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U.S. Expelling Russian Intelligence Officers, Closing Consulate In Seattle


The Trump administration has announced that it is expelling dozens of Russian intelligence agents from this country. It said the expulsions were in response to the poison attack on a former British spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom. A senior administration official said this move was in solidarity with NATO allies. Now, by expelling these agents, the unnamed officials said it would reduce Russia's ability to subvert Western institutions. Let's talk about this with NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith, who's been listening to officials describe all of this.

Tam, good morning.


GREENE: Tell me more about these expulsions. And also, it sounds like the Trump administration is closing the Russian Consulate in Seattle. These are significant moves.

KEITH: That's correct. So they've ordered the expulsion of a total of 60 Russian intelligence officers. About a dozen of them are tasked to the Russian mission to the U.N. The others are elsewhere. These folks, they say, are all intelligence officers no matter what their job titles actually say. And they've been given a week to leave the United States along with their families.

GREENE: And it sounds like this consulate in Seattle, they're closing because the administration is saying this was strategically located.

KEITH: Yeah, so it is close to a U.S. submarine base and also Boeing facilities. But they were - these officials were careful to point out that this was not based on any specific threat, simply that they felt that this was a good consulate to shut down, that it would improve American safety and reduce Russia's ability to both spy on the U.S. and conduct destabilizing activities.

GREENE: How does this fit in with what we have heard from President Trump about this poison attack and, you know, and in the relationship with Russia in general?

KEITH: Yeah, so the interesting thing is that President Trump last Tuesday had a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin and, according to the White House, did not bring up this attack on U.K. soil. So that was sort of a surprising thing, given that it was a really big issue and on, you know, the soil of a major U.S. ally. The language today coming from these administration officials - now, not the president himself, but administration officials and also press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement - is very strong language and leaves no question about the U.S. blaming Russia for this attack on the former Russian spy and his daughter.

GREENE: And it sounds like one message the Trump administration wants to send is one of solidarity with NATO countries. That sounds like an important thing they want to stress here.

KEITH: Yeah, so on this call with reporters, the U.S. officials repeated this again and again, that this is an action being taken in conjunction with our NATO allies. And, you know, NATO has this all-for-one, one-for-all Article 5 that says an attack on one is an attack on all. And this is considered - they were careful not to say that it is an act of war, but it was an attack using a military-grade chemical weapon, they're saying, on the soil of the United Kingdom. And they're saying that a dozen - at least a dozen allies are responding together, that this is a coordinated response and that we will be seeing similar types of expulsions or other activities by other U.S. allies around the world, especially in Europe, but beyond.

GREENE: All right, so this is one story we're going to be following just coming out this morning. Another one I want to ask you about, Tam - last night the adult film actress Stormy Daniels went on "60 Minutes" and spoke about the affair she says she had with Donald Trump in 2006. It was a striking interview. What - has there been a response yet from the White House?

KEITH: Not a specific response. We do have a tweet from President Trump this morning just saying, so much fake news; never been so much that's so inaccurate, but the country is doing great. Unclear whether that is a reference to last night's interview or not. And also, the press secretary for the first lady did put out a tweet asking reporters not to use the name of President Trump's minor son. His young son was a baby at the time of the alleged affair.

GREENE: And something like that from the White House is not that rare.

KEITH: It is not that rare. I mean, it's sort of a standard practice that children are left out of stories about their parents when their parents are the president of the United States.

GREENE: OK. Talking to NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith about a lot of news, including the expulsion of dozens of Russian intelligence agents from the United States, the Trump administration taking that action this morning. Tam, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.