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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Most people know the basic facts of the attack on the Capitol last year. A challenge for House investigators is to show what those facts mean.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A House committee played video from that day, January 6. They also played video of testimony. Witnesses showed it was not merely a protest or even tourism, as former President Trump's loyalists had characterized it. Republican Representative Liz Cheney said the defeated president led a violent attempt to overturn a democratic election.

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LIZ CHENEY: Tonight, I say this to my Republican colleagues who are defending the indefensible. There will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us. Good morning.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so if this event in which numerous people died wasn't merely a bit of tourism, what was it?

GRISALES: Well, Chairman Bennie Thompson said the attack marked the culmination of an attempted coup directed by former President Trump to overthrow the government.

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BENNIE THOMPSON: The violence was no accident. It represented Trump's last stand, most desperate chance to halt the transfer of power.

GRISALES: In a series of video clips, the committee gave us a look into some of the 1,000 interviews they conducted, the vast majority of which were voluntary. Several featured their most high-profile witnesses, such as former Attorney General Bill Barr, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.

INSKEEP: Well, these are people quite close to the president who served in his administration. So what insights did they add?

GRISALES: Right. They presented some striking and revealing insights. For example, we saw one exchange with ex-Attorney General Bill Barr using explicit language to describe how he told Trump three times that he had lost.

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WILLIAM BARR: I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was [expletive]. And, you know, I didn't want to be a part of it. And that's one of the reasons that went into me deciding to leave when I did.

GRISALES: We also learned Ivanka Trump agreed with Barr's assessment that no election fraud was committed. Here's a portion of her interview with the panel.

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UNIDENTIFIED INTERVIEWER: How did that affect your perspective about the election when Attorney General Barr made that statement?

IVANKA TRUMP: It affected my perspective. I respect Attorney General Barr. So I accepted what he was saying.

INSKEEP: OK. So the facts are obvious here. Even people who are close to Trump know the facts, stated the facts. The two Republicans on this committee know the facts. But there are some other lawmakers who see it in their interest to pretend the facts aren't facts or to change the subject and talk about other things. What are they saying?

GRISALES: Right. We saw this playing out outside of the room last night. For example, Ohio Republican Jim Jordan complained, where's the prime-time hearings on the Afghanistan withdrawal last year? And this ties into a larger theme when GOP leaders yesterday were saying Democrats should cover other pressing issues. Here's Republican leader Kevin McCarthy.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: I don't see any prime-time hearings set for gas price, for battling inflation, for feeding our children, for making the streets safer.

GRISALES: And several GOP figures made their case on Fox News, which did not air the hearing in full as other networks did.

INSKEEP: This is just the first day. Where do the hearings go from now?

GRISALES: Right. These will take place over the next two weeks. We'll see five more hearings focusing on Trump's role in the attack, from the lie of the election fraud to efforts to replace Barr to Trump's pressure campaign on state officials and his former vice president, Mike Pence.

INSKEEP: It was a long campaign. Claudia, thanks so much.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

INSKEEP: NPR's Claudia Grisales.

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INSKEEP: In 3 1/2 months of war, Russian invaders have lost hundreds of tanks and vehicles, not to mention thousands of troops.

MARTIN: Even so, they still have enormous firepower, which they're concentrating in the eastern part of Ukraine, which leads to the next question. How can Ukraine fire back?

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre is in Kyiv. Hey there, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: I'm reminded that at the start of this war, people said Ukraine was massively outgunned. They, of course, have won a number of victories since then. But is it still true that they're outgunned?

MYRE: Yeah, it's still true. The Russians have far more firepower in this big battle that's been going on in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk. It's been the focal point for the fighting the past few weeks. The Russians have - seems about 90% of the city or so. The Russians are just using these very traditional and brutal tactics, nonstop, long-range artillery fire, just pulverizing the city. So the Ukrainians have been hanging on, but they say it's very difficult because they're taking this incoming Russian artillery around the clock, and they just can't match it. Now, I spoke about this with Ukraine's military spokesman, Oleksandr Motuzianyk.

OLEKSANDR MOTUZIANYK: (Speaking Ukrainian).

MYRE: So he's saying that the Russians still have many more men and more materiel, particularly in the hot spots. "And first and foremost, he says, we need long-range artillery. Give us weapons. The rest will be done by our soldiers.

INSKEEP: Yeah. War, in a way, is math. Can you get the most men or the most people? Can you get the most guns into a particular location, a particular spot on the map? And that's what the Russians seem to be doing. So how do Ukraine's allies in Washington view all of this?

MYRE: Right. So the Pentagon has been sending new and more powerful weapons systems as the war has evolved. Now, the latest that will be coming to Ukraine is as a long-range rocket system which can strike precisely at a distance of up to 50 miles. Ukrainians say, this is what we need. But the U.S. is only sending a small number, and they'll have to be trained. So it's probably going to be a month or more before they're in action on the battlefield. The Pentagon certainly realizes there's an urgency because the Russians are making this headway in the east. And the Pentagon is speeding up and condensing the training from what would normally be a few months to a few weeks. But it just can't be done overnight.

INSKEEP: How are the Ukrainians using the weapons they already have from the West?

MYRE: Well, they've adapted very quickly with minimal training to multiple new weapons systems. But still, it's very challenging to do it on the fly in the middle of a war. The U.S. recently sent Howitzers, but Ukrainians had to go to Germany, a group of about 50 at a time, for training. They returned to help train their fellow soldiers. And these Howitzers have been effective, but they require a lot of maintenance. And with constant use, they can overheat. They need sort of special oils to stay lubricated. So some of this information or equipment may not be making it to the front lines. And we've been hearing other reports, as well, that sometimes, the weapons systems come only with English instructions, not Ukrainian. Soldiers have been going to Google Translate or watching YouTube to understand exactly how they should be using it. We've also heard problems with, like, night-vision goggles - that Ukrainians were using ordinary batteries instead of lithium batteries. So all this, as you can see, is very challenging.

INSKEEP: Amazing the little details that can make the difference between life and death or between victory and defeat. Greg, thanks so much.

MYRE: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: NPR's Greg Myre.

The blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag represent a blue sky over a field of wheat. Ukraine is one of the world's biggest exporters of grain and cooking oil. And President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says much of the world is affected as Russia's invasion disrupts the growing and shipment of that grain.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Through interpreter) Millions of people may starve if Russia's blockade of the Black Sea continues.

INSKEEP: We've been covering different aspects of this story. Now we'll find out how it looks to the people growing the grain. NPR's Peter Granitz is in Odesa along the Ukrainian Black Sea coast. Hey there, Peter.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you hear from farmers?

GRANITZ: Well, I hear that they are worried. And that's probably not surprising. They are worried about their livelihoods, about their businesses and, of course, their safety. They're worried about actually getting hurt in the war. They're also concerned about artillery landing in their fields and actually ruining their yield. Yesterday, I went out to see a farmer named Vasyliy Khmilenko about 30 miles outside of Odesa. He's got a pretty big farm. It's about a thousand acres. He farms some sunflowers for cooking oil, but mostly, it's winter wheat and barley. That means he plants it in the fall, and then he harvests it in the early summer. And he's actually getting ready to do that right now, but he doesn't know what the price is going to be.

VASYLIY KHMILENKO: (Speaking Ukrainian).

GRANITZ: He says the grain elevators at the port are full, and that's why brokers aren't going to give him a price just yet. And he says he really wants the price so he knows just how bad financially this year is going to be. Steve, Ukraine says there are more than 23 million tons of grain still in the country that cannot get out.

INSKEEP: Wow.

GRANITZ: And Vasyliy starts harvesting in a couple weeks. And he's worried if he harvests the grain, it's just going to rot. And that puts him in the hole.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember the main blockage here is the Black Sea ports, including the one that you're in there, Odesa. And we can remind people that Turkey, a neighboring nation, has been hosting these negotiations with Russia, the idea of which is to reopen the ports for grain shipments. Any progress?

GRANITZ: No, there is no progress. There's no deal yet. And the conversation this week was between the Russian and the Turkish foreign ministers in Ankara, but Ukraine wasn't there. I think we should step back and say that these Russian warships are just floating out in the Black Sea. Now, you can't actually see them from the shores of Odessa. But those ships enforce the blockade. And the goal of these talks would be to open some kind of shipping lane that would allow Ukraine to export its grain. Now, to do that safely, they would need another country, likely Turkey, to escort it safely through. Russia is doing this because it wants sanctions relief, right? You know, they want the world to come to their side. But Ukraine rejected the deal outright. Obviously, Ukraine wants the ports open so it can sell the grain to the world because it needs the money. And a lot of countries need the food. The U.N. has warned that food shortages and hunger could get worse this year if things don't improve.

INSKEEP: I don't understand, Peter, why anyone would think Russia would ever agree to a deal. They went to war against Ukraine. They want to destroy the Ukrainian government. They want to degrade the Ukrainian economy. And if there's extra pressure on the world because people are desperate for grain, that's extra pressure on Russia's side.

GRANITZ: I don't think you're alone in thinking that, Steve, or not understanding that, Steve. I think Russia can play this as long as it wants. It clearly has the leverage here. It doesn't need to remove its ships from the Black Sea. And the longer this goes on, the more those countries are vulnerable, the more they need the food, the more they need to see an end to the conflict. And one way to do that would be to go to Russia's side and say, hey, look. They need to get some kind of relief. That way, we get our relief.

INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Granitz is in Odesa, Ukraine. Peter, thanks so much.

GRANITZ: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.