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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Opening statements start today in the New York criminal trial of former President Donald Trump.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah, the case stems from the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, and it involves Trump's former attorney and personal fixer Michael Cohen, the publisher of the National Enquirer, and adult film star Stormy Daniels.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering the case. All right. The trial's about so-called hush money and falsifying business records. How do prosecutors want to set the table about what allegedly happened?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: This trial is, in many ways, about the end of Donald Trump's life as a New Yorker, as he is desperately trying to cross a kind of creaky bridge to become president. In this old life, he was a real estate mogul, a tabloid celebrity, a kind of enfant terrible or bad boy of the city's elite. It has many of the kinds of characters that Trump surrounded himself with in New York - lawyers with questionable associations, a porn star, a Playboy model, a tabloid publisher and the accountants and employees Trump surrounded himself with, who were well versed, as we've come to learn, in the massaging of numbers and records.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, all this officially got started last week. What was learned then?

BERNSTEIN: According to the DA, at the very beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign, so in August of 2015, there was a meeting in Trump Tower between Trump, his personal attorney and Trump Organization vice president at the time, Michael Cohen, and the publisher of AMI, the group that owned the National Enquirer, David Pecker. And Pecker told Trump, according to the DA, that he would be his eyes and ears for negative stories, and if he saw them, he would implement a strategy of catch and kill.

MARTÍNEZ: Catch and kill, meaning that he'd buy the story and then just make it go away.

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. The idea was that people would come to the National Enquirer with negative stories about Trump and that Pecker, basically, would buy the rights to them and then deep-six them. So then in October of 2016, right before Election Day, not long, after the "Access Hollywood" tape became public, the campaign is in a panic. Michael Cohen ends up paying Stormy Daniels out of his own pocket to keep her quiet. And then, when Trump reimburses him, it's entered as, quote, "a legal retainer" 34 times, which is the basis for the 34 counts of falsifying business records.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, how will Trump defend himself?

BERNSTEIN: He and his team have already been, for months, if not years, trying to tear down Cohen's credibility. Cohen has, after all, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and lying to banks and more recently said that he didn't even tell the truth when he was being sentenced for those crimes. And Trump said in the courthouse hallway last week he was doing what Cohen, his lawyer, told him to do. Trump has said it was his family he was trying to keep in the dark, not the electorate. All it takes is one juror to hold a reasonable doubt to prevent a conviction in this case.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Who do we think the first witness will be?

BERNSTEIN: So we aren't sure because the DA isn't giving names in advance for fear Trump will disparage the witnesses, but most likely, the National Enquirer's David Pecker. Unlike Cohen, Pecker is not a convicted liar, and he has a role at the very beginning of this drama, the one about the real estate mogul who wanted to be president, his lawyer, the porn star, and some questionable payments.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thanks a lot.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: TikTok is facing what might be its biggest threat yet here in the U.S.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. That's because the House overwhelmingly approved a bill Saturday that could lead to the social media company's ban in the United States. And because it's part of the foreign aid package to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, which also passed over the weekend, it's on the fast track to President Biden's desk.

MARTIN: NPR tech correspondent Bobby Allyn is covering this story, and he's with us now to tell us more about it. Good morning, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So how did this bill come about in the first place?

ALLYN: Well, TikTok was really caught off guard. It was attached to a large package of aid for Israel and Ukraine. The House tried to pass this once before, and it didn't advance in the Senate. But this time, it is all but guaranteed to become law. The way it came about, though, kind of tucked into this foreign aid package, really sparked some criticism on social media. Let's just say, Michel, some people just thought it was very sneaky.

MARTIN: Now, we've heard a number of lawmakers express real alarm about TikTok, I mean, some calling it a spy balloon in Americans' phones. So just - if you could just set the rhetoric aside for a minute, what are the fears about?

ALLYN: Yeah. Well, the concern is that China, at any time, can ask ByteDance, TikTok's owner, for access to Americans' data and could spy on U.S. citizens. Or China could put their finger on the scale and influence what Americans see on their TikTok feeds, especially worrying ahead of a presidential election. Here's how Florida Republican Kat Cammack framed this bill when it first passed in the House last month.

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KAT CAMMACK: We aren't infringing on constitutionally protected speech or growing the size of government. All we're saying is break up with the Chinese Communist Party.

ALLYN: Yeah. And that's something that's become a refrain in Washington. It's worth pointing out, though, that the Chinese Communist Party does not control TikTok or its parent company. But under the country's intelligence laws, TikTok would be legally bound to supply information on you or me or anyone else on TikTok whenever the government asked. For another perspective, here's North Carolina Republican Dan Bishop from last month's debate.

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DAN BISHOP: America confronts a great challenge in China, and it will not prevail by becoming more like it.

ALLYN: You know, how can the U.S. condemn authoritarian regimes for shutting down social media sites when here we are trying to do the very same thing? Overall, though, Michel, there really is bipartisan support for cracking down on TikTok.

MARTIN: So next up is the Senate. A vote could come tomorrow, and President Biden has signaled he plans to sign it. What happens then?

ALLYN: Well, once Biden signs it, ByteDance will have a year to sell the company. If it's not sold by then, it will become illegal in the U.S. for TikTok to be carried by any web hosting services. Apple and Google will have to remove it from their app stores, which, in effect, would be a nationwide ban. Now, TikTok is gearing up to take this to court. The company sees this as the suppression of free speech. Bottom line, though, Michel, TikTok will not be disappearing from our phones anytime soon.

MARTIN: And Bobby, before we let you go, how likely is it that TikTok finds a buyer?

ALLYN: That is the big question, but there's two things to consider here - the price and TikTok's algorithm. It's one of the most popular apps in the world, so it's going to be really expensive to buy, maybe more than $100 billion. That limits potential buyers. And the algorithm - China must approve the selling of this algorithm, and China said it will not be doing that. So there's a real question here. What are you even buying if you are trying to buy TikTok, right? To buy a social media app without the algorithm is like trying to buy Coca-Cola without its secret recipe. Who would want to do that?

MARTIN: I don't know. Who would? That is NPR's Bobby Allyn. Bobby, thank you.

ALLYN: Hey, thanks so much.

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MARTÍNEZ: Today, the U.S. Supreme Court takes up homelessness, specifically the question of whether people can be punished for sleeping outside.

MARTIN: The decision could have a big impact on a quarter of a million people estimated to be living in tents and cars and the cities struggling to manage this.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Jennifer Ludden joins us now to explain. Jennifer, we've reported on how cities and counties all over the country are trying to figure out what to do about the growing number of tent encampments. So how did this issue get to the Supreme Court?

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Well, it started with two court cases out west in Boise, Idaho, and then in the small city of Grants Pass, Ore. In both, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that if there is no shelter space available, then to fine or jail somebody for sleeping on public land is cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Now, the Supreme Court declined to take up the Boise case back in 2019, but it did agree to hear an appeal from Grants Pass, and a slew of other cities and states, led by both Democrats and Republicans, also urged the justices to hear today's case.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So why do Grants Pass and other places say that it should not be considered cruel and unusual to fine and jail homeless people if there's no place to shelter them?

LUDDEN: For one thing, they say camping restrictions are commonplace across the U.S., and they're needed because sprawling homeless encampments - either tents or people living in cars - are a threat to public health and safety, especially for those living in them. But also, there are people suffering mental health episodes and drug overdoses in public. But cities say these court decisions have really tied their hands when they try to keep these spaces open and safe for everyone. Theane Evangelis is the lawyer for Grants Pass, and she says the 9th Circuit's rulings have spawned dozens of lawsuits, and they've turned federal judges into micromanagers of local homelessness policy.

THEANE EVANGELIS: It is doing more harm than good to put this issue before the courts to solve, and it's led to endless litigation and paralysis at a time when we most desperately need action.

LUDDEN: Cities also say they just need more clarity to tackle this really complex problem. For example, what exactly constitutes adequate shelter, and what if there is a bed open but someone refuses to go?

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what's then the argument on behalf of the unhoused people living outside?

LUDDEN: They say Grants Pass rules were more aggressive than most places, that people could be ticketed and fined for sleeping with a blanket or a pillow in any public space at any time and that the city's real goal was to push people out of town. Ed Johnson of the Oregon Law Center represents homeless people in the Grants Pass case. He says the city effectively targeted not just their conduct, but their very status of being homeless, which courts have said is not allowed.

ED JOHNSON: Punishing someone for doing something they have no control over, no ability to not do, is not going to end that status. In fact, not only does criminalization not work, it makes matters worse.

LUDDEN: And advocates say that's because it's even harder for someone to get housing if they have a criminal record or debt from fines. Johnson also says it's expensive to police and jail people, and it can divert money away from solving the bigger problem with things like more affordable housing.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so that makes me think, then, what about the overall problem?

LUDDEN: Right. More than a quarter of a million people are living outside right now, and whichever way this court decides, it is not likely to change that. Many places just don't have enough shelter beds, and they don't have enough permanent affordable housing. That severe shortage and sky-high rents is fueling homelessness, but even where cities are building more housing, it is going to take years.

MARTÍNEZ: That is NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Jennifer, thanks.

LUDDEN: Thank you. 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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.