News Brief: Democratic Debate, Stone Sentencing, German Shooting
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Mike Bloomberg stepped onto the debate stage last night for the very first time, and his Democratic rivals wasted no time trying to take him down.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
No time at all. This is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
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ELIZABETH WARREN: A billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians - and, no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg.
GREENE: The debate last night was broadcast on NBC. And that attack from Warren was just the beginning.
MARTIN: We've got NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson with us this morning. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
MARTIN: Based on that clip from Warren, candidates had some fairly damning ammunition to throw at Bloomberg last night.
LIASSON: They certainly did. For people who were expecting this debate to be a kind of big fight between the only two candidates with the resources to run the kind of national race we're about to enter - that's Mike Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders - that was not the biggest fight.
LIASSON: Mostly, it was everybody else against Mike Bloomberg. He took more attacks from the other candidates, led, as you heard, by Elizabeth Warren. And this was the first chance that Democrats had to see Mike Bloomberg as a candidate, not as a television commercial. And surprisingly, he was defensive. He was underwhelming. His campaign seems to have recognized that. They actually issued a statement last night saying, quote, "he was just warming up. We fully expect Mike to continue to build on tonight's performance" when he appears at the next debate. But he didn't seem to command the stage or vault over the charges to present his own biography and vision.
And there were some tough exchanges between Sanders and Bloomberg. Here is one of them.
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BERNIE SANDERS: When we have so many people who go to work every day and they feel not good about their jobs, they feel like cogs in a machine, I want workers to be able to sit on corporate boards as well so they can have some say over what happens to their lives.
HALLIE JACKSON: Mayor Bloomberg, you own a large company. Would you support what Senator Sanders is proposing?
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Absolutely not. I can't think of a ways that would make it easier for Donald Trump to get reelected than listening to this conversation.
LIASSON: So if that was a general election, that would be a pretty strong argument. But this is a Democratic primary. And when it came to closing arguments, which are the chance for candidates to give a 30-second version of their vision, Mike Bloomberg's was pretty technocratic. He said the country needs a good manager who can build a team with experience and credibility. He didn't give his biography or a big vision or an agenda.
MARTIN: What about Bernie Sanders? I mean, he's enjoying kind of a cushy lead right now. Does he benefit when all the other candidates kind of pile onto Mike Bloomberg?
LIASSON: Yes, he certainly does. He had a good night because the debate didn't seem to have been a game-changer. There were some moments where he got flustered and looked thin-skinned when Bloomberg needled him. But for the most part, it was a circular firing squad of candidates going after each other.
And one of the undercard fights was Amy Klobuchar versus Pete Buttigieg, who clearly cannot stand each other at all. They spend precious minutes going after each other instead of uniting as centrists against Sanders. And for those center-left Democrats who are fighting for reelection in competitive districts and states who are hoping to have someone at the top of the ticket that can help them - in their opinion, it's not Sanders - they certainly didn't get anything out of last night's debate. So, yes, Sanders comes out with his front-runner status not seriously challenged after the first time he stood next to the only other candidate with the resources to go against him.
MARTIN: Just briefly, on Elizabeth Warren - I mean, she needed a strong performance. Her last debate, she didn't really get a lot of speaking time. That changed last night. But what is her path right now?
LIASSON: Well, I don't know what her path is, but she said that she had her biggest fundraising night last night. Remember; she ran in Iowa and New Hampshire as a unity candidate, and that failed. She went back to being a fighter against pretty much everyone else. She, along with Biden and Klobuchar and Buttigieg, still looking for a breakout moment. They clearly don't think the time is ripe yet to unite around a center-left alternative to Sanders.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you.
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MARTIN: President Trump's longtime friend Roger Stone will be sentenced today.
GREENE: And let's just remember the buildup to this day and all of the controversy. President Trump weighed in, saying that Roger Stone should get a more lenient sentence. Then the Justice Department revised its sentencing guidance in this case, and the entire prosecution team quit in protest. There were more tweets from the president. There were questions about Attorney General William Barr's independence. And then finally, Barr does a TV interview and says the president's tweets make it impossible for him to do his job. And since then, more than 2,000 former Justice Department officials have called on the attorney general to resign.
MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is in the studio. Hi, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
MARTIN: All right. So all this back-and-forth about the sentencing of Roger Stone - in the end, though, it all comes down to the judge, right? It is her call to make today.
LUCAS: That's right. The decision on how much time Stone spends behind bars is up to Judge Amy Berman Jackson. And she'll take a look at a whole range of things to make her call on Stone's sentence. Only one of those factors is the sentencing recommendation from the government that has been the source of so much controversy over this past week. The Justice Department attorneys who prosecuted the case recommended seven to nine years, as David referenced. The attorney general overruled them to ask for a lighter sentence, although the department deferred to the judge on how long that should be. But long story short, yes, the call here is the judge's.
MARTIN: Remind us what Roger Stone was convicted of.
LUCAS: So the case against Stone is actually part of the Russia investigation that was brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. Last year, Stone was indicted on seven counts - obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress. And in November, a federal jury here in D.C. found him guilty on all seven counts. The charges tie back into Stone's efforts during the 2016 campaign to get in touch with WikiLeaks about the thousands of Democratic emails that it had ultimately released during the race. The case against Stone - fun fact - was the last individual - he was the last individual charged as part of Mueller's investigation.
MARTIN: So the president has tried to make this personal, as he often does. He's attacked Judge Jackson on Twitter. You've done a lot of reporting on her. What have you learned about her experience that could inform how she's going to approach the decision today?
LUCAS: Well, I've spent hours in the courtroom with her. She's handled several of the Mueller cases, including Paul Manafort's case here in D.C. These are extremely high-profile cases, and she's handled them with a pretty patient and steady hand. I have also spoken to a number of people who either know her or have tried cases in front of her. They say that she's very smart, she's well-prepared and very much in command of her courtroom. And they tell me that she won't be intimidated. She will be transparent in her thinking and make her decision on Stone's sentencing based on the facts of the case and the law.
MARTIN: So Judge Jackson gives her decision today, and then what? Roger Stone goes to prison? That's it?
LUCAS: That's normally how this would work, yes. But, of course, there's been speculation for a long time - since Stone was actually indicted - whether the president would ultimately pardon him. Trump has certainly made clear that he thinks that Stone's a good guy and that he's gotten a wrong deal and been horribly mistreated. The president's feelings about the Mueller investigation writ large are certainly clear. He feels that it's been a witch hunt. Trump has been asked repeatedly about whether he would pardon Stone. He hasn't said yes, but he pointedly also has not ruled it out.
MARTIN: Has not said no. All right. NPR's Ryan Lucas for us. Thanks. We appreciate it.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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MARTIN: All right. We're going to turn to Germany now because there's been a mass shooting in the town of Hanau. Eleven people are dead, including the suspected shooter. German media reports that an online video and a written confession linked to the suspect indicate that he may have had a far-right motive.
GREENE: That's right. According to these media reports, there's this confession. And the suspect writes that certain races need to be eliminated. Germany's prosecutor's office has reportedly taken charge of this investigation, and they will be holding a news conference later today. German police said they found the suspected shooter dead at his home address. And they also found a second person dead there.
MARTIN: All right. From Berlin, we've got NPR's Rob Schmitz on the line. Good morning, Rob.
ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: All right. So this just happened last night. Obviously, details are still sketchy. But what can you tell us right now?
SCHMITZ: Well, we know that last night at around 10 o'clock, a gunman opened fire at a hookah bar, and then at another one in the city of Hanau outside Frankfurt. He killed at least nine people and injured several others. Clientele at both bars are predominantly Turkish and Kurdish Germans. And after the shootings, the suspect then returned to his apartment, and that's where police found his body and the body of his 72-year-old mother. Police believe the suspect is a 43-year-old German citizen who's a resident of Hanau. Authorities in the German state of Hesse say they're investigating the crime as a probable right-wing extremist terror attack.
The interior minister of the state of Hesse, Peter Beuth, held a short press conference this morning about the shooting. And here's what he said.
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PETER BEUTH: (Speaking German).
SCHMITZ: He's saying here that flags throughout the country will fly at half-mast today and that his deepest sympathies are with the families of the victims. And he wishes the injured survivors quick and full recoveries.
MARTIN: So what can you tell us, Rob, about these reports from German media that there was this letter that the suspected shooter left behind and some kind of video?
SCHMITZ: Yeah, authorities haven't confirmed this yet, but several German media outlets are reporting that police found a written confession at the suspect's home in which he wrote that certain races need to be eliminated. They're also reporting that he left a video indicating he was a racist and had right-wing extremist views.
MARTIN: I mean, obviously, Germany has been trying to manage far-right-wing expression for...
MARTIN: ...Generations. But it's gotten worse over the last few years, hasn't it?
SCHMITZ: Yeah. Right-wing extremism here in Germany has been on the rise since 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel made the difficult decision to allow hundreds of thousands of migrants from war-torn countries in the Middle East and North Africa to find refuge here. After that, there were a string of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, and then that was followed by terror attacks by right-wing extremists.
According to government data, the number of right-wing extremists here in Germany has risen by a third last year alone. German intelligence now suspects there are more than 32,000 of them, and half are considered potentially violent with a high affinity for firearms. And this attack comes after another shooting in Berlin four days ago, and it comes four months after a right-wing extremist shot and killed two while trying to attack a synagogue in the city of Halle.
MARTIN: Just briefly, is the German government or authorities trying to approach this problem in a different way?
SCHMITZ: Well, gun laws in Germany are among the most stringent in the world. And the government right now is planning an overhaul of its domestic intelligence and law enforcement agencies in an effort to crack down on right-wing extremism. So we'll see more about this in the coming months.
MARTIN: All right. Rob Schmitz, international correspondent in Berlin. Rob, we appreciate your reporting on this. Thank you.
SCHMITZ: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.