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News Brief: N.H. Primary, Roger Stone Case, Juan Guaidó

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. So New Hampshire, unlike Iowa, quickly had a clear winner.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And the results began to clarify the Democratic presidential race. Bernie Sanders won the primary, Pete Buttigieg finished a close second, and that, plus the muddled results in Iowa, give Buttigieg the most delegates so far for the Democratic convention. Amy Klobuchar finished a strong third in New Hampshire, which gives her a chance to push on. Joe Biden skipped ahead to South Carolina while some other candidates dropped out.

GREENE: And if it's the morning after voting, it means we hear from NPR's Scott Detrow, who is in Manchester. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

GREENE: Good morning. So you had a late night watching Bernie Sanders celebrate this victory. What did it feel like in there?

DETROW: It was a real electric mood there and really such a night-and-day difference from a week ago, where everybody drifted out of the party before a single result was known.

GREENE: Right.

DETROW: Yeah. The room just exploded when the race was called for Bernie Sanders and when he came out to speak. And, look, was this the 20-point margin that Sanders won New Hampshire by four years ago? It was not, but this was a big deal. And combined with what happened in Iowa, it gives him an inside edge over everyone else right now. On one hand, he only got about a quarter of the vote. And when you add up the totals of the votes going to all the moderate candidates, that's way more support than what Sanders is getting.

But here's what he has going for him - he has better organization and advertising and strength in the next few contests than anybody else. And he has more resources in the states that vote on March 3. So, yeah, right now, Sanders is in maybe the strongest position of any Democrat running for president.

GREENE: Well, talking about strong positions, Scott, I mean, you have Amy Klobuchar, who came in third place right behind Buttigieg and Sanders. I mean, what does her success last night tell us about where Democratic voters are right now?

DETROW: I think it tells us that they have no idea who they want the alternative to Bernie Sanders to be. Pete Buttigieg had another strong night, a close second to Sanders. But there are a lot of signs that Klobuchar won a lot of the votes of people who decided at the last minute - a lot of people deciding between her and Buttigieg, between her and Warren even. And a lot ended up breaking her way, giving her this good night and putting her in the conversation now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY KLOBUCHAR: As everyone had counted us out even a week ago - thank you, pundits...

(LAUGHTER)

KLOBUCHAR: ...I came back, and we delivered.

(CHEERING, APPLAUSE)

DETROW: And speaking for pundits, I would say she's right about that. For most of the last year, she was overshadowed by other senators in the race, particularly Elizabeth Warren, who led nationally at one point, who set the tone for the race for a good chunk of last year. But Warren's support faded at the worst possible moment. Even in a state right next to her home state, she came in fourth, she doesn't win a single delegate. But she does insist that she is staying in the race going forward.

GREENE: OK. So we move on now to Nevada, to South Carolina - more diverse states. And I wonder, could that mean some challenges for Pete Buttigieg who, you know, had another strong showing, but he hasn't really been doing well with non-white voters?

DETROW: Yeah, I think it's a challenge for him and for Klobuchar and makes it clear that there is not going to be a clear alternative to Sanders to emerge anytime soon. Both of them, Buttigieg especially, have very low traction among voters of color. And they're going to have to prove themselves now as the race shifts to two very different states - Nevada, one of the most diverse states in the country with a big Latino vote, and South Carolina, where a majority of the Democratic electorate is African American. They need to gain ground in ways that they just haven't shown they can before.

GREENE: And then you have Joe Biden, who was not so long ago seen as the as the front-runner, literally getting out of New Hampshire early because things were looking so bad and getting to South Carolina. Where does his campaign go now?

DETROW: I think there are real doubts about that. He is now banking everything on South Carolina, even more than Nevada. And there's a really long time before South Carolina votes and no guarantee that this plan of banking on support there will work. And it's especially risky because there's only a few days between South Carolina and super Tuesday, where a third of the delegates are on the line. So I think Joe Biden is looking much more vulnerable than he ever thought he'd be in this point.

GREENE: NPR's Scott Detrow is in Manchester, N.H. Thanks, Scott, and safe travels.

DETROW: Thanks a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: So the federal prosecutors who tried the case against President Trump's former adviser, Roger Stone, have quit the case.

INSKEEP: All four of the Justice Department lawyers backed away after the Trump administration overruled their approach. The prosecutors' job here was to recommend a length of a prison sentence for Stone's criminal conviction. They proposed seven to nine years for the president's friend; the president did not like this. He announced his displeasure on Twitter, and the prosecutors' bosses in the Justice Department stepped in to seek a shorter sentence.

GREENE: And NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been following all of this. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Start by reminding us about Roger Stone and why he was on trial in the first place.

LUCAS: So the case against him was brought by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Russia investigation. Stone was charged with obstruction, false statements and witness tampering. And these charges related to his efforts to act as an intermediary between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential race. The case went to trial. A jury here in D.C. convicted Stone in November on all seven counts. He's set to be sentenced in federal court here next Thursday.

Now, as part of this sentencing process, defense attorneys and prosecutors file memos to the court in which they tell the judge what sentence they think the defendant should get. In Stone's case, both sides did that Monday. Stone's lawyers asked for probation. Prosecutors, on the other hand, recommended a sentence in the guidelines range of seven to nine years.

GREENE: Well, as Steve mentioned, I mean, that's the role of prosecutors, to make a recommendation like that. So then how does the Department of Justice, I mean, these prosecutors' bosses, get involved? And what do they have to do with this?

LUCAS: That's a good question. What a senior Justice Department official told me is that the department was shocked by the seven-to-nine-year recommendation. I'm told that it's not the recommendation that the department had been briefed on and that the department found that proposed sentence excessive, thought that it was disproportionate to Stone's crimes.

So yesterday evening, the department took the extraordinary step of filing a supplemental sentencing memo to the court. And in that document, the same Justice Department says that Stone should serve some time behind bars. It doesn't make a specific recommendation on how much time that should be, but it says it should be far less than the original proposal of seven to nine years.

GREENE: OK. So key question - is it unusual for the Justice Department to intervene in this way?

LUCAS: So I spoke to several former prosecutors about this, and they all said that it is highly, highly unusual. One former U.S. attorney told me that it's essentially unheard of. Yes, U.S. attorneys' offices do communicate with the department leadership on cases, particularly big cases. But I'm told it's very rare for the leadership to step in and overrule career prosecutors when it comes to the sentencing of a case.

What makes this particular matter raise even more questions is the timing. A few hours before the department stepped in to overrule these prosecutors and instead seek a lighter sentence, President Trump had tweeted that Stone was being treated unfairly. And remember, Trump and Stone have been friends for decades.

GREENE: Right.

LUCAS: A Justice Department official tells me that the decision to revise their recommendation was made Monday night, so before Trump's tweet. But the timeline still, either way, has raised a ton of questions about the independence of the Justice Department in the Trump administration and whether Attorney General William Barr is adequately protecting the department's independence from the president.

GREENE: Well, also raising questions is these prosecutors on the case resigning after seeing all of this. I mean, so what happens now?

LUCAS: Well, these four prosecutors are the ones who handled Stone's prosecution, they're the ones who tried him in court, they are career folks. They filed papers with the court to withdraw from the case. One of them, Jonathan Kravis, has actually resigned from his job at the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. This turmoil is about the Justice Department because when it comes to Stone's sentencing next week, the decision lies in the hands of Judge Amy Berman Jackson. She's the one who will ultimately make the decision on how much time Stone spends behind bars.

GREENE: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right. So Venezuela's opposition leader, Juan Guaido, is back in Caracas feeling emboldened.

INSKEEP: He flew in after a three-week tour overseas in which he met with President Trump and also with European leaders. He's been trying to build support abroad for his campaign to oust President Nicolas Maduro. And here's the welcome that Guaido got after returning home.

(CROWDS SHOUTING)

GREENE: NPR's Philip Reeves was there and joins us now. And, Phil, what are we listening to there?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Well, you're listening to a big crowd, and that crowd included a lot of supporters of Maduro's government and the ruling Socialist Party. And they heckled Guaido from the moment he arrived at passport control. One reason for that is that among that crowd, there were a lot of employees from the Venezuelan state airline, Conviasa, that's based at that airport. And the airline was hit by U.S. sanctions last week. Those employees were mobilized to protest against those and against Guaido's arrival. They included Elsa Villeda (ph).

ELSA VILLEDA: (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

REEVES: She says Guaido should be arrested and imprisoned, she's had enough of him. And her co-workers around her applauded that after she finished speaking. But Guaido was also met by supporters, including opposition lawmakers from the National Assembly. They say that on their way to the airport, Maduro's security forces stopped their vehicles, so they had to walk the last three kilometers. And when they got there, they tried to greet Guaido on his arrival, but it was very chaotic. He moved through the airport quickly, he was jostled, he had his shirt pulled, people banged on his car and brawls broke out between opposing sides that continued after he drove away.

GREENE: Can you just remind me of the political context for all of this? I mean, why did Guaido, this opposition leader, leave his country in the first place?

REEVES: Well, it's more than a year, David, since he first asserted his claim to be the interim president of Venezuela and won recognition from the U.S. and dozens of other countries. There have been signs recently that his campaign to oust Maduro was flagging. This tour was supposed to pump some air into his tires.

He met Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump. But some of Guaido's supporters say what really impressed them while he was on this tour was the bipartisan ovation he received at the U.S. Congress when he was a guest at the State of the Union. They include Henrietta Porchey (ph), who's part of Guaido's support team.

HENRIETTA PORCHEY: Everybody's with Guaido once again. People once again are recovering, like, the belief in Guaido.

REEVES: Why? Why has that changed?

PORCHEY: Well, I think the last thing that we have to lose is hope. If we lose hope, I think we lose a country. And we are all aware of that.

REEVES: So after arriving, Guaido then went to a plaza in Caracas to try to keep that hope alive. And he made a speech, saying that he plans to finish the job of reclaiming the nation, in his words. But that will be a job that is difficult and complex because he's got to find new ways of pressuring President Nicolas Maduro in order to oust him from office at a time when the economy is showing signs, although being dire, is showing some signs of stabilization.

GREENE: NPR's Philip Reeves covering this competition for power in Venezuela. Phil, thanks so much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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