Michael Wolff Defends His Reporting Of New Trump Tell-All

Author Michael Woolf at the NPR offices, June 2, 2019. Wolff’s latest book claims special counsel Robert Mueller’s office drew up an indictment of President Trump, a claim that’s denied by the special counsel’s office.

Sarah Blesener/Sarah Blesener for NPR

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Sarah Blesener/Sarah Blesener for NPR

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team didn’t make a traditional prosecutorial judgement on whether President Trump committed obstruction of justice. But bestselling author Michael Wolff insists an indictment of the sitting president was contemplated, with legal arguments discussed at length in a 56-page “memorandum of law” Wolff claims to have in his possession.

In an interview with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury” and the forthcoming book “Siege: Trump Under Fire,” defended an explosive claim in the book that had already been called into doubt before its publication.

Last week, after Wolff’s description in the book of a “draft indictment” leaked out, Peter Carr, the spokesman for Mueller responded by saying “the documents described do not exist.” The rapid pushback from the special counsel’s office was a rare and forceful statement from an office that only once before in its two-year existence issued such a categorical denial (the first being a Buzzfeed story earlier this year that said President Trump had ordered his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress).

When asked about the denial by Inskeep, Wolff now says Carr’s statement and the document he describes are not in conflict. “It is quite possible that they responded accurately but that nevertheless this document exists” because calling it a “draft indictment” was just a shorthand for a more notional document. Wolff says it is a memo that outlines the legal arguments that could have been made if the special counsel’s team had chosen to seek an indictment of President Trump and if Trump’s lawyers then challenged it based on the long-standing Justice Department opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

“It assumes that the president has been indicted. It assumes that the president has gone into court and made a motion to dismiss the indictment on the grounds that a president cannot be indicted. And this is the response to that motion,” Wolff told Inskeep in the interview.

Wolff goes on to explain that the document has two parts. “The first part outlines all of the particulars of the indictment, hence my characterization of this as a draft indictment,” Wolff said. “And the second part is an argument, an incredibly powerful argument by the way, about why the special counsel can in fact indict a sitting president.”

Since the special counsel’s office first issued a denial about the existence of Wolff’s document, special counsel Robert Mueller stepped down and his office has been dissolved, leaving Carr’s earlier statement as the last word. NPR did not receive a response from a Justice Department spokesperson.

Mueller himself, in announcing the end of his work, said indicting the president wasn’t something his office ever considered.

“Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional,” Mueller said. “Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited. A special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy. Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”

In the book, Wolff does not quote directly from the document except for what he says was the title of the imagined indictment “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA – against – DONALD J. TRUMP, Defendant,” instead of the “v.” (short for “versus”) that is standard language used in criminal cases. In the NPR interview, Wolff says he pulled that wording directly from the document but wouldn’t say whether it was given to him in paper or electronic form to protect his sources.

“I’m not going to speculate on the motives of my source or sources here, just to say that the source is a very, very good one,” Wolff told Inskeep.

It was one of many times during the interview when Inskeep pressed Wolff on his sourcing and Wolff defended his methods without getting into much detail about how he is able to capture the thoughts and utterances of close Trump advisers and even the president himself.

“Everything in this book is something that I concluded is accurate and true,” Wolff explained. “And that’s a process of ‘Do I trust my source?’ Number one. And remember, I’m not beginning at ground zero here. I’ve written one book that has been, I think, largely confirmed by all subsequent accounts. So I’m pretty familiar with, if not extremely familiar with, everybody I’m talking to here. And then I like to hear it a couple of times andin the situation of people I trust of hearing things more than once and then then it gets into the book.”

The claim about Mueller’s investigation is but one of many eyebrow-raising moments in “Siege.” In the growing and prosperous cottage industry of insider accounts of the Trump White House, Wolff has found greater success than most, in part with his colorful descriptions of Trump and those around him.

In the Morning Edition interview, Wolff says those who have spent the most time with President Trump describe him as “vile and ludicrous.” Wolff says over the course of writing two books he has come to believe Trump is governing on impulse and whim, that there is no method to the madness and that someone who is “functionally a madman” is president of the United States.

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Virginia Beach Officials: Gunman Resigned From His Job Hours Before Attack

Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera addresses reporters at a press briefing on Sunday about the Virginia Beach shooting. Officials confirmed that the shooter resigned from his job just hours before the shooting.

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Bobby Allyn/NPR

The man who killed 12 people in a shooting spree at his Virginia Beach workplace resigned shortly before carrying out the attack, city officials have confirmed.

NPR had previously reported that according to former colleagues of the alleged gunman, he had put in his two-week notice ahead of the shooting. On Sunday, that development was confirmed for the first time by Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen, who said the the shooter emailed his resignation hours before the killings took place.

At a press briefing, top city officials said they are exploring how the resignation of shooter DeWayne Craddock, 40, who was a longtime government engineer, played into a possible motive.

Before confirming the resignation, Hansen and Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera said repeatedly that the gunman had not been terminated or forced out of his job with the Virginia Beach city government.

Hansen said that to the best of his knowledge, the shooter was “in good standing” in his department and that records indicate his performance was “satisfactory.” He also said the shooter had not had any disciplinary issues, as far as investigators can tell.

He did, however, leave voluntarily, though officials did not say why.

“We have an open investigation just in its third day. This includes establishing a motive,” Hansen said. “Whether employment status had anything to do with these events? That will be part of the ongoing investigation.”

The gunman died in what authorities described as a long gunfight with police.

At the home of a member of Craddock’s family in Yorktown, Va., about an hour outside Virginia Beach, a note affixed to the door extends “heartfelt condolences” to the victims.

A note attached to the door of the home of one of the shooter’s family members extends condolences to the victims of the Virginia Beach shooting.

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The note reads:

“The family of DeWayne Craddock wishes to send our heartfelt condolences to the victims. We are grieving the loss of our loved one. At this time we wish to focus on the victims and the lives loss during yesterdays tragic event. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who loss their lives, and those recovering in the hospital. —The Craddock’s”

An NPR reporter’s knock on the door of the home went unanswered.

NPR’s Brakkton Booker contributed to this report.

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Massive Cruise Ship Crashes Into Port In Venice, Injuring At Least 5

The MSC Opera cruise ship rammed into a dock and a tourist river boat on a busy Venice canal. An investigation is underway into the cause of the crash.

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Luca Bruno/AP

A cruise ship crashed into a tourist boat and then into a dock in Venice, Italy on Sunday after suffering an engine failure.

Video posted to social media showed passengers escaping from the tourist boat and running down the dock as the cruise ship rapidly approached.

Video posted to social media showed tourists fleeing a cruise ship as it crashed into tourist boat and dock in Venice, Italy.

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The 13-deck MSC Opera rammed into the dock with its horns blaring, injuring five tourists, according to the AP. Two tugboats tried to guide the cruise ship, but were unable to prevent it from crashing.

Alyssa Goldfarb, public relations director for MSC Cruises, the ship’s owner, told NPR:

“Earlier this morning, at around 8.30 AM CET, MSC Opera – while maneuvering towards Venice’s VTP cruise terminals for mooring – experienced a technical issue. Albeit the ship was accompanied by two tugs, she grazed the dock at San Basilio. This also caused a collision with a river boat that was moored there.

“The investigations to understand the exact causes of the events are currently in progress. Regarding these, the company is working closely with the local maritime and other authorities.

“The ship has in the meantime received authorization to move to be moored at the Marittima terminal, as planned. She is now moored there and has begun passenger operations.”

“When we saw the ship bearing down on us, everyone began shouting and running,” said a sailor who was on the tourist boat, according to AFP. “I didn’t know what to do. I got away quickly, jumping to get on shore.”

Video posted to social media showed the MSC Opera crashing into a tourist boat and dock in Venice, Italy.

Adrian Lauretti

“The MSC ship had an engine failure, which was immediately reported by the captain,” said Davide Calderan, the head of one of the tugboats accompanying the cruise ship, according to AFP and Italian media.

“The engine was blocked, but with its thrust on, because the speed was increasing,” he continued.

The MSC Opera can carry more than 2,675 passengers, and according to its sailing schedule, the ship left Venice on May 26 and traveled to Kotor, Montenegro, and Mykonos, Santorini and Corfu in Greece before returning on Sunday to Venice.

Sunday’s collision adds to growing criticism of cruise ships in Venice, where the large vessels crowd waterways, block views and create waves that risk damage to the city’s buildings and infrastructure.

“What happened in the port of Venice is confirmation of what we have been saying for some time,” Italy’s environment minister Sergio Costa wrote on Twitter. “Cruise ships must not sail down the Giudecca. We have been working on moving them for months now… and are nearing a solution.”

Quello che è successo nel porto di #Venezia è la conferma di quello che diciamo da tempo: le #GrandiNavi non devono passare dalla Giudecca. Per questo da mesi insieme ai ministri @DaniloToninelli e @BonisoliAlberto stiamo lavorando per spostarle e siamo vicini alla soluzione

— Sergio Costa (@SergioCosta_min) June 2, 2019

Nicola Fratoianni, an MP with the Italian Left party, tweeted that Italy’s allowance of massive cruise ships contrasted with its efforts to stop rescue boats carrying migrants.

“It is truly curious that a country that tries to stop ships that have saved people at sea from entering its ports allows giant steel monsters to risk carnage in Venice,” he said.

Curioso quel Paese che blocca navi che salvano vite e permette a grandi navi di attraversare #Venezia… Situazione intollerabile.
Interrogazione in Parlamento, e subito blocco passaggio navi da crociera dal canale della Giudecca#NoGrandiNaviVenezia https://t.co/eff5oAC3hj

— nicola fratoianni (@NFratoianni) June 2, 2019

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Cheating Death Will Cost You In ‘The Wise And The Wicked’

In this tale of a family with dark secrets and divinatory gifts, Lambda Literary Award winner Rebecca Podos ponders the inevitable question: If you can read the future that lies ahead, do you also have the power to change it?

When Ruby Chernyavsky hit her teen years, she had a premonition — a vision of the moments leading up to her death. Knowing her “Time” was something she always expected, since all of the women in her family forsee their own, but what none of them know is that Ruby’s days are numbered. Her Time is her 18th birthday, so in a little over a year, she’ll be dead.

She could tell her older sisters, who have raised her since their mother abandoned all three of them, presumably in a futile attempt to avoid her own Time. But they’re caught up in their own lives, which they’ve already curtailed in order to raise Ruby, and if they aren’t willing to let her in on the family business of doing little spells for local women, then why should she share her secret? She could tell her cousin Cece. But Cece just saw her own Time, and seems reluctant to share it with Ruby, even though they’re best friends.

One thing is certain — it’s too late to tell her Great Aunt Polina, the Chernyavsky matriarch, who dies suddenly, throwing the whole extended family into an uproar. Then, at her funeral, when they read out Aunt Polina’s Time as she predicted it years before, it turns out that she found a way to cheat her fate. She lived many years past her Time, and led a completely different life.

Now that Ruby knows it can be done, she’s desperate to find a way to change her own Time. But the deeper she digs into the Chernyavsky family secrets, the darker things become, until she realizes that changing her Time may come with a price she isn’t willing to pay.

Prophetic abilities and the question of destiny versus free will are a pretty solid backbone for young adult drama. In those high school years, a thousand different paths stretch out ahead. It feels as though each choice will shape what the future holds. But if the future has an expiration date, choices seem to matter far less, and Ruby’s only way of dealing with it is to drink on the sly and keep secrets from the people she cares about the most. She isn’t coping well, which makes her relatable and compelling to follow.

The other characters are also engaging — Ruby’s sisters, mother, great aunt, and extended family all stand out as distinct people who are sticking with me even as the plot begins to fade around the edges. Two key characters are queer and a third is trans, and while the GLBTQ themes are subtle, the element of family acceptance resonates strongly within the larger story.

A family curse from the old country works beautifully as a metaphor for the kinds of hardship that often drive people to immigrate to a new home, and the fact that it lingers and is passed down through the generations only makes the parallel stronger. It’s clear that whatever else supernatural is going on, Ruby’s family is struggling to cope with unspoken trauma. Russian folktales pepper the narrative, giving characters the opportunity to look at difficult history and family dynamics without having to face things head-on.

All of these themes work so well together that it’s easy to ignore the elements that aren’t as successful. Ruby has an easy-come-easy-go interest in science that feels a bit forced, and occasional excerpts from her favorite time-travel podcast never fully connect with the story. They feel like character padding — unnecessary, given that Ruby is a very compelling protagonist. In general, the beginning and middle of the narrative feel a little cluttered — which I would mind much less if the ending wasn’t so abrupt and lacking in closure for multiple threads. It was a case of turning to the last page and saying, “wait, what?!” I’m invested in Ruby and her Time, and while I wouldn’t want to have a bow on it, I also don’t want to be left feeling like I’m waiting for an as-yet unannounced second book.

Fans of folkloric and magical family drama will definitely find a lot to like in The Wise and the Wicked, but those who want a conclusive ending might do well to wait and see if we’re getting a sequel.

Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and performer. She is a regular reviewer for NPR Books and Quill & Quire.

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To Some Solar Users, Power Company Fees Are An Unfair Charge

T.K. Thorne says the $20 monthly solar fee she pays to Alabama Power will double the time it will take to pay off her rooftop solar system.

Julia Simon for NPR

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Julia Simon for NPR

In Alabama’s Blount County, off the highway, down a dirt road and up a hill is writer T.K. Thorne’s house. She points to her roof and a shining row of black solar panels.

It’s a 4-kilowatt system — pretty typical for residential solar — and Thorne got it almost four years ago hoping to help the environment and reduce her electricity bill.

It was a big investment — $8,400 even after a federal tax break. Thorne estimated how long it would take to pay off the solar system, installed the panels, and began waiting for the savings to begin.

But then she found out about a monthly $5-per-kilowatt solar fee from the state’s largest utility, Alabama Power.

“That’s $20 a month,” Thorne says. While that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, she says, it will double the time it will take her to pay off the system.

Because of the fee, 65-year-old Thorne says it’ll take almost two decades to pay back her panels.

“Yes,” she says and laughs, “I may not be alive.”

Green energy groups say this solar fee is a key reason why, according to Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association, Alabama comes in 48th out of 50 states in residential solar capacity. (North Dakota and South Dakota trail Alabama).

Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman says there’s a good reason for the fee: If a customer’s rooftop solar panels don’t provide enough energy, Alabama Power’s still on the hook for backup electricity.

“There is a cost to have backup power service available to customers who demand it,” he says.

Other regulated utilities across the U.S. have proposed residential solar fees. And New Mexico had one but got rid of it; Wisconsin is currently considering one.

And while there are fees in Arizona, Kansas and Texas, Alabama Power’s backup fee seems to be in a class of its own. It currently has the highest backup fee based on the size of the residential solar system of any regulated utility in the U.S. That’s according to data from the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, which produces the 50 States of Solar report, as well as the National Regulatory Research Institute.

“How is that possibly the best they could do from a cost perspective when regulated utilities in other states do much better?” asks Gautam Gowrisankaran, a public service professor of economics at the University of Arizona.

He says Alabama Power is overcharging its solar customers in a couple of ways. First, solar customers in Alabama get paid a lot less for making solar energy than customers in other states.

On top of that, Alabama solar customers are paying for backup power in their regular bills, and paying an extra backup power fee. Gowrisankaran says he thinks this means Alabama’s solar customers might be paying the utility twice.

“The bottom line is that ultimately they seem to be double counting — double charging essentially for the costs of backup generation,” he says.

Alabama Power says there’s no double-charging — it’s simply covering backup costs. It notes that another payment option for solar customers doesn’t include the backup fee, but critics say that ends up being even more expensive.

The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a complaint with the state regulator, the Alabama Public Service Commission. The center is asking to get rid of the backup fee, saying it’s unjust for solar customers like Thorne. Alabama Power wants the regulator to dismiss the complaint, and wants to increase the monthly fee from $5 to $5.42 per kilowatt.

Keith Johnston, who leads the law center’s Birmingham office, says what’s going on in Alabama should concern people across America because it goes to the heart of how utilities have been charging for power for more than 100 years.

“The traditional model of the utility is that … they build large power generation systems such as coal-fired power plants or dams, and they have a captive audience that has to buy that energy,” he says.

Today, though, homeowners have the option to install solar panels on their rooftops and become power generators themselves.

“Solar is a real disruptor because it allows people to create their own energy, and so the utilities typically get very nervous about that,” Johnston says. “One way they can thwart that is to increase the cost to have one of those systems on your home.”

Now, following the complaint, the Alabama Public Service Commission will decide if the solar fee is fair. In the meantime, if any of Thorne’s neighbors ask her if it’s worth it to get solar, she tells them, no. Not in Alabama Power territory.

Julia Simon is a regular contributor to NPR’s Planet Money. You can also hear her on the NPR business desk and the NPR podcasts Code Switch and Rough Translation.

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