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News brief: Russia-Ukraine crisis, Jan. 6 committee, Oscar roundup

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

More than a month into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there are signs that the Kremlin's objectives may be changing.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Even as Russia continues its air artillery and missile strikes over much of Ukraine, Moscow may be shifting its focus towards securing control over the eastern part of the country. Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, are warning that Russia could be trying to split the country in two, like North and South Korea.

MARTIN: Joining us now from Lviv, Ukraine - NPR's Elissa Nadworny. Elissa, can you start off by just giving us more detail about what exactly is being said inside Ukraine on Russia's potential new strategy here?

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: So the head of the Ukrainian military intelligence said this new strategy is basically splitting Ukraine in two. You know, they called it, quote, "a Korean scenario" by creating a separate political entity in the Russian-occupied regions in the east. But Ukrainian officials are pushing for more negotiations with Russia, including over this disputed territory.

MARTIN: And the argument there being that there are - there's a significant Russian population in the east...

NADWORNY: Exactly.

MARTIN: ...And that Russia would seek some kind of referendum to take those regions into their own control. Can you tell us, what is the state of the war at this point?

NADWORNY: Yeah. Well, the Russian assault on Kyiv, at least for now, seems to be on hold, but they are still hitting the cities like Mariupol in the south and Chernihiv in the north really hard. I mean, both places have been bombarded in the first month of fighting.

MARTIN: We saw over the weekend, though, an attack in the west, which has really been a safe haven for the Ukrainian diplomats, foreign diplomats, journalists.

NADWORNY: That's right.

MARTIN: And this seemed to breach that security.

NADWORNY: That's right. You know, they hit several strategic locations in the west, mainly a number of fuel storage facilities, a military repair facility. Those are places in Lviv, where it's been relatively safe. You know, and the missile strikes also happened as President Biden was just across the border in Poland. The Lviv mayor actually called it a hello to Biden. So that's kind of going on in the background of this shift of strategy.

MARTIN: I want to ask about the repercussions from President Biden's speech that he gave in Warsaw when he uttered these - this phrase wasn't in the prepared remarks, but he essentially said that Vladimir Putin needed to go. What's been the reaction to that?

NADWORNY: Well, you know, most Ukrainians are actually more focused on the substance of his speech. They're actually a little disappointed. They want a no-fly zone to close the air so that the Russian military can't bomb. You know, after that speech, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, appealed to Western leaders again for more help. He wants better, more sophisticated anti-aircraft systems.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Non-English language spoken).

NADWORNY: Here he is saying, you know, "you can't shoot down missiles with machine guns." Zelenskyy has long pleaded for a no-fly zone. That's not really - that's a no-go area for NATO, you know, because in part they don't know what the response will be like from a nuclear-armed Russia.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, it's just a humanitarian disaster there. The numbers coming out of the U.N. are staggering. Upwards of 3 million people now have been forced to flee. Ten million displaced from their homes - is that right?

NADWORNY: That's right. You know, Ukrainian officials are working to establish more evacuation routes with some success over the weekend from places like Mariupol. Alina Beskrovna recently fled Mariupol, where she was trapped there for weeks. She spoke to my colleague Debbie Elliot.

ALINA BESKROVNA: We would haul water from a well about three miles away. We would cook on open fires. Under very heavy shelling, we stayed in the most inner part of the basement, just hoping to survive.

NADWORNY: She says there were 36 people down in that basement, 12 kids. They ate lunch by flashlights. She says her hands are scratched and burned from cooking over that open fire. She's here now in Lviv, but she's looking to leave Ukraine soon.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Elissa Nadworny reporting from Lviv. Thank you so much.

NADWORNY: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is recommending that two senior Trump White House officials, Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino, be held in contempt of Congress.

MARTINEZ: Both have refused to comply with subpoenas to appear before the panel and produce documents.

MARTIN: NPR's Deirdre Walsh covers Congress, and she's with us this morning. Hi, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Why is the committee focused on Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino?

WALSH: Well, the committee released a report last night, and they say that both individuals have information about what happened leading up to and on the day of the insurrection. Navarro was Trump's top trade adviser. He actually wrote a book and publicly talked about his involvement in a strategy to try to delay the certification of the electoral count that day. The committee sent him a subpoena in February, but he's been arguing that he's covered by executive privilege. In Navarro's book, he describes working very closely with Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and he claims that more than a hundred members of Congress were supporting his efforts, along with others, to overturn the election.

The committee also said in its report last night, in terms of Dan Scavino, that they have evidence that he spoke with the former president several times on January 6. They also say he had the credentials to post on the president's social media channels. They listed a bunch of tweets leading up to the attack. And the committee also says that Scavino had a history of monitoring websites that were openly advocating and planning violence in the weeks leading up to the insurrection.

MARTIN: So if they - if Congress wants to hold them in contempt, what's the process look like here?

WALSH: Well, the committee will meet tonight. We could learn some other details of evidence they have from others who've cooperated about the roles of Navarro and Scavino. Once the committee approves a criminal contempt report, it goes to the House floor for a vote. That could happen very soon. Then it's up to the Justice Department to decide if they're going to prosecute. The committee has referred three other individuals - Steve Bannon, who was indicted; former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clar; and Mark Meadows, Trump's former White House chief of staff.

MARTIN: A name that's been in the news recently because, as you know, there was this news that Mark Meadows had been involved in a text message exchange with Ginni Thomas, the wife of the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and Ginni Thomas urging Meadows to take steps to fight the 2020 election results. You've been monitoring this, Deirdre. What's been the fallout on the Hill?

WALSH: I mean, the messages have been pretty stunning. Members have all been talking about it. NPR's confirmed the content of them. They were originally reported by The Washington Post, CNN and CBS. We've reached out to Ginni Thomas and Justice Thomas through the court, but we have not received any response. According to sources that we've talked to with the committee's discussions, there hasn't been a decision yet now about whether to ask Ginni Thomas to appear or send a subpoena, but we could hear more about that tonight.

MARTIN: Is there any sign yet, Deirdre, of when the committee is actually going to put out a final report or have some kind of hearings about what the committee has learned over this time?

WALSH: Well, it's going to be a while. I mean, public hearings were supposed to start as soon as April, but the committee is still talking to a lot of people, and they're very much in fact-finding mode. They've interviewed almost 800 people so far. We do expect hearings to start in May, and they're going to stretch into the summer. But the reality is the midterm elections are really the unofficial deadline for the January 6 committee. Democrats could lose control of the House, and Republican leaders who boycotted the committee will likely disband this committee.

MARTIN: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you so much.

WALSH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Oh, my. It was the slap seen around the world.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, in one of the most surprising moments in Oscars history, actor Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock for a joke that Rock made about Smith's wife's hair. The altercation unfolded while Rock was presenting the Oscar for best documentary feature.

MARTIN: NPR's Mandalit del Barco was inside the Dolby Theatre, and she joins us now. Mandalit, I still sort of can't believe that this happened (laughter).

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: So this whole altercation between Chris Rock and Will Smith, I mean...

DEL BARCO: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...It was hard for us to absorb. You were actually there. So how'd it go down?

DEL BARCO: Yeah, it seemed like everybody inside the Dolby Theatre - we were confused. We didn't know if it was a gag. But then we realized it was real, and we just had our mouths hanging open and holding our breath, watching what was happening. We could hear what the TV viewers couldn't hear, and that - those were the words of a very angry-looking Will Smith sternly yelling at Chris Rock with the F word to stop talking about his wife. And, you know, I was up in the nosebleed section, in the balcony, so I couldn't see it, really, that close up. But I spoke to a photographer from Shutterstock who was an eyewitness, and he said Smith walked up and swung his arm back and used his open palm to smack Chris Rock upside his face. And because Chris Rock had a mic, the slap was amplified. You know, the Academy of Motion Pictures sent out a statement on Twitter saying that it does not condone violence of any form. And the LAPD says Chris Rock declined to file a police report.

MARTIN: Wow. So then - super awkward because then after all this goes down, Will Smith wins an Oscar. He wins for best actor, and he has to get up and do an acceptance speech. I mean, we should just say, the joke that Chris Rock had made was about Jada Pinkett Smith's hair. She has had to shave her head because she suffers from alopecia. So what did Will Smith say in his acceptance remarks?

DEL BARCO: When he went on stage, he was still very shaken by the whole thing, and he had tears streaming down his face. And during his six-minute-long speech, he didn't say anything about his wife's condition. This is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF 94TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

WILL SMITH: I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to my - all my fellow nominees.

DEL BARCO: Smith said he hoped the Academy would invite him back in the future. And, you know, in "King Richard," Smith played Richard Williams, the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, a man who had been vilified in the press for some of the things he did to protect his daughters, and Smith seemed to say that what he did was to protect his family.

(SOUNDBITE OF 94TH ACADEMY AWARDS)

SMITH: Now, I know to do what we do, you got to be able to take abuse. You got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you got to be able to have people disrespecting you, and you got to smile, and you got to pretend like that's OK.

DEL BARCO: You know, Smith said love can make you do some crazy things.

MARTIN: OK. So, you know, we don't want to overshadow all the actual other headlines that came out of that because there were some other historic firsts besides this crazy slap, right?

DEL BARCO: Right, right. So Troy Kotsur became the first deaf actor to win an Oscar. He got it for his supporting role in the film "CODA," which was crowned this year's best picture. Apple TV+ was the first streaming service to win this award for "CODA." And Ariana DeBose, who is Afro Latina, was the first woman of color who identifies as queer to win an Oscar. She got her award as best supporting actress for playing Anita in Steven Spielberg's remake of "West Side Story." She thanked her co-star, Rita Moreno, the first Latina to win an Oscar in 1962 for playing the same role - Anita.

MARTIN: NPR's Mandalit del Barco. Thanks for all this, Mandalit. We appreciate it.

DEL BARCO: Sure. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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