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News Brief: Republican Convention, Wisconsin Protests, Jerry Falwell Jr.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

On day one of the Republican National Convention the party made a case for President Trump's second term.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The first day of the convention, like every day, leaned heavily on people named Trump. The president made a daytime appearance and is expected each day. Part of primetime belonged to his oldest son, Donald Trump, Jr.

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DONALD TRUMP JR: Joe Biden and the radical left are now coming for our freedom of speech. They want to bully us into submission. If they get their way, it will no longer be the silent majority. It will be the silenced majority.

INSKEEP: His father had promised a convention full of optimism and hope. Tonight, the speakers include First Lady Melania Trump.

GREENE: And watching all of this is NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, who is with us this morning. Hi, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Well, Ayesha, let's start with the image that was painted last night of President Trump. They really painted an image of him as a caring leader.

RASCOE: Yeah, the convention offered these moments that seemed to try to show a softer side of Trump. There was this group conversation with American hostages freed with the help of the administration. There was a speech by a cancer survivor who received experimental treatment under a right-to-try policy backed by the president. There was also Andrew Pollack, whose daughter was killed in the shooting in Parkland, Fla. He talked about how he felt like Trump really listened to him after that tragedy. And Jim Jordan, the Ohio congressman who's usually very vocal about defending the president - he talked about a time when Trump comforted a relative that lost his son. You know, it was all a very clear response to the messaging we heard about Joe Biden last week, where he was described as an empathetic person who can relate to people because he has suffered many personal tragedies.

RASCOE: Well, Republicans had really criticized the Democrats for their convention, I mean, saying they painted a dark picture of our country. I mean, how did the Republican convention compare?

RASCOE: It wasn't a very bright picture, at least not when it comes to a potential Biden presidency. The biggest message of the night was that Democrats are radical, and they will ruin America. There were many efforts to paint the party as socialist, including a Cuban exile warning about what might happen to the U.S. They were trying to paint Joe Biden as someone who bowed to the far-left wing of the party, even though Biden is known as a centrist Democrat. Here's former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

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NIKKI HALEY: Last time, Joe's boss was Obama. This time, it would be Pelosi, Sanders and the Squad. Their vision for America is socialism. And we know that socialism has failed everywhere. They want to tell Americans how to live, what to think.

RASCOE: And again, really dark at times with some speakers like Kimberly Guilfoyle, adviser to the Trump campaign and girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., saying things like, Democrats want to steal your liberties, your freedom.

GREENE: Who can we say was the target audience from last night?

RASCOE: White suburban voters, especially women. You know, the messages were aimed at softening Trump and raising fear of crime. There were some black Trump supporters who spoke, and their message seemed to be that Trump is not racist. Probably the strongest pushback of the night on Biden came from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate. Here's something from him.

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TIM SCOTT: In 1994, Biden led the charge on a crime bill that put millions of black Americans behind bars. President Trump's criminal justice reform law fixed many of the disparities Biden created and made our system more fair and just for all Americans.

RASCOE: That was some of the arguments that you were hearing last night.

GREENE: All right. More nights to come as the Republican convention goes on this week. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you.

GREENE: And we should tell you that NPR's coverage of the Republican National Convention continues tonight at 9 o'clock Eastern time. You can visit npr.org or ask your smart speaker to play NPR or your station by name to join us live.

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GREENE: All right. In Kenosha, Wis., a day of peaceful protests ended with fires and looting.

INSKEEP: The protests came after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back by police over the weekend. The incident was captured on video. Mr. Blake remains in serious condition in a Milwaukee hospital. The officers involved are on administrative leave. Gov. Tony Evers has called in the Wisconsin National Guard. He also called for a special legislative session to take up a package of police reform bills that had been introduced in June.

GREENE: And we are joined by LaToya Dennis this morning from member station WUWM. Thanks for being here.

LATOYA DENNIS, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

GREENE: What did the scene feel like in Kenosha last night?

DENNIS: You know, as you said, the National Guard was called in. And there was a curfew in place. People were supposed to be off the streets by about 8 p.m. And that curfew was not lifted until 7 a.m. Sheriff's deputies - they closed the exits took another shift on the interstate, making it a lot more difficult for people to get there. And the hope was that people would be encouraged to stay home so that they didn't have a repeat of Sunday night, where vehicles were set on fire, windows were broken and police in riot gear used tear gas and rubber bullets to try and disperse crowds. In reality, there was a repeat of Sunday night. People did not stay away. They converged. And from what I could see by monitoring this from social media videos throughout the night that were live, it seemed like a lot more people than Sunday night. The fires seemed larger. And it got pretty chaotic at times.

GREENE: Have we learned about the officer or officers who shot this 29-year-old man?

DENNIS: You know, the officers have not yet been identified, though the Department of Justice has said that they are now on administrative leave, which is standard procedure. I mentioned the Department of Justice, and it is behind the investigation. Now, the DOJ hopes to have a report to the Kenosha district attorney within the next 30 days or so. And from there, it's up to the DA to decide whether to go forward with charges. And as for the Blake family, they have brought on civil rights attorney Ben Crump for representation. And Blake's father is expected to speak at Friday's Al Sharpton's March on Washington commemoration.

GREENE: Can you give me a sense for what the community is feeling like? What are people telling you?

DENNIS: They're basically saying we need healing. People need healing from the trauma that they're experiencing. Yesterday, I spoke with a man by the name of James Hall. He's president and CEO of the Urban League of Kenosha and Racine. And he says that not enough people are concerned about the trauma that's being experienced. Three of Blake's children and his fiancee witnessed the shooting.

JAMES HALL: You have the trauma from him. You have the trauma for his fiancee. You have the trauma from the children. They're going to be terrified for the rest of their life of police officers. That's not going to change. It's not going to change at all.

DENNIS: Hall basically says people have to listen to each other.

GREENE: LaToya Dennis from member station WUWM, thanks so much this morning.

DENNIS: Thank you.

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GREENE: So Jerry Falwell Jr.'s role at Liberty University is in doubt this morning.

INSKEEP: Yeah. The prominent Christian University says that Falwell resigned but then had second thoughts. He told one news outlet he was not leaving but told others that he is. All the while, Falwell tells NPR things remain, quote, "up in the air." The university's board of trustees is meeting this morning to discuss his future. All of this comes after a report that a former business partner had a years-long sexual relationship involving Falwell's wife and Falwell.

GREENE: Aram Roston reported that story for Reuters and joins us now. Aram, good morning.

ARAM ROSTON, HOST:

Good morning.

GREENE: What do you know at this moment in terms of Falwell's status at Liberty?

ROSTON: I think I know what everybody else knows. The university has put out this statement that says it initially yesterday had an agreement from Falwell that he was going to resign. And then he seems to have changed his mind, they said.

GREENE: Well, you spoke with Falwell's business partner, who alleges he had a sexual relationship with Falwell's wife and the evangelical leader. What does he claim happened, and what proof did he provide to you?

ROSTON: So we spoke to Giancarlo Granda, who was in business in a youth hostel in Miami that was set up about a year after he met the couple. He says he was 20 years old when he was working at the Fontainebleau, this - it's a luxury hotel in Miami - and met them there. He said the nature of his relationship with them went on for years, was sexual. He said he had an intimate relationship with Becky. And he said that Jerry would watch the two of them. He provided us with evidence in the form of some texts, some audio. And we can't discuss all the evidence we have in this story. He - we did put some in this story. You can see it there. It's an interesting development in the story because no one knew this sort of substance of the relationship that Granda, this young man, had with this couple that's quite a bit older than him.

GREENE: Well, Falwell told the site Virginia Business that your reporting is, quote, "90% false." Can you just respond to that?

ROSTON: I mean, we stand by our reporting. I'd love - obviously, we invited him to an interview many times. We tried to interview him. We'd still love to interview him.

GREENE: I mean, he's a prominent supporter of President Trump. He's president of one of the nation's biggest Christian universities. Why would it be so significant if he is officially out?

ROSTON: Well, it's interesting - he's not only a prominent supporter. He was the first significant evangelical to endorse Trump during the 2016 campaign. And most evangelicals believe that's what got Trump the evangelical support in the primary and later to this day. Who knows what impact that would have on President Trump, you know, if he's ousted? It's certainly in Liberty University - that university is identified as a Falwell institution. It was founded by Falwell's dad. He took it over, you know, when his dad passed away in 2007.

GREENE: Right.

ROSTON: So for the institution, it would be huge.

GREENE: Journalist Aram Roston with Reuters, thanks so much.

ROSTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.