News Brief: Texas Shooting Update, Trump Visits South Korea

Nov 7, 2017
Originally published on November 8, 2017 7:43 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are starting to get some answers after that massacre Sunday at a Texas church.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We are. One of the gunman's intended targets appears to have been his mother-in-law. Now, she was not in church on Sunday, but investigators say Devin Patrick Kelley had sent her threatening text messages, though that is clearly only a partial explanation of his actions. Here's what Freeman Martin of the Texas Department of Public Safety told reporters.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FREEMAN MARTIN: There are many ways that that he could have taken care of the mother-in-law without coming with 15 loaded magazines and an assault rifle to a church. I think he came here with a purpose and a mission.

KELLY: When Kelley was in the Air Force, he was court-martialed for assaulting his then-wife and baby stepson. Now, this is important to know, David, because his conviction for domestic violence should have appeared in a federal database of people prohibited from purchasing firearms.

GREENE: Well, and we have NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman here to talk us through how this may have happened.

Hey there, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: This sounds like an extraordinary breakdown, potentially. What happened?

BOWMAN: Well, it was quite a breakdown. And what happened was the Air Force investigators never put the information about his crime into the federal criminal data system. Now, it's supposed to be done on two occasions - when there's a probable cause of a serious crime - has been committed - and then after a court reaches a decision - either an acquittal or a conviction.

In neither case was this done by investigators at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, where he was charged with the crime. And he was arrested, of course, for assaulting his baby stepson - and he actually fractured the child's skull - and also assaulting his wife, as well.

GREENE: I mean, these systems are set up to prevent people with a history of violence from owning firearms. It's - can we say with certainty that if he had been in this database, had the Air Force handled this correctly, that he would've prevent - been prevented from having a gun?

BOWMAN: He would've been prevented from having a gun, according to a former Air Force prosecutor we spoke with - and now, for two reasons. The first was, his crime was punishable by more than a year in jail. He only served one year, but the crime itself had a five-year sentence. And also because of domestic abuse - so that should have barred him from getting a firearm under what's known as the Lautenberg Amendment. But since none of that appeared on this database - right? - he was able to buy two guns at this - these stores in Texas.

GREENE: So is this a tragic slip through the cracks or is there an institutional problem that the military might need to deal with?

BOWMAN: Well, the Air Force is taking this very seriously. The chief of staff of the Air Force, secretary of the Air Force here are looking through all the records to make sure they're being added to the criminal data system - and not only just the Air Force, but all the military services now - the Pentagon inspector general is looking at to make sure that this information goes to this federal data system.

And now we're told that the Pentagon has reported 11,000 service members to this database. But nearly all of those are for dishonorable discharges, which would automatically bar you from buying a weapon. Now, he had a bad conduct discharge, which not - would not automatically have led to a - you know, preventing him from getting a firearm. But it clearly - more has to be done.

GREENE: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman - thanks for coming in this morning, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: All right, we are tracking President Trump's progress on his big Asia tour. And this morning, he is in South Korea.

KELLY: He is, indeed. Today, he visited with U.S. and South Korean troops at a military base just south of Seoul, and he expressed hope that tensions on the Korean Peninsula, quote, "will all work out." At a joint press conference with his South Korean counterpart, Trump talked about increasing pressure on North Korea.

GREENE: NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president, reporting on this trip.

Hey, there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

GREENE: So North Korea and its nuclear program - I mean, obviously, a big concern in Seoul because of its proximity, a major focus of President Trump - what - I mean, important optics here, being in the region - what exactly did the president have to say?

HORSLEY: Well, as you said, he sounded upbeat about North Korea but somewhat vague, saying that it always works out, it has to work out. Throughout this trip, he is urging other countries to do more to put pressure on Pyongyang. He says that North Korea's nuclear program is not just a threat to that country's neighbors but to the whole world. And he's also urging South Korea to spend more money on U.S. military hardware.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We make the greatest military equipment in the world. Whether it's planes, whether it's missiles, no matter what it is, we have the greatest military equipment in the world. And South Korea will be ordering billions of dollars of that equipment.

HORSLEY: Trump made a similar sales pitch for American defense products in Japan, not just as a way to protect America's allies from their aggressive neighbor, but also as a way to boost the U.S. economy, promote jobs and reduce the trade deficit.

GREENE: Scott, before the president left on this trip, we talked about the one-on-one relationships he really values with other world leaders. He really doesn't like having summits with multiple people. He likes that one-on-one stuff. I mean, Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe - he and Trump seemed to get along really well. It doesn't seem like it's that close friendship yet with South Korea's leader, right?

HORSLEY: Not yet, although President Moon Jae-in is certainly trying to cultivate that kind of chemistry. He and Trump strolled around the grounds of the presidential Blue House in what was billed as a friendship walk surrounded by some beautiful fall foliage.

Maybe more importantly for Trump, president Moon also flattered the U.S. president publicly, congratulating Trump on the first anniversary of his election and saying he's, quote, "already making great progress on making America great again." In fact, Moon seemed to be working from Trump's own talking points, pointing to the booming stock market in the U.S. and other economic indicators.

GREENE: But there - not everyone is happy about this visit, right? I mean, I know there have been some protests against President Trump, and he seemed to get some really tough questions from the South Korean press.

HORSLEY: Yeah, remember, during the presidential campaign, Trump complained that Japan and South Korea were not spending enough on their own defense.

GREENE: Right.

HORSLEY: ...In effect, free riding on the U.S. military. That rubbed some in South Korea the wrong way because defense spending here is actually pretty robust, relative to the size of the country's economy. Trump was asked today about that $11 billion price tag for the military base he visited, much of which was paid by South Korea. And here's what the president had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I know what it cost, and it's a lot of money. We actually spent some of that money. And as you know, that money was spent, for the most part, to protect South Korea, not to protect the United States. But some of that money was spent by us.

HORSLEY: So you hear that - president there still viewing the U.S. defense umbrella as - on sort of transactional terms.

GREENE: It does sound that way. NPR's Scott Horsley, traveling with the president - Scott, thanks.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: Now let's turn to what has really been a steady drip, drip, drip of information this week in something called the Paradise Papers.

KELLY: Certainly a paradise of documents - this is a massive trove - more than 13 million records - and they detail things like offshore tax havens, obscure financial dealings. They've come out through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the ICIJ, which has been combing through all these documents.

Yesterday, we detailed findings concerning U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' business ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin's family. Today, we're delving into new revelations that concern the world's most valuable publicly-traded company. That would be Apple.

GREENE: And let's bring in reporter Simon Bowers, who is with the ICIJ and has been combing through these documents. He joins us from London.

Hi, Simon.

SIMON BOWERS: Hi, there.

GREENE: So basically, take us through this. You found that a few years back, Apple was kind of on the hunt for a place to stash its cash, right? Why is that?

BOWERS: Right, so Apple - 95 percent of the value, the R&D, the magic in Apple is created in one zip code in California. But there's a mismatch because the way that Apple's structure works, it means that two-thirds of its profits are - occur outside of the U.S.

GREENE: That's a lot.

BOWERS: That - it is a lot - and particularly, three - to - through three Irish companies that had confusing tax status - they weren't really paying all that much tax in Ireland either. And this became a big scandal way back in 2013, and it - that - and that was - it was the subject of a U.S. Senate inquiry. People may remember that. But - and Tim Cook testified there. But after that, the rules changed, and Ireland tightened their arrangements. The - Apple's Irish tax structure could not continue.

So but what we've found is that they - what they did next, which they've cloaked in - they've attempted to cloak in layers and layers of secrecy, but these leaked documents have given us this thread to pull on - and we found that they took these Irish companies, and there was a maneuver that involved a tax haven of Jersey and then a sale of their intangible property - the sort of golden goose, the prized asset of Apple's intellectual property - into Ireland, all behind this sort of veil of secrecy. And...

GREENE: So they moved a lot of their operations to this tiny island, Jersey, in the English Channel - I mean, not, presumably, because that's the best place to operate a business, necessarily, but because there - it was the next step in trying to avoid taxes. Is that what we're talking about?

BOWERS: Exactly so. Jersey played a key role there. And during the hunt for the tax haven, they really stressed in correspondence that they were really, really keen on keeping this all secret. It was a huge reputational issue for them.

GREENE: Secret - reputational issue and also savings of billions of dollars, it sounds like.

BOWERS: Absolutely.

GREENE: Simon Bowers is with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and he joined us via Skype. Simon, thanks a lot.

BOWERS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREDDIE JOACHIM'S "KOOL IN THE SUMMER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.