News Brief: President Trump's Latest Rant, Venezuela's Economy
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump says he encouraged his White House lawyer to cooperate with the special counsel. But does the president know what Don McGahn actually told Robert Mueller?
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, The New York Times is reporting that McGahn spoke with Mueller's team for about 30 hours, and McGahn reportedly gave information about President Trump's firing of the FBI Director James Comey, also Trump's attempts to fire the special counsel. President Trump says the Times' piece implied that McGahn was a, quote, "John Dean-type rat," and that is referring to the White House counsel under President Nixon who secretly helped Watergate investigators because he feared that Nixon was going to set him up to take the fall.
MARTIN: All right. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe joins us now.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: Help us understand here the possible implications of Don McGahn so extensively cooperating with the special counsel.
RASCOE: Sure. So without knowing what McGahn said to investigators, it's hard to know exactly what it means or what the impact of the testimony will be. McGann's lawyer William Burck, he told NPR in a statement that President Trump declined to assert any privilege - executive privilege over Mr. McGahn's testimony because McGahn - and so because of that, McGahn answered the special counsel team's questions, quote, "fulsomely and honestly, as any person interviewed by federal investigators must." So by not asserting privilege, the president's legal team at the time - it was kind of a part of their strategy. They decided to fully cooperate with Mueller. And Trump's current lawyer, Giuliani - Rudy Giuliani - pointed out to that - pointed to that strategy when asked about the Times story. Basically, Trump's legal team turned over a lot of documents and made a number of witnesses available to - for interview by Mueller.
MARTIN: Right, because they thought that by doing so, just being seen as cooperating, it would end the probe quicker. That clearly didn't happen, as it now stretches beyond a year - far beyond a year. And now the president has a different legal team. He has different personalities on this team who are taking a far more aggressive approach.
RASCOE: Yes. So now the president is basically calling out Mueller almost daily in tweets, and he's saying that Mueller has conflicts of interest. Today, he even compared the Russia probe to - or yesterday - even compared the Russia probe to McCarthyism. And Giuliani was - said yesterday that that's what the hope was, that they would cooperate and things will go their way. But since that hasn't, they've become much more aggressive in kind of trying to undermine the investigation.
MARTIN: So speaking of Giuliani, he was on NBC's "Meet The Press" with Chuck Todd yesterday, and he was talking about trying to circumscribe the president's cooperation - in particular, a possible sit-down with Robert Mueller. And I want to play a clip of this. Let's listen.
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RUDY GIULIANI: Look; I'm not going to be rushed into having him testify so that he gets trapped into perjury. And when you tell me that, you know, he should testify because he's going to tell the truth and he shouldn't worry, well, that's so silly because it's somebody's version of the truth, not the truth. He didn't have a conversation about...
CHUCK TODD: Truth is truth. I don't mean to go like - I don't...
GIULIANI: No, it isn't truth. Truth isn't truth. Donald Trump says, I didn't talk about Flynn with Comey. Comey says, you did talk about it. So tell me what the truth is.
MARTIN: Truth isn't truth, Ayesha.
RASCOE: Yeah, that's so going to be out there for a while.
MARTIN: (Laughter) Right.
RASCOE: But essentially, what this is is that Giuliani and President Trump are going after Mueller and saying, look; whatever happens in this, you should listen to us; don't listen to what Mueller has to say, and that we have to make sure that we're protecting the president because we don't want him to get caught up in an interview unfairly.
MARTIN: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe for us this morning. Ayesha, thanks.
RASCOE: Thank you.
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MARTIN: All right. It might seem hard to believe that a country with the world's largest proven oil reserves is in economic collapse, but that is exactly what has been happening in Venezuela.
GREENE: It sure is. Now, economists at the International Monetary Fund say inflation in Venezuela could top 1 million percent this year. And the United Nations is estimating that more than 2 million people have fled the country. That is nearly 7 percent of Venezuela's population. OK, so in an effort to stem this economic collapse and hyperinflation, President Nicolas Maduro has announced some dramatic measures. They include a 3,000 percent hike - I can't believe these massive numbers - 3,000 percent hike in the minimum wage and just striking five zeros off of the country's currency.
MARTIN: Right, just take them off.
GREENE: Just take them off, and that'll do the...
MARTIN: And that'll make everything better.
GREENE: That'll do it.
MARTIN: All right. We are joined by AP reporter Scott Smith. He is in Caracas and joins us to talk more.
Scott, can you just start by explaining what daily life is like for Venezuelans right now?
SCOTT SMITH: Yeah. Well, as you can imagine, those numbers - staggering numbers you just rattled off are signs of a - you know, an economy that's really in a tailspin. And inflation is really out of control and something that people are really grappling with. It means, basically, people on a daily basis struggle to afford basic food and medicine and basic goods. The vast majority of people in Venezuela earn the minimum wage, which is just a dollar or two - or less - per month.
The government continues to raise the minimum wage, but as, you know, inflation soars, the inflation just devours that monthly minimum wage as quickly as the government rises - raises it. And prices constantly are rising. The value of people's money is shrinking. That means, also, that, you know, paper money is quite hard to find.
MARTIN: Right. So what difference are these new policies going to make? I mean, taking off some zeros off the currency - what's the effect of that?
SMITH: Well, you know, the economists I've talked with say that these new measures, in fact, are very likely to make things even worse. One economist compares taking five zeros off the money to a face-lift - really, a superficial move that - you know, it looks different, but things don't change, you know, underneath that. These - you know, lopping off five zeros does not begin to address the - you know, the underlying economic problems that are driving inflation and scarcities.
MARTIN: So then why is this the tactic that the Maduro government is using right now?
SMITH: You know, I think that's a good question. I think that, you know, people are asking that. That's - the $64,000 question is, you know, how do you get out of this situation? I think - you know, people suggest maybe a bailout. That's, you know, not likely to happen. The opposition in Venezuela is really banking on people's discontent over this to, you know, rally troops and pressure Maduro to leave office, if that's possible. But, you know, we'll see if that happens, if that materializes. You know, if you remember a year ago, there were massive street protests in Venezuela, and that did not, you know, have any success at budging Maduro from office.
MARTIN: Right. So complaining about...
SMITH: So we'll see...
MARTIN: ...His economic policies is unlikely to do that either.
SMITH: Exactly, right.
MARTIN: Scott Smith of The Associated Press. He talked to us from Caracas on Skype. Scott, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
SMITH: Thanks for having me.
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MARTIN: OK. There is a new outbreak of Ebola, and it's clearly raising concerns in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the 10th Ebola outbreak in that country since the virus was discovered in the 1970s.
GREENE: Yeah, and in this one, so far, 50 people have died, and health authorities are really worried that this outbreak is still growing. One worry right now is that it could jump across the border into Uganda.
MARTIN: NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta has been following this from Nairobi and joins us now.
Eyder, what's happening right now? Is the outbreak still spreading at this point?
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Yeah, it's a very fluid situation, and it's still growing. That much we know. As you guys said, 50 people have died. And the Congolese health ministry says that as of last night, they have confirmed 64 cases and another 27 probable cases. But there's two things that are worrying health authorities. One is that the outbreak has moved north. It's moved from North Kivu province into the Ituri province. And two is that health workers have been infected, and they come into contact with a lot of people. And health officials that I've spoken to say that they just keep seeing new cases every day, so the outbreak is very much still on the upswing, is their worry.
MARTIN: So there was a minor outbreak of Ebola in Congo not that long ago, right? I mean, it was just a few months ago, and as I remember, it was controlled fairly quickly. This seems different right now.
PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, health officials will tell you that - you know, they used the word the context - the context is totally different. You know, last time, it was in western Democratic of Congo in an area that was fully under the control of the government. And from the beginning of that outbreak, health officials said they were confident that they could control this. And what they did is they launched a vaccination program. They called it a ring vaccination approach and - which is basically, they traced the infected people and whoever had contact with them and whoever had contact with the contacts. And they vaccinated more than 3,000 people, and it worked. They brought it under control pretty quickly. But this is different. This is in a conflict zone. So how do you trace people when there are places that you can't reach here in eastern Congo? And so they're worried that this is a very different outbreak.
MARTIN: So how do you trace this virus in a conflict zone? I mean, what is the strategy for health workers right now, who themselves are getting sick?
PERALTA: So - yeah, so they are deploying vaccines. The health workers are the first ones who have been vaccinated. And they're also deploying experimental treatments. The thing is, it's a little too early to know whether this is working because we don't have - this is still growing, this outbreak, so they're not sure if it's going to work.
MARTIN: And as we mentioned - David said it in the introduction to this conversation that there's a concern that this could spread beyond the Congo.
PERALTA: Yeah, and the big concern is there's refugee camps right across the border with Uganda, where the outbreak can - you know, can spread rapidly.
MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting on this latest outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Eyder, thanks.
PERALTA: Thank you, Rachel.
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