Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Justice Department is pushing back hard against what it calls baseless accusations from former President Donald Trump.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah, his supporters had been pressing for more explanations of an FBI search of Trump's home, and the Justice Department obliged. Prosecutors provided a 36-page court filing which details efforts to hide sensitive documents that belong to the United States. The Justice Department says Trump's lawyers signed a sworn statement claiming Trump had given up all the documents, but numerous sources told the FBI otherwise, and the search showed the sources were correct. The court filing includes a photo showing top-secret documents on the floor at Mar-a-Lago, which seem to have been kept with Trump's collection of framed magazine covers.

FADEL: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the story, and she's here now to talk more about it. Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Carrie, you were up late, waiting for this court filing from the Justice Department. We know prosecutors are looking for violations of laws, including mishandling of classified information and obstruction of justice. What new details did they provide?

JOHNSON: There's important and striking new information about obstruction of justice. We knew there was a back-and-forth between Trump and the National Archives and Trump and the Justice Department for many months. But DOJ says Trump lawyers attested they did a diligent search in Florida this summer. Prosecutors say they later learned that was not the case. They have evidence that some materials were removed from the storage room at Mar-a-Lago, along with other efforts to obstruct the probe despite the subpoena. DOJ says that casts some serious doubt on Trump's claims that he was cooperating. And they say the papers the FBI found were mixed in with all kinds of personal effects. They share that photo of secret documents on the carpet at Mar-a-Lago next to a framed cover of Time magazine.

FADEL: Now, this all came out as part of a legal fight over whether to appoint a special master to review these papers. What's the Justice Department saying about that?

JOHNSON: Well, federal prosecutors say there's no reason for the judge to appoint an independent special master to review these documents from the search. They say there's no legal basis for that move. Trump is the former president, and the law clearly states he does not control these records. Maybe more important, some of these documents are top-secret and higher-level classification. DOJ says it's essential for them in the intelligence community to review the papers and assess risks to national security since they were stored for more than a year at this Florida resort. We're talking about papers that are so classified the DOJ says some of its own prosecutors and agents needed higher security clearances just to review these documents.

FADEL: Now, Trump's allies have argued, well, he had the authorities to declassify these documents. How will that factor in to the courtroom action this week?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Trump's lawyers and a former Pentagon aide to Trump, Kash Patel, have said Trump had the power to declassify papers. But the Justice Department in this filing says the Trump legal team never told them that happened. And in fact, the lawyers acted this summer as if it didn't happen, as if there were no declassification of these papers.

FADEL: Now, we've learned a lot more about this investigation, in part because Trump was asking for an independent review. What are the next steps now?

JOHNSON: Trump's going to get a chance to respond, then both sides are due in court in Florida for a hearing Thursday. DOJ made very clear it thinks this request for a special master has no legal basis, but the judge signaled over the weekend she might be inclined to bring in a special master. We're going to find out later this week if these court papers have changed her mind.

FADEL: NPR's Carrie Johnson, thanks.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: International inspectors are in Ukraine preparing to visit a nuclear power plant at risk of disaster.

INSKEEP: Yeah, the Zaporizhzhia plant has been under Russian occupation since March, and in recent weeks, it's been a cause for grave concern among nuclear watchdogs because there's been shelling in the area, along with power cuts.

FADEL: Joining us to discuss this inspection is NPR's Geoff Brumfiel. Hi.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So let's just talk quickly about conditions at the plant. What do we know?

BRUMFIEL: Well, things are looking pretty dicey at the moment. A satellite image Monday from the company Maxar showed Russian armored vehicles parked at the nuclear reactors. There were holes in the roof of an auxiliary building, presumably from recent shelling, and wildfires are burning nearby. So all in all, this is really not the way you want a nuclear power plant to look.

FADEL: No. OK, and into all this are heading these inspectors. Who are they?

BRUMFIEL: So this is a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency. They're based out of Vienna, and they travel to nuclear facilities all over the world. They've been to some pretty dicey places like Iran and North Korea. But Zaporizhzhia is really something different. Not only do you have this huge plant, Europe's largest, but Russian and Ukrainian troops are actively fighting around it. I spoke to Lars van Dassen, the executive director of the World Institute for Nuclear Security. He says there's never been a mission like this one.

LARS VAN DASSEN: This is an environment that I cannot imagine that the IAEA has ever been in before, coming in between two warring parties.

FADEL: So in an active war zone, coming into this plant where two sides are fighting all around it, what can the inspectors actually do?

BRUMFIEL: Well, a former inspector named Shirley Johnson told me they actually should be able to figure out quite a bit about how the big reactors are doing.

SHIRLEY JOHNSON: Just by going to the control room, they're going to be able to look at pressures and flows and coolants and really get a good picture of how the facilities are working.

BRUMFIEL: And they can also do things like check to make sure the backup generators and safety systems are running properly. But there's something much more important here, and that's the people working at the plant. A skeleton crew of Ukrainians have been running it, and they've reportedly been doing so while being harassed by Russian troops. Johnson says it's really important to find out how they're doing, and that's going to be a tough job for inspectors.

JOHNSON: It kind of depends on whether the Ukrainian operators are going to be able to speak truthfully and openly.

BRUMFIEL: But it's really important because the Ukrainian workers are ultimately the ones keeping this plant running safely.

FADEL: Yeah. So, Geoff, assuming everything goes smoothly, the IAEA is going to spend a few days going through the plant, evaluating everything. But then what after that?

BRUMFIEL: Well, they'll head back to their base in Vienna and tell the world what they saw. And that's actually pretty important, because all we have are these satellite images and tiny fragments of information from the plant right now. Beyond that, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said this morning he hopes they can establish a permanent presence at the plant, and that could be a foot in the door for some bigger agreement about security, which all the experts I talked to say is really badly needed because safety at the plant is getting worse.

FADEL: NPR's Geoff Brumfiel, thanks so much.

BRUMFIEL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: People in Mississippi's capital are facing a water crisis after heavy rains and flooding overwhelmed the city's main water treatment plant.

INSKEEP: Yeah, President Biden declared a statewide emergency while Jackson schools and restaurants and businesses have temporarily closed their doors. Officials say they don't know when safe drinking water will be available again.

FADEL: Associated Press reporter Michael Goldberg joins us now from Jackson to discuss the latest. Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL GOLDBERG: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Michael, how did we get here?

GOLDBERG: Well, first, it's worth noting that the water crisis in Jackson did not happen overnight. Parts of Jackson are without running water today because several days of flooding after heavy rainfall exacerbated long-standing problems in one of the city's two water treatment plants. But the city had already been under a boil water notice for a month because the Department of Health collected cloudy water samples that indicated consumption of the city's running water could cause health problems. So Jackson's water system has a troubled history. But this crisis was really kicked into high gear as the floodwaters rose higher and higher, and a water treatment plant stopped producing water for almost 180,000 dependent citizens. Pumps are broken, and as a result, the plant is not producing an adequate level of water pressure.

FADEL: So how are the city and state responding?

GOLDBERG: Well, after declaring a state of emergency himself, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves requested Tuesday that the White House approve a federal emergency declaration, which, of course, would open the state up to federal assistance to supplement the state's response efforts. And of course, Tuesday night, President Biden did just that and approved the request, and that would authorize the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to really surge equipment and resources to the region. It's also worth noting that the mayor of Jackson is also raising the alarm about the financial lift that this crisis will demand, estimating that will cost at least 1 billion to fix the water system.

FADEL: I mean, drinking water - so key for people's lives. What are you hearing from people in Jackson about how they're coping?

GOLDBERG: Absolutely. You know, I was out speaking to Jackson residents all day yesterday, and most responded to the situation with either palpable frustration or a sense of subdued resignation, as this isn't the first time the city has been without clean running water. Many local business owners, though, really seem to have reached their wit's end. One restaurant owner told me that water problems are making it impossible for him to do business in Jackson. He and his wife report spending $300 per day for ice and bottled water. You know, there's the added cost each week for families of having to stock up on bottled water. Individuals who don't have a car have trouble transporting it. Public schools are closed. But I did speak to one Jackson resident, a maintenance worker, and he was loading his truck with cases of bottled water Tuesday in the hot sun. But he hopes Jackson is on track to solve its water issues, and he said sometimes you've got to go through the hardship to get back to the good ship. And I think that positivity is starting to emanate from some Jackson residents.

FADEL: Well, now, as you heard from residents and as you mentioned, this isn't a new crisis. It was just exasperated. How far back does this problem go?

GOLDBERG: So Jackson has long-standing problems with its water system. A cold snap in 2021 left a significant number of people without running water after pipes froze. Similar problems happened again early this year on a smaller scale, and only a year ago, the EPA issued an emergency order stating that the water system presented imminent danger to its customers and could contain E. coli. But some say water woes stem back decades from underinvestment that began in the 1970s when federal spending on water utilities peaked. Others say it's a matter of more recent mismanagement.

FADEL: AP reporter Michael Goldberg, thanks.

GOLDBERG: Thanks very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

FADEL: And pull back the Iron Curtain he did. Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union's last leader, has died at the age of 91 in Moscow.

INSKEEP: The voice we heard there was Ronald Reagan challenging Gorbachev in the 1980s during the Cold War. Gorbachev was a central figure in ending that war. He became the leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, and he talked of openness and reviving the Soviet economy.

FADEL: He also engaged with the USSR's archrival, the United States, sealing a series of landmark nuclear arms control agreements with Reagan.

INSKEEP: The Soviet Union did not survive those reforms in the end. Gorbachev presided over the Soviet Union's dissolution into separate republics. Russia, the largest and central of them, ultimately was governed by an elected president.

FADEL: Much of Gorbachev's legacy of a freer, more open Russia has vanished in the three decades since the end of the Cold War. Today's Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, calls the Soviet Union's collapse the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.