News Brief: Conyers Investigation, Uber Data Breach, Ratko Mladic

Nov 22, 2017
Originally published on November 22, 2017 7:32 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The re-examination of sexual misconduct that has swept entertainment and media is now focused more tightly on Congress.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Indeed. The House Ethics Committee is now investigating accusations of sexual harassment against the longest-serving member in that chamber. We're talking about Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan. One of his former staffers got a $27,000 settlement for wrongful dismissal in 2015. That was after she had accused Conyers of making repeated sexual advances towards women on his staff. This is according to BuzzFeed news. Conyers acknowledged the settlements although he has denied any wrongdoing.

INSKEEP: Let's bring in NPR politics editor Domenico Montanaro to talk about this. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hi there.

INSKEEP: So first what it means that he paid a settlement. Usually that means you've settled the case, but I guess that doesn't close off an Ethics Committee investigation?

MONTANARO: Well, they're two separate things. So I was actually kind of surprised to learn that actually when it goes through a settlement discussion or when there's a complaint against a member of Congress, there actually isn't some kind of ethics investigation that's also triggered or launched. So the Ethics Committee has to have something referred to it, and nothing was in this case. So now what we know is that the ethics committee is launching an inquiry. After a 45-day review it will decide if it takes one of three routes, to either dismiss, investigate fully or extend another 45 days. And, you know, possible outcomes could range from a strongly worded letter to a censure recommendation to a recommendation for expulsion, but it should be pointed out the Ethics Committee actually has no teeth or authority to enact any of those recommendations, and there's going to be a lot of pressure on Conyers, who's 88, to just resign before this investigation is done. Because once you leave then the Ethics Committee wouldn't be investigating any further. It would actually close it out because they only look at current members of Congress.

INSKEEP: Is part of the question here not just what Conyers did or didn't do with a number of staffers but also the fact that public money was used for the settlement?

MONTANARO: No question about it. Obviously when you've got that kind of money that's involved and, you know, millions of dollars over several years, when women are having to sign non-disclosure agreements required to do so, you know, this is a whole much bigger debate that has to be had in the country.

INSKEEP: Well, let's also talk about the Alabama Senate race because President Trump has spoken out in a way about Roy Moore of Alabama, who faces a number of allegations of his own. Here's part of what the president had to say about him yesterday.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He totally denies it. He says it didn't happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him, also.

INSKEEP: So sort of defending Moore and says we don't want a liberal coming out of Alabama. Does that amount to an endorsement of Roy Moore?

MONTANARO: It certainly amounts to that. You know, gone was the White House caveats of saying, you know, if he did these things. Instead, the president here himself is saying that Republicans need another Republican in the Senate, not a, quote, "liberal Democrat," as he described Doug Jones, the Democrat who's running against Moore, and certainly sends a message to Trump's base in a state where Trump is very popular to vote for Moore. Trump also left open the possibility of campaigning with Moore next week, although we should point out that he's done that lots of times where he says, well, we'll talk about that next week, and then nothing ever happens.

MARTIN: I mean, worth remembering that Donald Trump, this is what he has maintained about the accusers who have come after him, who have targeted him. And he has felt unfairly maligned in those cases, and perhaps he sees a little bit of that happening for Roy Moore.

INSKEEP: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks very much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

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INSKEEP: A bit of troubling news for millions of people who hail rides or earn money using the Uber app.

MARTIN: Yeah. There's been a massive hack of information about Uber riders and drivers. The hack happened about a year ago, but the company is only now disclosing it and the fact that company officials paid off the hackers to keep this whole thing quiet.

INSKEEP: Let's bring in NPR tech reporter Aarti Shahani, who's been following this story. Hi, Aarti.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: OK. So I've used Uber, and I'm just thinking, they've got my credit card info, they've got records of wherever I've been in their cars. Is that the kind of information the hackers got?

SHAHANI: No. In this case, Uber says it's not the information the hackers got. Not your trip history, not your bank account or Social Security number. For Uber passengers, what Uber says is that hackers got names, email addresses and mobile phone numbers. The group that is far worse off here are the Uber drivers, OK? Six-hundred-thousand of them in the U.S. got their full names as well as their full driver's license numbers stolen. That is very personal. And, you know, Uber drivers already feel like the company doesn't look out for them. It's something we've reported on. Uber promised to clean up its act, and yet here's another example of Uber not doing their drivers right.

INSKEEP: Why would Uber pay off the hackers to keep quiet about this?

SHAHANI: Well, it's a scandal. (Laughter). The man at Uber who is in charge of security, his name is Joe Sullivan. According to a source close to the company, Sullivan covered it up and actually paid the hackers $100,000 to delete the data and keep their mouth shut about it. This part is heartbreaking to a lot of security experts in Silicon Valley. Sullivan is someone who'd been considered to be a role model, a former federal prosecutor, you know, someone who was supposed to be a public servant in his past life. He hid this from regulators. And the timing isn't arbitrary, OK? Because while this is going down, Uber is actually negotiating with the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC, over claims that the company misled drivers in another way, about how much drivers could earn on the job and how the car-leasing program at Uber actually worked. The company had also just agreed to another FTC settlement - suit, rather, around consumer data. So there were incentives in house to keep things hush hush.

INSKEEP: Is part of the problem here also that the company was going through a leadership churn and all kinds of other unrelated problems like harassment and discrimination claims?

SHAHANI: Well, I mean, what you're saying is pointing to an issue of ongoing cultural problems at the company and a sort of approach to managing issues, which is sort of like a bull in a china shop, irrespective of what the rules actually are. And, you know, you could say that while Uber has really turned a corner because so much of its leadership has changed, right, there's a new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, and it didn't happen on his watch. In the blog post he published yesterday, he says he learned about the hack only recently. He is letting the authorities know about it, and he kicked out Sullivan and another employee involved in the cover up. You know, so that's sort of an indication of, OK, things are turning the corner.

Now, that said, Uber still does have the former CEO, Travis Kalanick on their board. Travis is still trying to exercise influence over the company. And so, you know, in moments like this, I don't think it's fair to assume Uber is just going to get it right on its own because it's got a new CEO. You have to assume that it's the pressure from outside, whether it's from reporting or from regulators or from courts, that's going to help keep it honest.

INSKEEP: NPR's Aarti Shahani, thanks very much.

SHAHANI: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: OK. We have a verdict being read in a major war crimes trial at The Hague today in the Netherlands. To understand its significance, we have to look back to the 1990s.

MARTIN: On July 10th, a massacre unfolded in Bosnia. Serbian forces murdered more than 8,000 Muslims in what is now known as the Bosnian genocide. The man who commanded those Serbian forces was put on trial in an international tribunal at The Hague. It went on for four years and wraps up this morning.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR's senior European correspondent Sylvia Poggioli covered the Bosnian War, and she joins us now to talk about the verdict. Sylvia, what's happening where you are?

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Well, we are in a break now. The presiding judge at the tribunal in The Hague has been reading already, for about 45 minutes, a summary of the ruling. So far the court has found that yes, genocide was committed in Srebrenica and in six other municipalities in Bosnia. If you remember, Srebrenica was the town where some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred in 1995. The other case Mladic is facing is for genocide, also accused for genocide, for the three-and-a-half-year long siege of Sarajevo. The prosecution premise is that Mladic was responsible for a campaign of ethnic cleansing aimed at creating a purely monoethnic Serbian state. And the court heard hundreds of witnesses, thousands of exhibits, and there were, you know, there's a lot of evidence. There were many video clips of Mladic giving orders to his troops to separate army-age men from their families before executing them and dumping their bodies in mass graves that were later uncovered across the region.

INSKEEP: Does he deny any of this?

POGGIOLI: He absolutely pleads not guilty to everything.

INSKEEP: Well, did you ever get a chance to meet this man or see him in action, given that you covered the war?

POGGIOLI: I never met him personally, but I have a chilling memory of seeing him in May, 1993. The Bosnian Serbs were about to sign a peace plan drawn up by the U.S. and British diplomat Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen. The meeting was in their stronghold near Sarajevo. Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic was there, too. He was pressing for approval so that he could get international sanctions on Serbia lifted. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, Mladic stormed into the room and rolled out giant maps of Bosnia covered with small crosses. In a fiery speech, he said, wherever a Serb is buried, that is Serbian land. The peace plan was immediately voted down, prolonging the war more than two years, culminating with the massacre at Srebrenica.

INSKEEP: How important is this verdict that you're listening to to the victims, to the survivors?

POGGIOLI: It's extremely important. Like the verdict, the conviction of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, these are milestones in bringing justice for the victims. But one of the main aims of the tribunal promoting reconciliation in the region has failed totally. Nationalist leaders are still in power. Ethnic divisions are as strong as ever there.

INSKEEP: Sylvia, thanks very much, as always.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.