News brief: FBI searches Mar-a-Lago, Ukraine nuclear plant, New Mexico killings
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
The FBI has conducted a search at former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in southern Florida.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Trump announced the news himself, calling Monday's FBI action unnecessary and attacking it as politically motivated, even though he appointed the FBI director, Chris Wray.
MARTINEZ: NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is following this story. Carrie, what do we know about the FBI activity at former President Trump's house?
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: We know that FBI agents conducted a search at Trump's property in Florida yesterday morning, but the public didn't find out about it until Trump issued a statement last night. We're also told the search took several hours, and Trump was not in Florida at the time. The search seems to relate to an ongoing investigation of how classified documents wound up at Mar-a-Lago instead of with the National Archives. The Justice Department started investigating this in February after the archive said about 15 boxes of material from the Trump White House wrongfully ended up in Florida.
MARTINEZ: It sounds like a pretty big step for federal agents to search the residence of a former president. So what would they have to do legally to make that work?
JOHNSON: Well, it's safe to say the highest levels of the Justice Department would have had to sign off on this. A spokeswoman for Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Attorney General Merrick Garland had no comment. But because this involves a search warrant, a judge would have been involved, too. Judges don't approve these kinds of searches without probable cause that a crime has been committed by someone and that there's evidence in the place they want to search.
Now, it's not a slam dunk that someone will eventually face criminal charges, but this is a very serious action from the Justice Department, a step they would not have taken lightly. As for the White House and the Biden administration, an official there told me they had no advance notice of this search.
MARTINEZ: You mentioned that there's been a probe of those classified materials that found their way to Florida. It's gotten less attention, a lot less attention, than the Capitol riot investigation. So what has the Justice Department said about the classified documents this year?
JOHNSON: Yeah, Attorney General Merrick Garland basically confirmed there was classified material in the Mar-A-Lago boxes at a press conference back in February. Garland at that time said DOJ would look at the facts and the law. At the time, a former prosecutor told me it would have been a gross departure for DOJ not to investigate here. But presidents typically have a lot of leeway to decide what's classified and what's not, so there may be something else going on that's still not public.
One former justice official and longtime defense lawyer told me last night it could be more information, something very sensitive in these papers, like related to foreign relations or nonpublic documents involving January 6, rather than a simple paperwork violation. But at this point, we just don't know.
MARTINEZ: Now, Democrats on Capitol Hill have been pushing the Justice Department to investigate Donald Trump, but the attorney general has been very careful here. Why did this search happen now?
JOHNSON: A, it's hard to explain the timing without knowing exactly what the FBI has been looking for. It's true that AG Merrick Garland and Deputy AG Lisa Monaco have been exceedingly careful, moving too slowly for many critics on January 6, for example. But we do know the grand jury in Washington has heard from top advisers to former Vice President Mike Pence and that it wants to hear from Trump's White House counsel, too. That all seems to relate to the Capitol riot. Now investigators are literally knocking on Trump's door with respect to national security secrets. This is a monumental step for a Justice Department that's been really careful throughout the administration.
MARTINEZ: NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks.
JOHNSON: Happy to be here.
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MARTINEZ: In Ukraine, fighting near a nuclear power complex in the south has alarmed both sides and led to calls for an international mission to ensure the plant's safety.
FADEL: The crisis comes as focus on the battlefield turns to the southern region of Ukraine. Ukrainians are readying an apparent counteroffensive by targeting Russian supply lines and the Russian military surges forces into the area.
MARTINEZ: NPR's Tim Mak joins us now from Kyiv. Tim, let's start with the situation at the nuclear complex. The Russian military has occupied this area since close to the start of the war, so what's the most recent cause for concern?
TIM MAK, BYLINE: So in the last few days, shelling around the nuclear power plant has damaged power lines, radiation sensors and an auxiliary building. That's according to the Ukrainian organization that runs nuclear power stations. So this could get quite dangerous quite quickly. It's the first-ever nuclear power plant in an active war zone. So we're seeing challenges like difficulties getting spare parts or workers with expertise into the complex.
Ukraine and Russia blame each other for these attacks in recent days. And the International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed alarm about the ongoing situation there, calling for a mission led by their experts to monitor safety at the plant. But because the plant is in territory currently occupied by the Russian military, there are going to be some real legal and technical challenges in getting these observers there. Now, Ukraine has asked for a third party to take control of the plant for the time being and has also suggested that the power plant area be made into a military-free zone.
MARTINEZ: All right, so what's the U.S. been doing to support the Ukrainians as they continue this fight?
MAK: Well, in the last day, the Pentagon announced $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine. It's one of the largest packages that the U.S. has committed to thus far. This latest package includes ammunition for anti-aircraft systems, for example. But perhaps most notably, it includes ammunition for artillery systems known as HIMARS. These HIMARS systems have proven to be critical assets for the Ukrainian military because it substantially increases the range at which it can hit Russian targets precisely. Now, this latest package brings the Biden administration's total military aid to Ukraine up to close to $10 billion.
MARTINEZ: Now, we've heard a lot about fighting in eastern Ukraine, Tim, the Donbas region. Is the focus, though, shifting a bit?
MAK: Well, you know, fighting does continue in the east, but Russian progress appears to be quite slow. That's according to the British Ministry of Defence. Along Russia's most successful area of advance, they managed to move forward just 10 kilometers in about 30 days. Meanwhile, Western and Ukrainian assessments are that the Russian military is moving troops into the south in order to bolster its defenses against what's anticipated to be a Ukrainian counteroffensive. Now, this counteroffensive would be around the strategic city of Kherson. Ukraine has targeted Russian supply lines, striking things like bridges, ammunition depots, rail links to prevent the Russian military from resupplying or bringing more troops in.
Now, there's been slow progress in both the east and the south. It really gives you a sense of just how difficult it's been for both sides to make forward progress on the battlefield in a very complicated situation now that we're in the sixth month of this war.
MARTINEZ: NPR's Tim Mak is in Kyiv, Ukraine. Tim, thank you.
MAK: Thanks so much.
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MARTINEZ: A Muslim community in Albuquerque is reeling with shock and grief after three South Asian Muslim men were shot and killed there in the last two weeks. The killings come after a similar homicide last November.
FADEL: Local police say these attacks may be linked and have increased police patrols in the city center. The FBI is assisting with the investigation.
MARTINEZ: Megan Kamerick at member station KUNM in Albuquerque is following the story. Megan, tell us about these killings in Albuquerque.
MEGAN KAMERICK, BYLINE: Albuquerque police were already looking into whether two murders in the last two weeks were related to the one in November. Then on Friday, there was a third man that authorities have now identified as Naeem Hussain, who was shot to death, as the others were. This came just days after 27-year-old Muhammed Afzaal Hussain was murdered outside his home, and about a week before that, Aftab Hussein, age 41, was shot and killed. All three men were originally from Pakistan. Those deaths, authorities think, may be related to one back in November, that of 62-year-old Mohammad Zaher Ahmadi of Afghanistan, who was shot outside the store he owns with his brother.
MARTINEZ: What are you hearing from Albuquerque's Muslim community?
KAMERICK: They're terrified, understandably. According to the city of Albuquerque, there are between 5,000 and 10,000 Muslims here, all races and ethnicities, and they're both U.S. and foreign born. Yesterday we spoke to Abdur'Rauf Campos-Marquetti, a local imam.
ABDUR'RAUF CAMPOS-MARQUETTI: And it's a very scary situation 'cause the tranquility and peace has kind of been taken away 'cause you're always looking around behind your shoulder to see if somebody is following you or something like that.
KAMERICK: At a safety meeting at the University of New Mexico yesterday, an official with the Islamic Center of New Mexico said some students have already left because they're afraid. One of the victims, Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, got his master's degree at UNM and was president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association. The Islamic Center is urging people to be aware of their surroundings, including making sure they're not being followed and to avoid walking alone at night.
Ahmad Assed, president of the Islamic Center, said the community has never gone through anything like this, and people are in fear of the safety of their children and families. But he also said evil will not win; hate will not win. And he said there's been an outpouring of support from the extended community.
MARTINEZ: What's the status of the investigation?
KAMERICK: Police aren't saying anything at this point about whether it's a hate crime. Obviously, the men have similar backgrounds, but police are keeping many details under wraps to protect the case. They're still trying to establish definitive links between these killings. Officials have identified a car, a dark gray or silver Volkswagen sedan, that they believe is linked to the murders. They've also created a site where people can upload videos or pictures that could help solving the crimes. Officials say police will have some presence at all mosques and places of prayer in the Muslim community. And they've set up two mobile investigative vans where people can provide tips about the case.
Crimestoppers has offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. The Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering another $10,000. And the city is offering help with trauma counseling and some meal deliveries.
MARTINEZ: Megan, I know New Mexico is a place where there's a big mix of cultures, and it seems like a place of diversity and a population that mostly gets along. How's this playing out there?
KAMERICK: Yes. Mayor Tim Keller invoked that, saying Albuquerque and New Mexico have been defined by a love for every person and every religion. That, in a sense, makes us who we are given our unique history. No place is perfect, but Albuquerque is a city where folks are generally used to seeing a variety of people, and refugees have added to that diversity over the years. We have a sizable Vietnamese community. We have many people who've come here from different countries over the past 20 or 30 years, thanks to nonprofits like Lutheran Family Services and Catholic Charities.
Crime and gun violence are definitely serious problems here, but the premeditated nature of these crimes that seem to be targeting this specific group of people is chilling. And I think many are still in a bit of disbelief and sadness that this is happening here. I spoke to a former colleague who's Muslim, and she recalled when she was in college here during the 9/11 attacks, and she said the attacks that were happening on Muslims and others around the country were not as prevalent here. So the fact that it's happening now is, in some ways, even more distressing and mystifying. No one's sure what it means.
MARTINEZ: KUNM's Megan Kamerick. Megan, thanks a lot.
KAMERICK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.