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News brief: Jan. 6 panel hearing, Fighting in eastern Ukraine, Fed rate hike

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The January 6 committee today turns its focus on how Donald Trump pressured his vice president to overturn the 2020 election results.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Mike Pence was presiding over the vote count that day.

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MIKE PENCE: For those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win.

MARTINEZ: The panel alleges that pressuring Pence to obstruct the count was part of a larger criminal scheme.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us now. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the video that the January 6 committee compiled of the attack showed Trump telling this rally on January 6 that he'd be, quote, "very disappointed" in Pence if he didn't overturn the electoral vote count. And then when the riot starts, we hear chants of, kill Mike Pence. And we see these images of the noose that rioters had hung up on the Capitol steps. Is the panel going to demonstrate today that Pence was in real danger?

GRISALES: Yes. Select panel aides say they will show that danger Pence faced as a result of blocking Trump's effort to reject the 2020 election result. We'll hear from two witnesses - Pence's former White House counsel Greg Jacob and retired Judge Michael Luttig. Both were part of a team that pushed back against this Trump pressure campaign. This campaign also included Trump allies such as lawyer John Eastman. He wrote a memo instructing Pence how to step out of his largely ceremonial constitutional role during last year's certification of the election's results and try to throw the election Trump's way.

MARTIN: So Eastman - this is Trump's lawyer, again - he's working behind the scenes to try and overturn the election.

GRISALES: Yes, exactly. In a preview shared by the panel, former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann told investigators he told Eastman the day after the January 6 attack some choice words, and this exchange illustrates the palpable anger. Eastman was still talking about legal challenges, and Herschmann recounted what he told him.

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ERIC HERSCHMANN: I don't want to hear any other f'ing words coming out of your mouth other than orderly transition. Repeat those words to me. Eventually, he said orderly transition. I said, good, John.

GRISALES: Herschmann said that was followed by a tip he gave Eastman.

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HERSCHMANN: Now I'm going to give you the best free legal advice you're ever getting in your life. Get a great f'ing criminal defense lawyer. You're going to need it. And then I hung up on him.

GRISALES: And so that in some ways sets the stage for this legal battle that follows, the fallout from actions Eastman and others pursued on Trump's behalf to try and undo the election's results.

MARTIN: Wow. So, I mean, this is a split that continues to this day, right?

GRISALES: Right.

MARTIN: Pence and his allies against Trump and those who remain close to him. What other members of Pence's team could we hear from today?

GRISALES: Committee aides also expect to share clips of testimony from former Pence Chief of Staff Marc Short. He saw Pence rewrite his remarks in the chamber to make clear he would not follow through with Eastman's or Trump's demands. Short also witnessed Pence's side of heated conversations with Trump on the day of the attack.

MARTIN: So the committee's schedule has been a bit in flux. They postponed a hearing yesterday. What is the plan moving ahead?

GRISALES: There's more hearings this month to focus on this Trump pressure campaign, at least two next week. For example, some areas they're going to look at is how he tried to influence the Justice Department and how he influenced the mob that day during the attack. For now, we have those two hearings next week, those two, but more could be added later this month. And they expect to issue a final report and release depositions of more than a thousand witnesses who have appeared later this year.

MARTIN: OK. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Thank you, Claudia.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

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MARTIN: All right, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy have all gathered in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, today. They're there to show support for Ukrainians' efforts to push back the Russian invasion, which is now in its fourth month.

MARTINEZ: It's not clear if they're bringing promises of more weapons as well. President Biden last night announced another billion dollars' worth of U.S. weapons will soon be on their way. Ukraine is desperate for more firepower. They're struggling to hold off Russian advances in the eastern Donbas region. In particular, Russian forces seem poised to take the strategically important city of Severodonetsk and are making gains elsewhere as well.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Nathan Rott on the line with us this morning. Nate, where are you?

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: I am in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

MARTIN: OK. And let's talk about these weapons that the Biden administration has announced. I mean, it's a lot of money, right? A billion dollars' worth of military aid. Is this what the Ukrainians have been asking for?

ROTT: Yes and no, right? It's far short of the amount of weaponry that Ukraine says it needs, but they are going to get longer weapons with - longer-range weapons, I should say, with this package, which is what Ukraine has been asking for. We spent some time in eastern Ukraine, the Donbas region, where most of this fighting is now centered, and it is just pancake flat. You know, the biggest bumps on the horizon are slag heaps from coal mines. And in that big, wide-open area, having longer-range artillery gives you an upper hand, and Russia has it, and it's been pressing that advantage. We talked to a doctor the other day, Tatiana Yermolaieva, who's been treating Ukrainian soldiers in Dnipro, just up the road from here, and here's an example she gave us.

TATIANA YERMOLAIEVA: (Speaking Russian).

ROTT: "A soldier I treated the other day described being shelled in a trench constantly for 9 hours," she said. "He couldn't even get up to go to the bathroom."

MARTIN: Wow. So we have seen these devastating images coming out of places - Mariupol, Kharkiv, to name just two - places that Russia has been striking from a distance, though. Is similar destruction happening in eastern Ukraine?

ROTT: Yeah. So the other night, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the city that you mentioned, Severodonetsk, the last major town that's still under - partially, I should say, under Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region as a dead city. And that's something we've been hearing from residents of eastern Ukraine. Yesterday, we went to a medical evacuation train that passed through Dnipro. Victor Uyuslav was on a pair of crutches with a bandaged foot, and he had come from the town of Bakhmut.

VICTOR UYUSLAV: (Through interpreter) Yeah, I'm from - (inaudible) - village, but it was destroyed.

ROTT: Oh, the village was gone?

UYUSLAV: (Through interpreter) Yeah, it doesn't exist anymore. I don't have anywhere to live.

ROTT: He said he was heading to western Ukraine to try to move in with some family there.

MARTIN: You said he was walking on crutches. Was he hurt in the war?

ROTT: So he wasn't, actually. He said he'd been in a car wreck. He broke his leg. But he couldn't get medical help, and he'd been trying to tough it out, living in a basement. And then his house was hit with a shell and burned down. And that story of wanting to stay, trying to stay, but eventually having to leave is something we've been hearing a lot about. This train was organized by Doctors Without Borders, and they've been moving people from east to west on medical evacuation trains pretty much since the first weeks of the war. Here's their coordinator, a British man named Steven Davidson.

STEVEN DAVIDSON: The patients that we're seeing now are mostly civilians, mostly with some kind of war wound or injury, a lot of very old babushkas who have - just had everything just come to their door.

ROTT: Yeah, so that's what's happening with this long-range artillery battle - a lot of collateral damage.

MARTIN: NPR's Nathan Rott reporting from the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia. Thank you so much, Nate.

ROTT: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right. These are the facts. It's just going to cost you more to carry a credit card balance now or get a car loan or a mortgage.

MARTINEZ: Yep. That's because the Federal Reserve just announced a big jump in interest rates as it tries to get a handle on stubbornly high inflation.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Scott Horsley here to make sense of all these things. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: OK. This is the biggest increase in borrowing costs in almost three decades. Explain the Fed's rationale here.

HORSLEY: Well, the Fed thinks inflation is too high, and the faster it comes down, the better. You know, the Fed had already raised interest rates twice this year, but instead of leveling off, prices just kept going up. We learned last week that May's inflation rate was even worse than had been forecast. So instead of the half-point rate hike that it had advertised, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and his colleagues decided to raise their benchmark interest rate three-quarters of a percentage point yesterday. And what's more, Powell says we could see another rate hike in that same range next month.

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JEROME POWELL: We're strongly committed to bringing inflation back down, and we're moving expeditiously to do so. We have both the tools we need and the resolve that it will take to restore price stability on behalf of American families and businesses.

HORSLEY: This is a real turnaround. You know, for much of the last two years, the Fed was pouring money into the economy to cushion the blow from the pandemic. Now the central bank is aggressively trying to slow things down in an effort to get prices under control.

MARTIN: So everybody wants to see lower inflation. I mean, these costs are just out of control, as you just noted. But what does the slowdown look like for the economy and for the job market?

HORSLEY: Well, if you tamp down consumer demand, which is what these rate hikes are intended to do, you're going to get slower economic growth. Fed policymakers now think the economy will grow less than 2% this year. That's down from the nearly 3% growth they were predicting a few months ago. They also think we will see somewhat higher unemployment. You know, the Fed has two jobs by law, promoting maximum employment and stable prices.

MARTIN: Right.

HORSLEY: For much of the pandemic, the central bank was focused on getting employment up. Right now, though, Powell says it's all about bringing down inflation.

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POWELL: We don't seek to put people out of work. Of course, we never think too many people are working and fewer people need to have jobs. But we also think that you really cannot have the kind of labor market we want without price stability.

HORSLEY: Some people argue the Fed has waited too long to crack down on inflation, and as a result, they think it's going to have to hit the brakes harder, and they worry that could tip the economy into recession. Now, Powell thinks it is still possible to avoid that, but he acknowledged it's going to depend in part on things that are outside the Fed's control, like what happens with the war in Ukraine.

MARTIN: Right. So how does that factor into their calculus? I mean, that war has affected the prices of energy and food.

HORSLEY: Yeah, it's definitely made things more challenging. The price of gasoline and groceries have been big contributors to inflation, and they're both higher than they would have been had Russia not invaded Ukraine. You add in the ongoing supply disruptions from the pandemic, and Powell says the whole world has just had to weather some extraordinary economic shocks.

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POWELL: Look around the world at where inflation levels are. It's absolutely extraordinary. It's not just here. In fact, we're sort of in the middle of the pack.

HORSLEY: But Powell says they are going to use their tools to get inflation under control. And that tool kit, as we know now, includes some pretty big hammers.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley. We appreciate you.

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