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Morning News Brief: Donald Trump Jr. Under Fire; Protests Rage In Venezuela

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Another day, another damaging report about the Trump team's possible ties to Russia.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That's right. The New York Times is citing three sources who say that Donald Jr. got an email before he agreed to meet a Russian lawyer last year. That email reportedly said this lawyer could provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton and that the damaging information came directly from a Russian government effort to help Trump win the White House.

Now, this contradicts Donald Jr.'s previous statement from Sunday. He said then he didn't know ahead of time who he'd be meeting with. A White House spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defended the meeting yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Don Jr. took a very short meeting from which there was absolutely no follow-up. The only thing I see inappropriate about the meeting was the people that leaked the information on the meeting after it was voluntarily disclosed.

KELLY: But the Senate intelligence committee wants to speak with Donald Trump Jr. as part of its investigation into Russian meddling.

MARTIN: All right. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro is here to dig through all this with us. Domenico, it's one thing for Donald Trump Jr. to have met with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Russian government, which is what we knew yesterday. That's what the initial reporting said. But it's quite another to understand that she was promising to deliver information that was coming directly from the Russian government.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Yeah, I mean that is something that is pretty - is a big, big deal, you know. And we should note that Trump Jr. and his attorneys have not denied any of the reporting in The Times, just the framing of it. And, you know, just for some perspective, since May, Donald Trump, the president, has tweeted nine times denying any collusion. And while we don't know what Donald Trump Jr. or other top campaign officials did with any information that they received or if there was anything worthwhile in that meeting, this is the clearest sign yet that the Trump campaign and officials at the highest levels of that campaign were open for business, you know.

And we should note a couple of things. Trump Jr. confirmed the meeting on Twitter and in a statement. And the statement from his lawyer does not deny the facts in that Times story, including that he had gotten an email beforehand, as you noted. And he did not go to the FBI with any of that information. Instead, what he and campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump adviser Jared Kushner did was take the meeting. And this, I have to say, Rachel, is not the normal way of doing business in a campaign.

MARTIN: Obviously, this is now all going to fold into the larger investigations into Russian meddling, the Senate intelligence committee already saying that they want to hear from Donald Trump Jr., himself.

MONTANARO: Absolutely, and Trump Jr. said that he's going to be willing to come forward and talk to the Senate investigation committee. Now, we don't know if he's going to do so under oath or if it'll be in a private meeting. But we know that the White House has to be taking this seriously at this point. Even though they're dismissing it, as you heard there from Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump Jr. has hired a lawyer, as we've talked about. And President Trump has been, of course, notably silent on his favorite medium to talk to the public on - on Twitter.

MARTIN: When you look at this particular situation on its face, what would qualify as wrongdoing, if anything here?

MONTANARO: You know, there are a couple of things that they're - that they could look at, things like federal election law with accepting or soliciting funds, for example, some lawyers talking about criminal conspiracy. This is very early on to be talking about some of those things. But it's all going to be very noteworthy for investigators.

MARTIN: Yeah.

KELLY: As you said, Domenico, none of this unfolding the way things typically do during a campaign. Then again, very little about the Trump campaign was typical. And all of this coming to light now because of this revised disclosure forms from Jared Kushner.

MARTIN: Yeah, and we should say, Donald Trump Jr. again, saying that he did nothing wrong. Hey, Domenico Montanaro, NPR political editor. Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: There's more tumult in Venezuela.

KELLY: Yeah, Venezuela's been in economic and political crisis for many months now. Many Venezuelans say they can barely afford to eat. Protesters have gotten into violent standoffs with the pro-government forces on the streets. President Nicolas Maduro's solution is to rewrite the constitution. He says a new constitution would guarantee social welfare programs, would help solve the nation's problems. His opponents, not surprisingly, say they disagree and that this would be illegal and a power grab.

MARTIN: Yeah, OK, John Otis spent last week in Venezuela. He's on the line now. John, is this an illegal power grab?

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Well, that's how the opposition is framing it. You know, the government has called for elections on July 30 for a constituent assembly. They want to - the government wants to write a new constitution. And it's really going all out. Television is just full of advertising, telling people to come out and vote for a new, you know, constituent assembly. Maduro's giving every - giving speeches every day about this, encouraging people to vote.

But the problem is that, you know, the opposition says Maduro already has a lot of power. What they're going to try to do is hold a symbolic plebiscite on Sunday, in which they're hoping to attract millions of Venezuelans to come out and publicly reject a new constitution. And they're hoping that this'll be a big embarrassment for the government.

MARTIN: But Maduro has been able to endure through protests for many, many months. Is he likely to get this through in the end?

OTIS: Well, you know, Maduro frames all this as saying, you know, there's just too much political polarization in Venezuela, and the opposition's trying to overthrow my government. So he says, you know, this whole process of writing a new constitution will be a cathartic process, a way to reach out to all sectors of society and reach a national consensus.

But, you know, Maduro's quite unpopular. And the opposition says, if he were to go before normal - a normal presidential election, he'd lose. But to give you an example, this constituent assembly, it's going to have extraordinary powers. And it could actually cancel next year's presidential election. There's supposed to be elections by the end of December next year.

MARTIN: So no election, so Maduro would just stay in power. You spent some time in the poorer neighborhoods of Caracas recently, doing some reporting. What did people there tell you?

OTIS: A lot of people in the poorer parts of Caracas depend on government housing. They depend on government food handouts. A lot of them, you know, have government jobs, work for state agencies. So that...

MARTIN: So do they believe that Maduro could then secure their livelihoods with this new constitution?

OTIS: Well, the thing is that a lot of them are just afraid to criticize the government because they depend on the government. However, in the privacy of their own homes, a lot of people will tell you they're sick and tired of Maduro, that his government already has vast powers and has brought the country to disaster. So a lot of them don't see how a new constitution is somehow going to solve the problems of food shortages...

MARTIN: Yeah.

OTIS: ...And hyperinflation.

MARTIN: John Otis reporting from South America. Thanks so much, John.

OTIS: Thank you.

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MARTIN: Now, Mary Louise, to this heartbreaking story out of the U.K. This is about a baby named Charlie Gard.

KELLY: Yeah, and it is heartbreaking. Charlie Gard is an 11-month-old baby in Britain. He was born with a rare genetic disease that makes it impossible for him to breathe on his own and has also left him with severe brain damage. Now, his parents have been fighting to bring him here to the U.S. for an experimental treatment. The hospital in Britain says it's in Charlie's best interest to be removed from life support, not make this trip to the U.S. Gard's mother, Connie Yates, had this to say yesterday.

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CONNIE YATES: He's our son. He's our flesh and blood. We feel that it should be our right as parents to decide to give him a chance at life.

KELLY: Now, the U.K.'s high court will hear the case.

MARTIN: We're joined now by Mary Dejevsky. She's been following this case. She's a British journalist who is on the line via Skype. So Mary, the parents are willing to bring their child to the U.S. with their own money to get this experimental treatment. Why is this in court?

MARY DEJEVSKY: This is in court because there is a clash of opinions between the parents, who want what they say is - they see as the last chance for their child, and the view of the hospital, which says, basically, there's no hope and that taking the child to America or anywhere for further treatment will simply be counterproductive and mean more suffering for the child.

MARTIN: So the parents - they have no recourse here? Even if - even if it's their choice to - whether or not to come up with the money to make the trip?

DEJEVSKY: Well, I know it probably sounds strange to an American audience. But this, actually, isn't about the money. It's about the law in the U.K. And there is a law from 1989, which was updated in 2004, which says that the well-being of the child should be paramount in any case where a child is involved, and there's a clash of opinions.

This court case has pitted not just the hospital against the parents, but the child has to be separately represented. And it was the representation for the child - the lawyers for the child, who argued that it wouldn't be in the interest of the child. And that prevails...

MARTIN: I mean...

DEJEVSKY: ...Over any of the parents' wishes.

MARTIN: And so just to reiterate here, they say it's not in the child's best interest because there are no options, they believe, for this child, and that it would be somehow cruel to keep him on life support is their argument?

DEJEVSKY: Yes, exactly that. I mean, what they say is that taking him to the United States, there wouldn't be - there wouldn't be any hope because his condition is - there's nothing anybody can do about it. And it would simply cause more suffering for the child. Therefore, it's not in his interest.

MARTIN: And this experimental treatment, we should say, the rates of success are quite low. Meanwhile, this baby, Charlie, is still in the hospital on life support. Where do things go just in the next couple days?

DEJEVSKY: Well, he's still in hospital on life support. And the case has gone back to the lower courts in the U.K. It's been right through the whole court. It's been to the European Court. It's been back again.

MARTIN: And now the high court...

(SOUNDBITE OF POPPY ACKROYD'S "SALT")

DEJEVSKY: And now it's back in the courts because the hospital says...

MARTIN: Yeah.

DEJEVSKY: ...They've got new evidence they want to present.

MARTIN: Mary Dejevsky, you've been following this case about Charlie Gard. Thank you so much.

DEJEVSKY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.