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News Brief: Republicans Rally Behind Nunes Memo, Trump Heads To Davos


This is the story of a document that few people have read, a document that's classified but is receiving a lot of publicity.


Yeah, some Republicans are promoting this classified paper by California Congressman Devin Nunes. He's chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. He is also a prominent supporter of President Trump. And you may recall that Nunes said last year he was going to step back from the investigation of Russia's involvement in the U.S. election. But Nunes kept investigating on his own. And the result is a classified memo which some Republicans insist contains important information.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about this with NPR's Ryan Lucas, who's in our studios.

Good morning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: I suppose we should begin by asking how it is that a classified memo has come to the public's attention so widely to begin with.

LUCAS: Well, a lot of it has been through very public discussion by members of the House Intelligence Committee and generally Republicans in the House about the memo without actually telling the public what's in it. Because it's classified, we don't know what's in it. But what they have done is talked about potential abuses by the Obama administration - the Obama administration FBI and Justice Department - and what they say is surveillance of the Trump campaign.

INSKEEP: OK. So I think I've seen this on social media. You have Republicans saying I've read this memo. This memo was horrible. This memo is terrible. There are terrible things in there. But of course, we can't know what the evidence is. This memo is - well, how did Nunes come up with this information, assuming there is information?

LUCAS: Well, it's based on material that was provided by the FBI and the Department of Justice. And this is really an effort that Nunes has led since he stepped aside from leading the House investigation into...

INSKEEP: He said he's going to do his own probe here.

LUCAS: ...Russian interference here. Basically, he said I'm going to look into what I think are abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is used to conduct surveillance. And this is the output of that. This is the output of several months of investigation by the House Intelligence Committee's Republican staff. Democrats have not been a part of this. And Democrats are certainly not happy with the output.

INSKEEP: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act - that is the law that says that Americans cannot be surveilled by the intelligence community unless there is some kind of a warrant saying that they're an agent of a foreign power. And his suggestion is that Americans were surveilled anyway - although we don't know what the evidence is.

If this is a classified memo - if it's in a room with the House Intelligence Committee - if it was produced by the Republicans, have Democrats been able to see it at all?

LUCAS: Democrats certainly have been able to see it. And members of the House Intelligence Committee - Democrats on it have all said that this is really just a collection of talking points that Republicans have come up with. They say that it's a hit job on the FBI and that it basically aims to undermine Robert Mueller's investigation into, of course, possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. And they say that this is all part of a broader Republican effort to try to undermine Mueller...

INSKEEP: Ryan...

LUCAS: ...And support Trump.

INSKEEP: ...You talk with people in the intelligence community. Do they think this is a hit job on the FBI?

LUCAS: There's a lot of frustration with how the intelligence community has been attacked politically and being used as a tool politically in the broader kind of struggle over the Russia investigation and the Trump administration. There's certainly a lot of frustration at the FBI that it has been a target of these attacks. And it's something that's generating a lot of concern there.

INSKEEP: And very briefly - could this memo ever be released?

LUCAS: Republicans say they're looking for a way to do that, yes.

INSKEEP: OK, Ryan. Thanks very much.

LUCAS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ryan Lucas.


INSKEEP: President Trump is heading to Davos, Switzerland, today.

GREENE: Yeah, to hang out with globalists, as his backers have sometimes called those who disagree with him. He's attending the World Economic Forum. This is an annual gathering of the world's business elites. And this year's theme - Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World. President Trump is going to be promoting the United States as the place in the world to do business.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is covering this story.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Isn't he hanging out with everybody he denounces, the president?

LIASSON: (Laughter) Yes, he is. He is bringing a message to Davos about his accomplishments. GDP up, unemployment down, stock market roaring - this is what Gary Cohn, his top economic adviser, said yesterday. He's going to be telling those plutocrats that America is back in business - open for business. Instead of bringing his populist pitchfork, he's got his salesman's portfolio. And he's going to be telling these people he lowered taxes and cut regulations and they should invest in the U.S.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remind people - this is an annual gathering of the global elite, of very, very rich people and powerful people from around the world. When they gathered a year ago, President Trump was just taking office. There was profound concern about what that meant for them and for countries around the world. What about this year?

LIASSON: This year, they're feeling that Donald Trump has turned out to be a lot more friendly to the kind of people who go to Davos - those wealthy, elite globalist plutocrats - than many people thought. Although his rhetoric is still populist and protectionist, he hasn't drained the swamp. He just gave big tax cuts to the wealthy and to big businesses. So he doesn't seem like the populist revolutionary that they once thought he might be.

He hasn't dropped his message about reciprocal trade, but he has not pulled out of a single trade deal yet with the exception of TPP, which is the Asian-Pacific trade deal which is moving forward without the U.S. now. He did put tariffs this week on a couple of products from China - washing machines and solar panels. We don't know yet if and how China will retaliate. But he has not pulled the U.S. out of the WTO or NAFTA.

INSKEEP: I'm thinking of the word hobnob. You get to go and hobnob with other powerful people when you go to Davos. Who's he going to hobnob with?

LIASSON: Yes, this is a uber-hobnobbing.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) So who's on his list of hobnobbing?

LIASSON: Well, he's going to have an actual formal meeting with the British prime minister, Theresa May. He's had some tensions with her. He's also going to meet with President Kagame of Rwanda, who is currently the chairman of the African Union. And this comes after Trump reportedly made those disparaging comments about African nations - why do we need more immigrants from those countries? - which, in a general way, he's denied. So one question is, will he have to acknowledge what he said or apologize, as many African nations have been demanding that he do?

INSKEEP: Mara, always a pleasure talking with you.

LIASSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson.


INSKEEP: We travel next to what's become the world's largest refugee camp.

GREENE: Yeah, this is a camp in Bangladesh. And more than 800,000 Rohingya people are living in this one area. The refugees came from neighboring Myanmar. The majority were fleeing a brutal crackdown by the military there last fall. Now, Bangladesh had a plan to return them to Myanmar this week, but that effort is now on hold.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jason Beaubien is at Cox's Bazar, which is the name of the urban area where this refugee camp has spread.

Hi there, Jason.


INSKEEP: What do you see when you're there?

BEAUBIEN: Well, what you see is just this incredible expanse of shelter. I mean, it's actually not really in an urban area. All of the refugees have gone into these hills outside the city - the town of Cox's Bazar. And what's so amazing about this refugee camp - and I've gone to a lot of different refugee camps - this one just goes on and on as far as you can see. It's just these shelters packed right next to each other.

I mean, you have to imagine, this is like the entire population of Washington, D.C., or Boston, just all of them moving out of one area and setting up these makeshift tents out in the countryside. It's just an almost unimaginable number of people sort of living out in the rough here.

INSKEEP: What...

BEAUBIEN: And there's also a lot of frustration and some - you know, it's incredible. I was talking to this one woman today. She just found out she was pregnant. I was at this clinic, and she just found out she was pregnant. And I asked her, you know, are you excited about that? And she said no, this is my last child. She's only 20. It's only her second child. And I said, why aren't you excited? And she said, you know, the Myanmar government wants to extinguish the Rohingya. And until this conflict is over, I don't want to bring any more Rohingya into the world.

INSKEEP: Well, you can imagine the dilemma. Bangladesh isn't really happy to have them where they are. A lot of other countries don't necessarily want them. There was this plan to send them back to Myanmar, where they wouldn't have felt so welcome either. What happened to the plan to send them home?

BEAUBIEN: So the plan is still on the table. It's simply been delayed. Bangladesh and Myanmar worked out this deal to essentially - they had said in the deal that they're going to send all of these refugees back into Myanmar. They halted that because they don't have the logistics in place. Myanmar wants to vet who's going to come in. They only, however, have just suspended it at the moment. And they say that they're going to move forward with it.

INSKEEP: Is this a death sentence for some people, if they are sent back to Myanmar?

BEAUBIEN: Well, that's what people here are telling me. They're saying that if they get sent back, they're just simply going to be killed. They have been a stateless group. They're a Muslim minority inside Myanmar. They've been harassed for years - decades by the government and pro-government troops there. And they say that they would be - a lot of them tell me directly, I'd be killed if I go back to Myanmar right now.

INSKEEP: Are the Bangladeshi authorities willing to send them back rather than let them stay?

BEAUBIEN: Bangladesh has a huge problem on its hands. I mean, we also are seeing frustration here. You've got this huge number of people now living in these hills. They're taking up resources. Bangladesh wants to get this problem solved. And so they're saying they would be willing to try sending them back if Myanmar agrees to take them and do it safely.

INSKEEP: Jason, thank you very much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien at a giant refugee camp in Bangladesh.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLA.MINGO'S "WANDER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.