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Trump Son Admits To Meeting With Russian; Senate Returns To Unfinished Health Care Battle

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There is another development in the Trump-Russia saga, and this one centers around the president's oldest son.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Yeah, that would be Donald Trump Jr. He has put out a statement saying he met with a Russian lawyer last year who promised to deliver information that could potentially help his dad's presidential campaign. The younger Trump says his father did not know about, had nothing to do with this meeting, but it is raising new questions about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

MARTIN: Of course, this comes just as Congress returns to the Hill to contend with the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. So to help us unpack both these topics, NPR's Tamara Keith is here. Good morning, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: Let's start with this new revelation about Donald Trump Jr., who was at this meeting with this Russian lawyer. The central question, Tam, of the federal investigation into Russian meddling is whether or not the Trump campaign had cooperated with Russians during the campaign. Now there's this admission that at least Donald Trump Jr. and a couple other campaign officials were in a meeting with someone who at least promised to help Donald Trump during the campaign.

KEITH: Right. So this meeting happened in June of 2016, and Donald Trump Jr. wasn't the only one there. The campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, as well as President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner - who was advising the campaign and is now a top aide at the White House - were all at that meeting. According to the statement from Donald Trump Jr., it was arranged by an individual that he knew through the Miss Universe pageant that the Trump Organization hosted in Russia in 2013 - and that the reason the meeting was arranged was because this person might have information that was helpful to the campaign.

He says it turns out that this Russian lawyer, who was linked to the Kremlin, wanted to talk about sanctions and didn't have incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. And Trump said that once the - her true agenda was clear, he interrupted her and advised her that her father was a private citizen and not an elected official who could help her out.

MARTIN: But nonetheless, they went to this meeting assuming they were going to get opposition research on Hillary Clinton. We should say this admission came after The New York Times reported the very existence of this meeting. They reported that on Saturday. Donald Trump Jr. didn't weigh in. Then he chose to do so on Sunday, making this admission. Obviously, this is going to fold into...

KEITH: ...Yeah, and that meeting lasted...

MARTIN: ...Go ahead, Tam.

KEITH: Twenty to 30 - Yeah, the meeting lasted 20 to 30 minutes. And this statement from Donald Trump Jr. is truly remarkable, in that he says that - he basically lays it all out there.

MARTIN: And it'll obviously fold into the investigation, and we'll keep following that. We're going to move on to health care, though, because Congress is back. And they're supposedly going to get to work. The Affordable Care Act, the effort to repeal that, is still afoot. Democrats are fighting back, though. Senator Bernie Sanders was in West Virginia and Kentucky holding some rallies. Here's what he said in Kentucky last night.

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BERNIE SANDERS: Why is legislation being aggressively pushed that the American people don't want and, at the same time, will do enormous damage to the Senate Republican leader's very own state?

MARTIN: Tam, you were there. Is that right?

KEITH: I was.

MARTIN: OK. So what did you hear from the people who were at that rally?

KEITH: They were there about health care. They, you know - I said, what are you doing here? And they would say, well, you know, I'm concerned about this Republican health care bill. In particular, I talked to people who have pre-existing conditions. I talked to a man who is on Medicaid. The state of Kentucky expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. About 400,000 more people got health coverage because of that expansion. The Republican health care bill would roll that expansion back.

So Sanders was there in Kentucky to try to put pressure on Mitch McConnell to listen to some of his constituents. He's the Senate majority leader. But he also went to West Virginia, and I - yeah, we are in the Ohio, Cincinnati media market, so he was trying to reach Rob Portman, who's a Republican senator from Ohio - trying to...

MARTIN: So lots of different audiences from Bernie Sanders - he's trying to reach lots of different audiences as this bill moves forward. Hey, Tam, thanks so much for your time this morning.

KEITH: You're welcome so much.

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MARTIN: The battle for Mosul is over, but it came at a high price.

KELLY: That's right. Iraq's prime minister, yesterday, declared Mosul liberated from Islamic State control. Now, Mosul was once the largest city in Iraq. But this battle has gone for months, and much of the city has emptied. At least a thousand Iraqi security forces were killed, thousands of civilians.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf is in Mosul this morning. Jane, you're there. You're on the ground. Is the fighting over?

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Well, it doesn't sound like it's over, exactly. Overhead, I can hear fighter jets, and scattered gunfire - and, as you say, celebration because ISIS has been driven out of almost all of the city - but also a lot of mourning. We drove through west Mosul this morning with a family who had come back to try to find their home because they wanted to properly bury their son, who was beheaded by ISIS.

And as we drove back through streets emptied of everything but security people and civilians looking for their dead, they couldn't believe the destruction. The woman kept saying, Mosul is gone. And I'm sitting here on a broken sidewalk under a shattered ceiling, and there is not a single building standing on this street. And that's the case with most streets in this neighborhood.

MARTIN: So it's just - it's deserted?

ARRAF: It's, you know, that eerie feeling after a battle is over, where you can see the remnants of life here. There are dolls and photographs strewn on the street. But there was one building we passed by that had been completely cut in half, so you could see inside it like a doll's house - deserted because it's unlivable. I mean, it's completely rubble. Almost all of western Mosul is like this.

The U.N. has said that almost every neighborhood in west Mosul has either been severely or moderately damaged. Security people aren't really letting civilians come back because it is, to be blunt, still dangerous. You don't know what explosives are on the sides of these cleared roads. So it's going to take a long time to come back.

MARTIN: So what now, Jane? I mean, the Iraqi officials say ISIS is out of Mosul, but is that fight against that group over?

ARRAF: Well, some people fear it will never be over because it's not just a foreign group that came in. It is, according to Iraqi officials, an ideology. And a lot of people fear that that ideology still exists, particularly when Iraq itself has so many internal problems.

KELLY: And just a reminder that ISIS, of course, still controls other towns in Iraq, controls much of Anbar province. Senator John McCain, who chairs the Armed Services committee, weighed in over the weekend and said, maybe think of this not as the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.

MARTIN: NPR's Jane Arraf, reporting there on the ground in Mosul. Jane, thanks so much.

ARRAF: Thank you.

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MARTIN: We're going to shift our attention now to San Antonio, Texas, because, Mary Louise, there's a case starting today in federal court about gerrymandering that's getting a lot of attention.

KELLY: That is right. This is a case about maps, and those maps that determine how Texans are grouped into districts when they vote - when they vote, both in state and federal elections. The issue here is whether the current maps discriminate against Texas' fast-growing Hispanic population.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Wade Goodwyn is here. Wade, first off, just what are the plaintiffs saying? How do they allege that this discrimination is playing out?

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: This case is about charges of racial gerrymandering, pure and simple. The Hispanic population has been exploding all across the state. But after these maps were drawn, their opportunity to elect representatives were actually diminished. It was quite a sophisticated and, at times, cynical map-drawing operation. Emails revealed Republican operatives who were trying to achieve districts that had what they called optimal Hispanic Republican voting strength - that was the phrase. And what it meant was GOP map drawers should try to create districts that looked Hispanic enough, but actually still be dominated by Republican candidates.

And in another email, a San Antonio House member wrote, there is one area which includes two condo buildings with many GOP supporters and the San Antonio Country Club adjacent to my district; I would really like to get that. And here, we have a rather naked example of politicians choosing their voters, down to the level of condos and country clubs. And this question - in a democracy, who gets to make this choice, the voters or the politicians? That cuts to the heart of these gerrymandering cases around the country.

MARTIN: Is this just about Republicans doing the gerrymandering?

GOODWYN: It's mostly about Republican gerrymandering. But there's one part of the case that involved a white Democratic state House representative from Fort Worth, I think. And he was also afraid of the growing Hispanic population in his district - afraid an Hispanic candidate would run against him and beat him in the primary. So then he asked his district be redrawn to make it less Hispanic, and they did withdraw it - the power of the incumbency and not - it's a not-so-glorious display. But it was in vain. The white Democrat did eventually get beat by an Hispanic Democrat in 2014. So the moral of the story here is, sometimes demography is destiny, gerrymander though you might.

MARTIN: So what does this mean? I mean, if the plaintiffs win this case, what does it mean for the balance of power in Texas?

GOODWYN: It would affect it but not change it. You know, Texas is a Republican juggernaut. Even if the maps are drawn more fairly, Texas is solidly Republican, for now and for the foreseeable future.

MARTIN: NPR's Wade Goodwyn from Texas, talking with us about this gerrymandering case that is unfolding in federal court in San Antonio today. Hey, Wade, thanks so much.

GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.