Morning News Brief

Aug 10, 2018
Originally published on August 10, 2018 9:48 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to start this morning in Yemen because there was another terrible turn in the war there yesterday.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Yeah. A Saudi airstrike killed dozens of kids that were traveling by bus on a field trip. Now, you may remember the crisis in Yemen started as a civil war in 2014. But it got worse as foreign powers intervened. Saudi Arabia leads a coalition that's backed by the United States to fight the Houthis. That's a Yemeni group that they see as a proxy for Iran. This coalition has been pounding Yemen with airstrikes for years now. Yesterday, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, was asked to respond to the attack.

MARTIN: She called for an investigation, and she cited U.S. humanitarian aid to Yemen. NPR's Ruth Sherlock has been reporting on the war in Yemen for a long time. She joins us now from Beirut. Ruth, what are you learning about what happened in this particular attack?

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Well, the death toll keeps rising. So far, we know that about 43 people have died in this airstrike, and there are still scores more wounded, some of them severely. The International Committee for the Red Cross says that 29 of those were children, all under the age of 15. The airstrike hit a public bus that was carrying schoolchildren on a summer trip. Witnesses say the driver was thirsty. He'd stopped at a marketplace when the airstrike hit that area. There's these terrible pictures coming out of children covered in blood, lying on stretchers. Hospitals in the area say they're overwhelmed.

MARTIN: I mean, what are the Saudis saying about this? Did they intentionally target these children?

SHERLOCK: Well, they say that this is a legitimate military action and that they were targeting missile launchers that the Houthi rebels in Yemen had used to fire at a Saudi city this week. You know, both sides in this war have been accused of causing civilian deaths. But the weight really lies with the Saudi coalition. The U.N. says the majority of civilian deaths are caused by airstrikes like these. And the majority of Yemen's children's deaths in the war have for the same cause - have died for the same reason.

Human Rights Watch has said that these airstrikes are war crimes - some of these airstrikes are war crimes. And, you know, this strike has caused real international outrage. Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, tweeted that it was a grotesque attack and a blatant disregard for the rules of war. And the U.N. secretary-general also was - came out with quite a strong statement, and he's calling for a full investigation.

MARTIN: How does this war end? When does this war end? It has been going on for so long. It doesn't seem like either side is really winning.

SHERLOCK: Well, exactly. It is a very stalemated conflict. You know, this is a rugged country with, you know, difficult terrain. So the front lines have stalemated. The negotiations are going nowhere. And it's getting worse because of this regional involvement. And the U.S. is involved in this, too, you know? The...

MARTIN: Right.

SHERLOCK: ...U.S. has been providing intelligence and targeting information to the Saudi coalition.

MARTIN: Yeah.

SHERLOCK: That's becoming increasingly controversial in the U.S. Some members of Congress have started saying, you know, that there shouldn't be this support. The U.S., of course, also supplies weapons to the Saudis. But, at the moment, you know, there's stalemates in every respect.

MARTIN: NPR's Ruth Sherlock reporting from Beirut on the war in Yemen. Thanks so much, Ruth.

SHERLOCK: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: OK. The bank and tax fraud trial of President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, could reach an inflection point today.

KING: Yeah. That's right. Prosecutors say they are on track to rest their case by the end of today. They've called, in the meantime, nearly two dozen witnesses in just nine days.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been staked out in the courthouse all week. Carrie, you've gotten a lot of quality time in the lovely city of Alexandria, Va., this past week.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: I have, and I'm happy about it, too.

MARTIN: And for weeks more, probably. Although, let's talk about what's happened and what is likely to happen. Prosecutors have the burden of proof for these 18 bank and tax fraud charges. How did they go about presenting their case?

JOHNSON: Trials are like stories, Rachel. But the audience here is the six men and six women of this jury. The government structured this case to tell a story about Paul Manafort. He's a famous political strategist who earned tens of millions of dollars. The government called political consultants as witnesses who work with Paul Manafort in Ukraine. That helped explain how Manafort earned his money. The government called luxury menswear sellers, a man from Mercedes-Benz and home improvement and landscaping guys. That's all about how he spent that money. And then they called accountants and bookkeepers and bankers to try to demonstrate that Paul Manafort hid millions of dollars in income in offshore accounts, and he never reported it on his taxes.

MARTIN: So Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates was really the prosecution's star witness. Paul Manafort's defense is that Rick Gates is the actual criminal here and that his testimony isn't reliable because of that. Where does that leave the government's case?

JOHNSON: Well, to hear prosecutors say it - this is not a case about just one witness. The jury could find Paul Manafort guilty even if they don't believe Rick Gates because prosecutors provided a lot of evidence, like documents and emails, tying Manafort himself to the money. He personally signed for bank loans that may have been fraudulently obtained. He directed his lawyer's office in Cyprus to transfer money out of what he called my offshore accounts in email messages. His bookkeeper says Manafort approved every penny of every expense. And, of course, Paul Manafort directed his son-in-law to pretend he was living in a New York property rather than renting out that property. That all mattered because it was not disclosed properly, according to the government, on various loan applications.

MARTIN: OK. So prosecutors say that they are likely to rest their case today. So what happens next? What should we be looking for?

JOHNSON: Well, it's not clear how many witnesses the defense will present. I accosted some of the defense lawyers at the hotel across the street from the court. They wouldn't answer my question. They said they're still deciding. It's unlikely Paul Manafort himself will testify. That's because he's facing a separate trial in Washington, D.C., in September. The defense may make the calculation they've created enough doubt among this jury that they're just going to stop here because prosecutors have the burden of proof. In any event, what happens next is the judge will need to give jury instructions on how to proceed. And each side will get time for closing arguments to try to clinch their case.

MARTIN: Carrie Johnson, NPR justice correspondent. Thanks so much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

MARTIN: OK. A small group of white supremacists are expected to march in Washington, D.C., on Sunday on the anniversary of the deadly rally in Charlottesville a year ago.

KING: Yeah. That's right. Last year, at that rally, a 32-year-old activist named Heather Heyer was killed when a man who apparently had ties to white supremacist groups rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters. Now law enforcement officials here in Washington have laid out plans to prevent a repeat of that violence in D.C.

MARTIN: Elly Yu of member station WAMU here in Washington is in our studios now. Elly, first off, can you tell us what kind of turnout is expected for this rally? It's not supposed to be so big, right?

ELLY YU, BYLINE: Right. It's unclear exactly how many people will end up showing up to this rally this year. But even the event organizer, Jason Kessler, indicated in his permit application that there'd be only up to 400 people maximum. Some white nationalist groups and white supremacist groups have said they're actually not coming to this year's rally. The founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, for example, had a post that disavowed the event and told readers not to come.

MARTIN: Why?

YU: They - he indicated in his post that it wasn't good for their movement.

MARTIN: Huh. Interesting. How is law enforcement preparing? Clearly, they don't want a repeat, as we said, of what happened in Charlottesville.

YU: Right. They're planning to do several things here. For one, D.C.'s police chief says a top priority for officers on Sunday is to keep counterprotesters and protesters apart to avoid the types of confrontations and violence we saw in Charlottesville. And second, police say they'll be also on high alert for people carrying weapons. They say that having a weapon with or without a permit in and around the demonstrations will be illegal on Sunday. They're also going to be looking out for other items that could be used as weapons, potentially - metal pipes, even an umbrella.

MARTIN: So there must be counterprotests planned.

YU: There are several counterprotests scheduled. A coalition of around 40 groups called Shut It Down D.C. will be holding events around the Unite the Right rally on Sunday. And, actually, counterprotesters have gotten a permit to be in Lafayette Square, as well, a part north of the White House where the Unite the Right rally goers will be. So they'll be in a section in the square.

MARTIN: So, Noel, you actually interviewed the guy who Elly just mentioned, Jason Kessler. He was behind the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. He's behind this rally. It's supposed to happen this weekend. What did he tell you?

KING: I mean, he told me a lot. We talked for more than an hour. But the thing that really stood out to me was that Jason Kessler takes no responsibility for what happened in Charlottesville last year, for the violence. He blamed Charlottesville police. He blamed counterprotesters. Here's a little bit of him talking about that.

JASON KESSLER: You had a majority of people, probably 95 percent of the people, who are peaceful, who are doing what I believe is a civil rights march. And you had a small number of people who fought. And why did they fight? It was because the police didn't do their jobs.

KING: There was a lot of that. He was very ramble-y (ph). He did say he wants this year's rally to be peaceful. He told me he doesn't want neo-Nazis there, which is different from what was on his initial invite list that he provided to the National Park Service.

MARTIN: So he's not apologetic at all.

KING: No. He said he is sorry for what happened, but he personally didn't do it.

MARTIN: Have we heard anything from D.C.'s mayor, Elly, about this?

YU: The city of D.C.'s actually planning to hold a series of events called United to Love to counter sort of the message of the Unite the Right rally there will be - that D.C.'s mayor says even though they're holding this First Amendment event in this city - that they want to send a clear message that they are - they denounce the rally goers' views.

MARTIN: Elly Yu of member station WAMU here in Washington, D.C. Elly, thanks so much for coming in. We appreciate it.

YU: Thank you.

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