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News Brief: Impeachment Probe, Climate Conference, London Terror Attack


A new phase in the impeachment inquiry starts this week.


That's right. The House Intelligence Committee is expected to deliver its report to the House Judiciary Committee. And then that panel will hold its own public hearings. And it will begin the process of drafting and debating articles of impeachment against President Trump. Now, last night, the White House announced it will not participate in a hearing on Wednesday. All of this is happening as the president gets ready to leave town. He's on his way to London this morning for NATO meetings.

KING: NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith will be traveling with the president. Hi, Tam.


KING: All right. So as David said, the Judiciary Committee takes over the inquiry from here. They have been talking about it. Congresswoman Val Demings, a Democrat, she's on that committee. And here's what she said yesterday.


VAL DEMINGS: I think our main focus right now is to have the president and his counsel, who you know are given the same privileges as President Nixon and President Clinton had, to participate and engage in this impeachment process.

KING: All right. So what she's saying there is the White House was invited to this public hearing on Wednesday, but the White House turned it down. They said, no. We won't be there. Why?

KEITH: Well, the reason is that they say that they don't know who the witnesses are going to be. And it's not clear to the White House - this is from a letter from Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel to the committee. He says, it's not clear whether this is going to be a fair process. What we know is that Jerry Nadler, the committee chairman, asked the White House or the president to participate. But the president's going to be out of town.

And we know that some scholars are supposed to testify about the impeachment process and precedent. Cipollone in his letter says, an invitation to an academic discussion with law professors does not begin to provide the president with any semblance of a fair process.

But what is notable here is that he is not ruling out participation in future hearings. He is only, at this point, saying that the White House won't participate in this one hearing. He says if the White House is serious about conducting a fair process going forward, that the president may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings.

KING: So this is a line that the White House has used throughout this process, which is, the process itself is unfair to us. Let's talk about the hearing this week on Wednesday. What should we be expecting?

KEITH: I think for this hearing, it is going to be an academic discussion. The committee - the way the rules are set up, the committee will - the Democrats on the committee will be able to invite three witnesses. And the Republicans on the committee will be able to invite one witness.

And it is likely to be an academic debate about impeachment. This is really sort of the hors d'oeuvre to what will be a longer process - maybe only a week longer - but where they really get into the substance of the allegations against President Trump.

KING: The hors d'oeuvre, interesting. All right. Tam, as you mentioned, the president has said, look, I'm going to be in London on Wednesday meeting with NATO leaders. You guys knew that. I can't be there. Is this a chance for President Trump to kind of get a break from impeachment, this trip?

KEITH: Yeah. And the White House counsel in his letter said that - implied, well, you know, maybe you guys scheduled this on purpose while the president is out of the country. You know, there is this - there had been this tradition of politics end at the water's edge. But that is painfully out of date at this point. During his and Clinton - during his impeachment, President Clinton traveled overseas a number of times.

And there was one particular trip in the Middle East where he was having this press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel trying to talk about the peace process. And instead, every single question was about impeachment, most of them asking whether he was going to resign. And of course, he said he wasn't going to resign. Netanyahu got so frustrated, at one point he begged them to ask about something, anything else.

KING: So we will see if President Trump gets any questions on this trip. We expect he probably will. NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: Oh, he will. Thanks.


KING: The world is moving toward a point of no return on climate change.

GREENE: Yeah. That was the stark warning from the United Nations' secretary-general yesterday.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions.

GREENE: Antonio Guterres spoke on the eve of today's global climate conference in Madrid. The COP25 summit brings together nearly 200 nations to talk about ways to avert a climate catastrophe. But while American diplomats are going to be at the table, the Trump administration has announced that the United States will exit the Paris climate pact by next year. So what can be accomplished here without buy-in from the world's largest economy?

KING: Reporter Guy Hedgecoe is in Madrid covering the conference. Hi, Guy.


KING: So this conference got off to sort of a weird and dramatic start. What happened?

HEDGECOE: Well, the event was due to be held in Santiago de Chile originally. But there's been a tremendous amount of social unrest in Chile over the last few weeks. So that country's government pulled out of hosting the climate conference about a month ago, so really not very long before it was due to start. And that was a potentially disastrous decision, but Spain immediately stepped in and offered to host it instead.

And so Madrid has been organizing this major international event pretty much in record time. Now, this all took place just as the U.S. was formalizing the beginning of that withdrawal you mentioned...

KING: Yeah.

HEDGECOE: ...From the Paris Agreement on climate change. And incidentally, the Spanish environment minister, Teresa Ribera, has said that her country's offer to host the conference was a demonstration of multilateralism to counter the U.S. withdrawal.

KING: Interesting. What are the people attending want to come out of this meeting concretely?

HEDGECOE: Well, this is very much, you know, following up on the Paris Agreement from four years ago, which laid out objectives for cutting emissions, trying to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees centigrade. It's unlikely that we're going to see one major breakthrough at this conference, I think. And that's in great part because this is seen as this kind of stepping-stone event ahead of next year's conference, which is where countries are due to give new, updated and concrete commitments to cutting emissions. And this event is more about finding out what can be achieved next year in terms of those new promises. Now, that makes it sound all rather woolly and a bit vague...

KING: Yeah.

HEDGECOE: ...But there is a feeling that, you know, finding out what can be achieved at this conference is going to be pretty key. So that's going to be quite important.

KING: And, Guy, what does the American withdrawal from the Paris accord mean for the goals of this conference? Do they have to be less ambitious, for example?

HEDGECOE: Well, certainly, it's a major blow for the other countries taking part that, you know, the world's largest economy isn't, you know, part of the Paris Agreement anymore. That's a major blow. But I think they've digested that. And they feel that if they can get enough momentum going on these talks, if they can get new objectives together, perhaps - just perhaps - in the next few months or possibly next year, they can persuade the U.S. to sort of come back on board and join in on commitments to reducing carbon emissions.

KING: OK. So some attempts to kind of get the U.S. to at least agree to something, yeah?

HEDGECOE: Exactly. That's the idea.

KING: Guy Hedgecoe, reporter in Madrid. Guy, thanks so much.

HEDGECOE: Thanks very much. It's a pleasure.


KING: This morning in London, there's a vigil for two people in their 20s who were stabbed to death by an Islamist terrorist on Friday.

GREENE: Yeah. They were helping to organize this conference through Cambridge University. The subject was prisoner rehabilitation. Police say the perpetrator began his attack at that conference. But what made this incident stand out was not only the victims or the perpetrator but those who captured him. They were civilians armed with a narwhal tusk, a fire extinguisher - really whatever they could find.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London. He's been following this story. Hey there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So David summed up a bit of it there. But if you would, just remind me, what happened Friday?

LANGFITT: Yeah. Well, the man who was behind this, the terrorist, was a guy named Usman Khan, who actually had served time for terror charges in the past. And he was - he appears to have been attending the conference and had had some relationship with the program. In the afternoon, he started attacking people with a knife. And some of the people at the conference, some people who were in the building, actually fought back, particularly one person grabbed a narwhal tusk off the wall and began stabbing him.

And eventually, they chased the terrorist out onto the street, onto London Bridge. There was another man with a fire extinguisher spraying the man - the terrorist with this fire extinguisher. They cornered him. They got him on the ground. And then police came in and shot him.

KING: That's absolutely extraordinary. How are normal people in the U.K. responding to all this?

LANGFITT: You know, I think that there is pride to see civilians do this. This, I think - if I can keep track, Noel, this is the fifth attack - terror attack in London in the last several years...

KING: Wow.

LANGFITT: ...And with all of what's been happening with Brexit and the country tearing itself apart, there hasn't been a lot to celebrate. Mayor Sadiq Khan referred to these civilians as the best of us. Now, one of the guys who - the guy who grabbed the narwhal tusk was a Polish chef. He actually ended up getting stabbed five times and still kept going after the terrorist.

And again, with Brexit and issues of immigration, this makes this an even more interesting story because people have - some people who voted for Brexit want the immigrants - people like this Polish chef to leave. And yet, he ends up - Poland says they're going to give him the highest medal that they have for what he's done.

Now, this is also a very complex story. One of the people who subdued the attacker reportedly actually was a convict himself who had been serving time for murder and was out on a one-day release. So really, with each day, this becomes a more complex and interesting story.

KING: And what do we know about the victims here, Frank?

LANGFITT: Young, promising people, two Cambridge University graduates in their 20s who had studied criminology. One was named Saskia Jones. She was volunteering at this conference. Jack Merritt, another victim, he was helping coordinate it. And today, the headline in the Cambridge News said "They Tried To Make The World A Better Place."

KING: Britain will hold national elections in 10 days. Has this attack become part of the campaigning around those elections?

LANGFITT: Immediately it became a political football.

KING: It did?

LANGFITT: Yeah, because Khan had been - he had been released early on a terror conviction. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is saying - blaming the Labour Party - the opposition Labour Party because these were policies under Labour.

But the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson has been in for 10 years. So the question is, why didn't they do something about it? And family members of the victims say they do not want these deaths politicized.

KING: NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Frank, thanks so much.

LANGFITT: You're very welcome, Noel.

(SOUNDBITE OF STAN FOREBEE'S "REFLECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.