News Brief: Paul Manafort, 8 Primary Elections

Jun 5, 2018
Originally published on June 5, 2018 11:23 pm
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Paul Manafort has been at home waiting for his trial to start, and soon, he may have to wait in jail.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah, President Trump's former campaign chairman has been accused of witness tampering. Let's recall that Manafort faces money laundering and tax fraud charges. This was a case brought by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who's been looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election and some related matters. Prosecutors working for Mueller say in court documents that while awaiting trial, Manafort contacted two people and encouraged them to give false testimony.

MARTIN: All right, let's unpack this with NPR's Ryan Lucas. He covers the Justice Department.

Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What more can you tell us about what exactly does - Manafort is being accused of?

LUCAS: Well, lawyers on special counsel Robert Mueller's team filed court papers last night in which they say that back in February, after Manafort was hit with a superseding indictment - so with more charges - that he and a longtime associate tried to contact two witnesses to try to impact how they would tell their story to investigators. Now, this is related to what prosecutors say was secret lobbying work that Manafort was doing related to Ukraine. The prosecutors say that Manafort had organized a group of former politicians to secretly lobby on behalf of Ukraine, paid them some 2 million euros out of a secret bank account that he had. Now, the government says this work was targeting the European Union and the United States. Manafort says it was just taking place in the EU. And that's the key point here. If it's just the European Union, then Manafort doesn't fall afoul of U.S. lobbying laws. Now, what the government says in its filing last night is that Manafort was trying to get in touch with two people who worked for a public relations firm to get them to say that the lobbying work was exclusively in Europe.

MARTIN: What evidence do they have to back that up?

LUCAS: Well, the government cites text messages that Manafort and associates sent to the two witnesses back in April - February and April on encrypted messaging apps. The two witnesses handed those text messages over to the government. The government also has phone records showing that Manafort attempted to call these witnesses. And one of the witnesses told the government that he understood Manafort's outreach to be an attempt to get this individual to commit perjury because the individual knew that the lobbying work had been in the U.S.

MARTIN: Has Manafort responded to this?

LUCAS: There has been no word yet from Manafort or his attorneys. And the proposal from the government is to have a hearing and decide what to do from here on out.

MARTIN: So if you could - in the time we have left, can you just put this in context for us? Because as Steve said in this intro, this is - you know, the special counsel is about this original question about collusion with Russia, but then other questions emerged, right?

LUCAS: Yes. Now, this - what this does is this really ramps up the pressure on Manafort. And remember, he faces two trials. He faces trial in Washington, D.C., as well as trial in Virginia. This is related to the case in Washington, D.C. The prospect of possibly waiting - facing time in jail as he awaits trial is not something that anything - that anyone relishes, and so this could ramp up the pressure on Manafort to try to get him to flip and cooperate with prosecutors.

MARTIN: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right, today's the biggest primary day of the year. Some coveted seats are in play.

INSKEEP: Voting takes place in eight states - California, New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota. Today's winners in primaries will help to decide which party will be in control of the House come November.

MARTIN: We've got NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow with us this morning.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

MARTIN: Lots to keep track of. What races are you looking at today?

DETROW: A lot of the districts that are going to decide control of the House of Representatives this fall are picking their candidates today. Let's talk about California for a minute because in a lot of these races, the question is what kind of Democrat is being nominated to challenge a Republican. In California, the question will be whether a Democrat is able to challenge a Republican this fall.

MARTIN: Because they've got this weird two-tier system, right?

DETROW: That's right. It's a top-two system. Everybody runs in the same primary. The top two candidates advance. And in three races in Orange County that are really ground zero for where Democrats are focusing all their attention an effort to try and win back the House, so many Democrats were energized to run that you have these enormous Democratic fields, not that many Republicans. And the concern Democrats have is they'll all split the votes today and allow Republicans to move forward.

MARTIN: But broadly, around the country, I mean, Republicans are feeling good, right? The midterms usually aren't good for the party in power, but the economy has been chugging along pretty well, so the GOP'S feeling optimistic.

DETROW: Yeah. There's been a lot of signs recently of increased Republican optimism. Voters are feeling good about the economy. They feel like the country is on the right track. And I think these Orange County races will actually give us a lot of data as to whether this optimism is warranted. Orange County, a historically Republican county - it shifted Democrat in the presidential race for the first time since FDR in 2016.

MARTIN: Wow.

DETROW: And Democrats felt like, OK, we have an opening here. So with all these voters voting in the same primary, the question is, will Republicans show up? Will Democrats show up? If there's a gap, if the usual Republicans show up and if Democrats don't get to those 2016 levels, that could be some validation for Republican optimism that, OK, maybe things won't be so bad after all.

MARTIN: Right. All right, so lots of energy among Democrats. You're saying there's a lot of energy on the right with Republicans. Anything else to keep an eye on today as we watch these primaries unfold?

DETROW: Yeah. We've been talking about the House races here, but California has some interesting statewide races, as well. There's a governor's race - a big, crowded field trying to replace Jerry Brown, who is the end of his second eight-year term. There's also a Senate race, and it's the flip side here. There's a chance that the fall ballot could be two Democrats running against each other, so it's the opposite party having a problem with the top-two system. Interesting governor races all over the country - Iowa's one state to look at. Democrats have been washed out of power in that state, and they're trying to claw their way back in. And in New Jersey - a lot of key races that'll be just as important as some of these suburban California races in control of the House, picking their candidates.

MARTIN: All right, NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow talking about primary voting today. Eight states do it. Thanks so much, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right, here's an unusual promise from Apple. The device maker says it is willing to help consumers use its products less.

INSKEEP: We talked about this with Apple CEO Tim Cook in a one-on-one interview in Silicon Valley here in California. We asked Cook to respond to growing concerns about people - especially kids - who spend excessive amounts of time on smartphones. Many games and other apps are designed to suck you in and keep you there. Apple doesn't usually make the apps, but it does make the phones, and at a developers' conference yesterday, it unveiled programs - features on the phone - that will let users track just how much time they spend staring at the screen and what they do while they're there. Here's Cook describing it.

TIM COOK: You can depend on your device so much and spend so much time on certain apps or pick up your phone so many times during the day that this is no longer good.

INSKEEP: But this was literally your ambition as a company - right? - to make sure...

COOK: No.

INSKEEP: ...That people use everything through their phone.

COOK: No, that's the interesting thing. We're in a very unique position because we have never been about maximizing the number of times you pick it up, the number of hours that you use it.

INSKEEP: But you maximize the number of things you can do with it. That's for sure.

COOK: We do that, yes, but if you're getting bombarded by notifications all day long, you're - that's probably a use of the system that might not be so good anymore.

INSKEEP: So now these new features will make it easier for you to track exactly how much time you're spending and exactly what you're doing minute by minute, what programs you're on, that sort of thing. Cook was speaking at this developers' conference to thousands of software developers who, of course, would like you to spend a little more time on the phone.

MARTIN: Right. So Steve, you interviewed Tim Cook. NPR's digital culture correspondent Laura Sydell was also there in that interview, and she's on the line. Hey, Laura.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: How much pressure is Apple under to address the issue of being addicted to our phones?

SYDELL: I would say a lot. First off, awareness is generally growing that this is a problem. But, you know, a few months back, they actually got a letter from activist shareholders - so among them, the California State Teachers' Retirement System and Jana Partners. And they have about $2 billion of investments between them, and they basically said, we think in the long run, this is going to be bad for your business if people are worried about being addicted to their phones because they won't buy them. So they were putting pressure on Apple to do something, particularly about teens, who spend an awful lot of time on their phones.

MARTIN: But it's so interesting - in that clip that we played, we hear Cook say, hey, it's these notifications. So it's like, it's not on us; it's not what we make; it's, like, all these websites that you go to that send you notifications. So how big a change has Apple actually made?

SYDELL: Well, there's nothing - they haven't changed the phone. They haven't changed their business model - nothing like that. But they have this thing called Screen Time. It's an app, and it's going to allow you to really control what your kids do on the phone and monitor them on a regular, ongoing basis. So it will give you the ability to, say, schedule a block of time when your kid can't use the phone at all, or it will maybe highlight certain apps. Like, for example, the reading app will get highlighted, and the others will get shut off at around bedtime. And, you know, what's really important to understand is, according to a survey done by the investment firm Piper Jaffray, 80 percent of all teens have iPhones.

MARTIN: Wow.

SYDELL: So the fact that they are doing this is a big deal.

MARTIN: What about data privacy? I mean, it's a huge issue right now. What is Apple doing about that?

SYDELL: I'm just going to quickly tell you in the time we have left that, you know, they basically did kind of a thumb in the eye to Facebook because Facebook generally monitors you when you even leave Facebook. And so now when you're in Safari browser, it will basically keep Facebook or other people from monitoring you after you leave their site. It'll kind of disguise you. And this is actually a big thing because it'll make it harder for Facebook to do what Facebook normally does, which is follow you and sell you ads.

MARTIN: Right. NPR's Laura Sydell. Thanks so much, Laura.

SYDELL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.