Morning news brief
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The U.S. secretary of state is trying to address a round of violence in the Middle East.
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Antony Blinken met with Israel's prime minister yesterday. Today, he crosses an Israeli checkpoint into the occupied West Bank and meets Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The West Bank is where the Israeli military has been conducting raids, and it's where some Palestinians cheered after they saw news of a gunman's attack on Israelis outside a synagogue.
INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Ramallah, which is where the Palestinian Authority is based. And, Daniel, what can the U.S. do or say in a situation like this?
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Well, Blinken has called for urgent steps to calm tensions. What steps exactly? We don't know. Not the steps Palestinians and Israelis have taken so far. After a deadly raid in the - Israeli raid in the West Bank last week, the Palestinian Authority called off security cooperation with Israeli security. Blinken doesn't like that. He wants them to cooperate. Then, after a deadly Palestinian attack in Jerusalem, Israel vowed to strengthen West Bank settlements. Blinken doesn't like that either. The U.S. opposes settlement expansion in the West Bank because Blinken says it's important to preserve the possibility to create a Palestinian state in that territory.
INSKEEP: So he's making these suggestions. People may not necessarily follow them. And now he meets with Mahmoud Abbas. What is it that Abbas wants from Blinken?
ESTRIN: He wants a lot, but I don't think he's expecting Blinken to offer much. I mean, Abbas will repeat demands to reopen the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem for Palestinians. Israel opposes that, and the U.S. is not politically ready to do that. Abbas wants to continue to seek justice for Palestinians internationally through the International Criminal Court, through the International Court of Justice. The U.S. says that's not helpful. Abbas wants some kind of support against the new right-wing government in Israel which is taking a harsher line against Palestinians. What can Blinken offer on that? Unclear.
INSKEEP: What do ordinary Palestinians want from the United States?
ESTRIN: I asked that very question from a Palestinian woman this morning as she was crossing an Israeli military checkpoint on the way to work in Jerusalem - Majd Amro (ph). Here's what she says.
MAJD AMRO: Are you kidding? I don't expect anything from America.
ESTRIN: Why not?
AMRO: Why not? Because they don't support us at all. They just support the Israeli side.
ESTRIN: You know, she says after the latest violence here, she thinks nothing will get better until Israel treats Palestinians better. She was standing right before entering the turnstile of the checkpoint, and here's what she said.
AMRO: Here at the checkpoints every day, it's horrible. Everything is going to be worse, maybe, if they don't stop all these things. Just to treat us as a human.
INSKEEP: A Palestinian woman who spoke with our colleague Daniel Estrin, who's in Ramallah. And, Daniel, I want to ask about another aspect of this. Of course, last week, a Palestinian gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Israel, killed seven people. What is the investigation revealing about that man?
ESTRIN: The police in Israel have put a gag order, but we have been investigating ourselves. Our team is speaking to the family of that attacker. The family doesn't know why he did it. He acted alone. And this raises a lot of questions about how Israel is responding. Israel has sealed the attacker's family's home and intends to demolish it. But it wasn't the Palestinian Authority who sent him. It wasn't Hamas in Gaza. It wasn't even his own family. And this raises questions about whether Israel is carrying out a policy of collective punishment, whether that actually can prevent violence of this nature.
INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Estrin covers the Middle East. He is in Ramallah in the West Bank today. Daniel, thanks so much.
ESTRIN: You're welcome.
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INSKEEP: Here in the United States, seven states that rely on the Colorado River have to figure out how to use less water.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, the river feeds Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Both are low after decades of drought. And the states face a deadline today to reach a new water sharing agreement or see the federal government impose one. Late yesterday, six states released a proposal to save water, but California did not join them.
INSKEEP: Alex Hager has been covering this long-running water crisis for our member station KUNC in northern Colorado, which is one of the states affected. Hey there, Alex.
ALEX HAGER, BYLINE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: How close are the states to really agreeing?
HAGER: Well, the fact that six of them came together and put forth this proposal, that stands out. These states like to talk a big talk about collaboration, but we don't often see them put that mentality into action. You know, they're trying to meet the needs of cities and farms from Wyoming to Mexico, and that is not an easy task. But at the end of the day here, it is important to remember this is not a deal; it is just a proposal. It is a suggestion for how the federal government could proceed.
INSKEEP: Well, what is in that proposal?
HAGER: Well, they put out this proposal to conserve about 1.5 million acre-feet of water. That is enough to supply millions of homes each year. So right now the Biden administration is working on tweaks to the amount of water released from those big reservoirs over the next couple of years. That's Lake Mead and Lake Powell. And they asked the states to send in a proposal to help guide those tweaks, one of which is accounting for evaporation. So here they're saying, look; every year we release a certain amount of water from Lake Mead down to parts of Nevada, California and Arizona. But the amount of water drops even more just from evaporation. So if you just reduce the amount of water being released from Lake Mead by the amount that evaporates, that will help keep levels from falling even further. And that is pivotal here because if they keep dropping, they could get too low to generate hydropower that supplies millions of people.
INSKEEP: OK, I just want to be clear on something. You said 1.5 million acre-feet of water. An acre-foot of water - is that enough water to cover an entire acre of land? One-foot deep - that's how much water we're talking about here?
HAGER: That is correct. About the area of a football field - 1-foot deep.
INSKEEP: And 1.5 million of those. So a lot of water at stake here. Why did California say no to that plan?
HAGER: It's not exactly a shock that they are the lone holdout. California uses more Colorado River water than any other state, and their water rights are some of the oldest. So that means that when there's a shortage, they are going to be the last in line to lose their water. California grows a lot of the country's food. That takes a lot of water. It also has growing, thirsty cities. This proposal would cut back on the total amount of water that California receives. They responded by putting out a statement calling it inconsistent with the law of the river, and they said they would put out their own proposal for water cutbacks, one that is, quote, "practical, voluntary and achievable." But they didn't offer a timeline on when that will be out.
INSKEEP: OK. If they're putting out competing proposals, does the federal government need to solve the problem for the states?
HAGER: Well, it is likely that as part of this process, the federal government will step in. But, you know, it's understandable that no administration really wants to get stuck with that, telling people they have to give something up. Right now they're looking for something that will hold together until 2026, when the current rules for the river expire. And they expect to come up with a more permanent rework of how the river's shared.
INSKEEP: Alex Hager of KUNC. Thanks so much.
HAGER: Thanks for having me.
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INSKEEP: Court records document a fact about the past of former President Trump. Someone paid hush money to cover up his relationship with an adult film star.
MARTÍNEZ: Trump denied any wrongdoing in the payoff to Stormy Daniels, but it seems prosecutors are taking a second look, and they're presenting evidence about the case to a Manhattan grand jury.
INSKEEP: Grand jury proceedings are secret, but a person familiar with them spoke with NPR's Andrea Bernstein, who's on the line. Good morning.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So this payoff took place, but what would the crime be here?
BERNSTEIN: So the New York crime that they're looking at is falsifying business records, which can be an E felony here. As many people recall, early in Trump's presidency, it emerged that his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had made a deal with an adult film actor, Stormy Daniels, who said she'd had an extramarital affair with Trump. She would get $130,000, and in exchange, she agreed not to discuss her story with reporters. This all happened in October of 2016, right before the election. Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty and went to prison for violating campaign finance law. And he said at the time of his guilty plea that he had done this at the direction of the candidate, that he'd paid the money and arranged to be reimbursed. Trump's company recorded the payments as legal fees, which they clearly were not.
INSKEEP: OK, so that is where the crime would be, would be lying about what this was. But let's talk about the timing. Cohen pleaded guilty years ago. Why is a grand jury looking at Trump now?
BERNSTEIN: Well, it has taken a circuitous route. The Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg, isn't commenting. But we do know this. When Cohen pleaded guilty in the federal case, the U.S. Justice Department had determined it would not indict a sitting president. So the Manhattan DA - and actually a different DA at the time - opened its own investigation. Ultimately, that one focused on tax fraud. And of course, last year, Trump's chief financial officer pleaded guilty, and Trump's company was convicted at trial of scheming to pay its employees with untaxed benefits, like cars and apartments. In the last year, local prosecutors seem to have come back around to the hush money payments, and a person familiar with the investigation tells us that's what the new grand jury is looking at.
INSKEEP: Is the investigation complicated at all by the fact that Trump is running for president again?
BERNSTEIN: Well, not really legally. And people familiar with the investigation tell me that it's actually a pretty simple case compared to, for example, the tax fraud case. Doesn't have years of business records, tax filings. There are fewer witnesses. So it could be not long if the grand jury decides to indict. And if that happens, yes, Donald Trump, candidate for president, would have to show up in criminal court in Manhattan to enter a plea. But it's a unique case, and there could be pitfalls.
INSKEEP: Even if he should avoid legal jeopardy in this case, isn't he facing a couple of other trials in New York?
BERNSTEIN: Yes. I should say Trump isn't commenting. He denied wrongdoing yesterday on social media. He called this the greatest witch hunt of all time. But there are two trials that he is facing in New York this year. One involves the columnist E. Jean Carroll, who is suing Trump for defamation after she alleged that he had raped her in the 1990s. He denies wrongdoing. And the other is a big case by the Manhattan DA, who says that Trump engaged in a decadelong scheme to lie about property values. She wants $250 million, and she essentially wants to shut down Trump's business in New York.
INSKEEP: NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thanks so much.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.