News Brief: New York Attacker Charged, Trump Calls For Immigration Changes

Nov 2, 2017
Originally published on November 2, 2017 12:08 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Prosecutors are starting to lay out their case now against the suspect in that deadly attack along a bike path in New York City on Tuesday.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah, they've brought terrorism charges against Sayfullo Saipov. They say he was inspired by ISIS. Here's acting U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Joon Kim.

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JOON KIM: A man consumed by hate and a twisted ideology attacked our country and our city.

MARTIN: Saipov immigrated to the U.S. from Uzbekistan. And in just a minute, we're going to learn more about how he came to live in the U.S. But first, let's just outline what the case is against him. A criminal complaint says that this suspect used a pickup truck to kill at least eight people on this bike path Tuesday along the Hudson River and that he chose to attack on Halloween because he wanted to inflict the most possible damage. He thought the streets would be really crowded that day. So obviously, one of the many questions now is, how did this man come to embrace ISIS?

GREENE: And let's bring in NPR's Hansi Lo Wang, who is in New York covering this.

Hi, there, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what exactly are we learning now from these charging documents?

WANG: Well, these documents allege that the suspect began planning this attack about a year ago, and that about two months ago, he decided to use a truck for the attack. And he actually rented a truck more than a week before this Halloween attack to a practice making turns and plan...

GREENE: He was practicing the route he was going - my goodness. That's eerie.

WANG: ...To practice making turns with the truck. And the plan was actually, according to these documents - was to eventually go to the Brooklyn Bridge, where there is a walkway in between the vehicle lanes for pedestrians and bikes. And prosecutors say he wanted to kill as many people as possible. And these are all details from an interview that the suspect gave while in the hospital after he was being treated after being shot by police and law enforcement officers. He described to law enforcement officers how ISIS inspired his attack.

GREENE: So inspired may be different from directed, right?

WANG: That's right. These - this complaint says that he was inspired specifically by ISIS videos that they found on his cellphone. Some of them showed beheadings, an ISIS prisoner being run over by a tank. And they also cited a specific video by the leader of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In this video, he questioned what Muslims in the U.S. were doing in response to the killing of Muslims in Iraq.

GREENE: Yeah, well, I guess we've been seeing this in other incidents - I mean, not a member of ISIS or something, per se, necessarily, but actually inspired by videos like you're talking about. So just help me understand this, Hansi. Law enforcement's saying now they've located a second person they want to question here. What - who is that?

WANG: Well, this is a 32-year-old man born in Uzbekistan, and we don't know much more about him other than the FBI put out a poster yesterday asking for more information about him - put out his name, a photo of him. But it's important to note, this man has not been identified as a suspect in this case.

GREENE: OK, so not a suspect, just one suspect as of now - and there was a vigil in New York last night, right? What's the scene in the city?

WANG: Well, it was a candlelight vigil last night in Lower Manhattan, just a few blocks from the scene of the attack - brought together some friends of the youngest victim and the only New Yorker who died, 23-year-old Nicholas Cleves, software engineer. And friends there described him as a thinker with a good sense of humor.

GREENE: All right, you mentioned the only New Yorker because many of the victims actually from Argentina, it sounds like. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covering the story in New York City - thanks, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome.

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GREENE: OK, so if the suspect in New York City is convicted on those terrorism charges, he's facing - he could face capital punishment.

MARTIN: President Trump welcomed that news. Just before midnight, the president tweeted that the New York City terrorist, quote, "should get death penalty." Earlier, the president called the U.S. justice system a, quote, "joke and a laughing stock."

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We also have to come up with punishment that's far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now.

MARTIN: So now Trump is asking Congress to scrap this visa lottery program that allowed the suspect into the country in the first place. So how might this whole thing, this attack, lead to any policy changes?

GREENE: Well, we have NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson here.

And Mara, am I wrong? Don't presidents usually show some level of restraint and not always weigh in on high-profile criminal cases?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: That's true. They don't generally suggest what kind of sentence they want the suspect to get. But the president waded right into a policy discussion after this attack. That's in contrast to his reaction to the Las Vegas massacre, where he said, for days, it was too soon to talk about possible changes to gun laws.

But this time, he was talking about extreme vetting - as you heard him, getting tougher on terror suspects. He also was talking about changes to the legal immigration system. These are changes he's been talk - he's talked about before - ending family-based migration and what critics call chain migration in favor of a merit-based system.

GREENE: Well, he - and he's focusing on this diversity lottery program in the immigration system. How - what is that, and how exactly does it work?

LIASSON: Well, the suspect in the New York attack obtained a visa through this program - through this diversity lottery program. He came to the U.S. in 2010. The program benefits about 50,000 people a year from countries with lower levels of immigration to the U.S. In this case, he was from Uzbekistan. The applicants are vetted first, then they go into a lottery. But in attacking this program, the president also attacked Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, who's from New York, who was a sponsor of the original program way back in 1990.

This was a program that was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the Senate - 89-8 - and then in 1990, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. And then years later, after 9/11, Schumer actually proposed ending these diversity visas as part of that Gang of Eight immigration bill that passed the Senate but ultimately failed in the House. But this shows that the president is always quick to start a political spat, especially with a Democrat. Schumer responded by accusing the president of dividing the country.

GREENE: All right, well, moving on to a different topic - there seem to be some divisions within the Republican Party on taxes, even as House Republicans get ready to unveil a big tax bill today. What exactly are we expecting?

LIASSON: We're expecting to get answers to a lot of questions. Whose taxes will go up? Whose will go down? What income level do the Republicans consider to be middle class? They're very intent on selling this bill as a middle-class tax cut. Will the top rate stay in place? And how are they going to pay for all these cuts?

How much will they add to the deficit? Will 401(k)s be affected? Will the state and local tax deduction be affected? The president has weighed in on some of these things and then backed away from them. But a lot of details will come out today.

GREENE: A lot of questions to be answered, it sounds like - NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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GREENE: OK, we have a follow-up now on allegations against an executive here at NPR. Our company's chief editor, Michael Oreskes, resigned yesterday after being accused of sexual harassment. And let's just remember how this all developed.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that two women recently accused Oreskes of abruptly kissing them after they approached him to talk about job opportunities. These incidents happened in the late 1990s when he worked for The New York Times, but Oreskes is also facing more recent complaints, including from within the NPR newsroom. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is here.

And David, it - we should just say, it sounds like you are hearing from more women now about Oreskes' conduct.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Sure. So let's remind what we heard before. We heard from two women about allegations nearly 20 years ago. That was first surfaced in The Washington Post. We reported yesterday about a woman here who came forward, gave her name, who reported about inappropriate behavior and complained publicly. Now I've spoken in the last - call it 24 hours to five more women, two of them currently at NPR, three of them outside, one of them a former colleague. They stretch from a reporter in her 20s to a producer in her 50s, and they span the gamut.

In one instance, the reporter, last summer - that is, in 2016 - said that he invited her out to his place in Connecticut for - to share a bottle of wine to celebrate her promotion and to hammer out some of the details, continue the conversation. She felt very, very awkward about that. A senior producer said, at one point, Mike walked by her in a way that wasn't necessary and put his hand on her stomach in what she called a strong caress - a very strong caress that took her completely aback. She said, I'm in my 50s; I thought, really, even now?

Other women were talking to him seeking career advice, perhaps even thinking about employment at NPR. Conversations turned to boyfriends, what would - they were looking for in romantic involvements. And quickly, it became clear, a couple of them in different conversations said that if they wanted to pursue both career advice and even possibility - of the idea of job at NPR, there might have to be a physical involvement or entanglement, and they didn't want that. So they didn't pursue opportunities here at NPR. A series of disturbing incidents - these women really felt shook up by what they described.

GREENE: OK, a lot of serious allegations - and NPR CEO Jarl Mohn gave a response yesterday. What did he say?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he said that - in part, that these were things that he hadn't known. You know, he had this rather surreal instance. He was being interviewed by our colleague Mary Louise Kelly for All Things Considered. Dozens of our colleagues, mostly women, were looking on. Jarl said that one of the women first contacted NPR last October in 2016 about her allegations, about her experience with him at The New York Times. We have a clip of that.

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JARL MOHN: The important distinction here is, first, that did not happen at NPR. It was not an NPR employee. It was at The New York Times, and it occurred 20 years ago. Had that happened at NPR, we would've had a very different reaction to it.

FOLKENFLIK: You know, I got to say that a lot of our colleagues, particularly our younger, female colleagues I've spoken to over the last 36 or so hours, say they don't have faith that the network has handled this, has acted precipitously in taking their concerns in enough of an immediate way to make sure that they have a welcome environment here at NPR. It's going to be something they're going to have to address.

GREENE: All right, NPR's David Folkenflik - thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.