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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The annual United Nations General Assembly in New York is about to begin.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah. World leaders gather in New York City. It's like a giant cocktail party where everybody is the head of a country. Some will take the occasion to make statements on world events. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is making her statement a few days in advance. Linda Thomas-Greenfield is thousands of miles away from New York. She traveled to the border of Sudan to call attention to the roughly 1 million people who have fled a war there.

FADEL: Joining us this morning from Chad's capital, N'Djamena, is our co-host Michel Martin. Good morning, Michel.

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So you and your team are on a trip with the ambassador. What makes this issue so important to her? Why is she making this trip?

MARTIN: Well, Leila, I think she would say that this is important to the world. But as a career diplomat, she's seen this kind of mass exodus before. And she had very strong words about the level of suffering that people are experiencing. She said that there are days in life that you know will haunt you, and this was one of them.

FADEL: And yesterday you were near the Sudanese border with the ambassador in a place where Sudanese refugees come across. What did you see?

MARTIN: Well, Leila, first, I just want to help people understand the scale of this. I mean, we've been using these, you know, numbers, like nearly 400,000 people have crossed since April. OK. Hard to wrap your mind around that many people leaving their homes and everything they own in that short of time and gathering in one place with, you know, what they can carry, along with all their family members.

Second - the obvious suffering. The medical NGO Doctors Without Borders has set up a field hospital, and there are severely malnourished children there. They're too weak to nurse, too weak to cry. You know, we've seen this before, but it's still shocking.

And then third - just the stories from the people themselves. I mean, we were able to speak with a number of people who were staying at the camp, and their stories were very similar and very disturbing. They describe being caught in the middle of fighting, being attacked in their homes. I just want to just play a little bit from a conversation we had with one man surrounded by his large family. His name is Salah Almeida Omer (ph), and he told us why he felt he had to leave.

SALAH ALMEIDA OMER: They enter our home by gun and frightened the women and even - I have this (ph) daughter. This is sensitive issue. I have to talk in separate - sorry (ph).

MARTIN: So you heard him say there that this is a sensitive issue, and I don't - basically he's saying, I don't want to talk about this in front of everybody. But the ambassador spoke privately with a number of women about what they experienced. We were not privy to that. And I will say that there are credible allegations of sexual violence. And these are one of the factors that led the U.S. to impose sanctions and visa restrictions on two high-ranking figures in one of the militia groups that's involved in the fighting in Sudan.

FADEL: So last month, the U.S., during its U.N. Security Council presidency, for the first time hosted a briefing on Sudan. Now this trip. Is this the way the U.S. is working to keep this humanitarian disaster, this conflict at the forefront of the international community?

MARTIN: Yeah. Leila, the ambassador has been very explicit about this. I mean, she has said that there just has not been enough attention paid to this disaster. You can't help but notice that this trip is taking place at the very same time that the U.S. secretary of state is in Kyiv. And I think that there is a concern, stated or unstated, that other issues are pushing this from the spotlight. The argument here is that the international community - there's a reason the U.S. has multiple diplomats, but she did express concern that this issue isn't getting the attention it deserves. She says the U.S. is going to do its part, but that this issue requires the attention of the international community to help alleviate the suffering of the refugees, but also to stop the fighting that has caused them to flee their homes to begin with.

FADEL: Our co-host Michel Martin reporting from Chad. Thank you for this important work, Michel.

MARTIN: Leila, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: A federal judge in Austin ruled that Texas' controversial floating border barrier violates federal law and must be removed from the Rio Grande.

INSKEEP: The judge says the United States controls the border of the United States and a state has no business enacting its own policy. That's a setback for Texas Governor Greg Abbott. His administration set up the barrier made of giant buoys and saw blades to stop people from swimming across.

FADEL: Joining us now is NPR's Joel Rose, who covers immigration. Good morning, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So tell us more about what the federal judge ruled.

ROSE: Sure. So Senior District Judge David Ezra in Austin ruled against Texas and Governor Greg Abbott, who had approved this 1,000-foot barrier in the river between the city of Eagle Pass, Texas, and Mexico. The judge found that Texas needed permission from the federal government to put the barrier in the river. Ezra was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan. Nonetheless, he agreed with the Biden administration's argument here that the barrier interferes with public safety and navigation of the river. The judge granted a preliminary injunction in the case. He ordered Texas to move the buoy barrier to the shore by September 15 and not to place any more barriers in the river while this case plays out.

FADEL: Now, Texas Governor Abbott has repeatedly argued that this floating barrier is necessary for Texas to defend itself. What did the judge say about that?

ROSE: Yeah. I mean, there's an argument here that we've been hearing a lot from Republicans - that the border states, including Texas, are facing a, quote, "invasion," unquote, of illegal immigration and drug smuggling at the border, and that, therefore, the states are justified in taking on a bigger role in immigration and border enforcement, which traditionally has been solely a federal responsibility. Lawyers for the state of Texas made a version of that case in court, where it is still a fairly novel argument to try. Judge Ezra did not buy it. I mean, he said pointedly that this is a political question for the federal political branches to sort out, not the kind of claim that federal courts can decide.

FADEL: Joel, what did Governor Abbott say after this ruling?

ROSE: Abbott immediately said that the state will appeal. He called the ruling incorrect, said Texas is rightfully stepping up to do the job the Biden administration should have been doing all along. You know, and he vowed to continue what Abbott calls Operation Lone Star. The governor says this is about securing the border. His critics have called it a reckless political stunt. They're concerned that this floating barrier may have contributed to injuries and even drowning deaths in the river.

FADEL: And this is just one of Abbott's efforts at the border, right? How does this one element fit in with the rest?

ROSE: Yeah, this is part of a multibillion-dollar effort that includes sending thousands of Texas National Guard troops to the border, putting up miles of razor wire and also busing newly arrived migrants all over the country, to New York and other cities that are struggling to house them. Abbott has really been trying for years now to paint the Biden administration as soft on illegal immigration and to describe the border as dangerous and out of control, when in reality, the vast majority of these migrants are fleeing from violence and poverty and turning themselves in to the Border Patrol to seek asylum.

Abbott's critics would say all this effort has not really discouraged migration or drug smuggling. The vast majority of illicit drugs, like fentanyl, are smuggled through official ports of entry, virtually none carried by migrants who are wading, you know, through the river in Eagle Pass.

FADEL: And really briefly, what's next?

ROSE: Yeah, this is likely headed for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which has frequently sided with Texas in other legal challenges, and maybe from there on to the Supreme Court.

FADEL: NPR's Joel Rose, thank you so much.

ROSE: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: At least two of the defendants in the Georgia election interference case will go to trial next month.

INSKEEP: That's after a hearing televised live yesterday in Fulton County Superior Court. It offered a glimpse into how complex this case is likely to be. Prosecutors say they expect that any trial would take four months and they would expect to call some 150 witnesses.

FADEL: Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler was there for the Atlanta hearing and joins us now. Good morning, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey there.

FADEL: So tell us what this hearing was and what we learned from it.

FOWLER: So two defendants, Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell, both wanted speedy trials and to be tried by themselves. Lawyers argued their alleged crimes were different from each other, and hearing about the other's case could sway the jury. Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee disagreed and said both go to trial October 23. As for the other 17 defendants, he seemed skeptical that all of the rest of them, including former President Donald Trump, could be tried in about six weeks' time, citing a flurry of motions and other legal questions raised.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT MCAFEE: If we compress our timeline to 40-something days, our ability to even be able to really weigh those and think through these issues again, it just seems a bit unrealistic to think that we can handle all 19 in 40-something days.

FOWLER: We do expect more clarity in the next few days from McAfee about the trial scheduling for others and from a federal judge deciding if any cases go there.

FADEL: As we mentioned earlier, prosecutors said they plan for a four-month trial and 150 witnesses. Seems like a lot. What stands out to you about that?

FOWLER: Well, the DA's office still argues, Leila, that all 19 people should go to trial together at the end of October. But they also say that four-month, 150-witness timeline would apply no matter how many different ways you slice it, no matter how many different trials there are, how many different ways people are split up due to the sprawling nature of this alleged conspiracy. Here's Will Wooten with the DA's office.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILL WOOTEN: The state's position is that whether we have one trial or 19 trials, the evidence is exactly the same. The number of witnesses is the same.

FOWLER: Basically, they say this racketeering case is a multipronged effort to undo Trump's election defeat. And you've got to show jurors every single piece of the puzzle to show how specific pieces might be against the law. Also, Leila, the timeline doesn't include jury selection. It's important to note just a few floors away in the Fulton County Courthouse, there's another RICO case against Young Thug, the rapper, and others that's seen their jury selection process take about eight months, and they still don't have a single juror seated.

FADEL: A really complicated case. Let's talk about another aspect of this hearing. I mean, we're hearing from inside yesterday's hearing, which is because it was streamed live on TV and on the judge's YouTube page. How notable is that?

FOWLER: Well, for one, it allows more than just a handful of journalists and legal observers to tune in. I mean, this indictment centers around things like phone calls and has victims and poll workers that were allegedly harassed. And so seeing and hearing this testimony and the lawyers in their own words is definitely going to have a bigger impact.

Now, this Georgia state court decision differs from the other three Trump indictments where cameras aren't allowed. So think of it this way. The access, plus potential timing, could very well mean much of the country gets reacquainted to steps that Trump and others took to overturn the 2020 election about the same time they decide if they want to send him back to the White House or not.

FADEL: Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thanks, Stephen.

FOWLER: Thank you. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.