Tell Us Your Maria Story

People board up windows on Monday in preparation for the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

NPR is working to bring you the latest news about Hurricane Maria, which is striking Caribbean islands already working to recover from Hurricane Irma.

But our reporters can’t be everywhere. That is where you come in: How close are you to the storm’s path? What is happening in your neighborhood? How are these storms affecting your mental and emotional state?

If possible — and if you’re in a safe place — we would like to follow your story. You can choose a way to talk to us:

  • Fill out the form below.
  • Leave a voicemail describing conditions at your location at 202-216-9564. We might use your voice on the air.

Thanks for your help.

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Senator Mulls Nuclear Limits On Trump

President Trump told the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday that the U.S. may have no choice but to “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to defend itself and its allies.

Richard Drew/AP

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Richard Drew/AP

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker has crossed swords with President Trump before — in August, he accused Trump of lacking the “stability” and “some of the competence” needed to be successful. But the Tennessee Republican may now be defying Trump with more than just words.

In a brief interview at the Capitol, Corker told NPR his committee is looking at legislation that would prohibit any first-strike use of nuclear weapons without a prior declaration of war by Congress. “I’ve had other members talk with me a little about it, and we’re doing some research on that topic,” he said. “We really began to do so at the end of last week.”

Corker revealed his panel’s new initiative shortly after Trump told the U.N. General Assembly that “if (the U.S.) is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

“Every president since we’ve had nuclear weapons has had the ability to launch them,” Corker noted. “That’s the way our nation is.”

But a bill introduced four days after Trump took office would put a check on the president’s unfettered sole authority to launch a nuclear strike. The Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 explicitly forbids the first use of nuclear weapons without authorization from Congress through a declaration of war.

“I think it’s important for us to understand that nuclear weapons are meant to be used defensively and not offensively — in other words, not as a first strike against another country,” said Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey, a member of the Foreign Relations panel who’s the bill’s lead sponsor (an identical bill, H.R.669, was introduced the same day in the House by California Democrat Ted Lieu).

“The more the president talks about the total destruction of North Korea,” Markey said after the president’s U.N. speech, “the more it’s necessary for the country and the Congress to have a debate over what the authority of a president is to launch nuclear weapons against another country.”

Asked whether his committee will hold a hearing on Markey’s proposed bill, Corker was noncommittal. “Well, I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see. We’re just looking at it to see what is the proper role here.”

The push to place a legislative check on Trump’s power to unleash a nuclear strike faces significant obstacles. Congress has long been averse to declaring war — it has not done so since the U.S. entered World War II in 1941. A bill requiring a nuclear war declaration would also likely face a presidential veto.

And Markey acknowledged no Republican lawmakers have yet signed on as co-sponsors of his legislation. “But I am confident that as this debate continues to intensify, there will be members on both sides who understand that we, as a Senate, as a House, should exercise our constitutional responsibility to declare nuclear war in the event that we have never been attacked with nuclear weapons in the first place.”

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Fox News Fights Back On Lawsuit Filed Over Seth Rich Story

The News Corporation headquarters, owner of Fox News, in New York City. Fox News denies that a source in its story about Seth Rich’s murder was defamed.

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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Even as former Fox News star Bill O’Reilly appeared Tuesday on rival NBC to deny that he had ever sexually harassed colleagues, Fox was acting to defend itself on several fronts in court and in the court of public opinion.

In the most prominent instance, Fox is seeking to scuttle yet another lawsuit — this one filed over a retracted story about the late Seth Rich — by convincing a judge that the key source in the story should be treated as an employee.

In early August, a private eye named Rod Wheeler sued Fox in federal court in Manhattan for defamation, alleging the network put words in his mouth in order to prop up what he characterized as a fraudulent story.

Wheeler was suing over Fox’s May 16 story about last year’s murder of a young Democratic Party staffer named Seth Rich that tied the young man to the leak of thousands of emails of Democratic officials to WikiLeaks. The network withdrew the story a week later, saying it did not meet standards but it failed to explain why.

Late Monday night, attorneys for Fox News and reporter Malia Zimmerman argued Wheeler’s quotations resemble those he made elsewhere.

“In truth, he was neither misquoted nor defamed,” contends the brief submitted on behalf of Fox and Zimmerman. “He made substantially the same statements on the air in several on-camera interviews, before and after the Fox News report, and even stated publicly that the article he now challenges as false ‘was essentially correct and worthy of further investigation.’ “

NPR has reviewed a taped recording of a three-way conference call that included Wheeler and Zimmerman on the day of the story. In that conversation, Zimmerman concedes Wheeler never made the quotes linking Rich to the leak of emails to WikiLeaks.

Here’s the twist: Wheeler, a former Washington, D.C., homicide detective, had also been a paid Fox News contributor since 2005. Fox is insisting that Wheeler should be subject to binding arbitration, subject to the terms of his contract as a commentator for the network, which paid him $515 per appearance. And indeed his contract does specify private arbitration to settle disputes.

That casts fresh light on a question that has sparked criticism from the day the story first surfaced: In what role was Wheeler acting?

To Fox’s readers and viewers, Wheeler appeared to be a source for Zimmerman’s story. Indeed, Wheeler was the only one mentioned by name. Although his connection to Fox was disclosed, he was cited for his role as an investigator hired to help Rich’s parents solve the mystery of who killed their son. Wheeler’s attorney, Douglas Wigdor, tells NPR that Fox did not pay Wheeler as a contributor or commentator for the Seth Rich story.

Wheeler had been selected and paid for the Riches by another Fox News commentator, though an unpaid one, named Ed Butowsky. He’s a Dallas investment manager and supporter of President Trump who worked behind the scenes to try to link Rich to the leak of the Democratic emails as a way of deflecting criticism of the president. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded the Russian government commissioned the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails to aid Trump’s candidacy.

Wigdor, Wheeler’s attorney, says the move for arbitration is an attempt to get the botched Rich story out of public view, which he contended raised questions of the network’s “broadcast standards.”

“Unfortunately, they’re trying to litigate this case under a veil of secrecy,” Wigdor tells NPR. “They’re willing to go so far as trying to use an arbitration agreement that covers his role as a contributor, to make an argument that it should cover his role as an investigator for the Rich family — for which he was paid by Ed Butowsky.”

Wheeler also sued Butowsky, whose lawyers contended he was not party to editorial decisions made by Fox News. Butowsky also argued he is not subject to the federal court’s jurisdiction in Manhattan because he lives in Texas.

Fox is facing Wigdor in more than 20 other cases. The employment lawyer unveiled another lawsuit Monday evening: The conservative commentator Scottie Nell Hughes alleged that Fox Business Network host Charles Payne raped her in 2013 and that he kept her in a relationship for two years with a threat of violence and the promise to advance her career. That aid stopped, according to the suit, when she finally broke off ties in 2015.

Wigdor then alleges that Fox retaliated against Hughes when she raised concerns earlier this year; her lawsuit alleges her name was leaked to the National Enquirer in retribution by Fox’s general counsel and chief publicity executive. Payne acknowledged what he called an extramarital affair to the Enquirer. Fox took him off the air during a review by its outside lawyers but returned him to his show earlier this month after concluding that Payne and Hughes had a consensual relationship.

Fox News labeled the lawsuit “a publicity stunt” without merit; a lawyer for Payne said he would be vindicated.

These accusations play out against the backdrop of a succession of breathtaking accusations against Fox News that have led to major changes there. Allegations of sexual harassment lodged in the past 14 months led to the departures of the late Fox News founder Roger Ailes, and star hosts Bill O’Reilly and Eric Bolling, as well as other executives and staffers accused of enabling such behavior.

NBC’s Matt Lauer grilled O’Reilly on the Today show Tuesday morning over the accusations O’Reilly faced without nailing him down. O’Reilly, who was paid millions of dollars to buy him out of his contract this past spring, claimed that no one had ever complained about his behavior — though he specified there had been no complaints to his employers’ human resources departments. Former Fox News producer Andrea Mackris was paid $8 million to settle her accusations that he had harassed her once it became clear she had taped O’Reilly’s calls to her.

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Trump, And Most Black College Presidents, Absent From Annual Meeting

Members of the audience listen as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during the White House Summit on Historically Black Colleges and Universities at the White House yesterday.

Andrew Harnik/AP

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Andrew Harnik/AP

Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has pledged commitment to historically black colleges, or HBCUs.

And just about every year, HBCU leaders gather in Washington D.C., to lobby Congress and the White House. This year President Trump was not there to greet them, which was just as well because the meeting took place amid simmering frustration with the Trump administration.

Much of that frustration is due to what HBCUs consider little or no support from the administration, and what they call a lack of understanding of the financial straits some schools are facing.

But there are other reasons some leaders didn’t show up. Among them, President Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va. Also, Trump’s questioning of the constitutionality of federal funding that HBCUs receive for construction projects. “It benefits schools on the basis of race,” the president said back in May.

At the time, the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisana, called that statement, “stunningly careless and divisive.”

Still, some HBCU presidents and their supporters thought it was important to attend this week’s meeting at the White House. Among them, Michael Lomax, the CEO of the United Negro College Fund, a key supporter of historically black institutions.

“We went to the meeting with the expectation that it would be a substantive meeting,” he says. “Unfortunately we didn’t have that kind of substantive discussion.”

Of the 107 HBCUs across the country, Lomx says only 29 showed up. Grambling State University president, Rick Gallot, was not one of them.

“HBCUs relationship with Congress is more important. They pass the budget,” says Gallot. “The administration apparently doesn’t understand how urgent the funding problem is.”

According to the United Negro College Fund, HBCUs enroll about 300,000 students nationwide. They graduate 20 percent of all African-Americans who attend college, they produce 70 percent of all black doctors and dentists, and 50 percent of black engineers and public school teachers.

But Gallot says all of that is at risk because of funding cuts. In Louisiana, Grambling’s home state, for example, Gallot says the legislature has slashed higher education from 55 to 27 percent and HBCU’s like Grambling have taken a huge hit.

Trump’s proposed budget, meanwhile, offers no relief, says Gallot. It does not include enough money for year-round Pell Grants. It cuts funding for work-study programs by half and eliminates opportunity grants altogether.

Gallot says that’s 733 million dollars less in federal funding. “Right now this is a crisis for low-income students, particularly at minority-serving institutions and historically black colleges,” Gallot says.

NPR requested an interview with White House officials who organized the meeting with HBCUs this week, but didn’t receive a response by publication.

This week President Trump appointed Jonathan M. Holifield, a former NFL player turned business consultant, to head up an advisory board that will work with historically black colleges and universities.

Still, HBCU presidents insist that if the Trump administration is serious, it has a lot of work to do to repair its relationship with black institutions.

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Obama's White House Counsel Weighs In On Trump's Lawyers

Barack Obama chats with Neil Eggleston, counsel to the president, outside his office in 2014.

Pete Souza/White House/Reuters

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Pete Souza/White House/Reuters

Eight months after he packed up his White House office and vacated the premises, President Obama’s top lawyer is finally opening up.

In a speech at Columbia University’s law school last week, Neil Eggleston told students “I’m not sure where the lawyers are” in the vetting process for some of President Trump’s controversial executive orders, from the travel ban that now covers visitors from six majority-Muslim countries to efforts to withhold federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities.

The Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments on the travel ban in October, and the sanctuary city policy is being challenged in multiple federal courts.

Eggleston, who served as White House counsel to Obama, also used his Sept. 12 remarks to urge his successor to do more to police contacts between the White House and the Justice Department. Discussions of policy and national security are appropriate, he said, but reports that President Trump and other officials had asked the FBI about criminal investigations would not have happened during Obama’s tenure, Eggleston said.

“We wanted to make sure there was no interference with anything that happened in the criminal process,” Eggleston said. “The criminal process is essentially too important for people to think it’s influenced by political considerations.”

Now back in private law practice at the Kirkland & Ellis firm in Washington, D.C., Eggleston said he missed the “crazy hours” during roughly three years in the White House post but, to laughter from students, he asserted that he did not miss dealing with Congress. “It remains as dysfunctional now as it was then,” he said. “It really can’t pass anything.”

And in response to a student’s question, he offered a tart assessment of the legal team Trump has built, some of whom he has known and worked alongside for 30 years.

Earlier this year, Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz allegedly told a critic to “watch your back” via a profanity-laced email. A spokesman later said Kasowitz regretted sending the message which he said happened after a long day at the office.

Next, Trump lawyer John Dowd drew criticism for forwarding an email that praised Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and claimed the protest group Black Lives Matter had been penetrated by extremists.

And finally, the attorney who recently joined the White House to help handle the ongoing DOJ special counsel investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election has tangled with email correspondents.

Ty Cobb asked a reporter “Are you on drugs?” in a 1:35 a.m. email. Soon after, he exchanged sharp words with a critic, telling him, “Enjoy talking to the Secret Service.”

In his talk at Columbia, Eggleston said, “What’s with these White House officials and getting drunk in the middle of the night?”

He said Cobb is a “very good friend” who got “into a big rant with a citizen. I hardly had time to call Cabinet secretaries back….I mean, I had things to do.”

Earlier this week, a New York Times reporter overheard Dowd and Cobb talking loudly about legal strategy for the Russia investigation and exchanging gossip about others in the White House as they dined outdoors at a Washington, D.C., steakhouse.

Eggleston, who delivered his speech before the incident at BLT Steak, told students of the White House legal function under Trump: “It does seem sort of like chaos. But this president seems to like chaos, so I don’t know that that’s inadvertent.”

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World Cafe Nashville: The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow

Courtesy of the artist

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Courtesy of the artist

  • “Deeper In The Water”
  • “Time’s Always Leaving”
  • “Feather”
  • “May You Be Well”

Some people float through change; others aggressively swim. Still others find themselves deeply challenged to find ways to follow a current that can carry them to a safe shore. The Lone Bellow, the Brooklyn-born trio of Zach Williams, Kanene Donehy Pipkin and Brian Elmquist, negotiated many changes while making its third album, Walk into a Storm. Babies were born; a close friend of the band committed suicide. One member sought and found a way to deal with alcohol addiction. In the midst of these personal challenges, The Lone Bellow’s members realized they also had to shake up their sound – and the entire band relocated to the members’ native South, settling in the musicians’ enclave of East Nashville.

Working with producer-slash-artist-whisperer Dave Cobb – who plays guitar on every song on Walk Into A Storm – The Lone Bellow reconnected with the basics that made the members want to be a band in the first place. The recording feels very live, a bit like a church revival and a bit like 2 a.m. at an eastside dive bar.

Inspired by legends like Otis Redding, Williams pushes his voice to new levels of exhortation. Pipkin and Elmquist also shine in songs like the rousing declaration of survival, “Feather.” The Lone Bellow visited World Cafe at Sound State Studios in Nashville, with Pipkin’s infant son Orion in tow and plenty of jokes and confidences to share. Hear the complete session in the player above.

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