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News brief: Jan. 6 hearing, NATO summit, recession fears lead to layoffs

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Cassidy Hutchinson, top aide to former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, shared explosive testimony before the January 6 select committee.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Among the many revelations, Hutchinson said former President Trump knew the crowd at his rally on January 6 was armed.

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CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: Take the f'ing (ph) mags away. They're not here to hurt me. Let them in. Let my people in. They can march the Capitol after the rally's over. They can march from the Ellipse. Take the f'ing mags away.

MARTIN: Mags, by the way, is short for magnetometers, those metal detectors used for security. Hutchinson said President Trump wanted those armed protesters to march freely to the U.S. Capitol.

MARTINEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is with us. All right, so let's start with some of the biggest revelations Hutchinson shared in her testimony.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Yeah, she said her former boss, Mark Meadows, and Trump were made aware multiple times of the dangers faced as a result of this monthslong effort to overturn the 2020 election result. Hutchinson recounted one conversation with then-White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who pleaded she work to keep Trump from going to the Capitol on the day of the attack. She said it was a topic of several conversations. And at one point, key allies talked about trying to find a way to get Trump inside the House chamber. Here's Hutchinson.

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HUTCHINSON: Mr. Cipollone said something to the effect of, please make sure we don't go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We're going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.

GRISALES: Hutchinson also shared Trump and Meadows ignored pleas multiple times to intervene in the violence at the Capitol. For example, she said Meadows would not look up from his phone, even as he got reports the attack was escalating. In the end, she said, there were three White House groups - one calling for Trump to intervene, another that agreed but stayed quiet and a third that falsely blamed others for it.

MARTINEZ: Anything from Donald Trump on what she testified to?

GRISALES: Well, he has denied these claims on his social media platform and then other parts of her testimony has also been disputed, but several have pushed back on that. For example, Hutchinson said a White House official told her Trump tried to gain control of the presidential limousine on January 6 to go to the Capitol, and there was a physical altercation involving Trump towards this agent trying to stop that trip from happening. She said the agent was present when the story was related and did not dispute it. Other outlets are reporting that some are disputing some of those details. But Hutchinson's attorney pointed out last night she testified under oath, and a select committee aide said she was a credible witness, and the panel welcomed new testimony under oath to make such claims.

MARTINEZ: All right, so now that the committee has dropped this bomb, who else might we hear from next?

GRISALES: Right. With this hearing, the panel ramped up pressure on other key witnesses to come forward. That includes Cipollone, who Republican Vice Chair Liz Cheney brought up in an earlier hearing, calling for his appearance. Cheney also revealed two anonymous cases of witness tampering. And after the hearing, Maryland Democrat and committee member Jamie Raskin told reporters the panel is looking into this. And we also heard for the first time that Meadows and Rudy Giuliani both asked for pardons, and that's part of a bigger issue the panel is investigating. And then finally, they also briefly touched on links between extremist groups the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers to key Trump allies, such as Roger Stone and former administration official Michael Flynn and then to the former president himself and Meadows, leaving a lot to fill in there with new hearings come next month.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

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MARTINEZ: The NATO defense alliance will be bigger by two.

MARTIN: NATO leaders are at a summit in Madrid, rethinking how they can best counter Russia's threats in Europe and, obviously, the war in Ukraine. Turkey has not wanted to approve the membership applications of Finland and Sweden, but in a last-minute deal, Turkey has dropped its objections, and the two countries are now on their way to full membership. President Biden, meanwhile, has already been talking with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, outlining what the U.S. plans are in Europe for the next few months or longer.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Frank Langfitt is in Madrid. Frank, what did President Biden have to say?

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Yeah. Hi, A. He said that, you know, since the war began, the U.S. has actually already sent another 20,000 troops to Europe, bringing the total to 100,000. And then he talked about the other things that the U.S. plans to do to be able to deter Russia, adding two destroyers to Spain, bringing the number up to six. And this is very interesting, A - establishing a permanent headquarters for the U.S. Army Corps in Poland. And I've talked to a general in Poland about this. They're very excited. They plan to work and build a base for the United States.

And as to last night's announcement, I think that it's very helpful to NATO because it allows them to present sort of a stronger, more unified image. One of the questions, though, is it could take some time in terms of letting in Finland and Sweden into the alliance, and that's because all 30 parliaments of the allies will have to vote on this. But it is seen very much as a done deal, and it has a lot to do, I think, with the optics that NATO wanted to be sending as the war continues to grind on in Ukraine.

MARTINEZ: Frank, these meetings in Europe, the G-7 first and now this NATO meeting, I can't imagine that Russia's too thrilled by this.

LANGFITT: No, it hates all of this for obvious reasons. I mean, one of the reasons that President Putin said that he sent troops into Ukraine was to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, so it does seem to be backfiring. And one way Russia seems to respond is by firing more missiles. You know, in recent days, there have been increased missile strikes, and many people think it was timed to the summit here and the G-7 meeting earlier in Germany. And earlier this week, missiles killed 18 people at a shopping mall in Ukraine and also hit an apartment building for the second time in Kyiv.

MARTINEZ: Thing is, though, Sweden and Finland's decision to join NATO is triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. So what do they bring to the table?

LANGFITT: You know, I think the analysts that I've talked to say they are helpful because they've also - they've been very close to NATO all along and have, you know, worked in exercises, things like that. This is what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said yesterday about the role that they could play.

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JENS STOLTENBERG: Finland and Sweden also brings to NATO advanced, well-developed, well-equipped forces, fifth-generation aircraft, advanced weapons systems technology and stable, strong political institutions.

LANGFITT: And, A, I've got to say, you know, Finland has a very large, well-trained army. Sweden has very good intelligence gathering. They also control Gotland island, which is in the middle of the Baltic Sea, and strategically, this is really, really important.

MARTINEZ: What's happening at the summit today?

LANGFITT: Well, I think we're going to see more announcements. I think what we saw from President Biden was kicking off a series of announcement of increased NATO troop deployments to the eastern flank of the alliance, and this is part of a major shift. I mean, you know, you've got to remember, since the end of the Cold War, the eastern flank has been pretty quiet because Russia wasn't seen as much of a threat. I think what we're going to hear is more troops going to the Baltic states. And of course, Russia will be watching this very closely.

MARTINEZ: And NATO's going to be putting out a strategy blueprint for the next decade. Anything new in that thing?

LANGFITT: I think you're going to see a big focus on China. This is a major change. It's never been mentioned before. But, of course, President Biden has said, while he's obviously very, very concerned about Russia, China remains a big, long-term challenge to the alliance and to the United States.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Madrid. Frank, thanks.

LANGFITT: Great to talk, A.

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MARTINEZ: Fear of a recession is leading to layoffs, and a few companies have already announced job cuts.

MARTIN: JPMorgan Chase is one of them. Netflix also just did a second round of layoffs. And Tesla is slashing its salaried workforce by 10%.

MARTINEZ: NPR's David Gura is here to talk about what's going on. David, we named a few companies, but how widespread are these cuts? And actually, what's causing them?

DAVID GURA, BYLINE: Yeah, so far, layoffs have been confined to parts of the economy that experienced high growth in recent years. Just think about the companies you mentioned. They're in entertainment and technology and finance. You know, they thrived for years when interest rates were low, and borrowing was cheap, but in the last six months, things have changed dramatically as the Federal Reserve has started hiking rates aggressively to fight high inflation. Other companies that have had layoffs recently did really well during the pandemic. You know, when gyms were closed, people got Pelotons. There were millions of people stuck at home who started trading stocks with Robinhood. But here we are. Gyms are back open. Robinhood just cut 9% of its staff. So the bottom line, A, is a growing number of companies recognize the winds are shifting and that they may need to pare down.

MARTINEZ: You know, I'd have sworn we were just talking about how hot the job market is. You know, people quitting their jobs at record rates, and everyone's talking about the great resignation. So what happened?

GURA: Yeah, absolutely. There was this pent-up demand to do stuff as we came out of the darkest days of the pandemic. People were spending. Many of them had stimulus money from the government, and employers just couldn't find enough workers. Then all of a sudden, workers were demanding higher pay. The outlook for the U.S. economy has changed rapidly. Prices are rising at their fastest annual pace in more than four decades. And the Fed is trying to force companies to spend less. Higher interest rates are slowing down the housing market, which has led to layoffs in real estate - those cuts at JPMorgan we're talking about, hundreds of jobs in the bank's mortgage business. Andy Challenger is with the firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. It tracks layoffs nationwide. And he says there's going to be less hiring.

ANDY CHALLENGER: Even if the Fed achieves the perfect soft landing, it's still going to mean an increase in layoffs.

GURA: And, Challenger adds, if the Fed does tip the economy into a recession, it's likely we'll see broader layoffs and even deeper cuts.

MARTINEZ: All right, so that's terrible news for people who've lost their jobs. How worried should we be, then, about the rest of the jobs market?

GURA: Well, Fed Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers recently the Fed's goal here is not to kickstart a recession, but it does want to remove some froth from the economy.

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JEROME POWELL: There's more job openings than there are - by a factor of 2 to 1 than there are unemployed people looking for work.

GURA: Again, if you look at where job cuts have been so far, they've been in these frothier, more speculative parts of the economy. Crypto is a great example. The cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase just laid off more than a thousand workers. And what's tricky is the Fed has these really blunt tools to try to fight inflation, and it takes time to see if they're working. On top of that, there's a lot happening right now that the Fed just can't do much about. It's not going to find a solution to the war in Ukraine, for instance, or it won't be able to unclog global supply chains.

MARTINEZ: So what are the risks of this? I mean, what should we be watching out for?

GURA: Well, a big risk is that this could be kind of self-fulfilling - companies so worried about a potential economic downturn, cut jobs early, thereby accelerating an economic downturn, and there's a risk that they could cut too much. If job losses get broader, as Andy Challenger said, of course, more people would be out of work without any money to spend. The U.S. economy runs on consumer spending, and something we'll watch for, A, is if these cuts start hitting the rest of the economy, where most people work.

MARTINEZ: NPR's David Gura. Thanks a lot.

GURA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.