Morning News Brief Top officials say America's election systems need an upgrade. What are they doing? Opposition protests over Zimbabwe's election bring a military response. And Apple hits a trillion-dollar milestone.

Morning News Brief

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White House officials came out yesterday, and they showed a rare unified front. They said they're focused on preventing interference in U.S. elections.


Yeah. Here's how Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats put it.


DAN COATS: We acknowledge the threat. It is real. It is continuing. And we're doing everything we can to have a legitimate election that the American people can have trust in.

MARTIN: That message was then reinforced by the FBI director, the Homeland Security secretary, the National Security Agency director and the president's national security adviser. And they didn't articulate just a general threat from foreign actors; they said the biggest threat is coming from Russia.

KING: And so now the big question is - how are lawmakers in the administration going to respond to that threat?

NPR's Kelsey Snell is here. Hi, Kelsey.


KING: All right, so let's start with the Trump administration. What does it say it's doing to secure the midterm elections?

SNELL: Yeah, it was actually a very rare occurrence to see all of those officials come into the White House briefing room. And their goal was pretty clear. They wanted to reiterate to the press and to viewers that President Trump's top deputies in the intelligence community are concerned about Russian interference in the election and that they plan to do something about it. But what exactly they plan to do was less clear.

Each of the officials delivered a similar message that they acknowledge the threat from Russia, as you mentioned. And they say that it's real and continuing, but they didn't really lay out specifics about what tactics or what options they really have for combating this interference. The group appearance kind of follows this meeting that happened last week of the National Security Council on election security. But that was a short meeting. And so far, we don't really see any deliverables or direct objectives that they're going to be pursuing.

KING: That is really interesting and leads me to a question about Congress - right? - because Republicans - a Republican majority has been blocking sending money to the states to update state election systems, which is a concrete step.

SNELL: Yeah. So you're talking about this $250 million in state election security funding that both the House and the Senate had a chance to vote on in the past two weeks. And Republicans in both of those chambers blocked that. It's coming at this time when there are these bipartisan efforts. You had this one option that would allow them to put automatic sanctions on Russia or any other entity that interferes in the elections. But that hasn't really gone anywhere. And there's a separate bill that would make it so that states and the federal government would have a more streamlined way of communicating about threats. But again, that hasn't really gone anywhere. So there's been a lot of conversation and a lot of options put out there, but we haven't seen votes on anything that could actually get passed in the very near future.

KING: And at the same time, intelligence officials are saying, you know, this is not just about elections. Here's the FBI director, Christopher Wray, speaking yesterday.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY: But it's important to understand, this is not just an election cycle threat. Our adversaries are trying to undermine our country on a persistent and regular basis, whether it's election season or not.

KING: I mean, that is both vague and worrying.


KING: Is there an effort to counter this effort at dividing the country?

SNELL: Well, there are discussions about that. And one of the things that election security officials have been saying - and these experts are saying - is that it's good to see this united front even happening. And to have these officials come out and talk to the press and say that the White House is working on this is an important message. And that may be something that, you know, conveys a broader effort.

KING: NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thanks so much, Kelsey.

SNELL: Thank you.


KING: All right, we're going to go now to another story about elections, this one happening in Zimbabwe. The incumbent president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has declared victory.

MARTIN: Yeah, he edged out a field of some two dozen candidates by winning 50.8 percent of the vote. But the opposition is alleging that that vote was rigged. NPR's Eyder Peralta is there on the ground covering all of it. And we want to play a little bit of tape of what Eyder encountered when he was covering opposition protests in Harare.


EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: So bullets sometimes have been fired right near the ZANU-PF offices. Protesters were throwing rocks.


PERALTA: Oh, [expletive]. All right, we need to get out of here.

KING: All right, Eyder is on the line with us now from Harare. Hi, Eyder

PERALTA: Hi, Noel.

KING: So that was some really dramatic tape. And I want to ask you what's happening today. But first, who was firing the shots there? Was that the Zimbabwean military?

PERALTA: It was. They brought in the military very quickly on Wednesday to sort of quell the protests. And you know, stuff has remained tense since that day. Even yesterday when the electoral commission was announcing the results, stuff was tense. Right before they were supposed to announce the winner, the opposition chairman - the chairman of the party, Douglas Mwonzora (ph), got on stage. And let's listen to what he said.


MORGAN KOMICHI: We, as MDC Alliance, totally reject the results that have been announced so far.

KING: Totally reject the results...

PERALTA: So he was being...

KING: ...That have been announced. Wow.

PERALTA: That's right. And I mean - and so we don't know what's happening because they've yet to give a press conference. We don't know what the next step is. But there's still a huge show of force here. I'm standing right outside of the opposition headquarters. And there are, you know, two huge water cannons just parked in front of it...

KING: Oh, wow.

PERALTA: ...As a show of force.

KING: Eyder, let me ask you something. Why is the opposition not accepting the results? I mean, we heard all of this news going in about free and fair international monitors, you know, Zimbabwe changing for the first time in 35 years. People were watching this election. Right? So why can't the - why won't the opposition just accept this?

PERALTA: I think a lot of it is history. I mean, you have 38 years in this country of very flawed elections. And the observers, to be fair, did raise lots of serious questions about these elections, you know. And what the opposition will tell you is, look. The vote always goes on, you know, pretty cleanly. It's the counting. It's what happens at the electoral towers that matters. And you know, they believe that the government rejiggered some of the numbers.

KING: Well, is there a formal system to challenge the results? Do they do recounts in Zimbabwe?

PERALTA: The opposition can go to court, but they've said they will not. They say, it's a lion's den, and they're not going to be a lion's meal.

KING: Do we expect they'll just keep protesting in the streets then?

PERALTA: We don't know. You know, protests on the streets mean deaths here. And so the opposition, I think, is weighing that right now.

KING: NPR's Eyder Peralta in Harare. Eyder, thank you so much. And stay safe, please.

PERALTA: Thank you, Noel.


KING: OK. So Apple hit a big milestone yesterday.

MARTIN: Right. So the tech giant that began in a garage, as so many tech companies do - but they did it back in 1976. And now Apple is history's first trillion-dollar public company. That is a million dollars a million times - so many zeros. An impressive number to be sure - but the question is, what does it really mean?

KING: We've got reporter Ryan Kailath here to help us with that. Hi, Ryan.


KING: Do you know how many zeros are in a trillion?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

KAILATH: I do. I counted.

KING: How many?

KAILATH: Twelve zeros, four commas.

KING: Twelve zeroes, four commas.

MARTIN: Right, four commas.

KING: All right, a lot of money. So how significant is it that Apple is worth a trillion bucks?

KAILATH: Yeah. I mean, it is historic and significant. But practically, it doesn't really mean that much. It's not like the gods of capitalism now come down and give Apple a magic T or something.

KING: (Laughter).

KAILATH: It's a symbol, but it's a very cool-sounding symbol.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Right.

KING: How did Apple manage to get there first, though - of all the companies?

KAILATH: I mean, functionally, this happened because Apple had a really impressive quarter earningswise. And that pushed its share price to a record high yesterday. But I mean, informally, it's - Noel, do you happen to own an iPhone?

KING: I do, for sure. A 6, I think. Yeah.

KAILATH: (Laughter) Yeah. And I'm talking to you on one now.

KING: (Laughter).

KAILATH: I swear this is not an advertisement.

KING: (Laughter).

KAILATH: It just speaks to how ubiquitous these things can be in our lives. And it really is the iPhone that did this. It's strong sales of the iPhone 10 - that's the fancy, expensive one - that pushed the stock price up. So even people who don't own one - you know, they're probably aware of it or the App Store or iTunes. The company is threaded in our lives.

KING: So we heard some skeptical chatter yesterday, which you might expect, that maybe Apple is too big, that maybe its stock is overvalued. I mean, is this kind of growth sustainable for a company?

KAILATH: I mean, legal disclaimer - do not rely on me for investment advice. But...

KING: (Laughter) Fair enough.

KAILATH: ...Yeah. It's tough at the top. I mean, you know, to grow by 1 percent when you're at a million dollars, sure. I mean, maybe I could do that. But to grow a percent from a trillion dollars, that's literally a different order of magnitude.

KING: And there's also some concerns - right? - because Apple is heavily invested in China, it sells a lot in China, and now we're in the middle of a trade spat with China.

KAILATH: Yeah, Apple - excuse me - China is huge for Apple on two fronts. One, revenue - I mean, about a fifth of the company's revenue comes from selling things - selling phones and services - in the Chinese market and then also manufacturing, you know. I mean, every single iPhone is assembled, finally, in China. So if we start to slap tariffs on every iPhone coming from China, that's going to drive down sales and potentially, you know, really hurt Apple's bottom line.

KING: And Ryan, before we go, I just want to note the five most valuable companies right now are Apple, Amazon, Alphabet - which is Google - Microsoft and Facebook - all of them tech companies.

Thanks so much, Ryan, for keeping an eye on this for us. We really appreciate it.

KAILATH: Thanks, Noel.

KING: NPR's Ryan Kailath in New York.


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