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News Brief: Mattis Criticizes Trump, Officers Charged, Job Market


Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says President Trump is a threat to the Constitution.


The president once named Mattis Defense Secretary, elevating a soldier with a storied career in uniform. Now Mattis has written a statement first published in The Atlantic. He criticized the president's threat to use the military against protesters. Mattis said the president has spent years trying to divide us.

And Mattis added, quote, "we need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law," which is what he says protesters are demanding. Other former military leaders have criticized the president. And current Defense Secretary Mark Esper seemed to dismiss the president's suggestion that he could send troops into the states.


MARK ESPER: The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now.

GREENE: All right. Let's bring in NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Hi there, Tom.


GREENE: So former military leaders lining up to condemn a current commander in chief, a current sitting president. This is pretty unusual, right?

BOWMAN: It's highly unusual, David, and for this kind of harsh language. These kinds of attacks almost are unheard of. And at times in the past, you might get one or two criticizing a policy move. But this was basically about character and fitness for office. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen - Admiral Mike Mullen wrote that President Trump's comments were welcome news to those countries who take comfort in our domestic strife. He said he worried about politicizing the men and women of our armed forces.

And Jim Mattis, as we've just heard, said Trump is the first president in his life who is trying to divide, not unite, the nation. And he said, this is a consequence of three years without what he called mature leadership. Admiral James Stavridis - retired admiral - said, we cannot afford to have a future Lafayette Square end up looking like Tiananmen Square.

And, David, there was also criticism of Defense Secretary Esper himself for using terms like battle space in a contentious call with the nation's governors, and also for letting himself be part of what was largely a White House photo-op that involved the aggressive dispersal of peaceful protesters. Esper said he regrets using the term battlespace and said he was unaware he'd be involved in this photo-op. And he thought they were going out to thank National Guard troops.

GREENE: OK. So Esper facing some criticism, but also, as Steve said, you know, disagreeing with the president, it seems. I mean, this is the current defense secretary. So talk a little more about what he is saying here.

BOWMAN: Yeah. Not only was he, you know - did not want to use active duty troops in this situation, but he also spoke out forcefully about race - and not something you usually hear from a Pentagon official. He said racism is real in America. We must do our best to recognize that. And he said it was not a good idea, again, to use active duty forces, a clear split with the White House. Other Army and Navy leaders also spoke out about racism in the wake of George Floyd's death. These are usually the kinds of statements coming from the president or an attorney general or senior members of Congress and not from senior Pentagon officials.

GREENE: I mean, Tom, can you just step back for a moment? You've covered the Pentagon for years. I mean, what is the context here? What are you watching?

BOWMAN: Well, firstly, you know, first of all, it's, again, unprecedented for senior officers - the retired senior officers - to make such scathing attacks. But remember, they're retired. We haven't seen any resignations of officers or other senior Pentagon officials yet. That's something I would look for.

GREENE: That is NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks so much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, David.


GREENE: OK. So in Minneapolis, all four of the police officers involved in the killing of George Floyd have now been charged.

INSKEEP: Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison made that announcement yesterday. He also added a second-degree murder charge against now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin is the officer who's seen in videos with his knee on George Floyd's neck. The other three officers at the scene are charged with aiding and abetting murder.

GREENE: All right. NPR national correspondent Leila Fadel is in Minneapolis. Hi, Leila.


GREENE: So protesters there and around the country, I mean, have been demanding these charges - or for at least these officers to all be charged. What is the reaction to this so far?

FADEL: As you said, this has been the major demand of protesters in the streets. And now, they didn't get that first-degree murder charge that they wanted. But as you mentioned, there's been an upgraded charge against Chauvin. The news, though, for them is really bittersweet. It fulfills at least one demand. But there's a lot of skepticism about follow-through. I went to the corner where George Floyd was killed and met Noony Nichols (ph). Here's what she had to say.

NOONY NICHOLS: If we actually can get a conviction and we actually can get some police reform, then I'll feel a lot better. But, like, right now, it's kind of like a Band-Aid being put over, like, a big, gaping, open wound.

GREENE: So what led to this move by the attorney general, Keith Ellison, to elevate the charge to second-degree murder for Chauvin? - I mean, of course, the officer who had his knee on the neck of Floyd.

FADEL: He says, after a long review of the evidence, he's got enough here to charge the rest of the officers. But we can't discount the intense pressure there's been, people pouring into the streets across the country. We also have to remember Ellison was only tapped to lead the prosecution this week. Many demonstrators welcomed that move, an African American, reform-minded attorney general.

But demonstrators still wonder, what took so long? They point out the irony of being cuffed and losing your life for suspicion over a counterfeit bill. Meanwhile, even with Floyd's killing filmed, it took over a week to charge all four of the officers accused of being involved. Ellison has said, though, all along, that he needs to be meticulous here because the system has proven that it is very hard to convict a police officer, especially when the victim is black or when the victim is poor. This was Ellison's message to the Floyd family.


KEITH ELLISON: His life had value. And we will seek justice for him and for you. And we will find it.

FADEL: Now, he added that one successful prosecution will not rectify the pain so many people feel.


ELLISON: The solution to that pain will be slow and difficult work of constructing justice and fairness in our society. That work is the work of all of us. We don't need to wait for the resolution, an investigation of this case to start that work.

GREENE: OK. So Leila, we're going to see the investigation go forward, of course. And then, today, we have a memorial for George Floyd that's happening in Minneapolis. What can you tell us about what we're going to see?

FADEL: Well, Floyd's family has flown into the city to mourn him at a sanctuary here. It's the first of several services that are planned. Reverend Al Sharpton will give a national eulogy. And attendance will be limited because, remember, there is a pandemic that's still going on.

GREENE: Yeah. NPR's Leila Fadel in Minneapolis. Leila, thanks so much.

FADEL: Thank you.


GREENE: As we just said, there is a pandemic that is still happening, the coronavirus pandemic. And it has pushed unemployment in the United States to its highest level since the Great Depression.

INSKEEP: But the pace of layoffs has been slowing. And with states starting to reopen, there is some optimism that the job market could begin to recover. Later this morning, the Labor Department releases the weekly number of jobless claims. So is recovery possible with the pandemic still underway?

GREENE: Let's ask NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So I mean, this is an understatement - the news about the job market has just been so grim for 2 1/2 months now. Any sign of a turnaround here?

HORSLEY: Maybe. It's probably premature to say the job market is getting better. But it does seem to be getting a little less bad. Yesterday, the payroll processor ADP reported that about 2.8 million private sector jobs were lost between April and May. Now, that is a terrible number. But it's not nearly as bad as forecasters were expecting. It's possible that's just a statistical fluke. But it could be a signal that more people are going back to work as businesses start to reopen.

When that Labor Department report comes out later this morning, we're going to be watching to see how many people applied for unemployment last week. That number is expected to drop below 2 million for the first time since March. And then we'll also be watching to see how many people dropped off the unemployment rolls as they went back to work. When the number of people rehired exceeds the number of people getting laid off, that is the beginning of a recovery. And that's when we can start to chip away at what are very high unemployment numbers.

GREENE: Is there any way to know, Scott, how many of the people who have lost their jobs are getting help from the government?

HORSLEY: You know, we still hear from people who are not getting unemployment benefits. And obviously, for some, that's a real hardship. Rent came due for a lot of families this week. But the Century Foundation, which is a progressive think tank, has been keeping tabs on this. And they do say the picture is getting better. In the first three weeks of May, the government paid out more than $70 billion in unemployment benefits. I talked yesterday with Steven Pingle (ph) in Nashville. He finally started getting benefits a short time ago after seven weeks of trying.

STEVEN PINGLE: It was a (laughter) huge relief. It felt like, in one day, going from the poorest I'd ever been to the richest (laughter) I'd ever been.

HORSLEY: And, you know, that's been a lifeline for Pingle, who used to install Internet cable and security cameras. He is worried, though, about what's going to happen down the road. Remember, the federal portion of those unemployment benefits, the extra $600 a week that Congress authorized during the pandemic, that's set to run out at the end of next month. And Pingle does not expect to be back to work by then.

GREENE: It's been so striking, Scott, to see the unemployment rate in our country, I mean, just at historic levels. And the Department of Labor, we're going to get unemployment numbers for May tomorrow morning. What are we expecting?

HORSLEY: There's no question May was another bad month for the job market. Forecasters had been expecting a loss of about 8 million jobs. That's on top of the more than 20 million that disappeared in April. If, indeed, the ADP number is a preview of what we hear from the Labor Department Friday, then May's jobless loss number - May's job loss number could be less bad. Though, any time you're talking about job losses in the millions, of course, it's pretty scary. The official unemployment rate was 14.7% in April. It's going to be higher than that in May. Whether it's a little higher or a lot higher, we'll find out tomorrow.

GREENE: NPR chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.


David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.