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Morning News Brief

May 4, 2018
Originally published on May 4, 2018 8:24 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Right now in Dallas, Texas, there are 20 acres of displays of firearms and hunting accessories.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yes, this is all part of the National Rifle Association's annual conference. This is an event that is going to go on all weekend. Today is the leadership forum - a lot of high-profile speakers - Wayne LaPierre, who heads the NRA, Vice President Pence, and, of course, President Trump himself. So what is the president's message likely to be as a new generation of gun control activists raised their voices after Parkland?

MARTIN: All right. We are joined this morning by NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe and Alain Stephens from KUT in Austin, Texas. Ayesha, Alain, thanks for being with us.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

ALAIN STEPHENS, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: All right. Alain, I'm going to start with you because you were there in Texas and Dallas. You've been hanging out at the convention, I understand. What's the scene like?

STEPHENS: Well, it's pretty secure, you know. There's, you know, they're expecting a lot of protesters, a lot of demonstrators. So there's all sorts of law enforcement on the outside - Dallas Police, state troopers. One organizer said that, you know, he's never seen as many, you know, dogs before in his life going around with canine handlers. On the inside, you know, it's just this huge space where there's, you know, 900 industry vendors and also, you know, kind of these ancillary organizations. It's very pro-military, pro-police.

When I first walked in, you know, I was greeted by two Border Patrol officers who asked me my age. And then they proceeded to try to, you know, recruit me. They're handing me flyers. Yeah. They were like, are you interested in joining Border Patrol? So that kind of goes to show you, you know, who the type of people they expect to be here, mostly young men interested in guns and kind of gun-related culture and industry.

MARTIN: Yeah. But it's interesting you mentioned the protests. Is that something that typically happens? I mean, this is an annual convention. Or is this year different? Is this moment different?

STEPHENS: So, you know, I spoke to some of the people who've been to other NRA annual meetings. And they said, you know, that they've seen protesters before. There is a lot of, you know, they're kind of used to this - right? - that they say that, you know, they've always seen protesters. Of course, this year, they're expecting, you know, they're expecting more because of the Parkland shootings.

MARTIN: Right. So, Ayesha, is this going to feel different for President Trump? He spoke at the NRA convention last year too, but after Parkland especially, this is different, isn't it?

RASCOE: Well, it's definitely a different moment for a President Trump. Now, he is - the NRA was a early backer of President Trump, and so that's always stuck with him. But after Parkland, even President Trump seemed to acknowledge that the NRA had kind of had this outsized influence on politics. He was calling out lawmakers for being afraid of the NRA. So the question is, you know, whether he's going to press the NRA on any of these issues as far as gun safety. But most likely, it seems like he's going to just say broadly he supports the Second Amendment. He supports gun rights.

MARTIN: Although he got himself into some hot water because in one of these meetings he had with lawmakers, he actually seemed to suggest tighter gun laws in general, especially on assault weapons.

RASCOE: Yes. After the shooting, he definitely seemed like he wanted to rise to the moment and that he wanted to do something big on - to make sure these mass shootings didn't happen. He said he didn't always agree with the NRA. And he went - he's supported raising age limits for buying long guns...

MARTIN: Bump stocks are now illegal.

RASCOE: Yeah, he did do that. And he even flirted with universal background checks. But ultimately, the rhetoric wasn't matched with policy action. He pretty much - when they issued proposals, he pretty much got in line with what the NRA has supported.

MARTIN: Well, it's interesting. Yesterday, NPR's All Things Considered interviewed a guy who is going to the NRA convention to protest, Alain - like you're saying, all these protesters are showing up - but not for more gun control. He is protesting because he thinks the NRA has conceded too much. I think we've got tape of this. Let's play it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

TIM HARMSEN: In a compromise, it's assumed that both parties will get something of equal value, and that's not what happens. We don't really compromise. We surrender our rights endlessly trying to appease the factions that simply want to erase the Second Amendment as though it never existed.

MARTIN: I mean, this happens every time there's a mass shooting - right, Alain? - that a certain faction of the NRA starts to feel afraid that their Second Amendment rights are going to be chipped away at.

STEPHENS: Yes. I mean, yeah. You know, and this has also influenced, you know, the firearms industry. This is what really pushed gun sales during the Obama administration. This is what spikes those gun sales, you know, after these shootings. And, you know, and that's what a lot of people on the ground were talking about as well. They felt they have, you know, already compromised enough. They were citing laws that were going back, you know, to the 1930s talking about, you know, the National Firearms Act. And they are saying, you know, we've given up so much of this, so much already. And that's what they're kind of concerned about, the slippery slope, that, you know, one day, the laws will keep going through, and then there'll be no guns left.

MARTIN: Ayesha, before I let you go, putting on your - keeping on your White House hat here. Yesterday, President Trump admitted - he underscored the revelation that Rudy Giuliani had made on Fox News saying that he did indeed reimburse Michael Cohen for this hush money paid to Stormy Daniels. Could that open him up to further legal trouble? Giuliani was presumably trying to clear up some legal hurdles but could he have opened up more?

RASCOE: Well, it could. The big question is, were these payments made - or was the payment to Stormy Daniels made to influence the election? Now, President Trump and Giuliani says it was not, that it was a personal matter. But the timing of this payment so close to the election raises questions. And experts say that if it could be proven that they were trying to keep this away from voters to influence the election that then that could open up the idea that this was an illegal campaign contribution and also wasn't properly reported. And so all of that has legal ramifications.

MARTIN: So even if the money came from a personal fund and not a campaign fund, it could still be considered a campaign finance violation?

RASCOE: Yes. And to be clear, they're saying that this was not campaign funds.

MARTIN: All right. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. And we had Alain Stephens from our member station KUT who's covering the NRA convention in Dallas. Thanks to you both.

RASCOE: Thank you.

STEPHENS: Thanks a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Back in 2009, former North Korean dictator Kim Jong II (ph) released two American detainees when then former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang.

GREENE: And now it seems his son, Kim Jong Un, may release three American detainees to pave the way for a possible meeting with President Trump. Trump was hinting at this possibility last month during a press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The fact is that they do have three prisoners. We have been talking about them. We're negotiating now. We are doing our very best.

MARTIN: This week, then, the president was tweeting about this, saying, quote, "stay tuned." And yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was talking about the possible release.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: We think that that would be an incredible sign of goodwill and certainly a great statement for the North Koreans to make ahead of the summit and the discussions.

MARTIN: All right. Anna Fifield is the Tokyo bureau chief for The Washington Post, and she joins us now. Hey, Anna.

ANNA FIFIELD: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So clearly, the White House is feeling pretty good about the odds of these detainees being released. Do you think that's likely?

FIFIELD: Yes, I do think it's likely. I think this is a very easy thing for Kim Jong Un to do right now as a gesture of goodwill. And he's clearly shown with his summit with the South Korean president that he has invested in this process. He's willing to give. He's willing to deal, basically. So leading up to the summit with President Trump, it would be a very easy thing for him to do to hand over these three detainees. Kim Jong Un and the regime know that President Trump is a showman, that he like optics. And this would be a great way to be able to hand him a win and to pave the way for them to have fruitful discussion.

MARTIN: What do we know about these three people?

FIFIELD: We know very little about these three people compared to what we've known about previous detainees like Otto Warmbier. But what we do know is that all three of them are Korean-American men in their late 50s or mid-60s. All three of them had been living in this city called Yanji, which is on the Chinese side of the border with North Korea and has a lot of links into North Korea. The first one who was detained is Kim Dong-Chul, who was detained in October 2015. So that was three months before Otto Warmbier. He had lived for a long period of time in Fairfax, Va. But he'd been based in Yanji and going in and out to North Korea. He was working in the hotel business in a special economic zone there.

Then in April last year, Tony Kim, who was an accountant who had been based in California. He was arrested in North Korea while he was teaching accountancy at a university in Pyongyang. It's a university run by a Korean-American Christians there. And he was charged with hostile acts against the state. And then just a couple of weeks later, another man called Kim Hak-Song who was also affiliated with that university - he was working as an agricultural consultant - he was also detained. And we haven't heard any word from the three of them.

MARTIN: Do you think this would be happening, that they'd be considered for release without the prospect of the summit? Just briefly.

FIFIELD: I think that they - I mean, they would eventually be released, but this is certainly hurrying that along. And, you know, this is the kind of stunt that Kim Jong Un likes to be able to play, to look like he's acting in good faith.

MARTIN: Anna Fifield, Tokyo bureau chief for The Washington Post for us this morning. Anna, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

FIFIELD: Sure. Great to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.