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Rep. Giffords Regains Ability To Speak

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

There is more encouraging news about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Her spokesman says she is not only speaking, but speaking more and more, as he put it. Giffords is recovering in Houston in a rehab facility. Meanwhile, the investigation into the attack that killed six people and wounded 13 has reached a conclusion. NPR's Ted Robbins is with us to talk more about this. And he's in Tucson.

Ted, let's start with Gabrielle Giffords' condition. She's talking.

TED ROBBINS: Right. And the reason that this announcement's so important is, I mean, obviously it shows she can speak after being shot in the forehead, which is pretty amazing in itself. And on Monday she asked for toast for breakfast. Sounds like a small thing, but it was a fitting request and it was at an appropriate time. It's a really good sign, because people with left-side brain damage like she has can develop something called aphasia, which is difficulty producing or comprehending speech.

She, of course, has a tracheostomy tube in her windpipe still, so speaking is especially tough. Her doctors say this portion of her rehabilitation, unlike her time in intensive care here in Tucson, they say now it's more like a marathon.

And her communications director, C.J. Karamargin, told me that all this progress he thinks is the result of really two things. First, her therapists are really pushing her hard, every day, to work.

Mr. C.J. KARAMARGIN (Communications director, Gabrielle Giffords): And we know that she is demonstrating her own tenacity and determination, and she's pushing herself. So this combination of things, I think, has allowed us to reach this milestone.

ROBBINS: It's still going to be months before her medical team knows the full extent of any disabilities. And if she fully recovers, that could even take years.

MONTAGNE: Turning to the investigation. Yesterday, the FBI and Pima County Sheriff's Department said they've wrapped things up. Where do things go from here?

ROBBINS: The FBI says that everything's been turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution - hundreds of interviews with witnesses, physical evidence taken from the suspect, Jared Loughner, from his house, from his computer.

Now, so far he's only been charged with the attempted murders of Giffords and two of her staff members. Now, a grand jury can examine all that evidence and also charge Loughner with the murders of a staff member, Gabe Zimmerman, and federal judge John Roll. State charges on the other four murders will have to come later.

Investigators have said that they want to get a sample of Loughner's handwriting so they can compare it with notes found in a safe. They have the handwritten words "my assassination" and "Giffords" and a few other things on them.

MONTAGNE: And while all of this is going on, of course, Giffords is still a member of Congress. And I understand you dropped by her office there in Tucson yesterday.

ROBBINS: Yeah. And, you know, how does a congressional office operate without the member of Congress? And so far, staff says, so good. There is, of course, no one to introduce bills or vote on them, but there are 900 constituent cases open that the staff is working on. They say just last week they called the State Department to get a young woman from Arizona who's disabled out of Cairo during the demonstrations there.

The staff knows pretty well what Giffords' priorities are, like making sure the 114 miles of her district that's on the Mexican border continue to get attention from Washington, especially now that there's a new Congress. Of course, sadly there are fewer people in the office right now. One person was killed - Gabe Zimmerman - and two others are still recovering from injuries.

But there is certainly support from other congressional offices, they say. And there was a cake in the office when I was there, along with a lot of signs of love and support.

MONTAGNE: Ted, thanks very much.

ROBBINS: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ted Robbins speaking to us from Tucson. 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.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.