NOEL KING, HOST:
The Trump administration is taking aim at a law that was designed to protect military service members from getting cheated by shady lending practices.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Yeah. NPR has obtained these documents that show that the White House is proposing changes that critics say would leave service members vulnerable to getting ripped off whenever they buy cars.
KING: NPR's Chris Arnold was the one who got hold of these documents. He's with us now.
Good morning, Chris.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: All right. First of all, tell us about the law. What does it say?
ARNOLD: All right. So this involves the Military Lending Act, and that was put in place to protect active-duty service members from predatory loans and other sorts of shady financial products. And auto dealers have been lobbying for changes, and it looks like the administration is listening to their request. Christopher Peterson is a law professor at the University of Utah. He actually helped to write some of the regulations for this for the Department of Defense. We showed him these internal documents. It's basically a proposal to change the rules for auto dealers. And here's what he said.
CHRISTOPHER PETERSON: If the White House does this, it'll be manipulating the Military Lending Act regulations at the behest of auto dealers and banks to try and make it easier to sell overpriced rip-off products to military service members.
KING: All right. None of that sounds particularly good.
KING: What is it that auto dealers want to sell people in the military that the law says they can't?
ARNOLD: Here's how this works. So when you drive a new car off the lot, I mean, everybody kind of knows that it loses some value right away. And car dealers - if you've ever bought a new car, been lucky enough to do that - they'll say, hey, you know, if you crash and total your car, you could be out a pile of money, and that's because your insurance might not cover what you owe on your car loan. There's this gap, you know, between what you might have borrowed and what the car is now actually worth. And there's this insurance policy to cover that. It's called gap insurance. Here's Peterson again.
PETERSON: Car dealers push it so much and they scare people so to convince people they got to have this gap insurance.
ARNOLD: The thing is, though, Peterson says you can get that kind of insurance for very little money if you call up your regular insurance company. It's, like, $20 or $30 over the whole course of a year. But some car dealers will charge way more. Peterson says he's seen, like, 1,500 bucks over the course of the loan. He says it can be, like, this very predatory product.
KING: All right. I'm sure that car dealers are defending themselves. What do they have to say about this?
ARNOLD: Right. They have a different view. They say this is a valuable product and it should be available to everyone. Paul Metrey is with the National Automobile Dealers Association.
PAUL METREY: Service members certainly should have the same access to credit protection that their civilian counterparts have. And now when they engage in these transactions, this valuable gap product is effectively not available to them.
ARNOLD: The thing is, though, that active-duty military personnel are not civilians, and they get some special protections under the law. And Peterson says, look; you know, service members can still get this kind of insurance, often more cheaply, if they go elsewhere. And in this latest draft of the proposal, though, the White House appears willing to do what the industry wants. This has gone back over to the Department of the Defense now, and the department there is saying, look; this is not a done deal; if we do anything, we just want to make sure that it doesn't hurt service members or their families.
KING: Well, you've been doing some broader reporting on this law, and it sounds like what you've sort of discovered is that the consumer protection bureau might be rethinking the whole law and how it's enforced, yeah?
ARNOLD: Right, and some other news organizations are talking about this, too. But that's right. The Trump appointee at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he's planning to pull back on enforcement of the Military Lending Act overall. He's saying, look; we'll still enforce it if people complain about something, if there's some abuse that we find out about, but we're not going to proactively go out there looking for MLA violations. That's Military Lending Act violations. I spoke to retired Army Colonel Paul Kantwill. He does not like this idea. He just retired from the consumer protection bureau.
PAUL KANTWILL: This would be like removing the sentries from the guard posts guarding your military installation or your compound.
ARNOLD: So a bunch of different ways there - there's a lot happening right now with this law to protect people in the military. We're going to keep watching and see where it goes.
KING: Well, we appreciate it. Thanks, Chris. NPR's Chris Arnold.
ARNOLD: You're welcome.
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KING: All right. Last December, former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman secretly audio taped her own firing.
GREENE: Yeah. She was fired after allegedly misusing a government car. Now, this recording was played yesterday during her appearance on NBC's "Meet The Press," and really, it's the latest example of the internal mistrust and theatrical disclosures that have characterized the first year and a half of the Trump administration.
KING: NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us now. Good morning, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: All right. So the White House is not happy about this recording. They put out a statement last night criticizing Manigault Newman for, quote, "sneaking a recording device into the White House Situation Room," which sounds very serious. Is what she did illegal?
KEITH: It's not clear that it would be. The Situation Room is a very secure area. People going into the Situation Room are supposed to check their electronics at the door. There are little cubbies outside of the door leading into this complex of conference rooms known as the Situation Room. But they weren't talking about anything classified in there. They were talking about Omarosa leaving the White House under terms that she was not particularly happy about, though she admits she - she insists she was not fired. The White House says that this shows a blatant disregard for our national security, and then to brag about it on national television further proves the lack of character and integrity of this disgruntled former White House employee. That's a statement from Sarah Sanders. She is not saying that anything illegal happened.
KING: All right. So Omarosa Manigault Newman has been out on a book tour. That's why we're hearing so much from her.
KING: She talked to our co-host Rachel Martin last week, and she said she took these elaborate notes and she made these recordings because she worked in a toxic White House atmosphere. Let me play you some of that interview.
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OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN: It is so incredibly important that you protect yourself. This is a president who lies without even thinking - people backstabbing one another, undermining one another. And so I have to tell you, I took great care to document every single exchange that I had.
KING: I mean, what's so interesting is that this sounds like something we've heard from inside this administration before, right? You got to watch your own back because nobody's watching it for you.
KEITH: Oh, it was an unbelievably - it continues to be an unbelievably leaky environment where there are factions fighting against each other, and she was absolutely part of that. In her book, she writes about handing over a list to the short-timed Anthony Scaramucci of people she thought should be fired because they were leakers.
KEITH: Forty percent of the staff who were working in this White House just a year ago are gone, according to Reuters.
KING: Just extraordinary. NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thanks so much.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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KING: All right. Yesterday, a small group of white nationalists gathered near the White House in Lafayette Park here in D.C. They were protected by a massive police presence.
GREENE: They were, but in the end, the Unite the Right rally was out-organized and also outnumbered by hundreds of counterdemonstrators.
KING: NPR's Brian Mann is in Washington, and he was at yesterday's demonstration.
Good morning, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Morning, Noel.
KING: I mean, this was a tiny turnout for an event that got a ton of attention in the runup to it. Did it come as a surprise that no one really showed up?
MANN: Yeah, you know, Jason Kessler, the organizer, he got a permit for up to 400 people, and in the end, it attracted fewer than 10 percent of that.
MANN: We were only able to count around 25 people. They were men, mostly, some wearing masks or bandanas over their faces. Kessler spoke to his group and to media for a little bit, but really, his message was just almost completely overshadowed by the counterdemonstrators, hundreds of them. A lot of people here were surprised and, I have to say, also thrilled. They described this as a victory. I spoke to one activist here who goes by the name EZ Street. He said he actually wound up feeling kind of sorry for Kessler's group.
EZ STREET: It shows us who they are. They don't have the simple love and compassion in their hearts for other people, man, and it's sad. It's sad. I'm sad for them more than anything.
KING: That is an extraordinary statement. Last year in Charlottesville at this same Unite the Right rally, a counterdemonstrator, a woman named Heather Heyer, was murdered by a white supremacist who drove a car into a crowd. So folks there were remembering and honoring her yesterday, huh?
MANN: Yeah. There were a lot of signs in the crowd with Heather Heyer's name. People I talked to spoke about her emotionally. They said they were here in part because of her. But I have to say, people also talked about just wanting to stop the momentum of what the white nationalist movement has been doing a year ago. People were caught off guard by the scope and violence of Charlottesville, and this felt very different.
KING: I mean, this rally, it got a lot of attention in the runup, which was different from the Charlottesville rally, which seemed to come out of nowhere. We gave it some attention here on NPR. We interviewed Jason Kessler, who organized the rally, on Friday. I wonder, when you talked to people, did you ask them about the amount and the kind of attention this is getting and whether they think it's justified?
MANN: Sure. And I did hear a lot of dismay and anger that so much of America's national conversation about race winds up being driven by people like this who, you know, have what are just flatly bigoted views. The interesting thing, I think, Noel, is that these counterdemonstrators worked hard to just shift the discussion. There was a lot of talk here about other aspects of race relations in America, poverty, segregation, criminal justice. I talked to a guy, DeAndre Fuentes (ph), who told me that this was deliberate.
DEANDRE FUENTES: I'm here to show white supremacy that black people will meet you head-on.
MANN: So in the end, you know, most of what I wound up hearing about race here yesterday on the street from these different activist groups - it wasn't actually coming from Jason Kessler or his group of white supremacists; it was coming from these other people.
KING: Just very quickly before I let you go, did Kessler and the white supremacists express any embarrassment at the pathetic turnout?
MANN: They tweeted and spoke about being proud of the fact that this was nonviolent. They said that they were proud of what they did here for free speech yesterday. But really, you know, that was down to the police presence, which was incredibly well-organized, and also the demonstrators themselves. The counterdemonstrators showed a lot of restraint. You know, this had to feel like a big comedown from last year.
KING: Brian Mann in Washington, D.C. Thanks so much, Brian.
MANN: Thanks, Noel.
(SOUNDBITE OF L'INDECIS' "STAYING THERE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.