News Brief: 2nd Whistleblower, Turkey To Move Into Syria, GM Strike
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Another witness has information about President Trump and his dealings with Ukraine.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Lawyers for the first whistleblower who filed an intelligence complaint say they're now representing a second person. That person says they have firsthand knowledge of the phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president. This is the call, of course, that triggered an impeachment inquiry into the president.
GREENE: And let's talk about this by - NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe's with us this morning. Hi, Ayesha.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: OK. Now, a second person coming forward, it sounds like. What are they alleging? And how different is it from what we seem to know so far?
RASCOE: So they're saying that this second person is corroborating some of the - they're saying that the second person is corroborating some of the allegations from the first whistleblower. And as you said - I'm sorry. I'm getting really - I'm getting bad feedback. I can't...
RASCOE: Yeah. Sorry. I'm hearing myself.
GREENE: OK. You know what? Ayesha, stay with us. We'll come back to you in a minute.
But I want to - I want to turn to another story at this point. And it takes us to northern Syria, where the United States is now stepping aside. And Turkey's military is about to enter that area. This is a really complicated story, so we should recall some of the basics here. The United States has been fighting in Syria alongside local allies against ISIS. Key U.S. allies in northern Syria include ethnic Kurds, who we've reported on a lot. But that same ethnic group is regarded with suspicion by neighboring Turkey, which has a Kurdish population and where some Kurdish groups are labeled as terrorists.
Well, now, in a part of Syria, the United States moves out. Turkey goes in. The White House is saying it will neither support nor be involved in the Turkish operation, but it's not going to get in the way either. And let's go to NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Good morning, Peter.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So the Kurds - so important here. They've been allies of the United States. But you have two NATO allies, Turkey and the U.S., with completely opposite views of these Kurdish fighters. Why is that?
KENYON: Well, since the mid-1980s, the Turkish military has been fighting Kurdish militants from a group known as the PKK - the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Now, these Syrian Kurdish fighters are a different group, but they share some of the same ideology. And for Turkey, there's basically no difference. They say they're all anti-Turkish terrorists. Turkey's never been happy that the Pentagon partnered with the Syrian Kurds in their efforts to clear Islamic State's so-called caliphate in Syria.
But then President Trump, when he declared victory over ISIS and said U.S. troops are coming out, that left these Syrian Kurdish fighters with a pretty uncertain future. And now Erdogan says all preparations for a Turkish military operation are now complete, and the White House statement confirms that it believes Ankara will be going ahead with it.
GREENE: But help me understand this even more here. I mean, aren't Turkish and U.S. militaries, the two of them, carrying out joint operations in this area, working together to secure parts of northern Syria despite this different view of the Kurds?
KENYON: Yes, absolutely. There have been joint patrols, three of them so far. The Pentagon has always said it takes Turkey's security concerns seriously. There have been ongoing talks focused on creating a safe zone in northern Syria. But there's some serious disagreement. Turkey wants that zone to be bigger than the U.S. envisioned - nearly 20 miles deep into Syrian territory, roughly 300 miles wide.
And now this latest statement from the White House makes clear, as you mentioned, that the U.S. armed forces aren't supporting any Turkish operation, won't be involved in it. But it also basically says - hey, these Syrian Kurdish allies will now have to fend for themselves. And the Kurdish-led Syrian defense forces have responded with a statement confirming the U.S. withdrawal is underway and adding that this failure to meet U.S. commitments will have a great negative impact on the fight against Islamic State forces.
GREENE: Why now, Peter? What is the timing of this?
KENYON: Well, there is this question of a perceived threat from the Syrian Kurdish fighters that Turkey sees just across the border. But also, here in Turkey, there is serious pressure to do something about 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. That's the official figure. And President Erdogan has said as many as 2 million refugees could be relocated to northern Syria once it's safe. So that's certainly part of the motivation.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks so much.
KENYON: Thanks, David.
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GREENE: OK. Now for more on these impeachment developments, we're joined by NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Hi, Ayesha.
RASCOE: Good morning.
GREENE: OK. So as we mentioned, a second person has now come forward, apparently with knowledge of President Trump and Ukraine. What are they alleging? And is the information that we're getting from this person new?
RASCOE: Well - so they're saying that the second person is corroborating some of the allegations from the first whistleblower. And as you said, this person has direct knowledge of some of those things that were talked about in the original complaint. We don't know the specifics of that at this point. But this is significant because President Trump and his supporters have attacked the first whistleblower's account as just hearsay. I should be clear that this second person hasn't actually filed a separate complaint. But they did talk to the inspector general of the intelligence community. And the lawyers representing this whistleblower say that that is enough to provide them with legal protection from retaliation.
Another potential wrinkle in this news is that one of the lawyers representing that first whistleblower and - tweeted that I can confirm that my firm and my team represent multiple whistleblowers in connection with this August 12, 2019, disclosure, which is basically the complaint. It's unclear if multiple means more than two. Based on the English language, it means more than one. So it could just be the two whistleblowers that we're talking about. Or it's - we don't know if it means that there is more than just the two that we've been talking about.
GREENE: Interesting. Well, the emergence of a second whistleblower, does that change the impeachment inquiry that is taking place in Congress right now in some way?
RASCOE: It gives it more momentum. And there's a long way to go. None of us know where this will end up. But these allegations are not going away anytime soon, especially when you have more people coming out about them and possibly adding to that first complaint or adding some weight to that first complaint. And it provides another avenue for Democrats to investigate.
GREENE: Democrats to investigate - but one of the big questions here is whether there would ever be a big crack in the Republican Party, if you ever saw any number of Republicans abandoning President Trump. How are Republicans reacting to this fresh news so far?
RASCOE: Most Republican lawmakers are defending Trump and arguing that the president raised legitimate concerns during that July call with Ukraine's president, which is at the center of this. Senator Ron Johnson last week had raised some eyebrows because he said that he'd heard, before all of this became public, that Trump might be holding up aid to Ukraine over this desire for an investigation into the 2016 election by Ukraine. He said that Trump had denied this to him.
But he basically, yesterday, was saying - he wouldn't go into details about that. But he did attack the press and argued that Trump had been mistreated.
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RON JOHNSON: There is potential interference in the 2016 campaign...
CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you this.
JOHNSON: That's what Trump wants to get to the bottom of. But the press doesn't want to...
TODD: Ambassador of...
JOHNSON: ...The people who wrote this article are being pilloried. I'm being called a conspiracy theorist because the press is horribly biased.
RASCOE: So we should be clear that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. And there's no evidence at this point about these theories that Ukraine was somehow involved in the interference in the 2016 election.
GREENE: All right. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Ayesha, thanks a lot.
RASCOE: Thank you.
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GREENE: All right. Looked like there was a glimmer of progress over the weekend, but that did not last long for nearly 50,000 striking autoworkers.
INSKEEP: Yeah. On Sunday, the United Auto Workers union said that contract talks with General Motors had taken a, quote, "turn for the worse." The union has been on strike over wages and the company's reliance on temporary workers since mid-September. That makes this one of the biggest and longest strikes for a private company in some 50 years.
GREENE: All right. Michigan Radio's Dustin Dwyer has been following the story, and he joins us this morning from Grand Rapids, Mich. Hi, Dustin.
DUSTIN DWYER, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: So how did these all-important talks deteriorate over the last few days?
DWYER: Well, what we understand - the information we're getting is from the UAW's vice president, Terry Dittes, who sends letters to members to update them. And on Friday, he sent a letter saying that the talks had made good progress. And it was a great sign because it's been more than three weeks now. We're heading into our fourth week of the strike, and there hadn't been a lot of talk of good progress. But on Friday, they said there was good progress. By Sunday, that had completely changed.
In his latest update on Sunday, he said that the union had sent its latest proposal to General Motors. He claimed that that proposal included things like wages, signing bonus, job security, pensions, skilled trades and other things, he says. But when he says that GM got back to the union, it didn't respond to any of those things in the union's latest proposal and instead just reverted back to GM's previous proposal that had been on the table.
Now, GM says it's proposed to invest $7 billion, create 5,400 new jobs, invest in plants in Michigan and Ohio. It says it's negotiating in good faith and will continue to do so. But for right now, it certainly seems like things aren't going well.
GREENE: And as the strike goes on and on and on, which matters to workers and families, obviously, what are people on the picket line telling you at this point?
DWYER: Well, I was there last week when they picked up - a lot of workers picked up their first strike check. They're now eligible for their second strike check. Their strike pay is only $250 per week, which is not a lot to live off of. One guy told me it wouldn't even cover half of his propane bill. So it's just really starting to hurt workers at this point. It's really starting to be felt financially, both by the individual picketers on the line and by people who work at suppliers. There's been more suppliers doing layoffs. And the longer this goes, you can imagine it cascades farther and farther down the supply line. It starts to affect more and more businesses and hit more and more pocketbooks.
GREENE: And what, briefly, is important to the workers on the picket line? What do they feel like they're fighting for most passionately?
DWYER: Well, the thing that people say to me most is temporary workers. These are workers who are hired into GM but have no real recourse or benefits to stay on. They can be fired at any time. And the workers on the picket line say they really want to resolve that issue and get more security for these temporary workers.
GREENE: Dustin Dwyer from Michigan Radio joining us from Grand Rapids, Mich., this morning. Dustin, thanks so much.
DWYER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "LOST CHILD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.