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News brief: Mark Meadows, tornadoes' aftermath, gymnastics abuse settlement

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows could face criminal charges.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The House panel investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol voted last night to hold Meadows in contempt of Congress. Meadows was cooperating with the panel's investigation, then started waging a war against it. Because he did cooperate for a time, the committee now has some of his text messages, and committee member Liz Cheney read some of them aloud. Personalities from the Fox cable channel appealed to Meadows to get Donald Trump to stop the attack and so did the former president's eldest son.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIZ CHENEY: Donald Trump Jr. texted again and again, urging action by the president. Quote, "we need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand."

MARTIN: Joining us to discuss, NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Claudia, thanks for being here.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So as we just heard, Liz Cheney reading this message, this one from Donald Trump's eldest son, who is trying to get the former president to call off the rioters, and he sends more than one to Mark Meadows, right?

GRISALES: Right. This was quite extraordinary. We knew Meadows had turned over 8,500 emails and text messages, but we didn't know many specifics. Here's another snippet from Donald Trump Jr. texting Meadows as read by Liz Cheney.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: He's got to condemn this [expletive] ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.

GRISALES: Cheney said Meadows responded, quote, "I'm pushing it hard. I agree." And we should note, Trump tweeted earlier that day for people to, quote, "stay peaceful" and then released a video saying he loved the rioters, but they needed to go home.

MARTIN: And there were all these texts to Meadows from Fox News personalities, revealing a very close relationship with the White House.

GRISALES: Right. Cheney named hosts Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade, who wanted Trump to act immediately. For example, Ingram said the attack was, quote, "hurting all of us." Both she and Hannity said Trump should make a statement asking rioters to leave the Capitol, while Kilmeade said Trump was, quote, "destroying everything" he had accomplished. And that was in addition to several text messages from unnamed Republican members of Congress asking for Trump to intervene.

MARTIN: So let's get back to the criminal referral for Meadows here. He started out, as we noted, cooperating with the January 6 investigation. And then he stopped. I mean, he served for - what? - seven years in Congress. These are his former colleagues. Presumably, he used to have respect for this process. What happened?

GRISALES: Yes, he initially turned over those messages but reversed course the day before his deposition last week and also sued the committee. He said executive privilege prevents him from cooperating further. Yet this is all happening as his book about his time in the White House was released, so that hurt his arguments.

MARTIN: Has Meadows said anything about this possible contempt charge?

GRISALES: Yes, he was on Sean Hannity's show last night, and he called the vote, quote, "disappointing but not surprising."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HANNITY")

MARK MEADOWS: This is about Donald Trump and about actually going after him once again.

GRISALES: We expect the Democratic-led House to approve this contempt referral as early as today. Then it's up to the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute. And if so, Meadows could face a year of jail and fines. We expect Meadows to vigorously fight any charges, as his attorney called this, quote, "unwise, unfair and contrary to law."

MARTIN: NPR's Claudia Grisales.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. Today, we get a glimpse of the monumental rescue efforts that are going on in Kentucky right now.

INSKEEP: At least 74 people are confirmed dead after tornadoes tore through Kentucky and, of course, other states as well, leveling entire towns in places. NPR's Brian Mann has been traveling with the rescue team as they search for the more than 100 people still unaccounted for.

MARTIN: And Brian Mann joins us now. Hey, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So you were in one of Kentucky's hardest hit areas. This is Dawson Springs - small town. It was just devastated by these storms; at least a dozen people confirmed dead. What was it like being sort of embedded with the search and recovery team?

MANN: Yeah. The crew I joined moved through a neighborhood that was just shredded, the ground so littered with debris and sharp metal we had to kind of pick our way along and volunteers sifting through this wreckage looking for any remains, any survivors or victims. The crew I was with did find the body of one man on a previous day's search, so the conditions were just horrific, a lot of tension. Every time someone lifted a piece of debris, Rachel, there was real fear of what might be underneath.

MARTIN: It doesn't matter how many times these volunteers have had to do this, it's so hard every time, I imagine.

MANN: Yeah, it's incredibly hard. They told me they thought it was important to be there. But these crews, you know, it is personal for them. They know some of the people who are missing. A little bit later in the day yesterday, I spoke with Ryan Linton with the Dawson Springs Volunteer Fire Department.

RYAN LINTON: We have family here as well, so everybody is trying to make do with what's going on. And it's - unfortunately, it's like a movie that just won't stop playing.

MANN: So a lot of these rescue workers are just weary. They've been at it since early Saturday morning. This is hard, and it's getting harder day by day.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, Brian, what's happening with the thousands of people who survived the storm but their homes are just gone?

MANN: Yeah, there is a massive effort to shelter those families. FEMA is here, of course. President Biden will visit tomorrow. He's declared a major disaster, which is speeding up aid. But there are so many people who lost houses or trailers, many of them living now in campgrounds or temporary shelters. A lot of intact homes are still without electricity or natural gas; also a lot of environmental damage here. I drove through one area yesterday where miles of forest are just uprooted, so layers to this crisis. People are going to be grappling with this for months and likely a lot longer.

MARTIN: Brian, what about that candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., that you'd been looking into? We know now of the 110 people who were working at the factory at the time of the storm, eight employees are confirmed dead so far, six are still missing. What else do you know?

MANN: Well, NBC reported yesterday that workers at the candle factory were ordered not to leave despite storm warnings. And that report cites two sources who say as many as 15 workers wanted to go home after tornado sirens sounded. NPR has not been able to independently confirm this, but we did speak with Bob Ferguson, a spokesman for the company, Mayfield Consumer Products, who told NPR the report isn't accurate.

BOB FERGUSON: We've talked to our team leaders and our managers who were sheltered with our employees. No one was ever, ever told that they could not leave or that it would cost them their jobs.

MANN: There is a lot of criticism, though. Ivy Williams said the company should have shut down. His wife, Janine Johnson Williams, was one of the workers who died in the factory. Williams spoke yesterday with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, which is part of our member station WFPL in Louisville.

IVY WILLIAMS: That they had called and tell them no one come in 'til it's over, 'til we see what's going on - over - 'til it pass over (ph).

MANN: He's a little hard to hear there, but he says he just wishes that the factory had sent people home. So, you know, there are a lot of unanswered questions about this candle factory, Rachel. Why were so many workers still in that building Friday night despite repeated warnings in the hours before this dangerous storm hit?

MARTIN: NPR's Brian Mann in Kentucky. Brian, thanks for your reporting.

MANN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: OK. Hundreds of current and former gymnasts who survived sexual abuse by a former USA Gymnastics team doctor will receive $380 million. This is part of a settlement deal with the organization.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The settlement includes the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, too. In addition to the money, the settlement also includes reforms that are meant to prevent future abuse. The team doctor, Larry Nassar, was convicted of abusing multiple athletes under his care, with more than 100 victims making emotional statements in court.

MARTIN: NPR's Tom Goldman joins us now with details on this story. Hey, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let's start with the money. Can you put that amount in perspective here?

GOLDMAN: Survivors attorney John Manly says the $380 million is the largest sexual abuse settlement against the sports organization in American history. There was an earlier settlement involving Michigan State University that paid out $500 million. Nassar worked at Michigan State for many years. The $880 million total paid to more than 500 victims of Nassar, that's a huge amount, and it's important for many survivors who continue to suffer from their abuse and who need mental health care. Now, with this payout, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and its insurers will contribute a reported $34 million and, as a result, get immunity from future gymnastics lawsuits. The settlement also allows USA Gymnastics to get out of bankruptcy and continue overseeing the sport.

MARTIN: So money doesn't change what happened, the abuse these girls suffered, so explain the other parts of the settlement.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, essentially, safeguards were put in place to prevent it or at least make sexual abuse harder to commit. And some survivors say they're even more important than the money. At least one survivor will be on the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors and on committees dealing with health, wellness and safety. The board, especially, is a big deal. That's where important decisions get made in organizations. There are other provisions at the grassroots levels. Local clubs are required to take immediate steps to enhance athlete safety, including putting up posters and providing athletes and parents with pamphlets telling them how to report abuse, requiring club officials to know their reporting obligations and providing training about physical boundaries. USA Gymnastics will be required to monitor and audit clubs and coaches to make sure these and other safeguards happen.

MARTIN: So does this settlement, Tom, does this bring the end of the Larry Nassar legal cases?

GOLDMAN: You know, not necessarily. John Manly, who represents over 180 of the plaintiffs, including the most famous - Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney - he says they're demanding full justice. They want officials at the sports organizations who were in their jobs during the Larry Nassar scandal and still are removed. They want law enforcement agencies held accountable. It was revealed this year FBI agents knew about Nassar complaints but didn't act. And here's John Manly.

JOHN MANLY: The fact that no one at the FBI has been indicted, no one at USOPC has been indicted and no one at USA Gymnastics has been indicted for what was a criminal conspiracy to protect this man and hide his crimes is an obscenity.

GOLDMAN: Now, Manly says he and his clients will address these issues, but he wouldn't tell me how.

MARTIN: Have the sports organizations themselves responded to the settlement?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. USA Gymnastics and the USOPC came out with similar statements praising the settlement. USOPC leader Sarah Hirshland said her organization recognizes its role in failing to protect the athletes, and she said it's enacted sweeping reforms to strengthen protections against any form of abuse.

MARTIN: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, we appreciate your reporting.

GOLDMAN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.