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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The mayor of New York City has a message for people descending on his city to protest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC ADAMS: Control yourselves. New York City is our home, not a playground for your misplaced anger.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Eric Adams spoke as Donald Trump prepares for a court appearance on his indictment. The former president is back in the center of public attention. He spent the night in his Manhattan apartment and heads downtown to likely have his fingerprints taken today. In a way, New Yorkers know this drill. Presidents often visit the city, and their motorcades stop traffic. In this case, police will close several streets for the movements of the former president.

INSKEEP: Andrea Bernstein joins us now from outside the Manhattan Criminal Court. She beat the traffic and is there (laughter) at a ridiculously early hour. Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, this court proceeding is not until the afternoon. You're there, like, in the dark. You're there really, really early. I mean, what's it like there? Do people have coffee? Do people have bagels? What's going on?

BERNSTEIN: Oh, yeah. So mostly what there is here is a lot of media. People began lining up yesterday in the middle of the afternoon - reporters - in order to be able to get onto another line this morning for press access to the courtroom. It's just a sign of how unusual, unprecedented this event is, that there are no rules, no guidance. Normally, all of this stuff is secret until the indictment is unsealed. So we do know there is an indictment. And as a result, reporters are here, but no protesters, nobody else. Other than that, there's security. But it feels quite calm here in lower Manhattan.

INSKEEP: I'm still just worried about you. Can you get a cup of coffee, anything the next eight hours?

BERNSTEIN: Oh, I brought coffee and snacks...

INSKEEP: OK, good.

BERNSTEIN: ...Due to the unpredictability of how the day will roll out.

INSKEEP: OK. So as best you can tell, what is supposed to unfold in the courtroom later today?

BERNSTEIN: So we won't be allowed in until the middle of the day. But we are expecting the former president to arrive here sometime in the middle-ish of the day. No precise details have been given. Procedure calls for him to be fingerprinted, processed and eventually walked to the courtroom, which is on the 15th floor of this building. And it's a pretty long hallway down to the courtroom at the end of the hall with Judge Juan Merchan.

INSKEEP: OK. And I guess we'll find out the details of this indictment, which, we'll remind people, involve payoffs - hush money to an adult film star, although not strictly the payoffs, but covering up the payoffs. That's the alleged crime here, right?

BERNSTEIN: Right. The alleged crime here has to do with the fact that Michael Cohen, Trump's attorney at the time, was reimbursed for the hush money payment with checks that were written out over a year and that were described in the Trump organization's internal systems as legal retainers, which, of course, they were not. And we've known that they were not for years because of the federal court case involving Mr. Cohen. The question is is for each of these 11 checks, are there charges associated with them? One former prosecutor suggested to me that there might be several associated with each check, which could bring us up to a substantial number of charges. But again, we will not know until the indictment is unsealed in the courtroom this afternoon.

INSKEEP: What does Trump do after he leaves court?

BERNSTEIN: So we understand that he goes back to Mar-a-Lago, which is, again, quite a change of scene from this dilapidated courthouse where he will be appearing today.

INSKEEP: OK. He'll have a speech tonight - a primetime speech tonight, we're told. Andrea Bernstein, thanks so much.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: So that's what we should expect today in New York's courtrooms. Let's turn to the politics.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, Trump's indictment is unique, not just because no former president has ever been indicted, but also because that former president is running to be president again.

INSKEEP: So NPR's senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro is with us. Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you have coffee? Because I was already asking Andrea. You're up early as well. You doing OK there?

MONTANARO: Of course. Got to have the coffee for doing Up First, right?

INSKEEP: OK, good. That's exactly right. OK, so how is this affecting Donald Trump?

MONTANARO: Well, look, you know, we've seen this show before with Trump. You know, he's impeached twice. It didn't really change anything. Not much moves the needle really when it comes to Trump's base. And he's trying to capitalize here. He's been raising money off of this. His campaign says Trump has raised more than $7 million in the few days after the indictment. He's predictably making a pretty big show of it. You know, he's - he is fighting a media request to have a camera in the courtroom because we know Trump in front of a crowd is much different than Trump at a court proceeding.

But he is scheduled to speak later tonight, as you said. And most lawyers, you know, will tell their clients to stay quiet. Don't say anything that could hurt the case. That's not Trump. This is what he does. And let me read to you from my dog-eared copy of Trump's "Art Of The Deal." And it says, from a bottom-line business perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Not a maxim he invented. Many people have said that. But he follows it, it would seem. How are Republicans reacting to this bad publicity?

MONTANARO: It's really put them in a box. You know, Trump has really gotten them to line up lockstep behind him. Republicans on Capitol Hill mostly blasted this New York prosecutor. They're echoing Trump's language that this is politically motivated. Now, it's not everyone in the Republican Party. We've seen a thin slice speak out against Trump, but very few. You know, we had one new candidate get in the race who denounced Trump - former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. He says the criminal investigations against Trump, when taken together, are very serious and that Trump should not be running. Here he is talking to ABC News.

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ASA HUTCHINSON: Those are three very serious investigations. You might say one of them doesn't showcase anything. But when you look at all three of them combined, it should give Americans pause.

MONTANARO: You know, but he's pretty few and far between in the Republican Party. You know, these are three entities conducting four investigations - you know, this one in New York, two by the federal government, one in Georgia related to Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. But take this for context about how Trump is doing with Republicans. Sarah Longwell is a Republican pollster. She runs these focus groups of Republican voters, and she found, for the first time this past week, that no one in the focus group said that they would vote for DeSantis - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis - over Trump. So Trump really does appear to be strengthening his grip on the base.

INSKEEP: That is a wow, since we've heard so many Trump voters who have said, I love the former president, but we need to move on. We need somebody fresh. Now they're back on Trump.

MONTANARO: Definitely. And, you know, look, the fact is here that he is really been able to take some of these investigations that he's called witch hunts and, you know, use them to be able to strengthen his grip on the Republican base. But, you know, with independents and Democrats, it's a totally different story. We're seeing this very unique sort of American political divergence where you have 8 in 10 Republicans say they like Trump, three-quarters of Republicans say that he should be president again. But 6 in 10 people overall say that he should not be. You know, and on the trail, Trump's Republican rivals - really not using this as an opportunity. It could be one for a skilled and talented politician who can make the argument, but we haven't seen that emerge yet.

INSKEEP: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

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INSKEEP: Wisconsin voters decide today who they want to control the state Supreme Court.

MARTÍNEZ: There are seven justices on that court who make big decisions for the state. Just like in the Supreme Court, they are ideologically divided. And the election of one seat will decide who gets to referee big issues in a presidential swing state.

INSKEEP: Wisconsin Public Radio's political reporter Shawn Johnson is covering this. Shawn, good morning.

SHAWN JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So is this essentially a battle between Republicans and Democrats then?

JOHNSON: So technically, no. These are officially nonpartisan seats, but they are very partisan. On the Democratic side, you have Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz. She's been very outspoken about her personal beliefs in this campaign. On the Republican side, you have former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly. He has shared less about himself, says he wants to be a boring justice on the court. But his Republican resume is very long.

INSKEEP: And we have three liberals, three conservatives and this one seat open in the middle. What are the big issues that this judge could be the swing vote on?

JOHNSON: At the top of the list, I think, is abortion. When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, Wisconsin's pre-Civil War abortion ban went back into effect. If Protasiewicz wins, the court could also hear a case on redistricting that challenges the state's Republican-drawn legislative and congressional maps.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

JOHNSON: And, of course, whoever's in control of this court will hear lawsuits about the 2024 election when those are filed.

INSKEEP: I think we're getting a picture of why this would be the most expensive state Supreme Court anywhere in the country on record. How much are we talking about at this point?

JOHNSON: So the old record for a state Supreme Court race anywhere was $15 million. That was set in Illinois in 2004, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Brennan says about 29 million has now been spent so far in Wisconsin's race on advertising. Another review of overall spending by the website WisPolitics pegs it at 45 million. So you're looking at two or three times the old record already.

INSKEEP: Wow.

JOHNSON: As far as candidate fundraising goes, Protasiewicz has far outpaced Kelly with a big assist from the state Democratic Party. But in the closing days of the race, conservative money from outside groups has come in big for Kelly and closed that gap. And those conservative ads have almost all been on the issue of crime, attacking Protasiewicz for sentences she handed down as a Milwaukee County judge.

INSKEEP: Shawn, I've heard a critique of judicial elections in the past, essentially that people never really know the candidates. Voters are not that engaged, and a very small group of people or a political faction can get their people in. Is that what's happening here?

JOHNSON: I think it's safe to say, at this point in the race, that both sides now realize the importance of this campaign and what's at stake. Conservative activist Bob Dohnal organized a recent get out the vote party for Kelly. He said that if Protasiewicz wins, the court could overturn everything from union laws to voting laws to gun laws.

BOB DOHNAL: We know that this - the election is really, really key. There are so many things up for grabs that the courts can throw out.

JOHNSON: And on the Democratic side, they view this court race as a chance to finally move Wisconsin's politics to the left. Protasiewicz supporters like Alexandria Delcourt are also highly motivated by the abortion issue.

ALEXANDRIA DELCOURT: It's really important for me to have a candidate that is a champion for reproductive rights, reproductive freedom, just because there are so many places now where that's being stripped away so violently.

JOHNSON: And you can't really overstate the importance of this race for Wisconsin. A Kelly win would preserve the court's conservative majority probably for another couple of years. A Protasiewicz win would give liberals a majority in the court for the first time in 15 years.

INSKEEP: Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.