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News brief: Trump search backlash, New Mexico murders, Kenyan presidential election

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

A lot of Republicans are rallying around Donald Trump as he cries victim after the FBI executed a search warrant at his home in Florida.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

That includes some who want to run for president in 2024 and may be hoping Trump doesn't. Someone who is keeping distance from the story is another 2024 contender, Joe Biden. Here's his press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre.

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KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: The president and the White House learned about this FBI search from public reports. We learned just like the American public did.

FADEL: NPR's congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is following the political fallout from all of this and joins us now. Good morning.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Deirdre, how are Republicans reacting to this?

WALSH: Most are using the same language that former President Trump has been using. He was actually the first person to confirm the raid. He called it dark times and said his home was under siege. The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, has been saying it's intolerable and arguing it's weaponization by the Justice Department. You know, while the search by the FBI of a former president's home was unprecedented, many characterizations by Republicans about the process are inaccurate. A judge did sign off on the search warrant. Most Democrats have really been muted, saying they don't have any details.

We should say this is an ongoing investigation, and the Justice Department and the FBI aren't talking or explaining what they were looking for. So the mostly GOP reaction we're hearing to the probe has sort of given an unbalanced message about what's happening. Many Republicans are demanding the DOJ release information, but Trump's lawyers have the warrant, and they could release it if they wanted to.

FADEL: OK, so Trump and other Republicans portraying this as politicized, even though, as you say, a federal judge did sign off on this warrant. But let's talk about 2024. Trump announced that the search was happening. Will it impact his plans to run for president in 2024?

WALSH: It could. I mean, Trump could decide to move up any official announcement of a run for president. Some of his supporters are already urging him to do that. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump's, said yesterday he spoke to the former president. Let's take a listen to what Graham said about their conversation.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: One thing I can tell you is that I believed he was going to run before. I'm stronger in my belief now. Every Republican I've talked to - my phone has been lit up. What the hell are these people doing?

WALSH: Many of Trump's potential political rivals, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, are rallying around him. Even Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who didn't vote for Trump and is a sharp critic, called on the Biden administration to release the documents authorizing the search warrant. But as we said, you know, Trump could release those himself.

FADEL: Now, Deirdre, this isn't the only investigation that Trump is dealing with right now, right? What else is he facing?

WALSH: Right. There's several others. You know, the House committee investigating January 6 is still interviewing witnesses. There's a federal grand jury who subpoenaed Trump's White House counsel, Pat Cipollone. There's also a probe in Georgia about Trump's efforts there to overturn that state's 2020 election results. And just yesterday on Capitol Hill, the House Ways and Means Committee got the news that a federal court ruled in their favor in their longtime effort to obtain Trump's tax returns. He could still appeal that, but he's dealing with legal pressure on multiple fronts on several different topics.

It's worth noting, recently a colleague of ours covered a conservative gathering, before this news broke, where she reported about voters showing some reservations about Trump running again. But we're seeing some signs that this search could be activating his supporters and reshape what they think about another campaign.

FADEL: NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you so much for your reporting.

WALSH: Thank you.

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FADEL: In New Mexico, a man is under arrest in connection with the shootings of four Muslim men.

MARTINEZ: Muhammad Syed has been charged with killing two of them and is being investigated in connection with the other two. The alleged killer and the victims were all part of the community of the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque, which held an interfaith prayer event last night.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Protect all of us. Make all of us united. Make all of us loving one another. Amen.

FADEL: Alice Fordham of member station KUNM was there and joins us now. Good morning, Alice.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So, Alice, this is a tough one - the victims and the suspected killer likely praying alongside each other at the same mosque. I know you've been speaking to people at the Islamic Center of New Mexico and in the larger community. What are they saying?

FORDHAM: They're really stunned, Leila. So for the last few days, we've been hearing from people in the Muslim community in New Mexico who've been really scared that this series of attacks - three in the last two weeks or so, one back in November - were a targeted Islamophobic campaign, hate crimes by someone who hates Muslims. So then to learn that someone was arrested who was from within their community, who actually attended this masjid, this holy place, the Islamic Center of New Mexico, it was astonishing.

The man arrested, Muhammad Syed, he was originally from Afghanistan. And the head of the Afghan Society of New Mexico, Salim Ansari, spoke at the event. He said he was so sad and shocked, that this man was a member of the society, that he'd known him personally. He said twice he couldn't believe it. And he thanked people for being there to share this grief with him.

FADEL: Have police said anything about the motive?

FORDHAM: Definitely nothing concrete at this point. Police are testing firearms they found to try to establish a connection to the two other killings. The police department said yesterday it wasn't yet appropriate to call these killings either hate crimes or serial murders. They did say that an interpersonal conflict may have been a factor. Now, there have been rumors that there may have been a sectarian dimension to the killings.

FADEL: Right.

FORDHAM: But this is very much unconfirmed. But I will say that the president of the Islamic Center, Ahmed Assed, told me yesterday there had been a rumor in the community that the suspect, who's from the Sunni branch of Islam, was upset that his daughter had married someone from the Shia branch. And Assed said that the police were aware of this rumor, but he doesn't know if it was a factor in the arrest at all. And just for context, the Islamic Center serves a smallish community of a few thousand Muslims, many kinds of Islamics there. And Mr. Assed told me that three of the men killed were from the Shia branch of Islam. One was Sunni.

And one more thing - Mr. Assed also said there had been an incident about two years ago when the suspect was excluded from the center for a period of time after he was accused of slashing the tires of a car belonging to a family of another one of the victims, Mohammad Ahmadi, at the Islamic Center.

FADEL: And what have you heard from the community about where they go from here?

FORDHAM: So among the people I spoke with yesterday, they did speak about a fear other people from Muslim communities have expressed to me before - when one among them commits a crime, the whole community or even the whole faith might be seen as violent or extreme. I spoke with Samia Assed, who was leading the event.

SAMIA ASSED: It took me back to September 11. I mean, this is a time where I just wanted to hide under a rock, and I had the same feeling when I heard the perpetrator was of the Muslim faith. And it's just so unexpected, so unexpected.

FORDHAM: And so coming out of that, a number of people expressed this really strong desire to heal, to unify, to know each other better. Samia Assed said, even if this suspect is convicted, this turns out to come from within this community, she's determined to keep the Islamic Center as a sanctuary for believers.

FADEL: KUNM's Alice Fordham in Albuquerque, N.M. Thank you for your reporting.

FORDHAM: Thanks for having me.

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FADEL: Kenyans face a tense wait for the results of Tuesday's presidential election.

MARTINEZ: The two front-runners in this tight race are the former prime minister, Raila Odinga, and current deputy president, William Ruto.

FADEL: NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta joins us now from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Hi, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Leila.

FADEL: So you were out all day at the polls yesterday. What was the mood and how was the turnout?

PERALTA: The numbers we have seen so far show a historically low turnout, perhaps the lowest turnout since Kenya became a real democracy. And that's what I heard yesterday - a lot of cynicism, a lot of apathy, that they come to vote every five years and their lives, the lives of ordinary Kenyans, stay the same. In fact, right now life is tough. There are few jobs. Inflation is through the roof. A lot of Kenyans are only eating one meal a day.

I talked to one man who had just finished voting, and I asked him if he was looking for change. And he gave me a half smile, and he told me that looking for change in Kenya is like looking for gold in the ocean. And I don't know much about mining, but I checked, and getting gold from the ocean is nearly impossible.

FADEL: Wow. This is now expected to be a tightly fought race. You described this low turnout, apathy. But tell us more about the two front-runners that people are choosing between.

PERALTA: So both of these guys have been around Kenyan politics for decades. Raila Odinga is a former prime minister. He has been the perennial opposition leader, running for president for the fifth time. And William Ruto is currently the deputy president. But over the past two years, the allegiances in Kenya have shifted dramatically. Both of these two politicians became friends with enemies and enemies with friends. It's been a soap opera. And in some ways, it has lifted the veil for Kenyans. I think a lot of them started wondering if politics, for which thousands have died in this country, is just a game to their leaders. And a lot of them opted out this time around.

FADEL: Right, which you saw at the polls. When are we expecting to get the final results?

PERALTA: We already have preliminary results. They're showing a tight race. But the Constitution gives the electoral board seven days to finish their counting. But we should get results by tomorrow or maybe the next day.

FADEL: And past elections in Kenya, they've turned violent. Are there concerns that that might happen this time around?

PERALTA: I mean, that's always a concern, and the government has deployed a lot of security across the country. But I can tell you that on the streets, I heard a lot of apathy even about defending this election. In the past, I would talk to people, and they would tell me that if things didn't go their candidate's way, they were prepared to die. I did not hear that this time around. I heard a lot of Kenyans wanting this to be over. One analyst told me that perhaps it's a sign - and it's a good one, he says - that elections in Kenya have become routine. But violence is unpredictable. Everyone is holding their breath for now. But for now, everything is quiet.

FADEL: Elections routine, but so many people really not - it doesn't sound like they're having hope in the system at all.

PERALTA: Yeah, that's right.

FADEL: NPR's Eyder Peralta in Nairobi. Thank you so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.