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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

With each passing indictment of former President Donald Trump - up to four indictments now - Republicans appear largely unfazed. So what explains that, and what does it mean for the next phase of the Republican presidential primary?

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

NPR senior political correspondent and editor Domenico Montanaro is here to discuss. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: OK, so we should get across first that we're talking about Trump's grip on the base of his party, right? He's viewed far more negatively overall.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, overall, he remains highly unpopular, you know, and has had a repelling effect, frankly, with independents. You know, Trump has led his party to a few disappointing elections in a row, and he's done very little to expand his base, you know, beyond that in the years since winning the White House in 2016. So it's pretty hard to see his path to winning again in 2024 without some help potentially from a third party. And that's why, you know, you hear Democratic strategists and pollsters really ringing the alarm bells about these potential third-party efforts that have been cropping up recently, especially because Trump and Biden are so unpopular right now each.

FADEL: Now, Trump is competing in the Republican primary, and that's where he's seen far more favorably.

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, with Republicans, it's a totally different story. They're living...

FADEL: Right.

MONTANARO: ...In a completely different universe than Democrats and independents when it comes to Trump. You know, about half of Republican voters seem nearly locked in for him and seem to believe almost everything that he tells them about what he claims are witch hunts and double standards, and that includes his baseless election claims. You know, we know that Joe Biden won in 2020 fair and square, but a recent CNN poll showed that 7 in 10 Republicans do not believe that. Fifty-six percent of those Republicans who said that they believe Biden lost said that they base those views on - get this - solid evidence, of which there's none.

FADEL: Right.

MONTANARO: You know, it really just shows how hyperpartisan our political environment's become and the results of Trump and other Republicans' restless - relentless campaigns against expertise and definitive sources. And once you're able to undermine those things, you can really make people believe almost anything.

FADEL: Now, since the Georgia indictment on - came out on Monday, are you seeing new efforts by Trump to reinforce this sense of grievance with his followers?

MONTANARO: Yeah, definitely. I mean, it's been proven repeatedly in recounts, audits, dozens of court cases, that there were no widespread fraud that would have changed any results.

FADEL: Right.

MONTANARO: And yet Trump will be at it again Monday in what he's calling a news conference from his golf course in New Jersey. He says he's going to present evidence of fraud that will vindicate him. But this is really an old page from the Trump playbook. He's done this over and over again since he lost in 2020. And all of the conspiracies he's put forward have been disproven. In fact, Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp swatted these claims aside yesterday. He said again that the state's elections are secure and fair and that no one has proved anything under oath in a court of law and that there was no substantive fraud. Kemp really is an interesting figure. He's a Republican who rebuffed Trump and then cruised to reelection in a swing state, but not many other Republicans or any of Trump's current primary opponents, you know, have really chosen or been able to follow that model.

FADEL: Right. And that brings us to the first Republican presidential debate set for Wednesday of next week. First of all, we don't even know if Trump will participate, but either way, his presence will be looming there.

MONTANARO: Oh, definitely. I mean...

FADEL: Yeah.

MONTANARO: ...We know that the other campaigns have had Trump at the center of their debate prep. You know, some candidates who've been lagging want to make Trump answer for these indictments. I'm thinking of former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and others. But, you know, the thinking in Trump world is why bother when he's so far ahead in the polls? If there was a time to make a move, you know, you might think it would start next week in a prime-time debate. We're going to see 'cause we're less than five months away from the Iowa caucuses now.

FADEL: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: It's been three weeks since security forces ousted the elected president of Niger, and the coup's leaders appear to be tightening their grip on power.

MARTÍNEZ: Neighboring countries in Africa have imposed sanctions and threatened military intervention in an attempt to reverse the coup, but so far those efforts have failed. Pressure by the U.S. and France, who had seen Niger as one reliable democratic ally in an increasingly unstable region, also hasn't worked yet. Now the coup leaders are arresting opponents and taking steps setting up their own new government.

FADEL: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu joins us from Lagos, Nigeria, with an update. Good morning.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Emmanuel, rhetoric from the military leaders who have taken over sounds increasingly defiant. What should we take from that?

AKINWOTU: Yes. You know, it's been three weeks since the coup now, and the Niger military leaders have moved really quickly and quite aggressively so far. They've been resisting major diplomatic pressure against them. They've arrested many of the cabinet ministers and replaced them with figures that really suggest that they're making a strategic, long-term look at control of the country. They've cut formal diplomatic ties with France, its former colonial ruler, with Nigeria and Togo, initially with the U.S., too, although high-level discussions and relations are ongoing. And they've quickly moved to restore relations with military regimes in Mali and Burkina Faso. You know, these are countries that were isolated by most of the region in West Africa, including by the now-deposed Niger government, because those countries have had military takeovers, too.

FADEL: Now, the countries that want to reverse this coup, including the U.S. - are they continuing to put pressure on the junta?

AKINWOTU: Yes. And, you know, the major, the headline, move really was the seven-day ultimatum by the regional bloc of West African countries. That's called ECOWAS. And the ultimatum was to reverse the coup or release President Mohamed Bazoum, who's still being detained, or face the possibility of military intervention. And that ultimatum lapsed. You know, the Niger military called their bluff. Intervention now appears unlikely. And really, that really only succeeded in creating a siege mentality among the Niger coup leaders. They announced earlier this week they would actually try Bazoum for treason. And clearly, they are holding him as important leverage. There's a meeting of ECOWAS leaders tomorrow, and we'll see what comes out of that. But for now, the sanctions are ongoing. And, you know, power supply from Nigeria has been cut. There are now power cuts in parts of Niger. Aid has been cut from France. And many people in this very poor country are grappling with these power cuts, with the economic impact of this. But the junta is consolidating power.

FADEL: Now, some 25 million people live in Niger. Maybe these sanctions are aimed at the coup leaders, but how is this impacting them? What can you tell us about life under this new military rule?

AKINWOTU: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it's hard to get a clear picture of this, but it seems very polarizing. We've had a visible - a lot of visible support for the coup, mainly in the capital, where the governments are really unpopular. And, you know, we've seen pro-coup demonstrations in the streets, a rally in the stadium, but there's also upset. You know, anti-coup protests were dispersed by soldiers, and there's unease in other parts of the country. You know, this is a very poor, landlocked country in a fragile part of the world, you know, battling multiple insurgencies by armed groups. And, you know, before the coup, Niger was hailed as this - for its democratic gains and handover of power. But it's a very flawed - it had a very flawed system. And, you know, it faces now a very uncertain and worrying future.

FADEL: That's NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu reporting on the situation in Niger from Lagos, Nigeria. Thanks, Emmanuel.

AKINWOTU: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: An extensive investigation by NPR has revealed a trove of government records relating to the detention of immigrants.

MARTÍNEZ: They reveal that the government's own experts found what they call barbaric treatment inside those detention facilities.

FADEL: NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach has been reporting this story. Good morning.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Wow. So over three years - before we get to the actual findings, can you give a sense of who was writing these reports and what they're looking for?

DREISBACH: Yeah, these reports are written by experts in subjects like medical care, mental health care, use of force, environmental safety. And these experts were hired by the Department of Homeland Security to investigate complaints and claims of civil rights abuses in immigration detention centers. So these are facilities that lock up immigrants on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to make sure those people show up for their appearances in immigration court. The government has been fighting our efforts to get these records since 2019. We filed a lawsuit, and it took years, but a judge eventually found that the government had violated the Freedom of Information Act and ordered them to send us these files.

FADEL: When you say the government, as we mentioned, that's both the Trump and Biden administration that were fighting the release of these files. What do they say?

DREISBACH: So these files - they include more than 1,600 pages of reports covering more than two dozen facilities all across the country from 2017 to 2019. And the inspectors found serious problems at these facilities, including pepper spraying of mentally ill detainees, retaliation for filing complaints, ignoring medical problems, filthy conditions like a cockroach on a medical exam table and grimy medical instruments. In Pennsylvania, a mentally ill man was locked into a restraint chair. A group of male guards gave the lone female guard a pair of scissors to cut off his clothes, and the inspector said there was no justifiable reason for this and called this kind of cross-gender strip search barbaric.

FADEL: OK, so what you're describing sounds pretty troubling. You said you first requested these records in 2019. How have conditions changed since then?

DREISBACH: Right. So a White House spokesperson said in a statement that these reports document conditions under the prior administration, meaning under Donald Trump. They did not say conditions have gotten better, though.

FADEL: But wait, they also fought the release of these records, this administration.

DREISBACH: That's right. The Trump campaign also - we reached out to them. They did not respond. I talked about all this with Eunice Cho. She has spent years visiting these facilities for the ACLU.

EUNICE CHO: Unfortunately, this is not an outlier. I think this is the tip of the iceberg. And if anything, conditions have probably gotten worse.

DREISBACH: One reason immigration attorneys and government investigations have found that conditions did get worse was because of COVID-19. COVID increased the use of solitary confinement in ICE detention. And for a while it also meant that inspections were done remotely, like over Zoom and with paper records, so there was less oversight.

FADEL: So what kind of responses did you get from the government?

DREISBACH: Well, the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that they take their commitment to promoting a, quote, "safe, secure and humane environment" for detainees seriously. They pointed out they have closed a handful of facilities due to poor conditions. The White House, as I mentioned, did also send us a statement. They said they are relying more and more on alternatives to detention, like GPS monitoring. I should note here that the Biden campaign had promised to end contracts with private for-profit companies, which run the vast majority of these ICE detention facilities, but they have not kept that promise. They said they still want to move away from the use of privately run detention facilities, but need Congress to act. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.