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News brief: Virginia Thomas' texts, life in Kyiv, Biden visits Poland

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People urging Donald Trump to overturn a Democratic election apparently included Ginni Thomas.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Ginni Thomas is a well-known figure in Washington, D.C. She's a conservative activist and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In the weeks after it became obvious Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, Thomas sent numerous text messages to Trump's chief of staff. She urged Mark Meadows to keep fighting. One message said, quote, "the left is attempting the greatest heist of our history." Meadows later turned the messages over to a House investigating committee. The Washington Post and CBS News both reviewed those messages, as did CNN.

INSKEEP: And CNN's Zachary Cohen is with us now. Welcome to the program.

ZACHARY COHEN: I appreciate you having me.

INSKEEP: Do you have any doubt about the authenticity of these messages?

COHEN: Well, Steve, we've - as you guys said, we've reviewed the messages and we've also talked to multiple sources who have, in fact, confirmed that the House Select Committee has more than two dozen texts, 29 in total, between Mark Meadows and Ginni Thomas. So we're obviously confident in our reporting.

INSKEEP: What is the key period when she's texting Mark Meadows? This is after the election and even after Biden had been declared the winner, right?

COHEN: This is. These text messages date back to mid-November 2020 and span through mid-January of 2021. Now, most of the texts that the committee has that are in this group of 29 happened in the month of November. And there's only one text that occurred after January 6. We don't know if there's more texts than what has been handed over to the committee so far, but we do know that these do exist.

INSKEEP: How often did Mark Meadows reply to Ginni Thomas?

COHEN: It was about eight times, and so there were about 20 text messages from Ginni Thomas. And Mark Meadows would reply to some and would not reply to others. But, really, I got to tell you that these texts do show a very remarkable relationship between the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice and Trump's then-chief of staff at a time when the former president was insisting that they were going to take their legal challenges of the election all the way to the Supreme Court. Now, there is no reference directly to Justice Clarence Thomas, and there's really not a lot of clarity around what he knew or did not know about the conversations his wife was having with Mark Meadows. But still, it's clear from these text messages that Ginni Thomas really sought to steer the Trump team's legal challenge especially and really sought to help push that narrative to overturn the election.

INSKEEP: You mentioned that it's not clear how much Clarence Thomas himself knew about this, but what are the potential conflicts here? And how has Clarence Thomas addressed those possible conflicts in the past? Because she's been a noted activist for years.

COHEN: That's right. And Clarence Thomas and Ginni Thomas have both insisted that they're - in the past, that there's no overlap between her activism and his seat on the court. Now, we have not received a response for comment from Ginni Thomas regarding the text messages. But, you know, this could raise some questions going forward, but we'll have to wait and see how that plays out and if the committee issues a subpoena for Ginni Thomas as well.

INSKEEP: Zachary, thanks so much for your reporting, really appreciate it.

COHEN: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: That's CNN's Zachary Cohen.

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INSKEEP: The capital of Ukraine is a bit more secure than it was at the start of the week.

MARTIN: Russian troops who threaten the capital have in some cases had to retreat in recent days. They are still able, though, to fire artillery and missiles into Kyiv. And this morning, we have a glimpse of life in the capital city.

INSKEEP: Which comes from our co-host, Leila Fadel, who's on the line. Hey there, Leila.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is it like in Kyiv these days?

FADEL: You know, there's a certain dread that runs through the city every night. When the sun disappears, people here draw their curtains, dim the lights. In our hotel, actually, the lights are off during dinner. It's almost as if this entire place is trying to hide from the next Russian airstrike. No one knows where it will land. And so that's life more than a month into Russia's invasion of this country. But by day, when we're out and we drive through the center of Kyiv, it's clear that as the war grinds on, people are adapting in their ways. I saw a man walking his dog, another riding his bike just outside a building damaged by a missile strike. Because, you know, life has to happen despite the war.

INSKEEP: That must be true in different ways in all parts of Ukraine that you've visited.

FADEL: Yeah, I mean, definitely there's a higher amount of vigilance here. The war is much closer to Lviv, where we've been doing a lot of reporting in the west. Here, the one thing that really struck me as different is we're not really seeing children. Every playground we pass in the capital is empty. Since the start of Russia's war in Ukraine, more than half of this country's kids, they're displaced. And you can feel it in Kyiv. It's like a sound is missing, the sound of children playing. But when we visited Ukraine's largest children's hospital, one car after another rolled in, tagged with the word children, a plea to Russian forces not to shoot. And inside the hospital, we met radiologist Anastasia Rusyn (ph), who said before the war just over a month ago, kids would come in with injuries you get from being a kid.

ANASTASIA RUSYN: Some bicycles, you know, riding. As children, they has some, yes, accidents, sports, football and so on. And now we have blast trauma. It's children with shrapnels. We have childrens with hard injuries.

FADEL: So upstairs from that emergency room, there was a 4-year-old boy with deep wounds on his back from shrapnel, a 7-year-old girl with shrapnel wounds to her legs. And then we met a 13-year-old, Voloydymyr Karivansky (ph). He goes by Vova. He's had multiple surgeries over the past few weeks. His jaw was wired shut. A scar ran up the right side of his face. And he was trying to escape his neighborhood outside of Kyiv in the early days of the war when Russian forces opened fire on his family's car. His father was killed, 6-year-old cousin Maxim (ph). A bullet grazed his hand, two pierced his back, another his foot; I mean, really devastating.

INSKEEP: Wow. Of course, a lot of residents of Kyiv are gone. We're going to be going next to Poland, where millions of Ukrainians are now staying.

FADEL: Yeah.

INSKEEP: But what do you hear from those who choose to stay?

FADEL: You know, choosing to stay for a lot of people is an act of defiance, a signal that they will live and they will keep their city. But it's a changed place, a place where so many people told us they don't know if they'll make it to the next morning. So they're adapting. Like I said earlier, they're finding moments of joy. I met a young law student who'd put on a smart blue blazer for a walk on a sunny day with a friend to grab a coffee. And down the road, I stumbled on a hair salon. And, Steve, it was open. Exsinya Kojushko (ph) was getting her hair cut.

EXSINYA KOJUSHKO: Yeah. I feel guilty for having my hair done right now. And I actually done my nails just a few days ago, and I hated myself for that. But I'll feel better and I'll be able to work better, to do my - like, be better at everything I do. So I'm trying to give this justification of me being here, chilling, having a coffee. I know it's surreal to me because I'm sitting here like nothing happens. But somewhere on the outskirts of Kyiv right now, like, people cleaning their houses from broken glass, broken walls.

FADEL: So she said it was her little island of normality while everything around her burned in flames.

INSKEEP: Our colleague, Leila Fadel, thank you so much.

FADEL: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: And we will note that Russian forces may be stalled outside of Kyiv, but they're not stalled everywhere in Ukraine. They have taken some territory. And Ukrainian officials today say the city of Chernihiv is now surrounded by Russian troops.

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INSKEEP: OK. President Biden lands near Ukraine today, stopping 40 miles from the border in Poland.

MARTIN: More than 2 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland since the Russian invasion started a month ago. Arms shipments from the West are largely sent into Ukraine through Poland. And after long warning the West about Russian ambitions, Poland is now in a position to play a really pivotal role in the response to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is traveling with the president. She's in Warsaw. Hey there, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

INSKEEP: What should the president see today?

KEITH: He's going to get a firsthand look at how this country is dealing with Europe's most significant refugee crisis since World War II. He'll be landing in Rzeszow. This is a small city that's a first stop for many of the people leaving Ukraine. Yesterday, Biden said seeing the disruption caused by this war will drive home to him why the U.S. needs to take in thousands of refugees.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It will reinforce my commitment to have the United States make sure we are a major piece of dealing with the relocation of all those folks, as well as humanitarian assistance needed both inside Ukraine and outside Ukraine. For example, this is not something that Poland or Romania or Germany should carry on their own.

KEITH: The U.S. has also committed at least $1 billion in new humanitarian aid.

INSKEEP: Tamara, this visit is reminding me that Secretary of State Tony Blinken was in Poland recently and deliberately took a few steps across the Ukrainian border as a symbolic show of support. I guess the president is at least not scheduled to do anything quite like that, but he's pretty close to Ukraine.

KEITH: Yeah, about 40 miles to the west, and there is significance to this stop. He's going into the heart of the humanitarian crisis. And that city is not all that far from where a missile strike hit last week. Yesterday at NATO, Biden reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Article 5. That is the idea that if one NATO member is attacked, the entire alliance treats it as if they were all attacked. And while there in Rzeszow, Biden will also visit with U.S. troops with the 82nd Airborne Division.

INSKEEP: And we should mention, of course, the 82nd Airborne Division isn't going into combat here. The U.S...

KEITH: No.

INSKEEP: ...Response to Russia's invasion has been sanctions. NATO's response has been sanctions. Are they working?

KEITH: Well, Biden was pressed on that yesterday. And, you know, many in the administration had earlier said the threat of massive sanctions might serve as a deterrent for Putin. But Biden insisted sanctions require time to get results.

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BIDEN: The maintenance of sanctions, the increasing the pain and the demonstration, why I asked for this NATO meeting today is to be sure that after a month we will sustain what we're doing, not just next month, the following month, but for the remainder of this entire year. That's what will stop him.

KEITH: Of course, there is a big carveout in the sanctions thus far, and that's energy. Europeans and other partners still need Russian oil and gas, and that means Russia is getting money from that to help offset some of the other hits to its economy. Today, Biden is announcing a new task force on moving more liquefied natural gas to Europe. The goal is to help diversify Europe from Russian supplies of energy. The announcement says the U.S. and partners will, quote, "strive to ensure additional LNG volumes." The amount they're talking about is relatively modest, and strive to ensure is language with a lot of wiggle room, just highlighting that this is something that is easier said than done. And the government doesn't necessarily have a lot of control here.

INSKEEP: Tamara Keith, NPR's White House correspondent, safe travels to you.

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

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.