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News Brief: Russia Probe, Immigration Overhaul, Rural Hospital Closes


A federal judge has ordered that the government needs to release more information about the Russia investigation, including parts of the Mueller report that were previously redacted.


Yeah. So this order came after some court documents were unsealed. They revealed that former national security adviser Michael Flynn told investigators that someone connected to the administration or Congress tried to influence his cooperation with the special counsel inquiry. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. And we have reported in the past about possible efforts by President Trump's personal counsel to dissuade Flynn from participating in Robert Mueller's probe.

MARTIN: OK. We've got national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson with us this morning to help us understand what's going on.

Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. So explain. What exactly are we learning from this filing here?

JOHNSON: What we're learning is the judge has ordered the government to produce a few categories of new information. One is a voicemail that one of Donald Trump's lawyers apparently left for one of Michael Flynn's lawyers, basically, trying to elicit what Flynn was telling investigators in the course of this investigation about the White House. Another is that the judge has ordered the government to post on the public docket by the end of this month a transcript of a call or calls between Michael Flynn and the then-Russian ambassador in late 2016. This formed the basis of his guilty plea for lying to the FBI. This is what he lied to the FBI about. And finally, the judge wants to see parts of this Robert Mueller special counsel report that relate to Michael Flynn, including parts of the report that have been redacted to date.

MARTIN: And what - is there special significance to the fact that these parts of the Mueller report that he wants released - that they were redacted before?

JOHNSON: You know, Michael Flynn's case has played out. He's pleaded guilty. He's waiting for sentencing. We now know more about the nature of his cooperation - his very extensive cooperation with this investigation, including some new details overnight that Flynn, apparently, was present for conversations with senior campaign officials who were talking about trying to reach out to WikiLeaks in 2016. What we may find more about now is parts of that Mueller report that were previously redacted that relate to Michael Flynn's cooperation. I'm not sure to what extent parts of the intelligence community are going to want to put the kibosh on releasing some of this information, though.

MARTIN: So, I mean, we're learning more about this because these court documents have been unsealed now that the Mueller report is out. Are we going to see more revelations like this come down?

JOHNSON: I think we are, Rachel, in part because of Flynn is supposed to testify or is likely to testify in a trial of one of his former business partners scheduled for July. And remember. There's another big, outstanding part of that Mueller investigation ongoing. Roger Stone, the president's longtime political adviser, is set to go to trial in November over allegations that he was in contact with WikiLeaks. A lot more information could come out as part of that trial process.

MARTIN: And we still don't know whether Robert Mueller himself is going to testify.

JOHNSON: To be determined at this time.

MARTIN: NPR senior justice correspondent Carrie Johnson for us.

Thanks, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.


MARTIN: OK. President Trump made this announcement. He's unveiling a new immigration plan. But it does not satisfy Democrats or even Republicans.

GREENE: Yeah. The president outlined this proposal yesterday at the White House. If it ever became law, it would fundamentally alter the way the United States determines who can and cannot live in America. The priority would be given based on a so-called merit system that would allocate points to potential immigrants.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Our plan includes a sweeping modernization of our dysfunctional legal immigration process. It is totally dysfunctional.

GREENE: Now one major issue left out of this proposal - any solution for DACA recipients; immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration and is in our studios this morning.

Hey, Joel.


MARTIN: So let's get into the meat of the plan - this so-called merit-based immigration system. How are they going to determine the points? I mean, what are the criteria they're going to use?

ROSE: Yeah, this would be a really big change in the way the U.S. does legal immigration. It would keep the number of new green cards steady at about a million a year, but it would fundamentally change who gets them. It would shift away from family reunification, which has been the basis of our immigration system, really, for decades.

MARTIN: When one person is allowed in, then they're allowed to bring other members of their family in.

ROSE: What critics call chain migration...

MARTIN: Right.

ROSE: ...And supporters call family reunification, right?


ROSE: It would also shift green cards away from refugees. And it would move towards this merit-based system that we're talking about; one that favors immigrants who are younger, who have more education, more income, can speak English. And the president even said he wants them to pass a civics exam before they're allowed in.

MARTIN: But this is interesting because, as you point out, it doesn't reduce the number of these immigrants who can come in, which is something Republicans aren't so happy about.

ROSE: That's exactly right. Immigration hardliners do not like this because it would not reduce legal immigration, right? It would just change the profile of the people who can come in but keep the overall number of immigrants the same. And Democrats do not like it much either because it does not address their big concerns on immigration, including DACA, which you've mentioned. And Democrats, of course, control the House, so you could not pass this without them. But I will note that it is sort of an interesting shift in tone for the president. Usually, when he talks about immigrants, it's in terms of a, quote, "invasion" at the southern border or a threat to national security. There was a little bit of that in his speech yesterday but not as much as we are used to. And, you know, whether that is a lasting shift in how he's going to talk about immigration going into the election next year or whether it is just a momentary blip...

MARTIN: Right.

ROSE: ...Anybody's guess.

MARTIN: But the president's big priority has always been illegal immigration at the southern border. Is there anything in his plan that addresses that?

ROSE: Yeah. I mean, he says he wants to beef up border security, wants to be tougher on asylum-seekers who are arriving at the southern border and wants to deter them from coming to the border to seek protections here. But those migrants are still showing up - you know, thousands every day; more than 100,000 last month and 100,000 the month before that. Immigration authorities say they're just running out of room for all these folks. And they've started transporting migrants, in fact, to other parts of the country for processing, including now at South Florida. NPR has learned that Customs and Border Protection will be sending 500 migrants every month to both Broward and Palm Beach Counties. And officials in those counties say this threatens to overwhelm what's already an overstretched social safety net. Here's Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.


RIC BRADSHAW: It's not a good plan. We think it's a danger to this community. And it's going to put a real strain on what the resources are.

ROSE: Yeah. So Republicans in Florida are asking, you know, the state's - officials in Florida asking the state's Republican governor and senators to push the White House to reconsider this.

MARTIN: All right, Joel Rose on the president's immigration proposal.

Joel, we appreciate it. Thank you.

ROSE: You're welcome.


MARTIN: Rural hospitals are shutting down in this country. More than a hundred of them have closed since 2010. The pace of these closures is increasing as financial pressure squeezes hospitals and small towns across the country.

GREENE: And you can imagine the effect on communities here. When these hospitals close down, these communities lose access to health care and high-paying jobs. And there's also, often, this sense of betrayal and abandonment as the hospital's hometowns really lose part of their identity. NPR and Kaiser Health News are spending this year following the historic town of Fort Scott, Kan. A 132-year-old Catholic hospital founded by nuns in the state's pioneer days closed at the end of 2018, and the city is trying to cope with the loss and also trying to figure out what comes next.

MARTIN: Sarah Jane Tribble is a reporter with Kaiser Health News. She is taking the lead on this story and is in our studio this morning.

Thanks for coming in.

SARAH JANE TRIBBLE: Good to be here.

MARTIN: So with so many hospitals closing in rural communities across the country, I mean, did Fort Scott see the closure of its hospital coming down the pike?

TRIBBLE: No, actually. Even though another nearby hospital had closed in 2015, the community was convinced Mercy would stay in Fort Scott because of its history. Plus, there's a lot of need there. One out of every four children in the area lives in poverty. There are high rates of diabetes, obesity and premature death.

MARTIN: So what's been the impact? I mean, you've been back to visit Fort Scott regularly. How are people coping?

TRIBBLE: Town leaders are hopeful that there's going to be better health care but not everyone is. In March, I talked to Pat Wheeler. She's 65, and her husband has been sick since January, right after the hospital closed. She's been driving him an hour away to Joplin, Mo., for care. I talked to her when she was smoking a cigarette outside on Main Street.

PAT WHEELER: I don't understand how they can just so blatantly close the hospital. I mean, where is the humanity? You know, what are people like us supposed to do? - all of us senior citizens. And the government - they don't care. They don't care at all.

MARTIN: So, I mean, I know that in a lot of communities, when they lose a hospital, they still retain some health care. Is that happening in Fort Scott?

TRIBBLE: Yes, but Fort Scott was in a very unique position. While the hospital itself was owned by St. Louis area-based system Mercy, the CEO, Reta Baker, was a local. She grew up on a farm south of town. She spent more than half her life at the hospital - 37 years. Here is a bit of her talking about that.

RETA BAKER: I feel a deep love and a deep passion for the community. And, well, I will go down working hard for the community. And they say a good captain goes down with their ship. And I guess in one hand, I feel like I'm going down with the ship. But I have worked really hard to put pieces in place to hold the community together for health care.

TRIBBLE: So she's made sure to have the four community health care centers run by the hospital taken over by a federally qualified health care clinic. These are organizations that are given special funding from the government to take care of poorer populations. The county and city took over the EMS services, so they have ambulances. And in a last-minute save, she convinced a hospital 30 miles away to take over the emergency department for two years.

MARTIN: So you're going to continue to dig into this. What are your expectations? I mean, what questions are you trying to answer as you go?

TRIBBLE: So about 20% of Americans live in rural America. And it's just too simple and depressing to think, OK, these places are going to be sicker and losing population. I think the big question that needs to be asked here is whether these communities really need a full-service hospital at all or if there's some other kind of health care services available and possible for them to kind of survive and, possibly, thrive.

MARTIN: Kaiser Health News reporter Sarah Jane Tribble for us.

Thank you so much for sharing your reporting. We appreciate it.

TRIBBLE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF IN LOVE WITH A GHOST'S "THOUGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.