News Brief: Paul Manafort, Parkland Shooting, Spying Charges

Feb 14, 2019
Originally published on February 14, 2019 7:59 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Why, when he knew the consequences, did Paul Manafort lie?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, that question remains after a judge ruled that Manafort did intentionally lie. He had a plea deal with the special counsel investigating Russia's involvement in U.S. politics. He was supposed to give truthful information. Robert Mueller says he did not. And the judge's agreement means his plea deal is done. Democrats have a theory as to why. Adam Schiff is chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM SCHIFF: It's not just that if he told the truth, it would be damaging to Manafort. But it would reflect so adversely on the president that he would lose his chance of a pardon.

INSKEEP: That is one theory. What can we learn from the nature of the lies? NPR Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is on the line once again. Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What exactly did Manafort lie about?

JOHNSON: Judge Amy Berman Jackson found that Paul Manafort lied about a payment to a law firm that apparently did some work for him, about some other unrelated criminal investigation, and then here's the most important thing. Judge Jackson found Manafort lied about the nature of his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI has linked to Russian intelligence. They had meetings and conversations throughout the campaign, and even after the campaign, after the inauguration and into 2018 that prosecutors say were at the heart of this investigation into Russian election interference and whether any Americans helped.

INSKEEP: OK. Wow. So this is Paul Manafort's conversations with a guy linked to Russian intelligence. I'm just making sure I understand this. And you're saying that Paul Manafort lied about talking with this person throughout the presidential campaign, where Manafort was campaign chairman for President Trump for a while, and even continued after the election for a good while. So are we able to learn anything from - anything true from knowing which lies he told?

JOHNSON: Well, you know, a lot of the proceedings in this matter have been sealed. We're eventually getting transcripts, which have a lot of blacked-out versions or redactions. We do know that prosecutors think that Manafort passed some kind of polling data to this person the FBI has linked to Russian intelligence, that they had a meeting in August 2016 at the heart of the campaign.

And we also know this, Steve - that Rick Gates, who was Paul Manafort's right-hand man and deputy, has been cooperating for a lot longer than Paul Manafort. Prosecutors are taking this information from Richard Gates, who also was around the campaign, the inauguration and the Trump White House, and contrasting it with what Manafort has told them to help determine that Manafort has lied about matters central to this investigation into what happened with the Russians and Americans in 2016.

INSKEEP: In order to know that Manafort lied, you need to know at least some of the truth. I don't want to connect these dots too firmly yet, Carrie, but I want to note what some of the dots are. You're saying that Manafort is suspected of passing polling information to Russians. That's one dot. We know that Russians were using internet troll farms and other methods to pass propaganda messages to the United States during the election. What would it mean if those dots were more firmly connected?

JOHNSON: I think we're going to need to wait and see what Robert Mueller and the FBI investigators have found rather than speculate about what might be out there.

INSKEEP: Good point.

JOHNSON: There's been a lot of bad reporting in this case. We got to be careful.

INSKEEP: But what we do know is those dots are there and that the Mueller investigation continues.

JOHNSON: That's - yes, that's right.

INSKEEP: Carrie, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: It's been one year since the Parkland mass shooting in Florida, where David has been reporting this week.

GREENE: Yeah, that's right. This morning, I'm in Broward County, Fla., Steve, just a few miles or so from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where that mass shooting claimed 17 lives a year ago. And since then, as we know, young Parkland survivors have really emerged as a driving force calling for stricter gun laws across the United States.

INSKEEP: Some of them have become quite prominent across the country. So how is the community marking this moment, David?

GREENE: I mean, I think when you - one thing you could say is this is not going to be a normal day here. They've made attendance not mandatory at the high school. And you hear from many parents who are saying they're not going to have their kids go to school. They're going to have them close with them at home to spend the day.

At 10:17 a.m., there's going to be a moment of silence planned to honor the 17 people killed a year ago. And many schools across the state of Florida are expected to join in that. And there's a commemoration tonight in a park that's just a few blocks from the school. And that's the same spot where a vigil took place a year ago, and 17 crosses were put up.

INSKEEP: We've been following your reporting and the reporting of an NPR team on social media, David, and seeing these really quite memorable photographs of young people in the sunshine in Florida reflecting on this event. What are you hearing?

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, you know, for one thing, if you remember the youth movement that was really born from the tragedy to combat gun violence - and we spoke to one of the leaders of that movement, David Hogg. He's now graduated from the school. He's moving on to Harvard. He says he's excited about college. But you know, he's sounding as determined as ever to keep the fight on even as he is spending more time in New England than down here. And you know, we talked to a theater director, Steve, who's trying to create a space for students to come in and create theater and art and have a place to kind of let steam off.

And I also spoke to a young man, Patrick Petty. He lost his sister, Alaina, in the shooting. And he was remembering how he and his sister used to go to the shooting range together.

PATRICK PETTY: That's something that my sister and I bonded over and something that we both enjoyed doing. And I can remember seeing the smile on her face the first time she went shooting and the first time she was learning. She really enjoyed it.

GREENE: And so you know, I asked Patrick if his views have changed about guns since his sister was killed in a shooting, and he said no. He believes in the Second Amendment as strongly as ever, including the right to own assault weapons like the one that was used in the shooting where his sister was killed. But he said he has become a little more open to listening to people on the other side of the gun debate, is more open to conversation, which was interesting.

INSKEEP: Yeah. David, there's a bit of news I want to ask about. The governor of Florida, if I have this correctly, has asked for a grand jury investigation in response to demands for accountability, specifically holding accountable the county superintendent of schools in Broward County. Haven't you spoken with him?

GREENE: I have, yeah. Robert Runcie, the superintendent here, has been under a lot of criticism. And the new governor, Ron DeSantis, called for this grand jury to investigate school security across the state, but especially here in Broward County. There's been so much anger, Steve, among the families of Parkland victims who don't think that the superintendent reached out to them enough over the past year. They don't think he's moved quickly enough to put new security measures in place.

When I sat down with Runcie, I mean, he told me that you can't rush security measures just because it's in response to a tragedy, that they have to be carefully thought out. And he also took a moment to apologize to families who don't think that he has been there for them.

INSKEEP: Well, David, thanks for being there for us. We are listening to your coverage on NPR News from Parkland this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Some other news now. How much damage did a former U.S. Air Force officer do to national security?

GREENE: Yeah. Monica Witt - she defected to Iran back in 2013 and now the former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence officer - is being accused of providing secrets to the Tehran government. There's a federal indictment that says she disclosed the code name and the secret mission of a Pentagon program for hackers linked to the Iranian government, who've now also been charged. And they allegedly tried to install spy software on computers that belonged to Witt's colleagues.

INSKEEP: All of this allegedly happened years ago, but we're just learning about it now. And NPR's Peter Kenyon is covering the story. Peter tracks Iran for us. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What exactly was Witt working on when she was with the Air Force?

KENYON: Well, she started in '97. She worked there until 2008. The indictment does not give the exact nature of what she was working on, but she did learn Farsi early on. She joined then the Office for Special Investigation - that's counterintelligence. The indictment says that Witt came to the FBI's attention after she traveled to Iran and appeared in a video criticizing the U.S. She told the agents, I'm not going to divulge any sensitive information. Don't worry. And she passed a series of U.S. security and background checks.

But the indictment says she began working with a so-called talent spotter for Iranian intelligence. Then, in 2013, she told her story at the Iranian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. And then, in late August of that year, she flew to Tehran.

INSKEEP: You used the word counterintelligence, which, generally speaking, means Americans who are trying to fight back at Iranian efforts to penetrate the United States.

KENYON: Yeah.

INSKEEP: And instead, she became a penetration in a way. What kind of information did she provide Iran?

KENYON: Yeah, that's a good point. The indictment doesn't give out a lot of specifics. But it mentions a Pentagon special access program - that means classified information that she had access to, along with the code names for that program. Monica Witt also knew the identities of several U.S. intelligence agents, and she knew the real names of some intelligence sources.

The indictment lists eight agents or analysts known to have worked or interacted with Witt. And it says Witt created target packages for Iran to use against U.S. agents. The counts against her include passing national defense information to a foreign government, cyber offenses, identity theft. And as you mentioned, there's four Iranian cyber attackers also named.

INSKEEP: Is there any response from this person who defected to Iran years ago or from Iran itself?

KENYON: Not so far. In going through Iranian media, though, I did find a story from about a couple weeks ago by the Fars News Agency. It's seen as close to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. And that story's headlined "The Story Of An American Soldier Whose Dreams Came True In Iran" (ph). And it quotes Witt making disparaging remarks about the U.S. military and also saying that her 2012 conversion to Islam was a dream come true.

INSKEEP: Wow. Very briefly, Peter, are Iranians feeling very much pressure from the increasing U.S. effort to isolate them after dropping out of a nuclear deal?

KENYON: If so, they're not saying so. There is a meeting going on in Warsaw billed as an anti-Iran meeting. It's been - had the title changed. Secretary Pompeo says the most important thing for stability in the Mideast is to confront Iran.

INSKEEP: OK. Peter, thanks very much for the update. Really appreciate it.

KENYON: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.