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Morning News Brief

Oct 18, 2018
Originally published on October 18, 2018 6:25 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Details keep emerging about what is on those alleged recordings of Jamal Khashoggi's torture and murder by Saudi agents.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Remember Khashoggi is the dissident Saudi journalist who was last seen October 2 when he went into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkish officials say the tapes are indeed real. President Trump seems to have his doubts, though.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have asked for it, if it exists. We have asked for it, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You have asked. But you haven't gotten it.

TRUMP: We've asked for it, if it exists.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you surprised that they haven't turned it over? Or...

TRUMP: No. I'm not sure yet that it exists - probably does, possibly does. I'll have a full report on that from Mike when he comes back.

MARTIN: The Mike he's referring to is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is now back in Washington after meetings with leaders in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. On the way home from that trip, Pompeo kept reminding reporters that Saudi Arabia is a strong U.S. ally.

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MIKE POMPEO: I do think it's important that everyone keep in their mind that we have lots of important relationships - financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, governmental relationships, things that we work on together all across the world - efforts to reduce the risk to the United States of America from the world's largest state sponsor of terror, Iran. The Saudis have been great partners in working alongside us.

KING: NPR's Deb Amos has reported from Saudi Arabia for decades. Good morning, Deb.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So you have known Jamal Khashoggi for a long time. Last night, The Washington Post published a column that he wrote that his editors got the day after he was reported missing. And the headline is "What The Arab World Needs Most Is Free Expression." And this column basically condemns Arab governments for their crackdowns on the press. I wonder - when you read this column, what stands out to you?

AMOS: You know, what strikes me is that he's written his own obit. He spent most of his life in newsrooms. He cared passionately about the free press. And he was often fired for crossing some line that an Arab official didn't like. What turns out to be my last conversation with him was he wanted to open a public broadcasting television station that would broadcast into the Arab world, and he said he had the funds to do it.

KING: This is interesting. So he had big plans. You know, in his column, he does not mention him by name, but it's clear that Khashoggi is talking about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Until this scandal, the crown prince had become kind of a darling of the West, including here in the U.S. Who is he?

AMOS: So he came of age at his father's side when his father was the governor of Riyadh. You know, his brothers went to the West; they got advanced degrees. But he stayed in Saudi Arabia. When his father came to power, he began to craft this image of himself as a change agent, a disrupter. He was promising to bring Saudi Arabia into the modern age. And he did a lot of that - he allowed women to drive; he reduced the role of the religious police. But at the same time, he was consolidating his power. He eventually controlled all the levers of power in the kingdom.

You know the West embraced him even as he launched this devastating war in Yemen, these sweeping arrests of critics. He detained the prime minister of Lebanon for a while.

KING: Yeah.

AMOS: He's acknowledged jailing 1,500 people, including 300 relatives in a five-star hotel and basically demanding a ransom for their release.

KING: The crown prince has made an interesting argument, which is that he is a disrupter, and that in order to bring the Saudi royal kingdom into the 21st century, he needs absolute control. You've worked in this country for many years. Is there anything to that argument?

AMOS: You know, that's really hard for me to say. But what's happened now is the world is seeing him as behind this gruesome murder. You know, his reputation as being reckless and impulsive has just grown even as the West was feting him. You know, he made this trip in March across the United States to Hollywood to see, you know, tech giants. This was all in service of this vision he has for a new Saudi Arabia that needs Western investment. And that is what has been put at risk by these events in Istanbul.

KING: NPR's Deborah Amos.

Deb, thanks so much for joining us.

AMOS: Thank you.

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KING: All right. Here at home in the U.S., interest in politics - or at least in political revenge - is expected to push midterm turnout to levels that we haven't seen in decades.

MARTIN: Right. Early voting is now underway in 20 states. Yesterday was the first day for voters in Tennessee to cast early ballots. County election commission offices reported that lines were long. In Georgia, absentee voting has roughly doubled compared with this point in the 2014 midterm elections.

KING: NPR's lead political editor Domenico Montanaro has been following all of this.

Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So lines out the door at polling places, voter turnout at numbers not seen in decades - what's going on here?

MONTANARO: Well, look. Actually, I spoke with a turnout expert yesterday, Michael McDonald at the University of Florida. And he's forecasting that this year, turnout is expected to jump to between 45 and 50 percent. And that is remarkable for a midterm. Generally, midterms are pretty low-turnout affairs. Only about 4 in 10 people who are eligible to vote cast ballots. We had a record low for 70 years in 2014. And you know, that kind of turnout has not been seen since the mid-1960s if it gets to 45 to 50 percent. And of course, that was another time of social and cultural upheaval.

KING: Yeah, that's a really interesting point. What does Mr. McDonald base his predictions on?

MONTANARO: He said he bases it on essentially four things - one, that there is high turnout in primaries; there was high turnout in special elections; high self-reported interest in the election; and that these high levels of early voting that we've been talking about, that they're taking place - that all of those things, all those indicators are pointing in the same direction. McDonald told me, quote, "it's probably going to be a turnout rate that most people have never experienced in their lives for a midterm election."

KING: That's pretty exciting.

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KING: President Trump is headed to Montana today, which is the start of a three-day campaign trip to rally Republican voters. So what themes is he going to be hammering on as we get closer to Election Day?

MONTANARO: Well, he's all about what he's dubbed the liberal angry mob. Just last night, he tweeted - ahead of his Montana trip - about Democratic incumbent Senator Jon Tester and how he's, quote, "worse than the Democrat mob." And he's talking about because when Tester's office released information that Dr. Ronny Jackson in the White House had fostered a hostile work environment, that Jackson wound up withdrawing his nomination as VA secretary. And despite his withdrawal, now Trump is digging in saying that, you know, Tester behaved worse than the Democrat mob did with Justice K - that being Justice Kavanaugh.

Look; this is pretty transparent, Noel. This really has to do with Trump trying to keep the GOP base fired up heading into November. We know what the Kavanaugh confirmation battle did to Republican enthusiasm and spiking that. Tester's favored to win in one of these states that Trump won in in 2016, and there are competitive races in Nevada and Arizona as well, where Trump is also heading.

KING: Domenico, last question for you real quick - how do the high early voting numbers affect turnout on the actual Election Day, Tuesday, November 6?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, if you have something like a third of people turning out to vote early in this election, it could lessen lines and make it easier to vote on Election Day itself. But overall, it'll bring the floor way up, which is what a lot of people are predicting now.

KING: NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

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KING: All right. So there were hopes for a deal to ease the departure of the United Kingdom out of the EU. But those hopes are fading after a summit in Brussels that ended with no deal.

MARTIN: Right. And there are no further talks expected in coming weeks, so EU officials say they are preparing for the worst-case scenario.

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PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE: We are hiring lots of people for our customs. And the commission, we have asked tonight to work with even more vigor on the no-deal scenario, not that we expect that to happen. But we have to stand prepared.

MARTIN: That was the voice of the Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte offering that - what no one really wants to happen, the worst-case scenario there.

KING: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has been covering all this from Brussels. She's with us now.

Good morning, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So we cannot downplay the importance of this summit. This was a big deal. There were high expectations going into it. Right?

NELSON: There were. But those expect - excuse me - those expectations died along with a sense of urgency that something had to happen today if there was supposed to be a deal implemented in time. So instead of seeing what we normally see at these summits, which are people, like, staying up till the wee hours of the morning looking bleary-eyed as they hammer out a deal, we had EU leaders going out for fries and beer after a very civilized two-hour dinner meeting. So there really is nothing in the works at the moment.

KING: Was British Prime Minister Theresa May invited for beer and fries?

NELSON: She was not part of the outing. It was neighbors Germany, France, Luxembourg and Belgium - the leaders of those countries - that went out.

KING: All right. So what exactly went wrong at this summit?

NELSON: Well, it goes back to this old issue that's been just pervasive all along holding things up, and that's the border between the country of Ireland, which is in the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. They just can't come to an agreement about who's going to run the border - I mean, will it be an open border? Is the EU going to continue to be linked to the U.K.? - that sort of stuff. So it - they just cannot come to an agreement on it.

KING: Well, the EU had asked Theresa May to come to Brussels and give them some new ideas on the border. Did she have anything?

NELSON: She did not. She was very positive. People talked about her body language, the various leaders who spoke with the press, that she is very positive. But she had nothing new to offer. She did seem to be a little bit more inclined to compromise, though. Or that's what they were getting out of it.

KING: We heard the Netherlands' prime minister say his country and the European Commission are preparing for that March 2019 Brexit date to come without an actual deal. What would that look like?

NELSON: Well, it would be really problematic. For one thing, you're talking about the country or the U.K. being in the EU. Right now you don't have, really, borders. I mean, there's a sort of a joint approach to customs, free trade of goods, that sort of thing. So you have to create the mechanisms in order to have a border or to have customs, that sort of thing. That takes a lot of doing, as does air safety. I mean, for example, you know, airports interact. And now you have to create new deals. These things take time, and it's just not something that's going to happen quickly.

KING: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

Soraya, thanks so much.

NELSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "KOOL IN THE SUMMER" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.