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Morning news brief


Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has sharpened her critique of Donald Trump this week.


Yeah. Haley has been making defiant speeches ahead of Saturday's primary in South Carolina. She's trailing far behind the former president but said this week she's staying in the race.


NIKKI HALEY: Dropping out would be the easy route. I've never taken the easy route. I've been the underdog in every race I've ever run. I've always been David taking on Goliath. And like David, I'm not just fighting someone bigger than me. I'm fighting for something bigger than myself.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so what's her case against Trump, and how long can she keep it up?

MARTIN: So to hear more about that, Haley spoke with our colleague Steve Inskeep yesterday, and he's with us now. Good morning.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So it's not a secret most Republican voters still seem to prefer the former president, but Nikki Haley has to make some argument about why that's not the best idea. What is it?

INSKEEP: Well, she's seizing on some news that Trump made. He made a rambling statement recently about NATO. He's been telling allies in Congress to block U.S. funding for Ukraine. Some Republicans agree with that, but it's not the most popular position, and Haley supports the funding. When I spoke with her, Haley suggested that Trump's views would lead to a wider war. Let's listen.

HALEY: I would encourage my fellow Republicans to understand that we need to prevent war. And the only way we prevent war is if Ukraine defeats Russia in this instance, because otherwise, that puts us all at war. And the whole focus should be constantly to prevent war. I think it's terrible that Trump has pulled back from Ukraine, and that's not good for America. It's only good for Russia.

INSKEEP: Haley is getting a lot more specific in her critique than in the past, Michel. In other interviews recently, she has mocked Trump for failing to speak up about Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who died in prison last week. Trump, instead, has been comparing himself to Navalny, since Trump has been indicted four times.

MARTIN: So is Haley going so far as to say she will not vote for Trump?

INSKEEP: No. She said at one point in our interview that she has a lot of concerns about Trump, but then she said she had even more about Biden. So I followed up.

It sounds like if in the end we have a choice between Trump and Biden, you're choosing Trump. Is that correct?

HALEY: I think Biden's more dangerous.

INSKEEP: She talked about socialism. She questioned the president's mental competence, although she has also questioned Trump's mental competence, by the way. In our discussion, she did not mention a very big difference between Biden and Trump, which is that Trump is the one who tried to overturn the last election, which he lost.

MARTIN: So she - but - OK, so she is critiquing Trump on foreign policy and some other issues, though. Realistically, though, how long can she keep this going?

INSKEEP: She seems only to be looking about 10 days ahead for now. She said in a fiery speech on Tuesday that she was going to stay in until the last person votes, which gave me an image of one of these very drawn-out primary campaigns all the way to the summer. You sometimes get this - a primary rival who does not give up for principle or whatever reason. So I asked if that's what Haley meant.

I read this to mean you're in for every Republican primary. Is that right?

HALEY: Well, I think right now, the furthest we've thought is we've - you know, certainly are going to go past South Carolina and go into Michigan and go into Super Tuesday states. We haven't - you know, I haven't sat down and actually thought about what comes after that.

INSKEEP: So this is a step-by-step campaign. She's going at least to March 5, when many states vote. But she is arguing that as long as possible, she wants to give Republican voters a choice.

MARTIN: And that's because...

INSKEEP: Because she thinks that this should not be a coronation of Donald Trump.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Steve Inskeep. Steve, thank you.

INSKEEP: You're welcome.

MARTIN: You can hear more from Steve's interview with presidential candidate Nikki Haley on today's MORNING EDITION.


MARTIN: President Biden's younger brother, James Biden, was on Capitol Hill yesterday for a deposition with House lawmakers.

MARTÍNEZ: His appearance was part of the Republican-led impeachment inquiry against the president. This House GOP is forging ahead with that probe, even as new information is emerging about the former FBI informant, who's charged with lying about an alleged Biden bribery scheme.

MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is following all of this and is with us now. Good morning, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: OK, so James Biden was questioned behind closed doors. First question I ask is, why him? Like, why was he called? And do we know anything about what he had to say?

LUCAS: So House Republicans have been trying for a long time now to build an impeachment case against the president. This is largely focused on the theory that he played an active role or benefited somehow from the business dealings of members of the Biden family. Lawmakers haven't turned up concrete evidence of wrongdoing on the president's part, but this explains why House Republicans wanted to hear from the president's younger brother, James Biden, yesterday.

Now, as for what he told lawmakers, we know from a copy of his opening statement that he told them that his brother, the president, has never had any involvement or financial interest in James' business dealings. He also told them that he never asked his brother to take any official action on his behalf or on behalf of anyone else, for that matter. But again, that's just from his opening statement. He spent hours answering questions behind closed doors, so we don't know all of what was said or whether any new information was turned up.

MARTIN: Let's turn now to that former FBI informant. Prosecutors say he has extensive Russian intelligence contacts. What do we know about that?

LUCAS: Right. Prosecutors said that in court papers. They said that this former informant, Alexander Smirnov, has contacts with several foreign intelligence services. But they really did hone in on his contacts with Russia's services. According to the court papers, Smirnov told his FBI handler that one of his contacts was a Russian who controls a group that conducts assassinations overseas. Another contact is described as the head of a unit of a Russian intelligence service. Now, prosecutors say Smirnov did disclose these contacts to his FBI handler, so this is not something that he was hiding from the FBI. And former FBI folks tell me that it's these sorts of contacts that would make Smirnov useful to the FBI.

MARTIN: OK, but if that's the case, then why are the prosecutors raising them?

LUCAS: Well, they brought all of this up in a detention memo arguing that Smirnov should be locked up pending trial. Ultimately, on that question, a magistrate judge ordered him released on bond. But prosecutors argued that Smirnov's ties to Russian intelligence are not, quote-unquote, "benign." They said that after he was arrested last week in Nevada, that he told authorities that individuals linked to Russian intelligence were involved in passing along a story about the president's son, Hunter Biden. Court papers don't specify what that story was, but this does raise questions of whether some of the information that Smirnov was providing the FBI might have been fed by Russian intelligence. Now, we do not have an answer to that question right now.

MARTIN: So Republicans did give a lot of credence to Smirnov's claims against Biden. They are on the record about that. We've seen many interviews where they did that. So now prosecutors say all that was a lie. So how has this affected this whole impeachment effort?

LUCAS: Well, in the eyes of Democrats, Democrats - they say that it's a death blow or should be a death blow for impeachment. But House Republicans have just kind of shrugged it off. The Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee, James Comer, has instead criticized the FBI for its handling of the investigation. Comer and other Republicans have also said that their impeachment inquiry isn't based solely on the bribery allegation. And so what they've done is just kind of forged right ahead. Talking to James Biden yesterday is very much a part of that. They're expected to talk to Hunter Biden next week, also behind closed doors. And Hunter and his business dealings have really been a key focus for Republicans in their impeachment inquiry.

MARTIN: That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you.


MARTIN: We have some new numbers today that show just how far and wide the opioid crisis has spread in the United States.

MARTÍNEZ: A RAND Corporation study estimates nearly 1 out of every 2 adults knows at least one person who died from an overdose.

MARTIN: Joining us to talk about the impact that all these deaths are having on people, the people especially left behind, is reporter Martha Bebinger from WBUR in Boston. Martha, good morning.


MARTIN: Would you just start by telling us a bit more about what the researchers learned?

BEBINGER: Yeah. So, Michel, researchers surveyed more than 2,000 adults, and they used the results of that survey to estimate what's happening across the country. It shows that 125 million adults know someone - in many cases, they know more than one person - who's died after an overdose. Now, you might imagine some of those connections are pretty casual, like the friend of a cousin or a high school buddy you didn't stay in touch with, but an estimated 40 million Americans had enough of a relationship to say that the death had an impact on them. And the study says about 12 million people continue to grieve what's described as a devastating loss.

MARTIN: So it's a survey. It's based on the modeling. But just even based on the modeling, those are just pretty devastating figures.


MARTIN: So is this true across the board or does it vary state by state?

BEBINGER: It does vary, yes. So in states where there are more overdose deaths, like Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and also all of New England, where I live, there are more people with a direct connection because there are more deaths, right? So in these areas, researchers worry that the impact of all this collective trauma might be leading to even more suffering. This is Alison Athey, the lead author on the RAND study.

ALISON ATHEY: This type of bereavement is creating vicious circles within communities where there's a death that spurs suffering that spurs more deaths that spurs more suffering, and there's an exponential increase.

BEBINGER: So Athey says these communities may need some individual strategies to stop that spiral of grief and despair that she's just described that might lead to more deaths. And these strategies might be along the lines of what's often offered to families who lose someone to suicide. So we might sort of have a model to use.

MARTIN: And so what might these strategies look like?

BEBINGER: Well, the researchers are very concerned about the families left behind after a death. They're concerned that they're being left behind in other ways because there's very little public attention or support to help them with their trauma. So they want more support. And the study authors say we also have to stop shaming and blaming people who are addicted to opioids because that extends, then, to the friends and family members who survive these deaths.

Here's an example of that. This is Leslie Gomes Preston. She heard some very ugly comments about her daughter after she died in 2016.

LESLIE GOMES PRESTON: Some people, they hear drugs and they think, well, she must've been a bad person. I've had people say that it's my fault. Some people are just cruel.

BEBINGER: So these kinds of messages compound grief. They make people want to clam up or isolate instead of heal.

MARTIN: And, Martha, before we let you go, are researchers concerned about any specific groups of survivors?

BEBINGER: Children. Children, Michel. A lot of people who die leave children behind. They're living with grandparents or in foster homes. They weren't part of this research, which only sampled adults, but other research has shown that rates of childhood suicide are even higher in communities where there are lots of overdose deaths. So we know there are more ripple effects beyond what's in the study we've just been talking about.

MARTIN: That's Martha Bebinger from WBUR in Boston. Martha, thank you so much for joining us.

BEBINGER: Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: And if you or someone you may know may be considering hurting yourself or are in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. 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.

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.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.