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Morning News Brief


As head of the Justice Department, it would have been Jeff Sessions' job to oversee the special counsel's investigation into the 2016 presidential election.


That's right. But citing guidance from top career officials at the department, Sessions, who had been closely involved with President Trump's campaign, decided to recuse himself from all matters having to do with the election. And that choice really rankled the president. He has publicly lambasted Sessions over and over again. Here is the president on Fox News yesterday morning.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He took the job and then he said, I'm going to recuse myself. I said, what kind of a man is this?

KING: Now, Jeff Sessions, interestingly, for the most part, has not said much until yesterday. NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley is with us now. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right, so Jeff Sessions put up with, like, a couple months of these criticisms from the president. And then yesterday, he finally said something. What did he say?

HORSLEY: Well, he pushed back hard against the claim that Trump made in that Fox News interview that he, Sessions, had never taken control of the Justice Department. I took control of Justice Department the day I was sworn in, Sessions said. And he talked about his efforts to advance the president's legal agenda, whether it's immigration enforcement or advancing what he called religious liberty. He went on to defend the men and women who worked for the Justice Department, those the president has routinely criticized as witch hunters. And he said he's proud to serve with those investigators and prosecutors. And Sessions declared so long as he is attorney general, their work will not be swayed by political considerations. It was in short the kind of declaration of independence we would traditionally expect from an attorney general. But it's not what Trump wants to hear. He's looking for someone to run personal interference.

KING: And yet, despite all of this and despite the fact that there has been historic turnover in this administration, President Trump has kept Jeff Sessions around. Why?

HORSLEY: Well, remember, Sessions is a former senator. And although, he clashed at times with his colleagues in the Senate, he still has a lot of allies on Capitol Hill. You heard warnings yesterday from those like John Cornyn, who say it would be a mistake for the president to fire Sessions. However, you also heard from, for example, Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who said he is now open to confirming a replacement for Sessions. That is a change for Grassley. And it's significant because unless Trump were able to install a new attorney general in Sessions' place and have that person confirmed, then the Justice Department would be run, if Sessions were ousted, by his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. Of course, Rosenstein already oversees the Mueller investigation because Sessions has recused himself from that matter. And of course, President Trump has not been too happy with the way that has proceeded.

KING: All right, so a lot to watch out for there. Scott, before we let you go, let me ask you one last thing. We've got multiple reports this morning that a man named David Pecker, who's head of the media company AMI, has been granted limited immunity from federal prosecutors. And that could have implications for the president. Can you just quickly remind us, who is Pecker? And why do prosecutors want to talk to him?

HORSLEY: Well, he publishes the National Enquirer and a host of other tabloids. He has a long history with Trump. And he played a role in suppressing negative stories about Trump during the 2016 campaign, including claims from a former porn star and Playboy model that they had sexual encounters with Trump. Those efforts to hush those stories up were at the center of Michael Cohen's guilty plea this week. And as you say, The Wall Street Journal says Pecker has been granted limited immunity.

KING: All right, so an important player here. NPR's Scott Horsley, thanks so much for joining us.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


KING: All right, a major hurricane off the coast of Hawaii is dumping rain on the islands. It's causing landslides and widespread flooding. Some areas reportedly could see up to 30 inches of rain.

GREENE: Yeah, we're talking about Hurricane Lane. This is a dangerous storm with an uncertain trajectory at this point. And even though the storm has weakened somewhat over the past day, it's expected that this storm is going to cause considerable damage in the state of Hawaii. This is the first major hurricane there in more than a quarter century.

KING: NPR's Adrian Florido is in Hawaii. He joins us now. Hi, Adrian.


KING: All right, so where are you in Hawaii exactly? And if you look out your window, what are you seeing? Are you seeing the rain?

FLORIDO: I am in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. It is - the winds are picking up here as Lane approaches but not a ton of rain yet.

KING: How have people there been preparing for this hurricane?

FLORIDO: Well, in different ways and as you might expect, Noel, to varying degrees. Many people have been rushing to grocery stores to stock up on supplies. Some people living close to shorelines have boarded up windows. Earlier today, I was walking along a usually busy street here in Honolulu, but most of the businesses had closed early, and many had lined their storefronts with sandbags. Tourists told me they were going to lock themselves in their hotel rooms...

KING: Wow.

FLORIDO: Yeah. At the same time, other folks, locals, have told me that they're not going to do that much - some, not all - either because they have never been that worried or because they're becoming less worried as this storm slowly begins to weaken. Those are folks, Noel, who have places to live. Hawaii also has a very big homeless population. And today, a lot of homeless folks were checking into evacuation shelters - not all but many of them.

KING: I want to get back to something you said there because earlier this morning, David spoke with Hawaii's governor, David Ige. And the governor said, you know, yes, the hurricane's been downgraded to a Category 3. But he said, also, the storm has slowed down. And that could mean very severe flooding because it is hanging out, dumping rain. He didn't want people to let their guard down. Do you get the sense that a lot of people are doing that? Do they know they could be in for a real ride here?

FLORIDO: Yeah, but, you know, there's this long history of near misses when it comes to hurricanes in Hawaii. And so a lot of the people I've spoken with have said, you know, they said that we should take it seriously, but this is something that happens pretty often and then the storm just sort of moves along. And so officials are trying to battle that sentiment and that mindset. But it has been a bit of a struggle.

KING: All right. And when is the worst supposed to hit? When are you expecting to see the rain in Honolulu?

FLORIDO: The rain in Honolulu is expected sometime in the next couple of hours - late tonight, early Friday morning. You know, some parts of the big island, Oahu, may have already seen the worst. The hurricane warning has been downgraded to a tropical storm warning on the Big Island of Hawaii. You know, Maui is getting the brunt of it right now. And the storm is on its way toward Oahu, toward Honolulu where I am. And, you know, the wind is picking up. I can hear it outside. And the forecast says that those rains are coming any hour now.

KING: All right. Well, we hope you stay safe, NPR's Adrian Florido. Thanks so much, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Noel.

KING: We'll be following this story throughout the morning on the radio and at npr.org.


KING: All right. Pope Francis arrives in Ireland this weekend for what may turn out to be one of the most significant trips of his papacy.

GREENE: Yeah. Now, the official purpose of this visit is to attend the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families, which is held every three years. But the latest wave of sex abuse scandals hitting the church globally will almost certainly be front and center for the pope. And if you're assuming that Ireland would be friendly ground for a besieged Pope and his church, well, that is not necessarily today's Ireland.

KING: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has been following this story very closely. She's on the line with us now from Rome. Hi, Sylvia.


KING: So as David said there, Ireland was long considered one of the most devoutly Catholic of Catholic countries. But that's a bit of an outdated picture, in part because of these very significant scandals.

POGGIOLI: Oh, absolutely. The Irish Church once had as much, if not more, authority than the government. Then came these shocking revelations of decades of sex abuse of minors by priests and not only. There was corporal punishment in church-run state schools, the Magdalene laundries, which were church-run homes for women society labeled as fallen, where nuns reduced them to near slavery and the forced adoption of children of unmarried mothers by Catholic agencies - you may remember the movie "Philomena" - and the discovery of a mass grave at a former church-run home with the remains of dozens of babies and young children of those unmarried mothers. The revelations have cost the Irish Church its moral credibility. And a majority of Irish people voted in favor of same-sex marriage and abortion. Paddy Agnew, an Irish journalist who covers the Vatican, says Francis will be faced with Ireland's haunting, dark past.

PADDY AGNEW: I don't think somebody like Francis actually, even now, gets it just how much people - how angry and how disgusted - how many people feel utterly repulsed (ph) by what has happened.

KING: All right. The pope has promised to address the abuse issue and to visit with victims while he's in Ireland. Do we know anything about his plans specifically?

POGGIOLI: Well, the Vatican announced the pope will meet privately with survivors. So he is definitely signaling that he'll deal with the clerical sex abuse issue, at least privately. We don't know what he will say in his public speeches. The Catholic Church has been hit by a sort of a perfect storm of simultaneous scandals around the world - Chile, Australia and the United States. Francis addressed this Monday in an unprecedented letter to all Catholics on the issue of clerical sex abuse. He spoke specifically of crimes of shame and repentance for this culture of death. And he vowed to prevent further cover-ups.

KING: The Vatican has repeatedly used the word accountability. Just briefly, what do they mean when they say that?

POGGIOLI: Nobody has any idea.

KING: Huh.

POGGIOLI: Francis' letter disappointed many Catholics in Ireland and beyond by not providing specific measures on how to ensure accountability for those bishops who were responsible for cover-ups of sex abuse. This will be the key issue of the visit. Catholics all over the world will listen very carefully to what Francis says. Joshua McElwee, a Vatican correspondent of The National Catholic Reporter, says that it's crucial for Francis, whose papacy began on such a strong note of reform, to resolve his biggest crisis by fully ensuring transparency and eradicating a culture of clerical self-protection.

KING: All right, so a lot for the pope to deal with on this trip this weekend. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Thanks so much, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.