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Morning News Brief: Trump Meets Putin, Russia Probe Update, New Tesla Car


It is arguably President Trump's most anticipating - anticipated meeting to date.


Yeah, I'm going to go with definitely the most anticipated meeting, Rachel. This is his get-together today with Russian President Vladimir Putin. No shortage of drama. There's Russia's involvement in the crises in Ukraine and Syria, and, of course, looming over everything, the accusations that Russia may in some way have helped Donald Trump get into the White House. Now, today, adding to the tension in Hamburg, where all of this is going down, protesters on the streets.



MARTIN: OK, NPR's White House correspondent, Scott Horsley, is on the line from Hamburg, Germany, where the G-20 is happening. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: So President Trump got this incredibly warm welcome when he was in Poland, right? Big crowds turned out for his speech. Now, in Hamburg, we hear those protesters, big crowds turning out for a different kind of expression - kind of a different scene and tone there?

HORSLEY: Absolutely, Rachel. You know, there was a recent poll by the Pew Research Center that found just 11 percent of Germans trust the American president to do the right thing in international affairs. That's down from 86 percent who felt that way during the Obama era. Now, Trump had a polite meeting yesterday with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. At least it was polite in front of the TV cameras. But Merkel is much more critical of Trump than Poland's president was. Hamburg is a huge trading port. There's a big banner that says keep global trade open. And that is at least an implicit rebuke of President Trump's more protectionist policies.

MARTIN: Yeah, so we have to talk about this meeting. Trump and Putin having a bilat today, which means it's not just this casual, little pull-aside. They're going to sit down for a big tete-a-tete. We here in the States have obviously been speculating about this for a long time. But what are you hearing from other delegations? What are people going to be watching for out of this meeting?

HORSLEY: This is definitely one of the most closely watched meetings. Of course, at one time, Trump hoped to forge a stronger partnership with Russia for battling ISIS in Syria. That hasn't really happened. Russia is more focused on propping up the Assad regime. We've heard Secretary of State Rex Tillerson be very critical of Russia's role when Syria launched that deadly chemical attack back in April. And the president in his speech in Poland yesterday was very critical of Russia's destabilizing efforts in Ukraine and elsewhere.


HORSLEY: What he did not mention in that speech was Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. And we're still not sure if that's going to come up in today's meeting.

KELLY: Scott, where exactly is this meeting happening, by the way? And are you - are the reporters there going to get any access to it?

HORSLEY: We'll get a photo opportunity at the beginning of the meeting. And of course, there'll be lots of scrutiny of the two leaders' body language. It's happening in this vast convention center here in Hamburg, Germany. There's a room that's been set up for this and other meetings that the president will have with other world leaders.

MARTIN: But interesting - I mean, there's going to be a pool spray at the top, which means photographs. So we're going to be able to capture apparently, like, who can shake hands harder because...


MARTIN: ...We've been watching that handshake diplomacy...

KELLY: Handshake diplomacy.

MARTIN: ...Unfold during several of these meetings. Hey, NPR's Scott Horsley in Hamburg. Thanks so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.


MARTIN: And of course, back here at home, the investigation into Russia's interference with the U.S. election of 2016 is pushing forward.

KELLY: Right. And lately there has been a lot of scrutiny of the investigation itself. Special counsel Robert - special counsel Robert Mueller is quietly hiring an all-star team of prosecutors. And some Trump supporters say the attorneys have a partisan bent. A pro-Trump political action committee called Great America Alliance made this ad.


TOMI LAHREN: Then who does Mueller select to help lead the independent investigation? Four top lawyers, all major donors to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic national party.

KELLY: OK, so the questions now are what these Mueller hires tell us about the direction he's taking the FBI probe in and whether it will, in fact, be seen as an independent investigation or a witch hunt.

MARTIN: A witch hunt, as the president has described it himself.

KELLY: Exactly.

MARTIN: So NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here now. Carrie, how is Mueller defending himself against this allegation that his investigation is partisan?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Well, in fact, he's not. Don't expect a defense from special counsel Robert Mueller. He does his talking in the courtroom, not to reporters. But I will point out that some people out there are defending him, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who recently pointed out in a congressional hearing that it's not a conflict of interest to hire people who have donated to political candidates in the past. And in any event, even though some of the Mueller hires have donated to Democrats, at least one has donated to Republican candidates as well in the past.

MARTIN: What more do we know about the team that Mueller's putting together and what it says about where this investigation's going?

JOHNSON: I'm hearing he's hired 15 lawyers so far, lawyers with an expertise in criminal law, people who have conducted fraud investigations, national security experts and people who know how to do appeals, which means, in this context, preserving any convictions the prosecutors win in court. Several of these lawyers are also well-known for their ability to extract information from witnesses, to get people to cooperate and move up the ladder of an organization or a company. And several are also known for being kind of tough, applying strategies the Justice Department has used to break up mob families in Brooklyn to white-collar criminals and national security investigations. And more hiring is in the works, too.

MARTIN: So Mueller himself is this very quiet operator, doesn't talk a lot. So how do we know anything about the lines of inquiry that the investigation is pursuing? Do we?

JOHNSON: Well, when Mueller was appointed by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, Rosenstein told us all that Mueller is supposed to be investigating Russian interference in the election. And other lawyers and members of Congress who have talked to Mueller and investigators say he's also investigating ties between Russians and possibly people inside the Trump campaign, either satellite actors or top figures in that campaign. There's also a question about whether he's investigating financial arrangements of any of these people, an investigation that's likely to last for months, if not years.


KELLY: That's really interesting, Carrie. You're saying hiring continues. And Mueller has already brought in some of the top national security prosecutors, some of the top fraud prosecutors, which tells us a couple things. One, this is - this is a serious investigation. And two, it's not going to be short.

MARTIN: Yeah, years.

JOHNSON: That's exactly right.

MARTIN: That's a long time.

JOHNSON: That's exactly right.

MARTIN: OK, NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Happy to be here.


MARTIN: All right, Mary Louise, when you talk about the future of transportation - driverless cars, dare I say flying cars - the name Elon Musk is always front and center.

KELLY: Well, I don't have any news on flying cars for you today.

MARTIN: Dang it.

KELLY: But it is - it is a big day for the CEO of Tesla. Today, Tesla starts rolling out its first mass-produced electric car. This is the Model 3 sedan. It has self-driving hardware. And it is the culmination of years of planning and engineering and, it must be said, hype.

MARTIN: Hype. OK, NPR's Sonari Glinton here to talk about the hype and the substance. Hey, Sonari.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Hey, I'm no hype man, I tell you.


MARTIN: Hey, that's right, only the facts. Just the facts, ma'am. OK, I've got to say, a Model 3 sedan. A sedan - just that word does not say the future to me, Sonari.

GLINTON: Well, it is a $35,000 electric sedan.

MARTIN: OK, all right.

GLINTON: So that makes it different.

MARTIN: No mom car. I mean, moms can drive it, clearly, but...

GLINTON: No, I mean - and it goes about - it goes about 215 miles a gallon or a charge, which is an important thing to remember.


GLINTON: And that is really an affordable car for the average American at $35,000. The average car is about 33 or so. So this is a huge deal. It rolls off the assembly line today. And Elon Musk says he's going to have 30 vehicles to customers by about the end of the month...

MARTIN: All right.

GLINTON: ...Ramping up to about 1,500.

MARTIN: So, I mean, there has been a lot of hype about this. There's a lot of pressure then on Tesla, all these hopes and dreams wrapped into one car.

GLINTON: Well, it is really that important. I mean, it's like - it's not just one bet - you know, a bet on electrification. It's a bet on battery technology. It's also a bet on how the company sells cars. I mean, this is a - you know, the company is valued in the vicinity of the big automakers. And it sold last year - last month 4,400 cars. And now they're promising to sell about 500,000. Now, to give you an idea, you know, Toyota sells 500,000 or 400 and something thousand Camrys. So that's a really big deal. It's doable...

MARTIN: And the Camry's really important - I mean, it's really affordable. And it's everywhere.

GLINTON: Yeah, and it's a really important car. And scaling up to that kind of quality - it's one thing to have a quality car when you're selling 4,400; it's a whole other thing when you're trying to sell 40,000 a year...

MARTIN: Have you...

GLINTON: I mean, 40,000 a month.

MARTIN: Yeah. Have you gotten to drive this thing?

GLINTON: No, I haven't driven it. But I've driven in it. And, you know, the real thing is there are going to be so many cars that are like this on the road. It's going to be tough in a way for Tesla to compete. Companies like Volvo say they're going to all electric. The Chevy Bolt does this exact same thing that we're hyping about. We didn't have a conversation about the Bolt before it started.

MARTIN: Oh, the poor Volt (ph), yeah.

GLINTON: (Laughter) Yeah, the Bolt.

MARTIN: The Bolt. See, I didn't even know its name.

GLINTON: (Laughter) Exactly. So there's a - there's a lot to reckon with come this fall.

MARTIN: Well, I think you need to get behind the wheel of one of these fancy sedans, Sonari. We need to rectify that the next time we talk. Business correspondent Sonari Glinton. He covers cars and all kinds of other stuff. He joined us from NPR West in Culver City, the land of fancy cars. Hey, Sonari, thanks so much.

GLINTON: It's always a pleasure. Feel like a C student.


Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
Sonari Glinton
Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.