News Brief: Report Criticizes Comey, Republicans To Vote On Immigration, Tariffs On China

Jun 15, 2018
Originally published on June 15, 2018 12:19 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There is growing outrage over the U.S. government's detention of migrant children. Some children arrive at the border alone. Others are separated from their parents after they're detained. More than 10,000 are in custody, and the government says it's running out of space to put them.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, yesterday, defended the administration's policy choice. He said it is the administration practice to follow U.S. law.

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JEFF SESSIONS: Many of the criticisms raised in recent days are not fair, not logical and some are contrary to plain law. First, illegal entry into the United States is a crime. It should be. It must be, if you're going to have a legal system and have any limits whatsoever.

INSKEEP: Although the question of course is, what happens to people after they're stopped for committing that crime? Sessions answered criticism by people he called our church friends. Southern Baptists, among others, have criticized family separation at the border. In response, the attorney general cited the Bible, the book of Romans, obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.

MARTIN: All right, NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is here in the studio.

Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: All right, the White House keeps saying that this is the law. We're just enforcing it. If you want to change the law, change it. So first off, can we just clarify, is separating families at the border based on the U.S. law?

DAVIS: No, it is not law. It is the interpretation of a 1997 court decision that does address what you do with people when they approach the border. What the Trump administration has done is they have taken that court decision and made an executive action that determines that families should be separated. In prior administrations, including the Obama administration, when families would approach the border, they would detain them but they would keep them together. Now they are being separated. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan has said this is based on a court settlement and why Congress is looking to act because it needs a law.

MARTIN: So Paul Ryan, yesterday, expressing, as you note, some criticism of this policy - so is Congress going to do anything here?

DAVIS: They are going to take up immigration next week. It would address families at the border. It would require them to be kept together. If they are detained, they could not be separated, or a child would have to stay with at least one parent. It's tucked into a broader immigration bill that's going to attempt to address legal status for people who are brought here as children, include money for a border wall, restrict legal immigration. The question is we don't know if it will pass. And if it doesn't pass, then the onus goes back to the Trump administration to either continue this policy or stop it, which they do have the authority to do.

MARTIN: So this is the same debate we've been having now for months, if not years, over immigration. What are the current fault lines?

DAVIS: The fault lines really are within the Republican Party. They haven't really asked Democrats to the table on this. The compromise bill, as they're calling it, next week, is really a compromise within the ideological wings of the party, between conservatives and moderates. And where this policy actually has broad support to change in Congress might just get bogged down in this broader, intractable immigration debate, particularly over the question of, do you ever provide a path to citizenship for people that are residing here in the country illegally? So if it doesn't pass, it's more because it will fall victim to a broader immigration debate, not because Congress thinks families should be separated at the border.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, midterms are approaching. And so no doubt, this is going to be a political issue come those votes. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thanks so much, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Extraordinary and insubordinate - that's what a Justice Department watchdog had to say about how former FBI Director James Comey handled Hillary Clinton's email investigation.

INSKEEP: Yeah, this inspector general's report faulted Comey for talking too much during the 2016 presidential campaign. You may recall that Comey's FBI decided not to charge Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server as secretary of state. But Comey publicly criticized her without the permission of her boss. Yet the inspector general found something else. Here's the new FBI director Christopher Wray.

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CHRISTOPHER WRAY: This report did not find any evidence of political bias or improper considerations actually impacting the investigation under review.

MARTIN: All right, we've got NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson with us here this morning.

Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: I want to start by reading a tweet from the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara who said the IG report is, quote, "careful, thorough, detailed and fair in all its parts. Now let the poisonous cherry-picking begin," suggesting there that there's basically something for every partisan in this report.

JOHNSON: That's true. And that's been the case about this investigation even before this massive 500-page report came out. Democrats are still very upset about former FBI Director Jim Comey talking too much about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. Clinton says it may have cost her the race. And Republicans are really unhappy with the special counsel, the current special counsel, investigating Russian interference in the election. And they're using these allegations to try to damage the credibility of the FBI and the Justice Department.

MARTIN: So we should just briefly remind listeners what was in this. Right? On the whole, James Comey is cleared of being motivated by any kind of political bias. But as we noted, he was described as being insubordinate in his actions. But also, there were these two FBI officials who were caught in this text message exchange that was seen to be extremely partisan.

JOHNSON: Very unseemly text messages exchanged by Lisa Page, a former lawyer at the FBI; Peter Strzok, a top agent there, including one in which Page talks about Trump can't become president - right? And Strzok says, no, we'll stop him. That's raising a lot of questions. The inspector general says the damage caused by their actions extends far beyond the scope of this investigation. It goes to the very heart of the FBI's credibility as a neutral fact-finder free from political interference.

MARTIN: Is there going to be any fallout here, either for those FBI officials - or really, what does it mean for James Comey's legacy?

JOHNSON: Yeah, the IG has referred not just Page and Strzok but three other unnamed FBI people for possible internal discipline. The IG is testifying on Capitol Hill next week. As for Jim Comey, he says that he doesn't agree with all the recommendations and things in this report but he respects the process and the inspector general.

MARTIN: We should say, he clearly had his op-ed ready to go.

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MARTIN: As soon as this IG report came out, all of a sudden, his op-ed defending his actions was online.

INSKEEP: I think there's one thing that is worth just keeping in mind here. There are separate, different investigations. There's the email investigation. There's the Russia investigation. They get conflated all the time.

MARTIN: Right.

INSKEEP: Obviously, they get conflated deliberately all the time. And it's valuable for us as citizens just to remember that there are different things going on.

MARTIN: Separate.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

MARTIN: Carrie, before we let you go, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign manager, is going to see special counsel Robert Mueller today in court. What's happening there?

JOHNSON: Yes, Manafort is in court for a hearing on whether his bail might be revoked. Manafort could wind up in jail while he waits for trial.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Carrie Johnson for us this morning.

Thanks, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right, here's a line you've probably heard before. The Trump administration says it plans to impose new tariffs.

INSKEEP: I have heard that line before. Well, here we go again. Later today, the White House is expected to release a list of Chinese goods subject to tariffs of up to 25 percent. China has warned it will not hesitate to retaliate.

MARTIN: Let's explore this - shall we? - with NPR's Uri Berliner.

Hey, Uri.

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: First off, do we know which products are going to be slapped with these tariffs?

BERLINER: Well, the initial list of these tariffs included things like touch screens, hearing aids, medical devices - mostly pretty high-tech things. And we expect that this final list will be somewhat smaller but very similar. So the idea really is to thwart China's developing technology industries rather than impose tariffs on your basic consumer goods, things like T-shirts and socks and toys.

MARTIN: So how did we get to this point because it wasn't that long ago the U.S. and China had high-level trade representatives who were meeting face-to-face to try to avert a trade war? And now it feels like it's escalating.

BERLINER: It sure does. You know, there seemed to be some progress, some willingness from the Chinese side to buy more products from the U.S. But these trade tensions have been simmering all along. And as we've seen, the administration is willing to go ahead and impose tariffs on steel and aluminum with some of the U.S.'s closest allies.

MARTIN: I thought, at its core, this was really all about intellectual property disputes - right? - that China was violating intellectual property rules. But none of what we're seeing in terms of these tariffs really addresses that, does it?

BERLINER: Well, the extent to which these items that are on the list are high-tech items, that's the motivation there. But there are other ways to go after China for things like forcing American companies to transfer their technology, intellectual property. The U.S. can pressure the Chinese government to crack down on counterfeits. The U.S. can pressure the Chinese government to crack down on companies that ignore things like patents and copyrights.

MARTIN: So you're saying that the products that are on this list are somehow a violation of U.S. intellectual property, that these were things that were actually created by the U.S.?

BERLINER: Well, the products on the list are high-tech items. So it's clear that the intention here is to go after Chinese developing technology industries, the areas in which the U.S. thinks the Chinese have been stealing intellectual property or violating those.

MARTIN: So what effect does any of this have on the markets because, as we know, trade wars historically have been bad for the economy? But so much of this has been, like, two steps forward, one step back. Like, how can the market read what's happening?

BERLINER: Well, it is hard to get a read on it because the administration could scale back some of these tariffs or phase them in gradually. You know, so far, we haven't seen much effect on the economy. But what's notable is that the escalation of these trade tensions are coming when the economies of both countries are doing quite well. China's economy did really well in the first quarter. It's had a little bit of a bump. And the U.S. economy, as you know, has done very well. Unemployment is at 3.8 percent. Wages are starting to rise. So the timing is notable.

MARTIN: NPR's Uri Berliner for us this morning talking the China trade tariffs.

Uri, thanks as always.

BERLINER: Of course. Thanks, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNKALLISTO'S "FORKED TONGUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.