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News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, Trump At U.N., Attorney General Sessions


BRETT KAVANAUGH: What I know is the truth. And the truth is I've never sexually assaulted anyone, in high school or otherwise.


Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh spoke publicly for the first time last night since allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him.


Yeah. In a lengthy interview with Fox News' Martha MacCallum, Kavanaugh denied both the allegation of a sexual assault that happened in high school as well as an incident alleged to have happened at a party when he was at Yale. And more than a dozen times, Kavanaugh uttered some version of this.


KAVANAUGH: I want a fair process where I can defend my integrity and clear my name as quickly as I can in whatever forum the Senate deems appropriate.

MARTIN: Kavanaugh was also adamant he will not withdraw his name from nomination and that he knew President Trump was standing by him.


KAVANAUGH: I'm not going to let false accusations drive us out of this process.

MARTIN: The next step in the process comes Thursday, when Kavanaugh will defend himself in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And his first accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, will testify under oath as well.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith has been following this story for us and will walk us through this sometimes awkward material, which some people will find uncomfortable, we should warn you right now.

Hi there, Tam.


INSKEEP: So this was an opportunity to hear something more, I guess, than the blanket denial that Kavanaugh had already issued. What did he say?

KEITH: Well, he continued to issue relatively blanket denials. But he also got into some other ideas, including that maybe, he said, Christine Blasey Ford was confused - that he doesn't dismiss that she may have been attacked. He was asked whether there should be an investigation by the FBI into these allegations before a hearing. And he gave sort of a canned answer about wanting a hearing and a fair process. And he was also asked about his high school years, about wild parties that are described from his time in high school. And he, instead, focused on other parts of his high school life.


KAVANAUGH: I was focused on trying to be No. 1 in my class and being captain of the varsity basketball team, in doing my service projects, going to church.

INSKEEP: He volunteered some more information about himself, Tamara Keith. He was asked by Martha MacCallum in this interview about the incident at the party at Yale, which appeared to be a drunken party at Yale, where he was alleged to have committed a number of acts. And he, among other things, said he did not have sexual intercourse in high school or for years afterward, which is not something he'd been asked. But that is what he said. Do you learn anything from this greater and greater description, at least by him, of his early years?

KEITH: And he volunteered that. And he had his wife sitting there during the interview, so it was sort of this awkward moment. But volunteering that he was a virgin for some number of years is not exculpatory. He wasn't accused of having sex in high school. He was accused of other things that would not cause him to lose his virginity.

INSKEEP: Did the question of his drinking come up in this interview, Tamara Keith? And I mention this specifically because now a former roommate of Kavanaugh at Yale has put out a statement saying, I don't know if he did these things. I have no information, but I know that he drank a lot and that he was aggressive and belligerent when drinking.

KEITH: He was very careful in answering questions about that, saying there were 18-year-olds in high school who were legal who brought beer, and maybe people did have more beers than they should. But everyone does things in high school that they regret, was basically his answer on that.

INSKEEP: OK. So all of this is happening amid a - is it fair to say a hardening of attitudes here that Republicans have become ever more determined to go through with this nomination and bring it to a close if they can?

KEITH: I would say decided Republicans. There are still other Republicans who are watching this who will make their decision based on what happens at that hearing. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described this on the Senate floor as a shameful smear campaign that has hit a new low and says that Judge Kavanaugh will get a vote on the Senate floor. President Trump also tweeted support.

MARTIN: It's also unclear just how open those minds are. I mean, Orrin Hatch, who also sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that it's common for our friends on the other side to, quote, "pull this kind of crap," talking about what he believes to be a Democratic smear campaign against Kavanaugh.

KEITH: Yeah, that second allegation and story really changed positions for some.

INSKEEP: OK. That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome.


INSKEEP: President Trump speaks this morning to a gathering of world leaders in New York at the United Nations.

MARTIN: Yeah. Last year, he memorably referred to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as Rocket Man. A lot has changed in the U.S. relationship with North Korea since then, in particular how President Trump talks about the North.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The relationship is very good. In fact, in some ways, it's extraordinary.

INSKEEP: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe is covering the speech and is in New York.

Hi there, Ayesha.


INSKEEP: Although - I guess we should mention, they had a summit, the leaders of the United States and North Korea. But North Korea still hasn't agreed to give up any of its nuclear weapons. Is it likely that the president is going to describe this as a success?

RASCOE: He is. It seems like the administration really wants to say that because the ties and the relations between North Korea are better now that that is a success story for Trump's foreign policy. But as you mentioned, even though Trump will likely be positive about Kim, there are still real questions about whether anything has actually changed for North Korea outside of rhetoric. Is North Korea really serious about denuclearization? But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that Trump is going to be resolute and he's going to stress that you have to keep pressure on this regime and not ease sanctions until they see progress toward dismantling the nuclear program. But you also have CIA Director Gina Haspel saying that North Korea is not just going to give up their nuclear weapons because they see them as leverage.

INSKEEP: And then there's the question of Iran, where the United States pulled out of a nuclear deal with Iran. Other nations involved want to stay in that deal. What is the administration approach at the United Nations, at this forum, to try to get other nations to sign on to its approach to Iran?

RASCOE: Well, Pompeo told reporters that Trump is going to have really strong words for Iran during this speech. I think what you're going to hear is Trump really outlining all the bad things that he will argue that Iran is doing and basically saying that all these other nations need to get on board. And they need to be isolating Iran if they want to be on America's good side. You will have Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani. He's going to speak later in the day, so he'll have a chance to respond to Trump. And even tomorrow, Trump is going to be chairing this U.N. Security Council meeting on denuclearization that will also talk about Iran. And you could have Rouhani attending that meeting as well. So this could be a kind of tense situation.

INSKEEP: OK. We'll see what happens.

Thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

RASCOE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ayesha Rascoe.


INSKEEP: The attorney general of the United States - and he is still the attorney general of the United States - Jeff Sessions is expected to meet this morning with a group of state attorneys general to talk about the power of the tech industry.

MARTIN: Right. So this all began when conservative politicians and President Trump were alleging that certain social media platforms are suppressing conservative views.

INSKEEP: That was their claim. It's been hard to find evidence of it. But NPR's Alina Selyukh is here to follow what happens now that Sessions is talking with state AGs. What is this meeting about?

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: As you mentioned, the original announcement did talk about the allegations of bias on social media. Twitter, Facebook and Google have been accused of intentionally suppressing conservative viewpoints, which...

INSKEEP: Like, putting them lower in the searches and so forth - or lower in people's social media feeds. Right?

SELYUKH: That was one of the concerns that I believe President Trump has expressed. And at first, it did seem like this meeting was a plan hatched among a handful Republican state AGs. Since then, the Democratic AGs complained that this was politically motivated. They made the case that there were many other things to discuss about tech companies. Either way, today this meeting will have both Republicans and Democrats.

INSKEEP: So are they still going to focus on the conspiracy theories about social media companies and conservative media?

SELYUKH: I'm sure the anti-conservative bias will be a big topic. The way the Justice Department originally described this conversation was that it was going to be about whether social platforms may be, quote, "hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas." Facebook, Google and Twitter have all pushed back against this and argued that their algorithms are not political.

But to break it down, there are two different things going on here. The culture and politics of Silicon Valley is really liberal.


SELYUKH: There's no way around that. Political contributions from workers there overwhelmingly go to Democrats. But what Trump and others have argued is that technologically, the companies have allegedly rigged their software somehow, otherwise are suppressing conservative views. And for that, they have not offered any evidence. And another thing to remember is, at the end of the day, companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter - they are private platforms. So theoretically, they can set whatever standards they want for what they allow to be said on their platforms, though, of course, the companies themselves have long fought to be viewed as those neutral public squares.

INSKEEP: Sure. Well, you've just hit on the dilemma there. Right? Because they are private companies, they can do what they want. They have freedom of speech as a company. They can encourage other people to have freedom of speech. And yet, they have this gigantic public presence and public purpose. So now the state attorneys general are going to talk about that with Jeff Sessions. What can the states actually do?

SELYUKH: Well, state AGs can have a fair amount of oversight of social media. They are empowered by pretty broad consumer protection laws. And so actually, in the announcement of the meeting now, that is the topic that's designated, consumer protection and the tech industry.

INSKEEP: Meaning the state attorney general of Idaho, just hypothetically, could go after Google - is that what could happen here?

SELYUKH: Ultimately, even having federal and state attorneys digging under the hood and sort of asking very specific questions about how their algorithms operate can be the kind of attention that the companies do not want. And here's something that's even more interesting to me. The fact that it is now a bipartisan meeting, we might have a conversation beyond the political allegations of bias and into sort of antitrusts, how big these companies are and how exactly they operate.

INSKEEP: OK. Alina, thanks very much. Really appreciate it.

SELYUKH: Thanks.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Alina Selyukh.


Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.