Trump Legal Team Expands, Baseball In Crisis, Volcano In Philippines With the President's impeachment trial in the Senate set to begin next week, Trump assembles his legal team. Also, a scandal over stealing signs is roiling Major League Baseball. And Taal Volcano in the Philippines may be in a lull but it's still dangerous.
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Trump Legal Team Expands, Baseball In Crisis, Volcano In Philippines

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Trump Legal Team Expands, Baseball In Crisis, Volcano In Philippines

Trump Legal Team Expands, Baseball In Crisis, Volcano In Philippines

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The president has added some big names to his defense team.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Including Ken Starr, who hasn't always been his favorite.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think Ken Starr is a lunatic. I really think that Ken Starr is a disaster.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now he's Trump's lawyer.

SIMON: I'm Scott Simon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro. And this is UP FIRST from NPR News.

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SIMON: Also...

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JIM CRANE: Today is a very difficult day for the Houston Astros.

SIMON: A cheating scandal shakes baseball to its very cleats.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Four members of the 2017 Astros no longer have jobs after the team was caught stealing signs at their home field.

SIMON: Plus, thousands of people have fled the Taal Volcano eruption in the Philippines.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And volcanologists have still not given the all clear. We'll have the latest from our correspondent there.

SIMON: Stay with us, please. We'll give you the news you need to start your week.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump often talks and tweets about high-powered lawyers he sees on cable television arguing against impeachment.

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TRUMP: I watched a lot of other legal scholars. Frankly, I want some people with great legal talent and highly respected - Alan Dershowitz and many more, many more. I watched a very terrific former special prosecutor. You know Ken. And Ken is a talented man and a smart man.

SIMON: Now several of those controversial lawyers will argue in his defense in the Senate trial that starts next week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe joins us now for more.

Good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ayesha, the president mentioned Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz. Tell us more about these new members of his team.

RASCOE: So on Friday, the White House announced six new lawyers would be working on the defense in addition to those that were already announced. That number includes Starr and Robert Ray. Both of them were former independent counsels involved in the investigations of former President Bill Clinton, Starr very famously so, obviously. And Ray took over after Starr. Those investigations led to Clinton's impeachment. At that time, Dershowitz actually consulted with Clinton's defense. This time, though, he'll be taking part in the opening arguments and - on behalf of Trump. He talked about his role with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly yesterday.

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ALAN DERSHOWITZ: I will be making the broad argument against these two articles of impeachment satisfying the constitutional criteria for impeachment. I will not be involved in arguing the facts, nor will I be part of the defense team in the sense of strategy on the facts. My role is limited.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Dershowitz, Ayesha, is famous for some of the people he has represented, like O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson, but he has come under scrutiny lately for his connection to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

RASCOE: Yes, he represented Epstein. But beyond just being a defense attorney for Epstein, one of Epstein's accusers says she was forced to have sex with Dershowitz when she was underage. Dershowitz strenuously denies that, and now the accuser and Dershowitz are suing each other for defamation. Dershowitz says that he raised this issue of Epstein and the accusations with Trump, but it didn't affect the decision to add him to the team.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is the legal strategy for this team, do you think?

RASCOE: So we know that the White House wants to have a quick trial with no witnesses. And as we get into this election season, though, we also know that part of their goal will be to make their case not just to the senators who - at this point, it's unlikely that they're going to have enough votes in the Senate for the president to be removed. But they want to make a case to the public watching this trial at home that the president does not deserve to be impeached. And so that may be part of the reason why they got these kind of high-profile names in there and names that people might be familiar with to maybe to draw the public in. We're going to find more about that legal strategy this weekend. The White House has to provide short legal arguments called pleadings by tomorrow night. And then by Monday, the White House will need to present a more detailed legal brief to the Senate, basically laying out their view of this case and these allegations.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe. Thank you so much.

RASCOE: Thank you.

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SIMON: Cheatings and firings, suspensions - a week of scandal in the world of baseball.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This comes after an investigation by Major League Baseball of electronic sign stealing, using cameras to tell batters what pitch to expect by the Houston Astros beginning in 2017.

SIMON: That was the year they won the World Series. NPR's Tom Goldman has been following this story.

Tom, thanks for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Take us through what happened this week, one startling event after another beginning with the Major League Baseball report.

GOLDMAN: Yes, a report that confirmed the Houston Astros broke baseball rules by using technology at Houston home games to steal the signs opposing catchers were giving to pitchers. Now, technology in the form of video cameras, video replay and then, of course, banging on trash cans, Scott, to warn the batters - decidedly untechnological or nontechnological - to warn the batters what pitch was coming. This started in 2017, continued into the following year.

Now, Major League Baseball suspended the Houston manager and general manager, and then the Houston owner fired both of them. And then Boston mutually parted ways with manager Alex Cora. And then the New York Mets did the same with brand-new manager Carlos Beltran. Cora was a coach on the 2017 Astros, Beltran a player. Both were pretty deeply involved in the sign-stealing scheme.

SIMON: And then the Internet took over.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Boy, did it. Story went into orbit late in the week. Rumors started flying that last year's Astros, who were not implicated in the Major League Baseball report, they - the rumors were that players wore electronic devices that signaled to them what pitches were coming. And if you remember Houston's Jose Altuve hitting that dramatic series-winning home run against the Yankees last year in the playoffs, as he headed for home plate, he grabbed his jersey, told his teammates not to rip it off - that's a weird celebration they do for game-winning hits. And the suspicion now is that he did that because had his shirt been ripped off, it would've exposed one of these electronic wearables. Altuve denies wearing anything illegal anytime in his career. Major League Baseball says there's no evidence of it, but it's still sent this story into the stratosphere. People are wondering who's cheating, who's innocent. Doesn't seem like we're done with this yet.

SIMON: And, Tom, why is this potentially the worst scandal in baseball, maybe since the 1919 Black Sox but certainly since the steroid era?

GOLDMAN: Well, you know, it's interesting you compared to the steroid era. Ted Williams famously said hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports, largely because a batter doesn't know what kind of pitch is coming - how fast what angle, what spin. And batter has milliseconds to figure it out or guess. Now if the batter knows what's coming, that changes the whole dynamic. Now the batter has the advantage rather than the pitcher. It's a huge advantage. With steroids, the batter may have more muscle and more bat speed, but he can still be fooled because he doesn't know what he's going to be swinging at. And, in fact, several pitchers have said this week on Twitter they'd rather face a player on steroids than a player who knew what pitch was coming.

SIMON: It's the offseason, but I must say based on the social media I have seen, fans seem heartsick and angry.

GOLDMAN: They do. And, Scott, the big worry by Major League Baseball is that large numbers of fans won't trust the product on the field if they perceive widespread cheating. Now, it's not baseball season right now - so hard to survey large numbers. But spring training starts in about a month. We'll get a first sense then of how deep the suspicion runs.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

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GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the Philippines, nearly 100,000 people have evacuated to shelters, fleeing from Taal Volcano on the main island of Luzon.

SIMON: Authorities say the volcano has been quieter since it began generating massive clouds of gas and ash on Sunday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Despite the lull, they warn that the volcano is still capable of exploding with devastating effect. NPR's Julie McCarthy has been to the evacuation zone around the volcano, and she joins us now from our bureau in Manila.

Good morning.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is the latest on the state of the volcano? What does quieter actually mean?

MCCARHY: Right (laughter). The Philippine Volcanology Institute said today that in the past 24 hours - signs that things are calmer. There was a steady steam emission and weak explosions with ash plumes that have been lower than normal. So calmer, yes. But underneath is where the story is. That's the worry. Fissures that were - appeared since Sunday in the vicinity of the volcano are widening. Nearly 700 small earthquakes have been reported. And scientists say those events could be the prelude to a major eruption because they indicate that the magma is moving beneath, pushing up from the bowels of the volcano.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That must be terrifying to the people there. What about the evacuees? There are hundreds of thousands of them, right? What's happening to them?

MCCARHY: That's right. There are now 500,000 people displaced by Taal. Eighty percent are now with relatives, and the other 20% are now in evacuation centers or gymnasiums, former drug rehabilitation centers, chapels. Donation drives from across the country, private drives are mobilizing supplies. But there are shortages of basic things - electricity and water basic, hygiene. People are sleeping on flattened cartons. There are, you know, very few mattresses around in these higher elevations. And it's cold. There aren't enough blankets. The city of Tagaytay is normally a magnet for tourists, Lulu, because it overlooks the volcano. But it's now become a magnet for evacuees because it is this high elevation, which is believed to protect it from any lethal flows from the volcano. And the city has actually said to visitors, please stay away. They're still coming to line up for selfies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Julie, how are people coping? What are they telling you?

MCCARHY: Well, I think - one woman, Elsie Malabanan (ph), summed it up. For her, it's an emotional roller coaster, this experience. Here she is...

ELSIE MALABANAN: (Through interpreter) I'm sad because I don't know how to be able to restart from scratch. It really pains me that we've lost our livelihood. And I don't know where or how we're going to be able to start that life again.

MCCARHY: Lulu, she was speaking through an interpreter there. And, you know, we've got the suddenness of all of this, you know? In one day, you go from alert one to alert four. And before you know it, you're knee-deep in ash, and you're scrambling for your lives. And then you've got people, others who are making this treacherous journey back to their homes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, if they're being ordered to evacuate all these towns, how are they getting back in and why are they going back in?

MCCARHY: Well, people are being allowed to come back in to risk their lives - they're driving as close as they can and walking the rest - to feed the animals that survived, you know, to rescue a pet, to grab something from their house. And the mayor of one of these towns said, look. We have to let him in for a short time anyway, or these animals are going to die. The crops are all gone. All the fish have died. So, you know, these people live on tourism and farming and fishing. It's very dire. And that's what it means to live on the Pacific Ring of Fire - this arc of volcanoes and earthquakes. Taal has erupted 30 times in the last 500 years. And now they watch and wait to see if this will be the next one.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Julie McCarthy.

Thank you very much.

MCCARHY: Thank you.

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SIMON: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, January 18, 2020. I'm Scott Simon.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro. UP FIRST is back Monday with news to start your day. And follow us on social media. We're @UpFirst on Twitter.

SIMON: And, of course, you know, the news doesn't stop just when this podcast ends. We have an idea.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Tune into Weekend Edition Saturday and Sunday mornings. Find your NPR station at stations.npr.org.

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