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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

For Palestinians in Gaza, it's hard to imagine the day after the war, as thousands are killed, and so much of the territory is now rubble.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Apparently, it's hard for outside powers to imagine, too. The United States and Israel publicly disagree over who should run the territory next. President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, is in Jerusalem, discussing that with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

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JAKE SULLIVAN: On the question of what happens in Gaza once the military operations are complete, the Israeli government has indicated that it does not have a long-term plan to occupy Gaza and that, ultimately, the control of Gaza, the administration of Gaza and the security of Gaza has to transition to the Palestinians.

INSKEEP: Transition to the Palestinians. That's the tricky part. The U.S. wants to hand the territory to the Palestinian Authority, which runs other Palestinian land, while Israelis do not.

FADEL: Let's turn to NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv for more. Good morning, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So before we get to the after, what do we know about how much longer this war is going to go on?

ESTRIN: Well, Israel and the U.S. have been talking about ramping down what they call Israel's high-intensity offensive in Gaza and going to a more lower-intensity kind of mission, which would be intelligence-driven raids against high-value targets. I mean, they're really short on the specifics of what that would look like. But we heard President Biden yesterday say he wants Israel to be focused on how to save civilian lives and to be more careful in Gaza. The Israelis are signaling that they could see this phase of the war ramping down in a couple of months, all depending on how much they've completed their mission, which they state is destroying Hamas military capabilities. They claim they're making progress, especially in north Gaza. But one analyst I spoke to who's been working on strategic assessments for the military in Israel says Israel, he thinks, needs to occupy the entire Gaza Strip in this phase of the war to achieve those objectives. And, you know, I think that there is a bigger picture here, which is that there are concerns about this war spilling into the wider region, Lebanon and even with the Houthis in Yemen.

FADEL: Now, tell us more about the proposals that are being discussed for what happens to Gaza and the Palestinians who live there when the war is over and also how much Palestinians get a say here.

ESTRIN: You know, there is no real plan yet for how to achieve some of these objectives. I mean, the U.S. has laid out three main topics - the reconstruction of Gaza after the war, after all the intense destruction of infrastructure in homes, security who will patrol Gaza and ensure there won't be any more attacks on Israel, who will govern the day-to-day lives of Gazans. The U.S. wants the internationally recognized Palestinian leadership to gradually take over in Gaza. I spoke to an adviser to the Israeli prime minister who's speaking about deradicalization of the Palestinian leadership and that any role in Gaza would have to exclude the current Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, who he says have not condemned the Hamas atrocities of October 7. So there are a lot of proposals on the table, not many specifics.

FADEL: So really quick, before I let you go, let's talk about what's happening in the West Bank right now.

ESTRIN: We've seen a dayslong Israeli military raid in Jenin. It's one of the deadliest since the war in Gaza began. And this just shows how there are fears that this war could expand into the West Bank, as well.

FADEL: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv. Thank you, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome.

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FADEL: Criminal prosecutors across Ohio broke rules in the courtroom that are supposed to protect the rights of defendants on trial, all in an effort to get convictions.

INSKEEP: That's the finding of an examination by NPR News and Columbia Journalism Investigations.

FADEL: NPR correspondent Cheryl W. Thompson is here to give us the details. Hi, Cheryl.

CHERYL W THOMPSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So what did your investigation uncover?

THOMPSON: So we found that scores of prosecutors across Ohio had violated standards meant to preserve a defendant's civil rights in criminal trials. We analyzed four years' worth of state appellate court decisions and found improper conduct by those prosecutors, including things like failing to disclose evidence or making inappropriate comments to the jury in closing arguments. But we also found that 13 of them did so more than once, and none of them was disciplined by the state Supreme Court. In fact, two of those prosecutors are now judges.

FADEL: These standards are there to ensure people get fair trials, right? So that didn't happen here.

THOMPSON: In the cases we found, Leila, no. We reported on one case of a man facing six counts of abduction for taking his own grandchildren over the holidays and the judge later questioning why he was even charged. But at trial, the prosecutor misstated the legal standard required for conviction, and the man was found guilty. And that prosecutor, according to our investigation, has been cited seven times by appellate judges for improper conduct. Of course, that's not how the system is supposed to work. Julia Bates is the prosecutor for Lucas County, home to Toledo.

JULIA BATES: Winning at all costs isn't the answer. We have to defend not just the victims, but we defend the defendants, too, because they're part of the system. You know, we have to make sure that their rights are not trampled in the process.

FADEL: Now, your investigation focused on one place over a period of four years. Is there evidence, though, that this is a problem that's more widespread?

THOMPSON: Right. Our investigation focused on Ohio, but there are cases of it happening elsewhere. Here is Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor who now teaches at Pace University Law School in New York. He called the pattern of prosecutors acting improperly in cases in Ohio a microcosm of the criminal justice system in states across the country.

BENNETT GERSHMAN: Once you start focusing on these prosecutors, you can learn a lot about the prosecutorial psychology, mentality and why prosecutors engage in unethical behavior and why they consistently get away with it. You'll find other jurisdictions in America which are equally shocking.

THOMPSON: And we found cases around the country that bear that out. In places like Tennessee, Missouri and New York, we found instances of more prosecutors being rebuked for things like withholding evidence or misrepresenting the law in opening or closing arguments. And legal scholars also told us the number of known misconduct cases is a vast undercount. Only about 3% of criminal cases ever make it to trial, and only a fraction of those are appealed. And, of course, a lot of defendants don't have the resources to challenge their convictions, even if the prosecutors did break the rules.

FADEL: NPR investigative correspondent Cheryl W. Thompson. Thank you for your reporting, Cheryl.

THOMPSON: You're welcome.

FADEL: And you can find more on this story at npr.org.

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FADEL: The president's son, Hunter Biden, is being investigated for his alleged use of shell companies to hide money from foreign interests and undisclosed sources.

INSKEEP: Shell company sounds ominous - a firm that is often created to hide someone's ownership or financial interest in a property. Now the Associated Press reports that a leading investigator of the Bidens is connected with a shell company. The AP bases its findings on interviews and records involving real estate in James Comer's home state of Kentucky. Comer has denied the characterization in an interview on Fox.

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JAMES COMER: To say that it's a shell company is either a complete lie that some editor and publisher allowed the AP to do, or it's a perfect example of financial illiteracy.

FADEL: I'm joined now by Brian Slodysko, the AP reporter who wrote that story. Good morning.

BRIAN SLODYSKO: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

FADEL: So, Brian, we just heard Comer there dismissing your story outright. Tell us what you did uncover about his business assets in Kentucky and the sources behind it.

SLODYSKO: Right. Well, what's important to understand about James Comer is that he is a vast landowner in his home county in southern Kentucky. He owns about 16,000 acres of land. And all of those he painstakingly details on his congressional financial disclosures, which all members of Congress are required to submit. That is, except this six acres of land he co-owns with a donor and are held through a limited liability company called Farm Team Properties. That is the exception. And that property - because he does not - because it is held by this company, he does not have to reveal what the assets held by it are on his financial disclosures.

FADEL: So what potential violations of House rules or campaign finance rules or any rules is Comer violating if this is all true?

SLODYSKO: Well, in this case, all members of Congress are required to reveal any asset they hold in a shell company or a limited liability company if its value is greater than $1,000. Now, in this case, the property - it's the one asset that we know of that is held in this company. From property records, we learned that. It - you know, it's soared in value. Initially, he valued it at between $50,000 and $100,000. Now the company is worth as much as $1 million. And we just don't know what is held in there.

FADEL: Now, Jamie Comer is leading this probe into Hunter Biden. And the big takeaway in your story is these are very similar accusations that are being leveled against President Biden's son. If you could talk about how they're similar.

SLODYSKO: Yeah, well, he has accused Hunter Biden of using various companies of his to collect money for legal services or consulting fees. And the reality is that the company that he has is structured and functions in a very similar way. And it enables Comer to, in this case, avoid disclosure of the assets that he holds.

FADEL: How are other lawmakers responding to what you found? We certainly heard what Comer thinks.

SLODYSKO: Well, I mean, in the hyperpartisan atmosphere of Washington, it falls out along pretty predictable lines. But, you know, Democrats have tut-tutted Comer over this. They've said, well, well, you know, what do we have here? And so that that has provoked a response from them just because they feel like it's a case where the - you know, the pot is calling the kettle black.

FADEL: AP reporter Brian Slodysko on his reporting. Thank you so much for your time.

SLODYSKO: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF HANDBOOK'S "CAN'T TALK NOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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