News Brief: Paul Manafort, GM Restructuring, French Fuel Prices
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is already in jail, may be there for longer than he planned.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah. Let's remember. Last September, Manafort agreed to this plea deal. He pleaded guilty to two criminal charges of conspiracy, and he agreed to cooperate with the special counsel who is investigating Russian interference into the 2016 election. Now, in exchange, prosecutors agreed not to bring more charges against Manafort. And also, they agreed to ask for a reduction in his sentence. Well, now Robert Mueller alleges that Manafort has been lying both to his office and to the FBI and that that violates the terms of his plea deal. So it's possible that this whole thing is off.
MARTIN: All right, let's talk about the implications with NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.
Good morning, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: What exactly is Mueller's team alleging here?
HORSLEY: They are saying that Paul Manafort has been lying to the FBI and to the special counsel's office on a variety of subjects. As you said, as part of his plea agreement, Manafort had agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, and that included testifying truthfully. The FBI apparently believes he has not done so. Now, so far, the government is not elaborating on what they believe Manafort is lying about. But they do say that they're planning to file a detailed pre-sentencing report that would spell out, quote, "the nature of the defendant's crimes and lies," including those that came after the plea agreement. So that'll be something to watch for.
MARTIN: And Manafort's lawyers are taking issue with this whole thing?
HORSLEY: Yes. And we know this because, in the government's filing, they point to the feelings of Manafort and his attorney, who believe that Manafort has provided truthful information and lived up to his promise to cooperate. So there's a stark disagreement between the two sides on that. One thing they agree on is that if that cooperation is now at an end, there's no reason to wait to sentence Paul Manafort. And so they've asked the judge to go ahead and set a sentencing date.
MARTIN: Right. Well, you just said it. If the cooperation is at an end, I mean, what's the implication for the Mueller investigation? If Paul Manafort was an important key cooperating witness and he's now gone, what does that mean?
HORSLEY: Well, it does mean that the special counsel has lost a witness who could testify, among other things, about that now-famous Trump Tower meeting between Manafort, the president's son, other campaign officials and that Russian lawyer who they expected to serve up some dirt on Hillary Clinton. So this is certainly a potential blow to the special counsel. On the other hand, Mueller's team obviously feels they know a good deal about what happened if they're able to say that Manafort was lying.
MARTIN: Is lying, right.
HORSLEY: So he's not the only source of information that they have.
MARTIN: OK. Scott, before I let you go, I want to get in a question about what's happening in Mississippi today. Voters go to the polls in this runoff Senate election. And the Republican, the incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith, was supposed to run away with this thing but the Democrat Mike Espy giving her a run for her money. And the president has weighed in on this race, invested his own time and energy. Is that likely to make a difference here?
HORSLEY: Certainly could. Donald Trump is popular in Mississippi. He carried the state by nearly 19 points two years ago. But, you know, it's unusual to see a Republican president campaigning in a ruby red state like Mississippi on the eve of a runoff like this. And the only reason he's in this position is that - you know, Cindy Hyde-Smith's missteps. Her controversial comments about her willingness to attend a public hanging, in a state that has a painful history of lynchings, has made this a surprisingly close race. So what's at stake for Republicans is the difference between a 53-seat majority in the Senate if Smith goes on to win or a 52-seat majority if she loses.
MARTIN: Every seat counts.
NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley, thanks so much.
HORSLEY: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: All right, America's largest automobile manufacturer has announced that it's going to lay off thousands of workers.
GREENE: Yeah, we're talking about General Motors here. They say they plan to stop production at five North American factories and also cut executive positions by 25 percent. And towns that rely on GM are really bracing for the worst here. This is the voice of Arno Hill, the mayor of Lordstown, Ohio, where the Chevy Cruze was built.
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ARNO HILL: You know, they say that for every job General Motors has here, there's seven other jobs what are spun off from that, whether that be a grocery store, a department store, a restaurant, a doctor's office, a car dealership, and everything will take a hit. So that's why we're hoping that we do get another product.
GREENE: So the hit to his community is going to be significant. But here's the interesting thing here. Unlike the major auto industry overhauls a decade ago, this change is coming at a time when the economy appears to be relatively strong.
MARTIN: Right. So we are joined now by NPR business correspondent Jim Zarroli. So Jim, what have you been able to learn? I mean, this announcement came down yesterday, but you've been spending the last day trying to explain or understand why this change is happening. What have you been able to figure out?
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Well, you know, the economy is strong right now, but it's not going to be strong forever. There's already a lot of speculation among economists that it will slow down next year. Meanwhile, you have interest rates going up, and that always affects auto sales. There are already signs that the sales of some kinds of autos have peaked. So GM just says it wants to go ahead with this restructuring to kind of stay in front of a fast-changing market. In other words, it wants to adjust while there's still room to breathe.
MARTIN: They've also announced changes to the kinds of vehicles they're going to make, right?
ZARROLI: Well, they're closing plants that now make sedans like the Chevrolet Cruze, the Cadillac XTS, the Impala, also the Chevy Volt, which is a plug-in hybrid that they've been selling since 2010. It's an electric vehicle with a backup combustion engine. You know, it's had steady sales but never great sales. And they're doing this so they can focus more on the kinds of vehicles that sell more today, especially trucks, SUV and electric vehicles. This is the same thing that has been done by Ford, which has gotten rid of a lot of its sedans. They're just trying to sort of align more with consumer tastes at this point.
MARTIN: I mean, consumer tastes - I mean, you can't talk about consumer tastes without talking about how we move from point A to point B, which is using ride-hailing apps. Right? Has that...
MARTIN: ...Been a factor in this decision at all?
ZARROLI: Yeah, I think it's one of the factors. It's one of the things that Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, says she wants to try to prepare for. She's also said often that she really believes in electric vehicles, for instance. And they've put a lot of research into electric cars. One of the things we're seeing now is the growing importance of the international market where electric vehicles are just, you know, growing fast.
MARTIN: President Trump is not happy about this. He says he spoke to GM's chief, Mary Barra. Let's listen to this.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I said, you know, this country's done a lot for General Motors. You better get back in there soon. That's Ohio, and you better get back in there soon. So we have a lot of pressure on them.
MARTIN: What kind of pressure is he talking about?
ZARROLI: Well, you know, he can give them a lot of public relations problems, the way he did with Carrier and her Harley-Davidson. But you know, GM is doing this because it sees changes in the business climate, like the importance of the overseas market, and that's not something the president can change.
MARTIN: All right, NPR's Jim Zarroli in New York.
Jim, we appreciate it. Thanks so much.
ZARROLI: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: French president Emmanuel Macron will speak today after a weekend of violent protests left a trail of smashed windows, broken pavement on one of the main shopping streets in Paris.
GREENE: Yeah, these protesters are calling themselves the yellow vest movement. That's named for the fluorescent safety vests they've been wearing. They're demanding that Macron drop a tax hike on gas and diesel fuel. He says this tax is really key to creating a green economy. The protesters now have no leader. But they are really posing one of the most serious challenges yet to Macron's pro-business economy.
MARTIN: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Paris with the latest.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, guys. How are you?
MARTIN: Doing well. So explain this. How have gas taxes turned into this major political crisis?
BEARDSLEY: All right. Well, I want you to listen to this soundbite this morning from Jean Jourdain (ph) from a roadblock that's going on this morning. Listen to him.
JEAN JOURDAIN: (Speaking French).
BEARDSLEY: He's saying, "we're waiting for action, concrete action. We're sick of the government opposing French people worried about the end of the world and those of us worried about the end of the month. We're living in debt and credit. We can't make ends meet. And for us, the end of the world comes 12 times a year."
So this basically sums it up. This is a guy who - people in the cities are better off in France, and they can afford to think about climate change. People in the rural areas, the small towns, they can't even make ends meet at the end of the month. And so this is where the movement is coming from. It is just - grassroots movement from these rural areas and people are just very angry. So you know, in a big city like Paris, life has not really been affected. But all of these working-class people, they are affected by this coming gas tax.
MARTIN: So how's the president dealing with this? What is he specifically telling those people?
BEARDSLEY: Well, he's speaking - right now, Rachel, we can hear a cut of him here.
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PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Through interpreter) We must listen to the protesters, but we must not do so by renouncing responsibilities for today and tomorrow because there is also an environmental challenge.
BEARDSLEY: Sorry. I forgot there was somebody translating. So basically, this tax cut has been - this tax raise had been planned for a long time. And Macron is telling them it's only going to get harder to transition. He says, I hear your pain, but we need to go ahead with this. He says he will not renounce this tax. He's going to go through with it. But he's going to offer, like, zero percent loans for new cars - clean cars - and bonuses for changing your windows. You know, Macron has big plans to remake France, and he's basically doing it. He's won against the unions in his labor market overhaul, in his retirement overhaul. And now he's sort of being slowed down by this disparate movement with no union backing, no leaders. And it's difficult to address.
MARTIN: I mean, when we think about that in the States, no discernible leaders, you kind of think of the Occupy movement. Is there some kind of parallel you can draw?
BEARDSLEY: You kind of can because we've seen these protests just popping up everywhere, all over the country, for 10 days now. And the government doesn't really know how to deal with it.
MARTIN: So I mean, is he going to win in the end? I mean, people knew who they were voting for, presumably, and that this was going to be part of his agenda.
BEARDSLEY: Yeah, they did. But you know, he's got to really offer some concrete things. And people are saying that he probably won't because he's lofty; he's got this big goal for France. He's going to be perceived as even more disconnected from the people. And the protesters say if they don't get what they want, they'll be out on the Champs-Elysees again on Sunday.
MARTIN: Wow. OK. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley will be tracking all of it for us.
Eleanor, thanks as always.
BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Rachel.
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