News Brief: Hurricane Michael, Nikki Haley, Jamal Khashoggi
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Hurricane Michael has grown rapidly now to a Category 4 storm over the Gulf of Mexico, heading for the Florida Panhandle.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Right - so rapidly, in fact, that forecasters are saying that its growth, quote, "defies traditional logic." It is expected to hit land around midday today carrying high winds, life-threatening storm surges along Florida's northern Gulf Coast. Here's Florida Governor Rick Scott on Tuesday.
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RICK SCOTT: This storm is deadly. Do not take a chance. Think about the destruction we've seen before with storms like Hurricane Irma. The Panhandle and Big Bend will likely see winds in excess of 110 mph. Stop to think about that - 110 mph winds.
MARTIN: All right. So keep this in mind. That was Scott talking on Tuesday, 110 mph. Now officials are predicting wind speeds upward of 140 mph.
GREENE: Wow. This could be a bad one. Well, let's turn to NPR's Greg Allen. He is in Tallahassee monitoring the arrival of this storm.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: I'm just trying to get my Florida geography in place. How close are you in Tallahassee to where this storm is already having impact?
ALLEN: We're a bit inland. The storm is expected to make landfall somewhere between Pensacola and Apalachicola. So that's a little bit - I guess it would be west of me. So right now it's kind of remarkably calm here. We're just getting a few outer bands. In Tallahassee, the main concern here is all the trees that we have, these live oaks festooned with Spanish moss, which make it very picturesque city. But when those trees get wind, you know, they come down, and that could lead to extensive power outages here.
GREENE: Well, what about the parts of the coast that are already really feeling this? I mean, there are reports that some of the Panhandle is already underwater. And with this storm growing so quickly, were they able to get people out in time?
ALLEN: Yeah. I mean, we're seeing some coastal flooding already in these coastal communities, low-lying places like Apalachicola. That's an old fishing community on the Panhandle with a large bay that funnels the storm surge in. And the water's already coming up on the streets and around buildings. And we've seen some of the same reports in Cedar Key. Nine to 12 feet of storm surge is expected on some parts of that area around Apalachicola. So they're really preparing for the worst there.
In terms of evacuations, yes, local officials were concerned yesterday. They thought more cars should be on the road. But some shelters in Bay County, the area where the concerns were being expressed - some of the shelters there are full now. So clearly, some people are getting the message.
GREENE: Is the Panhandle used to storms this big?
ALLEN: You know, certainly, we've had our share of storms here over the years. But Category 4 storms are very rare to have landfall in the U.S. And there's never been one in recorded history that we know of on the Panhandle.
ALLEN: You know, in 2004 and 2005, we had some Category 3 storms. And then in 1995, Opal was a Category 3 storm very similar to this one. It came in October, developed in the southern Caribbean and came north. And it brought this massive storm surge that did a lot of damage. And so Michael probably will eclipse that.
GREENE: So I mean, in just the past few weeks, we've seen damage from Hurricane Gordon on the Gulf Coast and Florence in the Carolinas. I mean, how does this season compare to other ones?
ALLEN: Well, this is a - you know, this is about an average season in terms of hurricanes. But for Florida and for the U.S., we're getting our fair share. Here, I think many people prepped for Florence. So they had their hurricane supplies in 'cause it was, you know, a threat here as well, although it did the real damage in the Carolinas where it hit. But people are taking it seriously. But this storm is going to be a lot different from, like, Florence. It's moving very fast. So after it makes landfall today, it'll move into Georgia and the Carolinas by tomorrow. So we won't see the rain, but the wind will be punishing and that storm surge.
GREENE: NPR's Greg Allen awaiting the arrival of Hurricane Michael in Tallahassee.
ALLEN: You're welcome.
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GREENE: All right, when U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announced on Tuesday that she was leaving her post, the news really came as a surprise.
MARTIN: Yeah. But the Oval Office announcement with President Trump had all the indications of a well-planned event. It was cordial, dignified with Nikki Haley laying out the reasons for her departure.
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NIKKI HALEY: I was governor for six years. And we dealt with a hurricane, a thousand-year flood, a church shooting, a school shooting - there was a lot. And then to come in and do two years of Russia and Iran and North Korea, it's been eight years of intense time, and I'm a believer in term limits.
MARTIN: And unlike a number of other recent White House personnel changes, Haley seems to be parting on good terms with the president.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: She's done a fantastic job, and we've done a fantastic job together. We've solved a lot of problems, and we're in the process of solving a lot of problems.
GREENE: I want to bring in NPR White House correspondent Mara Liasson.
Hi there, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So two years is actually a pretty long time for this administration. Right? I mean, this has been a White House full of turmoil. What might the impact of this departure be?
LIASSON: Well, the impact of this departure on the administration's foreign policy, I think, will be minimal. The U.N. ambassador doesn't make foreign policy. And I think that the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the new national security adviser, John Bolton, already were strong voices on foreign policy. And I think now they just get even more so.
GREENE: So why the timing of this? I mean, should we believe Haley in saying that it's just been a really intense eight years and she thinks that she should be term limited and might want to take a break?
LIASSON: Look. She not only, as you pointed out, was one of the very few administration officials who left on her own terms - she was not fired by tweet - but also the timing of this was impeccable. Nikki Haley is probably the most adept politician in the Trump Cabinet. She left on her own terms. She wrote the letter to President Trump saying she wanted to leave about a week ago. That was right in the middle of when Trump was attacking Christine Blasey Ford. It wouldn't have looked good if she had resigned right then.
But she wanted to step down now - even though she's staying till the end of the year, she wanted to announce her departure now rather than after the midterms because if the president and his party get shellacked and a lot of people start bailing out, she doesn't want to look like she's a rat deserting the sinking ship.
GREENE: Oh, interesting.
LIASSON: And she's been really successful, unlike any other Trump Cabinet official, at creating her own political persona, her own brand - independent, a loyalist but not a sycophant. And you know, she announced in an op-ed piece recently two things - one, that she wasn't anonymous, the secret resister, and No. 2, that she did disagree with Trump from time to time but often did it privately. Sometimes she did it publicly. She was tougher on Russia than he was. She once said that the women who were accusing Trump of sexual misconduct deserved a hearing. She was able to do all that and still maintain good relations with the president.
GREENE: Any idea who's going to replace her?
LIASSON: Well, a lot of names are being floated. The president said Dina Powell - former top Trump White House foreign policy aide, current Goldman Sachs executive - is on the list. He talked about Ivanka, his daughter, who he said was highly competent but would open himself up to charges of nepotism. Ivanka tweeted later that she would not be taking the job. So there are a lot of people on the list.
GREENE: Well, we'll be watching. NPR White House correspondent Mara Liasson talking about Nikki Haley's departure at the U.N.
Thanks so much, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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GREENE: All right, more details are emerging now about the disappearance of a Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in Turkey.
MARTIN: Right. Khashoggi is a Washington Post contributor who was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, eight days ago. The Post says that it has been told by persons with knowledge of the Turkish investigation into his disappearance that a team of 15 Saudi men flew into Istanbul early on October 2, hours before Khashoggi was last seen, as he entered the consulate. The team checked in to two nearby hotels and then were taken to the consulate by car.
GREENE: And the Post is also reporting the 15 men departed Istanbul later that very same day on flights to both Cairo and Dubai. NPR's Peter Kenyon has been following all of this in Istanbul.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So what is standing out to you at this point as more information is coming in?
KENYON: Well, this focus on the 15 Saudis who arrived. A Turkish paper today published both their names and their photos, all 15 of them. These are the men police say arrived in Istanbul last Tuesday, the day Jamal Khashoggi disappeared. There are media reports that Turkish intelligence has now identified some of those men as military officers, a special forces member and a forensic expert among them. Turkish TV has aired footage of a black van that was seen leaving the Saudi Consulate sometime after Khashoggi entered.
Airport security reportedly X-rayed the luggage of at least some of these Saudi men as they prepared to leave Istanbul that same night. They also X-rayed the men themselves, kind of standard procedure. And reportedly, at the request of Turkish intelligence, they also searched one of the planes. They apparently found nothing suspicious, allowed it to take off. But clearly, the focus is on these men and what they were doing here that day.
GREENE: There were two planes, though. Right? They've only searched one of the planes that they left?
KENYON: That's right. That is a gap at the moment in the story that I'm getting no explanations as to why one plane was searched and not the other. There are a number of anonymous tips going out providing other, sometimes grisly, details in support of this conclusion - that preliminary conclusion that Khashoggi was killed. One official tells The New York Times that one of the Saudis who arrived last Tuesday was an autopsy expert and that a bonesaw was used on the body after the murder.
GREENE: So where does the investigation go from here? I mean, Saudi Arabia is denying anything terrible happened here. What do Turkish investigators do now?
KENYON: Well, there's two leading theories, obviously, one, that he was spirited out of the country or that he was killed and his body disposed of. Police seem to be leaning toward the latter theory at the moment. As you say, the Saudis deny any involvement. And they want to know where Khashoggi is themselves, they say. They can't provide any evidence to back up their claim that he left the consulate within an hour of arriving, which is what they claim. There's no CCTV footage, they say.
Turkish police are going through their own camera footage from the streets outside the consulate. They haven't seen any images of Khashoggi leaving. TV is airing pictures of him entering, though - the first we've seen those. And they will be searching the consulate building with Saudi permission. That could happen as early as today.
GREENE: And Peter, remind us of the diplomatic context here. I mean, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - what is that relationship like? And how badly could this damage it?
KENYON: Well, it wasn't great before. Turkey's been siding with Qatar in an ongoing dispute with the Saudis. So far, President Erdogan's being cautious. He says, we need answers. But the main secular opposition party is already calling for an immediate review of Turkey's relations with Saudi Arabia. So I think, however this plays out, it will be to some degree a worsening of ties.
GREENE: And then one of the big questions is Saudi-U.S. relations and how that could be impacted as well.
KENYON: Yeah, very unclear at the moment. Lots of headlines here quoting Trump saying he doesn't know anything about the Khashoggi case - so some level of frustration but no sign so far that Washington's exerting pressure on Riyadh.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul.
(SOUNDBITE OF TIN HAT TRIO'S "NIGHT OF THE SKEPTIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.