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News Brief: Trump Trial, Biden-Xi Call, Myanmar Sanctions

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Just how close were the Capitol rioters to encountering lawmakers on January 6?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

On the second day of the impeachment trial of former President Trump, Democrats spent hours trying to demonstrate how rioters got within about 60 steps of the Senate chamber while senators were still evacuating.

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UNIDENTIFIED METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICER: We've lost the line. All MPD pull back. All MPD pull back up to the upper deck.

MARTIN: That audio is from a clearly exasperated Metropolitan police officer, and it's the moment rioters breached the police line at the Capitol building. It was part of the timeline impeachment managers tried to reconstruct of that day with never before seen images and audio of the events.

PFEIFFER: Here with us to talk more about the Senate trial is justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

PFEIFFER: What was unique about this new footage that the impeachment managers showed yesterday?

JOHNSON: You know, lots of new video we had not seen before from security cameras inside the Capitol and audio from police, often very disturbing - the sound of law enforcement when they realized the Capitol had been breached and the rioters had overwhelmed the law enforcement presence. We now know the rioters had bear spray, batons, flagpoles, brass knuckles and tactical gear. This was hand-to-hand combat outside and inside the Capitol.

You could really sense how close this mob got to the vice president and how much the lives of lawmakers and others who worked at the Capitol were under threat that day. We saw some footage of former Vice President Mike Pence being evacuated to safety with his family. Rioters were only a hundred feet away from them. We also saw and heard audio of rioters basically looking and hunting down House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Here is Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, one of the House impeachment managers.

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STACEY PLASKETT: It's clear that Trump and some of his supporters saw this as war, a fight against anyone who was unwilling to do whatever it took to keep Donald Trump in power.

PFEIFFER: In terms of the legal underpinnings of the emotion and violence of that day, how are House managers trying to use that audio and imagery to lay out their case?

JOHNSON: Well, the House managers are making the point that it wasn't just Donald Trump's actions and statements or inactions on January 6, but in fact, there was a buildup. There was a buildup months in advance through lies - widespread and baseless lies about election fraud. Now, Trump lawyers have said the former president has rights under the First Amendment, but the lead house manager, Jamie Raskin, says Trump is not some regular guy on the street corner being punished for mouthing off. Raskin says Trump had a duty to protect and defend the country and the Congress. Instead, he primed people with lies about this election fraud, sent them to the Capitol to fight and blasted the vice president while the attack was underway. The House's case is that this was all foreseeable. Some of the people involved in this riot at the Capitol were previously involved in violent incidents in Texas and elsewhere.

PFEIFFER: And Carrie, the trial continues today, of course. What can we expect today?

JOHNSON: You know, the House impeachment managers are going to finish up. They're not expected to take their full time. And Donald Trump's attorneys could start their arguments. That's going to be closely watched, in part because their first performance was rambling and widely panned, even by Republicans on the Senate jury. We're going to see if their presentation is more focused or really, Sacha, whether the quality of the arguments and the evidence here even matters with a jury that is political, with some members of the Senate jury that may not really have an open mind about this case. We're going to find out.

PFEIFFER: That's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thanks.

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PFEIFFER: President Biden often jokes about how much time he's spent talking to Chinese President Xi Jinping over the years.

MARTIN: But last night, he had his first conversation with Xi as president. It was a call that had some important clues about Biden's policy towards China, a country that poses vast economic climate and security challenges to the U.S.

PFEIFFER: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez was up late working on this, and he joins me now. Hi, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hey, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: There's been a lot of curiosity about what this call would be like. How did it go?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, we know that they talked about some tough issues. The White House said Biden raised concerns about coercive and unfair economic practices and human rights abuses, as well as China's crackdown in Hong Kong and aggression toward Taiwan. But they also talked about things they could cooperate on, like the pandemic, climate change and nuclear proliferation. That actually has some China hawks worried about Biden being too soft on Beijing and giving concessions to get progress on, say, climate, for example.

PFEIFFER: And what about tariffs, which we know were a big part of former President Trump's trade policy? Do we know how President Biden may change that, if at all?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, officials told us last night that the tariffs will stay, at least until a review is completed. One official said that there was merit in some of the competitive aspects of Trump's policies. But the Biden team takes issue with how Trump went about it, namely the go-it-alone "America First" approach.

So what we should expect to see is more working with partners in the region as well as allies on the issue of China. The challenge, though, is how to strike a balance between confrontation and cooperation. I spoke with Evan Medeiros. He worked on China policy at the National Security Council in the Obama administration.

EVAN MEDEIROS: Well, it's not easy. Oftentimes, it's difficult to do simultaneously. In other words, you can't confront them over Taiwan or the South China Sea and then turn around the next day and ask them to do more on climate change.

ORDOÑEZ: But he said the Biden team is very familiar with China's methods and has the ability to balance all this. Officials - White House officials told us last night, though, that they've heard a lot of concerns from allies about Chinese military behavior. And the Biden team has also heard concerns about, quote, "whether the United States will have their back."

PFEIFFER: It is tricky, Franco. The U.S. is tough on China, but at the same time asking for cooperation from China. So has there been reaction so far from China about this call?

ORDOÑEZ: So Xi had his last conversation with former President Trump back in March, and their relationship really soured after Trump blamed China for the pandemic. So Beijing is seeking change, significant change. In a readout of the call with Biden in official Chinese media, Xi was quoted as saying that cooperation between the two countries was, quote, "the only correct choice." And he urged the resumption of dialogue. He says the two countries need to, quote, "meet each other halfway" and "treat each other as equals." He also warned that Taiwan, Hong Kong and other human rights issues were internal matters for China, so there's still some divide between the two countries.

PFEIFFER: NPR's Frank Ordoñez. Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

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PFEIFFER: In more news from the new administration, President Joe Biden is imposing sanctions on the generals involved in Myanmar's military coup earlier this month.

MARTIN: In addition to freezing a billion dollars in assets their government keeps in the United States, Biden called on the military to restore the civilian government.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The military must relinquish power it seized and demonstrate respect for the will of the people of Burma as expressed in their November 8 election.

MARTIN: Even though the military there has declared martial law, thousands of people are demonstrating for the sixth day in a row, calling on the release of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

PFEIFFER: Reporter Michael Sullivan has been following the events in Myanmar and joins us now from Thailand. Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Morning.

PFEIFFER: Who exactly do these new sanctions target?

SULLIVAN: We don't really know yet. The administration says details will be released later this week. But I think it's safe to say that coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing is at the top of the list, along with several of his immediate subordinates, basically the same bunch who were sanctioned by the U.S. in 2019 for their role in the military's brutal crackdown against the Muslim minority Rohingya.

President Biden also said that the sanctions might not be limited to just the generals, but include family members and business interests, too. That would suggest their children and maybe two very large military-run companies with fingers in many pies, some of them tied to foreign investors who came in after Western sanctions started being lifted in 2012, at the beginning of what looked then to be the start of Myanmar's transition to democratic rule.

PFEIFFER: But Myanmar still has close ties with China. So how can these sanctions be effective if other countries don't sign on?

SULLIVAN: And that's the problem, right? I mean, not just with China, but with other countries in the region and beyond. Singapore, Japan, Thailand and others all jumped in after the easing of sanctions in 2012, in some cases earlier. And there's lots of money to be made in Myanmar and a lot to lose by turning against the generals.

But that doesn't mean China is necessarily happy with this coup either. It got along just fine with Aung San Suu Kyi. And in fact, there are reports Myanmar's military thought they got on too well. Myanmar's generals don't really trust China, in part because of their own long fight against communist insurgents. And even today, China is said to provide weapons to some of the ethnic minority groups fighting Myanmar's military for more autonomy. China liked things the way they were with Aung San Suu Kyi - way better relationship.

PFEIFFER: Meanwhile, thousands of people are defying the order against protesting. And the concern, of course, is always, what will the military do when the public is amassing like this? So how has Myanmar's military responded so far?

SULLIVAN: Well, on Tuesday, after it issued its veiled warning to prevent acts that violate state stability and the rule of law, things did turn ugly in several places with water cannon and rubber bullets used by police in several different cities with some injuries. But things seem to have calmed down since, though there have been more arrests of political figures. Nighttime curfews are in place in some areas, but protesters are still coming out in force every day. And I don't see that changing unless the military shuts it down forcibly. And that's the big fear. It's happened before.

PFEIFFER: That's reporter Michael Sullivan. Thank you very much.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.