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News Brief: Presidential Campaigns, Alexei Navalny, Daniel Prude's Death

NOEL KING, HOST:

Election Day is two months away, and both candidates will be on the campaign trail today.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah, that's right. Joe Biden's going to be in Kenosha, Wis. That city is still on edge after a police officer shot Jacob Blake. Later during protests over that very incident, a teenager allegedly shot and killed two protesters. And we say allegedly because he has been charged but not tried. President Trump goes to Latrobe, Pa. These are two key swing states. So what will the candidates' messages be?

KING: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is following it all. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. Let's start with Biden's visit to Kenosha. Here's what he said about it.

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JOE BIDEN: What we're going to do is we've got to heal. We've got to put things together, bring people together. And so my purpose in going will be to do just that - to be a positive influence on what's going on.

KING: Kind of a broad hazy, statement - what's his actual plan there?

KEITH: Yeah. So his plan is to visit with the family of Jacob Blake. The Biden campaign told NPR that they will meet with Blake's father as well as other family members. Blake, of course, is the man who was shot and wounded in Kenosha. President Trump, when he was there, didn't meet with any members of the Blake family and instead focused on meeting with law enforcement and business owners that had been affected by some rioting or looting. In reality, there are people in Kenosha who didn't want either of them to be there because it is such a raw situation. Biden is justifying his visit saying that there were people who wanted him there. Of course, it's also a battleground part of a key battleground state.

KING: All right. So exactly two months out from the election, how are Biden and Trump articulating their messages at this point?

KEITH: So - you know, the main theme of the RNC was that you won't be safe in Joe Biden's America, saying that he would be soft on crime. Well, Biden has delivered a forceful pushback condemning all violence but also saying that people aren't safe and secure in Trump's America, citing the pandemic and economic anxiety. The Biden campaign is spending millions of dollars on a new ad that extends the reach of those remarks. President Trump's team is also spending money on ads in Wisconsin and Minnesota saying that Biden is weak on lawlessness. And you know, what this does, really, is it has both of them on the ground that President Trump wants to be on, which is talking about violence instead of some of the issues like systemic racism and police brutality that Democrats and Biden would rather be talking about and of course the pandemic, which Biden would rather focus on.

KING: And as you said, both candidates are spending money at this point, which is exactly what we would expect. They raised quite a bit last month, didn't they?

KEITH: Yeah, they are spending money 'cause they have a lot of money to spend. Biden and Democrats announced that they raised $365 million in August. The Trump campaign hasn't announced their numbers yet, but they did say that they raised 76 million just during the Republican convention alone. Both sides have already pre-booked well over $100 million in TV ads for the next two months. That's according to the tracking firm Ad Analytics.

KING: Big money. What is President Trump doing today in Latrobe, Pa.?

KEITH: It's another one of what we'll see a lot of, which are his aircraft hangar rallies and, again, in an important state that he needs to win in November.

KING: White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

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KING: In March, a man in Rochester, N.Y., named Joe Prude called 911. He needed help for his brother Daniel Prude.

MARTIN: Daniel had a history of mental illness and was behaving erratically. Police arrived and immediately handcuffed him. They put a hood over his head and pinned his head and body to the ground. He was taken away in an ambulance. A week later, Daniel died. His family has been trying to figure out what happened. Yesterday, the family's lawyer received police footage of the events and shared it with local media. Protests soon followed.

KING: And we should note that some of what we're going to talk about next is disturbing. NPR's Liz Baker joins us now from Rochester. Good morning, Liz.

LIZ BAKER, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: So Rachel described some of what happened, which is in the video footage. You've been studying that video. Walk us through what you saw.

BAKER: Well, Prude, a Black man, is seen walking in the street. It's snowing. He has no clothes on. He's yelling at police officers and spitting at them. The police cover his head with a white bag, and Prude yells at officers to give him their guns. Then, Prude moves to stand up, and they hold him down on his stomach and pin his head and legs. And as you said, the video is very hard to watch, especially this next part where you can hear Prude making these awful noises as he struggles to breathe and then he goes limp. At this point, officers roll him on his back, and he seems unresponsive. EMTs arrive and immediately start chest compressions while Prude's hands are still cuffed behind his back.

KING: This happened in March. Why are we only hearing about it now five months later?

BAKER: Well, the lawyers for the family made a public records request for the footage. And so yesterday after seeing that video, Prude's family held a press conference on the steps of Rochester City Hall. Here's the victim's brother Joe Prude. He's the one who called police on his brother that night because he was concerned about his agitated mental state.

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JOE PRUDE: I placed a phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched.

BAKER: He also questioned why no charges have been filed against the officers. The medical examiner's report ruled the death a homicide due to complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint. And the fact that this was ruled a homicide, that's part of why the family is so angry. The victim's brother and a group of activists tried to demand answers during the mayor's scheduled press conference yesterday, but they were barred from entering.

KING: What happened in that press conference? What are city officials saying? As you said, homicide - a serious charge.

BAKER: Yeah, it is. Well, both the chief of police and the mayor of Rochester, in that press conference, were asked why the city has been silent on this case for months. Here's the city chief of police, La'Ron Singletary.

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LA'RON SINGLETARY: The rhetoric that this is a cover-up - it's not. You know, we don't have a problem holding anyone accountable, but the investigation has to take its course.

BAKER: And the investigation he's referring to is by the state attorney general's office, which both the chief and the mayor say precludes the city from conducting their own investigations. The officers involved also have not been suspended while that investigation continues.

KING: So protesters go out into the streets; police tear-gas them. Are the protests continuing? And what are the protesters specifically asking for here?

BAKER: Well, in short, the protesters are asking for police reform and accountability. The protests, they say, will continue until they see justice. As is the case in a lot of other cities, downtown Rochester's Black community doesn't have a great relationship with the police. And this city saw protests after George Floyd's death, and they're going to see more after this one.

KING: NPR's Liz Baker in Rochester, N.Y. Thanks, Liz.

BAKER: Thank you.

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KING: Who poisoned the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny?

MARTIN: This has been a big question - a mystery, really - since he got sick on a plane last month. He has been in a coma ever since. Now Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, says his toxicology tests show a Soviet-era chemical nerve agent called Novichok.

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CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (Through interpreter) So it's clear that Alexei Navalny is the victim of a crime. He was supposed to be silenced, and I and the entire German government condemn this in the strongest possible terms.

KING: NPR's Lucian Kim is in Moscow. Good morning, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So the German government confirming that Navalny was poisoned - that was the first big question. There was suspicion that that was the case. And then we heard Angela Merkel there speaking in German. What did she say?

KIM: That's right. Well, actually, Chancellor Merkel has been very vocal about Navalny's case from the moment he fell ill two weeks ago. And what we heard just now was, yesterday, she came out and personally announced that German military doctors had concluded without a doubt that Navalny had been poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. She called it an attempted murder and said there are now a lot of questions the Russian government has to answer.

KING: Yes. All eyes, of course, turn to Vladimir Putin at this point because his government has been involved in similar incidents of poisoning his enemies. Has Vladimir Putin responded to this at all?

KIM: (Laughter) Well, first of all, Putin himself does not react to any news about Navalny. And he and his spokesman don't even mention Navalny's name. State television has broadcast some news about it but always briefly and referring to Navalny as a blogger instead of an opposition leader. Putin's spokesman is insisting that Russian doctors who examined Navalny were sure he hadn't been poisoned. And the Russian Foreign Ministry has come out and said German officials have not been cooperating with their Russian counterparts and even suggested that the West is just looking for a pretext for new economic sanctions. We heard basically the same argument after the 2018 Novichok attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in England. And the Kremlin line is basically, deny everything, and say there's no proof.

KING: So you bring up an interesting point. You had this man poisoned in England. You have a Russian now poisoned. He's on German soil. This is bigger than just Russia. Can you talk about the international implications and the international response? Who is taking whose side? Which countries are saying what exactly?

KIM: Well, right. I mean, this international response may actually become a problem for the Kremlin because it's been very swift and very unified. We've had condemnation from the European Union, from Britain, from France, from NATO and also the United States. The National Security Council tweeted that the poisoning was completely reprehensible and that the U.S. and its allies will hold the guilty parties accountable. In Germany, some politicians there are demanding that work on a natural gas pipeline connecting Germany and Russia be stopped.

KING: And how is Alexei Navalny doing, just quickly?

KIM: Well, Navalny is still in intensive care in one of Berlin's top hospitals. He was airlifted out of Siberia on Merkel's personal intervention shortly after his poisoning. His German doctors said yesterday that he remains in serious condition on a ventilator and that while his condition is improving, his recovery will be lengthy, and it's unclear what the long-term effects on his health will be.

KING: NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow. Thanks so much, Lucian.

KIM: Thank you.

KING: And before we sign off, we have an update on a story that we aired yesterday. The White House responded to our interview with Elizabeth Neumann. You'll remember she's a former top Department of Homeland Security official. She told our co-host Steve that during her years in the Trump administration, the president was reluctant to focus on right-wing extremism.

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ELIZABETH NEUMANN: And the irony is that he - when he finally was comfortable with using the word domestic terrorism, it was in the context of antifa and trying to exploit or sell a story that the looting and the violence that we have seen somewhat associated with peaceful protests is antifa. And yet, if you look at the arrests that have occurred in the protests of the summer, it's the Boogaloo movement or it's an association with QAnon. It's the right side of the spectrum. It is not antifa.

KING: In a statement, the White House responds that Neumann sounds like a disgruntled employee. The statement, however, doesn't dispute any of the details of her account. The White House's full statement and more information about that interview are at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.