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Morning news brief


The New York jury weighing criminal charges against Donald Trump has now heard from the trial's first witness.


We're talking about David Pecker. He is the former CEO of American Media, which published the National Enquirer tabloid. And Mr. Pecker is still on the stand after two days. Meanwhile, the former president, who has been in the courtroom every day, is waiting to hear a ruling on whether he violated a gag order.

FADEL: NPR political reporter Ximena Bustillo has been in the courthouse. Good morning.


FADEL: So the first witness is this former publishing executive, David Pecker, someone Trump's known for decades, right? So what did his testimony reveal so far?

BUSTILLO: Well, Pecker testified to being called into a meeting with Trump and Michael Cohen, who's Trump's former fixer, in August of 2015. He said that he was asked how he could help the Trump campaign, and he said that he agreed to use his magazine to do three things - first, publish positive stories about Trump as he's running for president for the first time. Second, publish negative stories about Trump's opponents. And third, he said that he could, quote, "be the eyes and ears." This means that if he heard that there could be negative stories about Trump, he would notify Michael Cohen, especially stories coming from women.

FADEL: And so the implication here being that these would be stories that could damage Trump's 2016 campaign for president.

BUSTILLO: Yes. And Pecker testified to learning about several stories, including allegations of affairs from Playboy model Karen McDougal and unsubstantiated allegations from a doorman that Trump had fathered an illegitimate child. And he testified to reporting these stories to Cohen. During yesterday's testimony, we also saw emails and documents arranging payment for buying these stories from the sources. This is what the prosecution has referred to as catch and kill, as in they would pay to catch the stories and then proceed to kill them, so they'd never run.

FADEL: Now, Pecker is saying all this stuff, testifying, with Trump in the courtroom. How's Trump been reacting?

BUSTILLO: Well, Trump was pretty attentive during testimony. He watched Pecker's. He testified and gave details of private conversations the two of them allegedly had. At the very start of testimony yesterday, Pecker was asked to identify and describe what Trump was wearing in the crowd, and Trump seemed to lift his head up and smile. But overall, he isn't having a good time. To reporters, he keeps complaining about the cold temperatures of the courtroom and keeps lamenting that he can't be out on the road.

FADEL: Now, there's also this gag order that was imposed by Judge Juan Merchan to protect people involved in this trial from verbal attacks, and prosecutors accused Trump of violating it.

BUSTILLO: Yeah. They brought up 10 posts across Truth Social, which is Trump's social media platform, and also the Trump campaign website. These were posts and in some instances reposted articles discrediting Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, who are potential witnesses. Another was a post that referenced a quote from a Fox News host that accused potential jurors of being, quote, "undercover liberal activists." Trump was not happy about this. Here he is speaking to reporters outside the courtroom at the end of the day.


DONALD TRUMP: I'm not allowed to talk with people who are allowed to talk about me. So they can talk about me. They can say whatever they want. They can lie. But I'm not allowed to say anything.

BUSTILLO: Now, Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche also argues that Trump was simply defending himself.

FADEL: Now, Trump has been fined thousands of dollars for breaking gag orders in other trials. What's the penalty here?

BUSTILLO: Prosecutors asked Merchan to impose a $10,000 penalty, asked for the posts to be removed and warned Trump that incarceration is an option for violating the order.

FADEL: And court is not in session today. The trial will pick back up again tomorrow, and we'll hear from you more. NPR's Ximena Bustillo in New York. Thank you, Ximena.

BUSTILLO: Thank you.


FADEL: Elon Musk's Tesla is running into a whole lot of red lights.

MARTIN: Slumping sales, mass layoffs and now the company has just announced its profits have dropped by 55%. So a call with investors last night was poised to be, as one analyst put it, a moment of truth for the electric automaker.

FADEL: NPR's Camila Domonoske listened in to that call and joins us now. Good morning.


FADEL: So Tesla really revolutionized the auto industry. Is this a moment of truth for electric vehicles overall, or is it just Tesla?

DOMONOSKE: This is a challenging moment for the broader EV industry. Going from early adopters to mainstream buyers is genuinely rough, and a lot of companies are struggling with it. At the same time, the International Energy Agency just dropped their big annual check-in on the EV industry and said that growth globally is strong. And projecting forward, that growth in EVs is going to cause a substantial reduction in the emissions that are causing climate change. You know, here in the U.S., Tesla is still the majority of the EV market. They sell more than half of all EVs, barely. But other companies - I'm thinking Kia, Hyundai, BMW, Rivian - they are seeing strong growth in EV sales right now.

FADEL: So how is Elon Musk explaining Tesla's struggles to investors?

DOMONOSKE: Well, he mentioned a tough environment and, quote, "unforeseen challenges," but he really spent very little time on this question. He was looking forward, which is typical for him, and his investors actually really like that. And here's a sample.


ELON MUSK: In the future, gasoline cars that are not autonomous will be like riding a horse and using a flip phone.

DOMONOSKE: So in the present, again, sales, they're down. Tesla's cutting prices on the cars it sells today. It hasn't yet managed to bring a cheaper $25,000 vehicle to market, like it's promised, but he's looking forward.

FADEL: Why not? What's been the holdup there?

DOMONOSKE: On that cheaper EV, first of all, one thing that happened on this call is that Musk said that more affordable vehicles are coming and actually sooner than expected, maybe as soon as this year, which caused stocks to pop. But those cars may not be $25,000. And that's because it is hard to build a car at that price. And Tesla had previously said that some revolutionary new manufacturing processes were going to make it possible. But now the company says it's actually going to use existing production lines after all. So it's not clear how cheap these cars can be, and when asked about that, Musk just kept redirecting the conversation back to robotaxis.

FADEL: Robotaxis?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, it's something that he's promised for a long time, truly driverless Teslas that go out and pick passengers up when they're not being used. In 2019, he actually said he expected to have a million robotaxis on the road within one year.

FADEL: A million of them?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. And still this is not a thing. But last night, Musk said, again, Tesla's self-driving software is so close.


MUSK: It is only a matter of time before we exceed the reliability of humans in it - not much time at that.

DOMONOSKE: So you can hear there he's no longer specifying as exact of a timeline. Tesla's self-driving technology still needs a driver supervising it, and there are other hurdles too before you can have this fleet of robotaxis. But even without that specific timeline, Musk is all in on this vision of a future with a ton of robotaxis.

FADEL: NPR's Camila Domonoske, thank you so much.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you.


MARTIN: More than 100 people who reported being abused by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar will share a nearly $140,000,000 settlement.

FADEL: That announcement Tuesday from the Department of Justice comes nine years after the FBI first received complaints about Nassar, and it resolves claims that the FBI failed to conduct a proper investigation, allowing Nassar to continue abusing athletes and patients for a full year before his arrest.

MARTIN: Kate Wells with Michigan Public has been following this shocking and very disturbing case from the beginning and is with us now to tell us more about it. Good morning, Kate.


MARTIN: So just - could you just start with this timeline? When did the FBI first become aware of the allegations against Nassar?

WELLS: Yeah. I mean, as you mentioned, so Larry Nassar was the team doctor for the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team until 2015. He was also the team doctor and sports doctor at Michigan State University until 2016. And, of course, for decades, he sexually abused hundreds of patients and athletes under the guise of medical treatment. And when he was arrested and charged and in court, dozens and dozens of women and girls gave these powerful testimonies about the abuse that they'd suffered, how they tried to report it, and that really was what put the heat on USA Gymnastics officials who said, well, look, we went to the FBI back in 2015.

MARTIN: What did they tell the FBI? And what did the FBI do in response to these reports?

WELLS: Yeah. In 2015, the then-head of USA Gymnastics told the FBI field office in Indianapolis, which is where USA Gymnastics is based, that they had received complaints about Nassar from three young gymnasts. But the FBI agents in Indianapolis only interviewed one of those gymnasts, Olympian McKayla Maroney. At a Senate hearing three years ago, Maroney testified about that interview with the FBI in 2015, which took place over the phone.


MCKAYLA MARONEY: I remember sitting on my bedroom floor for nearly three hours as I told them what happened to me. I hadn't even told my own mother about these facts, but I thought as uncomfortable, as hard as it was to tell my story, I was going to make a difference and hopefully protecting others from the same abuse.

WELLS: But those FBI agents did not follow up with the other two gymnasts. And meanwhile, USA Gymnastics allowed Nassar to quietly retire as their team doctor, which then allowed him to keep working at Michigan State University, where he continued abusing patients.

MARTIN: I just - hearing this all put together like that, it's just absolutely horrifying. So what finally stopped him?

WELLS: It was the Michigan State University Police. They finally arrested him in 2016 while they were investigating separate complaints. They had no idea that the FBI had been alerted. And of course, by then, it had been a full year since the FBI was first notified about Nassar.

MARTIN: So that brings us to this settlement. Is this essentially an FBI apology?

WELLS: Yeah, there are 139 people who are part of this settlement, who report being abused by Nassar. And in 2021, the Department of Justice did an investigation into what went wrong with the FBI's handling. And that is when the director of the FBI issued an official apology. But this settlement - when you talk to people involved in it say, this is about accountability. The DOJ issued a statement on Tuesday saying these allegations should have been taken seriously from the outset. While these settlements won't undo the harm Nassar inflicted, our hope is that they will give the victims of his crimes some of the critical support they need to continue healing.

MARTIN: That is Michigan Public reporter Kate Wells. Kate, thank you so much for joining us.

WELLS: You're welcome.


FADEL: And finally, an update on an ongoing story - last night, Columbia University students protesting the war in Gaza were readying themselves for a new round of mass arrests.

MARTIN: Columbia's president issued an ultimatum - disperse by midnight, or else the university would consider, quote-unquote, "alternative options" to clear the encampment. Manuela Silva is the city news editor with the Columbia Daily Spectator. That's the independent student newspaper. As midnight approached, she says, some students started moving their tents.

MANUELA SILVA: We also saw demonstrators starting to hand out cards, reading, quote, "if you are arrested," which gave students instructions to, for example, remain silent or clarify if they would like to speak to an attorney.

SILVA: We also saw demonstrators starting to hand out cards, reading, quote, "if you are arrested," which gave students instructions to, for example, remain silent or clarify if they would like to speak to an attorney.

FADEL: Midnight came and went. Then around 3 A.M., the university announced what it called important progress. Protesters agreed to remove some of the tents, restrict the protests to Colombia students and prohibit discriminatory or harassing language.

MARTIN: So, administrators will continue negotiations for another 48 hours. The protesters are demanding the university divest from companies that profit from the war and those that do business with Israel. * 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.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.