Morning News Brief

Aug 15, 2018
Originally published on August 15, 2018 8:17 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It was another primary day yesterday. And in Vermont, voters made history.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Christine Hallquist won the Democratic primary to run for governor in the state. That makes her the first openly transgender candidate to win a major party nomination for governor. In Minnesota's primary, Congressman Keith Ellison won the Democratic race for a different job, to become attorney general. His victory in that primary came despite last-minute allegations of domestic abuse.

GREENE: All right. So many primaries to cover and such little time, it's good we have NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro here. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. How's it going?

GREENE: Good. I hope you're doing well.

MONTANARO: Great.

GREENE: It's sort of heating up this election season heading towards the fall. So let's start with Vermont and the history made. I guess Christine Hallquist is now the Democratic nominee and - with a chance to make even more history in the general election but going up against Phil Scott, who has been a pretty popular governor. Right?

MONTANARO: Well, she very well may have a chance in this general election here because Scott, as you note, is a Republican. But his support took a nosedive statewide after signing gun control legislation in April. That was met with huge protests by gun rights activists at the state Capitol. They've accused him of being a traitor now. And for a Republican to win statewide in Vermont, they really need Republican and independent support and to peel off some Democrats. So now that gives Hallquist an opening. She's a former energy company executive.

And by the way, as you noted, she's the first openly transgender person to win a major party nomination for governor. And it was pointed out last night that in various states across the country, Democrats have now nominated candidates who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender now, representing all the letters of the acronym LGBT.

GREENE: All right, so that acronym even more meaningful for the Democratic Party in a way.

Let's turn now to Minnesota. Congressman Keith Ellison - I mean, a senior Democratic National Committee official - won his primary for attorney general in this state by a good margin - right? - and this is despite these allegations of domestic abuse from a former girlfriend.

MONTANARO: Yeah. He won a resounding victory despite these sort of - this late surprise of him fighting back allegations of domestic violence and even the DNC telling us yesterday that they're reviewing the allegations because they have to be taken seriously. And you can bet Republicans are going to try to use that against him in this attorney general race - but also puts the party in a bind. And the response really does reflect sort of a new chapter, David, in this handling of these kinds of allegations. There are some Democrats who've chafed at the idea of Senator Al Franken from Minnesota being chased out of the party and out of his job so quickly. So this does represent sort of a new chapter, not just in politics but perhaps more broadly.

GREENE: And Domenico, some resolution now to what had been a cliffhanger in Kansas, a Republican primary for governor that involved a close Trump ally who many of us have reported on, Kris Kobach.

MONTANARO: Yeah. The sitting governor, Jeff Colyer, conceded last night. Kobach's lead grew after some recanvassing last night. That now, Democrats believe, puts the race in play because of Kobach's controversial past with Trump's voter integrity commission and his view on hard-line immigration and voter ID.

GREENE: All right. So much more we could be talking about, but we'll stop there for now. NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

Domenico, thanks a lot.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: OK. This is just a stunning story in West Virginia. The House of Delegates voted to impeach all of the state's Supreme Court justices. And now the state Senate is going to decide whether they will be allowed to remain on the bench.

INSKEEP: The impeachment comes after an investigation by a U.S. attorney's office which alleged many financial misdeeds by some of the justices, including a lavish office renovation and a $32,000 - $32,000 couch.

GREENE: Who needs a $32,000 couch (laughter)?

INSKEEP: Well...

GREENE: Reporter Dave Mistich is in our studios in Washington, D.C. He's been covering this story from West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Dave, how did we get here?

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: Well, this all started with the discovery of, like you said, this lavish spending on office renovations. One of the justices, Allen Loughry - he's the one that had that $32,000 dollar couch...

GREENE: OK.

MISTICH: ...He was also in possession of a state-owned historic desk. There are of course other charges, mostly though, to wrap this all up really quickly, the misuse of state funds and other resources.

GREENE: OK. I suppose the couch was not historic, even if the desk was.

MISTICH: The couch was not.

GREENE: So the House of Delegates, controlled by Republicans, they voted to impeach the judges. Now this mess goes to the Senate. What would be next?

MISTICH: Well, after two resignations - I should point out that two justices have stepped down - there's three remaining. Those three will face a trial in the Senate. Senators will act as jurors. They need 23 of 34 votes to convict and remove a justice from office. Republicans hold only 22 seats. So this is about to get really, really, interesting.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask one question, Dave Mistich, because we said that some of the justices were accused of these financial misdeeds? But they're impeaching all of the justices. Why go to that extreme?

MISTICH: Right. Well, there's a big question over whether or not this is political. Of course, the Democrats have been saying that at least, the Democrats that sit on the court and the Democrats in the House of Delegates. I've, of course, been requesting the emails of some of the major players in all of this. I've got emails back, these public records requests. However, they've been citing an internal memoranda exemption. And until we've seen all of what they've been talking about in the majority party, the Republicans, we really have no idea to tell whether or not this is political.

GREENE: So I mean, one version of political could be political party. This also could be a political maneuver in sort of the separation of power in the state. Right? Could this be the governor and the legislature trying to, you know, take more and more control over the courts?

MISTICH: Well, I should point out that, again, all of this comes down to a lot of spending by the court. The state legislature passed a resolution that calls for a constitutional ballot for the legislature to take back control of the state Supreme Court's budget. As it sits right now, the Supreme Court has control of its entire budget, can spend money however it wants. So there is a little bit of concern as far as that separation of powers. And as you pointed out, that's the reason why the state Supreme Court had control of its own budget in the first place.

GREENE: Dave, how do people in West Virginia feel about this?

MISTICH: Well, there's a lot of shock. I can tell you, but that all depends on who you ask. Like I said, the Democrats are calling this a coup, those on the bench, the House Democrats and other, you know, members of the public. But it all depends on who you ask. You know, of course, they want the entire bench ousted. A lot of people just have seen this. It's so salacious. There's a $32,000 couch, all this spending and lying and trying to cover all this up and of course all the political things at play. So there's a lot of shock, a lot of confusion as to how this is all going to play out.

INSKEEP: Is it a nice couch? Are there photos of the couch?

MISTICH: I actually - I did not get to go on a tour to see that.

INSKEEP: OK.

MISTICH: But the media pool that was allowed access to that, they said it just looks like any other regular couch.

INSKEEP: OK.

GREENE: All right, I'm going to end the conversation on the couch now.

MISTICH: Right.

GREENE: But this is quite a story to cover. It's amazing.

Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Dave, thanks.

MISTICH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. Even in the now long history of stories about sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy, yesterday's news was shocking.

INSKEEP: A Pennsylvania grand jury released its investigation of what it says were decades of abuse involving 301 priests and more than 1,000 children. The grand jury said it believes there were many more victims across six Pennsylvania dioceses. The details were horrific, and the cover-up reported was extensive.

GREENE: Virginia Alvino Young of member station WESA in Pittsburgh has been covering this. She joins us now.

Hi, Virginia.

VIRGINIA ALVINO YOUNG, BYLINE: Hi, there.

GREENE: So how did all of this come to light now?

ALVINO YOUNG: So two of the other dioceses in Pennsylvania had previously been reported. And that uncovered really similar examples of abuse. And when the attorney general's office opened up a hotline for people to report that they had been victims themselves, they just - they got swamped. So the attorney general's office then called for the other six dioceses - in this case, Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton - to undergo a grand jury investigation. So that's been two years in the works, a team of folks sieving through, you know, half a million pages of secret church archives and hearing witness testimony that resulted in this nearly 900-page report.

GREENE: A 900-page report that, it sounds like, includes - I mean, just incredibly painful details in some cases.

ALVINO YOUNG: Sure. Anyone who's sensitive to the subject matter, I wouldn't recommend reading through it. It's very graphic in its detail and the extent of the abuse. Yes, it includes rape, rape resulting in pregnancy. But it goes so much further than that in that there really were what they identify as predator priests, priests who were really abusing victims, you know, throughout their young lives. Or you know, in one case, there was a family with five young daughters, all of whom were abused by one priest, some of whom were, you know, as young as 18 months old.

But the other sort of shocking element is the nature of the abuse. In the Pittsburgh Diocese, for example, there was really collaboration between a lot of the priests who would share intelligence about victims. They would give the boys who had been groomed for abuse gold necklaces to help identify them to other priests. They were...

GREENE: Oh, my - share intelligence about different victims?

ALVINO YOUNG: Certainly, to make it sort of easier for them to identify these boys who were then used to create and distribute child pornography, which was happening on church grounds. So that's sort of the - there was also, you know, sadist acts. And anything you can really think of can be found in this report.

GREENE: And the cover-up also sounds like a big part of this story.

ALVINO YOUNG: Yeah. I believe in the report it's called a playbook for how to cover the truth. Right? I mean, they had a very intentional way of saying, you know, here's how we're going to deal, not only with it very sympathetic to the abusers who - again, in this report, it includes explicit confessions, you know, Father Joe said I have raped a young boy. But you know, they not only remained active in their ministries because they had a process of not telling authorities, not telling the rest of the clergy or parishioners and relocating them to different dioceses.

GREENE: All right, just a shocking report coming out in Pennsylvania about abuse in the Catholic Church. That is Virginia Alvino Young of member station WESA in Pittsburgh.

Thanks a lot for the reporting.

ALVINO YOUNG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.