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This is Brian from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Two of my three kids are taking a nap, which is giving me an opportunity to clean my car at the time of this recording is one twenty pm on Friday, August 21st.
Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but one thing won't have changed.
The next time I say no snacks in the car, I'm going to mean it. Oh, every time you try to have a no snacks in the car policy, it lasts like a very short period of time and then it's like, yes, I'll give you the fruit snacks.
Just be quiet.
Goldfish just tastes better in the car. OK, that's just a fact. It's true.
I feel him so deeply on the Knapp's thing. It's the only time you can get anything done. Oh, yes. Hey there.
It's the NPR Politics podcast. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House. I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress. And I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.
Here is a name that you've been hearing a lot and you're about to hear a whole lot more. Lewis Dejoy, he is the postmaster general and he was called before a Senate panel today. He has announced that he will suspend the controversial changes at the U.S. Postal Service that had been in place until after the November election Miles.
What were those changes and and where do things stand now?
So honestly, after this hearing, it's even more unclear what the changes specifically imposed by Dejoy were going into this. We had thought that involved cutting over time. We had heard from postal workers across the country, postal unions, media reports that involved cutting overtime. It involved the removal of these high speed mail processing machines. And then there was also basically a change in policy on when late mail would be delivered, whether it be delivered the same day or the following day.
But on Tuesday, Dejoy released a statement that said he was walking that back. Because of all of this concern, this kind of firestorm of criticism from both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans forced him to basically say, no, we're not going to put in any of these transformational changes until after the November election just so people have confidence in their election mail being delivered. But on Friday, he basically said that some of those changes that we thought that we were attributing to Dejoy, the overtime and the removal of those high speed sorters, that that wasn't part of his plan.
The only thing that he actually implemented, he says, is the change in when that late mail would be delivered.
But like we've seen pictures of mail sorting machines that have been disassembled or moved, you know, like there's there are things that have actually happened that postal workers are actually complaining about it. This is confusing.
Right? So there are two things happening here. One is trying to figure out who is to blame for what people are seeing in these photos. And as Miles has pointed out, anecdotal evidence of of changes that are happening across the country and then trying to parse out what the actual effects of those changes are.
So the what we were seeing in this hearing and part of why it was probably a little confusing to watch is Democrats in particular were attempting to pass both of those things at the same time. So what actually happened and how much of it is Dejoy fault and how much is it going to be reversed now, you know?
Yeah, because he it doesn't sound like those mail sorting machines are rapidly being put back in the warehouse, in the mail, sorting warehouses like it.
It seems like this is sort of just frozen in in time now.
Right. We saw video on social media circulating of, you know, some of them actually were already taken apart and being put into dumpsters outside of some mail sorting plants. And so and part of that is routine. You know, Dejoy said that in today's hearing that every year these machines, you know, basically we go through and look at the data and we change some things. But there has been some reporting already about how there has been more of these machines taken out of the rotation, so to speak, than there were in previous years, though some level of that is fairly routine.
And Dejoy said that these are not going to be put back into the system. He says that they were pulled out of the system because they were unnecessary. He said that they're making room for package sorting because people are just ordering more packages right now. They're at home. They're ordering stuff on Amazon, as you do.
But the things that Democrats have pointed out to me is that, you know, ballots are not packages. Ballots are mail. They go through the letter sorting machines.
And so there are real concerns that if you don't have letter sorting machines in post offices, that could be a real problem.
What we need to say here is the reason that we are talking about this, the reason this is getting far more attention now, although there's concerns about people's medications and other things and letters or whatever, the reason that this is such a big issue right now is because there is an election coming on November 3rd and more people will vote by mail in that election than ever before because of the coronavirus pandemic.
And there are real questions about how quickly ballots can be delivered.
Was there any clarity on that in this hearing?
Yeah, I think Dejoy made a really big point, especially in his opening remarks, to say election mail is my biggest priority over the next few months, which I. I think may go a fairly long way in easing some of those concerns, especially from the election officials I've talked to, one of the more concrete things he said was that there had been some fears about whether they were going to be changes around how election mail was going to be priced.
Obviously, local and state election officials are really crunched on money right now. And so in previous year's election, mail had been treated as first class mail, but was getting this bulk rate previously. There was fear that that was going to go away under Dejoy. He said today that no election mail is going to be treated the same as in previous years and that it was going to be treated as first class or even better than first class, is what he said.
You know, though, as much as this might be, you know, making local election officials feel better, it is a full blown political issue right now. It's not going to go away because Dejoy said he wasn't responsible for the changes.
If anything, this is getting Democrats even more wound up. And so I would expect that this becomes an issue that sticks around. People are going to continue to be concerned about whether or not their votes are getting counted.
And it also kind of plays into a narrative that Democrats who are already trying to build about what happens within the Trump administration, how decisions get made.
And, you know, some of this is because the president himself said that he thought that curtailing mail and voting was good for him.
One more Congress question for you, Kalsi. Postal relief funding for the post office for the Postal Service is part of what is being discussed as an element of this long sought. And now, gosh, I don't even know where it stands, coronavirus relief legislation. So where does it stand? And is this likely to be a hang up in that or or not? Really.
So this gets a little complicated because the House is going to vote tomorrow on Saturday, a pretty rare Saturday vote on funding for the Postal Service, standalone money for the Postal Service. That will probably pass a fairly partisan along fairly partisan lines. We don't really know how Republicans are going to handle it in the Senate, though.
I don't expect it has very good prospects, in part because Republicans say that they are fine with more money for the Postal Service, but it has to be part of a coronavirus relief bill while the coronavirus relief bill isn't really moving anywhere.
When I talked to Democrats earlier this week, they said that a Republican proposal that's kind of brewing over in the Senate actually is moving them further away from any agreement. So it's hard to see how money that there seems to be some agreement on can even get passed Miles.
We are going to say goodbye to you briefly, but not for too long, because you're coming back for can't let it go. So goodbye for now.
All right. Thanks. Bye.
And we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, Steve Bannon joined the list of former Trump Associates to face federal charges.
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And we are back and we are joined by justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Hey, Ryan. Hey there, Tim.
So Steve Bannon, who was at the helm of President Trump's 2016 campaign and also worked in the White House for a time, was arrested yesterday on a yacht on fraud charges by the Postal Service. Ryan, what do we need to know about this?
Well, this is a case that ties into a crowdfunding campaign called We Build the Wall. And basically what what federal prosecutors in Manhattan allege is that Bannon and three other defendants who have been charged in this case basically told prospective donors, promised them that all of the money that they donated to this campaign, which raised in total 25 million dollars, thereabouts, all of this money would be put towards building a wall along the southern border. And they made this this promise repeatedly when soliciting donations.
And ultimately, what prosecutors say is that that wasn't true. They say that Bannon and the other defendants. Siphoning off hundreds of thousands of dollars for their own personal benefit to line their own pockets, essentially the the indictment says that Banin, through a non-profit that that he controlled, basically had around a million dollars funneled to him, some of which he passed on to other defendants, some of which he kept for himself. One of these the defendant that did receive a lot of that money that that came through.
Banan was a codefendant by the name of Brian Cole Farje, who prosecutors say allegedly received around 350000 dollars, despite promising, again, promising donors that all of this money would go to the wall. They say that he got about 350000 dollars, which he used to buy a boat to buy a golf cart, to buy jewelry, to do home repairs. So ultimately, this is kind of garden variety fraud is what it comes down to.
Just happens to be garden variety fraud that is connected to something that is this like. Big part of the identity of the Trump message, the wall. Tim, what has the president said about this? Well, President Trump said that, as he frequently has done.
I mean, I guess we can say frequently, because it has happened several times for him that someone who was a close associate has been indicted or pled guilty or otherwise gotten in trouble to something the president basically did.
The I hardly knew the guy. I mean, obviously, Bannon played a key role in his campaign. But but Trump said, you know, I haven't spoken to him in a long time. He kind of left the White House on bad terms.
And, you know, President Trump has about a month ago he tweeted basically saying like he didn't like this project and that they that this wasn't his wall, this was their wall and it was substandard.
He accused this project of being essentially a showboating project. Right. Is is what he said and also what the White House said after this. This news broke about the but the charges against Bennett. But as you said, David really tried to distance himself as quickly as possible from both Bannon and this project. Now, it's worth pointing out, of course, that in addition to Bannon being on this, we build the wall project. There's also Kris Kobach, former secretary of state of Kansas, who Trump allegedly once considered for a role in the administration.
I mean, allegedly he interviewed for a job in the administration. Very fair. Yeah.
So this is this is not some sort of project that has no connection whatsoever, at least rhetorically and through personalities to folks within the Trump orbit.
I mean, this is not the first time that people who worked on the Trump campaign in 2016 have been indicted. Right. Like this is this is the list is getting long.
Bannon joins, yes, Kelsi, a very long list of of former Trump insiders who have faced federal charges. You have former national security adviser Michael Flynn. You have President Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen. You have President Trump's former adviser, Roger Stone. You have man, there's a long list to the point that I'm Tam. Help me out here.
Manafort, Flynn, Gate Stone, Papa Manafort, Fred Manafort, former campaign chairman, Rick Gates, his deputy. It is a long list of former Trump insiders who have faced federal charges.
Let us pause, however, and say that although many of them have either all of them have either been found guilty or pled guilty. In the case of Bannon, you are innocent until proven guilty. And at this point, he he pled not guilty. Right. But what did he have to say? That's right.
He there was a brief hearing after his arrest, a brief hearing in federal court in New York on Thursday in which Bannon did plead not guilty to the two charges against him, which are conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. And as he exited the courthouse in in in Manhattan, he said, and I quote here, This entire fiasco is to stop people who want to build the wall.
There was other big news this week out of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. They released a bipartisan support on Russian interference in the last presidential election and the Trump campaign's connection to that interference. What do they conclude?
Well, this is a massive report. It comes from a three and a half year investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. As you said, it is bipartisan. You had Republican and Democratic staff working on this. It's a thousand pages long, thereabouts. They reviewed around a million documents, interviewed hundreds of witnesses. And what they conclude from all of that work is that Russia did indeed conduct a pretty aggressive influence campaign in 2016 to influence the election, to help Donald Trump win, and that people on Team Trump were quite happy to accept Russia's help in that.
This report focused on the counterintelligence threat to U.S. national security from from from Russia's interference. And the committee concluded that the Trump campaign posed a massive a massive counterintelligence threat. And what is important about all of this is that this conclusion is one that was reached by Democrats and Republicans, not just Republicans.
Ryan, like the people on this committee, are not a bunch of never Trump Republicans. Right.
Tom Cotton's on this committee. Richard Burr is on this committee. John Cornyn is on this committee. And. These are serious senior Republicans who care about national security and these are all conclusions that this committee endorsed, this would seem to say that there was something going on.
There was a there there there there were extensive contacts between Trump associates in Russia and sources of mine who I have talked to over the the past four years have all said that there was ample reason to investigate. And and this this report really kind of hits that home, that there was ample reason to have concern about contacts between the Trump campaign in Russia.
And this report does not conclude it doesn't draw a conclusion on the question of whether there was collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and and Russians. What it does is lay out the facts and let the reader come to his or her own conclusions. But Republicans in an annex to the report declare that, you know, we found that there was no collusion, whereas Democrats and their annex to the report say what we conclude from all of this is that.
Trump and the Trump campaign posed one of the greatest threats to national security, to American national security in U.S. modern history politics question real quick, Kelsi, before we go to the break, do you think this matters?
I mean, like, you know, we've been talking about Russia for years now. There have been other reports. Does this change anything in the politics or, you know, is this sort of an afterthought now with coronavirus dominating all?
I mean, this if this would have been a fairly blockbuster report in a normal news environment, but it it kind of became a quieter background narrative this week with all of the other things going on.
And in a lot of ways, it falls into the category of things where people who want to believe it will believe it and people who don't want to believe it will not believe it. And the president's interpretation continuing to talk about the witch hunt and being spied on. You know, many of his supporters will hear just that part.
And while it might be getting lost a little bit in the conversation, this goes to a fundamental question people have about the security and reliability of our elections. It goes back to the same kinds of questions people are raising with the Postal Service. There are real concerns out there about whether or not the election in November will be decided fairly and securely. Hmm.
All right. Well, Ryan, we are going to say goodbye to you.
So goodbye. Goodbye. And we're going to take a quick break. And when we get back, it's time for Can't Let It Go support for this podcast.
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It is time to end the week with Can't Let It Go, that part of the show where we talk about the things we cannot stop thinking about politics or otherwise. Kelsie, what can't you let go of?
Oh, I am going otherwise, as usual. I can't let go of pandas this week for a couple of reasons.
Oh, now, not in the same way as some of our other politics podcast family feels about pandas. I'm not of the anti panda group, but the panda here in D.C. one of the pandas here in D.C. might be pregnant. So we might be having baby pandas in D.C. and I'm very excited about it.
Pandamonium, I learned a lot about pandas this week.
I learned that they can appear to be pregnant, but then they can reabsorb the baby. I don't understand how this works there.
So are they not sure that this pandas actually pregnant right now? Yes. So they think the panda is pregnant, but apparently pandas get pregnant pretty frequently then then don't actually have the babies that they have, like, weird quirks of their reproductive system among many weird quirks of Pandanus.
And so, yeah, we may have a panda baby in D.C. We may not have a panda baby in D.C. It's twenty twenty.
I fear we won't have a panda baby. We'll get very excited. Oh, I feel like we need it.
We need it so badly we'll get false panda baby hope. I also learned this week that all pandas are basically just giant toddlers. There's this video going around the Internet of these pandas of a zookeeper in China attempting to clean out a panda cage. And the pandas are just like crawling into her basket and taking away her broom and falling all over themselves.
It's like, oh, I'm familiar with that. I know what that looks like. And that looks like having a toddler around.
All right, Miles, why can't you let go of. So what I can't let go of is something that happened earlier today that I have now. Watch this video. I at least 15 times. And it is it makes me giggle every single time. This was during today's hearing, which we talked about earlier, about much more serious topics. But when Senator Tom Carper got called on for this virtual hearing, there was like this moment of silence where Ron Johnson is like Senator Carper, Senator Carper, is Senator Corker there and there's nothing.
And then you kind of hear a little bit of rustling and then the camera pans to him and he just drops three F bombs.
And it was like it's like the most amazing thing, because then he clearly has this recognition and a staffer is there, too. And they both have this recognition of like, oh, did that just happen? And they look in the camera like the way that, you know, like six year olds look at themselves in the camera and they're just like doing this like look like, oh, is that thing on? And it's like and I feel like somehow all of the senators don't really react.
They're just like, well, yeah, he seems to be they're OK. And they just like move along with the hearing. But I've just watched it on loop over and over and over again.
I love the part where Senator Johnson is like, well, we don't want to end up on TV. Yes. And it was like, yes, you just did. You definitely did. They also ended up in the official transcript. Somebody tweeted it just a moment ago that the official transcript of the hearing has all three albums.
Right out of I'm dying. Tam, what do you not let go of today? Well, it's related sort of. Our our colleague, Juana Summers drew my attention to this. You know, balloons are a classic part of conventions at the after that, after the candidate's big speech there, the balloon drops from the ceiling. And then, I mean, they did they actually didn't do a balloon drop yesterday. They did fireworks instead.
But if you need some balloon drop, Joy, go back to 2004 when inexplicably CNN carried the producer's voice, ordering that the balloons be dropped.
I remember there's no confetti, no confetti, no confetti. All right. No more balloons, balloons, hurry up, balloons, but then there's like increasing urgency as these 100000 balloons are just not falling as we wanted. Oh, boy, are they going to. And then and then there's the FAA, you know, there's nothing all right doing nothing you could tell, like you could tell that part of the plan was clear, like he had been planning for this.
Obviously, these things are like planned weeks in advance. Right. And he's like he knows that during this moment. It's so important for all those millions of TV viewers to see balloons right now from a nomination. And it's like you can, like, hear the culmination of everything he's like hoped for this balloon moment just not happening. And I feel like anyone who's I've worked on the back end of the NPR shows in my previous life. And it is like the most upsetting.
Like you could feel the sweat drenching off your face as something you expected to happen didn't is just not happening. And you're live and it's just like this is going to be how people are going to remember this event.
I appreciate his insistence on no confetti, balloon balloons. I wanted the balloons. Well, his name is Doug Misher.
I found an L.A. Times article from 2004 where he says that he feels terrible and deeply apologizes for offending anyone. He had no idea that that his, you know, his microphone to the producers, to the production team, you know, to the guys that would drop the balloons. That microphone was being broadcast live on national television.
Oh, all right.
That is it for now. We will be back on Sunday with a preview of the Republican National Convention and also every night next week to break down the key moments from each night. Until then, be sure to check out all the ways to stay tuned with us by following the links in the description of this episode. Our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Maturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Barton Girdwood and Chloe Weiner, thanks to Lexy's Capitol, Alaina Moore, Dana Fairrington and Brandon Carter.
I'm Tamara Keith.
I cover the White House. I'm Miles Parks. I cover voting.
And I'm Kelsey Snell. I cover Congress. And thank you for listening to the NPR Politics podcast.