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News brief: Jan. 6 hearing recap, COVID pediatric vaccines, Nevada primary

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump conned his supporters out of $250 million. That's what the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot says.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The committee show that the former president didn't just lie about winning the 2020 election; he then told his campaign donors that he needed money to defend the lie in court. Here's California Democrat and committee member Zoe Lofgren.

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ZOE LOFGREN: Not only was there the big lie; there was the big rip-off.

MARTINEZ: This as top advisers to the former president told the panel that they tried to steer Trump away from his plan to overturn the Democratic election.

MARTIN: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us now. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So we just mentioned that figure. Donald Trump is said to have raised a quarter of a billion dollars from his supporters off his election lies. What is the evidence?

GRISALES: We know about all this from campaign finance filings. And it was in the open. Trump was sending dozens of fundraising emails to supporters, like small donors, as he pressed these election lies. At the time, NPR reported that almost none of that money was going to legal fights tied to the election. And during the hearing, Congresswoman Lofgren argued Trump shifted to a stop-the-steal operation after his loss to keep the money flowing, and this was part of a larger grifting operation.

MARTIN: OK, explain what that means. What was the larger grifting operation?

GRISALES: Right. The panel said money was going to a Trump super PAC - and that is now his main political operation - and to pay down campaign debt and some expenses that included fees to the Trump Hotel. Lofgren also said after the hearing that Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.'s fiancee, made $60,000 for appearance fees for speaking at the rally before the attack.

MARTIN: We should say that was a speech that was only 2 1/2 minutes long, right?

GRISALES: Exactly, yes. Chairman Bennie Thompson told me details about this came from public and internal tax revenue records. And while details so far are limited, more is expected to be shared in future hearings and their final report.

MARTIN: OK. So many more questions in there, but let's pivot for a second because yesterday we also learned a lot more about how Trump aides were trying to convince him to stop lying about the election. What emerged?

GRISALES: Right. On the night of the election, campaign manager Bill Stepien said he told the president not to claim victory.

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BILL STEPIEN: Ballots were still being counted. Ballots were still going to be counted for days. And it was far too early to be making any proclamation like that.

GRISALES: We also learned from other testimony that former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said Trump should claim victory but, apparently, was intoxicated, a claim Giuliani disputes. In the end, Trump did falsely claim that victory. Former Attorney General Bill Barr said he met with Trump on three separate occasions to lay out how the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread election fraud. And in their final meeting, Barr said Trump made baseless claims that ballots were being manipulated.

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BILL BARR: I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has lost contact with - he's become detached from reality.

MARTIN: OK, but did Bill Barr explain why, if he believed this, he kept supporting the president publicly?

GRISALES: Right. This was the case for many Trump officials at the time. But Barr did say he spoke to a reporter in the midst of all this and then quit as it became clear nothing was changing.

MARTIN: So the House committee is alleging that Donald Trump used the big lie to take money from his supporters, small donation-givers. Is this a crime, Claudia?

GRISALES: Right. That remains to be seen. Thompson told reporters last night he doesn't see the panel issuing a criminal referral for Trump. But Republican Vice Chair Liz Cheney quickly tweeted those discussions are still ongoing. In essence, the panel has laid out such a recommendation in court filings and these hearings, even if they don't do it formally. That said, Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters yesterday he's watching these hearings, and ultimately, that decision to pursue a criminal case against Trump is in the Justice Department's hands.

MARTIN: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

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MARTIN: Months of anxious waiting could finally be over for parents who want to vaccinate their young kids against COVID-19.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, today the Food and Drug Administration kicks off a two-day meeting that will culminate with a recommendation about whether to authorize the first vaccines for kids younger than 5.

MARTIN: We've got NPR health correspondent Rob Stein with us. Good morning, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Rob, I feel like we have had this conversation many times (laughter).

STEIN: I know.

MARTIN: And there's always another obstacle, another obstacle. So here we are. A lot of adults I know have had four vaccine shots. The youngest kids have had zero. Why has this taken so long?

STEIN: Yeah, Rachel, it's been a maddening wait for many parents of babies, toddlers and other young kids. They're the last group to get a chance to get vaccinated, and that's because the studies for these littlest kids started later than adults and older kids, and it turned out to be a lot trickier than expected to find just the right dose for these littlest ones. But it looks like Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech finally did it. The FDA has released the agency's assessments of both vaccines and conclude that both look like they safely stimulate enough immunity to protect kids as young as 6 months old.

MARTIN: Which is good. Tell us more about these two vaccines. There are some important differences to know, right?

STEIN: Yeah. Yeah, the Moderna vaccine is two shots that kids get a month apart. Each shot for the youngest kids contains about one-quarter of the dose that adults get. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine contains just one-tenth the dose adults get. So the youngest kids need three shots of that vaccine. The first two are spaced three weeks apart; the third comes two months later. So, you know, if these vaccines get authorized, you can see it could get kind of tricky for parents deciding which to get. Both vaccines look good at stimulating the immune system enough to protect kids from severe disease, but the Moderna vaccine was only about 38 to 50% effective at protecting kids against getting sick at all. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was about 80%. But those estimates are based on very small numbers. So it's unclear how the vaccines will really stack up against each other, especially against the newer omicron subvariants.

I talked to some parents who say they want Moderna just because two shots means it won't take as long to vaccinate their kids. Others may prefer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine because the lower dose may cause fewer fevers, though that's not really clear yet either.

MARTIN: So parents have to weigh all that.

STEIN: Right.

MARTIN: This two-day meeting opens today. Walk us through the next steps here.

STEIN: Yeah, yeah. Today, the FDA advisers will review Moderna's vaccines for kids ages 6 through 17. Now, this isn't as important since these kids can already get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, but that sets the stage for the main event tomorrow, when the advisers will consider the two vaccines for kids younger than age 5. It looks like a reasonable bet the advisers will recommend authorization. I talked about this with Dr. Ofer Levy, a Harvard pediatrician on the committee considering these vaccines.

OFER LEVY: These vaccines appear to be safe and appear to induce an antibody response that's believed to contribute to protection and are associated with a reduced risk of COVID. So those are three positive features of the data that I'm reviewing at this point.

STEIN: If the committee recommends authorization, the FDA and CDC will likely give the green light by the end of the week.

MARTIN: And then when can kids get the shots?

STEIN: You know, the Biden administration is already shipping millions of doses of the vaccine out. So pediatricians, hospitals and other places can start vaccinating these kids as early as next Tuesday if the authorization goes through and everything goes smoothly.

MARTIN: All right. We will wait, and we will see. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thanks for the update, Rob.

STEIN: Yeah. Sure thing, Rachel.

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MARTIN: OK, today four more states hold their primary elections.

MARTINEZ: In South Carolina, two Republican members of Congress face primary challengers after crossing former President Trump. And in Nevada, there are a number of competitive GOP primaries, as Republicans aim to unseat Democrats in the state.

MARTIN: Joining us now to talk more about those races in Nevada is Bert Johnson of KUNR Radio in Reno. Hey, Bert.

BERT JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Let's start with the race for the Senate. This is a seat Republicans very much want. Who's in the running?

JOHNSON: So the frontrunner so far is Adam Laxalt. Recent polls have him up by double digits over his challengers. And Laxalt's a former state attorney general who lost the 2018 race for governor. He also comes from a political family. His grandfather was Nevada governor and a U.S. senator. Laxalt's been endorsed by Trump, and he was the co-chair of Trump's 2020 campaign in Nevada. He parroted the former president's election lies in that role, and he led a bunch of unsuccessful lawsuits to overturn the election. But he's facing a challenge from retired Army Captain Sam Brown, who's been raising more than Laxalt in terms of small-dollar donations. The Republican nominee is going to face off against Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, and forecasters see it as a toss-up race in what's likely to be a tough environment for Democrats.

MARTIN: Yeah. So say more about that - tough for Democrats. Is that also the case for state offices?

JOHNSON: You know, it is. There's a similar dynamic for the governor's race, for example. Republicans are lining up to take on a Democratic incumbent. Leading the pack on the GOP side is Joe Lombardo, the sheriff of Clark County. He gained national attention for his response to the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. And now he has the endorsement of former President Trump. And he's ahead in the polls. The secretary of state's race is another one to watch. Republican incumbent Barbara Cegavske is term-limited, so she can't run again. And in 2020, she actually stood up to the Trump campaign's baseless election fraud claims, so the state GOP censured her. Now a number of candidates are vying to replace Cegavske, including Democrat Cisco Aguilar and, on the Republican side, Jim Marchant, who's repeated Trump's election lies. And he actually spoke at a QAnon convention in Las Vegas last year, too.

MARTIN: I mean, Bert, that is multiple candidates who you've just mentioned there, Republicans who've all made these baseless claims about the 2020 election. Do you hear that false narrative a lot in Nevada?

JOHNSON: You do. In fact, I just published a report with my colleague Tabitha Mueller from one of our partner newsrooms, The Nevada Independent. There were - we were looking into state legislative races in that case, and there's a candidate running in about a third of those districts who supports the, quote, "big lie." Some of them explicitly say it; others, especially the Republican incumbents, won't come out and say it directly, but they cast doubts on the results.

MARTIN: OK, Bert Johnson of KUNR in Reno. It's primary day in Nevada. He's been given us a preview. Thank you so much, Bert.

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