News Brief: Justice Department Developments, National School Walkout, South Korea
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We are getting a firsthand look at the memos that former FBI Director James Comey wrote after meetings he had with President Trump.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah. These memos first made news last year. Comey told lawmakers that he started writing things down after each meeting he had with President Trump.
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JAMES COMEY: I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document. That combination of things, I'd never experienced before. But it led me to believe I've got to write it down, and I've got to write it down in a very detailed way.
GREENE: And now we know what Comey was writing down. Last night, the Department of Justice sent the documents to Congress, and they quickly leaked to the press, including to NPR. Both parties are pointing to these memos as evidence for their side. Senior Republicans in the House suggests they show Comey did not believe that the president tried to obstruct justice. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says the memos are further proof of Trump's contempt for the rule of law.
MARTIN: All right. Let's bring in NPR's Ryan Lucas, who covers the Justice Department. Hey, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So we've heard much talk of these memos, and James Comey himself discussed the content of them on Capitol Hill. So what are we learning new?
LUCAS: Well, as you noted, we've heard a lot from Comey in the past. We heard a clip from him talking about these memos in Congress. And he's been on this book tour talking about a lot of these interactions that he had with the president. But what these memos do is give us even a closer view, an insider view of these conversations, and conversations not just with the president but with senior White House officials. But one discussion in particular stood out for me, and that was a conversation that he had that, Comey had with the president about the president's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. And Comey relates this anecdote from after the election in which Trump says a foreign leader had called to congratulate him on his win, but Flynn had scheduled the call for several days after this leader first called.
MARTIN: The return call.
LUCAS: The return call.
MARTIN: President Trump was supposed to call this leader back.
LUCAS: Right. And the president thought that this was far too long to wait, in his view. And Comey says that Trump pointed his fingers at his own head and said, this guy has serious judgment issues. So he had concerns about Michael Flynn's judgment issues way back at the time of this conversation.
MARTIN: We should say that leader was Vladimir Putin.
LUCAS: That leader was reportedly Vladimir Putin, but also the fact that Michael Flynn was later fired for lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians, and the president kept Flynn on his staff for quite some time after he had questions about Flynn's judgment.
MARTIN: So what is the effect of these now revealed memos on the special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation, if anything?
LUCAS: Well, the Justice Department says that when it sent the memos up to the Hill that it had consulted with relevant parties that would have no impact on the investigation. Republicans, of course, are saying that these are blind with bias, that Comey is not an unbiased observer in all of this. And the president, of course, tweeted about this last night, saying that the memos show that there was no collusion and no obstruction.
MARTIN: Meanwhile, Andrew McCabe, former No. 2 at the FBI, could be facing criminal charges now?
LUCAS: That's right. The Justice Department inspector general has asked prosecutors here in Washington to look into whether McCabe should face charges. Now, referrals like this are not uncommon, and they don't mean that prosecutors will open an investigation. They could decide to do so or they could decide to drop it.
GREENE: And now we also have Rudy Giuliani joining Trump's legal team to see if he can broker an end to the Russia investigation. A lot happening.
LUCAS: Quite a bit. Yes.
MARTIN: (Laughter). Thanks for keeping up with all of it for us. Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR. Thanks so much.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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MARTIN: OK. Students from around the country are walking out of school again today in protest.
GREENE: This is the third student-led demonstration since the shooting that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. That tragedy, of course, reignited the national debate over gun laws. Now, picking today for a walkout, not at all random. It has been 19 years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School. The students who are protesting today won't remember that day, though. Most of them were not born yet.
MARTIN: All right. David Schaper joins us now, NPR's correspondent from Chicago. So David, you have gone out and spoken to folks around the city about this walkout. What's exactly going to happen?
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Well, around Chicago there's not nearly as many schools actively participating as did so back on March 14, where there was the first major school-related demonstrations on gun violence. Some schools in the area are even warning students and parents that there may be some disciplinary action for students who walk out. There's a student organizer in suburban Naperville who's a bit worried that there's an effort by those who use this day, April 20, 4/20, to celebrate marijuana and push for its legalization, that that might steal some of the thunder of the anti-gun-violence marches here.
But in the city itself, there are several high schools and students at those high schools who plan to walk out. They're going to meet up at a rally downtown later in the day. But again, it's really not expected to be as big as the one last month. I did check in with one elementary school, though, that is taking part in a big way. This is Charles Henderson Elementary School in the Englewood neighborhood on the city's South Side. And these are students who, they do these lockdown drills like everyone else, but a Parkland or a Sandy Hook-like shooting doesn't worry them much because really their everyday reality is much more frightening.
DION MCGILL: People have to know that things like Parkland, Columbine, are these isolated incidents that are horrific, but that kind of horror for some people is an everyday reality.
SCHAPER: This is Dion McGill. He's a former teacher who now is an educator for a group called the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, and he implements school-based antiviolence programs. And, over the past couple of years, he says two students at that Henderson school have been shot and killed. One, an eighth-grader who was just walking home a few blocks away. The other, a sixth-grader who was shot in the schoolyard on a Saturday while hanging out with some friends. So all of the kids there, or at least those in fourth through eighth grades, will participate in a neighborhood march and a rally against gun violence today.
MARTIN: I mean, we've seen these walkouts happen. There were all these photos of survivors from the Parkland shooting on Capitol Hill in meetings with lawmakers, lobbying them directly. But I mean, have they moved the needle on this debate at all?
SCHAPER: Well, you know, there hasn't been a ton of movement in Congress, but there are some state legislatures that have been taking action. Illinois is one of them. Lawmakers here passed a bill to license all gun dealers of the state, among other things. And there is momentum growing in some other states. But despite all the steam that we've heard over there, we have a new poll out, the NPR/PBSNewsHour/Marist poll that shows that, you know, half of Americans say gun policy will be a major factor in voting, but not the factor.
MARTIN: As it has been for a long time. NPR's David Schaper, thank you so much.
SCHAPER: My pleasure.
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MARTIN: OK. Who would think a brand-new landline on the Korean Peninsula would be so revolutionary? But it is.
GREENE: Yeah. This is just not a regular old landline. South Korea's government announced today that they have successfully established a new telephone hotline connecting President Moon Jae-in with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. This is at least a major symbolic step ahead of a historic summit between the two nations. A week from today, Kim will cross into South Korea for a meeting with President Moon, and Moon says the North might, might even be willing now to denuclearize.
MARTIN: All right. To talk through all this, we've got NPR's Elise Hu in Seoul on the line. Hey, Elise.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey there.
MARTIN: All right. So David Greene is sitting next to me in the studio. That's not usually the case. He actually is usually in LA. And we've got this phone, this red phone with, like, a light on it, and we can pick it up and talk to each other directly.
GREENE: Anytime. Anytime.
MARTIN: Anytime. Is that what we're discussing here, like, a hotline? They can just pick it up anytime and talk to each other?
HU: Yeah. It's pretty much like that. It's a direct line that will connect the Blue House, which is the South Korean presidential office, to North Korea's State Affairs Commission, which is a leadership commission in North Korea where Kim Jong Un can connect. And the two leaders are supposed to talk to each other sometime before the summit next Friday.
MARTIN: So this is a big deal, right? I mean, you've got the landline, and in conjunction with that, North Korea is now saying that they might allow U.S. troops to stay on the Peninsula.
HU: Yeah. So the context on this is that North Korea has had this longstanding demand for the U.S. to withdraw troops. And, of, course the U.S. and South Korea would say, you know, of course we don't need North Korea's permission to have troops here. But it's just been a repeated deal breaker between Pyongyang and Washington because these troops have been in South Korea since the end of fighting in the Korean War in 1953. There's 28,000 of them. But so far, North Korea hasn't responded to Moon Jae-in's comments saying that North Korea would be willing to discuss denuclearization and that this demand to withdraw the troops was dropped. So we haven't heard from North Korea on this, just the South Korean side.
MARTIN: But in general, I mean, North Korea seems to be saying all the right things. How is South Korea - I mean, are leaders in South Korea feeling pretty optimistic ahead of these talks?
HU: The president of South Korea is extremely optimistic. North Korea watchers are more skeptical about this. North Korea plays the long game. Its regime has remained the same all these years as the U.S. and South Korean administrations have changed, sometimes dramatically. So sources say just, you know, North Korea always has something up its sleeve. So you never know what's going to happen until these leaders finally get into the room, and that's next week.
MARTIN: All right. You will help us understand what happens in that room. NPR's Seoul correspondent Elise Hu for us this morning. Thanks so much, Elise.
HU: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.