Morning News Brief: Reporter Body Slammed, U.S. Assesses Civilians Killed In Airstrike
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A tense moment at a campaign rally last night in Montana turned violent. And now a candidate for Congress has been charged with assault, this on the eve of the special election. So Steve, tell us what happened exactly.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Well, this is a special election for a single congressional seat in Montana. It's been closely watched. And Ben Jacobs from The Guardian newspaper showed up - he was at a rally there last night - tried to question the Republican candidate for Congress, Greg Gianforte. He was asking about a Republican health care bill. But according to witnesses, the candidate got unhappy, slammed the reporter to the ground and, as we're going to hear, there is a recording.
MARTIN: There is a recording.
MARTIN: So Geoff Bennett is here. He covers Congress for NPR. He's in the studio.
Good morning, Geoff.
GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: Do we know - before we hear this recording, do we know what provoked this?
BENNETT: We understand that Jacobs and The Guardian had done some previous reporting about Gianforte and his campaign that Gianforte did not take too kindly to. So that's kind of the back story as Jacobs entered this side room at a campaign event and tried to get Gianforte's response to the Congressional Budget Office analysis of the House-passed health care bill.
BENNETT: Jacobs posted the audio. Here's how it unfolded.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BEN JACOBS: The CBO score because you know you were waiting to make your decision about health care until you saw the bill, and it just come out. And...
GREG GIANFORTE: Yeah, he'll talk to you about that later.
JACOBS: Yeah. But there's not going to be time. I'm just curious (unintelligible) right now.
GIANFORTE: OK. Speak with Shane, please.
JACOBS: But you...
(SOUNDBITE OF SHUFFLING)
GIANFORTE: I'm sick and tired of you guys.
JACOBS: Jesus Christ.
GIANFORTE: The last guy that came in here - you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here.
JACOBS: Jesus Christ.
MARTIN: I mean, that's crazy tape. As Steve was noting this morning when we were talking about this story, it just takes this guy, like, a couple seconds to go from...
INSKEEP: Talk to the press secretary.
MARTIN: ...You know, talk to the press secretary to - assaulting him?
INSKEEP: Hands around the neck, apparently.
BENNETT: Well - and that's - this is the moment you hear on tape where Gianforte apparently slams Jacobs to the floor so hard, in fact, that he breaks his glasses. Later in the tape, you hear Jacobs promise to call the police. Turns out, he did. And then Gianforte has been charged...
BENNETT: ...With a misdemeanor.
MARTIN: And today is the election, we should say.
BENNETT: Today is the election.
MARTIN: So this race was already close before this happened. Does this change anything, any way to know?
BENNETT: Well, Montana has an early voting tradition. Most of the ballots in this race have already been submitted. But the interesting thing here is that Montana is also a traditionally Republican-leaning state. So it's noteworthy that the Democrat in this race, a Republican named Rob Quist, has already been doing much better than expected. GOP polling shows the race within low single digits. And so this is - the reason why we're talking about this race at all, in fact...
MARTIN: Because Montana congressional - I mean, I love Montana.
BENNETT: Yeah (laughter). Well, it's a bellwether, really. This is the first House race with national implications since the House passed its health care bill and since the great many controversies that erupted affecting...
MARTIN: Around the Trump campaign.
BENNETT: ...The Trump campaign. So Democrats and Republicans...
INSKEEP: One additional little fact to keep in mind in this time when we have such divided media coverage and divided views of the world - this was a Guardian reporter, a guy from the left. And a Fox News crew witnessed the incident. And their account pretty much matches his account of what happened. So you have accounts from the left and the right - not looking good for this candidate.
MARTIN: Yeah, bipartisan agreement - how rare.
NPR's Geoff Bennett, thanks so much for talking with us this morning.
BENNETT: You're welcome.
MARTIN: And now Steve, we are going to turn to an update on the investigation into the Manchester attack. The suicide bomber who killed those 22 people - apparently not acting alone.
INSKEEP: Well, that's what police are saying in Britain. And here's how police Constable Ian Hopkins put it.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
IAN HOPKINS: I think it's very clear that this is a network that we are investigating.
INSKEEP: A network, he says. Seven people have been arrested so far. The investigation has extended outside the U.K., in fact. And the British government, in another development, is angry at the United States, angry because key information, including photos of bomb fragments, have been leaked by U.S. authorities to the media.
MARTIN: OK. NPR's Frank Langfitt is with us again. So Frank, just get us up to speed. What's the latest on the arrests? Any evidence gathered in the investigation?
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Well, there were some more arrests this morning, so we're now up to eight arrests. But really, what the police are giving us are kind of what we would consider, certainly in the United States, scraps of information. They picked up a man yesterday carrying a suspicious package in a town - a city to the west called Wigan. There's been no more on that. They're not giving names or reasons for the arrests, and this is typical in terms of the way the British police operate.
That said, this is the biggest terrorist attack in the country in 10 years, and they haven't really built a narrative. We know they're looking into a network, but they're not giving a lot of information. And this is a real big contrast to what we're used to in the United States when we have these sorts of attacks. And so a lot of the information is actually beginning to come from leaks.
MARTIN: And that is not going down so well with the Brits. They're mad about these leaks apparently coming from the U.S.
LANGFITT: Yeah. They hate it. They're angry. They're frustrated. This is very clear. And they've been talking to the Americans about this. They do feel, because some of this has been showing up in American media, that that's where it's coming from. I'll give you an example. Just late last night here, The New York Times ran the first photos of the bomb fragments from the site, the arena here in Manchester. And what it seemed to suggest is this was a carefully crafted bomb. There was a - it appeared that there was a circuit board on the detonator, sort of a redundancy there - also suggested that the attacker, Salman Abedi, didn't work on his own, as you were saying at the top of this conversation.
The BBC is citing sources in the police here saying they're not going to share any more information with the United States. Andy Burnham - he's the local mayor in Manchester. He found it disgusting - that was a phrase he used, a word he used - that this stuff was getting out there. The U.K. government says it has nothing to do with any decision not to share information with the United States. And even if true, it's important to remember the U.K. relies a lot on U.S. intelligence. This is a mutual relationship. So if anything, this would be a temporary pause in sharing information.
MARTIN: So Theresa May, the prime minister, is in Brussels. She is going to meet with President Trump later today. I imagine this is going to come up.
LANGFITT: British media says she is going to bring it up. They don't have a bilateral meeting there, but they'll see each other at dinner. One of the questions, though, is - if you are Donald Trump and Theresa May says to you, you must stop the leaks, in his mind maybe - well, I can't even stop the leaks in my White House. So I don't know how much help she's going to get. I'm sure he'll feel badly about it. But it's not - he has a big leak problem of his own, and Theresa May is of course very well aware of that.
INSKEEP: Frank raises a good point when he says this is probably a temporary ceasing of communication. This is probably the most important intelligence-sharing arrangement in the world, between the U.S. and the U.K. But it's a moment...
INSKEEP: ...When authorities are rethinking how they work together. There's another very strong relationship between U.S. and Israeli intelligence. And the Israelis have now said they can confirm they did a spot repair after reports that President Trump himself gave away some information that had apparently been provided by the Israelis. So it's clear that although these countries are going to continue to work together, they're thinking about how to do it in what seems like a new world.
MARTIN: Yeah, how to channel the information. OK. NPR's Frank Langfitt following this story out of Manchester for us. Hey, Frank - thanks so much again.
LANGFITT: Very welcome, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHIME)
MARTIN: So Steve, there were a lot of questions about a particular U.S. airstrike in Mosul, and now the Pentagon apparently has some answers.
INSKEEP: Their version of the answers anyway. They're investigating a particular strike back in March.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ANA CABRERA: The U.S. military looking into some very serious allegations that American war planes targeting ISIS fighters in Iraq dropped bombs that may have killed hundreds of civilian people in the northern city of Mosul. Now, that charge comes...
INSKEEP: That's CNN news coverage from when it happened. And now the Pentagon, today, is going to release its report on what happened.
MARTIN: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here to tell us what could be in that report.
Good morning, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So what are we going to learn here?
BOWMAN: Well, what I'm hearing is the investigation will say Iraqi troops came under fire from ISIS snipers. And the U.S. responded with an airstrike, hitting this building with a small bomb, about 250 pounds. And it was later learned there were civilians in this building, either being held as hostages by ISIS or they went there for safety. Now, the Pentagon will say that such a small bomb could not have reduced this building to basically a crater. So they believe the building was either booby trapped or it was being used to store bombs, and that's what led to complete destruction. The U.S. will likely say it had no time to check on who was in this building.
MARTIN: So they just didn't know. They're going to say they didn't know there were all those civilians...
BOWMAN: Right. They do often patterns of life, who goes in and who goes out over time. But since these guys were under fire, these Iraqi counterterror forces, they had to respond immediately.
INSKEEP: They were trying to support those guys on the ground.
MARTIN: So this was a hideous attack. Up to 200 civilians died. And it opens this debate up - right? - about urban warfare because what do you do when ISIS knows that if they go in and bury themselves into cities and use civilians as human shields, that it will make things more complicated for the U.S. and its allies?
BOWMAN: It makes it very, very difficult. Again, you have this awful choice of either letting these troops go in building to building and risk losing their lives or try to help them with some sort of an airstrike. Now, one thing you could do is just better surveillance - see where the enemy is, where civilians are. But once fighting starts, everyone starts moving around. And again, ISIS uses civilians as hostages. So it's very difficult.
MARTIN: Human rights groups are pointing to the fact that there's been an uptick in attacks against ISIS that are killing civilians. Has there been a change in the rules of engagement?
BOWMAN: There has not been a change in the rules of engagement. They are being more aggressive now. There are more airstrikes. They're sending more U.S. troops closer to the frontlines. But they're saying there's no change in the rules of engagement. They're being very, very careful with civilians, making sure that they don't get caught up in the mix here.
MARTIN: So then what lessons can be applied from this report moving forward - anything or is this just a one-off trying to explain this...
BOWMAN: It could be just a one-off trying to explain it. And as they say, we'll try the best we can to prevent civilian casualties. But again, once you head into a city with hundreds of thousands of people and trying to get out a well dug-in enemy, it's going to be very difficult.
MARTIN: NPR's Tom Bowman - he is reporting this morning on a report that the Pentagon is expected to release about that U.S. airstrike in Mosul last month that killed upwards - close to 200 civilians.
Hey, Tom, thanks so much for coming in this morning.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF JON HOPKINS' "LOST IN THOUGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.