News Brief: Hopes Dwindle For North Korea Meeting, Southern Primary Results, Olympics Scandal

May 23, 2018
Originally published on May 23, 2018 10:26 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Expectations for this North Korea nuclear summit are shrinking, it seems.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah, there are two questions here. One of them is what a meeting between two presidents, President Trump and Kim Jong Un, can really accomplish. And the other question is whether they will meet at all.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There's a very substantial chance that it won't work out, and that's OK. That doesn't mean it won't work out over a period of time.

INSKEEP: President Trump was speaking with reporters on Tuesday as he met with South Korea's president. So where does that leave a president whose supporters have already been plugging him for a Nobel Prize?

MARTIN: Right. OK. NPR's Scott Horsley covers the White House. He joins us now.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So President Trump made this remark in the middle of a meeting that was about trying to keep the June 12 nuclear summit on track. So what's going on? Is he lowering expectations on purpose here?

HORSLEY: Well, this may be an effort by the president to sort of recalibrate. As y'all mentioned, expectations have been getting sky-high in recent weeks, not only to talk about the Nobel Prize...

MARTIN: (Laughter) Right.

HORSLEY: ...But a military arm of the White House even minted a commemorative coin for this summit. So the president might be trying to signal to Kim Jong Un that - yeah, look, I'm not really in any great big hurry to sit down with you.

INSKEEP: Those coins will be great collectors' items if the summit...

MARTIN: If it happens.

INSKEEP: ...Does not happen.

MARTIN: Or - that's true.

HORSLEY: Either way.

INSKEEP: Even if it - yeah, exactly.

MARTIN: Yeah, right - either way.

INSKEEP: Anyway, go on.

HORSLEY: You know, the likelihood of the summit has actually been kind of in doubt for more than a week, since there was this abrupt shift in tone from North Korea. Kim went from conciliatory gestures like releasing American prisoners to more combative messages, suggesting he might not be so ready to give up his nuclear weapons.

MARTIN: Right. And part of that was the North's resistance to this idea on behalf of the Trump administration that Kim Jong Un needs to agree to completely giving up all its nuclear weapons, all the country's nuclear weapons at the same time. Yesterday, though, the president suggested he might be more flexible on this, that he might not force the North to ditch the whole program in one fell swoop. Let's listen.

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TRUMP: It would certainly be better if it were all in one. Does it have to be? I don't think I want to totally commit myself. But all in one would be a lot better.

MARTIN: Is he making a concession?

HORSLEY: It certainly suggests that there's at least some wiggle room. You know, South Korea and China have long supported a more step-by-step approach with trust-building measures along the way, unlike the U.S. which, as you say, has insisted that North Korea completely get rid of its nuclear program before it gets any relief from economic sanctions.

Trump appeared to at least open the door just a crack for some kind of negotiation there. And he also acknowledged the physical challenge. You know, North Korea's nuclear program is much farther along than, say, the program in Libya or...

MARTIN: Right.

HORSLEY: ...Iran when they made deals with the international community. So packing it up and just getting rid of it may not be all that simple.

MARTIN: OK. Before I let you go, Scott, we have to talk about these reports in The New York Times, also The Washington Post, reports that a business partner - a significant partner of Michael Cohen - of course, this is the president's personal lawyer - that this business partner of Cohen's is now cooperating with officials, that he has made a plea deal. What's the latest?

HORSLEY: Yeah, this is Evgeny Freidman, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion in New York state and is reportedly cooperating. He's a partner with Michael Cohen in the New York taxi business. He's not directly related to the president or the special counsel's probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. But his cooperation does add to the considerable legal pressure on Michael Cohen. And that (unintelligible) could increase the likelihood that Cohen himself cooperates with the special counsel.

MARTIN: All right, NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: All right. This morning, we've got a clearer picture of who will be running in the midterm elections this fall.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Democrats nominated new faces in Georgia, Texas, Kentucky and Arkansas. And they include Stacey Abrams of Georgia, who is the first black woman nominated by a major party to serve as governor in any state.

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STACEY ABRAMS: We are writing the next chapter of Georgia's future, where no one is unseen, no one is unheard and no one uninspired.

INSKEEP: Now, to be clear, she ain't governor yet. She's got the fall election, and two Republicans will be in a runoff to face her. She's a progressive who beat out a more moderate Democrat in the primary. Same thing happened in Kentucky. So what's all that signal about the elections this fall?

MARTIN: Let us ask NPR's Kelsey Snell, who happens to be in the studio.

Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi, there.

MARTIN: All right, let's start with Georgia - big night for progressive Democrats there.

SNELL: Yeah, absolutely. This was all part of a broader trend that we have been seeing over and over here, where we're talking about a lot of new faces. And - we just heard from Stacey Abrams. She is one of those people who Democrats were really hoping would energize voters to come out and show up, not just at, you know, these runoffs and these primaries but at the general election in November, which is a big concern that they have.

We saw that same kind of thing happening in other states like Texas, where we had progressive candidates who didn't make it through. But you had a new face, a newcomer who Democrats are excited about. Another woman won in the Houston suburbs. And we saw another similar trend keep playing out in a number of races. Establishment...

MARTIN: Kentucky.

SNELL: Yeah, Kentucky...

MARTIN: Amy McGrath, kind of an unknown.

SNELL: An unknown, but she is, you know, one of the first fighter pilots. She has a really unique profile that Democrats hope will, you know, help bring people out to the polls.

MARTIN: Lots of ladies.

SNELL: Yes, absolutely.

MARTIN: Let's talk about Republicans, though. The president was out on the stump yesterday veering a little bit off message, as he is known to do, suggesting that voters should show up this year for the midterm elections. But after all, maybe it's not as important as it was when he was actually on the ballot. So that ruffled some feathers, to be sure, among the GOP - among his GOP colleagues. But his poll numbers are up. Republicans are feeling pretty good in this moment?

SNELL: Republicans are feeling really great in this moment. We've - I've been talking to Republican strategists over the past week who say that trends are moving in the right direction. But they really need the president to stay on message and help bring Republican voters to the polls because as much as Democrats are banking on these new faces and these fresh ideas to bring their voters out, Republicans need the president to help bring establishment Republicans and his very specific base of very energized voters to the polls. And when he goes out in these events and says things like maybe your votes don't matter as much this time around, that doesn't help the message that they need him to carry.

MARTIN: Although it does get a good laugh.

SNELL: It does.

INSKEEP: And gets maybe more attention for the remark...

MARTIN: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Than if he'd just said it straight.

MARTIN: Right.

SNELL: You know, this brings to mind that we are talking a lot about outsiders again. And that's something that we saw back in 2010 when Republicans had that big Tea Party wave. But Democrats are hoping that they have newcomers and new faces that are more establishment and are a little bit, you know, more likely to bring out the traditional voters that they'd like to see.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Kelsey Snell for us this morning.

Thanks so much, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right, it could be an emotional day on Capitol Hill today because we're going to hear testimony from the U.S. Olympic Committee, some members of that committee and the heads of several Team USA sports.

INSKEEP: Yeah, they face questions about athletes victimized by coaches and trainers and, most notably, a team doctor. What started with allegations from a few athletes has mushroomed into an institutional scandal affecting hundreds.

SARAH EHEKIRCHER: I actually get a little bit sick. You know, I think about the first time, and I feel like I was brainwashed or manipulated.

INSKEEP: That is swimmer Sarah Ehekircher discussing a years-long sexual relationship with her coach that she claims started when she was 17 and he was 34.

MARTIN: Alexandra Starr has been reporting on this scandal from the outset. And she is with us in the studio.

Thanks for coming in.

ALEXANDRA STARR, BYLINE: My pleasure.

MARTIN: So as lawmakers are going to be posing these questions to the representatives of these sports, there are new allegations. Right?

STARR: That's right.

MARTIN: What can you tell us?

STARR: So earlier this week, Ariana Kukors Smith - she's a former Olympic swimmer - sued USA Swimming along with her former coach. And she alleges that USA Swimming failed to protect her. She says that he started a predatory relationship with her when she was a teenager. What was striking about that lawsuit is that they say in it that another Olympic swimmer is going to come forward and that another Olympic swim coach will be named...

MARTIN: Wow.

STARR: ...In the weeks ahead. Yeah.

MARTIN: So who are we going to see up at the Hill today? Who are they, and what's significant about them?

STARR: So we're going to see the interim head of the USOC. The former head stepped down, ostensibly because he's being treated for cancer. But, you know, the Larry Nassar scandal blew up on his watch.

MARTIN: Right.

STARR: And then representatives from four sports - volleyball, swimming, taekwondo and gymnastics - and all four of those sports have seen major scandals in the past year.

MARTIN: So what's Congress going to be looking for? What leverage do they have in addressing any of this?

STARR: That's a good question. So these sports are governed by something called the Ted Stevens Act. And the question is, should Congress have more leverage or police the USOC, the U.S. Olympic Committee, more aggressively? Because the argument is that they have not worked as hard to protect athletes, that the No. 1 priority of that organization has been money and medals. And that has come at the expense of, you know, protecting young girls in particular.

MARTIN: Can these sports recover? I mean, is it impeding their ability to recruit new talent?

STARR: Not yet, not yet. But I do see news stories coming forward. I think also there is just sort of this increased awareness. And I think we're just going to be hearing more stories in, you know, the weeks and months ahead.

MARTIN: NPR's Alexandra Starr, thank you so much.

STARR: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUCHS' "REVERIE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.