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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

It's been a week since Columbia University called in the police to clear an encampment of antiwar protesters on a campus lawn, and what a week it's been.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

More than 100 students were arrested that day. And since then, the student demonstrations against Israel's war in Gaza have only intensified. They spread to universities across the country and led to hundreds more arrests.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Adrian Florido is in New York. Adrian, you've been reporting at Columbia, where, after all those arrests last week, students pretty quickly reestablished their encampment. So let's start with what happened last night.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Well, last night, a lot of people showed up outside the gates of Columbia University in a show of support for the protesters.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Israel bombs. Columbia pays. How many kids did you kill today?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Israel bombs. Columbia pays. How many kids did you kill today?

FLORIDO: And there were also counterprotesters who came out to show support for Israel. For days, protest leaders and university officials have been in negotiations over the encampment's future. The university wants it gone, but the hundreds of students in the camp say they're staying put until their demands are met. Early Wednesday, Columbia officials gave students 48 hours to pick up their encampment and said that after that, the school would consider alternative options. It didn't elaborate what that meant, but the students think it means law enforcement will again remove them by force. It's now been the two days since the university issued that warning, so the campus is really on edge about another confrontation almost at any moment, possibly.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Yeah, you mentioned that students are refusing to clear the encampment until their demands are met. What are those demands?

FLORIDO: A few things - the big one is divestment. They want Columbia to sell off the stock it owns in companies that do business in Israel and that the protesters say are enabling Israel's war in Gaza and its operations in the West Bank.

RAY GUERRERO: We want it publicly known that Columbia University does not endorse this.

FLORIDO: That was Ray Guerrero. He's a Columbia grad student who's been heavily involved in the divestment campaign. And he says that if Columbia pulls its money from these companies, other institutions might follow, and that could bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government. And they also want all of the students who were suspended after being arrested last week to have their suspensions lifted. Columbia hasn't publicly said much about these demands, but it did reject a proposal for divestment just a couple of months ago. And it's worth noting that financial pressure the university is facing from the other side. Some very wealthy alumni who are angry with these protests have started withholding donations.

MARTÍNEZ: As we said, these kinds of demonstrations have now spread to campuses across the country, and so have arrests of protesters and faculty. What does that look like?

FLORIDO: Yeah, well, what really took hold last week at a few of the nation's most elite schools like Columbia, Harvard, Brown is now happening at schools like UT Austin, USC in LA. Yesterday, students at the City College of New York set up an encampment. And at a lot of these schools, things have heated up. At USC, dozens of students have been arrested. The same at UT Austin, where the school brought in police in riot gear, and all told there have been more than 500 arrests nationwide, including some faculty.

MARTÍNEZ: And here's the thing, too - I mean, some school years are coming to a close. A lot of schools are planning for graduations. I mean, will these protests impact all that?

FLORIDO: Well, here at Columbia, the encampment is smack in the center of where the school holds its main graduation ceremony, and in fact, all around the encampment, workers are already basically putting up the stages and scaffolding for that event. It's part of why protesters suspect they're about to be removed by force. At USC, the main graduation ceremony has been canceled, and that could happen at other schools, because these students showing up to protests say they're not going anywhere.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Adrian Florido in New York. Thanks a lot.

FLORIDO: Thank you, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: Should a president have absolute immunity from criminal prosecution even after they leave office? The U.S. Supreme Court took nearly three hours to debate that question yesterday.

FADEL: The justices appeared skeptical of blanket immunity, but the conservative majority also seemed open to some immunity, and that could delay Donald Trump's trial until after the November election.

MARTÍNEZ: We're joined now by Ankush Khardori. He's a senior writer for Politico magazine and a former federal prosecutor. So let's take this in pieces, starting with the question of blanket immunity. Let's listen to an exchange between Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Trump's lawyer, John Sauer. It's about whether some of Trump's actions in the January 6 case are official acts or private.

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AMY CONEY BARRETT: And I want to know if you agree or disagree about the characterization of these acts as private. Petitioner turned to a private attorney who was willing to spread knowingly false claims of election fraud to spearhead his challenges to the election results - private?

CONEY BARRETT: And I want to know if you agree or disagree about the characterization of these acts as private. Petitioner turned to a private attorney who was willing to spread knowingly false claims of election fraud to spearhead his challenges to the election results - private?

JOHN SAUER: As I allege, I mean, we dispute the allegation, but...

SAUER: As I allege, I mean, we dispute the allegation, but...

CONEY BARRETT: Of course.

CONEY BARRETT: Of course.

SAUER: ...That sounds private to me.

SAUER: ...That sounds private to me.

CONEY BARRETT: Sounds private.

CONEY BARRETT: Sounds private.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, Ankush, so why does this distinction of official versus private matter, at least to the conservative justices?

ANKUSH KHARDORI: Right. So at least to the conservative justices, they seem to want to draw a distinction between official acts that are tied to the job responsibilities of the president and to immunize the president in some capacity for those sorts of acts and to distinguish those from nonofficial or private acts that would potentially themselves then be subject to criminal prosecution and to sort of carve a theory of immunity that provides some form of immunity for presidents but not total immunity.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, on the other hand, the liberal justices don't think this distinction should matter at all. So what stood out to you from their questions?

KHARDORI: Well, the liberal justices were pointing out many absurd hypotheticals that would flow from that distinction. If a president wanted to murder someone while they were in office, instead of hiring a private hitman, this doctrine would be incentivizing them to use the powers of the presidency to commit that criminal misconduct. So it's kind of backwards.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so no blanket immunity, perhaps, but some justices suggested there should be some level of immunity and hinted that they might send the case back to the lower courts for some more work. Here's Chief Justice John Roberts.

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JOHN ROBERTS: What concerns me is, as you know, the Court of Appeals did not get into a focused consideration of what acts we're talking about or what documents we're talking about.

MARTÍNEZ: So what's Roberts referring to here, and what could it mean for how the court might rule?

KHARDORI: Well, he seems to be suggesting that the Court of Appeals should have undertaken a more searching or granular analysis of the allegations in the indictment, again, to distinguish in some capacity between official and nonofficial acts. In terms of the implications, you know, if they send it back to the lower courts for more work to be done, that could fatally imperil any prospect for this prosecution moving to trial before the November election. And so this may result in a delay - further delay of the case beyond November. And of course, if Donald Trump wins reelection in November, it is highly unlikely that this trial will occur.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, several justices, including Neil Gorsuch, pointed out the precedent-setting nature of this case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEIL GORSUCH: You also appreciate that we're...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

GORSUCH: ...Writing a rule for...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

GORSUCH: ...For the ages.

MARTÍNEZ: So how could this ruling then affect future presidents?

KHARDORI: Well, yeah, I mean, he seems to be concerned about hypothetical future presidents who may or may not be engaged in criminal misconduct and worrying about crafting a rule for all time. We've had a couple of hundred years under the current rule, which everybody thought until this current litigation meant that a president could be prosecuted after leaving office. So, you know, we're hearing these arguments from the conservatives, but they seem to be geared toward a specific outcome.

MARTÍNEZ: Ankush Khardori, senior writer for Politico magazine, thank you very much.

KHARDORI: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: New York state's highest court has overturned the criminal conviction of former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

FADEL: To many observers, it was a stunning development. Weinstein was one of the most high-profile men accused of sexual assault during the #MeToo movement. Here's one of Weinstein's accusers, actor and advocate Ashley Judd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ASHLEY JUDD: This today is an act of institutional betrayal. And our institutions betray survivors of male sexual violence.

JUDD: This today is an act of institutional betrayal. And our institutions betray survivors of male sexual violence.

MARTÍNEZ: Join us now to explain the appeal court's decision is NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas. And just a note - this story does mention sexual assault. So, Anastasia, Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual assault in New York in 2020. He's been serving a long sentence upstate. What happened yesterday?

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: So you're right. He's been serving a 23-year sentence on this New York conviction, but he appealed, and yesterday, the New York State Court of Appeals handed down a 4-3 decision, saying that he hadn't had a fair trial.

MARTÍNEZ: Has not had a fair trial - OK, now, this is one of the most closely followed criminal cases in the media in the last few years. I mean, books were written about Weinstein and the women's accusations against him. And as I recall, Anastasia, dozens of women made public allegations against him. So what exactly happened here?

TSIOULCAS: That's right. About 100 women made public accusations against him, and several of those women testified against him during this New York criminal trial, even though their allegations weren't part of the charges he was on trial for. And that is a big part of what the appeals court found unfair.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so if their accusations were not part of the charges, then why were they allowed to testify?

TSIOULCAS: So in New York, A, there's something called the Molineux rule, which has a precedent going back to a case from 1900. And essentially, under some very certain circumstances, a judge can allow witnesses who testify to prior so-called bad acts. And in this case, the trial judge in the Weinstein case allowed these women to testify.

MARTÍNEZ: So that rule, the Molineux rule - that allowed him to win the appeal.

TSIOULCAS: Exactly. That's at the heart of what the appeals court said was unfair to Weinstein. And legal experts often say that when judges allow Molineux witnesses, it's a very subjective decision, and then a conviction becomes easier to challenge, and that's exactly what happened here. And I should note the appeals court ordered a new trial to take place.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so the new trial - what's the outlook there? Who would make that decision?

TSIOULCAS: That's up to the office of the Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg, and Bragg's office told me yesterday that they do intend to try again. In a written statement, they told me that they will, quote, "do everything in our power to retry this case and remain steadfast in our commitment to survivors of sexual assault."

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So Weinstein's conviction is overturned. Does that mean he can be free now?

TSIOULCAS: His conviction in New York has been overturned. You may recall Weinstein was put on a separate criminal trial in California, A, and he was convicted there of rape and sexual assault. And in February 2023, he was sentenced to 16 more years in prison, and that was always ordered to be served separately from the New York sentence. So right now we're expecting he will be moved to California to serve out that sentence unless, of course, he wins on appeal there as well.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. That's NPR correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas. Thank you very much.

TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me. 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.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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