Morning News Brief

May 21, 2018
Originally published on May 23, 2018 6:18 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I guess you could say President Trump is essentially ordering the United States Department of Justice to investigate itself.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah, think of this as counterprogramming. Ever since 2016, of course, the FBI and others have been investigating Russian efforts to influence President Trump's election. Just in the last few days, the Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee has affirmed that Russia worked to elect President Trump. On Friday night, The New York Times reported that Saudi interests were meeting Trump's son in 2016 offering to help, too. But the president has been pushing a counternarrative in which the effort to track foreign influence is an effort to target him.

And on Twitter Sunday, the president demanded that the Justice Department look into whether it and the FBI infiltrated his 2016 campaign. The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark Warner told CBS over the weekend that the president may well be playing fast and loose with classified information.

GREENE: OK. Let's bring in NPR's Tim Mak who is here to talk about this story.

Hi, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey.

GREENE: This feels like a potentially big moment. I mean, the president has criticized the FBI in the past, but if he is going to officially demand that they investigate to answer his question, this is significant. Right?

MAK: It's super significant. And it's a serious departure from the way that previous White Houses have handled investigations. Right? For many years - the last few decades, presidents have really gone out of their way not to appear as if they're involving themselves in Justice Department investigations. But it's safe to say that this president and this investigation are unprecedented. Right?

The president's call comes as various news outlets have reported that a U.S. intelligence source assisted the investigation into the Russian election. The Post reported last week that the source was a retired American professor. And he had contacts with three Trump advisers during the 2016 campaign. So what Trump has done - what the president has done is to suggest that there was a, quote, "embedded informant" on his campaign. Of course, there's no evidence that there was any embedded informant on his campaign.

GREENE: OK. So the president saying that he's going to make some kind of official demand today. But it sounds like the Justice Department is already laying the groundwork for how it might respond to this.

MAK: Yeah. The president said he would make a formal request. But the Justice Department has kind of taken his tweet, which he made Sunday afternoon, as enough direction to do it already. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that the Justice Department would be referring the matter to its inspector general kind of as a way to defuse the situation. They're asking the IG to determine if there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted counterintelligence investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. And Rosenstein went on to say that if anyone did infiltrate the presidential election, they need to know about it; they need to take action.

GREENE: There are a lot of investigations we've been talking about. The one that we're referring to here actually predates special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Right? So could this development actually affect Mueller's work?

MAK: Well, it puts a lot - a big, big spotlight on the Mueller team. Of course, the Trump camp has said for a long time that this is an unjustified witch hunt. And, of course, we saw over the weekend that Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, said that he expects this whole thing to be wrapped up by September.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Tim Mak. A lot to cover there.

Tim, thanks a lot.

MAK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. Communities across Texas are going to take a pause this morning.

INSKEEP: There will be a statewide moment of silence to honor the 10 people killed after a gunman opened fire inside Santa Fe High School. This shooting happened just before classes began on Friday morning. Police arrested the gunman who is charged with capital murder.

GREENE: NPR's Cory Turner spent the weekend speaking with families in Santa Fe about what happened and what could come next. And he joins us.

Hi, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So I know you've been talking to some survivors of this. How are they even processing what happened?

TURNER: Yeah. I mean, as you can expect, they're grieving. They're hurt. They're confused. I mean, they're still very much - this is a community in crisis still. You know, often with these mass shootings, we tend to focus on the dead and wounded, as we should. But one thing I've noticed as an education reporter is we don't spend a lot of time on the hundreds - and sometimes thousands - of people in these events who have suffered real emotional trauma and now carry invisible wounds. I've spoken with several students who fit that description.

One stands out. Her name is Kayte. She lost a childhood friend, Chris Stone, in the shooting. And she told me that right now she's really having trouble. Let's take a listen.

KAYTE ALFORD: I don't want to go anywhere. I don't want to leave my house. I don't want to be alone. I can't even get up and go to the bathroom without having my mom come with me because I'm constantly looking over my shoulder. I was trying to sit in the backyard, and I was scared that somebody was going to jump over the fence and shoot me.

GREENE: Wow.

TURNER: Yeah.

David, Kayte's a senior, I should say. She's 18. She told me she planned to go to college next year. But now she just feels upended. She's just not sure.

GREENE: OK. So as we sort through what happened here, what do we know about the shooter? Did parents - do students in this community have anything to say about him?

TURNER: I mean, I'll be honest, most didn't. I mean, from students I heard a lot of fragments, things that they could remember about a young man that most of them barely knew. You know, the duster that he wore came up again and again, so did the word loner. But honestly, most simply weren't focused on him. You know, he's in custody. He's facing at least charges of capital murder and aggravated assault of a police officer. Folks here are more focused on different names - Jared Black, Shana Fisher, Christian Riley Garcia, Chris Stone, Kimberly Vaughan - you know, the students and teachers who didn't come home Friday.

GREENE: And so what happens now in terms of the response to this? I know there's already talk of lawmakers, you know, figuring out just the right way to keep students safe.

TURNER: That's right. Governor Greg Abbott has promised to convene roundtables, beginning this week, of lawmakers, experts, parents, students - to talk through ideas. Yesterday, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick - he called for schools to be hardened, meaning fewer ways in and out, more guards, more metal detectors. I will say, of all the people I've talked with down here, that's really what I hear most - more guards, more metal detectors. But when it comes to tougher gun laws, most here that I've met either don't support the idea or say it's just not realistic.

GREENE: NPR's Cory Turner in Texas this morning.

Cory, thanks a lot.

TURNER: Thank you, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, we want to turn now to Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro is declaring victory in his re-election bid. But it's safe to say the challenge to his leadership is far from over.

INSKEEP: Now his opponents are calling his win illegitimate. And the Trump administration is threatening new sanctions against Venezuela.

So how would that affect a country that's already dealing with economic collapse? And how exactly did this country's socialist leader come to reclaim the presidency amid widespread hunger and a refugee crisis in what had been - had felt like - a prosperous country not many years ago?

GREENE: All right, NPR's Philip Reeves is covering this in the capital Caracas.

Hey, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi. How are you doing?

GREENE: So let's start with why this election outcome is being disputed by, I mean, the United States, outside observers - it seems like a lot of people.

REEVES: Well, because it's widely perceived as being totally unfair. The actual issue at the moment is the way the government tried to pressure people into voting for Nicolas Maduro on the day, yesterday. It set up little red tents, in some cases right by the polling stations. And officials at these tents were asking people to hand over a benefits card they have called the Fatherland Card. A lot of Venezuelans, particularly the poor, have these. They're used for, among other things, tracking food handouts.

Maduro had said during his campaign, there'd a big prize for voting. Officials were scanning this card with their cellphones, so people had the impression they'd win something if they voted for Maduro - money.

GREENE: Wow. That's not even being subtle, it sounds like.

REEVES: It wasn't subtle. I actually approached a couple of these places and, at one point, was told to go away or I'd be, quote, "in trouble." And the other one - while I was talking to officials, people behind me who were operating these scanners literally picked up their table and carried it yards away so I couldn't see it. So it was murky.

But, you know, this is all in the context of a much bigger picture here. You know, it's worth bearing in mind that in the run-up to the election, the government increased food handouts, stocked stores. It controls most of the media, so it used that. It controls the electoral board. And it banned the two most prominent opposition leaders from running. These are just some of the reasons why the EU, U.S. and major Latin American nations have been saying for a long time this wouldn't be free and fair. And they are now saying that it wasn't.

GREENE: OK. It wasn't, and maybe there'd be sanctions. I mean, the United States says it wants to - may be new sanctions to target corrupt regime officials like the president but not the people of Venezuela. Can you pull that off? Can you impose sanctions and make sure it doesn't affect citizens?

REEVES: Well, they've been applying the sanctions for some time now, and they haven't brought about a change, you know, in the regime's behavior. So that is the key issue - how do you do that without affecting this country, which is in a desperate state? Basic infrastructure is crumbling here. People are spending hours every day lining up at stores for food or to get tiny amounts of cash. So it's an extremely tricky and complicated issue, David.

GREENE: NPR's Philip Reeves reporting this morning from Venezuela.

Phil, thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF SANTANA'S "FILLMORE EAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.