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News Brief: Koreas Summit Begins, Bill Cosby Convicted, Pruitt's Future

Apr 27, 2018
Originally published on April 27, 2018 7:05 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The leaders of North and South Korea are making history at the DMZ.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah. Kim Jong Un became the first North Korean leader to walk across the line into South Korea. After years of raising tensions and testing nuclear weapons, Kim shook hands with his South Korean counterpart and said he hoped for a new history of peace.

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KIM JONG UN: (Foreign language spoken).

INSKEEP: Kim is saying there that this summit should be just a start, and that he hopes the people's wishes for peace will be satisfied to a degree.

MARTIN: To a degree. So NPR's Elise Hu covers the Korean Peninsula for us. She joins us from very close to the summit, where, I understand, Elise, the two leaders have actually just signed some kind of symbolic agreement? What's going on?

ELISE HU, BYLINE: That's right. This news is actually breaking right now. And the voice you hear behind me is the voice of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, who is, astonishingly, standing at a podium before the press, the South Korean and North Korean press, next to Moon Jae-in, giving a prepared statement following this day-long summit in which the two leaders have met and come to some sort of joint declaration, joint agreement. We haven't seen the content of that agreement yet, but it will be parsed over in the minutes and hours and days to come.

MARTIN: I mean do we assume, Elise, that any of this agreement, that it speaks to the substance of what the tension is about, which is what the South would like, which is the denuclearization of the North?

HU: We already understand from the Blue House, the South's presidential administration, that denuclearization was talked about during this day-long summit. So that was an agenda item. The two leaders did discuss it. But what sort of actual substantive agreement they came to on this is going to be step by step. It will largely be piecemeal, is what my sources expect. So again, it's going to require some time to take a closer look at what happened today.

MARTIN: I mean, it is remarkable. We should just pause to say the fact that this is even transpiring at this moment is something for the history books. I mean, when Kim Jong Un stepped foot on South Korea's soil, I mean, every step is symbolic. But you were tweeting about this, actually, that the symbolism wasn't lost on him, either, and so he kind of cajoled the South Korean leader to step back over the border?

HU: That's right. So they were shaking hands for a long time and smiling for cameras. They chit chatted about the journey down to the border before Kim then in an unscripted move invited the South's Moon to step over to the Northern side just for a few moments, you know, as a symbolic gesture before then crossing back over that concrete curb that separates the two countries. They did that hand-in-hand before going to their summit.

INSKEEP: And as you're describing this, of course, we're learning more about these different announcements, these steps to reduce tension, one of them apparently being a later summit where South Korea's president will go to the North, according to the Associated Press, and the Koreas agreeing to high-level military talks to continue to reduce tensions.

MARTIN: So clearly this is just the beginning. I mean, Elise, how are Koreans feeling about this? Do they believe that this can actually be the beginning of a new chapter in relations between the two Koreas?

HU: There have been tries before that have failed, but South Koreans are approaching this with a cautious optimism, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Elise Hu speaking to us from near where the summit is taking place. The voice of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un there in the background. Elise, thank you so much.

HU: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: He was one of the world's best-known entertainers. A comedian, a TV star, the Jell-O Pudding guy, Cliff Huxtable. Now Bill Cosby has been found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, and he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

INSKEEP: Gloria Allred, who represents a number of Bill Cosby's accusers - and there are many - spoke after the verdict.

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GLORIA ALLRED: Finally we can say women are believed, and not only on hashtag #MeToo but in a court of law.

INSKEEP: The specific charges here stem from a 2004 sexual assault. They initially went to trial in 2017, and that trial ended with a mistrial. Yesterday a jury in the retrial found Cosby guilty of drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand at his suburban Pennsylvania home. Cosby's lawyer says he's going to appeal.

MARTIN: All right. We've got NPR TV critic Eric Deggans with us this morning. He has covered Cosby's career for a very long time. Hey, Eric. Good morning.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Let's start with the obvious. This verdict comes at a very different moment than when the initial allegations against Cosby really started to get a lot of attention. This was about three years ago, right?

DEGGANS: It was about four years ago. That's right. In the space of about four years, we've gone from a situation where people have sort of barely acknowledged the past allegations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby to more than 50 women coming forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct, including many saying that he drugged and sexually assaulted them. And now we've got this conviction for the assault that was originally committed in 2004. It's a stunning sign of how much has changed in terms of how much the public believes women who come forward with allegations of sexual assault. And it seems to have removed this word, allegedly, from future biographies or news stories about Bill Cosby. I mean, he's now been convicted of sexual assault. He's not just been accused of it. And, in a way, to me this story kind of feels like the end of the beginning of the Me Too movement.

MARTIN: So I mean, as you noted, there had been all these whispers, or louder, of allegations against Cosby for so many years. But can you remind us, what fixed the public attention on this?

DEGGANS: Yeah. So back in 2014, Bill Cosby was mounting something of a comeback. And the comic Hannibal Buress told this joke in a stand-up act about Cosby being a hypocrite for criticizing poor black people while he had these allegations of rape in his past. And the joke was captured by a mobile phone, and it kind of became this viral video. And the video inspired one of the women who had publicly accused Cosby in the past, Barbara Bowman, to write an op-ed column for The Washington Post about her allegations. And so that sparked this movement where more women seem to come forward, and then eventually prosecutors decided to prosecute him.

And, you know, there was a sense that the accusations against Cosby were becoming public again at a time when the public was just not that willing to overlook them. You know, we had this whole generation of young people, especially young black people, who didn't revere Cosby as a pioneering entertainer. And they saw him as a hypocritical scold, and the protection that his money and fame gave him seemed to be gone. And now he's been convicted in a court of law.

MARTIN: As someone who's followed him for so long, how are you thinking about this verdict and its significance?

DEGGANS: Well, I'm just glad to see that we've got a resolution in a court of law. We've got a verdict. We've got this ending to a career that otherwise might have been shrouded in uncertainty and allegations. I mean, he's always going to be a pioneer in television. He's done so many firsts. But he's also someone now convicted of abusing his stature in the worst way.

MARTIN: Right. NPR's Eric Deggans. Thanks so much.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

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MARTIN: OK. The director of the Environmental Protection Agency and his office are now the subject of at least 10 federal inquiries.

INSKEEP: Which is elevating questions about Scott Pruitt's job security.

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FRANK PALLONE: If I were the president, I wouldn't want your help. I'd just get rid of you.

INSKEEP: Ouch. That's Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone speaking directly to Pruitt. He was one of several lawmakers who questioned him for hours yesterday about ethics and spending concerns, including the EPA's purchase of a $43,000 secure phone booth, significant raises to two staffers despite White House objections and travel expenses which have included first-class flights. Pruitt told lawmakers he has nothing to hide and described the allegations as politically motivated attacks.

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SCOTT PRUITT: Let's have no illusions about what was really going on here. Those who have attacked the EPA and attacked me are doing so because they want to attack and derail the president's agenda and undermine this administration's priorities.

MARTIN: OK. We've got NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell with us in the studio. Kelsey, you watched the testimony. What struck you?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Well, it was really striking that he was so adamant that he was not responsible for these accusations of ethical breach. We heard...

MARTIN: He conceded nothing.

SNELL: Conceded nothing. And he said that staff made the decisions when it came to the decisions about costly flights and moving him to first class. He said it was a security decision. He said staff made decision about that secure phone booth.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to remember that Harry Truman line. What is it? Yeah. The buck stops here. That was the one.

SNELL: And one of the members...

INSKEEP: OK. Go on. I'm sorry.

SNELL: One of the members did say that it appeared that he had a policy of the buck stops nowhere.

MARTIN: So I imagine people on the panel were not so happy with his responses?

SNELL: Predictably, Democrats were not thrilled with his responses. And there were some Republicans who had serious questions about the ethics of his decisions. But for the most part, Republicans in the House in general support this president, and they were very welcoming to the explanation from Pruitt that this was a political attack on the policies that he has put forward at the EPA, and it was quite effective for him to defend himself that way.

MARTIN: Does that mean Scott Pruitt keeps his job after all of this?

SNELL: Well, I spoke with some people on the Hill who thought that approach was pretty effective for speaking directly to a president who has himself said that he likes a fighter, he like somebody who stands up for himself. And framing it as a political attack rather than a conversation about ethics and about spending made it very digestible to a president who has used that line and approach often in the past. So while it's not assured that he will be safe in his job, it does seem as if this defense line was well-received.

MARTIN: He's not any cabinet member. They're really close. Scott Pruitt, cues very closely to the president's overall agenda, especially on the environment.

SNELL: Yeah. Absolutely. The White House had actually a pretty good week. They got a lot of people confirmed, judges and a new secretary of state. So overall, this may just fade to the background.

MARTIN: NPR's Kelsey Snell for us this morning. Thanks so much, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.