Even as the controversy has built, Giuliani continues to push unsubstantiated claims like the one we are about to hear, which is from Fox News last night.
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RUDY GIULIANI: Joe Biden was sent to Ukraine to, in part, deal with corruption, and he helped to corrupt the Ukraine. He is a laughingstock; we are.
INSKEEP: Again, no evidence of that whatsoever. Now a House committee wants to know more about the role that Giuliani has played in talking with Ukrainian officials, and House leaders have issued a subpoena for documents related to his communications with Ukraine.
KING: NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been following all this as it develops. Good morning, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So why was Rudy Giuliani subpoenaed?
LUCAS: Well, as you said, Giuliani has been the man in the middle of this. He's been pushing these allegations against Biden for months. In its subpoena, the House Intelligence Committee says that it is looking into allegations that Giuliani acted as an agent of President Trump in what they call a scheme to advance Trump's personal political interests by abusing the power of the office of the president. This is a subpoena for records at this point; it's not for testimony. Lawmakers are asking for documents related to Giuliani's communications with Ukrainians.
I've asked Giuliani about this subpoena. He told me in a text message last night that lawmakers aren't even making a pretense of fairness in all of this, and he says that in the subpoena there's quite a lot to consider.
KING: So how did Giuliani get involved in all this in the first place?
LUCAS: Giuliani says that he first got wind of the Biden allegations about a year ago, and since then he's met with Ukrainians to - as he puts it, to try to gather evidence that would clear his client, and his client of course is President Trump. A key meeting in his efforts took place in early August in Spain. That is where he met with a senior adviser to Ukraine's president. He gave this adviser information that he had collected about Biden and Biden's alleged improprieties. Important to say, again, that Giuliani's allegations are unproven, and in fact, the evidence actually contradicts it.
Giuliani says that this meeting in Spain was facilitated by Kurt Volker. At that time, Volker was the U.S. special representative to Ukraine under the State Department. Volker resigned on Friday. He's actually going to sit down with House investigators this week for an interview.
KING: Why would Kurt Volker, who worked for the State Department, help set Giuliani up with Ukrainian officials?
LUCAS: That is a good question. Broadly speaking, Volker's role at State was to help support Ukraine in its democratic reforms. There has been a lot of negative news about Ukraine over the past year about its corruption, a bunch of other things. The conservative media here in the U.S. has really zeroed in on that. And Giuliani has as well, and Giuliani has been very vocal about that.
The Ukrainian government contacted Volker and asked him to put them in touch with Giuliani. Now, it's my understanding that Volker facilitated that in part because it would give the Ukrainians a chance to show Giuliani on their own that the new government in Kyiv under President Zelenskiy - that it has the right priorities, that they were the good guys, so to speak. Basically, Ukraine could correct the record with Giuliani, and that was important because Giuliani, of course, is close to President Trump.
KING: Yeah. Let me ask you about a last development here. So at this point, multiple news outlets are reporting that President Trump asked the prime minister of Australia to help Attorney General William Barr as the Justice Department looks into why the Russia investigation started. Can you just explain what's going on there?
LUCAS: Right. The U.S. attorney in Connecticut, John Durham, has been looking into the origins of the Russia investigation. We've known that for a while. After this story broke last night, the Justice Department put out a statement saying that it was Barr who asked the president to contact foreign countries and put the attorney general and Durham in touch with the appropriate officials. This is unusual. There are a lot of other channels to do this normally. When the president makes the request, of course, it takes it up a level. But this also raises questions because President Trump, of course, has a personal political interest in the outcome of Durham's investigation.
KING: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much, Ryan.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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KING: All right. China is celebrating 70 years of communist rule today.
INSKEEP: Now, the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, at the end of a long civil war. Today a much stronger China puts its power on display.
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INSKEEP: The government rolled tanks and drones and a nuclear-capable missile through Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing. The scene is very different more than 1,000 miles away in Hong Kong, where demonstrators have again marched in favor of democracy today. And we have reporters in both places.
KING: Yeah, let's start with Ailsa Chang, the host of All Things Considered, who's in China. She's in Beijing. Hey, Ailsa.
AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.
KING: So we heard that sound from the big military parade. What did you see? How close were you able to get?
CHANG: Well, we were able to get within less than a mile of Tiananmen Square, which is where the festivities were happening. But our press credentials to cover the event did not let us go to the actual event. In fact, most foreign media were not invited. And that lack of access went for most of the people in Beijing. What we saw were people sitting around in beach chairs on the sidewalk as if they were waiting for festivities to pass on by, but everyone was just watching the celebration huddled in groups around their tiny screens on their iPhones.
KING: Oh. Bummer.
CHANG: Yeah. I mean, there were roadblocks all around, police officers. Only a very, very specific guest list was allowed at the actual celebration site.
KING: OK. So you went to China to coincide with the 70th anniversary, and I wonder, what was it that you wanted to look into while you're there?
CHANG: I wanted to look at what promises the Chinese Communist Party made 70 years ago and what promises have they made good on because, you know, in a lot of ways the CCP is a party of contradictions. It was once the party of revolution; it's now become the establishment here. It's communist in name, but it is not the party of the proletariat; it is the party of state capitalism.
And it's a party that has promised to lift people out of poverty, which it has done an absolutely spectacular job. In fact, it's lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. But at the same time, income inequalities have intensified over the last few decades. And part of our reporting here has been trying to understand how those inequalities have played out over different generations within different classes of people.
KING: So tell me about some of the people you met.
CHANG: Well, we spent time with migrant workers who had moved to Beijing about 30 years ago from the countryside. And these are guys who work seven days a week, 10 hours a day, but they say their lives are hundreds, even thousands, of times better than their parents' lives. Those are their exact words. And that gets to one of the party's central promises, which is if you work hard and you trust us, we will make your life better. And that message we saw is resonating with people from totally different backgrounds here. Like, here's an architect. She lives in Beijing. Her name's Grace Jin. She's 28.
GRACE JIN: So I don't care who is the leader in China.
CHANG: Do you really not care, or you just know you can't choose anyway?
JIN: Maybe both. But just in China maybe we know the leader would make steady, wise choice, unlike (laughter) the United States.
CHANG: So what she's saying is all she wants is stability in order to focus on her career and on success, and she says that is exactly what the government is giving her.
KING: You know, this is a rocky time for the Chinese government. It's in a trade war with the U.S. You have these protests in Hong Kong. Is Xi Jinping addressing any of this today?
CHANG: Well, he mainly stayed on the idea that China is here to stay. I mean, the Soviet Union lasted 69 years, and China is at 70 years now. It's still going strong. And today President Xi Jinping said no force can shake the status of our great motherland.
KING: NPR's Ailsa Chang. For more from her on China, tune into All Things Considered later today. Ailsa, thanks so much.
CHANG: You're welcome.
KING: All right, now we're going over to Hong Kong to get a sense of how protesters there are responding to the celebrations on the mainland today. NPR's Julie McCarthy is on the ground. Hey, Julie.
JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi there.
KING: OK, so we were expecting unrest in Hong Kong. How have things played out? What have you seen?
MCCARTHY: Well, it promised to be that, and it kept to that promise. The defiance is widespread, and it is violent today. These are the kind of optics that we're seeing that are in stark contrast to what's going on in Beijing. In Kowloon, across the harbor, there are ongoing clashes between police and protesters. Further afield in the new territories, they are inflamed. Here on the island of Hong Kong, thousands of protesters marched in what was largely a peaceful demonstration - in defiance of a police ban, it must be said.
But I can now hear and see police firing tear gas and hundreds of people turning around and running back up the road. This was after hours of a peaceful protest. And earlier, you know, you - a whole cross section had snaked through the island, shouting stand with Hong Kong. And the message from across all these generations is that they want the autonomy and the freedoms they were promised when Britain handed back Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Now, while that's a local grievance, one of the leaders of the march, former lawmaker Lee Cheuk Yan, cast it in terms of a global struggle. Here he is.
LEE CHEUK YAN: If the people of Hong Kong win against dictatorship, then it's also a lesson for the world that, you know, with a spirit like the people of Hong Kong, we can finally overcome the impossible. You know, people think that the regime is so powerful that it is impossible, but we can do the impossible if we can unify, and we have confidence in that.
MCCARTHY: Now, you know, as for the violence and the vandalism, you know, the more radical protesters see this as a principled stand; others say, look - this is a doomed strategy that offers Beijing the pretext to march in here.
KING: And so are people worried that Beijing might march in there? Are you hearing any of that today?
MCCARTHY: Well, you know, no one really expected a broader crackdown involving reinforcements from across the border today. Beijing wanted its 70th anniversary to go off without a hitch, and the optics of having Chinese troops on the streets of Hong Kong would be completely contrary to that. So there was little expectation of that.
But, you know, now with China's National Day dispensed with, Hong Kong people do consider the fact that there are some 18 barracks housing troops from the People's Liberation Army in China, with an estimate of anywhere from 3,000 to 12,000 troops, and the threat of them leaving their barracks to suppress the protest movement here is never far from people's minds.
KING: NPR's Julie McCarthy. Julie, thanks so much.
MCCARTHY: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF DEEB'S "FLUID DYNAMICS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.