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News Brief: Historic Impeachment, Intelligence Failure, Mass Vaccinations

TONYA MOSLEY, HOST:

President Trump has been impeached for a second time. This time, the charge is inciting an insurrection.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened yesterday's session squarely blaming the president. She said the president had sown months of doubt over the election, and it all culminated in last week's attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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NANCY PELOSI: And then came that day of fire we all experienced. The president must be impeached. And I believe the president must be convicted by the Senate, a constitutional remedy that will ensure that the republic will be safe from this man who was so resolutely determined to tear down the things that we hold dear and that hold us together.

MARTIN: Ten Republicans joined Democrats in the historic vote to impeach the president, but for the most part, Republicans stood by the president. Here's Missouri Congressman Jason Smith.

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JASON SMITH: The people are hurting. Our colleagues are hurting. This is a reckless impeachment. This will only bring up the hate and fire more than ever before.

MARTIN: The article now makes its way to the Senate, which will not convene again until next week.

MOSLEY: Congressional correspondent Susan Davis is here now to walk us through. And, Susan, what happens next? What do we know about a Senate trial?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, Speaker Pelosi has already named nine impeachment managers. They'll be led by Maryland Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin, who's also a constitutional lawyer. We know for certain it won't begin before Inauguration Day. Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he won't agree to a request by incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring the Senate back early. But, really, there's just six days left in the Trump presidency. It's going to raise a lot of questions about how the new Democratic majority can operate. They need to organize the Senate. They were trying to pass a pretty ambitious legislative agenda regarding the pandemic and their ability to get the Biden Cabinet confirmed quickly. Democrats, I think, are hoping for a swift trial. And remember, the first Trump impeachment took about three weeks in the Senate. I haven't talked to anyone who thinks it will take longer than that, but it's going to be a very complicated opening days of the new Senate.

MOSLEY: So we know 10 Republicans broke with Trump to support impeachment in the House. What does that vote look like in the Senate?

DAVIS: Well, in the Senate, things are a lot different. I think the loyalty to the president doesn't run as deep. The New York Times notably reported yesterday that McConnell welcomed impeachment, that he believed the president did commit impeachable offenses. His office did not deny that report. And in a letter to his colleagues later that day, he said he would not commit to how he was going to vote until all the legal arguments had been made, which, of course, does crack the door to the idea that Mitch McConnell could be a vote to convict. You would need 17 Republicans to convict the president if all 50 Democrats voted that way. Those votes don't exist today. But Raskin told NPR yesterday that he sees, in his words, irresistible momentum to a conviction. One unknown that we don't know is what the president's defense team is going to look like and how strong of a defense they're going to mount. That could have a big impact on how senators decide this. Trump did release a statement last night in a video, but he didn't address impeachment. He just condemned the violence and urged people to be calm but didn't acknowledge his own role in last week's events. And he hasn't at all since.

MOSLEY: And, Sue, the most notable among the 10 House Republicans who broke with Trump yesterday was the No. 3 highest ranking Republican. That's Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney. Will there be political ramifications for this vote?

DAVIS: There could be. The Freedom Caucus, which is a group of hard-right conservatives in the House, is trying to force her out of leadership for that vote. She told reporters yesterday she's not going anywhere. There is a process and House Republican rules that would allow them to force a vote. It would be a secret ballot so members wouldn't have to say publicly how they're going to vote on that. It is a signal of how fractured the party is right now. And that vote could be a bit of a proxy vote for the future of the party. If Cheney were to be ousted for that vote, it would only strengthen the Trump wing. But if she survives a possible challenge, it would suggest that more Republicans are willing to move on from Trump than they're willing to admit publicly.

MOSLEY: There's so much to follow here. Congressional correspondent Susan Davis, as always, thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

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MOSLEY: Before most major events, like protests and marches or rallies, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI typically produce a formal intelligence report.

MARTIN: Right. And these reports include assessments about possible threats at these events, and then they're shared with local law enforcement to help them plan. DHS and the FBI did a threat assessment ahead of demonstrations in Portland, Ore., after the killing of George Floyd last spring. They also did one before Black Lives Matter marches in Washington back in June. But ahead of last week's attack on the U.S. Capitol - nope, it didn't happen. No formal report about the day was written or released.

MOSLEY: Dina Temple-Raston of NPR's investigations team has been looking into this. Good morning.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MOSLEY: So for weeks, there had been open talk online of violence planned for January 6's rally. Did law enforcement pick up on that at all?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the New York Police Department had raw intel, basically information they got by scraping social media of unverified threats, that sort of thing. And they sent that to Washington. And then there was more raw intelligence that came much later, just a day before the pro-Trump rally. And it was from the Norfolk Field Office of the FBI. And they confirmed to us that they had found specific threats against members of Congress, an exchange of maps of the tunnel system under the Capitol complex and talk about gathering places in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and South Carolina where extremists were meeting before convoying up to Washington. This was first reported a couple of days ago in The Washington Post.

MOSLEY: OK. Did that information get passed on? Where did it go?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it never really made it past the raw intelligence stage. So, basically, they might have picked up the thread or some human source, but it didn't go the next step where it's validated and analyzed and put into a bigger picture. So when the FBI does that, that's called an intelligence bulletin. And when the DHS does that, it's something called a threat assessment report. And sometimes, the FBI and DHS put out a report together. And local law enforcement sees those threat assessments as actionable intelligence. I mean, the bulletins are considered a finished product, a synthesis of validated and analyzed intelligence, and that helps local law enforcement make informed decisions.

MOSLEY: As we mentioned, DHS and the FBI have issued intelligence bulletins for events like Black Lives Matter protests. But this time was different. Why didn't they treat this the same way?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, our reporting found that one of the reasons that the pro-Trump rally didn't get the same scrutiny was something a little bit worrisome. It was bias. We talked to someone named R.P. Eddy. He's been in the National Security Council. He did a lot of work with local law enforcement, LAPD, NYPD, and now he has his own intelligence consultancy. And he thinks something called the invisible obvious was at work, things that sit right in front of us but we don't notice.

RP EDDY: It was very hard for these decision-makers and these analysts to realize that people who look just like them could want to commit this kind of unconstitutional violence and could literally try to and want to kill them.

TEMPLE-RASTON: In other words, this was supposed to be a pro-Trump rally until it wasn't. And then it was hard for these law-and-order people to see this mob, these people who were so pro-Trump, were going to commit violence. And by the time they figured that out, it was too late.

MOSLEY: Wow. Investigations correspondent Dina Temple-Raston, as always, thank you so much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're very welcome.

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MOSLEY: Well, it's been more than a month since the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved for use, but the process of getting shots into the arms of Americans has been slow and challenging as the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise across the country.

MARTIN: That's especially the case in Arizona, which has the worst infection rate in the world right now. They've opened these mass vaccination sites, including a 24-hour drive-through at an NFL stadium outside Phoenix. And this is all part of an effort to speed up the process as they prepare to move into the next phase of inoculations.

MOSLEY: Katherine Davis-Young from our member station KJZZ in Arizona joins us now. Good morning.

KATHERINE DAVIS-YOUNG, BYLINE: Hi there.

MOSLEY: You've been to the NFL stadium and you've seen the mass vaccination site. How does it work exactly?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Well, it looks a lot like these huge COVID testing sites that we've seen for several months now around the country. There are big tents set up and the cars pull through. People stay in their cars, and they get the vaccine right through the window. They have to wait a while before they drive away to make sure they don't have any negative reaction after getting the vaccine. And we've got several big drive-through vaccine sites running in our state now. But this NFL stadium is the biggest one, and it's the first one that's running 24/7. I was there bright and early yesterday morning, and there were hundreds of cars there and pretty constant traffic coming in off the freeway.

MOSLEY: Oh, I can imagine there's a lot of logistics to opening and operating a mass vaccination site like this one. How prepared are Arizona's public health departments? What are the biggest obstacles?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Well, experts I've spoken to have said really no health department was totally prepared for this level of logistics because we've really never attempted a vaccination program on this scale before. It's not just a matter of directing traffic, but you have to find enough qualified staff who can administer a shot. You have to have an appointment system that can help manage thousands of people to get signed up in Arizona. That's where one of the big setbacks has been so far. For example, the county opened up appointments for people over 75, along with teachers and law enforcement on Monday of this week. So suddenly, we have thousands more people trying to book appointments, and the website crashed. So there are just so many logistical things that states and counties are having to consider.

MOSLEY: This is such a critical time. The CDC is saying that Arizona now has the highest infection rate in the country, ahead of California. Give us an understanding of just how bad the situation is there right now.

DAVIS-YOUNG: It's just worse than ever. We have record cases, record deaths, record ICU bed use. And hospitals say they're close to the point where they're going to need to ration care. So the governor and the health department are really focused on these vaccine efforts and really want to accelerate that as much as possible. But Will Humble is the former director of the state's health department. He says even if we're vaccinating thousands of people a day, the virus is so out of control, we really need other mitigation measures in place before Arizona gets to a safer level of spread.

WILL HUMBLE: The governor and the health director are just banking on vaccinating our way out of this. But in the meantime, there's just going to be a lot of dead bodies because those are the people that became infected.

MOSLEY: And Arizona's governor, Doug Ducey, has rejected calls by state officials for stricter measures. That's KJZZ's Katherine Davis-Young. Thank you so much.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.