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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A court hearing in one of former President Donald Trump's legal cases featured a different main character.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. That's right. Yesterday's main protagonist was Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis. She's fighting off an attempt to remove her from the Georgia election interference case involving the former president. Trump and other defendants accuse her of a conflict of interest stemming from a romantic relationship with a prosecutor that she hired for the probe.

MARTIN: WABE's Sam Gringlas has been in the courtroom and he is with us now from Atlanta. Good morning, Sam.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: OK. So awkward, embarrassing, all of the above - but what exactly does this personal relationship, which the two have now acknowledged, have to do with the Trump case? I guess I'm asking, how did we get to this hearing?

GRINGLAS: Well, Michel, this began when one of the defendants lobbed an accusation of his own. He said DA Fani Willis had been in an improper relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade and that she stood to financially benefit from this prosecution, with the money Wade earned from the case funding fancy trips with Willis, essentially a disqualifying conflict of interest. Though none of this touches on the underlying case focused on 19 people who allegedly tried to interfere with the 2020 election.

MARTIN: So now a judge is trying to decide whether to disqualify the DA. What's the testimony been like so far?

GRINGLAS: Well, the two prosecutors already acknowledged that they had been more than colleagues, but there were still many unanswered questions, some very personal, like, what exactly did the relationship entail; who paid for what? Michel, there were gasps in the room when Willis suddenly appeared saying she wanted to testify.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FANI WILLIS: You're confused. You think I'm on trial? These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I'm not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.

MARTIN: Well, I mean, it sounds kind of intense. What exactly was so contentious?

GRINGLAS: Prosecutors insist the relationship did not begin before Willis hired Wade for the election probe, but an ex-friend of Willis disputed that. Another disagreement - whether Willis paid Wade back for her share of vacation expenses - that matters because it gets to whether Willis has a financial stake in this prosecution. Willis and Wade say she reimbursed him in cash. Defense attorneys like Craig Gillen were skeptical, as you can hear in this exchange with Wade.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CRAIG GILLEN: You don't have a single solitary deposit slip to corroborate or support any of your allegations that you were paid by Mrs. Willis in cash, do you?

NATHAN WADE: No, sir.

GILLEN: Not a single solitary one.

WADE: Not a one.

GRINGLAS: Wade says he didn't have a paper trail for this money because he spent it.

MARTIN: So now you've got prosecutors with one version of events, and you've got these defense lawyers with another. What does the judge do with that?

GRINGLAS: Last night, I called up a law professor who was actually sitting right behind me in court, Georgia State University's Anthony Michael Kreis. This is his take.

ANTHONY MICHAEL KREIS: The evidentiary testimony that we heard today was essentially not terribly revealing. What this is essentially boiling down to is a battle of credibility.

GRINGLAS: So not only will Judge Scott McAfee have to weigh what legal standard to use here - you know, an actual conflict versus an appearance of conflict; he's also got to judge the facts themselves. Look, the window is already narrow for Trump and his codefendants to stand trial before the next election, and delays from disqualification or appeals could make that opening even smaller. And I think this underscores, despite the seemingly tabloid nature of this story, the stakes are quite high.

MARTIN: That is WABE's Sam Gringlas in Atlanta. Sam, thank you.

GRINGLAS: Thanks, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Israeli forces have entered and taken over southern Gaza's largest hospital, where they believe bodies of some Israeli hostages are being held.

MARTÍNEZ: And despite international pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows Israeli forces will go into the southern town of Rafah. That's where at least a million Palestinians are sheltering. After another phone call with President Biden last night, Netanyahu, in a social media post, again rejected calls for a two-state solution.

MARTIN: We're going to go now to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, who is following all this from Tel Aviv. Eleanor, hello.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So what are Israel and the Palestinians saying about what's happening in this hospital?

BEARDSLEY: Well, according to Gaza's health ministry, there's no power or heating in the hospital, and fuel for generators is set to run out in the next 24 hours. And the ministry said there are patients on respirators and babies in incubators. They called it a catastrophic situation. Late last night, Israeli Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari spoke. He said Israel does not enter hospitals without good reason. And he said they have proof that Hamas has been hiding and operating inside the Nasser Hospital complex. He even named ambulance drivers who he said had confessed to transporting hostages. You know, Israeli media are also reporting there may be hostages' bodies in that hospital, but we don't have any proof of that yet.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, there's been an increase in cross-border rocket fire in the country's north with the Iran-backed Hezbollah forces in Lebanon. What can you tell us about what's going on there?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. The two sides have traded rocket barrages that have gone deeper into each other's territory. One Israeli soldier, a young woman, was killed and several injured in an attack this weekend, Israel responded with rockets into southern Lebanon, killing eight civilians there. Both sides say they are ready for war if it comes to that. But keep in mind the rhetoric heats up and cools down regularly between Israel and Hezbollah over the border. But there's no doubt it's very high now. And this is happening as Israel remains poised to send ground troops into southern Gaza, the city of Rafah, where at least a million Palestinians are sheltering. And even Egypt is getting increasingly nervous about this and preparing for a possible influx of Palestinian refugees.

MARTIN: I understand that you've also been talking to the families of Israeli hostages right now. What are they saying?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. You know, Michel, they're still the main moral voice in Israeli society, and they carry a lot of weight. Usually, they meet on Saturday nights. But last night, they gathered in front of Israel's Defense Department in Tel Aviv as the War Cabinet was meeting. They blocked a major four-lane road downtown. They clearly wanted to send a message. And along with huge pictures of hostages, they carried signs that said time is running out and Biden, please save us. They're furious that Israel has left cease-fire talks, and they think winning this war must begin with freeing the more than 130 hostages still being held by Hamas. I spoke with 31-year-old Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel is in Gaza. Here's what he said.

GIL DICKMANN: The most urgent thing is to bring home the hostages. That's the most urgent thing because it's going to take time to win this war, and the hostages have no time. We have to make sure that they're home, and this is the most important thing. Then we can deal with all the other things.

MARTIN: And I understand that President Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu spoke last night. Can you tell us anything about that?

BEARDSLEY: Well, yeah. Well, of course, Biden urged, you know, care in Rafah. He said, you must take care of the civilians first. But it seems that Netanyahu continues to defy U.S. wishes. Shortly after that call, Netanyahu tweeted that a two-state solution is out of the question, and he called it a reward for terrorists.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Tel Aviv. Eleanor, thank you so much for this reporting.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Shock gave way to grief last night in Kansas City, Mo., as the community turned out for a vigil to honor Lisa Lopez-Galvan.

MARTÍNEZ: The 43-year-old mother, community leader and radio host died in Wednesday's shooting. The violence broke out at a parade held in celebration of the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl win.

MARTIN: NPR's Brian Mann is in Kansas City this morning. Good morning, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So you were at last night's vigil. Thank you for that. What did you hear?

MANN: Yeah. People in Kansas City, especially in the Hispanic community, really adored Lisa Lopez-Galvan. They described her as one of those people who just kind of connect everybody and put all the pieces together. Christina Nunez grew up with her and said Lopez-Galvan was at her wedding.

CHRISTINA NUNEZ: She was here to do good. This was senseless - senseless. And it's just so hard to understand.

MANN: Twenty-three other people were victims of this violence, half of them, Michel, under the age of 16. And one thing I heard last night is that people here just don't feel safe. Isabella Videz was at the Chiefs' victory celebration, and then one day later, she was at this vigil.

ISABELLA VIDEZ: (Crying) Just sucks - and being so scared. And I'm 23. I grew up when Sandy Hook happened. It feels like nothing ever changes. And I just - I wanted to come out 'cause it's like - it's a very lonely feeling, and I didn't want to be alone.

MANN: So people did gather. They wrapped arms around each other. They held candles that they had to kind of shelter with their hands against the winter wind that was blowing last night.

MARTIN: I understand that there are two people in custody - two juveniles in custody. Do we know any more about what led to this episode of violence?

MANN: Yeah. Police here say this appeared to be a dispute between several people that ended in gunfire. We don't have a lot of details. They say prosecutors who specialize in working with juveniles are now part of the investigation, trying to figure out what charges might be filed. There was a third suspect - an adult - detained after the shooting. That individual was released yesterday. Police now believe that person was not involved in the violence. There was one hopeful development yesterday, Michel. Of nearly 30 people admitted to area hospitals, about two-thirds have been released as of yesterday. About eight people, some of them kids, however, are still in hospital.

MARTIN: Brian, we had Kansas City's mayor, Quinton Lucas, on All Things Considered last night, and he expressed, you know, sorrow and frustration at the - just the level of gun violence in his community. I just want to play a little bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

QUINTON LUCAS: When you have 850 officers and folks who will act recklessly nearby them who can still get off enough rounds to hit almost two dozen people within just a matter of moments, that tells us that the guns, that the types of guns that we have and their accessibility - easy availability is a problem.

MARTIN: So, Brian, I was just wondering what you heard at the vigil last night. Do people there think that there are answers?

MANN: Yeah. A lot of people at this gathering, Michel, were calling for tougher gun laws. Right now, there are very few restrictions on carrying firearms in this Republican-controlled state, though it does remain to be seen how these underage individuals might have acquired the guns allegedly used in this shooting. One other thing people were talking about a lot at this gathering was finding ways to de-escalate conflicts and rivalries among young people here. Community leaders say these disputes are leading to a lot of shootings - a record number of murders in Kansas City last year, more than 180, many involving firearms. Again, police haven't said exactly what kind of argument sparked this violence. We know very little about the suspects except that they appear to be young.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Brian Mann in Kansas City, Mo. Brian, thank you.

MANN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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