News Brief: Impeachment Probe, Morales Resigns, Hong Kong Protests

Nov 11, 2019
Originally published on November 11, 2019 6:56 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How will the presence of TV cameras change the impeachment inquiry?

NOEL KING, HOST:

We should find out this week. For the first time, House investigators are planning to gather evidence in public. They expect to hear from three U.S. diplomats about the president's efforts around Ukraine. President Trump was looking for investigations of conspiracy theories and of his political rival, Joe Biden. He also held up military aid in a meeting with Ukraine's president. Now, lawmakers will have to decide how, if at all, those acts fit together and what they think the president was trying to do.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is with us. Good morning, sir.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are the - who are the diplomats who are testifying?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, on Wednesday, lawmakers are expected to hear from William Taylor - he's the top diplomat in Ukraine - George Kent from the State Department, and on Friday, former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch is expected to testify. All three, you might remember, met privately with investigators and testified of the administration putting pressure on Ukraine to launch an investigation into a political rival.

Taylor, for example, testified of a clear understanding that security aid would not come until the Ukraine president committed to doing an investigation, and Kent described a campaign of lies, led by Rudy Giuliani, to undermine Yovanovitch.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah - the president's personal lawyer, who was deeply involved in all of this. Now, how are lawmakers viewing the public phase of this investigation?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, it depends on which side of the aisle you are on. Democrats are acknowledging now that the public isn't grasping their message. For one, they say people don't necessarily understand the Latin of quid pro quo. Congressman Jim Himes, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, says people can soon expect to hear a refined message. He was on NBC's "Meet The Press."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

JIM HIMES: When you're trying to persuade the American people of something that is really pretty simple - which is that the president acted criminally and extorted in the way a mob boss would extort somebody, a vulnerable foreign country - it's probably best not to use Latin words to explain it.

INSKEEP: I guess it is true - mob bosses generally are not known for using Latin words, necessarily. Maybe that's what he's trying to say here. We'll see how they change their messaging. What about Republicans?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, Trump is - it's interesting because Trump is not only taking his frustrations out on Democrats, but he is also taking them out on Republicans. He tweeted Sunday at Republicans about not getting caught in a fool's trap of raising concern about the July 25 call, but just arguing it's not impeachable. He insists nothing was done wrong, and he wants Republicans to carry that message. The reality is Republicans have struggled to come to a consensus on how to defend the president, and they've gotten limited guidance from this White House, other than that Trump wants them to be stronger.

INSKEEP: There's something a little confusing I hope you can explain. How significant is it that the president's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney - who the president, I presume, doesn't want to testify - has asked a court to decide if he should testify? He's joined this lawsuit already in motion.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, it's very significant. Mulvaney is trying to join a lawsuit by former White House officials who appear willing to testify if the court orders them to. The lawsuit was filed by former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman. And just to note - former national security adviser John Bolton has that same attorney and has said he will follow the same guidelines. According to their lawyers, Kupperman nor Bolton will testify until a judge tells them whether to adhere to a congressional subpoena or a White House directive.

It is also interesting, though, that Mulvaney has hired his own personal attorney. He's still the acting chief of staff so that indicates some level of independence from the White House.

INSKEEP: Meaning that he may see his interests slightly different or significantly different than the president himself.

ORDOÑEZ: We shall see.

INSKEEP: Franco, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Franco Ordoñez.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES BLAKE'S "LIMIT TO YOUR LOVE")

INSKEEP: Until yesterday, Evo Morales was the longest-serving leader in South America.

KING: But now Bolivia's president is leaving his job. Here's how we got here. Just a few weeks ago, Morales claimed to have won reelection. To do that, he overrode Bolivia's term limits. He said that the limit on how long he could serve violated human rights, and he won that argument in court. But then there were allegations of fraud during his reelection, and so people went out into the streets.

INSKEEP: NPR's South America correspondent Philip Reeves is following this. Philip, good morning.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What persuaded Morales to go now?

REEVES: Well, you know, the opposition said from the get-go that last month's elections were a complete fraud, and that's what kicked off those protests that have caused such havoc across the country. The Organization of American States sent in a team to find out what had happened, and early yesterday it revealed its findings. And these were that there were many irregularities in that poll from computer security flaws to the count, the custody of the ballot. And that really lit the fuse, and the collapse began with amazing speed.

I mean, Morales had been under growing pressure. Police on Saturday began deserting their posts. But after that report came out, some of Morales' allies abandoned him. He tried to cling on by going on TV and offering new elections. That didn't work. And the nail in the coffin came when the army chief shortly after that announced that he should go. Morales then said, OK, I'm turning in a letter of resignation to the Legislature. But he's characterizing this as a coup, saying that he's stepping aside to restore calm.

INSKEEP: Amid all of those items you just listed, I'm thinking of the two that point to the national security state making a decision - police deserting their posts, and you said the army chief turned against the president.

REEVES: Yeah. And there is some concern about this issue, that the military might have overstepped its role, raising the historic specter of a Latin American military takeover. The army certainly accelerated Morales' downfall by announcing at the week end that it wasn't going to get involved in stopping the protests because it wouldn't confront - it didn't want to confront its own people. And then it really delivered a very strong shove in the back when the army chief said Morales must go.

Morales' supporters on the left all around Latin America will likely see this as evidence that this was a kind of coup. The counterargument will be that he was actually the victim of his determination to bend the rules to remain in power for a fourth term. But all eyes are going to be on what the army does next.

INSKEEP: Is it evident who is to be the next president of Bolivia?

REEVES: Well, we're entering perilous and uncharted waters here, Steve. His vice president's also resigned. The rules say, with the president and the Veep gone, the head of the Senate should step in, but she's resigned, too, and so has the head of the Lower House - that would be the next one.

The speculation's now that legislators will meet to appoint someone or some kind of transitional body that will take over until elections. They'll need to act quickly because the situation on the ground is unstable. I'm seeing overnight reports of clashes, arson attacks and looting. Morales says he's got a property that's been attacked. So this is a turbulent and dangerous situation.

INSKEEP: Is nobody president of Bolivia right now?

REEVES: Well, it's extremely difficult to know who's in charge because the process of figuring that out hasn't happened. We don't actually know where Morales is and what will - his next move will be. He's been offered asylum by Mexico. We don't know what the army is going to do next. So it's a very uncertain situation, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves. We'll keep listening for your reporting. Philip, thanks.

REEVES: Welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: All right, let's move from the mountains of South America to the shores of East Asia.

KING: It's a different landscape, but it is a very similar story. In Hong Kong, just like in Bolivia, people are protesting against their government, and today these demonstrators have new grievances. They're focused on the death of a student protester and the arrests of six Democratic lawmakers. Now, this protest against the suppression of protests has led to another crackdown. Police fired live rounds at protesters, and they hit a 21-year-old man at close range. Authorities at the hospital say he's in critical condition.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy has been covering this story from Hong Kong. Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What have you seen today?

MCCARTHY: Well, what you saw today was rage, and it exploded on the streets. The residents of Sai Wan Ho, in the northeast corner of Hong Kong Island, were furious. That's where the shooting took place. And they stood on the streets berating the police. Crowds on both sides of this big boulevard, with the police in the middle, yelled all manner of insults at them. You can hear the fury.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

MCCARTHY: They're shouting, dismiss the police now, may your family die and murderers. And one woman breached the police cordon, wagged her finger at them and delivered a tirade. I was standing a few yards from her, and one of the policemen squirted pepper spray directly into her face. The police then issued their own warning for everyone to leave or face the same, you know, pepper spray. And listen to their anger here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #1: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER #2: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: You know, a video circulated online, Steve, that shows a traffic cop pulling out a revolver, firing three shots and shooting a protester at close range. Now, tonight hospital authorities say he underwent an emergency surgery, and local media say there are kidney and liver injuries. Now, in a press conference, police said masked men moved on a policeman, a traffic cop, one with a metal rod. And they denied any reckless use of firearms.

INSKEEP: Julie, I'm thinking about what Noel said - you have protests, the police crack down, the crackdown leads to more protests, which leads to more crackdowns. How does each of these increasingly violent steps change the dynamic between protesters and police?

MCCARTHY: Yeah, it's just this accumulation of anger. You know, there was suspicion of the police before, but now people are prepared to believe the worst with very little evidence. I heard a different Hong Kong this past weekend. You know, people attended vigils for a university student, as Noel pointed out, who died Friday from brain injuries in a fall that many protesters suspect the police had a direct or indirect involvement in. And the police vehemently deny that.

One woman who identified only as Poppy (ph) said tensions are getting worse and said people are just more willing to escalate the protests right now. She says, listen to the chanting and hear how - and listen to how it's evolved, Steve. Protesters used to chant add oil, meaning be robust. Then it evolved to Hong Kong resist. And now the chant is Hong Kong revenge. There is a definite hardening of attitudes.

INSKEEP: I'm liking - I mean, entirely aside for the politics - liking that chant, add oil. I may try to use that in my own life - that means be robust and be strong. Julie, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy in Hong Kong.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHANGHAI RESTORATION PROJECT'S "RACE COURSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.