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News brief: Jan. 6 ruling, EU border crisis, Ethiopia detains U.N. workers

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A judge blocked Donald Trump's bid to keep the public from seeing what he did on January 6.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The judge's ruling came last night. The one-time president had asserted a right to secrecy, saying that he should be able to keep Congress from examining documents relating to the attack on the Capitol. He claimed executive privilege of president's power to keep some communications private. The judge rejected that because Trump is no longer president and Congress is doing its job. His lawyers are appealing, but the chairman of the House investigation, Representative Bennie Thompson, calls this ruling a big win.

MARTIN: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is with us to talk about it more. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Remind us, first off, what the committee is after here.

MONTANARO: Well, the Congressional Investigative Panel is seeking more information about what happened on January 6. You know, what did the president know? When did he know it? What was he saying behind the scenes? What advice was he getting leading up to this day and on the day of? You know, there are some 800 pages of information here that they're trying to get released and looking into his communications, you know, his emails, visitor logs, call logs, see who he was talking to. They want to see potentially draft speeches, talking points, memos with possible legal strategies. You know, the House panel says that its reasoning for going after the then-president is because they say that he, quote, "helped foment the breakdown in the rule of law." The panel, in recent days, we should note, has stepped up a lot of pressure. They've issued a round of almost two dozen subpoenas of people close to the former president, wanting them to testify. Many of them have declined to voluntarily come forward, and the president here is trying to claim executive privilege.

MARTIN: OK, so explain more about the details of the judge's ruling, the significance of this.

MONTANARO: Yeah. The judge, Tanya Chutkan, noted that she agreed with congressional investigators who say that discovering and coming to terms with the causes underlying the January 6 attack is a matter of unsurpassed public importance because such information relates to our core democratic institutions and the public's confidence in them. She noted that it's in the public interest to get to the bottom of what happened and to prevent such events from happening again. Now, Trump had sued the National Archives to try and shield these records, keep them out of the public eye. And, you know, Joe Biden, though, the current president, decided not to assert executive privilege, and the judge punctuated that in her ruling, saying presidents are not kings, and the plaintiff is not president. And the timeline here - we could see records released to Congress as soon as Friday.

MARTIN: Trump's team, as we have noted, says it's appealing. So where could this go?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, he is trying to keep the record secret, at least until the U.S. Court of Appeals can weigh in. So it might not be released as soon as Friday. But Trump's team says the president needs, quote, "full and frank advice," and that wouldn't be possible of every communication were to become public. The Democratic chairman of the panel, Bennie Thompson, said it's, quote, "little more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our investigation." And, you know, as we said, some of Trump's former advisers - not cooperating. And there's possibility they could delay things past the midterm elections, believing Republicans are likely to win the House and end this investigation.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Domenico Montanaro, we appreciate your reporting in that context. Thank you.

MONTANARO: Hey, you're welcome.

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MARTIN: Thousands of migrants are crowded in front of a barbed wire fence that separates Belarus from Poland.

INSKEEP: Yeah, they're trying to cross into Poland, which means they're trying to cross into the European Union, of which Poland is a member. Thousands of Polish soldiers are defending that barbed wire trying to keep people out. The European Union accuses Belarus of tricking asylum-seekers with false hopes of entering Europe. The president of Belarus allegedly is using migrants as a weapon, retaliating against EU sanctions on his government.

MARTIN: We're going to talk about all this with Suzanne Lynch. She is with Politico Europe. She's been following the developments from Brussels. Suzanne, thanks for being here.

SUZANNE LYNCH: Good morning.

MARTIN: First of all, can you just explain more about this particular migrant group? Where did they come from? Who's among them?

LYNCH: It does seem that most of the migrants here are originally from Iraq, but there are also migrants from Syria and parts of Africa. And they are taking flights from various airports in the Middle East; also, maybe from Turkey, you know, Damascus. And they're being encouraged by the Belarusian authorities to fly to the Belarusian capital, Minsk. And then they are being funneled through or encouraged to move on and enter the European Union through its border. So there are reports that Belarus is organizing visas, that smuggling groups are organizing flights and travels, overcharging people to make this perilous journey and then leaving them, encouraging them to go to the border with the European Union and then just leaving them there.

Poland, which is on the eastern flank, if you like, of the European Union, has been taking a very tough response. It's been sending its own troops to the border, saying that these migrants do not have a right to enter. And that, in turn, is raising human rights concerns because a lot of people here in Brussels are concerned that Poland is not living up to its obligations under human rights laws. And a lot of these asylum-seekers do have the right to seek asylum.

MARTIN: So it's both Belarus and Poland that could be bad actors in this moment. But let's focus on Belarus because what is - what's the play here for the president, Alexander Lukashenko? I mean, why would he set these migrants up for failure basically by sending them there?

LYNCH: It is a cynical move. I mean, tensions have been rife between Belarus and the neighboring European Union for a long time. Last year, Belarus held elections. The European Union said they were fraudulent. And then in May, Belarus audaciously, really, diverted a Ryanair flight and arrested a Belarusian dissident on that flight. Now, since that time, the European Union has imposed sanctions, and Belarus is not happy about this. And they have come up with this ploy, essentially, to smuggle and encourage migrants and essentially cynically instrumentalizing people and the threat of a migrant crisis and encouraging them to go to to Europe.

Now, the issue for Brussels is that it does need to show solidarity with these countries on its eastern border. It's not just Poland; also Lithuania, too, has declared a state of emergency. As I said, there - you know, there are other concerns about how Poland is dealing with this. For example, it's not letting NGOs into the region - it's not letting journalists. So there's a whole problem here about what's actually happening on the ground. And we're depending on footage from the Polish and the Belarusian authorities on this.

MARTIN: Lukashenko, we have to acknowledge, is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Is the EU suggesting that Putin has a role in this, frankly?

LYNCH: Yeah, I think there is a concern here. The Polish prime minister said in the Polish Parliament yesterday that President Putin is masterminding this, and he accused explicitly Russia. So I think there is concern about the connections between Belarus and Russia on this issue.

MARTIN: Suzanne Lynch - she is a reporter for Politico Europe based in Brussels. We so appreciate your - sharing your reporting. Thank you.

LYNCH: Many thanks.

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MARTIN: All right. Here's a question - exactly why did Ethiopia detain more than 20 people who work for the United Nations?

INSKEEP: Yeah. Ethiopia's government took custody of those staffers in the capital. Some were released, but 16 remain in custody. A U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, says they have not been given an explanation.

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STEPHANE DUJARRIC: I can't comment on why the government is doing this, all right. What I can only comment on is that we have colleagues that are currently in detention that should not be in detention.

INSKEEP: Ethiopia's move comes amid a civil war. The government has been attacking rebels in the Tigray region, and the rebels have lately been advancing on the capital.

MARTIN: NPR's Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta has been following this and joins us now. Eyder, thanks for being here.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: Do you have any more details about exactly the number detained and what's the situation at this moment?

PERALTA: So, look, we know that originally 22 of the staffers, of their staffers, and an unknown number of their dependents were arrested. But this is also happening amid a huge crackdown in Addis Ababa. Human rights groups say that hundreds of ethnic Tigrayans have been rounded up for seemingly no other reason than their ethnicity. And the AP is reporting that the U.N. staffers who were arrested were Tigrayan. The U.N. would not comment on that, but this is also not the first time that the U.N. is caught in the government crosshairs. Last month, Ethiopia threw out seven top-ranking U.N. officials. And all of this has obviously made it harder for the U.N. to address a dire humanitarian situation in the country. Remember that the U.N.'s priority is to get food aid to a part of the country that they say is on the verge of catastrophic famine, and this makes that harder.

MARTIN: Do these detentions tell us something about the nature of this conflict or how it's evolving?

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, look, this is a conflict that started as a power struggle between Ethiopia's old rulers and their new ones, but it has turned viciously ethnic. Ethiopian troops and Eritrean troops have been accused of pillaging and raping their way through the northern part of the country. The Ethiopian government has been accused of using hunger as a weapon of war against the people of Tigray. And now, as the conflict moves out of Tigray and into neighboring states, we're hearing accusations that the rebels are doing some of the same things against the people of Amhara. Both sides frame this war as existential, so it's become vicious, and the U.N. and humanitarian groups and mainly civilians are bearing the brunt.

MARTIN: What is the next move by the Ethiopian government here?

PERALTA: Look, so as you said, the U.N. says that the government has given them no explanation, and the Ethiopian government says that the U.N. staffers were arrested not because of where they work but because of, quote, "their wrongdoing and their participation in a terror act." The government didn't provide any evidence for that. But I think it tells you that the government has no apologies for what's happening.

MARTIN: So, I mean, when you look at this now long and very complicated conflict, Eyder, I mean, what is the end game? I mean, where do the mediation efforts stand between the government and the Tigray rebels?

PERALTA: So, look, there is an effort ongoing from the U.S. and the U.N. and the African Union to mediate a solution. And this week, an A.U. envoy spoke to both sides in this war. But all of this is coming a year into this civil war, and analysts I've spoken to seem to think it's too little, too late.

MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting for us this morning. Thank you, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.