News Brief: Mueller Report, Venezuela Power Struggle, Roundup Lawsuits

May 30, 2019
Originally published on May 30, 2019 6:59 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After two years of silence, special counsel Robert Mueller went before the television cameras and gave his first public remarks yesterday about the Russia investigation.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That's right. Mueller said the special counsel's report speaks for itself. He doesn't think it's necessary for him to testify in front of Congress. But he also used the moment to talk about his findings on whether or not the president obstructed the investigation.

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ROBERT MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

KING: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded this way.

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SARAH SANDERS: If Bob Mueller had determined that there was a crime, he would've had a moral obligation to report it - to put that into his report. He didn't.

MARTIN: For more on this, we're joined by NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Domenico, is this a case where if it didn't happen on TV, it didn't happen? I mean, Robert Mueller seemed to just repeat what he had put down on paper in the special counsel report more than a month ago.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Yeah. I mean, all of that's really very true. I mean, all of this information is not new. It's all in Mueller's written report, I mean, as you note. But if he's telling the American people, it was in the email I sent, basically, you know...

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Right.

MONTANARO: You know, too many Americans are saying TLDR - too long, didn't read - right?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

MONTANARO: I mean, people, you know, can lament that, but it's just the world we live in. The fact is...

MARTIN: True.

MONTANARO: ...When something is on camera, when there is video, it has far more political power.

MARTIN: So he again made clear the central conclusion; Russia interfered in the U.S. election. But he also made clear his report does not exonerate the president, said so explicitly in print. The White House keeps insisting falsely that it does, of course. But, as you note, this is not - none of this is new, so is it going to change the debate over impeachment because Democrats keep pushing this?

MONTANARO: Well, in some ways it is, and in some ways it's not. I mean, a growing chorus of presidential candidates yesterday started calling for the start of impeachment proceedings. But they're on their own track. You know, they're running for president. They have to win over an activist base. That's different than Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House. She's trying to maintain the House majority. And remember; that majority was won by mostly moderates, not people in liberal districts.

Pelosi's holding firm. She says it's important to gather facts and not have impeachment, if it came to that, be a partisan exercise. She told KQED's Scott Shafer that Mueller's comments don't really change the path that she set out.

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NANCY PELOSI: We have to have the facts. And we would like to have the facts presented in a way to the American people that makes it almost impossible for the Senate to exonerate.

MONTANARO: Right. Well, remember; the House does not control this alone, and that's the point she's trying to make.

MARTIN: Right.

MONTANARO: In order to remove a president, not just impeach one, the Senate has to go along, and that chamber's controlled by Republicans and not necessarily willing to go along with this, of course.

MARTIN: So the House Democrats who are pushing for impeachment, they know the math doesn't add up for them. So what's their case?

MONTANARO: I mean, they believe it's important for democracy. I mean, they feel like morally, taking the political considerations out of it, that the president's acted in bad faith, that he should be held accountable and it would set a bad precedent to, you know, shirk what they see as Congress' responsibility.

But, again, take a step back and realize, overwhelmingly, the people calling for impeachment proceedings are from liberal districts where there's not a lot of political consequences to impeachment. In fact, their constituents want it.

MARTIN: Real quick - is Robert Mueller going to end up on Capitol Hill? Says he doesn't want to go.

MONTANARO: Well, because of the power of the camera, it's certainly possible that you might have a Democrat subpoena him to do so.

MARTIN: NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Four months ago, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president.

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JUAN GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

KING: But Venezuela's current president, Nicolas Maduro, says he is still the president. Guaido has been recognized by millions of Venezuelans, by the U.S. and by dozens of other countries as the rightful head of state. But for now, Maduro is still president, despite Venezuela's deep, deep economic crisis.

MARTIN: NPR's John Otis got a rare opportunity. He sat down with Juan Guaido for an interview that happened yesterday. And John is on the line from Caracas, Venezuela, now.

So, John, there's a lot to discuss here. There have been - first off, we should talk about these negotiations that have been happening in Norway recently. These are some talks to try to settle this power struggle between Guaido and Maduro. Did Guaido tell you - give you an update on those talks?

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Yes, he did. Guaido told me that there had been really no concrete results. The two sides still seem to be a very long way apart. Guaido's demanding that Maduro step down to open the door for free presidential elections, but Maduro just isn't budging. That said, we talked about how these types of negotiations can take months, if not years.

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GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: What Guaido's saying here is that Venezuelans don't have the luxury of time. The country's going through a humanitarian crisis. There are people dying every day from lack of food and medicine, and that the country really needs Maduro to leave now.

MARTIN: So Juan Guaido has a close relationship with United States. U.S. officials often say that all options are on the table when it comes to Venezuela, which hints at some kind of possible military action to remove Maduro if it saw that to be necessary. Did Guaido talk about that?

OTIS: Well, yeah. I mean, just to give you an idea about how close that relationship is, our interview with Guaido got pushed back a half an hour because he was on the phone with Vice President Mike Pence.

MARTIN: Wow.

OTIS: Guaido says it's a huge boost to have the U.S. in the opposition's corner, but that does allow President Maduro to paint Guaido as kind of a puppet of American imperialism. Guaido said he would prefer a peaceful solution. But he also said that support for foreign intervention in Venezuela is catching on.

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GUAIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Now, what he's saying here is that things are so bad that if you ask most Venezuelans what's the best way to bring about some kind of a regime change, they're going to tell you, pretty much by any means necessary, including a U.S. invasion.

MARTIN: So what does he do now? He has started this revolution. It seems to be in this kind of stalemate. What's his next move?

OTIS: Yeah. I mean, stalemate is exactly what it is. The opposition's had a lot of setbacks. Just last month, Guaido tried and failed to lead a military uprising against Maduro. But Guaido says, look; I've only been at this for a few months. And he claims that in that time, the opposition has become far stronger and that he's now recognized as Venezuela's legitimate head of state by more than 50 countries and that, sooner or later, President Maduro is just going to have to leave office.

MARTIN: NPR's John Otis. He got an interview with opposition leader in Venezuela Juan Guaido. Thanks so much, John. We appreciate it.

OTIS: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right. The most widely used weed killer in the entire world is Roundup. And Roundup has been accused of causing cancer.

KING: Yeah, that's right. There have been three civil cases so far. A few weeks ago, a jury awarded $2 billion to two people who say the weed killer caused their cancer. Thousands of other lawsuits have been filed. And in the meantime, Bayer's share prices dropped by nearly half in the past year.

MARTIN: Yeah, Bayer, the parent company for Roundup. So we've got NPR science correspondent Dan Charles in the studio to talk about this. Hi, Dan.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So I'm going to venture a guess that a lot of people have seen Roundup. You go to the hardware store. Even in, you know, some grocery stores, you can buy Roundup. How did it get to be such a big deal?

CHARLES: There are a couple of things about this that I'd find just fascinating. The one is this is kind of an outgrowth of the controversy over genetically modified crops, GMOs. For 20 years, you know, farmers were spreading Roundup on their fields, and nobody heard much about it. It was widely seen as one of the safer pesticides. And then, genetically modified crops, specifically Roundup Ready crops, which is, you know, crops that were tolerant to the active ingredient in Roundup called glyphosate...

MARTIN: OK.

CHARLES: ...Which meant farmers could plant their crops, spray Roundup across the crops, and the crops were fine but the weeds got killed. There was a huge increase in the spring of glyphosate or Roundup and lots of controversy around GMOs, which translated into lots of scrutiny for this chemical.

MARTIN: Yeah.

CHARLES: And what happened was there was an agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, that then took a look at this chemical and said, we think it probably can cause cancer in humans. Huge controversy erupted.

MARTIN: Is that true? I mean, does it cause cancer?

CHARLES: Well, this is the other fascinating thing because the science is pretty murky, and you...

MARTIN: Why is science always so murky?

CHARLES: (Laughter) And you get into these situations where it's a question of, who do you trust in evaluating this science?

MARTIN: Yeah.

CHARLES: So IARC, the WHO agency - they say, probably causes cancer. A bunch of other very authoritative agencies looked at it and basically concluded the opposite, looking at somewhat different evidence, looking at it in a slightly different way.

I talked to one of the scientists involved in one of those assessments, Dave Eastmond from the University of California, Riverside. This is what he said.

DAVE EASTMOND: From my reading of things, you know, if glyphosate causes cancer, it's a pretty weak carcinogen, which means you're going to have to have pretty high doses...

CHARLES: OK.

EASTMOND: ...In order to cause it.

CHARLES: So then this goes to trial, and juries have to decide this. Monsanto said, look; agencies say it's safe. The plaintiff said, don't trust them. And the juries came out with these humongous verdicts against Monsanto, which is now owned by Bayer.

MARTIN: I mean, really humongous - right? - like, tens of billions of dollars. What - can they take that? Can they take that kind of hit?

CHARLES: Everybody I talked to says this will get settled eventually. But who knows for what amount of money - 5 billion, 10 billion, 20 billion? We don't know.

MARTIN: Big price tag, but it's a really important issue. NPR's Dan Charles for us this morning. Dan, we appreciate it. Thanks for your reporting.

CHARLES: Nice to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF FATIMA YAMAHA'S "WHAT'S A GIRL TO DO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.