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Morning News Brief: Russia Probes, Louisville Clinic Protests


President Trump's son-in-law is famous for trying to stay in the background, or at least to try to stay away from microphones. This week though, he is the focus of the Russia investigation.


He goes to Congress twice.

Remember, Jared Kushner turned up at a meeting with a Russian lawyer. It was a meeting where Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Well, that's likely to be just one of the topics because today Kushner meets the Senate intelligence committee and then tomorrow, the House intelligence committee.

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, who's on the House committee, spoke on CBS's "Face The Nation."


ADAM SCHIFF: There's a lot we want to know. We certainly want to know about several of the meetings that have been alleged to have taken place.

MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro is here with the week look-ahead. Hey, Domenico.


MARTIN: All right, so Adam Schiff talking there about that meeting with the Russian lawyer that's gotten Trump Jr. into hot water. Kushner was at that meeting. They're going to want to know about what was the substance of those conversations for sure. Other big questions likely to come up?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, that meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort and those various Russian nationals is certainly going to be one thing, but there are a lot of other things that are possible here. You know, he - Kushner filed an incomplete disclosure that he then amended that left out a big loan that could have ties to Russia. He had a meeting in December with a - with a Russian banking official. You know, and he's - he likely had a desire to set up a back channel with Russia to be able to communicate with - with the president. And...

MARTIN: He seems to have a history of leaving out things on these disclosure forms.

Didn't he also amend a national security clearance, adding 100 names, at least?

MONTANARO: Yeah, there's that (laughter), which is - you know, they're going to want clarity on a lot of these things.

And, you know, there is his 666 Fifth Ave. building in Manhattan, in which, you know, he owes still $1.3 billion on that loan that has to be paid back in two years.

And you have a lot of people in Congress wondering if some of these meetings that he set up, especially with the Russian banking official Sergey Gorkov, was really because he's trying to secure a loan.

MARTIN: So back to this Russian - the meeting with the Russian lawyer, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort were supposed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. They got out of doing that, at least publicly.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, they're still meeting Wednesday in a deal struck with the committee. They're only meeting behind closed doors. That's disappointing for those of us who, you know, want to hear everything about this and get more information. The committee says this is a first step and that they reserve the right to compel them to testify publicly at another time.

MARTIN: So they'll hand over documents if asked and - and perhaps we could see them on camera answering those questions.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, notably they're not under oath behind closed doors, and there's a little bit of a flap over that with Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the judiciary committee, who said, well, you know, anything that's said to Congress would be - if someone lies, it would be illegal. But that's a little bit different than being under oath.

MARTIN: So, of course, all of this is happening as the White House communication team got a bit of an overhaul. Sean Spicer is out. That had been rumored for months. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is in as the new press secretary. Anthony Scaramucci, longtime Trump loyalist, is now onboard, on staff as the new communications director for the White House. What's that mean to you - a sign that the communication strategy up till now hasn't been working?

MONTANARO: Well, Trump hasn't been thrilled with how the communications staff has been operating, especially when it comes to leaks and the fact that there's so much information that's getting out beyond his control.

Scaramucci was on a bunch of Sunday shows and decided to make that a major topic. He had a little bit of a rougher time, but Scaramucci's a Trump guy. You know, Spicer never was quite the right fit. And now Scaramucci's going to have his work cut out for him.

INSKEEP: Different communications team, different face, but still the same president, and he is still his own chief communicator. Scaramucci said one thing over the weekend, noting that at 71, President Trump is not likely to change. And just yesterday, Trump was tweeting again, blaming Republicans for not protecting him. He's still going to be the chief spokesman for himself.

MARTIN: Going right to Twitter. OK, NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks so much, Domenico.

MONTANARO: Thank you, Rachel.


MARTIN: The national debate over abortion is unfolding at an abortion clinic in Kentucky today.

INSKEEP: The clinic is the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville. Groups opposed to abortion have been protesting there for days, and this week they hope to shut the place down. A judge has temporarily ordered some members of that group to stay out of a so-called buffer zone around the clinic. An abortion rights supporter with the ACLU said this buffer zone is critical.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Lower-level criminal activities are prosecuted. They don't tend to escalate into the kinds of arsons, bombings and murders that we've too often seen.

INSKEEP: And to be clear, the protests so far have been peaceful.

MARTIN: We're going to talk now with Lisa Gillespie. She is health and innovation reporter at member station WFPL in Louisville, Ky. Lisa, what can you tell us about the group that is doing the protesting?

LISA GILLESPIE, BYLINE: Sure, they're named Operation Save America. They used to be Operation Rescue. And they're a fundamentalist Christian group based out of Texas and North Carolina. And their main thing is having abortion basically be gone, you know. And they're focusing on closing down the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville.

MARTIN: Have they had success before in getting clinics shut down?

GILLESPIE: No, they haven't. Although, you know, earlier this year Governor Matt Bevin met with their leaders, and Governor Bevin has talked about how he's unapologetically anti-abortion. And he has used some safety and health excuses to - to try to shut down some of these places. And he - there was a, you know, abortion clinic in Lexington, Ky., that shut down earlier, and the Planned Parenthood as well, in Louisville, is no longer open.

MARTIN: And so this is now, to be clear, the last place where - if a woman wants to get an abortion, this is the last place she can go in - in the state.

GILLESPIE: Right, yeah.

MARTIN: So what happens over the next couple of days? This group is - other protests have been happening, but this main fundamentalist Christian group is planning a conference and potentially other protests this week.

GILLESPIE: Right, yeah, that kicks off today. A week-long protest, and the biggest protest, is - is expected to happen outside the clinic on Saturday morning. OSA has about - over 450 people here. And this morning, there's going to be a hearing on a buffer zone that was put in place over the weekend.

MARTIN: Buffer zone - we should say, an area where protesters can't go in order to protect staff who might be going into the clinic.

GILLESPIE: Right, and they'll be talking about whether that will be temporary or permanent.


INSKEEP: It's a remarkable moment in history - isn't it? - where it seems like just about every major issue in this country is being contested all at once. And abortion is certainly one of them.

MARTIN: Yeah, back to the fore - Lisa Gillespie, she covers health and innovation for our member station WFPL in Louisville, Ky. Hey, Lisa, thanks so much.

GILLESPIE: Thank you.


MARTIN: Now to a mosque at the center of Jerusalem, which remains a center of tension. To be precise, the dispute is over Israeli security measures after an attack there.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

INSKEEP: We're hearing Palestinians who said prayers in the street last night outside the holy site as they've been doing for a week or so. They've been protesting Israel's insistence that Muslim worshippers enter the site through metal detectors. The dispute involves neighboring Jordan, which is supposed to be involved in decisions about that site.

MARTIN: So for the latest on this, we turn now to NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Hey, Daniel.


MARTIN: So how do we get to this point? I mean, why did these security detectors go up in the first place?

ESTRIN: Well, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel carried out a deadly shooting there a little bit over a week ago, killing Israeli policemen. Israel put up those metal detectors saying that they're necessary. And - but Palestinians say this is just another way of Israel trying to take more control of the site, which is run by Muslim authorities.

MARTIN: So how is that going over within the general population? I mean, something like this - any little issue can - can reignite tensions.

ESTRIN: Right, there have been Palestinian protests and prayers for days now. And the crisis has also spilled over now into Jordan. Israel says a Jordanian man stabbed an Israeli Embassy security guard Sunday in the Jordanian capital. The Israeli guard then shot and killed the stabber and another Jordanian. And so now there's a standoff between Israel and Jordan about it. And this is significant because Jordan plays a key role in this whole crisis. Jordan oversees religious affairs at that Jerusalem religious site.

MARTIN: Ah, so it is connected to this mosque and these metal detectors.

ESTRIN: Right, and so now there are efforts to try to resolve the situation. But, you know, Jordan is a key element here. And with this crisis now between Israel and Jordan, it's going to complicate these efforts.

MARTIN: So we haven't heard much about the U.S. in all of this, but the Trump administration has talked an awful lot about trying to achieve Middle East peace where so many other administrations have failed. Do we know if any U.S. officials are weighing in to this particular moment?

ESTRIN: Yes, Trump's envoy Jason Greenblatt is headed to Israel today to try to reduce tensions. So we will have to see if he has any luck in moderating this crisis that has been going on for - now for more than a week.

MARTIN: What's the situation at the mosque right now? Do we know?

ESTRIN: Palestinians continue to hold prayers outside the mosque. And oftentimes, for many days now, these protests - or these prayers have become kind of protests and...

MARTIN: But the metal detectors are...

ESTRIN: ...Have been met with clashes by Israeli police.

MARTIN: ...The metal detectors are still up?

ESTRIN: And the metal detectors are still up.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting from Jerusalem this morning. Thanks so much, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF LRKR'S "BLUE LOVE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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