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News Brief: Pompeo In Asia, DOJ Reports On Clinton Email Investigation


We're going to get a much-awaited report later today coming from the Justice Department.


Yeah. These are the findings of the department's inspector general, who examines conduct within the department and has been asking if the FBI, under its former director, James Comey, mishandled the probe into Hillary Clinton's private email server.

GREENE: And NPR's Ryan Lucas is here to talk about that. Ryan, I feel like we've been covering every twist and turn in this story for a number of years now. So this particular investigation and this report coming out today, how did this all come about?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, the Justice Department's inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, announced back in January of 2017 - so about a week before President Trump's inauguration - that he was going to look into the Justice Department and FBI's handling of the Clinton email investigation. And he said that this was in response to complaints from members of Congress, members of the public about the FBI's actions surrounding the Clinton probe. He said he would look at several issues, but one of the biggest and most highly-anticipated things that he's looking at is, of, course then-FBI Director James Comey's decision to go public about the Clinton email probe. What I'm talking about is Comey's announcement in July 2016 saying that he was closing the Hillary Clinton email probe without charges. Republicans at the time cried foul, saying that Clinton was being let off easy.

And then, of course, there's Comey's letter on October 28 to Congress saying that the FBI was reopening the investigation to look at new emails that it had found. And then, of course, there's his letter just a few days before the election saying that the bureau hadn't found anything in those emails and that he was closing the probe again. Democrats, of course, blasted Comey for those letters, and they accused him of possibly costing Clinton the election.

GREENE: If you can say anything about James Comey, it's that he has taken heat from both sides of the political aisle pretty consistently.

LUCAS: Absolutely.

GREENE: OK. So are we going to learn anything new here? Because a lot of the stuff you've been talking about there, it sounds like we've gone over before.

LUCAS: Right. The events themselves are well-known. So we're not going to learn anything new in that regard. And the IG says that he's not going to be questioning the judgments, the decisions that the FBI made regarding the decision not to charge Clinton. But what we will get are basically conclusions from the inspector general on the actions that certain people such as Comey took. So Comey is expected to be faulted for violating department guidelines for mishandling the Clinton probe, particularly related to that July 5 press conference when he said that he was closing the case without charges.

But also, at that time, of course, he also said that Clinton was extremely careless in her handling of classified information. So that announcement, we expect to hear, broke with department protocol. By reopening the investigation days before the election, Comey appeared to run afoul of DOJ efforts not to do anything that might impact the election. So he may get dinged on that as well. Comey's view - this is something that he's said publicly - is that he had a tough decision to make and it was a no-win situation.

GREENE: Ryan, I know we're talking about stuff that happened in 2016, but this whole debate over the FBI and possible motives and all this stuff, it feels like it all fits into a narrative that is really relevant now.

LUCAS: Absolutely. And today is President Trump's birthday. And he has suggested that this report might be something of what he called a nice birthday present for him because the president has, of course, gone after the FBI and the Justice Department over its handling of the Clinton email probe. And he has used this to batter the FBI and the Justice Department regarding the Russia investigation as well. So this may give him more ammunition to do that down the road.

GREENE: NPR's Ryan Lucas speaking to us about that DOJ report we're expecting later today. Ryan, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you.


GREENE: President Trump returned from Singapore yesterday sounding pretty triumphant. He tweeted that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat and that everyone can now feel a whole lot safer.

INSKEEP: OK. So how safe do North Korea's neighbors feel? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stopped in Seoul to offer some reassurance.

GREENE: And Seoul is where we find NPR's Elise Hu. Good morning, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So Pompeo was there meeting with the president of South Korea, the foreign minister of Japan. This comes right after, you know, the big summit. What is his message?

HU: Well, he said that there would be no relaxing of economic sanctions on North Korea unless North Korea actually took steps to denuclearize. There was some space between what the U.S. is saying and what North Korean state media put out, which was that Trump - apparently, according to North Korean state media - was willing to already relax sanctions. So Pompeo was challenged a little bit about the president hyping that the North Korean nuclear threat was no longer. Here's what he had to say.


MIKE POMPEO: When he talked about the reduction in threat that followed from that, it was with eyes wide open. He said this in his press conference. It could be the case that our effort will not work, but we're determined to set the conditions.

HU: The U.S. is, however, already giving up a major thing to North Korea, which is it's scrambling to suspend military exercises. The next ones were set to start in August. South Korea still could possibly proceed with its computer-simulated exercise or its part of it. Details are still getting worked out. And Japan, for its part, is saying that the Japanese-U.S. exercises are vital and that those joint exercises between U.S. and Japan would continue.

GREENE: Oh, so there's a little bit of concern there from the Asian allies about if these exercises, as President Trump suggested - at least, the war games, as he called them - might actually end. So a lot of questions there. But can we just go back to President Trump saying there's no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea? I know Pompeo kind of talking about that, parsing it. But you're in Seoul, 35 miles from the border. How did people there react to that?

HU: Well, bear in mind, North Korea's nuclear arsenal hasn't changed suddenly after Tuesday's summit. The country still has what experts believe is anywhere between 20 to 60 nuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them. And we have to remember that the threat is always kind of a calculation - right? - of whether North Korea would use them. And that often get dialed up and dialed down by rhetoric, and sometimes that was rhetoric from the U.S. side. So that hasn't changed.

GREENE: That hasn't changed. So Mike Pompeo saying yesterday that the president is in the lead but that he - the secretary of state - is going to actually drive the process going forward now. Does that tell us anything about how these negotiations are going to go forward?

HU: These negotiations have to get into the nitty gritty because the devil is always in the details when it comes to agreements, especially complicated ones regarding the nuclear arsenal of North Korea. North Korea has signed on to, over the past few decades, at least six previous deals regarding its nuclear program. And all of those deals were actually more specific about drawing down its program through verification and outside inspections. And even still, North Korea, of course, ignored them and advanced anyway. So it's going to take a lot of nitty gritty specific demands that North Korea so far has not agreed to in this round.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Elise Hu talking to us about the post-summit period that has now begun. She's in Seoul. Elise, thanks.

HU: You bet.


GREENE: We're going to turn our focus now to Yemen, where a port city is under attack. And there are fears that this might lead to a humanitarian disaster.

INSKEEP: The city is called Hodeidah. It's facing the Red Sea. Rebels, the government and outside countries have been fighting over it. And refugees from that city describe airstrikes, civilians dead, a collapse of order, shortages of food. And that was before the latest assault. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are supporting a Yemen government attack on insurgents in Hodeidah.

GREENE: All right. Let's bring in NPR's Ruth Sherlock, who is following all of this from Beirut. And, Ruth, just tell us more about this city if you can because it just - it sounds so vital to this country.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Yes, that's absolutely right, it is. So Yemen is really heavily dependent on imports for its food, fuel and medicine. And this is the main port through which it can get these in. The U.N. says that something like 70 percent of its imports come through here. So aid agencies are saying, look, this is a critical lifeline to a country that's already fighting famine. You described there the terrible conditions.

Aid groups say more than 22 million people are in need of aid and that it's already the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. So I spoke with Frank McManus. He's the Yemen country director for the International Rescue Committee. And he's in the capital, Sanaa. I asked him what the consequences might be if the port was damaged or closed.

FRANK MCMANUS: The three next ports do not equal to what Hodeidah brings in. There is no other ports that can handle these volumes. Without Hodeidah, the country goes hungry.

SHERLOCK: So the Emiratis say they have a contingency plan to bring food, supplies by other routes if the war does harm the port in any way. But McManus says the problem is that these - all these other options will likely cause prices of food to rise more. And Yemenis at risk of famine are the ones that already can't afford the cost of the food that is in the country.

GREENE: Wow, yeah. I mean, just hearing him say, without Hodeidah, the country goes hungry - that's such - that's alarming. So is there a question about whether this city will, as he says, I mean, not be there, not be functioning? Like, what is the latest on this assault?

SHERLOCK: Well, for now, the port remains open. And Yemeni troops are making their way along the Red Sea coast. And Emirati ships are said to be approaching also from the sea. The Houthis have fired some missiles at those ships. And this is happening amid reports of heavy airstrikes. But for the moment, the port is open and functioning. And the bigger picture here is that the U.N. is trying to negotiate an end to this conflict. And the Emiratis say this is a way to bring the Houthis to the table and force a kind of bargain, but that's causing such widespread alarm because the stakes are just so high here.

GREENE: It certainly sounds that way. OK, NPR's Ruth Sherlock talking to us from Beirut about that situation in Yemen right now, the port city is under attack. We'll be following that story. Ruth, thanks so much.

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

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.