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News Brief: Austin Bombings, Cambridge Analytica, Spending Bill

Mar 21, 2018
Originally published on March 23, 2018 5:16 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to begin this morning in Austin, Texas.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. Multiple journalists in the city are reporting that the suspect in the recent series of deadly bombings is now dead. Let's remember, these attacks have killed two people, and five others have been injured over the last few weeks. Authorities found two more package bombs yesterday. There was also another explosion that hurt someone in Austin late yesterday at a Goodwill store, but investigators say it was not linked to the other incidents. Here's Austin's Assistant Police Chief Ely Reyes.

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ELY REYES: We did determine that this was not an explosive device. This incident is not related to any of the other incidents that we've had here in Austin.

MARTIN: All right. We're going to get the latest on all this from Mose Buchele of our member station KUT in Austin. Hey, Mose.

MOSE BUCHELE, BYLINE: Hi there.

MARTIN: What can you tell us about what happened overnight?

BUCHELE: Well, we're just seeing media reports come in, and police are about to hold a press conference. What we're seeing reported by others - we've not had this independently confirmed yet - is that the suspect is dead, died in an explosion after a standoff with police. This is coming from the Austin American-Statesman report, our local newspaper. Apparently, according to that - and, again, we need to independently confirm this - the police tracked down a suspect looking at sales receipts, some video surveillance, tracked that suspect down to a hotel in this suburb just north of Austin. And after, you know, after a standoff, there was an explosion. And the suspect is dead.

MARTIN: All right. Again, that's according to the Austin Statesman, the local newspaper there.

BUCHELE: That's right.

MARTIN: You spent some of yesterday talking to people just around town about how these attacks have affected them in their everyday lives. I mean, I imagine it's been totally jarring. What were those conversations like?

BUCHELE: Yeah. I was surprised by how many people I spoke with were really visibly shaken by this. I talked to a woman named Lydia Oviedo (ph). I talked to her just as she had dropped her kids off at school, and she said she didn't want to leave the school. She had just seen a guy she thought looked kind of suspicious, and maybe he was just a dog walker walking his dog early in the morning. But she says with everything going on, she just couldn't be sure. And that's the kind of tension that people are feeling here. She said she had actually just spoken with her 5-year-old son about not stopping to pick up any suspicious packages. Here she is.

LYDIA OVIEDO: He's like, why? And I try to explain to him, but still, he's 5. But I try to explain it as much as possible.

MARTIN: Tough conversations to have.

BUCHELE: Yeah. Absolutely. And they're happening all over the city.

MARTIN: I understand you also talked with someone named Kyle Olsen (ph)?

BUCHELE: Yeah. This was an interesting thing. I think it's really indicative of the tension that people are feeling in their everyday lives. Kyle and his wife, Joycelyn (ph), they have one of those whiteboards on their fridge that people usually use to kind of plan dinners, or list appointments they have through the week.

MARTIN: Yeah.

BUCHELE: So they had started at the beginning of this month - they live not far from where the first explosion took place - they had started to use it for something else. Here he is.

KYLE OLSEN: What we've done now is, we start to write down what day packages are supposed to arrive and when, even possibly, like, the size, noting the size of the package, as well.

MARTIN: Wow.

BUCHELE: Yeah. That's just for them to know that what they're seeing in their front yard isn't an explosive.

MARTIN: Wow. Mose Buchele of member station KUT in Austin, again, reporting this morning local media in Austin reporting that the suspect in the series of bombings has been killed. We will have more on this story throughout the day. You can always go to npr.org for the latest. Hey, Mose, thanks so much.

BUCHELE: Thank you.

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MARTIN: Calls for Facebook to respond to the Cambridge Analytica scandal are getting louder.

GREENE: Yeah. Those calls are growing louder, but Facebook's top executives have been relatively silent this week so far. To recap here, Cambridge Analytica is this British data firm. It has ties to top Trump campaign donors, and it's accused of inappropriately collecting data through a Facebook app to build profiles on voters in the lead up to the 2016 election. There are reports from The Observer and from The New York Times saying that this firm harvested details like names, locations, interests, from 50 million Facebook users without their permission. Now, the fallout hit Cambridge Analytica first, but now we have politicians and regulators from around the world who are demanding answers from Facebook, as well. So it's worth asking, is this a major turning point for the social media giant?

MARTIN: All right. Let's ask Ina Fried. She is chief technology correspondent for the news site Axios. Hey, Ina. Thanks for being with us.

INA FRIED: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What is Facebook saying, if anything?

FRIED: So I mean, as you point out, the big silence has come from the top. So we haven't heard anything from either Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg on this. But they haven't been totally silent. They had a meeting with employees yesterday where they could ask questions - not Mark and Sheryl, again, but Paul Grewal, one of their top lawyers - and they issued a statement basically saying that, you know, Mark and Sheryl and the team are working around the clock. And the key point that they want to make is that, you know, they are outraged that they were deceived. So from Facebook's standpoint, they were the victims here, in addition to the 50 million Americans. Like, wasn't Facebook. And that's the way they see it. Now, obviously a lot of people are saying, yes, but we trusted you with our information.

MARTIN: Right. And Congress has a lot of questions. Facebook is going to brief on Capitol Hill this week. At least two state attorneys general have opened investigations. We should note that Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica from their platform. This happened in the wake of all of this. But what, if anything, do you anticipate might come from this new level of scrutiny? I mean, at the end of the day, is Facebook going to have to change something to make sure this doesn't happen again?

FRIED: Well, I think the real risk here is, are there new data protections for Americans? And this is something that a bunch of people have wanted since long before this. In Europe, they have new privacy protections. They've always had stronger privacy protections than the U.S., and there are new ones that are coming into effect this year. So the real risk is that politicians, either at the state or federal level, try and bring similar protections to the U.S., which might really curtail the amount of information that Facebook has at its disposal.

MARTIN: In the meantime, there are hashtags that say #DeleteFacebook. I mean, they are taking a serious PR hit right now.

FRIED: Yeah. And that's the other risk, is the consumer side. Do people delete their account, or, you know, even short of deleting it, do they spend less time on Facebook? And we've already seen some signs of that since the election, that people are spending less time on Facebook. And that's a huge risk for them.

MARTIN: All right. Ina Fried. She is chief technology correspondent for Axios news site. Ina, thanks so much for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it.

FRIED: Thanks, Rachel.

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MARTIN: All right. While Washington scrutinizes Facebook, lawmakers and the president face scrutiny of their own. For one, the government is at risk of another partial shutdown if Congress cannot pass a spending bill by the end of the day on Friday. I can't believe I'm saying those words again.

GREENE: I feel like we've been here before. Yeah. Party leaders are stuck debating the finer points of a $1.3 trillion spending bill which was supposed to come out last week. One of the sticking points here is whether to include funding for President Trump's border wall proposal. And meanwhile, the president is facing some new legal challenges from the women who have accused him of having affairs.

MARTIN: All right. We're going to talk about all of this with NPR's Susan Davis, in the studio with me. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Government shutdown. Is this really happening again?

DAVIS: Well, if it wasn't, what would you need me for, Rachel?

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MARTIN: This is just in your job description.

DAVIS: Yeah. Well, here's the thing. The underlying $1.3 trillion bill has largely been agreed to. The holdup is between party leaders and the White House over so-called riders, or, unrelated policy items they want to attach to the bill. And the reason why they're struggling over this is this spending bill could well be the last big piece of legislation Congress does this year. So if it's the last train out of the station, they want to maximize what they can put onto it.

MARTIN: So what are they talking about? What do they want to attach here?

DAVIS: The three big questions still remaining are, will they do anything health care-related, immigration related and anything related to gun legislation? But we're told that there are literally dozens of outstanding policy issues that have yet to be resolved, things ranging from money for infrastructure projects, to whether include sexual harassment legislation, even to whether they need to fix loopholes in that Republican past tax bill that affects people like grain farmers. I mean, that granular of detail is going back and forth right now.

MARTIN: But, I mean, the odds are they're going to figure it out by Friday, midnight? Is that the deadline?

DAVIS: They have a Friday midnight deadline. If they do not meet that deadline, of course, there could always be a shutdown. But we are told it's more likely they would do a stopgap bill and work into the weekend.

MARTIN: Right, as has happened before. OK. Finally, we've got to ask you about these new legal challenges the president is facing. He has denied allegations of this affair with Stormy Daniels. She is fighting an NDA, a non-disclosure agreement, and now so is another woman. Both these women want to tell their story, and these NDAs are preventing them. What can you tell us?

DAVIS: Correct. So the second one is from a former Playboy model. Her name is Karen McDougal. She filed a lawsuit in LA on Tuesday. Essentially, she's alleging that she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. And during the presidential campaign, she signed an agreement with the tabloid National Enquirer, she essentially sold the rights to her story. They paid her $150,000 to do that. She wants out of that deal. Also on Tuesday, in New York, a judge ruled against the president in a defamation suit and said it could move forward. That suit is from a former contestant on the reality show "The Apprentice." Her name is Summer Zervos, and she alleges that Trump sexually assaulted her in 2007.

MARTIN: And then the president called her a liar, and she alleges that...

DAVIS: Of course.

MARTIN: ...That her business took a hit.

DAVIS: And we should note that the president has denied all of these allegations.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Susan Davis for us this morning in studio. Sue, thanks so much, as always.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.