News Brief: Gun Legislation, Intelligence Leadership Changes, Jimmy Aldaoud

Aug 9, 2019
Originally published on August 9, 2019 11:26 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It took New Zealand only six days to announce a proposal to change gun laws after a deadly attack on two mosques there earlier this year. A month later, the government in New Zealand put in place a sweeping ban on military-style weapons.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. Change has come a little slower here in the United States in the aftermath of two more deadly mass shootings. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday that the chamber will discuss measures to address gun violence when Congress returns from summer break in September. Among those measures on the table, so-called red-flag laws, which would get guns out of the hands of people deemed dangerous and also the idea of expanding background checks.

MARTIN: NPR's congressional correspondent, Susan Davis, is in the studio to talk about this. Hi, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So what is Senator McConnell proposing? Is he actually proposing something?

DAVIS: He's promising a debate. He is not promising that there will be a law signed at the end of this. He also made clear he is not interested in taking up a broad gun debate in the Senate but a more narrow debate focused on proposals that could have more support. This is what he told local Kentucky radio.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: We had that ban for about a 10-year period. There was a good deal of dispute about whether it actually had an impact or not. It's certainly one of the front-and-center issues. I think probably background checks and red flags would probably lead the discussion.

DAVIS: He's essentially ruling out things like a ban on high-capacity weapons, things like the, quote, unquote, "assault weapons ban."

MARTIN: That's what he's referring to when he's saying, we had that for 10 years.

DAVIS: Yes, that 10-year ban. There is already a background check on the bill on the table that's been passed out of the House that would expand the background check requirements to cover more gun sales. Although we should note, when they passed this back in February, President Trump threatened to veto.

MARTIN: So why is McConnell - I mean, it is significant that he's even opening a debate - right? - because he hasn't wanted to do that. What's led to the change of heart?

DAVIS: Part of this is being driven by President Trump now. McConnell acknowledged that, as well. Here he is again on local radio.

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MCCONNELL: The president called me this morning about this. He's anxious to get an outcome, and so am I. And I believe the Democrats will have to just admit that it's better to get a result than just to engage in this sort of analyst point-scoring that has the tendency to occur after one of these awful, awful incidents.

DAVIS: There are a couple of bipartisan proposals in the Senate on those red-flag laws and on background checks. But so far this year, McConnell had not shown any interest in having a gun debate. So that is movement on this. There is also no timeline. He said when they come back in the fall, but he didn't mean necessarily in September. It was a very broad - when we get back, we'll take a look at this. So again, promising a debate, not an outcome.

MARTIN: What do the numbers say? I mean, at this point, when you look at the Senate, do you see enough Republicans willing to get behind the idea of universal background checks or an assault weapons ban, for that matter?

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, again, assault weapons ban really unlikely. But there are a number of Republicans who say they want to do things - people like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, where, of course, one of these mass shootings just took place. You know, as always in the Senate, you need 60 votes. It is the bare minimum you need to move forward with legislation, particularly legislation that is controversial. And gun legislation of any variety has not been able to find that level of support.

The last time the Senate made a really sincere push to try and get something done on gun-related legislation was after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012. They tried to expand background checks then. That only got 54 votes. That has been sort of the high-water mark for support for changes to gun laws for the last decade. We'll see if that meter's moved.

MARTIN: All right. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: OK. President Trump has announced his new pick for acting director of national intelligence. He made the announcement last night.

GREENE: Yeah. It's retired Vice Admiral Joseph Maguire. He is set to replace outgoing acting Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. And this comes as kind of a surprise to some in the intelligence community, who believed that Sue Gordon, the country's No. 2 intelligence official under Coats, would take the top job. Instead, the president announced yesterday that she would be resigning. The director of National intelligence is a post that was created after the 9/11 attacks to oversee the 17 civilian and military intelligence agencies.

MARTIN: NPR's Franco Ordoñez is here to talk about this story. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So we should just say this is a very important job, the DNI, right? They oversee, as David said, all the intelligence agencies. And the president has tapped Joseph Maguire as the acting director of national intelligence. Who is he?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, he is currently the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. He had over a three-decade career in the U.S. Navy before retiring in 2010. He's had commands in the Navy SEALs and the Naval Special Warfare Command. And he comes from a family of service members. His father served in World War II. His brothers were in the Navy, as well. His wife, Kathy - she was actually given the Defense Department's Distinguished Special Service Award for her support of wounded service members.

MARTIN: OK. So a qualified person for this job. Sue Gordon was also qualified for this job. She was the No. 2 at the ODNI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. And how the protocol works is that she would have been in line for this job, right?

ORDOÑEZ: Right.

MARTIN: So she's out now. What does that say about the president's relationship to the intelligence community?

ORDOÑEZ: It shows the challenges that this president has had with the intelligence community - I mean, it's a lot of musical chairs. Clearly, Sue Gordon's departure definitely made naming Maguire a lot easier. As you pointed out, experts say, according to the federal statute, she actually should've been elevated to the acting director position, but her departure - but that was until her departure was announced. The reality is she's part of an intelligence community that Trump has had issues with.

Trump wanted to put in place a loyal supporter, Congressman John Ratcliffe, to the top position. But those plans fell apart about questions about his resume. As you noted, Trump effectively fired the one and two officials at the DNI. Putting in place an acting person means no confirmation hearing. And that is important because it means no public airing of what led to the changes.

MARTIN: So Sue Gordon was close to Dan Coats, who stepped down and had his fair share of tensions with the president. You said, you know, Joseph Maguire, clearly very qualified. Is he going to be someone who's in lockstep with the president?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, I mean, the position was just announced. Trump, you know, said on Twitter very - you know, very nice and kind things. But, you know, we're still learning. It's been less than 24 hours. Gordon, as you noted, had a lot of support from members of Congress. Senator Richard Burr - he's the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee - he called her a trusted partner.

But Maguire also has support. He was confirmed in his current role. Dan Coats himself said that Maguire will lead the men and women of the intelligence community with distinction. And being a former admiral, running the NTC (ph) also gives Maguire some street credibility. And given his background and the controversy about Ratcliffe, he's likely to have a better go at it.

MARTIN: Right. It's not like he's an outsider to the establishment...

ORDOÑEZ: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...As the head of the NCTC. OK. Franco Ordoñez, we appreciate it. Thank you.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

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MARTIN: We're going to turn next to the story of a Michigan man who was found dead in Iraq this week, two months after he was deported by U.S. immigration officials.

GREENE: Yeah. His name is 41-year-old Jimmy Aldaoud. He was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as part of a White House order that ramped up deportations of anyone convicted of a felony. ICE officials in Detroit say that Aldaoud entered the United States legally in 1979 when he was a year old. Michigan police records show that Aldaoud pleaded guilty to criminal charges at least 15 times over the course of nearly 20 years prior to his deportation. Those include assault, breaking and entering, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and home invasion. Friends and family say he was diabetic and also struggled with mental health issues.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf is on the line from Iraq. She's been covering this story. Jane, tell us more. I mean, what do we know about Jimmy Aldaoud's time in Iraq?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, Rachel, he was deported in June - part of that series of sweeps by ICE. And the next thing he knew, he was being put on a series of flights where he inexplicably was deported to the Shia holy city of Najaf. Daoud (ph) was Christian. He landed with no money, no Iraqi ID and only broken Arabic. And then he ended up in the street in Baghdad.

MARTIN: So I guess I don't understand, Jane. Can you clarify? If he came to the U.S. legally, what were the grounds for deporting him?

ARRAF: So under these sweeps, pretty much anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony and also has any sort of immigration irregularities - even though they are legally in the United States - have been being deported. I've spoken to quite a few of these people. One of them had a conviction, which he served time for 20 years ago, and was deported. And Daoud fell into that category.

He was in Baghdad, where he said - he did a video saying that he was in the street. He was homeless. He was vomiting. He couldn't get enough to eat. So then his family sent him money for a place to stay and insulin. But he was terrified. He'd been diagnosed in the U.S. as being bipolar and schizophrenic. And in Baghdad, he was too scared to go to the hospital. So on Monday, his sister tells us she got a call saying that he was dead.

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JIMMY ALDAOUD: And I refused. I said, I've never been there. I've been in this country my whole life, you know, since pretty much birth - I missed birth by six months. And they...

ARRAF: That was Daoud...

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MARY BOLIS: ...Down the wrong path. I guess parenting - I don't know what it is. But he said, I would rather die in the prisons of the United States than live one more day here in Iraq. And I think his depression got to him.

MARTIN: Little confusion with the clips...

ARRAF: That's his sister Mary Bolis.

MARTIN: ...But that second clip was his sister, correct?

ARRAF: That is his sister Mary. And she says those assault charges were fights with their father. She says all the kids were terrified of their dad. He broke into abandoned houses, his friends say, when he was homeless. So universally, they describe him as a sweet but troubled guy. And his sister says he was born in Greece. He'd never been to Iraq. It's hard for Iraqis to get help here. Someone who doesn't speak the language, doesn't have documents doesn't really stand much of a chance.

MARTIN: And this is the case for other individuals who you've followed, people who've been deported to Iraq and have had a hard time, right?

ARRAF: Absolutely. All of these people are sent here without Iraqi documents. They're basically just dumped here. Another deportee we've covered, named Naser al-Shimary, has been here more than a year now. And he's still terrified. He's covered in tattoos. He speaks with an American accent. He's been beat up several times. He talked to Daoud a week before he died. And he said Daoud, who was his friend, told him he wanted to kill himself. And that's something we hear a lot. Shimary says that Daoud was somebody who needed to be taken care of, that he never would have survived in Iraq.

MARTIN: NPRs Jane Arraf covering this story. Thanks, Jane. We appreciate it.

ARRAF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOKIMONSTA'S "SMOKE AND MIRRORS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.