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News Brief: Mueller Probe, Israel Strikes Hamas Targets, Suicide Contagion

Mar 26, 2019
Originally published on March 26, 2019 7:51 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The investigation is over. Robert Mueller says no collusion. Attorney General William Barr says no obstruction. Democrats, though, want to see the proof.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. Six Democratic committee chairs in the House wrote a letter to Barr on Monday telling him that his four-page summary of the Mueller report is not sufficient. They are demanding that the entire report and investigation materials be released by next week. President Trump himself said it wouldn't bother him if the report was made public, but he is not taking the results and turning the page - not at all. Now he wants to turn the questions back on the questioners.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things - I would say treasonous things - against our country.

MARTIN: NPR's lead political editor, Domenico Montanaro, is with us this morning. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Is there going to be a fight over this, releasing these materials?

MONTANARO: There's at least going to be some level of a fight. Democrats believe they have the public on their side in at least calling for transparency. You know, they want more to be released of the Mueller report. You've heard Democratic presidential candidates, for example, calling for the full report to be released. You'll probably still hear that. Here was Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer yesterday talking about how that was something even Republicans support.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: President Trump has said even before the report came out and repeatedly afterwards several times he supported passage of the House resolution. He supports making it public - so have a good number of my Republican colleagues, a whole bunch.

MONTANARO: You know, he's talking about there the House passed unanimously - it was a non-binding resolution to release the report, but it was blocked in the Senate.

MARTIN: Right. So meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee was supposed to have this hearing with this guy named Felix Sater, who was a negotiator for the Trump Tower project in Moscow. They were supposed to have it this week. It has now been postponed. How come?

MONTANARO: Well, the committee cited the Mueller probe as a reason for delaying the Sater hearing. A spokesman told NPR that with the focus on the efforts to try to get more information on the Mueller investigation, quote, "we are postponing Mr. Sater's open interview." So clearly Democrats are struggling somewhat with a way forward. You know, some want to move on to policy initiatives and differences with the president - things like health care, wages, pay equity, the kinds of kitchen table issues that helped get them elected in 2018.

MARTIN: Yeah. So let's talk about what we heard the president say in that clip earlier. He referenced that people out there - I'm quoting now - "have done some very evil things. I would say treasonous things." Did the White House clarify who exactly he is speaking about?

MONTANARO: Well, the president and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham - you know, Graham called for a special counsel to look into this. And they're about things like the Mueller probe's roots, how the FBI handled the investigation, Democratic officials who floated the idea that there was evidence of collusion of the Trump campaign with Russia. And that certainly seems...

MARTIN: So it's not enough to just take the conclusions of the Mueller report. Now they want to go after the inception of the whole thing.

MONTANARO: Right. And that's a lot different than past presidents. Think about President Reagan during the Iran-Contra crisis. Think about Bill Clinton after impeachment. Both were happy to drop those issues and move on. Of course, this effort kind of seems to be getting a little bit ahead of things given all that we have at this point is a four-page summary of Mueller's findings from an attorney general who Trump appointed. He's somebody who has previously said Mueller was going too far in seeking answers from the president about an investigation that, frankly, the president was not exonerated from when it comes to obstruction. So, you know, it's really something Democrats are going to want more answers on and Republicans looking to turn the tables.

MARTIN: And an election imminent. NPR's Domenico Montanaro; Domenico, thanks. We appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: OK. A familiar sound rang out in the Gaza Strip last night.

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GREENE: Yeah. It's the sound of Israeli rockets targeting Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Those airstrikes continued overnight and so did rocket fire from Gaza towards Israel. This round of violence began yesterday when a rocket from Gaza hit a house in Israel and lightly wounded seven people. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, cut his trip to Washington short to return to Israel. Here's what he had to say while he was at the White House.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I have a simple message to Israel's enemies. We will do whatever we must do to defend our people and defend our states.

GREENE: And we should say all this comes at a critical time. We're just two weeks away from Israeli elections.

MARTIN: NPR's correspondent in Jerusalem, Daniel Estrin, is with us this morning to talk about all this. Hey, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: Why this escalation now?

ESTRIN: Tensions have been building on the Gaza border now for a while, actually. For the last year, Hamas has been leading mass protests on the Israeli border fence to pressure Israel to relax its blockade on Gaza to help make life better for the 2 million Palestinians who live there who face power cuts and soaring unemployment and other crises. But those protests on the border have not brought those results. And Hamas is under pressure from their own people, from Palestinians in Gaza. There were major street protests in Gaza recently that Hamas quashed. And maybe yesterday's rocket fire was trying to put the ball back in Israel's court.

MARTIN: So there were these reports that a kind of cease-fire mediated by Egypt had been reached. Where is that at?

ESTRIN: Well, Hamas said Egypt had brokered that cease-fire at 10 p.m. last night, but fire did not cease. And about 30 rockets were fired toward Israel after that. And there were air raid sirens in southern Israel overnight, Israeli airstrikes also with seven Palestinians...

MARTIN: So not so much a cease-fire.

ESTRIN: Not so much of a cease-fire, and an Israeli Cabinet minister saying, no, we will continue hitting Hamas.

MARTIN: So, I mean, as these things go, if you look back at patterns, can you sense whether or not this is something that's going to escalate further?

ESTRIN: Well, I think Hamas has an interest in keeping up the heat here to pressure Israel to reach some kind of agreement on improved conditions in Gaza but not too much heat. The rocket fire from Gaza last night was limited. And then on Israel's side, it's saying, well, yes, we're reinforcing troops. We've hit some key Hamas targets. We've canceled schools near Gaza in southern Israel - so signaling that it could be prepping for a few days of fighting, but the Israeli airstrikes were limited, too. So I think neither side wants to go to war, but neither side wants things to calm down just yet.

MARTIN: So David mentioned this, that Israel is holding elections just a couple weeks from now. And the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had been in Washington. Then, because of this violence, he cut that trip short. I guess the question I'm getting to is how is the prime minister's overall Gaza policy viewed in Israel?

ESTRIN: Not many Israelis are happy with how he's handled Gaza. Many say he's appeasing Hamas, trying to quiet the protests on the Gaza border. And Netanyahu now has an interest, as he fights for re-election, to show he's tough on Gaza.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem for us. Daniel, thank you.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: OK. Before we begin this next story and conversation, we want to give you advanced warning that we are going to spend the next few minutes talking about suicide, specifically Jeremy Richman, the father of a Sandy Hook shooting victim, who has been found dead in Newtown, Conn. He is believed to have taken his own life.

GREENE: Yeah. Richman's daughter, Avielle, was one of the 20 young children killed in the school shooting. After Avielle's death, Jeremy became an activist, and he spoke with NPR about his work and about his daughter in 2017.

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JEREMY RICHMAN: I think she's everywhere. She's in the air we breathe. She's in my mind always. And she's in my heart. She's in our children and our spirits. And she's everywhere but nowhere that I can squeeze and hold.

GREENE: Jeremy's body was discovered yesterday in his office. And this is just days after the deaths of two students who were survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. Both of those deaths are also being treated as apparent suicides. Multiple apparent suicides in two communities affected by school shootings - I mean, this may sound like more than just a coincidence.

MARTIN: Right. So we've got NPR health correspondent Rhitu Chatterjee in our studios this morning. Rhitu covers mental health. Hi. Thanks for coming in.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So there is this concept, this idea, known as a so-called suicide contagion, which is sort of a horrific notion. Can you explain what it actually means, and is that connected to what we're seeing right now?

CHATTERJEE: So suicide contagion is this phenomenon where one suicide then causes a spike in other suicides. So knowing about a suicide death in your family, in your community or hearing about the death of, say, a celebrity in the news or somebody remote to you increases the risk of somebody who is already struggling with suicidal thoughts. So, for example, in the four months after Robin Williams died, there was nearly a 10 percent spike in the suicide rate in the country. And there was a published study about this.

But these three recent suicides - it's too early to say whether this is a contagion. It could be. Experts I spoke to said it's hard to say just yet. But one expert specifically told me - this was Madelyn Gould who studies suicide contagion. She's at Columbia University. She said that the second suicide in Parkland may have been influenced by the first because teens and young people are particularly vulnerable to this contagion.

MARTIN: So you mentioned that just having proximity to an apparent suicide, hearing about it, can play a role. Here we are in the media talking about this. I mean, what responsibility does the media bear? I mean, how much can discussing things like this affect people who are already at risk?

CHATTERJEE: So it's not so much just talking about suicides but how we report an individual death. So if we talk about a death - the means of a death is difficult - that can cause - but talking about suicide as inevitable is bad but - because suicide is preventable.

MARTIN: What can communities like Parkland and Newtown and other places that have experienced mass shooting do to prevent individuals from acting on these feelings?

CHATTERJEE: Look out for people who are struggling and help them get help. There is a national helpline, which is 1-800-273-TALK. That's a good place to start.

MARTIN: NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee for us this morning. Thank you, Rhitu.

CHATTERJEE: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVOCATIV'S "CASTAWAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.