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News brief: Jan. 6 hearing, Trump poll, Russian pipeline restarts

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One-hundred-and-eighty-seven minutes - that's how long it took President Trump to publicly call off the mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Tonight's prime-time hearing by the January 6 committee will focus on what the former president was and was not doing during that time.

MARTIN: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis joins us now for a preview. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So this is a key part of the investigation, obviously. Who's testifying before the committee tonight?

DAVIS: Well, the committee has not actually confirmed the witnesses, but NPR confirmed with three sources that two former White House officials will appear in person. The first is former National Security Council member Matthew Pottinger and former deputy White House press secretary Sarah Matthews. Matthews has appeared in past hearings in taped depositions. But Pottinger was one of the highest-ranking White House officials to resign the same day as the January 6 attack. He was in the White House that day. He is believed to have been in direct contact with Trump that day.

There's also going to be more additional tape testimony presented tonight from other witnesses. This hearing is being characterized as a summer capstone to the series of public hearings that's been held by the panel. These hearings have all sort of built up to this prime-time one that goes directly at this question of, what was Trump doing and how did he respond to the attack?

MARTIN: So they opened up this whole series of hearings with prime time. They're going to wrap up this chapter of it at least with another prime-time hearing. Previous hearings, though, have already outlined a lot of Trump's actions on that specific day, right? So what are the questions the committee is still trying to answer?

DAVIS: Right. I mean, a lot of the prior witnesses gave testimony regarding the president's actions and state of mind. I think most notably, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson gave stunning testimony about how Trump tried to get the Secret Service to take him to the Capitol. Her testimony has been questioned by other former Trump officials, but aides say there will be corroborating testimony tonight that the president resisted going back to the White House as rioters marched towards the Capitol.

The committee has already established that in the months leading up to the January 6 attack, Trump was told repeatedly that the election was not stolen by his own inner circle and his own White House counsel. Hutchinson also testified that Trump knew many of the protesters were armed, and he still urged them to go to the Capitol. As one committee aide said, this hearing will focus on the fact that Trump was, quote, "the sole person who could have called off the mob, and he chose not to."

MARTIN: This may be a crazy question, but why doesn't the committee try to talk to Trump himself?

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, they haven't actually ruled it out. This has been one of the big questions over the entire investigation, and committee aides were asked it again yesterday. They just said that the investigation will continue after this and that nothing is off the table.

MARTIN: So as you have noted, this is the end of this chapter of the public hearings. They have left the door open, though, for more - what? - in the fall?

DAVIS: More hearings in the fall are absolutely possible. It's also likely that the committee issues an interim report before the election, possibly in September. A final report is expected before the end of the year. There is some urgency here. I mean, Republicans are heavily favored to take over the House in November, and they have a very clear intention to end this committee if or when that happens. So Democrats have until the end of the year, no matter what.

Also, keep in mind, there's a trial underway for former Trump adviser Steve Bannon for refusing to comply with a committee subpoena. Depending on how that shakes out, it could open the door to Bannon testifying and providing documents to the panel that it's been seeking. And the verdict is expected in that case very soon.

MARTIN: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: The House Select Committee has focused on specific aspects of the Capitol riot in each of the hearings it's held so far.

MARTIN: One of the biggest questions hanging over the January 6 committee has been how much impact the hearings would have on the public. We've got some new insights on that this morning from an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey. NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro joins us with the data. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Rachel.

MARTIN: So these hearings were designed from the get-go to engage the public. There was even a former TV news executive helping to produce them. So are Americans paying attention?

MONTANARO: Well, we see that about 6 in 10 say they're paying at least some attention. But predictably, there's a pretty big partisan divide. Almost double the amount of Democrats have been paying at least some attention as compared to Republicans. Eighty percent of the Democrats say they're paying at least some attention, only 44% of Republicans and a majority of independents, 55%.

And it's notable that we have a majority of independents at least paying attention to some of these hearings 'cause they're really the only swing group left in the country. About 52% of independents now say that what happened January 6 was an insurrection and a threat to democracy. And if we're looking for any kind of movement, that's up about nine points from last December, when we did a poll looking at the one-year anniversary of January 6. So some movement, marginally. It hasn't seemed to move Republicans views very much, though. Back in December, just 10% of Republicans said that January 6 was an insurrection and a threat to democracy - now 12%, statistically unchanged.

MARTIN: So among those who are paying attention, I mean, the committee has been trying to make the case that Donald Trump was singularly responsible for January 6. Do we know if that particular message is breaking through to those who are watching?

MONTANARO: It seems maybe marginally. You know, 57% say that Trump is mostly to blame for what happened that day. That's up from 53% from last December. It's within the margin of error, but still some movement. About half of people say that Trump should be charged with a crime, 50%. But 6 in 10 think he probably won't. As a voting issue, by the way, since we're in a midterm year, it's not really breaking through the way inflation is with Republicans or independents or abortion rights for Democrats, for example. And Republicans and independents, far and away, say inflation is the most important thing to them. Inflation's at its highest point in decades. It's only fifth on the list for Democrats. Abortion rights and the threat to democracy of January 6 are the top two for Democrats.

So, you know, this issue may not be the game-changer that maybe some Democrats would hope it would be in this election, but, you know, it might be more relevant to the next election in 2024 with Trump openly talking about running again.

MARTIN: Speaking of which, former president is talking a lot about running again. Did the poll address public sentiments around him and a possible second run?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, we looked at his favorability ratings - how do people feel about the president; sort of a feeling thermometer, we call it. Trump is still viewed highly unfavorably. Just 38% have a favorable opinion of him. Fifty-eight percent, almost 6 in 10 people in the country, have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. You know, we didn't test Biden's favorabilities (ph) in this poll, but on average, with other surveys, Biden is actually slightly higher in most polls than Trump.

You know, but Biden's approval ratings being really low here, just 36% in our poll this time, the lowest recorded since he's taken office, and it's because his base is just not fired up for him. Seventy-five percent of the Democrats said they approve of the job Biden is doing, but that's pretty low for a president. For context, Trump was never that low in our poll, not even after January 6, not even after the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville - after when he said, very fine people are on both sides. So it's not surprising that Trump is so openly teasing that he'll run again. You know, he sees Biden as pretty weak, and it's almost a way to try and counter the January 6 committee's narrative that's been coming out about him.

MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: Hey, thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The war in Ukraine is having very real effects on Europe's energy supplies, specifically in Germany, which has figured out that it needs to be able to get oil and natural gas from other places, but in this moment, it is still heavily dependent on Russia.

FADEL: Which is why it's such a big deal that a key pipeline from Russia to Germany is now back online. The Nord Stream 1 was shut down for 10 days of maintenance work. It was scheduled and expected, but Germans weren't quite sure if Moscow was going to turn it back on again. And there are real concerns that Putin might cut off supplies altogether.

MARTIN: We've got Esme Nicholson with us from Berlin. Hey, Esme.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So Russia's state-run gas company, Gazprom, has now turned the taps back on, but I understand it's not at full capacity, right?

NICHOLSON: That's right. Germany's federal grid says that gas is flowing again, as you say, but only at about 30 to 40% capacity at the moment. That could change throughout the course of the day. Now, that is better than no gas at all, but it's still cause for concern here in Germany because Russia had already cut supply to 40% even before maintenance work started. And gas reserves here in Germany are currently too low to get through the winter without rationing. This also applies to the rest of Europe. And yesterday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said quite plainly that Russia is blackmailing Europe and using energy as a weapon.

MARTIN: Considering the current state of affairs between Moscow and the rest of Europe, some were expecting a total stop in supply today. Why has Gazprom turned the taps on at all?

NICHOLSON: That's right, Rachel. And Germany is still worried Russia could cut supply completely, but there are a number of possible reasons why it hasn't done so this morning. The first reason is legal. By turning supply back on even at a reduced rate, it's more difficult for companies here to accuse Gazprom of not fulfilling its contracts. The second reason is financial. Reduced supply keeps gas prices high. And then, of course, there are political reasons. It's possible Moscow will continue to reduce the gas flow, depending on further sanctions. And Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, could also be driving up prices in a bid to undermine public support for Ukraine.

Then there's the other pipeline, the one Putin would like to use, the recently completed Nord Stream 2. This week, he suggested doing just that if Nord Stream 1 runs into what he called technical difficulties. But the EU already sanctioned Nord Stream 2, and reversing that decision would be difficult politically, to say the least.

MARTIN: Right. So as you noted, I mean, Europe already sees Russia using energy as a weapon to retaliate against EU sanctions over the war in Ukraine. So what do they do about it? I mean, if they live with this constant threat from Russia turning off the energy supplies, how are they going to change that dynamic?

NICHOLSON: It's a tough call, and it's not easy. If Moscow shuts off the supply, Germany will have to start rationing gas over the winter. Now, hospitals and households would be the last consumers to be rationed, but Germany's industry is putting pressure on the government to prioritize its needs. There's been political outcry over this, but industry bosses argue that a cut in their gas supply could prompt one of the worst recessions Germany has ever seen and that if people lose their jobs, they won't be able to afford to heat their apartments anyway. So the government is scrambling to diversify sources. Finally, it's not only Germany that will need to ration; the EU is appealing to all member states to cut gas consumption by up to 15% this winter.

MARTIN: Wow. Reporter Esme Nicholson in Berlin. We appreciate your reporting. Thanks, Esme.

NICHOLSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.