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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It's the anniversary of an event that shaped millions of lives.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Even yours and mine, Leila, in a small way...

FADEL: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...Since we both covered the war in Iraq. It was 20 years ago today that the United States began its invasion, firing missiles into Baghdad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MISSILE FIRE)

INSKEEP: An American army soon followed and toppled the government. U.S. troops never found the weapons of mass destruction that the U.S. claimed Iraq had. They did trigger an insurgency that lasted for years, and the war killed hundreds of thousands of people.

FADEL: And on this anniversary, we have news of a different war - the one in Ukraine. Russia's Vladimir Putin has a visitor today.

INSKEEP: He's one of Putin's few friends, outside of Russia, and he's dropping by. Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Moscow and will spend three days there, where the two leaders will surely discuss the war in Ukraine.

FADEL: Yeah. Joining us to talk about it all is NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow.

Hi, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So this is President Xi's first trip abroad since being elected to a third term. Why Moscow, and why now?

MAYNES: You know, state visits don't come together overnight. This trip was long in the works and aimed at deepening a relationship that the two leaders already said had no limits when they met in Beijing in January of last year. But that, of course, was before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. And that's injected friction into the relationship. You know, on the one hand, China has not condemned Russia's actions. It hasn't joined Western sanctions, and it's given cover to Russian arguments that the war was provoked by the West. On the other, China isn't happy about what the war has done to the global economy. It projects itself as neutral on the Ukraine issue, even floating a peace plan, but one that chides Russia for nuclear saber rattling and calls for respecting territorial integrity. And Beijing has billed Xi's visit as a peace mission around those terms.

FADEL: Interesting. What is Putin hoping for?

MAYNES: You know, he's looking for more support from Xi, beyond trade. Putin published an article in the Chinese press on the eve of Xi's visit in which he really tried to bind Russia's fallout with the West over Ukraine to China's own tensions with the U.S. in particular - this message, you know, that this is our common enemy. Putin also wrote Russia was open to Chinese peace proposals but claimed the West didn't want an end to the Ukraine conflict because Putin argued the war was part of this grander plot to not only degrade Russia, but to contain China. You know, how convincing that will be to Xi, I guess we'll find out.

FADEL: And what is the state of the war? I mean, Putin made a surprise trip to occupied Ukraine over the weekend.

MAYNES: Yeah. You know, this was Putin's first known trip to the war zone - a surprise visit to Mariupol, the city occupied by Russian forces, but only after a scorched-earth siege last year. Putin's visit came under cover of night, which means Putin - and, subsequently, Russian television viewers - saw little, if any, of the destruction of Mariupol. What they did see were new apartments, playgrounds, a new theater, and also a small crowd of grateful locals, one of whom told Putin that Russia had built a piece of heaven in Mariupol. Another telling moment was this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARAT KHUSNULLIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: This is Putin's deputy minister and point man for reconstruction, Marat Khusnullin, assuring Putin - and, of course, TV viewers - that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the destruction of the city and bombing civilians. You know, Ukraine had a different take, of course. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said when it came to Putin in Mariupol, this was a classic case of a criminal being drawn to the scene of his own crime.

FADEL: A crime. Yeah. All of this is unfolding against the backdrop of these charges issued by the International Criminal Court against Putin for war crimes. Has Putin said anything about the charges?

MAYNES: No. And if Putin's concerned, he certainly isn't showing it. And that presumably was the subtext of his trip to Mariupol. The Kremlin has made clear the ICC court warrant charging Putin with overseeing the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children into Russia is null and void in their eyes. You know, after all, Kremlin officials note that Russia, like the U.S., is not a signatory to the court, so there's no jurisdiction here.

FADEL: NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thanks, Charles.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: We take a look today at the man who decides whether to indict a former president.

INSKEEP: His name is Alvin Bragg. He is the Manhattan district attorney, so New York City. He famously declined to move forward with a prosecution in one of the many cases against onetime President Donald Trump. But his office is investigating a different case. And Trump, at least, claims he will be indicted on Tuesday - called for protest. Now, the former president's predictions have often been unreliable, to say the least. But the DA did say his office will not be intimidated.

FADEL: So let's get to know the DA. NPR's Ilya Marritz covers Trump legal matters and is with me now.

Good morning.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So who is Alvin Bragg?

MARRITZ: Alvin Bragg Jr. is 49 years old. He grew up in Harlem. He's a graduate of Harvard Law, and he worked for the Justice Department and the New York attorney general before deciding in 2021 to run for Manhattan DA. He promised to reduce incarceration and be fairer to Black and brown people, and he won. And he became Manhattan's first African American DA.

FADEL: And what are some of the significant markers in his tenure so far?

MARRITZ: Well, you know, right off the bat, he ran into a rocky start. He had some pretty serious public relations problems. The first incident was around a document known as the day one letter. It said prosecutors should not seek jail time for defendants for a range of offenses, from jumping subway turnstiles to, in some cases, robberies and assaults. It wasn't exactly a surprise, but it fed fears about street crime, and there was an uproar, and he was forced to backtrack on some of those policies. And I think it showed how being an elected prosecutor, you really have to be so attentive to public opinion and the press.

The other issue had to do with Trump. When Bragg was sworn in, he inherited a long-running investigation of Trump. Prosecutors were presenting evidence to a grand jury that could have resulted in Donald Trump being charged over allegedly lying to banks and tax authorities. Bragg did not move forward with that case, and the two lawyers leading it quit. And there was an outcry when that happened.

FADEL: Yeah. Didn't one of those lawyers publish a book laying out the disagreement?

MARRITZ: That's right. And I just want to say this is incredibly rare for a former prosecutor to do what Mark Pomerantz did. He spoke publicly and in detail on an investigation that, you know, was still going on in the DA's office. Last month, Bragg pushed back. He said he looked at the evidence, and he wasn't convinced.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALVIN BRAGG: Mark Pomerantz's case simply was not ready. So I said to my team, let's keep working.

FADEL: Which brings us to today. Now, Bragg is building a possible case around the hush-money payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. What does Bragg's history and character tell us about how he might handle this?

MARRITZ: People who know him personally say Bragg is decent. He's thoughtful. He has taught Sunday School for about 15 years. I wanted to know his relationship to risk because a lot of legal observers think the case he could be building may be difficult to win. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty for his role in the hush-money payments, which amounted to a federal campaign finance violation. But New York state law may be a difficult fit. So I put that to Danya Perry. She's a former federal prosecutor who counts Bragg as a friend.

DANYA PERRY: Some of the legal theories - as much as we can see from the outside in - do appear to be novel, but I do give him credit for starting from scratch, building his own case and making sure that he feels comfortable with it.

FADEL: So what's next in the case?

MARRITZ: If the grand jury does indict Trump, the logistics of bringing him in for fingerprinting for an arraignment will be an enormous test of Bragg's ability to coordinate with the former president, his lawyers, the Secret Service and the police. There are security concerns, including for Bragg and his staff. Trump has always said he is innocent, and he's been lobbing abuse at the DA on social media all weekend.

FADEL: NPR's Ilya Marritz.

Thank you.

MARRITZ: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: One big Swiss bank is buying a competitor that's in trouble.

INSKEEP: The Swiss bank UBS is the buyer, and it is picking up Credit Suisse. To some English speakers, that may look on the page like Credit Swiss (ph). People following the news have seen and heard that name in recent days. The bank was under pressure after other banks failed and investors lost confidence in banking stocks. Now UBS has bought it cheap as part of a government-brokered plan to restore confidence.

FADEL: But has it? NPR's Rob Schmitz joins us now from Berlin to talk about this.

Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So Switzerland's biggest bank just got bigger by taking over the country's second-biggest bank. What's the significance of this move?

SCHMITZ: It's a big deal. Last week, Credit Suisse lost around a fifth of its value in a single day. And this was spurred in part by Credit Suisse's mismanagement, but also in part by bank failures in the U.S. that began with Silicon Valley Bank and then spread to other small banks.

FADEL: Yeah.

SCHMITZ: Credit Suisse is not a small bank, but it's been weakened in recent years by scandals, and customers have been withdrawing money for months. Switzerland's central bank tried to help last week with a $50 billion injection of capital, but it didn't restore investor confidence. So over the weekend, the Swiss government brokered a deal for UBS to take over Credit Suisse. The government took the unusual move of bypassing a vote by Credit Suisse shareholders because they were in a rush to do this before markets opened on Monday morning. At a press conference last night, Karin Keller-Sutter, head of Switzerland's Federal Department of Finance, explained why they were working so fast.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARIN KELLER-SUTTER: The bankruptcy of Credit Suisse would have had a collateral damage - a huge collateral damage on the Swiss financial market, also risk of contagion for UBS and other banks, and also internationally.

FADEL: The risk of contagion. So the Swiss government was worried about a domino effect that would put other big international banks at risk. How likely is it that the deal will prevent that?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. That's a big question. It depends on who you talk to and how pessimistic they are about the health of the overall financial system. The Swiss government emphasizes that this deal is not a bailout, and observers are actually calling this a bail-in, meaning that instead of the government spending massive amounts of taxpayer money to save a bank, they've persuaded another bank to save one of its competitors. And even though in this case, the Swiss government did agree to contributing $100 billion liquidity line to UBS as part of this deal, for Mark Williams, a professor of finance at Boston University - he says he's somewhat hopeful.

MARK WILLIAMS: In essence, what's happened here, hopefully, is UBS's purchase will put a line in the sand and hopefully quell any other concerns about growing depositor runs.

FADEL: OK. He's saying hopefully a lot.

SCHMITZ: Yeah.

FADEL: How hopeful are people that this deal will prevent other bank runs? How are the markets responding?

SCHMITZ: Not well. The first markets open in Asia were not encouraging. We're seeing across-the-board declines. Here in Europe, markets just opened, and they're down across the board by around 2%, with shares of Germany's two biggest banks down 3%. And most tellingly, UBS shares are down more than 14% in opening trading. That is not a good sign.

A big problem here is that the holders of $17 billion worth of Credit Suisse bonds have had their investments wiped out in this deal. That is not a good signal to investors or to debt markets. So even though this deal is meant to reassure the markets and prevent other bank failures, when it all comes down to it, there is a fair amount of anxiety over all of this, and the risk of contagion is still there, Leila.

FADEL: NPR's Rob Schmitz in Berlin.

Thanks, Rob.

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

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.

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