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News brief: Ga. murder trial, Trump sues over documents, mental health access

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The shooting and killing of Ahmaud Arbery was one of last year's many flashpoints. Now, in Glynn County, Ga., a trial is underway.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: What do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Justice.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: When do we want?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Now.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Are we going to give up?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Are we going to stand up?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Yes.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Those protesters chanted outside. Three white men are charged with murdering Arbery, who was Black.

DETROW: NPR's Debbie Elliott is in Brunswick for the trial. Good morning, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi there, Scott.

DETROW: How is jury selection going? I imagine it's pretty tough.

ELLIOTT: Yeah. Slow would be one word. It's a long and deliberate process, trying to find six people who don't already have their minds made up because this is such a highly publicized and racially charged case. As a refresher, we should remind you of what happened here. Three men, a father and a son, Gregory and Travis McMichael, and a neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, face murder and other charges. They chased Arbery with pickup trucks, and Travis McMichael killed him with three close-range shotgun blasts.

Bryan recorded it all on his cellphone. And it was not until that video was released months later that anyone was arrested. The accused are going to be arguing in this trial that it was self-defense because Arbery fought back as they were trying to make a citizen's arrest. They say there had been break-ins in the neighborhood, and they suspected Arbery after seeing him on a new home construction site.

DETROW: Are there themes emerging as jurors are questioned?

ELLIOTT: There are a few key threads here. First, they're being asked whether they've seen that video or shared it or talked about it with family and friends, and most everyone has. You know, this was all over the place. And several people indicated they had already drawn judgments based on that. One woman said it was disgusting to videotape the scene. One man said he thought that Gregory McMichael's behavior was stalking. A pressing concern that the judge acknowledged is how this case affects people so deeply, both here and around the country, and the pressure that that creates. And indeed, prospective jurors talked about having some fear. One said he didn't want someone's fate in his hands. A woman said she would fear for her safety if she thought she might reach a verdict that angered people.

So right now, it's just very painstaking, trying to seat a panel of 12 with four alternates. The first day, the court only worked through a panel of 20. That's a fraction of the 600 people who were summoned for jury duty this week. Another 400 have been told to report next Monday. I expect today the judge to try to speed things on a little bit.

DETROW: We did hear those chants. How are people in this community responding to this high-profile trial?

ELLIOTT: You know, you have both people who've come from out of town and then local residents who have showed up on the courthouse lawn. They're watching the proceedings and singing, chanting, praying, looking to see some resolution of what is really taking a toll on this community. Willetta McGowen is a deacon at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Brunswick. Here's what she had to say.

WILLETTA MCGOWEN: I've been feeling a little anxiety, a little hope, a little of God's presence. And I sincerely hope that things will go well, that they will get the jury that they need and, you know, people will cooperate, that this will be a peaceful time in Glynn County.

DETROW: Members of Arbery's family are there. What are they saying?

ELLIOTT: You know, the family wants the focus to stay on the murder case, yet the larger implications aren't lost on them. Here's Ahmaud's father, Marcus Arbery.

MARCUS ARBERY: As long as I get justice, I'm good. But I know my son was lynched - lynched by a white mob.

ELLIOTT: So certainly an emotional time.

DETROW: NPR's Debbie Elliott, thank you so much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome.

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DETROW: Ex-President Donald Trump is going to court to try to block the release of information about his final days in office.

INSKEEP: Trump is suing the National Archives and the House Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The committee subpoenaed multiple records the ex-president does not want them to see. They're asking what Trump was doing and saying as a mob tried to block the ceremonial certification of Trump's defeat in the presidential election.

DETROW: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is following this. Ryan, what does this lawsuit say?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, it's challenging the January 6 committee's efforts to get records from the Trump White House. Lawmakers on the panel say they need these materials to understand what Trump was doing in the lead-up to January 6 and then on the day itself. The committee has requested presidential records, which are held by the National Archives, as well as materials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon and some other departments. Now, the lawsuit alleges that the House Committee's request is, quote-unquote, "almost limitless in scope." It calls it vexatious. It calls it an illegal fishing expedition. And it says this committee doesn't have any legitimate legislative purpose for these documents. The lawsuit also says that a lot of the information in question here is covered by executive privilege, and that's the idea that the president can keep private certain documents, discussions, deliberations with senior advisers about official duties.

DETROW: Well, executive privilege, that's something usually decided by the sitting president. Trump lost to Biden in the election. How has the Biden administration responded?

LUCAS: Well, the Biden White House says Trump abused his office and tried to subvert the peaceful transfer of power and that such actions shouldn't be shielded by executive privilege. The Biden White House says the House investigation is unique, that it's extraordinary. In essence, this is an instance in which the country would benefit from disclosure. Now, in this lawsuit, Trump's lawyers lash out at the Biden administration. The lawsuit says Biden's decision to waive privilege is, quote-unquote, "myopic." They call it a political maneuver designed to maintain the support of its political rivals and is not based on any discernable legal principle. For its part, the committee, understandably, disagrees with the lawsuit's perspective here. It says that executive privilege is not absolute and that Trump's lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to delay and obstruct the investigation.

DETROW: And that investigation is ongoing. Committee is continuing its work, and there is a big vote today about former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. What do we need to know?

LUCAS: Bannon was one of the first people subpoenaed by this committee. Bannon, of course, left the administration long before January 6, but he did remain in touch with Trump. And the panel says it's interested in conversations that Bannon had with Trump in the weeks leading up to the Capitol attack and then a meeting that he had with Trump allies the night before January 6. Bannon refused to comply with the committee's subpoena. He cited executive privilege. That's a step that Trump encouraged. Bannon did not show up for a planned deposition last week. And so this evening, the January 6 committee is planning on voting to refer Bannon to the Justice Department for a criminal contempt investigation.

DETROW: Bannon was, of course, pardoned by Trump in his final days in office, but this sets up more problems for him down the line. But what happens next? Where the next few steps?

LUCAS: Well, if the committee approves it, it would go to the full House for a vote. Democrats, of course, control the House, so they would likely have the votes. Then the referral would go to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. The department often doesn't pursue these sorts of cases. That said, January 6 was an unprecedented day, could factor into what the department ultimately decides. For now, though, the Justice Department is declining to comment.

DETROW: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Nice talking to you, Ryan.

INSKEEP: Thanks, Scott.

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DETROW: The Biden administration says there is a mental health crisis in American schools, and it has new guidelines out today to try to fix it.

INSKEEP: And when we talk about a mental health crisis, we're talking about teenagers, but also toddlers and definitely parents. Many are struggling, and the pandemic has made things worse.

MIGUEL CARDONA: The students have experienced a lot, not only isolation away from their peers, but sadly in many cases, loss of work for family members or loss of life in their families. So our students are in great need right now.

DETROW: Education Secretary Miguel Cardona spoke to NPR about the administration's new guidelines. Anya Kamenetz from NPR's education team joins us now to talk about those plans and also some new findings from an NPR poll about the need. Hey, Anya.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: Can you take us through some of the highlights of this Education Department plan?

KAMENETZ: So this is guidance for directing some of the money that schools have already started to receive from the federal government for pandemic relief. And with more kids getting back to school in person, the Department of Ed wants to see some coordinated effort to reach every single child with mental health support, and there's guidance here for early childhood through college. And we're really talking about a public health approach - so reducing shame and stigma by promoting mental health literacy kind of throughout the day, throughout the year and coordinating services with the community. And they're also talking a lot about equity here. So we know that mental health issues don't fall evenly across the population. They want schools to use data to meet the needs of groups like children with disabilities or LGBTQ students.

DETROW: And we're learning more about this a from a recent poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health - a lot of detail about what families are experiencing as the pandemic drags on, which is, of course, a lot. But what stands out to you in these findings?

KAMENETZ: Well, to the point that we're talking about, the mental health crisis of early lockdown is still very much with us. The poll found 36% of families reported that their children are experiencing what they say are serious difficulties with depression, anxiety, stress and sleep in the past few months. In another area of the poll, the Biden administration's agenda has prompted a lot of public debate about, you know, having more investment in child care and universal pre-K. And in NPR's poll, 34% of families with children too young for school reported in the last few months, they've had serious problems getting child care, specifically when adults needed to work.

DETROW: So 1 in 3 and seems like the theme of the segment - yet another situation where the pandemic made an already precarious situation worse, huh?

KAMENETZ: That's right. So the United States, even before the pandemic, ranked very low in how much we subsidized child care, which is inherently expensive when you have high-quality care for young children. And then with COVID, a lot of existing child cares had to shut down, reduce their capacity. And now there's a labor crunch. And while, you know, Chipotle can raise wages, the little day care on the block can't really afford to do that. So that's why the supply is still kind of constrained.

DETROW: And if they do that, it makes it even harder for families trying to figure it out. So that leads to this question. What does this all mean for parents?

KAMENETZ: So our colleague Mansee Khurana reached a lot of parents who had their kids with them while they were on the phone.

NATALIE SALDANA: I'm working, but you hear her in the background, or she wants me to do stuff, or, you know, she needs to get fed, or she needs to go to sleep.

KAMENETZ: So that's Natalie Saldana (ph). She's 22 years old. She's a single mom. She's working and going to school. If she were to send her kid to day care, it would cost as much as her rent. So she's juggling it all from home.

SALDANA: Being a single mom and a full-time student, it's not easy to be able to spend $700 on child care a month.

KAMENETZ: So we see the connection - right? - between lack of child care and a lack of opportunity for a lot of people around the country.

DETROW: NPR's Anya Kamenetz, thank you so much.

KAMENETZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.