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News Brief: Trump Trial, States Investigate Trump, Yoshiro Mori Resigns

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

House impeachment manager Jamie Raskin closed out his argument with a quote commonly attributed to Voltaire - quote, "Anyone who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

It was the Democrats' last push to convince 17 Republicans to join them in order to convict former President Trump of inciting the insurrection on January 6. House impeachment manager Joe Neguse implored senators to hold Trump accountable for the lies he spread.

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JOE NEGUSE: Because if you don't - if we pretend this didn't happen or, worse, if we let it go unanswered, who's to say it won't happen again?

PFEIFFER: Democrats say the evidence is clear that last month's insurrection was foreseeable, predictable and a direct result of Trump's behavior. Today, the defense will answer that evidence.

MARTIN: We've got NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis with us. Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the Democrats' closing argument, as we heard, was as much about the future as it was about the past, right?

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, they were really making the case for conviction of Trump as a deterrent, not just to him, but to any future president, really. Here's lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin.

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JAMIE RASKIN: My dear colleagues, is there any political leader in this room who believes that, if he is ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way? Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?

DAVIS: Another one of the managers, Ted Lieu of California, said the concern was not that Trump would run and win again, but that he could run and lose again, causing that same kind of unrest we saw on January 6. That was a point that really made an impression on senators. Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota told reporters that he thought that was a very powerful argument, and he made note of it and said many of his colleagues did as well.

MARTIN: So he made note of it. But does that mean he's going to vote for conviction? I mean, is there any indication that the presentation changed the minds of any Republican lawmakers?

DAVIS: Yeah, it's really unlikely. I mean, the same senator, Mike Rounds, said he just continues to believe the Senate does not have the constitutional authority to convict someone who's no longer in office. That's the broad view among Republicans, although the Senate did vote in a bipartisan way to affirm they do have this authority.

None are really defending the president's actions on the merits, what he did that day. But this could also still be the most bipartisan impeachment in history. We've already seen 10 Republicans vote to impeach in the House. And if more than just one Republican senator votes to convict in the Senate, it would set a record for senators breaking with their own party to vote to convict a president in an impeachment trial. And there's at least six Republican senators who have indicated they could do that.

MARTIN: So Trump's lawyers get their shot today. They're going to lay out their defense. Do we have a sense of what that's going to look like?

DAVIS: Well, it looks like it's going to be pretty short. David Schoen, one of his defense attorneys, talked to reporters on Capitol Hill yesterday. He said they'd probably only take about three or four hours to make their case. You know, Rachel, they sort of have the benefit of not having the quality of their arguments have much impact on the outcome of the case here, so they can be brief. The defense argument is, again, going to focus on this view that they believe the process is unconstitutional.

They're also going to make a First Amendment argument that Trump was exercising a right to political speech here. That was an argument impeachment managers tried to get ahead of throughout the case over the last two days. They argue that the First Amendment simply doesn't apply if the speech undermines the very same oath of office that presidents take to protect the Constitution. Raskin compared Trump to a fire chief who incites a mob in a - to set a theater on fire, then refuses to put out the fire and then encourages the mob as the fire spreads throughout the theater.

MARTIN: So if they wrap today, when does it look like the trial might end?

DAVIS: You know, several senators said yesterday they think they could wrap on Saturday. They still will have to do about four hours of senator questions, and they'll get closing remarks. If it doesn't wrap on Saturday, possibly Sunday. But right now, we have no indication that it will spill into next week.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: All right. So former President Trump may escape conviction in his impeachment trial, but that's not the end of his legal problems.

PFEIFFER: Now that he's out of office, Trump could also be facing criminal charges in several cases. New York's district attorney is widening an ongoing investigation into Trump's business dealings. That investigation is focused on potential financial crimes in Trump's private businesses. And prosecutors in Georgia have also started a criminal investigation, this one centered around that infamous phone call Trump made to Georgia's secretary of state, the one in which he asked him to find votes to reverse his election loss.

MARTIN: Joining us now, Andrea Bernstein from member station WNYC in New York. She's the co-host of the Trump, Inc. podcast. Andrea, thanks for being here.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning. It's always great to talk to you.

MARTIN: We're happy to have you. So let's start in New York. What's that investigation about?

BERNSTEIN: So the most significant case that Trump is facing is this looming criminal investigation the Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance Jr., has underway. And this is the case where the DA's been trying to get Trump's tax returns, and Trump has sued. And that case is now at the Supreme Court for a second time. But from what we know, the investigation is far along. And because Trump's been trying to block the subpoenas, there's a great deal in the public record. So we know the DA is looking at Trump, his family, his business. And we know the crimes - for possible bank, insurance and tax fraud, including some serious felonies that would carry significant prison time.

So though the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against Trump the first time, the former president came back with a new claim. But most experts think that eventually Vance will get the records he's seeking. And if that happens and if Vance decides he believes crimes were committed, there could be indictments this year.

MARTIN: It's crazy to think back that the tax returns - it's always been about the tax returns since the beginning.

So that's not it, though, right? Can you tell us about some of the other cases?

BERNSTEIN: Right. So as you mentioned, we learned just this week that Georgia prosecutors are examining whether Trump violated criminal election statutes when he engaged in that all-out campaign to change the results in Georgia. So even though that case has just begun, it's another criminal case, and it would actually be much more straightforward than the complex financial crimes the Manhattan DA is looking at. Then, the New York attorney general is looking at whether Trump failed to pay proper New York state taxes. The District of Columbia attorney general is looking into whether Trump's inaugural committee violated charities laws when it paid big fees to Trump's hotels during the last inaugurations. And there are multiple civil suits. So there's really a lot of litigation.

MARTIN: And as you said, some of these investigations, I mean, they've been going on a while. But things have changed now that Trump is out of office. How so?

BERNSTEIN: Right. So in a lot of these cases, what he was arguing was that his status as president meant he deserved special treatment, that he could withhold records, testimony and generally stymie the probes. And it worked. So in some of the investigations into his private business while he was president, the U.S. Department of Justice intervened. That can't happen anymore. Now he's just an ordinary citizen. So while he can and is arguing the investigations are politically motivated, he has to defend himself just like everyone else.

MARTIN: Andrea Bernstein from member station WNYC in New York, host of the Trump, Inc. podcast. Andrea, thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much.

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MARTIN: Today, the Biden administration is announcing dramatic changes to the nation's asylum system.

PFEIFFER: The Trump administration established a controversial program known as "Remain in Mexico." It forced asylum-seekers to wait for their cases to be heard across the border in Mexico instead of in the U.S., often in dangerous and squalid conditions. President Biden's immigration team plans to replace it with what they say is a more humane and orderly process.

MARTIN: NPR's John Burnett is with us now from Austin, Texas, with more details. Hey, John.

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So what can you tell us about this new policy?

BURNETT: Well, there are about 25,000 asylum applicants that are stuck in Mexican border cities, some with kids. And some of them have been waiting as long as two years to be allowed into a U.S. immigration court to make their case as to why they should receive protection. Many are Central Americans who fled family violence or criminal gangs, but they're from all over.

So under Obama and the first half of the Trump years, they were allowed to travel to U.S. cities, stay with friends or family and get hearings at the nearest immigration court. But Trump eventually put a stop to that, and they had to wait in Mexico in precarious situations like the refugee camp in Matamoros that I've visited a lot. There are thousands of migrants living in flimsy tents amid mud, mosquitoes and illness and extortion gangs prowling the streets. What Biden's people are doing is setting up a process that allows them to cross the border and enter the U.S. to wait safely while they await their day in court.

MARTIN: Wow. So I understand you've already gotten some reaction from asylum-seekers who've been waiting in Mexico. What are they telling you?

BURNETT: Yeah, they're elated. Only last week, the White House released an executive order that said it would take three months to figure out what to do with all the people at the border. So his officials surprised everybody by announcing this new processing protocol today. Last night, I called up Yady Meyan Calderon, a 34-year-old chemist from Cuba. For the last year and a half, she's been living in a beat-up tenement house in Reynosa, Mexico, with 15 other Cubans. They're all enrolled in Trump's program. The formal name is Migrant Protection Protocols, which critics thought was a sick joke.

YADY MEYAN CALDERON: (Speaking Spanish).

BURNETT: She says they feel like they finally arrived at the light at the end of the tunnel. She says there are hundreds of Cuban asylum-seekers in Reynosa, and they've grown desperate, facing daily street violence and joblessness. But she says now they have confidence that soon the door to the U.S. will be open to them.

MARTIN: So - I mean, this sounds like a positive step for those who are waiting for asylum. But how is it actually going to work in practice?

BURNETT: Well, last night we got on a call with some senior Homeland Security officials. And as they explained it, the first phase starts next Friday. It'll cover only those currently at the border and not the many thousands of others who've already gone back to their home countries.

Of - this first group will be taken to staging areas in Mexico where they'll get tested for COVID. And if they're healthy, they'll be transported to a U.S. port of entry, processed and then turned over to a humanitarian group like Catholic Charities, who will help them catch a bus to their destination city. Initially, the program should process about 300 migrants a day. And once it gets going and work the kinks out, they'll expand it. Another big difference is they won't be sent to these private detention centers. They'll be fitted with electronic ankle monitors to make sure the government can keep track of them and allowed to travel into the U.S. interior.

MARTIN: So as you noted earlier, John, I mean, this is happening really fast. I imagine that there are critics who say that this could just create chaos at the border.

BURNETT: That's right, Rachel. And, you know, you can expect immigration hawks to complain this is a return to what they called catch and release, that migrants won't show up for their court hearings and just disappear. They warn that when the word gets out, it'll become a magnet to attract even more unauthorized migrants to the border. They say there's already an uptick in illegal border crossings, 3,000 arrests a day last month. So Biden's team will have to make sure the folks who are being let in show up in court. And if they lose their asylum cases, they'll be deported.

MARTIN: NPR's John Burnett in Austin, Texas, giving us reaction to this new change announced by the Biden administration to U.S. asylum policy.

Thank you so much, John.

BURNETT: You bet, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.