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News brief: Jan. 6 hearing, Mar-a-Lago search details, Venezuelan migrants

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Today may be the final hearing from the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Yeah. The committee plans to share new evidence and new testimony that sums up its case for the nation, a case that blames - that places blame for the attack squarely on former President Trump.

FADEL: NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us now with a preview of today's hearing. Good morning, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: OK, so the committee is promising new evidence. Any hint of what that could be?

WALSH: Well, aides to the panel stressed that there would be new information. We know we're not going to hear from live witnesses today. But the panel is going to show some taped testimony from witnesses we - who haven't been featured in any of the eight public hearings this year. They haven't named names, but we know the panel has been meeting with witnesses in closed-door depositions and getting a lot more documents over the last few weeks. Last month, they met with Ginni Thomas. She's a Republican activist and who's also the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She was communicating with John Eastman, one of former President Trump's outside legal advisers who was pushing this plan to overturn the 2020 election results. We could hear today some detail about what she told the committee in her hours-long testimony.

Another area where we expect to see some new information today is related to what members of the Secret Service saw and heard on January 6. The panel has got hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence over the summer after sending the agency a subpoena in July. Remember, there was very dramatic testimony this summer about an angry Trump lunging for a member of his detail after agents refused his demand to be driven to the Capitol the morning of January 6 as his supporters were prepping to march there from a rally near the White House.

FADEL: Now, this obviously centers around the former president. But the panel never actually interviewed the former president. Should we expect to hear more about Trump and his role?

WALSH: Well, the committee is saying there's going to be a focus today on the former president's state of mind. But as you noted, they haven't talked to him directly. We're likely to, you know, hear more from testimony from senior White House aides who have cooperated with the committee. Here's what committee member Zoe Lofgren of California told CNN earlier this week about they would - what they would flesh out.

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ZOE LOFGREN: What the president's intentions were, what he knew, what he did.

WALSH: Another person that the panel hasn't talked to is former Vice President Mike Pence. He did signal at one point he might be willing to appear. But members of the committee now admit those close to Pence push back on that. So they don't have any new firsthand information from him.

FADEL: Now, the last few hearings have focused on kind of specific themes - right? - the pressure on Vice President Pence...

WALSH: Right.

FADEL: ...The efforts to install supporters at the Justice Department. Is there a theme today?

WALSH: Today is really expected to be more of a step back, according to aides. We're going to hear from the chair, Bennie Thompson, the ranking member, Liz Cheney. But also, the seven other committee members are all going to present evidence of the whole timeline of the events leading up to the attack on that day and after. We're going to see a synthesis of some of the evidence that's already presented in prior hearings. They're not calling this their closing argument, but this panel expires at the end of the year. So they realize there isn't really a lot more time to show what they've learned in their investigation. This is, really, basically, their last chance to make their case about the former president's central role in inciting the riot at the Capitol. One other thing they want to do is emphasize the ongoing threats to democracy.

FADEL: Now, very quickly - now what, after all this investigation, all these hearings?

WALSH: Right. Well, the committee is writing up a report that's going to be out by the end of the year. But really, the action has already shifted from Capitol Hill to the Justice Department in the last few months. We've learned more about what they're learning in their investigation. And we're awaiting information about any new charges they could possibly bring against the former president or those close to him.

FADEL: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thanks, Deirdre.

WALSH: Thanks, Leila.

FADEL: And now we turn to another investigation involving Trump. There are new revelations about what led to the Justice Department's Mar-a-Lago probe according to reporting from The Washington Post.

MARTINEZ: A witness told authorities that the former president told them to move classified material from the resort to his private residence after he got a subpoena for the documents And security camera footage reportedly corroborated that account. This all came before the FBI search of Trump's residence and private club, where investigators were looking for evidence of possible crimes.

FADEL: And that's all according to people familiar with the case that spoke to, among the reporters that broke the story, Devlin Barrett. And he's one of those reporters. Hi, Devlin.

DEVLIN BARRETT: Hi, Leila. How are you?

FADEL: Great. So just how damning is this evidence in the Justice - in this Justice Department investigation?

BARRETT: Well, it's been described to us as very important evidence, and important in two ways. One, obviously, it is important if you have a person describing instructions from the former president himself. And it's obviously important in the sense of there being security camera footage that seems to buttress that account. Damning or damaging, I think you have to look at the totality of everything they have. And there are still some things we don't know.

FADEL: Right.

BARRETT: But it's clearly very important.

FADEL: Do we know anything about what was in the boxes that were being moved?

BARRETT: So the boxes have always been described to us by people familiar with the case as kind of a mishmash of material, not a particularly organized set of documents or items. And some of these things aren't even documents.

FADEL: I guess I'm asking specifically about the ones...

BARRETT: Right.

FADEL: ...Yeah, that are being directed to move from here to here.

BARRETT: Right. So I don't think we have a good sense of that. But what we know from the other investigative steps they've taken is that many of these boxes - most of these boxes, in fact, had classified material scattered throughout them.

FADEL: How reliable is this witness, according to those who you spoke to? I mean, in the story, you describe a witness that changed their story dramatically over time after being reinterviewed.

BARRETT: Right. The first - in the first interview, we're told - this person denied moving any boxes or knowing anything about, you know, sensitive documents. In their second interview, they told a much different story and said that they did move boxes and they were told to do that. So obviously, that's a big difference. And that is - I think, a major issue that has yet to be sort of clarified is, how critical is that changing account? And what does the Justice Department ultimately make of that?

FADEL: Now, you - did you reach out - you did reach out to the Justice Department, to Trump's people. What did they say?

BARRETT: So as they have throughout, Trump's representatives have blamed the Biden Justice Department for what they say is unfair treatment and basically going after the former president for political reasons. You know, they continue to insist this is a simple dispute over document storage. And obviously, the Justice Department, through its filings and through some other steps they've taken, show that this is - they believe this is much more serious than that.

FADEL: Devlin Barrett, thank you for your time and for your reporting.

BARRETT: Thank you.

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FADEL: The Biden administration says it will begin expelling Venezuelans who cross the southern border illegally.

MARTINEZ: The number of Venezuelans making the dangerous journey to the southern border is soaring. Migrants are fleeing violence and insecurity in the face of economic collapse in their country. There is still a legal pathway, though, but it's narrow. And whoever applies need to have financial sponsors in the United States.

FADEL: NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration for the network and joins us now. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So Joel, why is the administration doing this now?

ROSE: Well, the Biden administration wants to bring down the record numbers of Venezuelan migrants who've been arriving at the southern border this year. Venezuela's economy has been falling apart under authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro and the impact of U.S. sanctions. The U.N. says more than 6 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years. Most have resettled elsewhere in Latin America. But a growing number are making the journey to the U.S., many of them crossing on foot through the infamous Darien Gap jungle in Panama. More than 150,000 have crossed the U.S. border in the last fiscal year, including 25,000 in August alone. And that's putting a strain on immigration authorities at the border. And it's prompting mounting criticism from Republican governors, who've been sending thousands of these migrants north in buses to cities run by Democratic mayors.

FADEL: So what's the Biden administration's approach?

ROSE: It's part carrot and part stick. The administration says it will immediately begin expelling Venezuelan migrants who illegally cross the U.S. border and returning them to Mexico, which is a big change because previously, the administration could not expel those migrants under the pandemic border restrictions known as Title 42, because Mexico had refused to take them in. That's the stick. The carrot is that the U.S. will create a new legal pathway for up to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants who can meet the eligibility requirements. It's modeled on a program for admitting Ukrainian refugees earlier in the year. One requirement under this new program is that Venezuelan migrants who - will have to show they have not crossed the border illegally. They have to apply from abroad before they fly here. And they will have to show that they have a financial sponsor who's already in the U.S., which is not, you know, going to be easy for many of them.

FADEL: Right.

ROSE: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he wants to make clear that there is a lawful and orderly way for Venezuelans to come to the U.S., and that it is, quote, "the only way."

FADEL: Now, Biden is under a lot of pressure to get border crossings down, with midterm elections coming up. Is this going to help him in the midterms?

ROSE: It might. But, you know, there are some major obstacles. For one thing, Venezuelan migrants are still, you know, just a small fraction of all migrant crossings. And another obstacle is that relatively few Venezuelans are going to qualify for this new legal pathway. Many of the migrants crossing this year, you know, simply don't have family or community connections already in the U.S. who could sponsor them. And that's a big difference between Venezuelans and many other migrants who've come before. And, you know, many of these migrants may still decide to just take their chances at the border.

FADEL: What does Mexico have to say about all this?

ROSE: The U.S. and Mexico announced this agreement together. But their respective press releases emphasized very different things. The Mexican government emphasized that the U.S. will be giving out 60 - more than 60,000 additional seasonal U.S. work visas for folks from Mexico and Central America. No one is publicly saying that there's a quid pro quo here. But the U.S., you know, can only expel these migrants under Title 42 if Mexico agrees to take them.

FADEL: NPR's Joel Rose. Thank you for your time.

ROSE: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF FORESTLVL'S "ENDLESS SUNDAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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