Morning News Brief: Schneiderman Allegations, Iran Nuclear Deal
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
One of the leading champions of the movement to prosecute sexual abusers, the Me Too movement, is facing his own reckoning.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The story unfolded with astonishing speed. Just yesterday afternoon, Eric Schneiderman was New York state's top law enforcement official. The attorney general had challenged President Trump and filed a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein. And then The New Yorker published its story. Four women who had been in relationships with Schneiderman said he had been physically abusive. Schneiderman broadly rejected these accusations but resigned within hours.
MARTIN: North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann joins us now to talk about this.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: First off, can you just remind us who Eric Schneiderman is and why these allegations carry a certain amount of grim irony?
MANN: Yeah. Schneiderman wasn't just a state attorney general; he was the attorney general for New York state. Right? That's a position that put him in a place to play watchdog over Wall Street and over Donald Trump's business empire in New York City. And he also used his position to advocate for women's rights, including his high-profile effort to target Harvey Weinstein as a disgraced film producer whose downfall really helped start the Me Too movement.
MANN: Here's Schneiderman talking in a press conference in February about his investigation of Weinstein's former company.
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ERIC SCHNEIDERMAN: The conduct really was shocking. The pattern of abuse, the use of employees to manipulate his targets or victims of sexual harassment, is just really astonishing.
MANN: That's Schneiderman there talking in a press conference broadcast on CBS New York. And of course, he now faces incredibly serious accusations that he was secretly violating the ethics and possibly the laws he championed.
MARTIN: Right. So let's get into this. What are the charges against him?
MANN: Yeah. So The New Yorker talked with four women - two anonymously, two named in the piece. They say Schneiderman slapped and choked them. They described the violence as nonconsensual. Two of the women say he threatened to kill them if they ended the relationship. The New Yorker corroborated their accounts with various sources.
MARTIN: And Schneiderman, as we noted, he's stepped down now. But he's not copping to any of this. Right?
MANN: Yeah. He issued a statement last night acknowledging what he called, "serious allegations, which I strongly contest." That's a quote. In a separate statement, he told The New Yorker the violence was a kind of sexual role-play that was consensual. But again, he also announced at almost the same time that he is stepping down.
MARTIN: And we should say, at least one of the women quoted in that piece insisted this was not sexual role-play.
So what happens now? I mean, Eric Schneiderman - does he face any legal risk because of these accusations?
MANN: Yeah, the allegations definitely fall within the statute of limitations for possible crimes of this type. So Schneiderman certainly could face prosecution. When he was state senator eight years ago, he actually introduced and pushed through legislation that toughened criminal penalties for strangulation and choking. So he could be caught up by some of the very laws he championed.
MARTIN: Wow. What happens to his seat?
MANN: So it'll be filled by a ballot of New York's legislature, a process that effectively gives control to Democrats in the state assembly. And they'll plan to meet to discuss potential candidates later today. And then there will be a vote statewide in November, and voters will decide the state's next permanent attorney general.
MARTIN: OK. Brian Mann with North Country Public Radio in New York reporting this morning on the resignation of Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York state.
Thanks so much. We appreciate it, Brian.
MANN: Thank you.
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MARTIN: All right, today is the day Donald Trump could make one of his most daring - some might even say a reckless - foreign policy moves since he became president.
INSKEEP: This afternoon, the president says, he will reveal his decision on Iran. Inspectors say Iran is following a deal limiting its nuclear program. But the president has, for years, attacked this agreement approved by President Obama.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have been in business a long time. I know deal-making. And let me tell you, this deal is catastrophic for America, for Israel and for the whole of the Middle East.
INSKEEP: U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere have been trying to caution the president to keep the pact in place.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Larry Kaplow has been following this story closely, and he joins us now in our studio.
LARRY KAPLOW, BYLINE: Hello.
MARTIN: So we know Donald Trump has been talking about what a bad deal he thinks this is for a very long time. Why is the action only happening now?
KAPLOW: Well, his administration has been split on it. He's had chances to reimpose sanctions that the U.S. agreed to lift under this deal. Remember, the deal exchanged sanctions relief for Iran putting limits and allowing inspectors in and destroying a lot of its nuclear equipment.
KAPLOW: Every few months, the sanctions come up. The presidents - President Obama and now President Trump had been continuing to lift these. Another deadline comes up Saturday. While his administration - some people have been talking him into staying with it, he's been threatening to get out.
Let me just remind you what the argument's here. Critics say the problem with the deal is that it doesn't address Iran's testing of missiles; support for Hezbollah, Hamas, other destabilizing activities. Supporters of the deal say better to deal with Iran on those issues without it having a nuclear bomb than if it did have a nuclear bomb.
INSKEEP: There's also the concern about how long some of the provisions last. Some of them expire...
INSKEEP: ...After a while.
MARTIN: So now he's got a secretary of state in there who agrees with him on pulling out the U.S. from this pact. What could we see today? I mean, is it as simple as all-in or all-out?
KAPLOW: We don't know, but there is some middle ground in how they would reimpose sanctions, if that's the choice that the president chooses to make. Sanctions are very complicated. The Department of Treasury has to take a long time to issue regulations. They could allow wiggle room for American allies, countries in Asia who buy oil from Iran, to continue buying oil at some levels. That could be weeks or months of negotiations over that now.
MARTIN: So we saw high-profile diplomacy on this. We saw France's president, Emmanuel Macron, come to try to convince Trump to stay in the deal; we saw Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, come; the foreign minister of Britain - none of these people were clearly successful. What does that mean for our America's European allies who want to stay in this deal?
KAPLOW: Well, the president, if he decides to basically break the U.S. commitment under the deal, is setting off some brinksmanship to see what everyone else is willing to do. Would Iran say - well, if the U.S. is out, fine we're kicking the inspectors out now from Iran? And would Iran decide to ramp up its nuclear program again? Would Europeans say that they want to keep doing business with Iran without the U.S.?
INSKEEP: We do have a quote here from a European diplomat who's been watching this very closely who says, "I believe the president will not waive the sanctions." That's what this diplomat expects. And that will have various consequences that I think we have yet to fully understand, which is just what Larry was saying.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Larry Kaplow, thanks so much.
KAPLOW: Thank you.
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MARTIN: Some of the key Senate matchups that could decide which party stays in power come November will be set today.
INSKEEP: Primaries are being held in four states where President Trump won in 2016 - North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia, my home state of Indiana. These include three states where Democrats are up for re-election. And the GOP is hoping it can flip some seats.
MARTIN: All right, we've got NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow in studio with us.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: OK. So Steve just listed off the places where these votes are happening. What's most interesting?
DETROW: So I think the most interesting races to watch are the Republican Senate primaries in Indiana and West Virginia. These are top-tier targets this fall for Republicans. Even in a tough year where Republicans are in danger of losing the House of Representatives, the party feels pretty confident that they can knock out the Democratic incumbents in these states, Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly.
And here's what's interesting - as much as Trump has been a liability in a lot of these competitive House races for Republicans, in these Senate primaries, particularly in Indiana, all the Republican candidates are all-in for Donald Trump. This has become a competition about who is more of a Trump ally, who is more Trump-like. So you have two congressmen Todd Rokita and Luke Messer saying, no, I'm the bigger Trump ally in Congress. Then you have a third candidate, an outside businessman named Mike Braun saying, I'm inspired by Donald Trump. I'm running an outsider campaign in his image.
MARTIN: OK. Let's pivot and focus in on West Virginia because this race has been getting a lot of attention.
MARTIN: Don Blankenship - kind of a controversial guy.
DETROW: Yeah, I think that's a good way to put it. And we're going to hear an ad from him in a moment that kind of spells out why. He's a former coal CEO. He spent a year in federal prison for charges related to an explosion that killed 29 people in one of the company's mines. National Republicans do not want him as the nominee. So he's hitting back at them hard, particularly at Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
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DON BLANKENSHIP: Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people. While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.
DETROW: So there is some concern from Republicans that if Blankenship wins, this could be another situation like last year's Alabama Senate race, where a very flawed Republican candidate allows a Democrat an opening to win in a deep red state. President Trump weighed in yesterday, encouraging West Virginia Republicans to vote for one of the other two candidates, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey or Congressman Evan Jenkins.
MARTIN: With those very words, remember Alabama.
MARTIN: I mean, he doesn't want a repeat of that either. I do want to mention, Don Blankenship then responded to the president's tweet, saying that he is even Trumpier (ph) than Trump. So again, everyone competing to be as Trumpy (ph) as possible.
All right, we've been talking about Republicans. But what about Democrats? They have big battles in these primaries coming?
DETROW: Not a race where people are trying to be Trumpy. But...
MARTIN: (Laughter) Right.
DETROW: ...The most interesting one to watch is the gubernatorial primary in Ohio. You have Richard Cordray, the former attorney general, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau running against a name you might remember from previous presidential campaigns Dennis Kucinich.
INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.
DETROW: So that has gotten pretty contentious, even though both candidates are pretty progressive.
MARTIN: All right, NPR's Scott Detrow breaking down the primaries happening today in a few key states. We'll see what they portend for the midterms come November.
Scott, thanks so much.
DETROW: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLENDED BABIES' "ALIEN WORKSHOP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.