News Brief: Impeachment Inquiry, Harvard Ruling, Bahamas Update

Oct 2, 2019
Originally published on October 2, 2019 10:40 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

House Democrats have been suggesting that their impeachment investigation could take just a matter of weeks, not months. But the White House is drawing battle lines as tensions between the executive and legislative branches are really increasing.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is one of the people leading this resistance. He's trying to delay five current and former officials from handing over documents and testifying in the impeachment inquiry.

GREENE: And let's bring in NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Morning, David.

GREENE: So why this resistance from Pompeo? Why is he not letting these officials come in and testifying right now?

MONTANARO: Well, he wrote this letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee saying that these individuals need more time to prepare and get proper legal counsel. And he claimed that Democrats were trying to, quote, "intimidate" and "bully" these career officials. And he wouldn't have it. That's really, though, the kind of language that's used to try and win a message war. And Democrats interpreted it as an attempt to simply delay for President Trump.

I mean, Democrats fired back at Pompeo. They said, in fact, he was the one potentially trying to intimidate witnesses and that, quote, "any attempt to prevent them from talking with Congress is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry." The timeline, as we know it now, is today, the State Department inspector general is expected to brief congressional staff about some of their document requests on the Ukraine matter.

Democrats are going to depose behind closed doors Kurt Volker, a former envoy to Ukraine, tomorrow. And they rescheduled a deposition with Marie Yovanovitch, who was the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. That was supposed to happen today. Instead, it's going to happen next week, October 11, as a result of this letter.

GREENE: But what about these officials who Pompeo is trying to hold up? What did lawmakers want specifically to know from them?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, Democrats are seeking closed-door testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry. With Yovanovitch, the way - some of the things that Democrats are looking into - they want to know why she was removed from her post, what led up to it. You know, the whistleblower complaint notes that she'd been fight - she'd been a critic of a Ukrainian prosecutor, his poor record on fighting corruption. And the whistleblower notes that Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, is on record saying that she was, quote, "removed because she was part of the efforts against the president."

In wanting to talk to Volker, it looks like it also centers around Giuliani. Volker resigned from a voluntary post at the State Department. And the whistleblower says that Volker was one of the officials who spoke with Giuliani in what the whistleblower calls an attempt to, quote, "contain the damage" to U.S. national security. So Giuliani was trying to circumvent usual national security decision-making processes.

And the complaint also says that Volker spoke with Ukrainian officials. He was trying to smooth out sort of and reconcile the differing messages that were coming from Giuliani and through official U.S. channels. So the point here is for Democrats to kind of try to fill in the blanks, connect the dots and figure out what's really going on.

GREENE: Domenico, is all of this making its way onto the campaign trail?

MONTANARO: I mean, it's overshadowed everything on the campaign. The primary battle's really taken a backseat. And the candidates are saying they support impeachment inquiry or even the impeachment of the president overall. And we're, you know - they're trying to make some news, trickling out some of their fundraising numbers. But really, impeachment has been the principal thing.

GREENE: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

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GREENE: All right. Does Harvard discriminate against Asian Americans in its admission process? A federal judge has now ruled no.

KING: This case was one of the most serious legal challenges to affirmative action in years. The plaintiff is a group called Students for Fair Admissions. Now, they argue that Harvard holds Asian American applicants to a higher standard in the admissions process. Judge Allison Burroughs, who presided over the case, said Harvard's admissions process is, quote, "not perfect." But she also said it's not unconstitutional.

GREENE: Of course, this decision is not likely to end this fight. It could keep going on. Carrie Jung reports for NPR member station WBUR in Boston and has been following this case. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JUNG, BYLINE: Good morning.

JUNG: So can you sort of summarize this ruling for us? What did the judge here say?

JUNG: Yeah. Well, the ruling was very detailed. It came in at around 130 pages yesterday. But what a lot of it boils down to is that she says Harvard's admissions office did not intentionally discriminate against Asian American applicants. So she dispelled any notions that the school might use a racial balancing system, which is kind of like a quota. And that's not legal under federal law. And she decided that Harvard did prove its case in court through personal testimony and also a lot of statistics that race is not a deciding factor, it's - and it's not weighed too heavily.

And as you mentioned, Judge Burroughs did note that Harvard's admissions system is not perfect. In fact, she suggested the school consider implicit bias training. But she concluded by calling it a, quote, "fine system" that she doesn't want to dismantle, especially because she says it serves a compelling interest and that's maintaining diversity at one of the country's most selective schools.

GREENE: So, I mean, as I mentioned, this might not be the end of this, this legal battle, but how are the two sides responding to this decision so for?

JUNG: Well, in a statement, Harvard is calling the ruling a victory for students, diversity and the rule of law, they say. Other groups who've been heavily involved with the case on Harvard's side at least are also celebrating this decision.

I spoke last night with Rachel Kleinman. She's with the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, which joined Harvard as a friend of the court last year. They represented student and alumni groups. And she says she's thrilled about this ruling because a case like this can make other schools rethink or at least reaffirm their affirmative action policies.

RACHEL KLEINMAN: I think this is such a clear signal that they can continue to be doing this important work, to be admitting diverse classes. And so I think this was a real victory for colleges and universities and the students who attend them across the country.

JUNG: Now, for the plaintiffs, Students for Fair Admissions, they say they're very disappointed by this ruling. And they are planning to appeal and even prepared to take this case to the Supreme Court if necessary. In their statement, they said they felt like the data and the evidence they presented in court made a compelling argument.

GREENE: And so if this does go to the Supreme Court, Carrie, what are some of the implications this could have on affirmative action more broadly?

JUNG: Yeah. I mean, Edward Blum, who's the president of Students for Fair Admissions, he's a well-known opponent of affirmative action. And his goal here is to end the consideration of race in admissions. Colleges and universities are worried if that becomes the case that classes would be a lot less diverse across the country.

GREENE: Carrie Jung reports for member station WBUR in Boston. Thanks so much, Carrie.

JUNG: You're welcome.

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GREENE: So it's been a month now since Hurricane Dorian devastated so much of the Bahamas.

KING: Yeah. You might remember that this was a very slow-moving Category 5 storm. A couple of days after it hit land, our colleague, Jason Beaubien, made it to the island of Great Abaco to report on the destruction there.

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JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Just walking around one neighborhood here this morning, we saw four bodies just out in the open. And in addition, there's really a smell in the air. Sometimes you're not seeing the bodies, but you're coming through rubble and there's a very distinct smell of rotting human flesh.

KING: All right. It was terrible then. And four weeks later, the situation there is still desperate, especially in the town of Marsh Harbour. That's the commercial hub of the Abaco Islands.

GREENE: And Jason Beaubien has returned to see what life looks like now on the islands. And, Jason, I remember that vivid description from just shortly after the hurricane. What are you seeing...

BEAUBIEN: Yeah.

GREENE: ...And hearing now that you've gone back?

BEAUBIEN: Look, so the bodies have been cleaned up. But this is still absolutely a disaster zone. There's, you know, debris everywhere still. The roads have been cleared. And you are getting bulldozers coming in and clearing, like, some of the shantytowns. And some of the schools are getting cleaned up. But, you know, there are areas that are just completely empty, just eerily empty, just, like, looks like a tornado had come through. And there's just foundations and hardly anyone around. So it's still got a long way to go.

GREENE: With that much destruction, how do you even prioritize? Like, what do you do first when it comes to trying to rebuild?

BEAUBIEN: You know, so right now, it's just about sort of relief and rubble. Basically, there needs to be systems so that people can come here, work here and deal with this next phase. So there's a system that's being put in place to just make sure people have someplace to eat - trying to get people basic places to sleep under.

And then this next big thing right now is dealing with all of this rubble, getting it out of the way. I talked to this guy Sylvan McIntyre. He's actually from Grenada. And he's been running the emergency operations center here in Abaco.

SYLVAN MCINTYRE: The removal of debris is critical. It's something that helps the psyche of people. It helps you feel like there's a sense of greater hope and a sense of things happening.

BEAUBIEN: And they're working on trying to do that. They're working on lining up a huge area as a dump south of Marsh Harbour. And he says that they've signed some contracts and trying to get trucking companies to come in. And they're working on that process and trying to get that going so you get this huge rubble removal operation moving.

GREENE: Just facing all this, it's amazing to hear him say, you know, a sense of greater hope. Are you feeling that? Are there signs of hope or that things are somehow getting a little better?

BEAUBIEN: You know, definitely there are signs of hope. There's also a lot of uncertainty for people still. But, you know, there is better access to water. There's still no electricity. Every store was destroyed, from grocery stores to marine stores. And that fact that there's no grocery stores is a huge problem. There's basically no restaurants.

So people have to get food from somewhere. And one of the amazing things here is that Jose Andres' charity outfit, World Central Kitchen, has set up this massive operation to offer sandwiches and hot meals to anybody on the island.

This is Sam Bloch. He's with World Central Kitchen.

SAM BLOCH: It can make you feel like a human again. That's why for us, doing it on time and regularly is really important so that, you know, there is some stability and some normalcy in an otherwise very chaotic situation.

BEAUBIEN: And he says that can just come from just having a hot meal every day.

GREENE: You think residents are going to stay and try to get back to some sort of normalcy at some point?

BEAUBIEN: I think they're going to try to, but it is going to be a long haul.

GREENE: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien, who has returned to report in the Bahamas in the wake of that hurricane a month ago. Thanks so much, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF DISTANT.LO'S "TOO OFTEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.