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Morning news brief

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

We now have an initial timeline, minute by minute, of how a massive cargo ship came to crash into Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now, this is just the early stages of federal investigators' probe into the collapse of that bridge that crumbled into the Patapsco River. And authorities say they've recovered the bodies of two construction workers. Four more are likely still underwater.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Joel Rose has been following the story and joins us. Good morning.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Good morning, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Federal investigators briefed the media last night. What did they say?

ROSE: Yeah, investigators say they were able to get onto the ship yesterday. The Dali is still stuck in the river, tangled up in the wreckage of the bridge. And the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Jennifer Homendy, says it is a huge investigation scene, and it is a mess.

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JENNIFER HOMENDY: It's just utter devastation. And when I look at something like that, I am thinking not about the container ships that are coming through, not about traffic getting back up and running on the bridge. I'm thinking about the families who've lost loved ones and what they must be going through.

ROSE: Homendy said there is a visible sheen on the waterway, but that it's being addressed.

We also learned yesterday that some of the containers on the ship have hazardous materials in them - 764 tons, to be precise. These are mostly things like corrosives and flammables, Homendy said - also, lithium-ion batteries. Homendy said some of these containers had been breached in the ship. But I also want to note Coast Guard officials addressed this earlier in the day, and they said they are not aware of any release of hazardous materials and that there is currently no threat to the public.

ELLIOTT: That's good. Now, investigators were able to share a timeline of what happened after the ship left port. What led up to the collision?

ROSE: Yeah. Investigators said that at about 1:24 a.m., there were numerous audible alarms on the ship. About two minutes later, at 1:26, the ship's pilot asked for help for the first time, requesting tugboat assistance. A minute after that, the pilot called for the ship to drop one of its anchors, the port anchor, in an attempt to slow down, but it was just too late. The ship struck the bridge around 1:29 a.m., so, you know, all of this happening in a matter of just a few minutes - about five minutes.

ELLIOTT: Joel, did investigators say anything about the ship's voyage data recorder, which tracks the sensors and systems on board?

ROSE: Yeah, they say they have it and that so far they've reviewed about six hours of audio and data from the night of the incident. But investigators said that this recorder is not as sophisticated as you would find in the black box on a plane, for example. It does not capture as much data as they would like, so investigators are going to have to rely on other sources of information, including interviews with the crew. Those have already begun. And interviews with the pilots, whose job it is to guide the ship out of port, are set for today. So, you know, bottom line is it's very early. It could be weeks or months before investigators can determine what happened and why the ship seemed to lose power.

ELLIOTT: Finally, authorities in Maryland say they found the bodies of two men who had been missing since the accident. Do you have any more information about them?

ROSE: Yeah. These are the bodies of two of the six construction workers who were fixing potholes on the bridge when it collapsed. Police in Maryland say that the men were found inside a red pickup truck submerged in about 25 feet of water. Authorities believe that there are other vehicles with victims inside that are still trapped under wreckage from the collapsed bridge. All of the deceased were construction workers, and all of them hailed from Mexico or Central America.

ELLIOTT: That's NPR's transportation correspondent Joel Rose. Thank you so much.

ROSE: You're welcome.

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ELLIOTT: Crypto wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried enters a Manhattan courtroom today to learn his fate.

FADEL: He, of course, was the mastermind behind the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, and then, a jury found, a criminal mastermind. It all came to a colossal and sudden collapse in late 2022, costing investors billions of dollars. Now, at just 32 years old, he'll be sentenced today to a prison term that could last decades.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Rafael Nam is here to bring us up to speed. Remind us, what was Sam Bankman-Fried found guilty of?

RAFAEL NAM, BYLINE: Basically, fraud. Back in November, he faced seven criminal charges, and he was convicted of all of them. FTX, if you remember, was this huge exchange where people kept their money to trade cryptocurrencies. And Bankman-Fried was found guilty of stealing their money - at least $8 billion.

ELLIOTT: Eight billion - that's billion with a B.

NAM: Yeah, it's a lot of money. And he used the money to finance a lavish lifestyle. Keep in mind he created this company when he was in his 20s. He was surrounded by 20-something-year-olds. He was in the Bahamas. That's where FTX was based. And he was the golden boy of crypto. He was the guy who made crypto cool. He built FTX into the biggest crypto exchange in the world. He had this big hair. He flew in private jets. He knew celebrities. He financed sports, politics - you name it. Tom Brady was a promoter of FTX. So was Steph Curry. And he was seen as the next big thing in finance. And now he could face years in prison.

ELLIOTT: Years in prison. How many years are you talking about?

NAM: So prosecutors want 40 to 50 years. They argue that he committed one of the largest financial frauds of all time. They say he was motivated by greed.

On the other hand, Sam Bankman-Fried's lawyers say he only deserves about five to six years. And that's because they essentially argue that he was just a young guy who was simply in over his head, somebody who just didn't mean to commit fraud. They say he was a bit of a social misfit. He had trouble interacting with others. And he wasn't greedy. He gave some of his money away and wanted to eventually give his fortune away, and that he should be given a second chance in life. And the lawyers also argue that a lot of investors are going to get their money back anyway.

ELLIOTT: Now that seems a bit unusual in a case like this. Investors, you're saying, are likely to get their money back. Would it be all of it?

NAM: Yeah, this is kind of incredible. FTX is now saying they may be able to get all the money back. And keep in mind, after FTX collapsed, a lot of people didn't want anything to do with crypto. Today, however, Bitcoin is back at a record high. And that's important because a lot of FTX holdings were in cryptocurrencies - and other companies' - and it now looks like FTX may be able to sell quite a few of their investments at a big profit. So Bankman-Fried's lawyers argue that the judge should be taking all of this into account.

So the judge in this case has a big decision to make as Bankman-Fried sits in a Brooklyn detention center waiting to hear about his fate. It's this young guy who was once the biggest crypto star going to jail for years or decades. Which? We should find out soon enough.

ELLIOTT: Well, we'll be watching. NPR's Rafael Nam, thanks a lot.

NAM: Thank you, Debbie.

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ELLIOTT: The Walt Disney Company and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appear to have both realized that Florida is a small world after all.

FADEL: They spent the last two years in a bitter legal and political battle that began with Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" law. Now the two sides say they've settled lawsuits in state court, and they're ready to work together to expand Walt Disney World.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Greg Allen has been covering the dispute and joins us now from Florida. Good morning, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So this has been among the front lines of the culture wars, and now we have a truce.

ALLEN: Yes. And, you know, this began in 2022 when Florida passed a law that restricts how sexual orientation and gender identity are discussed in the schools. Disney's CEO at the time, Bob Chapek, said he'd work to overturn it. That angered Governor DeSantis, who worked with Republican lawmakers to pass a law that revoked Disney's self-governing status. They then appointed a new board to oversee the district. Disney challenged the new board in federal court. They lost, but the company is appealing that lawsuit.

But yesterday, Disney and the DeSantis-appointed board announced that they'd settled all the lawsuits that were pending in state court and now are ready to move forward together. Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle called it, quote, "a new chapter of constructive engagement."

ELLIOTT: So let's get into a little bit of the specifics. What issues will this deal actually resolve?

ALLEN: Well, this settles the dispute over a last-minute agreement that Disney signed with its old board last year before it was dissolved by DeSantis and the Florida Legislature. The agreement would've taken power away from the new board and reserved for Disney all the decisions concerning development at the theme parks. That deal is now null and void under the settlement.

A little later, at a news conference, though, Governor DeSantis took aim at critics in the media and elsewhere who predicted that Disney would win its lawsuits and take back its self-governing status.

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RON DESANTIS: And the reality is here we are a year later, and not one of them has succeeded. Every action that we've taken has been upheld in full, and the state's better off for it.

ELLIOTT: It sounds like the governor is spinning this as a victory. What about Disney? There's clearly a lot of tourist revenue at stake here. What's next for them?

ALLEN: Right. Well, Disney's indicating that this current structure is one it can work with. Disney's CEO now, Bob Iger, has plans to spend at least $30 billion to upgrade its theme parks over the next decade, including in Orlando. Rick Foglesong, a retired professor and author of a book on Disney's relationship with Florida, says this settlement now clears the way for those plans to go forward.

RICK FOGLESONG: They needed to continue to invest here without appearing weak, as if they were caving to DeSantis. They need to keep tourists coming back. They need to reinvest in the parks.

ELLIOTT: So we have reached the end of this bruising public relations battle between a governor who was also a presidential candidate and one of the most powerful entertainment companies. Did either of them actually win?

ALLEN: Well, you know, probably both sides. Disney can put the political and legal battle behind it now and focus on operating and improving its Orlando theme parks. DeSantis indicated in recent months he also was ready to move on from the fight. You know, he talked about Disney a lot when he was on the campaign trail, but ultimately that candidacy, as you know, didn't go so well. And when you get down to it, tourism is a big business in Florida. Fighting one of the state's most popular tourist destinations really never seemed like a winning strategy.

And as for that original dispute over the Parental Rights in Education - "Don't Say Gay" - law, there was a recent settlement between the DeSantis administration and LGBTQ groups that attempts to clarify a number of issues, including that teachers can talk about people being gay.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Greg Allen in Miami, thank you.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

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FADEL: Today we also remember Joe Lieberman, the longtime centrist U.S. senator from Connecticut. He died yesterday due to complications from a fall.

ELLIOTT: Lieberman was the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000 but later ran for his Senate seat as an independent. In 2011, when he announced he wouldn't run for a fifth Senate term, he described himself like this.

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JOE LIEBERMAN: I have not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes - maybe you've noticed that - Democrat, Republican, liberal or conservative, because I've always thought that my first responsibility is not to serve a political party, but to serve my constituents, my state and my country, and then to work across party lines to make sure good things get done for them.

FADEL: One of Connecticut's current U.S. senators, Democrat Chris Murphy, says Lieberman was one of one.

CHRIS MURPHY: In an era where folks want to filter everything into a partisan understanding of the world, he was maddening. He was frustrating, right? But he was Joe Lieberman, and he was somebody that shaped policy. Not every senator gets to do that.

ELLIOTT: Lieberman was 82 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
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