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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump is trying again.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

His lawyers dropped another court filing about the classified documents the FBI recovered from his Florida residence. Trump has not denied that he took large numbers of sensitive documents when he left office. He's told his followers he declassified them, but his lawyers still have not made that claim in court, where they could be sanctioned for lying. Instead, Trump is pushing for a special master. This is an independent arbiter who would decide what's there.

INSKEEP: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been following all the turns of this case. Ryan, good morning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I want to put Trump's lawyers' filing in context because they're responding to the Justice Department, which filed earlier in the week. What did the Justice Department say?

LUCAS: Well, the Justice Department says that there's no legal basis to appoint a special master here. It says, legally speaking, the documents at the heart of this case are presidential records and classified documents, and they don't belong to Trump. They belong to the United States. The department says precedent rules out any notion of potential claims of executive privilege. And on the question of materials that could be covered by attorney-client privilege, the government says its own filter team - so basically, agents who aren't a part of the investigation - has sifted through the documents, set aside those that are potentially covered by attorney-client privilege and handed everything else over to the investigative team.

So that review is done, and the investigators are moving forward. The government also says appointing a special master would impede the FBI's ongoing criminal investigation, as well as the U.S. intelligence community's national security review of the risk from the improper storage of these documents.

INSKEEP: So they're effectively saying that Trump has no legal right to slow down the process with this outside person. But Trump's lawyers got to reply. What did they say?

LUCAS: Well, Trump's attorneys are still very much pushing for a special master. Trump's attorneys want the special master to go through everything that the FBI took to identify, they point out specifically, materials subject to attorney-client privilege or executive privilege. They argue that the FBI's filter team isn't a sufficient buffer here to ensure that privileged materials are properly protected. The attorneys for Trump also included some of the fired-up, accusatory language that we've heard from the president himself. In this filing, they call the investigation an unjustified pursuit of criminalizing a former president's possession of personal and presidential records. That's how they sum this all up.

INSKEEP: Interesting that they said personal as well as presidential records. But did Trump or his lawyers answer some of the most damaging parts of the Department of Justice filing here - for example, the description of hiding documents over the past many months?

LUCAS: There are a lot of damaging details in the new Justice Department filing. Some of the ones you're talking about, they relate to possible obstruction. The department said the FBI had evidence that government documents were likely concealed and removed from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago, where they were being kept. The department said that Trump's representatives signed a certification in June, swearing that Trump's attorneys had done a thorough search of Mar-a-Lago and turned over all classified materials that were there. But of course, the FBI, we know, found more documents in their search in August - twice as many, in fact - as Trump's attorneys handed over in June, which raises the specter of potential obstruction of justice here.

Trump's attorneys, as to your question, no, they didn't really tackle this directly in their filing, but Trump himself did react on his social media platform. He lashed out at the government over a photo in the Justice Department's filing that shows classified documents on the floor at Mar-a-Lago. He said the FBI took the documents out of cartons and spread them around on the carpet to make it look like a big find. But by saying that, Trump's seemingly acknowledging that he had classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and that he knew it.

INSKEEP: Doesn't deny that they were in the cartoon. So what happens today in court?

LUCAS: Well, the federal judge is going to hear arguments from both sides and likely make a decision on a special master.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: For the first time this summer, Democrats won a special election for a House seat.

MARTIN: This election came in a red state, Alaska Democrat Mary Peltola won under the state's complicated new voting system. The Republicans she defeated included Trump's choice for the job, Sarah Palin.

INSKEEP: NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea is covering this story. Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: OK, several layers to this story, and one of them is how Alaska voted - all the candidates together in an election to replace the late Don Young and voting in a way that people normally don't in America. How did it work out?

GONYEA: So on the first count of the votes, Peltola had 40%. Sarah Palin was in second place with 30%. Nick Begich was a very close third behind, but under the rules of ranked choice voting, he was eliminated, so they looked at who his supporters' second choice was. Without getting too deep into the weeds, Palin needed roughly 6 in 10 of Begich's voters to move into first place. She didn't make it. So Peltola wins a very narrow victory. And I should add, it's the first time Democrats have won Alaska's U.S. House seat in 50 years.

INSKEEP: Well, if it had been Sarah Palin, we would know who the person was.

GONYEA: Yes.

INSKEEP: Big celebrity, political celebrity, long political record. Mary Peltola is less familiar to people. So who is she?

GONYEA: She is the first Alaska Native to win this seat. She spoke about that last night after her win was announced.

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MARY PELTOLA: I will have that distinction. But I think what's most important is that I'm an Alaskan and being sent to represent all Alaskans. And yes, being Alaska Native is part of my ethnicity, but I'm much more than my ethnicity.

GONYEA: She is 48 years old. She's a former member of the state House of Representatives. Peltola has a reputation as a person who wants to return niceness and decency to politics. So if the politics of Donald Trump and Sarah Palin is in-your-face bombast, she is the opposite. She is an environmentalist worried about climate change. She's an avid outdoors person, and she can often be found on the river of her hometown in a fishing boat.

INSKEEP: People will try to read larger messages into this election, even though Alaska is a very distinctive state, and this was a distinctive kind of election. But what can we read into it?

GONYEA: It's just one seat in the U.S. House and just to fill the remainder of a term. But this is a psychological boost for the Democratic Party. She beats a hardcore Trump supporter in a Trump state. Palin is as big a name as you get in Alaska politics - former governor, former mayor, on the national ticket in '08. But don't forget - in 2009, she quit in the middle of her first term as governor to become a reality TV star. So she, throughout this campaign, had a likability problem that you can see in that she didn't get nearly enough second-choice votes from Begich voters to win.

INSKEEP: Well, Don, Democrats seem now to have won a series of special elections in multiple states this summer. What, if anything, does that imply about the fall election?

GONYEA: Well, it's certainly unexpected good news for Democrats. Their voters have turned out in these places, and there's some hope that that is a sign of things to come. Can we use it to predict anything in November? Well, you know, we'll see. But the party hopes it is. And don't forget - it's a special election. So this win is only good till the end of the year. These exact same candidates will all also be on the ballot again in November for a rematch.

INSKEEP: NPR's Don Gonyea. Thanks very much, as always.

GONYEA: A pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: After long delays, the United Nations has offered an assessment of China's treatment of Uyghurs.

MARTIN: For weeks, it wasn't clear if the Human Rights Report would be published at all, but it came out yesterday, just minutes before the U.N.'s top human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, stepped down from her post.

INSKEEP: NPR's China correspondent Emily Feng is covering this story. Emily, welcome.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why would there have been suspense over publishing this report at all?

FENG: Well, there was a lot of effort from China to stymie this report. About 10 months ago, Bachelet said her office was going to compile this report on Xinjiang, but China quickly tried to stymie the report. Reuters actually reported earlier this summer that China was circulating a petition to bury it, and then Bachelet herself admitted last month that she had received, quote, "substantial input" from China, who is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, and she was under, quote, "tremendous pressure" to publish or not to publish the report. Zhang Jun, who is China's ambassador to the U.N., yesterday made no bones about the fact that China did not want this report out.

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ZHANG JUN: We all know so well that the so-called Xinjiang issue is a completely fabricated lie out of political motivations. Its purpose definitely is to undermine China's stability.

FENG: But as you mentioned, literally about 10 minutes before Bachelet's tenure was officially over at midnight in Geneva, the report still came out, and it actually went way beyond the admittedly low expectations that people had for it.

INSKEEP: Oh. Well, then what did it say?

FENG: It was very systematic. Xinjiang, just as a reminder, is in western China. It's where authorities have detained and imprisoned at least hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities under initiatives it claims are to combat terrorism and promote economic development. But this U.N. report found that China's counterterrorism laws are overly broad, that ethnic minorities are detained for, quote, "apparently no legal basis, against their will," that the extensive policing and surveillance in the region appears discriminatory against certain religious, ethnic and cultural groups, and that some of the harsh treatment and sexual abuse of Uyghurs in detention amounts to torture.

But the report does skirt around one big question, and that's whether all of this that I've just described amounts to genocide, which is a designation Uyghur activists were pushing for. But that's just not mentioned in the report at all.

INSKEEP: OK, so they don't use the G word, but they give a lot of details. Does this report make any difference?

FENG: Likely not, and that's because the report's recommendations are nearly completely reliant on cooperation with China, which has already condemned the report. Bachelet's report does not call for a formal U.N. investigation but rather asks China to self-investigate and provide more information to international groups. I spoke to Sophie Richardson - she's the China director at advocacy group Human Rights Watch - about what that means.

SOPHIE RICHARDSON: Three decades of exactly those kinds of dialogues have conveyed to Beijing a sense of impunity. They have never served to hold the Chinese government accountable for progressively more serious human rights violations or impose any consequences for committing them.

FENG: That being said, it's still a big deal that the report came out and that it was so detailed in its accusations against China because this is now officially the U.N. stance on human rights conditions in Xinjiang, and so it will be much harder for China going forward to paint an alternate reality of what it claims is actually happening there.

INSKEEP: Emily, thanks for your insights, as always.

FENG: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: Good to talk with you. NPR's Emily Feng. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.