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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now, we know Donald Trump may face federal charges for efforts to overturn the 2020 election, but there are now related charges in Michigan.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. Yesterday, the Democratic state attorney general announced charges against 16 fake electors. These were people who submitted paperwork to the federal government falsely saying that they were Michigan's true electors and that Donald Trump won the state, even though he clearly lost Michigan in 2020.

FADEL: To talk about all this, we have Colin Jackson of the Michigan Public Radio Network. Good morning, Colin.

COLIN JACKSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So what do we know about these charges?

JACKSON: Well, there are 16 defendants total. They each face eight felony charges that mostly have to do with forgery. And as you mentioned, they stem from this moment in December of 2020 when Attorney General Dana Nessel said the 16 defendants gathered in the basement of what was then the Republican Party headquarters. They allegedly signed a memo falsely stating that they were Michigan's official Electoral College members when they were not and tried to award Michigan's Electoral College votes to former President Donald Trump, even though he lost the state handily. A group tried to drop that memo off at the state capitol, where the state's real electors were gathering, but they were turned away. But despite that, Nessel says they did still transmit that memo to the National Archives and to former Vice President Mike Pence, hoping he'd overturn the election results. Here's Nessel, a Democrat, discussing it yesterday.

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DANA NESSEL: Undoubtedly, there will be those who claim these charges are political in nature. But where there is overwhelming evidence of guilt in respect to multiple crimes, the most political act I could engage in as a prosecutor would be to take no action at all.

FADEL: What do we know about the people charged?

JACKSON: They range in age from 55 to 82. The name that jumped out immediately to me was Meshawn Maddock. She's a prominent Trump ally and, until recently, was the Michigan Republican Party co-chair. Her husband is a current Republican state representative who's part of our House Freedom Caucus. I want to note he was not charged or mentioned anywhere in the AG's announcement. But there are also a few elected officials on the list. Those include a West Michigan city mayor named Kent Vanderwood, a Metro Detroit suburb clerk named Stan Grot. In Michigan, local clerks actually help administer elections. This just happened yesterday, so so far, I haven't seen much reaction yet, though.

FADEL: To the charges - so that may be coming. Now, Michigan isn't the only place where there were fake electors. This happened in several other swing states where there are also investigations. But if you, Colin, could just put Michigan in a national context when it comes to efforts to overturn a legitimate election in the U.S. in 2020.

JACKSON: Michigan was one of the centerpieces of the so-called Stop the Steal movement after it became apparent Trump lost to President Biden by more than 150,000 votes. We saw Trump's attorneys and allies kind of flood the courts with lawsuits trying to overturn the results. You may remember the nickname given to them - the Kraken. Each of those challenges were thrown out, though. Election denialism, though, has taken hold in the Republican Party institution here. We've seen party leadership largely be at the forefront of wrongly claiming Trump won. We've also seen infighting continue as it relates to that.

FADEL: So what should we expect next, now, for the 16 people charged in the fake elector plot?

JACKSON: For those charged now, there hasn't been a date set yet for their arraignment. But Attorney General Nessel does say more people could be charged.

FADEL: So these are the first charges we've seen of this kind. We'll see if other states follow suit. That's Colin Jackson of the Michigan Public Radio Network. Colin, thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you.

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FADEL: Former President Donald Trump's legal problems keep getting bigger.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. On Tuesday, he revealed he's been notified he's a target in special counsel Jack Smith's investigation of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. There are questions about whether this could lead to a third indictment for Trump. And yesterday, Trump's lawyers were in court in Fort Pierce, Fla., on his second indictment. They asked a federal judge to delay his trial on charges of withholding and concealing classified documents until after next year's presidential election. Federal prosecutors want the trial to start in December.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from Fort Pierce. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: OK. So before we get to what's going on in Florida, let's talk about what Trump is calling a target letter. Does this mean he'll be indicted again - a third indictment - and face more felony charges?

ALLEN: Well, it does look like a strong possibility. Trump posted this on his website Truth Social yesterday. He said he received word Sunday he's a target in the investigation, that he has four days to appear before the grand jury. The grand jury has been meeting in Washington for some time as part of special counsel Jack Smith's January 6 investigation. But target letters like that, especially for someone like a former president, suggest an indictment will soon follow. On what charges, it's not clear yet. But legal observers say they could include obstructing a legal proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the government. All this suggests it could be the most serious case yet against the former president.

FADEL: OK. So you were in court yesterday for a different case where Trump has been indicted. He's charged with willfully withholding and concealing classified documents. What do we know about when that trial will start?

ALLEN: Well, that is the question right now. Lawyers for the former president told U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon they believe the case should be delayed until next year, after the presidential election. That's more than a year from now. They have numerous reasons for that they laid out. Among them, and one that seemed to carry some weight with the judge, is the sheer volume of material that defense lawyers will have to go through. They say they have more than 190,000 emails, 450 gigabytes of data and more than 1,100 days of surveillance camera footage to go through. They also say that this fits the legal definition of a complex case, which merits a more extended trial schedule. Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told the judge that as a former president and one who's now running again for the nation's highest office, he deserves special consideration. Blanche said it is intellectually dishonest to stand up in front of this court and say this case is like any other. It is not.

FADEL: How did prosecutors react to that?

ALLEN: Well, they certainly reject that argument. Prosecutor David Harbach told the judge, Mr. Trump is not the president. He's a private citizen indicted by a grand jury. Harbach also rejected an assertion by Trump's lawyers that all the publicity and press coverage surrounding it is another reason to delay the trial. He told the judge that all the publicity surrounding Trump is, quote, "chronic and almost permanent." Prosecutors want to start the trial in less than five months, on December 11. And lawyers for Trump and his aide, Walt Nauta, who's also indicted in the case, say they can't possibly be ready by then. They told the judge they can't even begin to discuss a possible trial schedule until sometime in November.

FADEL: Any hints from the judge on how she might rule on the start date of the trial?

ALLEN: It's what everybody's trying to figure out. Judge Cannon is a Trump appointee, and you may recall that she received a legal rebuke last year from a federal appeals court that struck down a ruling she made that was favorable to Trump. This was in an earlier hearing regarding these classified documents. Up to now, she's been pushing for a speedy trial. She seemed to take note yesterday of the large amount of material that Trump and now his lawyers have to go through. But she also seemed frustrated by their argument that they can't begin to discuss a schedule now. So she said she'll issue an order soon on an appropriate schedule.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Allen in Fort Pierce, Fla. Thanks, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

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FADEL: The number of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally has dropped to the lowest level in more than two years.

MARTÍNEZ: That's partly because the Biden administration limited how many people are granted access to the country who are seeking asylum. But immigrant advocates and immigration hawks alike say the administration's border policies are unlawful. And there's a court hearing today challenging the new asylum rules.

FADEL: NPR's Joel Rose has been following all this and joins me now. Good morning, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: OK, so remind us what these new rules are.

ROSE: Yeah, these rules took effect about two months ago in May, right after the end of the pandemic restrictions, you may remember, that were known as Title 42. Under the new rules, there is one main legal pathway for seeking asylum if you're already at the border. It's a mobile app called CBP One, and migrants can use it to make appointments for interviews at the ports of entry, which is basically the first step toward asking for asylum and being released into the U.S. Officials say there are roughly 40,000 appointments per month available border wide. But if you cross the border illegally without using the app, it is much harder to get asylum. The Biden administration is calling these common-sense limits on asylum, and it says they are a big reason why these illegal border crossing numbers are down so dramatically.

FADEL: So what does this all mean for people who want to seek asylum?

ROSE: It means a lot of waiting for those appointments. I was in Nogales, Mexico, a few weeks ago where I met a migrant named Liseth, who had been waiting a month, watching other migrants get appointments through the app. And she said it didn't feel good.

LISETH: (Speaking Spanish).

ROSE: "I feel bad because I'm alone," she says. "I feel vulnerable, sad and overwhelmed being here alone. I don't have anyone telling me it's going to be OK, be patient, you will get an appointment to enter the U.S."

Still, Liseth has decided it's better to wait for an appointment than to cross illegally. And I think a lot of other migrants are making, you know, a similar calculation. Roughly a hundred thousand migrants are waiting in camps and cities near the southern border, according to a U.S. government estimate.

FADEL: OK, so the administration is opening up new pathways to asylum. Why don't immigrant advocates like these new rules?

ROSE: Well, they do like the CBP One app, but they say it can't be the only way to access asylum at the border because it is creating a major bottleneck, and people should be able to apply no matter how they cross the border onto U.S. soil. National immigrant rights groups basically filed their lawsuit the moment the new rules took effect. Those advocates say that these rules are all but identical to a Trump administration policy, and they're going back now to the same federal judge in Oakland, Calif., who found Trump's policy illegal. They're asking him to block the Biden administration's rules as well. That judge is holding a hearing in the case today.

FADEL: OK. So that's one side of the debate. But as we said, immigration hard-liners who want more restrictions don't like these policies either. What's their issue?

ROSE: Yeah, the Biden administration says the border crossing numbers are down, but immigration hard-liners say that is just a shell game. They say the number of migrants crossing has not changed that dramatically, but that the administration is using the CBP One app to say that these migrants are crossing legally now. It's creating a so-called legal pathway, in their view, that Congress never intended. Republican-led states have several legal challenges of their own going that are still working their way through the courts. One of those is slated to go to trial in Texas in August. The White House insists it is on solid legal ground in all of these cases, but Homeland Security officials also acknowledge that, you know, the legal fights over asylum are likely to continue unless Congress can come up with a more durable solution. I think the chances of that are not looking very good at the moment.

FADEL: NPR's Joel Rose, thanks.

ROSE: You're welcome. 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.

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