News Brief: Jeffrey Epstein, Iran's Uranium, California Quakes
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
One of the country's most prominent financiers is scheduled to appear in a New York state courtroom today to face charges of sex trafficking.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Jeffrey Epstein has long faced accusations of molesting young girls and pleaded guilty to lesser charges more than a decade ago in Florida. But until now, the billionaire hedge fund manager has avoided federal charges. Epstein was arrested on Saturday when his private plane landed in New Jersey. The full details of the charges against him will be unsealed later today.
MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is with us this morning to talk about this case. Hey, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: First off, what more do we know, if anything, about the nature of the charges against Epstein? I mean, we said the words sex trafficking.
JOHNSON: Yeah. One of my sources in law enforcement says the charges are sex trafficking-related. We don't have more specifics at this time. We'll learn more later today. The CBS station in Miami, Fla., reports there are going to be two charges - sex trafficking and conspiracy. We do know Epstein was taken into custody this weekend after his plane landed after an international flight. He'd apparently been in Paris for a while.
And we also know that Jeffrey Epstein is due in court in New York City later today, in federal court, where there's going to be a back and forth about whether he can be released on bond. Of course, Jeffrey Epstein has a lot of financial resources, and these federal prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office may argue that he presents a flight risk if he's released on bond.
MARTIN: So some people will know his name from recent headlines, but a lot of people won't. Remind us who he is.
JOHNSON: Yeah, he's often described in a nutshell as a billionaire money man or hedge fund manager. People who know him tell me he's brilliant and secretive. Over the years, Epstein has developed ties to a bunch of prominent people, people like former President Bill Clinton, current President Donald Trump and lawyer Alan Dershowitz. Epstein avoided federal charges more than 10 years ago. Instead, at that time, he took a state plea in Florida to prostitution charges.
Now, that plea deal has been criticized as too lenient. For one thing, authorities actually let him out of jail nearly every day to go to work managing money. And the federal prosecutor who helped arrange that deal is now the current secretary of labor, Alex Acosta. Justice Department watchdogs right now are investigating that old plea deal and the Justice Department's role in it.
MARTIN: So what is happening now? I mean, are - these allegations have been around for years. Why is it resurfacing? Are these new charges? Are these the same old charges?
JOHNSON: You know, there were important stories at the time in publications like Vanity Fair, which reported that Epstein was allegedly having - coercing underage girls into sex acts with him and others. But the atmosphere has changed a lot since 2007 and 2008. It's now the #MeToo era, where a lot more attention is being paid to survivors of sexual abuse.
And actually, really importantly, the Miami Herald resurfaced these allegations in a big investigation and found what it calls a lot of new victims of Epstein recently. It's not clear whether these new charges to be unsealed today include a lot of new victims and new conduct in New York City or whether some of the conduct overlaps the guilty plea. Of course, his defense lawyers are going to really challenge anything that may overlap that old guilty plea.
MARTIN: Are you hearing anything from Epstein or his lawyers?
JOHNSON: According to a federal prison database, Epstein spent the weekend at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York, locked up - not the nicest place to be. I reached out to Epstein's lawyer, Martin Weinberg; haven't heard anything back so far. They may want to do their talking in court later today.
MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thanks, Carrie. We appreciate it.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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MARTIN: All right. What happens when one party to a deal violates the rules not once, but twice?
INSKEEP: Iran has announced it exceeded a second uranium enrichment limit that is outlined in a 2015 nuclear deal. This move comes a little more than a year after the Trump administration pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions that the United States had promised to lift as part of the agreement. Now Iran says it has the right to scale back on some of its commitments.
MARTIN: Peter Kenyon has been following this story and joins us now from Vienna, Austria, which is significant because it is home of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors all of this stuff. Peter, can you start by just explaining the details of what Iran announced over the weekend?
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Sure. Iran is now enriching uranium beyond the limit of just under 4%; that's what's laid out in the nuclear agreement. Now, that comes on top of its first breach of the deal a couple months ago. So now we have Iran stockpiling too much low-enriched uranium and enriching it beyond what the deal permits.
MARTIN: So, I mean, we should just ask. I mean, the concern here is that Iran is getting ever closer to being able to develop a nuclear bomb. Is that what this signifies, that they are closer?
KENYON: Well, closer by a few inches, perhaps; judging by these two steps alone, not very much closer. Iran's being a bit coy about just how high it might enrich the uranium at this point. But the experts I spoke with say, if it's a small rise, as some Iranian officials have mentioned - to about 5%, say - that doesn't really get Iran much closer to weapons-grade; that would be 90% enriched uranium. But the point is this is no longer a single event; now it's a trend, and it's not going in the right direction.
MARTIN: So let's talk about the motives here. I mean, Iran says that this is coming in response to the Trump administration's sanctions, what the Trump administration calls its maximum pressure campaign. But what is the American goal? I mean, presumably, they want to get Iran back to the negotiating table. But what do they want to be in a more comprehensive nuclear deal?
KENYON: Oh, they've got quite a list. I mean, Trump attacked the nuclear deal as too short, too time-limited, not tough enough on Iran. The question's always been, as you say, now that he's pulled the U.S. out of the deal, what's he going to replace it with and how will he get Iran to the table? Among the things the White House wants to negotiate are Iran's support for terrorist groups in the region, the fate of people being held by the regime - what they call its malign behavior in the region in general. But the question still remains whether unilateral pressure without the other allies can accomplish that.
MARTIN: Right, because it hasn't worked up until now. So Iran says, because the U.S. didn't keep its end of the bargain, they don't have to either. But the Europeans are obviously involved in this, too. They are still technically signatories to this deal. What's their move in this moment?
KENYON: Yeah, they're feeling the squeeze. All three European signatories to this deal - that's Germany, France and Britain - are now publicly calling on Iran - hey, stop these violations. Get back in line with the limits under the agreement. Because at the moment, you've still got, in the big picture, Europe, Russia and China siding with Iran, leaving Washington alone with the desire to scrap this deal. But the more Iran violates the agreement itself, the more difficult Europe's position becomes.
MARTIN: What's next as you look to events? What would this decision trigger?
KENYON: Well, more possible violations by Iran. I mean, a former IAEA legal adviser told me that worst case would be if they walk out of the nonproliferation treaty, which would be a step toward acquiring weapons - that doesn't seem likely. But they could do things like enriching faster, using more centrifuges, or increasing it up to 20% - that would really be alarming.
MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon. Thanks, Peter. We appreciate it.
KENYON: Thanks, Rachel.
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MARTIN: The earth may keep quaking in California this week.
INSKEEP: The U.S. Geological Survey says aftershocks are expected in days to come. Two earthquakes, you may recall, struck in recent days - the first of them a 6.4 magnitude quake on the Fourth of July; then the next night, a second quake measured 7.1 The epicenter was about two hours north of Los Angeles. People felt the shaking at Disneyland and at Dodger Stadium. Nobody was seriously injured, and the infrastructure damage was relatively minor. But Governor Gavin Newsom says everyone should remain vigilant.
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GAVIN NEWSOM: Got to be prepared. This is a wake-up call not for this community - it's reality for this community - but it is a wake-up call for the rest of the state and for other parts of the nation that are not immune from this same kind of activity.
MARTIN: NPR's Eric Westervelt is in Ridgecrest, and he joins us now. So Eric, no major injuries, which is a really, obviously great thing. But the city has faced a series of aftershocks already; more are expected. What have people been telling you?
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Yeah. Good morning, Rachel. I mean, it's kind of a mixed bag because everyone is - you talk to is super thankful these quakes didn't do more damage. I mean, you know, water and power are back up and running, bus service resumed, the hospital's working, public works crews have been repairing, you know, the few roads that were damaged, doing some patching and sealing. The community, you know, there's a sense they've really pulled together. I was at a forum last night with the mayor and other politicians, you know, who got a standing ovation - not just the first responders, the politicians; that doesn't happen every day.
At the same time, you know, people are pretty stressed out, I mean, by these aftershocks. Some have had trouble sleeping. It can be unnerving. I spoke to a woman named Cheryl Smallwood (ph).
CHERYL SMALLWOOD: Well, I've been a little on edge. Out of all the years I've lived here, never been through one this big. I worry about my kids. I have two little ones. I hope that this never happens again. But I don't control that.
WESTERVELT: You know, the Red Cross and county officials have brought in some counselors and some therapy dogs - they were big hit with kids. And officials, Rachel, are sort of encouraging people, you know, take a break, try to relax and acknowledge that this has been a really stressful holiday weekend for people here in Ridgecrest.
MARTIN: Right. So some roadways buckled. I understand there were cracks in some roads, some gas lines broke, sparking a few fires. What else have you seen? I mean, we've talked about the fact that the damage could have been so much worse.
WESTERVELT: Yeah, those visible signs are pretty much repaired. You know, when you drive through the city - excuse me - besides a few traffic lights out, there's really no visible signs that this massive quake, a 7.1, you know, hit recently. But when you talk to people, they say, look - the interiors of our homes are pretty roughed up.
I talked to a woman who said she came home from vacation, and her - you know, her upright piano had been toppled, mirrors smashed, glass everywhere, you know. But even she is very grateful that, you know, things weren't more destroyed and that the town is in the shape it's in. You know, people here have a kind of keep-calm-and-carry-on attitude.
MARTIN: Yeah. But - I mean, this isn't a very populated area, where you are and where this hit. Presumably, if this is - had happened in a more urban area, it would be - we'd be talking about a different kind of story.
WESTERVELT: Absolutely talking about a very different story. And I think everyone here, from the governor on down, are saying this is a wake-up call to get your, you know, personal kit for a quake ready and be ready for the next one.
MARTIN: NPR's Eric Westervelt reporting for us this morning. Thanks, Eric.
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