News Brief: Trump Pardons Flynn, Hospitals See PPE Shortage, Diego Maradona Dies
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
How many more people might President Trump pardon before he leaves office January 20?
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, there's a long list of people accused or convicted of criminal activity around the president. And yesterday, he used his power to pardon one of them. Michael Flynn had previously admitted to his crime. The former national security adviser is the only member of the Trump administration convicted in connection with Trump's contacts with Russia before he took office.
INSKEEP: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is here to talk about this. Ryan, good morning.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What did Michael Flynn admit to doing?
LUCAS: Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador in late 2016. Flynn then cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. And prosecutors said that he provided substantial assistance. But last year, Flynn ditched his lawyers and brought on new attorneys, and everything changed. He then claimed that he was innocent and had been set up by the FBI. He tried to withdraw his guilty plea. And then things got really weird. Attorney General William Barr got personally involved, and he directed Justice Department attorneys to drop the case, saying that Flynn should never have been prosecuted. Critics accused the attorney general of doing a political favor for a friend of the president. When he did that, the presiding judge in Flynn's case refused to immediately drop the matter. That was challenged in court. The judge is still reviewing the case as of today. Now all of that is moot because Trump has pardoned Flynn.
INSKEEP: And why did the president do that?
LUCAS: Well, Trump announced this in a tweet. He did not provide a reason for pardoning Flynn, although the president has for a long time railed against Flynn's prosecution and, of course, the Russia investigation more broadly. The White House did put out a statement, though, last night. It repeated a lot of the president's views on Flynn. It called Flynn an innocent man, said that Flynn never should have been prosecuted. It claimed that Flynn was the victim of a plot to try to, in essence, kneecap Trump and his administration. And, of course, President Trump has made many of those same allegations about the Russia investigation for years. He's called it a hoax.
INSKEEP: Well, now, Ryan, if people are listening to us - people are listening to you - they're aware that Michael Flynn has made many, many statements under oath admitting to his lying to the FBI, admitting to what he did here, describing things in great detail. That's what we know. But how does this pardon look if you were tracking pro-Trump media?
LUCAS: Well, Flynn became a rallying cry of sorts for Trump and his base and allies on the Hill, who have felt that he was unjustly prosecuted. And they welcomed this pardon. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a key ally of the president, for example, called this pardon a good move. Democrats, on the other hand, unsurprisingly, declared this corrupt. The Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, said that this was an abuse of the president's pardon power. He said that Trump is using it to reward his friends and political allies and protect those who lied to cover up for him.
INSKEEP: So who else might be pardoned?
LUCAS: There is a long list of of individuals. Roger Stone, of course, a longtime friend of the president. The president commuted his sentence earlier this year. And now we have Flynn. There's also Paul Manafort, the president's one-time campaign chairman who is serving a federal prison sentence. He is someone who would be looking for a pardon. There are two others who were convicted as part of the Russia investigation, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos. There is also the president's former strategic advisor Steve Bannon. And then, of course, there's the possibility that Trump could pardon members of his own family preemptively or even decide to try to pardon himself.
INSKEEP: Which would raise legal questions. But we'll see if it happens. Ryan, thanks so much.
LUCAS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: NPR's Ryan Lucas.
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INSKEEP: Eight months into this pandemic, health care workers say they still lack basic safety equipment.
GREENE: Yeah. Here we are in late November, and doctors and nurses are making do without enough masks or gowns. And with hospitals growing busier by the day, this is expected to get worse.
INSKEEP: Health reporter Will Stone is covering this story. Good morning.
WILL STONE, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: This is difficult to believe. I even have an N95 mask right here in case I need to use it when I go out reporting. How does a doctor or a nurse not have one?
STONE: Yeah, you get the same reaction from nurses and doctors. It feels unbelievable, especially now. The number of people in the hospital for COVID has more than doubled over the past month. It's close to 90,000. And so here are health care workers with more COVID patients than ever before. And they're still low on masks, gowns, gloves. And that's because some of the fundamental problems with the international supply chain and not having enough domestic manufacturers of PPE - those never really got fixed.
INSKEEP: Well, what are you hearing from health care workers?
STONE: Many say they're stretching these supplies much longer than they're comfortable. And just look at N95 masks. Those are the ones that protect against tiny infectious droplets. Before the pandemic, they'd only be used for a single patient. But here's what Stephanie DePetro (ph) told me. She's a nurse at a hospital on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
STEPHANIE DEPETRO: They literally handed me a brown paper bag. And to keep this N95 that I've had on all day long, umpteen days in a row, weeks at a time. And I don't get a new one until it's visibly soiled or physically falls apart.
STONE: Not everywhere is like this. There are hospitals that are better stocked. But overall, that's not the case. And in fact, the country's largest nurses union, National Nurses United, recently surveyed 15,000 of its members; 80% said they were still reusing PPE.
INSKEEP: NPR's recently reported, as you know, that in addition to being short of PPE, hospitals are short of people, critically short of staff. One thousand hospitals are. What's that look like?
STONE: The problem is nurses and doctors are getting sick, often when they're out in the community. And many have been at this for months. Take a listen to what Rachel Heintz (ph) told me. She's an ER nurse in Bismarck, N.D.
RACHEL HEINTZ: It's every minute, all the time. I'm pulled in 16 different directions, and they all need me just as badly as the patient I'm standing in front of. That's how I feel sometimes - is that, like, I'm just barely hanging on.
STONE: Now, granted, North Dakota is in a really bad spot - for months at this point. But the reality is many places in the country are getting closer to those same unbelievable rates of hospitalizations and infections. So if anything, what Heintz goes through is becoming more common.
INSKEEP: How are hospitals responding?
STONE: Well, they're being as creative as they can. They're making space in waiting rooms, parking garages, outdoor field hospitals. They're bringing in retired nurses or nurses who are still in school. Dr. Robert Cavagnol's with St. Luke's Health System in Idaho. He says these workarounds can only go so far if the cases keep rising.
ROBERT CAVAGNOL: We're going to run out of staff to take care of people. They're just going to be overwhelmed. And people can only do so much. It's exhausting work taking care of those critically ill patients. And it's a significant emotional burden on the staff when they lose someone.
STONE: And we actually have a new NPR data analysis that suggests at least a correlation between hospitals getting full and death rates increasing in some states.
INSKEEP: Reporter Will Stone, thanks so much.
STONE: Thank you.
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INSKEEP: OK. Today, fans are mourning one of the world's most celebrated sports stars.
GREENE: Yeah. Diego Maradona died on Wednesday, reportedly of a heart attack. He was 60 years old. The Argentine was one of the greatest soccer players of all time. At the 1986 World Cup, he scored what is often called the goal of the century.
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UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: (Speaking Spanish).
GREENE: "Genius, genius, genius," that commentator is screaming as Maradona weaves his way through England's defense. Now, minutes before that, he scored arguably the most controversial goal in soccer history. He used his hand. And that sort of summed him up. A magician, a maverick, always in the headlines.
INSKEEP: Journalist Grant Wahl covered soccer for Sports Illustrated for many years and joins us by Skype. Welcome.
GRANT WAHL: Good to be with you.
INSKEEP: For people who didn't follow soccer day by day, how would you describe Diego Maradona?
WAHL: One of the most mythical figures in the history of sports and clearly one of the two best men's soccer players of the 20th century, along with Pele. There's a huge debate in the soccer community about which one was better. And that'll probably never be settled. Pele won three World Cups. Maradona won one, but nobody has ever had a better World Cup than Maradona had in 1986. He took his game to heights we had never seen before in a World Cup and won titles in Italy, as well, became a godlike figure in southern Italy for leading Napoli to its first two league titles in 1987 and 1990.
INSKEEP: But that 1986 World Cup also had some controversy. I was just going back and watching the video of the moment when he appeared to use his hand to score a goal, which is a violation, obviously.
WAHL: It is. And it's one of the most notorious goals in history. And it came just four minutes before one of the greatest goals in history. And that encapsulates Maradona, that he put all of that into a five-minute period. And he was a man of extremes. And we noticed that on the field. We noticed that in his personal life. He had a way of standing out - that you never forgot him, whether you loved him or hated him. And, sometimes, people loved him and hated him in the same game.
INSKEEP: You said in his personal life. I guess there were drug abuse issues. There were alleged ties to the Italian Mafia. I mean, he's something of a character.
WAHL: Yeah. I mean, this was a tragic personal life in many ways. And I do wonder what he could've achieved even more in his career had he not fallen into cocaine addiction in the late '80s. He was - in early '90s, he was suspended for more than a year by FIFA for a positive cocaine test and ended up never really reaching the heights again after that. It's just that the heights that he did reach were incredible.
INSKEEP: You're making me think of Babe Ruth. I mean, not the most fit guy, not the most disciplined guy in his personal life but just an incredible talent and a personality.
WAHL: Yeah. Maradona was a man of the people, especially in Argentina, where he was treated like Evita Peron, that type of cultural figure who transcended daily life.
INSKEEP: Grant Wahl, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
WAHL: Thank you.
INSKEEP: He's talking about Diego Maradona, the soccer star who died yesterday.
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