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News Brief: Russia Probe, Canada Takes Aim At Saudi Arabia


All right. So President Trump's legal team has sent this letter to special counsel Robert Mueller, and there is an offer there about a presidential interview as part of the Russia investigation.


Right. So both the president's lawyers and the special counsel have been going back-and-forth on the terms of this possible interview for months now. President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani tells NPR that this latest offer may be Mueller's, quote, "last, best chance" to secure Trump's testimony.

GREENE: And Giuliani was talking to our colleague NPR's Ryan Lucas, who has been following this whole story and spoke to Giuliani yesterday. Hey there, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So I guess it really is important to remind people these negotiations have been going on for, like, forever.

LUCAS: It certainly seems like it, yes. This has been months now that this has been going on. And the two sides still seem to have significant differences on their views on this. And the stakes here are incredibly high, so that shouldn't be a total surprise.

Now if the two sides can't work out terms, there's the possibility that Mueller could subpoena the president to compel him to testify. Giuliani argues that Mueller would lose that battle. Yesterday, he put Mueller's chances of winning a court fight on that question at less than 50 percent. A lot of legal experts would disagree with that take. They say that in a subpoena fight, the law is generally on Mueller's side, and Mueller would likely prevail.

GREENE: But when you talked to Giuliani yesterday, I mean, did you get a sense that maybe that could be avoided because Giuliani is offering something? Or, I mean, did he actually tell you what the president's legal team is offering here?

LUCAS: Well, he wouldn't get into specifics of what they were proposing in their letter to the special counsel. We know that, generally, they want to narrow the scope of any potential interview. They're particularly wary of questions about potential obstruction of justice, so the president's response to the Russia investigation.

But Giuliani called this offer - their latest one - a serious offer, meaning that if Mueller's folks agree to it, then the president's camp would be willing to do it. And he did tell me that this may be Mueller's, as you said, last, best chance to get Trump's testimony, although I asked for some clarity on that, and he said he doesn't mean that in the sense that this is a final offer.

GREENE: OK. Last, best chance, but maybe there'll be more chances.


LUCAS: Right. Exactly.

GREENE: Is there any timeline? Like, are either side offering any sense for how long this could drag on?

LUCAS: Well, Giuliani told me that he thinks they should wrap this all up by September 1, which is, really, right around the corner.


LUCAS: That's three weeks away now. He says they do not want this to bleed into midterm elections. We have, of course, those midterms in November. Concern being that this might have a negative impact there.

But remember, this is also part of a very public push from Giuliani, and the president as well, who's really ramped up his talk about this, to try to pressure special counsel Robert Mueller to bring the whole investigation to a close. And this discussion also plays into, you know, public perceptions of the investigation.


LUCAS: Now as for Robert Mueller, you know, he's known for running a very tight shop - a shop that doesn't leak. He's also known for being meticulous and dogged. And people who know him say that he's going to do what he thinks is necessary to conduct this investigation fully and fairly and get the answers that he needs.

GREENE: However long that takes, potentially.

LUCAS: Right.

GREENE: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, we appreciate it. Thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you.


GREENE: All right. So if you live in New York City and you get around using Uber or Lyft, things might be changing for you.

MARTIN: Yeah. New York City has been raising alarm bells about these ride-sharing services for a while now. And yesterday, the city council passed legislation that limits the growth of these services in the city. It's going to be for one year. And it's supposed to give New York the time that they want to study what the real impact of these companies is for passengers and drivers.

GREENE: Stephen Nessen from member station WNYC has been covering this, and he's with us. Hi, Stephen.


GREENE: So this doesn't come totally out of the blue. I mean, these ride-sharing services in the city of New York have some history.

NESSEN: Right. Back in 2015, it was Mayor Bill de Blasio who was pushing for a cap on Uber. He was saying the company's growth was out of control, it was contributing to congestion and that the city needs to study what's going on. By the way, those are the exact same arguments today. He was met with a wave of opposition from users and a million dollar ad blitz from the company. In fact, Uber even put a feature on their app called the de Blasio mode. That means...


GREENE: What? I could put my app into de Blasio mode?

NESSEN: Not anymore, but back then.


NESSEN: And it made all the cars on your app disappear to show what would happen if his bill passed.

Now things are a little different. There have been six taxi driver suicides this year. One driver killed himself in front of City Hall and wrote a note citing economic hardship in an industry where drivers can no longer make a living. It's not a middle-class job anymore. So in addition to stiff competition from these ride-hailing apps, the value of the taxi medallions - those are things that guarantee yellow cabs have exclusive rights to pick up street hails...

GREENE: Right.

NESSEN: ...That's plummeted. They were once valued at, you may remember, more than a million dollars at their peak before Uber. Now they're worth less than $200,000. Some of those drivers took out hefty loans to buy medallions and now are struggling to pay those loans off.

And also, this bill came out of the city council. Many of those individuals that were pushing the bill do receive donations from unions and the taxi industry, which has an interest in protecting drivers. We can hear from the head of the city council, Corey Johnson, who really spearheaded these bills.


COREY JOHNSON: We are seeing the real human effects on all drivers and on the city as a whole. We've tried to come up with what we think is a fair, rational, sound public policy solution to this.

NESSEN: And I should add, the mayor's added that he does intend to sign these bills into law.

GREENE: OK. So the mayor tried this on his own. Now the city council feels like they have more of a moment because of the hardship on taxi drivers, so they have this bill. It sounds like it might actually happen. What does it do?

NESSEN: Well, what it would do would cap the growth of ride-hailing apps for one year. During that time, there will be no licenses issued from the Taxi and Limousine Commission. And the council wants to use that time, they say, to study the industry. And if it's a problem where they're finding people aren't getting cars in the neighborhoods they need, then the council will adjust their cap and will allow for cars to enter the market, in certain areas anyway.

GREENE: All right. So big changes might be coming for Uber or Lyft riders in the city of New York. Stephen Nessen from member station WNYC, we appreciate it. Thanks.

NESSEN: Thank you.


GREENE: All right. So why can't Saudi Arabia and Canada get along?

MARTIN: Yeah. They're embroiled in this diplomatic standoff over human rights in Saudi Arabia. And it all started with a tweet that Canada's foreign minister sent about the fact that Saudi has jailed human rights activists there.

Over the past week, then Saudi Arabia recalled the ambassador to Canada, expelled the Canadian ambassador from Riyadh and then stopped all new trade between the two countries. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear yesterday, though, that he is not backing down.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Canadians have always expected our government to speak strongly, firmly, clearly and politely about the need to respect human rights at home and around the world. We will continue to do that.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Jackie Northam has been following this. Hi, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what is behind this dispute? How did this all get started?

NORTHAM: Well, as you said, it started with a tweet criticizing Saudi Arabia for jailing human rights activists. But, you know, this is not the first time Canada or other nations have criticized the kingdom for its record on human rights. This time, though, it ignited a firestorm. Saudi Arabia called it a blatant interference in its affairs and in a very short time has taken dramatic steps in retaliation.


NORTHAM: You mentioned several in the intro, but Saudi Arabia has also stopped its national airline from traveling to or from Toronto. It's recalling more than 10,000 Saudi students from Canadian universities and colleges. And most recently, it announced it was transferring out all Saudi patients receiving medical treatment in Canadian hospitals.

GREENE: Any idea why Saudi Arabia has reacted so strongly to this tweet from a foreign minister in Canada? I mean, this is certainly not the first time, as you said...


GREENE: ...That other countries have criticized the Saudis.

NORTHAM: Well, exactly. I mean, I spoke with a number of analysts who say Saudi Arabia wants to use Canada as an example to scare off other countries from criticizing their internal affairs.

But this is also seen as local politics and a diversion tactic by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He is trying to push through some ambitious economic reforms, and they're not going as fast or as smoothly as hoped. Unemployment there is still high and growing while foreign investment is decreasing, so he may be feeling some pressure. And this could be a way to whip up nationalist sentiment, if you like - rally the crowds.

GREENE: Well, I mean, I don't know if we will ever know if Canada and Trudeau saw this reaction coming, but now that the Saudis have reacted this way, is anything on the line for Canada if this really escalates?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, the two countries do only have about $4 billion in a trade a year, so it's not like Saudi Arabia is taking on the U.S. or European Union and risk losing a lot of investment. And Canada doesn't rely on Saudi Arabia for much.

But, you know, thousands of Saudi students leaving could hit Canadian universities. The Canadian government, though, has not apologized for the tweet or its criticism. And Prime Minister Trudeau said yesterday human rights are important to Canadians.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Jackie Northam talking to us about this escalating dispute between Canada and Saudi Arabia over Saudi's human rights record. Jackie, we appreciate it.

NORTHAM: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF RATATAT'S "LOUD PIPES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.