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News Brief: Government Shutdown, Pompeo Speech, 'El Chapo' Trial


It's supposed to be payday for some 800,000 federal workers. But the partial government shutdown means that is not going to happen today.


Yeah, Lisa Honan is one of those federal workers, and that missing paycheck for her means that she has to find other ways to pay her bills.

LISA HONAN: We're going to probably withdraw on our 5-29 account for - I hate to say it. It's our - the, you know, funds for college that you put away for your kids.

GREENE: Could be a lot of tough choices for federal workers like that. It has now been 21 days since the shutdown began, which means it's tied for the longest shutdown in history. And with budget negotiations stalled on funding a border wall, President Trump looks like he may be getting closer to declaring a national emergency to pay for the wall.

That means he could sidestep Congress, and they could pass a budget without funding the wall. So what is next if the president goes ahead and does that?

MARTIN: NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis is in the studio this morning. Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Where are we at right now?

DAVIS: The stalemate continues. There has been no progress. They are no closer to a deal. And some lawmakers that have been trying to get a deal, people like Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, have essentially said he does not see a pathway for a deal and that the only way out is for President Trump to use presidential emergency powers, declare a state of emergency on the border and redirect funds on his own to build the wall.

MARTIN: Can he legally do that? I mean, is that within the president's authorities to do?

DAVIS: It's unclear. It is - what is clear is that Democrats in Congress would likely challenge him in the courts and question the constitutionality of that. These emergency powers certainly give the president very broad leeway to make decisions. Although, I believe that Democrats would argue these powers were intended for things like after 9/11 or after Hurricane Katrina, states of emergency in which there is no doubt and no dispute of what the emergency is.

There's obviously a big dispute on what the emergency is. However, if he were to do that, it could also give a pathway to reopen the government.

MARTIN: I mean, what does it say about where we're at as a country when the only way to get out of a government shutdown is to declare a national state of emergency?

DAVIS: You know, the congressional budget process has been broken for some time. I think we've seen fits and starts of these shutdowns. But it's a snowballing of effect of a government that's just simply not working very well.

MARTIN: Even if this happens, if the president does choose to use this card, the - declaring a national emergency, when would it actually go into place? Do we know about timeline?

DAVIS: It's unclear. But one thing that is important to remember when we talk about the wall, too, and this $5.7 billion, even if the president gets the money or directs it to the wall, it doesn't happen very fast. The money that was sent to DHS last year for last year's spending bills is still going out the door to fund border walls - border wall and structures along the barrier - along the border.

So this new influx of cash doesn't happen fast. And it doesn't happen quick. Contracts still have to go out. It takes a very long time to get these structures. So it could still be a very long process.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I want to shift gears to some other congressional news. Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, who has pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other federal crimes - Cohen announced yesterday that he's going to go to Capitol Hill and testify before Congress. Who made this request?

DAVIS: The House Oversight Committee is led by Elijah Cummings. He's a Democrat from Maryland. They announced yesterday he would testify on February 7. Cohen is expected to be the first of what could be many high-profile hearings on Capitol Hill this year, as House Democrats and their new majority intend to have fairly aggressive oversight and investigations into questions of how this administration has conducted itself.

And it is important to note that Cohen is coming up voluntarily but that also Democrats have said they are willing to use their subpoena power to force as many people as possible to have pretty high-profile hearings that will be televised.

MARTIN: So even though Cohen has given extensive interviews to Robert Mueller and his team, Congress - Elijah Cummings - just want him on the record in a public venue.

DAVIS: Exactly.

MARTIN: NPR's Susan Davis for us this morning. Thanks, Sue. We appreciate it.

DAVIS: You're welcome.


MARTIN: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is headed to the Gulf as he continues his grand Middle East tour.

GREENE: Yeah, this comes after he stopped in Cairo yesterday. And that's where he outlined the Trump administration's vision for America's role in the Middle East. And in giving that speech, he took some direct hits at President Obama and his overtures to the Muslim world in his own speech that also took place in Cairo a decade ago.


MIKE POMPEO: The results of these misjudgments have been dire.

MARTIN: Here to tell us more about the impact of Pompeo's speech is NPR's Jackie Northam. Good morning, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What's the fallout been from this speech by Secretary of State Pompeo?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, a number of Obama supporters came out and said that essentially it was just distasteful and that it was wrong to be criticizing a former president while on a high-profile trip like this. One of - a former official within the Obama administration said he felt that Pompeo was living in a parallel world. You know, it was an attack, really, on the - on the Obama administration. Pompeo doesn't actually ever say his name.

MARTIN: Right.

NORTHAM: But there was no question he was talking about President Obama. And he criticized Obama for the nuclear deal with Iran and accused him of blaming the U.S. for the problems of the Middle East right now when instead, he should have been providing strong American leadership.

And Pompeo said - and I'm quoting here - "the U.S. is a force for good in the Middle East." But, you know, Rachel, one of the main reasons for this trip is to clear up confusion caused by conflicting statements within the Trump administration about the U.S. withdrawing troops from Syria.

MARTIN: Right. But Pompeo also said in that same speech, when the U.S. - and I'm paraphrasing here. When the U.S. withdraws from the world, chaos ensues. So it's hard to make sense of that with - with the confusion over the Syria troop withdraw.

NORTHAM: Sure, and that's - you know, that's harsh rhetoric, you know, coming from a secretary of state about a former president's administration.

MARTIN: So now Secretary Pompeo, I understand he's already arrived in Bahrain. And then he's going to Saudi Arabia this weekend, right?

NORTHAM: He is, indeed. And he's expected to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, just one of the many meetings he's got.

MARTIN: And of course, we know that name because he's been implicated by U.S. intelligence agencies in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Any idea as to whether or not Mike Pompeo, Secretary Pompeo, is going to bring that up?

NORTHAM: Yeah, no, that's - that's definitely one of the things. I mean, this issue is not going away, the whole killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Now, this is the second time he's meeting with the crown prince. The first time he went a couple weeks after the killing of Khashoggi.

And there was pictures of the two men shaking hands and smiling broadly in that. And Pompeo said the crown prince categorically denied any involvement in Khashoggi's death. But since then, Rachel, the U.S. intelligence has assessed that the crown prince was involved.

MARTIN: So the Trump administration continues to take the crown prince's word over the word of its own intelligence agencies?

NORTHAM: Right. President Trump says the crown prince denies involvement and that the U.S. has strong ties, particularly financial ties, to the kingdom. So, you know, there's doubts that Pompeo will push the crown prince hard for any answers.

MARTIN: NPR's Jackie Northam for us this morning. Jackie, thanks. We appreciate it.

NORTHAM: Yeah, thanks very much, Rachel.


MARTIN: It has been a week of dramatic testimony in the trial of the notorious drug lord Joaquin El Chapo Guzman.

GREENE: Yeah, Guzman's already convicted of trafficking crimes in Mexico. His current trial, taking place in a Brooklyn federal court, centers on a 17-count indictment. The charges span decades. They include accusations of money laundering, also shipping tons of cocaine and other drugs into the U.S., also ordering hundreds of murders, kidnappings and other acts of violence. And this week, really interesting stuff, we've gotten more insight into how the FBI ended up tracking his movements in real time.

MARTIN: Keegan Hamilton has been tracking all this. He is U.S. editor for Vice News and the host of a podcast called Chapo: Kingpin On Trial. He joins us now. Hey, Keegan, thanks for being here.

KEEGAN HAMILTON: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Let's talk about what you saw unfold in the courtroom this week and, in particular, this key witness who worked for El Chapo. What can you tell us about him?

HAMILTON: The star witness this week was named Christian Rodriguez. He is a Colombian systems engineer who was hired by the cartel to devise a secure communications system, which was sort of encrypted phone calls that he set up for the cartel in the mountains of Sinaloa, where Chapo was hiding out.

MARTIN: What did he say?

HAMILTON: He said that he was approached by the FBI and recruited to become sort of an undercover informant who was giving them access to the cartel's communications in real time. That gave U.S. authorities sort of a live window into how Chapo was running his organization.

MARTIN: I mean, in our newsroom, we've just been kind of speculating about how dangerous it must be for people like him to come forward.

HAMILTON: That was pretty incredible. And some of the testimony this week highlighted, you know, how keenly aware he was of that. He had not one but two nervous breakdowns during his time working as an informant, had to seek mental health treatment for that. And the defense used that - tried to use that against him, saying that some of the treatments he used affected his memory and recollection of the events.

MARTIN: So El Chapo has pleaded not guilty. How's he been reacting to all this testimony in court?

HAMILTON: You know, normally he's actually kind of cheerful in the courtroom, looking over at his wife, who's in the audience. In this case, the gravity of the testimony - it was very clear that this was another nail in his coffin, perhaps the most - the final nail in his coffin. And he just sort of sat there looking stoically, almost grimacing, saying, like, oh, this is it. This is - I don't know if I can come back from this.

MARTIN: I mean, so obviously, El Chapo's responsible for a lot of the drug trade here in the U.S. Is this trial teaching us anything about how the U.S. government deals with the quote, unquote, "war on drugs?"

HAMILTON: I think if anything, it's showing us the futility of the war on drugs. I mean, we've heard over and over again that Chapo is the one supplying these drugs. But while he's being - while he's doing this, they're arresting his operatives, seizing tons of drugs. It's made no dent. He's been gone. Drugs are still available in the United States.

MARTIN: Where does the trial go now? I mean, how long is this expected to last?

HAMILTON: We're hoping that this could wrap up potentially as soon as the end of this month, likely in early February.

MARTIN: All right, Keegan Hamilton of Vice. He's also the host of the podcast Chapo: Kingpin On Trial. We appreciate you sharing your insights into this trial. We appreciate it. Thanks, Keegan.

HAMILTON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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David Greene
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a founding host of NPR's award-winning morning news podcast Up First. Martin's interviews take listeners behind the headlines to understand the people at the center of those stories.