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News Brief: Bolton Book, Atlanta Officer Charged, Fla. COVID-19 Cases Surge

NOEL KING, HOST:

The account of the Trump White House by John Bolton is a damning story from a former national security adviser. Bolton, of course, is a veteran U.S. official. He was a fixture on Fox News for many years. A lot of Republicans liked him. And as it turns out, John Bolton took a lot of notes.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In a book based on those notes, Bolton describes the President's conversations with China's president, Xi Jinping. Bolton says that in 2018, President Trump pleaded with China's president to buy American agricultural products as part of a trade deal. Trump believed it would help Republicans in midterm elections and said so. Trump also asked Xi for help with his own reelection in 2020. Bolton describes a chaotic White House where the president changes his mind from moment to moment on life-or-death issues.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez got a hold of the book. Good morning, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What is the top line for you? What stands out?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the book details Bolton's 18 months as Trump's national security adviser before their relationship crumbled when he left in September of last year. NPR did obtain a copy - I have it here, actually - "The Room Where It Happened." And the way Bolton describes it, Trump's interactions were - with foreign counterparts were purely transactional and motivated by reelection calculations. As you guys just noted, the president, quote, "pleaded" with his Chinese counterpart at a dinner to buy agricultural products so that it would help him with farmers in November. He adds almost satirically that he print Trump's exact words but that the government prepublication review process wouldn't let him.

KING: Oh, that's interesting. What does John Bolton say about President Trump's relationship with world leaders and also with his own people?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, that was a big theme of the book. Bolton writes that Trump's dealings with Russia, for example, were bad, even foolish. He recalls Trump's joint news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki where he appeared to side with the Russian leader over U.S. intelligence agencies and says Putin must have been, quote, "laughing uproariously" after. You know, and Bolton also writes that Trump told Chinese President Xi to go ahead with concentration camps for the largely minority Uighur dissidents. And he writes that many Trump Cabinet officials, you know, loyalists, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, actually made fun of him behind his back because of his lack of knowledge about foreign policy.

KING: Why did John Bolton not bring any of this up during the president's impeachment?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, that's the really big question that people continue to ask. Democrats are angry - still very angry - that Bolton resisted taking part in the House impeachment proceedings when, you know, these allegations really could have had more of an impact. Bolton goes so far, though, to accuse House Democrats of, quote, "impeachment malpractice" because they did not subpoena him or wait for a court order to force him to testify. Bolton also says, you know, they shouldn't have restricted Trump - the inquiry to Trump's dealings with Ukraine. He says there are a lot of other issues, including Trump's willingness to get involved in investigations so he could curry favor with some of those autocratic leaders.

KING: Has President Trump said anything?

ORDOÑEZ: He was on Fox's Sean Hannity's show last night. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HANNITY")

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But he broke the law - very simple. I mean, as much as it's going to be broken, this is highly classified. That's the highest - it's highly classified information. And he did not have approval. That's come out now very loud and very strong.

ORDOÑEZ: That was after the Justice Department made a last-ditch effort to block the book's publication. Prosecutors allege the book violates nondisclosure agreements Bolton signed as part of his employment, as well as a compromise of national security. But all this may only drum up more interest in the book, which has shot up to Amazon bestseller list.

KING: Franco Ordoñez. Thanks, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: The former Atlanta police officer who shot and killed Rayshard Brooks last week in the parking lot of a Wendy's has now been charged.

INSKEEP: The Fulton County district attorney charged Garrett Rolfe with felony murder. Another officer who was present, Devin Brosnan, has been charged with aggravated assault and violations of his oath of office.

KING: Stephen Fowler is a reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting. He's been following this one. Morning, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So we got a lot of information in a press conference from the DA yesterday. Tell us what happened, what he said.

FOWLER: Well, that's right. It took just five days from when 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed by an Atlanta police officer to these charges being filed. Prosecutors say they reviewed cellphone video, surveillance footage and body camera footage, as well as physical evidence at an Atlanta Wendy's, which led to this press conference announcing charges. Police were called after Brooks fell asleep in a Wendy's drive-through Friday night. Now the prosecutors say video shows more than half an hour the interaction is calm and Brooks is cooperative. Then things changed after he failed a sobriety test. Noel, this next part happened in about the span of 60 seconds. There was a scuffle, one officer fires their Taser, Brooks takes the other officer's Taser, and while running away, he turns and fires that Taser. Officer Rolfe shoots Brooks. And then here's what district attorney Paul Howard says happened next.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAUL HOWARD: After Mr. Brooks was shot, for some period of two minutes and 12 seconds, there was no medical attention applied to Mr. Brooks. What we discovered is during the two minutes and 12 seconds that officer Rolfe actually kicked Mr. Brooks while he laid on the ground while he was there fighting for his life.

FOWLER: And this piece of evidence is one important point the prosecutor is trying to make in addition to the actual shooting.

KING: Yeah. That's a very difficult thing to hear. Tell me about the charges against these officers.

FOWLER: Well, Rolfe faces 11 charges, including felony murder. That means the DA believes the fired officer committed a felony that led to Brooks' death. That includes aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and several violations of office. Devin Brosnan is the other officer charged. He's on desk duty and faces three charges, including two counts of violating oath of office. He's also accused of standing on Brooks' shoulders after he was shot. If convicted of the murder charge, Rolfe could face life in prison or the death penalty.

KING: How are people in Atlanta responding to these charges?

FOWLER: Well, Noel, Rolfe's lawyers say the shooting was justified under the law. Brosnan's attorneys say they are cooperating with prosecutors, but note he has not become a state's witness to testify against anyone. They call it a rush to misjudgment. Now, it's important to note the DA is second place headed into a runoff in August and is facing several investigations into his previous actions, so some say this is politically motivated. And finally, a higher number than normal of Atlanta police officers called out sick Wednesday night. So that'll be something to continue to watch as the relationship between the city and its officers is under higher scrutiny.

KING: Certainly will be. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler. Stephen, thank you.

FOWLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. Some places, like the northeastern United States, are seeing COVID-19 cases go down. That is good news.

INSKEEP: In other places, infections and hospitalizations are surging. And that includes Florida.

KING: NPR Miami correspondent Greg Allen is on the line with us. Good morning, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Morning, Noel.

KING: What's going on in Florida?

ALLEN: Well, you know, it's been a month and a half now since the state slowly started reopening. That is, in early May. Some counties started a little later. But even before some counties opened, we started to see numbers of new cases start trending upward here. In the past week, those numbers have become really startling. We've had a new record set every few days. The number of new cases now is double what we were seeing just three weeks ago. That's led some local officials to become concerned. Mayors in Miami and Miami Beach this week held a news conference to say that they're putting the next phase of openings on hold. In Palm Beach County, officials there are looking at making face coverings mandatory. That's something that's already the case in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. So that's some concern here.

KING: We have been asking reporters all across the country this question all week, but is there an understanding, Greg, of what's behind the rising number of cases. Is it possible to say the state reopened too early?

ALLEN: Well, certainly, many people think so, but some elected officials - mostly Republicans, as it turns out, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis - say the increase in cases can mostly be attributed to more testing. You know, Florida is testing a lot more people, 200,000 people a week, double the number in early May. We've heard that same message from President Trump and Vice President Pence. But public health experts say while increased testing is a factor, it's not the only reason cases are going up. A few weeks ago here in Florida, the percentage of people who were tested and found positive for COVID-19 was under 4%. The latest report puts that number at 12%. And in Palm Beach County, Health Director Alina Alonso has been watching that number. She issued a warning this week about the rising number of cases.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALINA ALONSO: When you hear people telling you the test numbers are going up because we're testing more, that is not the whole picture. The positivity tells you that that is not true, that we're having more cases because there is a wider spread of the virus in the community.

KING: She is saying what the governor is telling you is not entirely true.

ALLEN: That's right.

KING: What does the governor say about that?

ALLEN: He had a news conference a few days ago, and he said, basically, don't worry about it. He said the number of deaths and the number of people being hospitalized for coronavirus are still far below what they were back in April. Here's what he had to say this week when Florida set a new record for COVID-19 cases.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: We're not shutting down. You know, we're going to go forward. We're going to continue to protect the most vulnerable.

ALLEN: Governor DeSantis says the rise in the percentage of people testing positive for the virus is being driven by isolated outbreaks, in his view. He detailed a whole bunch of outbreaks throughout the state, many of them among farm workers. He talked about a watermelon farm near Gainesville in which 90 out of 100 people tested were positive, and he says that pushes the number way up. Prisons are another hot spot for cases. So there's no indication he's going to do anything to pull back on opening up the state. Meantime, we've had a number of bars - stories about a number of bars across the state that have shut down after a bunch of customers and employees tested positive. So we'll see. Governor DeSantis welcomed the Republican National Convention here in Jacksonville in August, so full speed ahead.

KING: Full speed ahead. NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Greg, thanks.

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