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Morning News Brief: Opioid Crisis, Netanyahu Faces Corruption Probe

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump insists that his time in Bedminster, N.J., is not a vacation and that he is still taking calls and taking meetings.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In fact, yeah, later today, the president will get a briefing on the opioid epidemic from his secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price. They are going to talk about some recommendations from the president's opioid commission, which is led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

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CHRIS CHRISTIE: A hundred and forty-two Americans are dying every day of drug overdose, which means we have a 9/11-scale loss every three weeks. So the first recommendation we say to the president is you must declare a national emergency.

MARTIN: OK, NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here to talk about this with us. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What's expected to come out of this meeting?

KEITH: We don't really know what will come out of this meeting, but we do know that they will be discussing this interim report from the president's opioid commission. And that report was pretty stunning. It came out about 10 days ago, and it makes this strong appeal to the president to declare an emergency with regards to the opioid crisis. And it says that it would send a message if he were to do this. And here's a quote from it.

It would also awaken every mess - every American to this simple fact - if this scourge has not been - has not found you or your family yet, without bold action by everyone, it soon will.

And goes on - we believe you have the will to do this and to do so immediately. It's sort of a direct plea to the president.

MARTIN: Wow.

KEITH: It also contains a bunch of other recommendations.

MARTIN: So when you declare something a public health emergency, presumably that doesn't just send a message. But there's some - does it unlock funding or give the president more tools or HHS more tools to deal with this?

KEITH: Yeah. The thought is that it would give the Health and Human Services Department more tools, that it potentially would allow this lifesaving drug naloxone to more easily get into the hands of law enforcement and those who need it. It would allow the Health and Human Services agency to change some of the Medicaid rules that would make it easier for people to access treatment.

Interestingly, there's an op-ed put out by a former tech - former Florida Governor Jeb Bush - among other people, Dr. Oz - encouraging the president to do this sort of ghost from Christmas past or campaign past.

MARTIN: Yeah. So any indication if he's going to at this point?

KEITH: Not yet. There is not an indication one way or another. They - the White House tells me that the president is considering the commission's recommendations. There's also several pieces of legislation that the commission recommends the president push and support. And the lawmakers behind that legislation - bipartisan lawmakers - are hoping that the president will use his bully pulpit to push that legislation.

MARTIN: Just briefly, what else is the - on the president's agenda while he's away?

KEITH: Well, it is a working vacation. So that includes golf but also meetings and phone calls. Yesterday, he spoke with Secretary of State Tillerson and his chief of staff, General Kelly, about the North Korea situation.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Tamara Keith. Hey, Tam. Thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: There is some political drama brewing in Israel.

GREENE: Yeah. For a number of months now, police have been investigating possible corruption by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But now we have a pretty big development. Netanyahu's former chief of staff has struck a deal with authorities to become a witness for the state, which now raises all kinds of questions about what evidence is amassing against Netanyahu and what this all means for his political career.

MARTIN: All right. Daniel Estrin is here, NPR's man on the ground in Jerusalem. Hey, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hey.

MARTIN: Can you just start us off by explaining what police have been investigating?

ESTRIN: Yeah. Well, police, you know, all that they will say is that they have questioned Netanyahu in two cases. They call them Case 1,000 and Case 2,000. And police say that they're looking into suspicions of fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

The rest of what I can say comes from Israeli media reports. So Case 1,000 reportedly involves suspicions that Netanyahu got champagne and cigars and other expensive gifts from an Israeli Hollywood producer - actually, one of the producers of "Pretty Woman."

MARTIN: Huh (ph).

ESTRIN: Yeah. And reportedly, police are investigating whether, in exchange for those gifts, Netanyahu tried to help the producer get a renewed U.S. visa. And then...

MARTIN: the catch.

ESTRIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: Just getting the gifts isn't a big deal, but there's suspicions of a quid pro quo.

ESTRIN: Right. And then, there's another case - the Case 2,000, which police are reportedly looking into a kind of a backroom deal in which Netanyahu allegedly tried to get positive press coverage in a major Israeli newspaper. And the deal was that, allegedly, he would use his influence to help undercut that newspaper's competitor. And that is where Netanyahu's former chief of staff supposedly comes in.

MARTIN: OK. How so? Who's this guy?

ESTRIN: Yeah. Ari Harow is his name. And I want to play you a little clip of a recent Israeli TV news story about him.

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UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Yeah, so that just gives you kind of some flavor about Ari Harow and how he's being portrayed here. He's, like, this mystery man who managed to stay in the shadows, even though...

MARTIN: Yeah, I didn't understand any of that clip, but there was ominous music. So that I get (laughter).

ESTRIN: Exactly, that's the point. Yeah, you know, he was a very close confidant of Netanyahu, but he was not a household name here for very long, until now. He was like a son to Netanyahu, a political commentator told me. And he got in trouble for reportedly running his own consulting company while working for Netanyahu, which is illegal.

So reportedly, while police were invested in - investigating that, they searched his house. And they happened to find some interesting iPhone recordings supposedly implicating Netanyahu - secret conversations with that newspaper publisher I was talking about.

MARTIN: Yeah.

ESTRIN: So that's where the deal comes in.

MARTIN: And so now he has volunteered or decided to become a witness for the state. So what does all this mean for Netanyahu?

ESTRIN: Yeah, well, you know, if you ask him, he's done nothing wrong. He's staying in his seat. But police are investigating. And, you know, there is a question here, just like there is in the U.S., whether the president can be charged and prosecuted while in office.

Does the prime minister need to give up his seat if he's charged with a crime? The answer's no, but he probably would face pressure to resign if it comes to that. When will it come to that? It'll probably take many, many months, if it does - maybe more than a year.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting from Jerusalem this morning. Daniel, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: Thanks, Rachel.

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MARTIN: David, finally, today, we are going to discuss the fate of the sage grouse.

GREENE: Yes. And for people who live in the American West, Rachel, the sage grouse are very important in all different ways.

MARTIN: Oh, I know.

GREENE: You know. You are from the American West. You're aware of this. The sage grouse - we're talking about them today because the Trump administration wants to revise these protections for this bird that were implemented under President Obama. Environmental groups say this change could endanger this bird that lives in 11 states in the West. But they also say this is more than just about the sage grouse.

Environmental advocates are arguing that this is a huge win for the oil and gas industry. The sage grouse happens to live in areas that are very rich in natural resources. And the Trump administration wants to give states what they're calling more flexibility to allow for mining and logging and drilling where it's now being restricted.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Nate Rott is here to explain all this. Hey, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hello.

MARTIN: Make the connection for me. What does the sage grouse have to do with energy supplies?

ROTT: Well, the sage grouse has the honor of sharing a home with oil, gas, coal - a landscape that's full of natural resources. And you might remember that - President Trump's executive order promoting energy independence and economic growth. Well, parts of the oil and gas industry, and some Western states have argued that current efforts to conserve sage grouse to protect their habitat are impeding that economic growth, that current management plans are too restrictive.

So the Trump administration ordered a review. And yesterday, we saw the results of that review and heard that the Interior Department was going to implement a number of recommendations or changes.

MARTIN: So the American economy would grow if it weren't for the darn sage grouse?

ROTT: So they say.

MARTIN: All right. So these recommendations that are coming down - environmental groups say this is going to doom the sage grouse. What is this bird's fate?

ROTT: Yes. We saw that release. I think that might be an overly strong characterization and a little premature. The Interior Department did say that they - they made it very clear they are committed to conserving the bird and that they want to find the appropriate balance between that conservation and economic development.

Like you said earlier, they painted this as an effort to give states more flexibility. Now, wearing the skeptic hat, flexibility can mean a lot of things. And the Trump administration is certainly for energy development, which is bad for the bird. So you can understand why there'd be some concerns.

MARTIN: OK. We're going to shift gears real quick to ask you about a story we saw last night. This was in The New York Times about a sweeping climate change report. It is awaiting action by the Trump administration. What can you tell us about this?

ROTT: Yeah. Well, we saw a copy of the climate change report last night. It's a draft, which I think is important to note. And it lays out how much of an impact humans have had on climate change - it's a lot - and what the effects of that will likely be. There were some concerns that this report was going to be suppressed. I can't speak to whether or not that would've been the case. If it would've, that's a big deal, but that's a big if.

I still have a lot of questions about when this report was supposed to be published. What would the administration have done in a vacuum? We haven't heard from the administration. But I think it's fair to point out that the scientists' concerns come from the administration, which has, you know, scrubbed climate change references off of government websites and have questioned the very science of it.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Nathan Rott. He covers the environment for us. Hey, Nate, thanks so much.

ROTT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TWISTED PSYKIE'S "UNDERDARK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.