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Morning news brief

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The nation watched on live TV when people attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tonight, the country can watch and listen live to an investigation. A House committee holds its first public hearing on Donald Trump's drive to overturn a Democratic election. Seven Democrats are on the panel, along with two Republicans. You may recall the committee rejected other Republican appointees who had themselves voted to object to Trump's defeat on January 6. The committee has spoken with more than a thousand witnesses and reviewed more than 100,000 documents.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is part of our team covering these hearings, and she joins us now. Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. So how is the committee going to leverage this moment in this first hearing?

SNELL: Well, they're kind of seeing this as an opportunity to set the tone and remind the country about the story of that day. I guess you can think about it as an opening argument setting the stage for more hearings later this month. They plan to do that with a pair of witnesses who were present that day. Caroline Edwards is a Capitol police officer who was on duty during the attack. She can speak to the struggle to respond as people breached the security around the Capitol while the Senate prepared to vote to certify the election. The other witness is filmmaker Nick Quested. He's a documentarian who captured members of extreme right-wing groups that day. We're expecting video with explicit depictions of their action and very likely explicit language as the attack on the Capitol unfolded. And this will be the first time the public has seen many of the photos and videos and hearing many of these firsthand accounts.

MARTIN: So, Kelsey, many Republicans have just refused the legitimacy of this committee. Only two Republicans are even participating in the investigation. How is the committee going to get over that partisan perception as it tries to make its case to the public?

SNELL: Well, members have repeatedly said that this is about creating a clear and compelling case that the events of January 6 were a coordinated attack on democracy. You know, committee member Adam Schiff told reporters yesterday that the events were dramatic, and the threat to democracy is dramatic, and the hearings should convey that. They even consulted with a former head of ABC on how to present their case. But Jamie Raskin, another Democrat on the committee, told my colleague Deirdre Walsh that members are wary of the risk of overselling their findings.

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JAMIE RASKIN: We're not in the business of entertainment. We're in the business of trying to communicate to the American people the gravity and the immensity of these events.

MARTIN: So this is just the first hearing. There are - what? - five additional hearings.

SNELL: Yeah, they've announced six hearings total over the next several weeks, but they've been pretty quiet about what exactly those hearings will cover. We do know the committee has been looking into the ways former President Trump tried to pressure staff and even former Vice President Pence to help overturn the election result. We also know the committee has been looking into what Trump was doing during that attack. They talk about a gap of 187 minutes in his schedule. We're also looking out for more information from former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and members of the Trump family. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson told my colleague Claudia Grisales yesterday that the panel may show video of testimony from Ivanka Trump in a later hearing. But we're told they're still making decisions about who will appear and how the later hearings will play out. So far, it seems like different members will be charged with presenting different evidence over the course of those hearings.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Thanks, Kelsey. Appreciate you.

SNELL: Thank you.

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MARTIN: President Biden spoke up for democracy at the Summit of the Americas.

INSKEEP: The United States welcomed leaders from across the Western Hemisphere to Los Angeles, but not all of the leaders. Some were disinvited, and others boycotted.

MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Kahn is covering the conference and joins us now from NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: So tell us what this boycott is all about.

KAHN: It goes back a couple weeks. President Biden and administration officials have been saying for weeks that they weren't going to allow, quote, "dictators" to come to this summit, which was going to be about democracy. That meant no Cuba, no Nicaragua, no Venezuela. And Mexico's president said he wasn't going to come unless everybody was invited. And so then a whole host of countries followed suit, which really upended the summit and created a lot of turmoil over who was going to come and who wasn't. And that came - lasted right up until the last minute. And that meant that President Biden spent yesterday shaking hands with a lot of foreign minister instead of presidents because a lot of them didn't come. And so yesterday, he really just tried to shift momentum and really wanted to put that controversy past him. In the opening ceremony last night, he tried to start talking about economic recovery from the pandemic, migration and especially democracy, which he told the crowd is the hallmark of the region.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: As we meet again today in a moment when democracy is under assault around the world, let us unite again and renew our conviction that democracy is not only the defining feature of American histories but the essential ingredient to America's futures.

KAHN: It was just a very Hollywood opening ceremony with a lot of performance and choreographed skits.

MARTIN: So you mentioned some of the leaders who didn't show. Who actually came?

KAHN: Well, it was pretty surprising because we didn't know if Brazil's populist conservative President Jair Bolsonaro was going to come, and he did. That was a last-minute score for President Biden. Bolsonaro was a big supporter of President Trump and was actually one of the last leaders in the world to congratulate Biden on his 2020 election win. And the two have actually never even spoken. They have agreed to meet at the summit. There was also talk of the White House inviting Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido. In the end, President Biden only spoke to him by phone late Wednesday, and he expressed U.S. support for restarting talks between the opposition and President Nicolas Maduro.

MARTIN: So obviously, immigration is a huge issue for the Biden administration in these conversations. Is the president making any specific asks of other countries at the summit?

KAHN: Friday, all the countries will sign what they're calling the Los Angeles Declaration on migration. In the end, the Biden administration says all nations in the hemisphere have to work together to deal with what is record migration in the Americas. It's no longer just the U.S. and a Mexico problem; we're seeing millions of Venezuelans migrating, Haitians, Cuban, Nicaraguans and, of course, Central Americans. But what we're seeing at the summit is that Central American leaders aren't here. Mexico's president isn't here. So many are saying, how can you tackle migration issues when those leaders aren't even at the table? And that's a big blow for Biden and Kamala Harris, who's been tasked to deal with Central American leaders. They didn't come to the summit. And the administration is going to announce new programs at the summit, but it's - clearly, it has a credibility problem in the regions when they couldn't bring these leaders to the summit.

MARTIN: NPR's Carrie Kahn. Thank you.

KAHN: You're welcome.

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INSKEEP: The U.S. Supreme Court expects to issue far-reaching decisions soon.

MARTIN: Rulings due this month could affect access to abortion and access to guns. Another case touches policies against climate change. The justices and their clerks are finishing all this in a tense workplace. The court is investigating itself, seeking the source of a leak of Justice Samuel Alito's draft opinion on abortion.

INSKEEP: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is with us. Nina, good morning.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's going on over there?

TOTENBERG: It's pretty ugly. Between the leak investigation that's going on and the distrust among the justices and the clerks themselves, the place sounds like it's imploding. Let me just cite one example. Justice Thomas, in a speech just after the leak, seemed to say that he no longer trusts his colleagues.

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CLARENCE THOMAS: When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I'm in, it changes the institution fundamentally. You begin to look over your shoulder. It's like kind of an infidelity - that you can explain it, but you can't undo it.

TOTENBERG: And he implied that he doesn't trust Chief Justice Roberts.

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THOMAS: The court that was together 11 year was a fabulous court. It was one you looked forward to being a part of.

TOTENBERG: Those 11 years were when the chief justice was William Rehnquist, who was succeeded in 2005 by Chief Justice Roberts. Now, we don't know what the root of the antipathy is, but we do know that Roberts made very angry some of the conservatives on the court 10 years ago when he changed his mind and voted to uphold key provisions of Obamacare. Those switches, Steve, are rare, but they do happen. Justices change their minds and in good faith. That switch, though, infuriated some of the court's conservatives so much that it leaked, obviously from the conservative side, to embarrass Roberts.

INSKEEP: Thanks for the reminder that sometimes in the past there have been leaks of information from the court. In that case, though, it was just a leak of a disagreement, of anger. In this case, the immediate case, we have an actual draft opinion that's out in public. We have the chief justice saying it's a betrayal, ordering the court marshal to investigate. What has that done to feelings inside the court now?

TOTENBERG: It's a mess. So to begin with, the court marshal, who oversees basically all the security and administrative functions of the court, she's overseeing the investigation. But she doesn't have any experience as an investigator, nor do the Supreme Court Police. Their job is to protect the justices. And everybody I've talked to who does have experience as an investigator says that leak inquiries are just the worst - in the words of several people, they are nightmares.

INSKEEP: And what makes them so?

TOTENBERG: Initially, investigators are told it's just a few people who had access. Eventually, it turns out tons of people had access. You know, it was not just co-workers in the office, but it's also the computer staff, the family, the friends, people coming to the office, even people at home. And even if there's some sort of evidence of contact with a reporter, they say, we usually are unable to prove that that contact led to the leak. Therefore, most of the time, all the investigations end up with is pretty much theories and speculation.

INSKEEP: What is that likely doing to the daily operations of the court then as they come to the end of the term with all these big decisions due?

TOTENBERG: You know, I talked to someone very close to the justices, and he said he didn't know how on Earth the court was going to finish up its work this term. The clerks, he said - and this is really interesting - sort of the court's diplomatic corps. They talk to each other, especially at this time of year, and with the approval of their bosses, they go out to find out, how far can we push the envelope in this case, or how do we soften the language in that case? But at the moment, the clerks are terrified that their whole professional lives could be blown up. So they aren't able to do that. In short, it's just a very perilous time for the court.

INSKEEP: NPR's Nina Totenberg. Thanks so much.

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