American Scandal

New episodes come out every Tuesday for free, with 1-week early access for Wondery+ subscribers.

Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.

Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.

Volkswagen Diesel Scandal - Crash | 3

Volkswagen Diesel Scandal - Crash | 3

Tue, 11 Feb 2020 10:00

Martin Winterkorn takes a drastic step, as Volkswagen faces withering criticism. U.S. officials prepare their case against the automaker. And VW struggles to defend itself, as drivers file a blizzard of lawsuits.

Support our show by supporting our sponsors!

See Privacy Policy at and California Privacy Notice at

Listen to Episode

Copyright © © 2018 Wondery, Inc.

Read Episode Transcript

In September 21st, 2015 in Washington, D.C. Josh Ernest hurried through the west wing of the White House, floorboards creaking beneath his polished wing tips. Ernest is the White House press secretary, and he's speeding towards the press room, now running a little late. It's less than a minute before today's press briefing is sent to begin. Ernest picks up the pace, but he knows there's a good chance he's behind schedule. He was double checking all his facts. Facts he has to be sensitive about. Because every day he delivers the news to a room full of journalists. There's a military action abroad, tragic violence at home, the latest corruption on Wall Street. But today, he's trying to be extra careful with a scandal that's unfolding, involving Volkswagen and its diesel engines. Ernest is fixated on the story. Maybe he thinks because the company so blatantly endangered the public's health, or maybe it's because Volkswagen went to such incredible lengths to lie and got away with it for so long. Either way, the whole world is watching, and Ernest must accurately convey President Obama's thoughts on the matter. He reaches the press room office and spots his assistant. Ah, sorry I'm late. They're all in there waiting for you. Ernest nods. He smooths his dark blue suit and takes a moment to compose himself. Inside, reporters fill all 50 seats. As Ernest nears the podium, their chatter quiets down. He steps in front of the blue curtain backdrop beside an American flag. They begin taking questions. Importers ask about the embargo on Cuba, a visit from the Pope, military relations with Iran. Then Ernest points to another reporter. I wanted to briefly ask about the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Has the President been briefed on this and how closely is the White House watching? What's what's transpiring? Ernest pauses and gathers his thoughts. There's a lot he wants to say. The federal government has launched into action and Volkswagen will soon face enormous consequences. But Ernest knows right now he has to weigh his word very carefully. He can't fully reveal how the administration is going to respond. Well, this is obviously an enforcement action and an investigation that the EPA is responsible for carrying out. They take the responsibilities that they have to enforce the clean air act very seriously. Ernest takes a moment and makes a decision. It's time to warn Volkswagen, even if the threat is subtle. I think it's fair to say that we're quite concerned by some of the reports that we've seen about the conduct of this particular company. I will pay attention to this as well as he's been briefed on it. I haven't spoken to him about it but I'm confident that he is well aware of the news. Ernest wishes he could say more but for now he's gotten the point across. Volkswagen is in trouble and the administration is not looking away. As Ernest continues fielding questions he wonders just how many of his friends and colleagues own a diesel car with a Volkswagen emblem. All of them are victims of a serious crime and they deserve justice he thinks and he hopes they get it. But Ernest has no illusions that it'll be easy. Volkswagen is a powerful company back by countless lawyers and a deep well of money. If the US government wants to hold the automaker accountable you will have to put up a fight. American scandal is sponsored by the new audiobook Killing the Legends. The 12th audiobook in the multi-million-selling Killing series from Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugart, Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Muhammad Ali. Three icons known everywhere in every nation across every culture. They had everything. Fame, money, the admiration of millions but their lives spun out of control at the hands of those they most trusted. Killing the Legends explores the lives, legacies and tragic deaths of these three legends. Each experienced a men's success then failures that forced them to change. Each faced the challenge of growing old and fields that privileged youth and finally each became isolated, cocooned by wealth but vulnerable to the demands of those in their innermost circles. Killing the Legends is available now wherever audiobooks are sold, start listening. You've already earned some fun so have it. It's like giving yourself permission to eat dessert first. With best fiends and exciting puzzle adventure game you can have fiendish fun anywhere anytime. How often do you let yourself have some hard earned fun? Whatever your answer is, you deserve way more. Add some joy to your daily routine with best fiends. The puzzle adventure game you won't be able to put down. Brand new events and challenges pop up all year round, so you've always got a chance to earn exclusive in-game items, characters and rewards. You've earned your fun time, go to the App Store or Google Play to download best fiends for free. Plus, earn even more with $5 worth of in-game rewards when you reach level 5. That's friends without the R. Best Fiends. From Wondery, I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American Scandal. In 2015, the world woke up to shocking news from the auto industry. Volkswagen had cheated air pollution tests for its diesel vehicles with what was known as defeat device. The revelation prompted global outrage, and while the German automaker wasn't the first to game the system, the scale of its misconduct was unprecedented. Owners of the vehicles demanded immediate compensation, and American government officials began building legal cases against the carmaker. Inside Volkswagen, a feeling of panic emerged, as executives started wondering who among them would be forced to take the fall. This is Episode 3. Crash. It's September 22nd, 2015 in Volkswagen Germany. Volkswagen's CEO, Martin Vinterkorn, stands in the lobby of Volkswagen's headquarters, gazing across the building. On most days, this space is alive with energy. Executives and employees hustling about, visitors gazing open mouth at the vintage cars on display. Classic Volkswagen's as well as porous and outies, Volkswagen owns these brands too, and for eight years, Vinterkorn was in charge of it all. But on this morning, the lobby is as somber as a graveyard. Vinterkorn can't remember the last time it was this quiet. He makes his way to the elevator, his body hurts in his headaches. He presses the button for his office on the top floor. After the war, this soaring brick tower stood for German progress and resurrection. Volkswagen was the pride of Germany. Now, seemingly overnight, it became a national disgrace. As the elevator rises, Vinterkorn can't help thinking that he's entering a burning building. The Americans have filed hundreds of civil lawsuits against Volkswagen. His lawyers say criminal charges against the company and its CEO are inevitable. And suddenly, it's clear to Vinterkorn that he can only fight so hard. There's only one way he can put out the fire. Vinterkorn reaches his office and quietly closes the door behind him. He looks across his decorated walls. There are plaques and framed pictures of himself, shaking hands with world leaders. He sinks down into his chair, opens a desk drawer, pulls out a sheet of paper. He selects one of his finest pens. There's no point in putting it off any longer, so Vinterkorn begins to write. I am shocked by the events of the past few days he writes. Above all, I am stunned that misconduct on such a scale was possible in the Volkswagen Group. As CEO, I accept responsibility for the irregularities that have been found in diesel engines. I have therefore requested the supervisory board to agree on terminating my function as CEO in the Volkswagen Group. Vinterkorn pauses. He could leave it at that. Many CEOs would. But he can't help himself. He dashes off the neck several lines with a rush of adrenaline. I'm doing this in the interest of the company, even though I'm not aware of any wrongdoing on my part. Vinterkorn signs his name and drops the pen. He's given the world what it wants, escape-go. But not entirely, because he's also proclaimed his innocence. Vinterkorn's Two days later, Matthias Mueller strides down a hallway at Volkswagen headquarters. Today, news reporters at his side. The two stop outside Martin Vinterkorn's old office. There are movers busy at work, swapping out Vinterkorn's old desk for one more suitable to Mueller's tastes. Mueller waves to them cheerfully, and he tells the reporter that he's thrilled to finally update the decor around here. It's just the first of many changes Mueller will bring to Vinterkorn as its new CEO. Mueller is 62 with a lean build in silvery white sideburns that frame a ready smile. In many ways, he's the ideal successor to Vinterkorn. Mueller has proven himself as a top Volkswagen executive. He ran Porsche for five years, and he ran it well. He's also the kind of media-friendly CEO that Volkswagen needs during these trying times. Vinterkorn appeared cold and inaccessible, but Mueller comes off his warm and engaged. His appointment as a signal to the world, Volkswagen is serious about changing its ruthless company culture, the same culture that led to the diesel scandal. Mueller leads the reporter over to a large window overlooking a canal. This Mueller thinks is a nice, picturesque location, a good place to discuss Volkswagen's future in recent past. Mueller shakes his head and tells the reporter that what occurred with the diesels was shameful. Nothing like it will ever happen again. Vinterkorn had no choice but to step down Mueller adds, but in his opinion, it's wrong to condemn the man. The reporter cuts him off asking how exactly is it wrong? The defeat devices were engineered under Vinterkorn's watch, and they allowed Volkswagen's diesels to emit harmful air pollution. Mueller's smile falters just a bit as he tells the journalist that he's known Vinterkorn for 20 years. There's no way that Vinterkorn had anything to do with the defeat device. In fact, Mueller has ordered an internal investigation that's certain to unmask the true culprits. He concludes the interview with a rhetorical question. Do you really think a chief executive had time to work on engine software? It's December 2015 in Volsberg, Germany, and Mateus Mueller is approaching the outwiyumi. The building is an enormous structure, steel, glass, and stone, and serves as a research center for Volkswagen. But today, it's also going to serve as a venue for a major announcement. Mueller heads towards the building and sees the event already as a crowd. Journalists are filing in, packing the building. Mueller reaches the rear entrance, and an aid leads him down a long hallway. At the far end is Hans Dieter Poulsch, the bespectical chairman of the Volkswagen Supervisory Board. Mueller sees that Poulsch is holding several documents bound with paperclips. They are the results of Volkswagen's internal investigations about the diesel scandal. Today, Mueller will sum up the investigation for the crowd, and he knows he won't have any trouble. But when he enters the main auditorium, Mueller can't help but pause and shock. There must be 300 journalists seated in black folding chairs that are voices echo and amplify in the cavernous space. And suddenly, Mueller finds himself surrounded by a wall of cameras. He blinks rapidly, hit with a barrage of flashes. He moves past the cameras and heads to a large white desk marked Volkswagen. It's here that he and Poulsch sit down in front of the microphones. After opening remarks, Mueller begins his presentation. Good morning. We believe we have made significant progress in recent weeks. I want to stress the seriousness of our internal investigation. We have relied upon 450 experts. We've collected more than 100 terabytes of data. I understand that you are all eager to know how something like this could have occurred. Our investigation is ongoing, but we have come to some important conclusions. A journalist waves an impatient hand and shouts, What conclusions? If I may proceed, I'll tell you. The wrongdoing was the result of weakness in some processes and a mindset in some areas of the company that tolerated breaches of rules. What do you intend to do next? Naturally, we will improve our methods of checking and authorizing software for use in our vehicles. Can you be more specific here, Mueller? With all due respect, we're not here for technical trivia, for here for names. Who in Volkswagen is guilty? Mueller allows himself a slight shrug. The fraud was engineered by the misconduct and shortcomings of individual employees. Nine of them have been suspended. I will not be disclosing their names at this time. Mueller can feel the disappointment ripple through the crown. He has said all he is willing to say today. Already Volkswagen's stock price has no stifled. Its legal teams could be tied up for years. Clearly, these are dangerous times for his company, and he must tread carefully. The reporters all begin to shout at once, and Mueller feels like he is standing alone at the bottom of a very deep hole. He knows he must not digging his way out, and as fast as he can, if he is going to save the company. It is December 2015 at the Washington, DC headquarters of the U.S. Department of Justice. Winter is settling over the capital, and John Cruden is thankful to be indoors in a warm conference room. Cruden is an assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice. He holds the position for the Department's environment and natural resources division, which means recently he has had his hands full with all things Volkswagen. Right now, in this conference room, he is focused and alert, despite having been here for hours without a break. Cruden is a West Point graduate and a veteran, and he has learned that sometimes slowing down is not an option. That is especially true with a case like Volkswagen. The way the evidence is piling up, this case may prove to be one of the most significant of his career. He knows that he and the other lawyers on his team are in the midst of a serious undertaking. They're crafting the DOJ civil suit against Volkswagen, and if they're going to beat the automaker in court, they must do their job flawlessly. Cruden still gets angry just thinking about the scale of the deception. Volkswagen sold some 600,000 of their diesel cars to unwitting Americans. Cruden reminds his team that for violating the Clean Air Act, the company needs to pay, and needs to pay a lot. His team is mostly united, but there is one lawyer who looks up from his paperwork with the sideways glance, declaring that he thinks they're overreacting. The lawyer points to a highlighted section, explaining that the harder they push Volkswagen, the harder the company will try to escape its full responsibility. Volkswagen, he says, has enough money and power to pull off a series injustice. He's seen it many times before, and he thinks it's wise to play it safe. This is a high profile case, the department cannot afford to get burned. Cruden shakes his head firmly. There's no way he's taking the teeth out of this lawsuit, and he explains why. Volkswagen acted in a deeply unethical way, and the Department of Justice has an ethical obligation to pursue the company with everything it's got. He sees heads nodding because they know what's coming next. Cruden reminds them, in many ways this is personal for him. He spent his legal career protecting the environment, and he's never seen an automaker trying to pull anything this underhanded. Justice must be served. He looks directly at the lawyer who suggested a softer treatment for Volkswagen, and he asks if he supports the strategy they're going to take. All eyes in the room fall on him as he mulls an answer. Finally, the lawyer nods. Cruden smiles. Good, let's go win this case. Cruden believes this suit will hold up in court. It could force Volkswagen to pay billions, but it's not money he really cares about. Cruden is hungry for justice. He wants to hold Volkswagen responsible for the mess it made, and ultimately, that could mean going after the executives responsible for the diesel scheme. But Cruden thinks that one dissenting lawyer is right about one thing. This fight will not be easy. Hello, I'm Florence Given, the best selling author of the book, Women Don't Know You Pretty and Girlcrush, and this is my podcast, exactly. Join me as I connect with fascinating guests from authors, cultural commentators, doctors, thought leaders to psychologist celebrities and comedians. And guess what? We're back to do it all again in season two with the likes of the holistic psychologist, Victoria Skarn and Iona David to name a few. Season two of exactly podcast out now, wherever you get your podcasts. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Generation Y is one of the longest running true crime podcasts out there, and we are still at it, unraveling a new case every week. We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery, and lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence, and interviewing those close to the case. And with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or every listen to podcasts, or you can listen ad-free by joining Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. It's December 2015. Mark Winnett drives into a car dealership in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. His face is hot and red. He gets that way whenever he's really embarrassed or angry, and right now he's both. Winnett thinks of himself as a mild mannered non-confrontational type, but the more he reads about the Volkswagen case, the angrier he gets. He was taken for a ride, and today that ride is going to end. Winnett parks his car and kills the engine. He jumps out and slams the door, standing in the middle of the lot. His jaw is tight. He hears footsteps and turns around to find a young salesman emerging from the office. The salesman is smiling, but that quickly fades when he sees the look on Winnett's face. He asks whether he can help Winnett, and Winnett barks back in answer that yes, you can take this car off my hands. The salesman is taken aback, and asks Winnett for an explanation. Winnett launches into it. This is a 2014 Jetta diesel. Winnett bought the car from this dealership, and everything was fine until he saw the news. The salesman looks nervously at Winnett, and runs to grab his manager. Winnett cracks his knuckles and paces as the salesman returns from the office. After a moment, the manager emerges too, butting his jacket against the wind. He greets Winnett and asks how he could help him. Winnett answers swiftly. He wants back every dollar he spent on this diesel car, all 28,000 of them. The manager frowns and apologizes. This hasn't just been a shock for customers, he assures Winnett. It's hit dealers too. The manager wipes his brow and offers Winnett a pleading look, and then a compromise. The dealership can offer Winnett partial compensation, but it can't fully pay him back. That's out of the question he says. The dealership would go broke if it bought back every diesel car it had sold. Winnett unclenches his fist. He knows he's up against a wall, so he asks how much? The dealer furrows his brow. 14,500 he says. Winnett shoulders slump, and suddenly his tone grows pleading. How am I supposed to get back the other $14,000 I've lost on this car? The manager throws his hands up and says he can only offer the same advice he's given all the others. Call a lawyer. There's a class action in lawsuit brewing, and Winnett can try and get a piece of the settlement. So he returns to his car and mulls it over. Class action lawsuit. He likes the sound of it. Volkswagen owes him, and he's glad he's not the only one ready to collect. It's January 11th, 2016, and Mateus Mueller is roaming through the Detroit Auto Show. Normally, he'd love being in the middle of a car show with all the stunning new vehicles and crowds of enthusiasts. Instead, Mueller is feeling irritable. This is his first trip to the US since becoming CEO. It should be a victory lap, not an apology tour. He hates apologizing, but if that's what it takes to regain the American people's trust, well, that is what he will do. At a news conference earlier today, he offered solemn remarks. We know we deeply disappointed our customers, the responsible government bodies, and the general public here in the US, he said. I apologize for what went wrong at Volkswagen. We are totally committed to making things right. Mueller wasn't lying. He is committed, but he also wishes people would find something new to talk about. And now, as he roams across the main floor of the Auto Show, trying to find a distraction, a young man approaches with a microphone and flashes press credentials. Mueller groans. He's been ambushed by a journalist. He can't decline the interview. One thing he's learned when your CEO at Disc Race Company, you make time for everyone. You never miss an opportunity to show the world that you're a good man and how very, very truly sorry you are. With a sigh of resignation, Mueller gestures for the first question. The reporter notes that Mueller said it was a technical problem, but that the American people feel this is not a technical problem. It's an ethical problem that's deep inside the company. How a Mueller changed that perception in the US. Mueller winces. His apology earlier today apparently was not good enough. He reiterates that it was a technical problem. The issue was that Volkswagen didn't understand American law, but that's not an ethical problem. And he tells the reporter he can't understand why you'd say that. The reporter looks incredulous because Volkswagen intentionally lied to the EPA. Mueller can't let this statement go undefended. He leans into the microphone and makes it clear. Volkswagen did not lie. Reporter reiterates his question, how will Volkswagen change American opinions of the company? Reporters raising his voice now. He asks again, what kind of proof does Mueller have that Volkswagen is changing? Mueller's patience is evaporating and his blood is boiling. This has been enough back and forth he decides. So he ends the conversation and says he's working tirelessly to change Volkswagen, but that he takes time. Around him, Mueller notices people starting to gawk. So he ends the interview and walks away, wondering if this job will ever get easier. Maybe talking to the reporter was a bad idea, he thinks. Volkswagen is still in a very deep hole. And with today's impromptu interview, Mueller may have dug himself in the company a little deeper. Later that month, Mattias Mueller is inside his office in Vultzberg. He studies Volkswagen's latest financial reports. The numbers are complicated, but the overall picture isn't. For now, Volkswagen will survive. Mueller feels a wave of relief. But the relief doesn't last long, because as Mueller considers the broader picture, the sinking feeling sets in. Threats loom in every direction. The US government is suing Volkswagen and the company could be on the hook for a vast sum of money. And the problems aren't just in America. Volkswagen is facing scrutiny from government officials around the world. It's a frightening time for Volkswagen. And Mueller knows that to steer the company straight, he'll need some help. Someone who can change the company's culture, someone who can rebuild Volkswagen's public image and help the company avoid collapse. Thankfully, that help is on the way with a new executive at Volkswagen. Mueller jumps to his feet. Please come in. Standing in the doorway is Christine Holmondenhardt. Holmondenhardt isn't her mid-60s. She is cold black hair that's carefully arranged. Everything about her seems calm, collected, unshakable. Christine, how fortunate we are to have you. Her curious time is, Miss Mueller. Mueller nods solemnly and offers her a seat. I won't sugarcoat the truth. We need your help. Your expertise, as we navigate this difficult terrain. Of course, I'll do what I can, but I'll repeat what I said over the phone. This is not going to be easy. And we're not going to change this company overnight. I understand. I hope you do. Volkswagen hasn't faced an image crisis like this since the war. Mueller stiffens. The mention of World War II even decades later is a sore subject. Volkswagen's wartime history is hardly a secret, but Mueller avoids any reminder of its troubling past. That it was Adolf Hitler who pushed Germany to build the car for the masses. It was to be a people's car, where a Volkswagen. Yes, yes, but Hitler was defeated and Volkswagen remained. Workers in this very building helped heal the economy. We saved Germany. Your workers are not the ones who saved Germany. Mueller frowns. He's not used to being challenged. Oh really? Think back to 20 years after the war ended, with what the American hippies called the Beel, the bug. Of course, sales were tremendous. That, I believe, is how we put behind us this nasty diesel business. We need great sales. You're missing the point, Matthias. It's not just great sales. The bug was lovable and innocuous. It said to the world, Germans aren't scary. Volkswagen saved Germany because it changed the world's perception of our country. Now, we must do for Volkswagen when Volkswagen did for Germany. I understand. We shift our image. It's exactly what I want to. That's why I hired you. Because Mueller stops himself. He realizes he almost made a misstep. Holman Denhardt responds with a knowing smile. You hired me because I'm a former justice on the highest court of this country. And because I'll be the first woman on your management board, it only took the company eight to years. Yes, I know. This helps the company's image. Yes, that is part of it. But most important, we're desperate. I am desperate. I want you to do whatever you need to to help change the culture here at Volkswagen. Take whatever steps must be taken to restore the reputation of this company. Can you do that? Holman Denhardt leans back, mulling the task at hand. It won't be easy, Mr. Mueller. Aggressive measures will need to be taken. There's no guarantee of success. All I ask is for you to give me the space to do my best. You will have it. I promise you. We'll see, Mr. Mueller. We'll see. Mueller smiles. But inside, he feels a knot forming in the pit of his stomach. He doesn't know that he'll be able to keep the promise he just made. Changing Volkswagen's path from within may be impossible. As Mueller waves this mammoth task, he catches Holman Denhardt's icy blue gays. And wonders if she already knows the obstacles that lie in the path. It's January 21st, 2016. Fog drifts over the steps of the San Francisco Superior Court. Outside the courthouse, Robert Giffre runs a hand through his curly reddish hair and takes it all in. It's bustling today, with the crowds of attorneys coming and going from the courthouse. One lawyer barrels down the steps, knocking into Giffre. The lawyer shoots him a watch where you're going, look, and hurrys on. Giffre smiles to himself. He's well aware that with his mop of hair, modest suit, a New York accent, people tend to assume he's a cab driver. They rarely guess the truth. Giffre is a highly regarded litigator and a former clerk for the US Supreme Court. Giffre enters a monumental court building. It's the epicenter of justice in Northern California. Hundreds of class action lawyers, each representing a group of Volkswagen dealers and owners, have come here with a single goal to gain a spot on the plaintiff's steering committee. Only those on the committee will travel to Washington to guide negotiations between Volkswagen owners and the German automaker to shape a possible settlement. Volkswagen is facing a large number of civil suits, brought by those who bought and sold the cars. Giffre sympathizes with her anger. He respects their desire for a settlement. But Giffre is an attorney for Volkswagen, and it's his job to protect the automaker from going bankrupt. At the same time, he needs to negotiate a settlement that leaves drivers feeling respected and well compensated. Giffre thinks there is a way for everyone to get what they want here, but a lot of that depends on a single person involved in the case. US district judge Charles R. Breyer. Giffre passes through security and slips quietly into the back of the courtroom, where the gray hair judge Breyer listens patiently as a lawyer makes her case for a spot on the steering committee. Her a lot of two minutes are up quickly. Shortly after, Breyer declares that the lawyer can join the committee as its 22nd and final member. The committee is complete, the remaining applicants can go home. Disappointed attorneys head for the exits quietly grumbling, they've missed out on negotiating what is sure to be a historic settlement. Giffre remains though to hear Breyer's instructions to the committee. The judge explains that he selected the group quickly and he expects them to move quickly to arrive at a settlement with Volkswagen. As Breyer puts it, this is not a who-done-it type of case. It's more of a case of how do we fix what was done. If it can't be fixed, then what is fair and just compensation for the people who've been damaged by this matter? Giffre nods, feeling relieved. Fair and just compensation will work for Volkswagen, and hopefully bring this to a quick conclusion. It's two in the morning on April 20th, 2016, and nearly a full moon hangs over Washington, DC. Robert Giffre has spent the past three months in the capital. He's been leading a small legal team and they've been negotiating with the plaintiff's steering committee, trying to find a settlement over Volkswagen's diesels. Tonight, they're still at it, practically barricaded inside the law offices of Wilmer Hale. The conference room is ranked with body odor in the smell of stale coffee. Giffre can see that every lawyer in the room looks just as bad as he does, haggard and disheveled after a week of 13-hour days. The lawyers from both sides are trying to remain civil, but everyone's on edge. Judge Breyer has given them until tomorrow to arrive at a preliminary settlement. Giffre wills himself to ignore the pressure and stay focused. There are still important details to hammer out if he's going to reach a settlement his bosses will accept. Giffre takes in a long breath and stands and addresses the room. Everyone, I think I see a way to wrap this up. A dozen attorneys swiveled a face him. He's got their attention. We're all in agreement. Volkswagen needs to fix the cars. That goes without saying, but what if Volkswagen doesn't stop there? What if we also help out the government? Will retrofit state-owned buses, trucks, tugboats, you name it. An opposing lawyer shakes her head. How are you going to make that happen, Bob? The logistics are beyond anything you can manage. Giffre swallows hard. He knows what he's just promised will add hundreds of millions of dollars to the settlement, but if Volkswagen wants to salvage its future, it needs to make hard sacrifices. Now, we'll worry about the logistics, right? But with full oversight from all of you, I don't know. I'd need to make some calls. We don't have time for more calls. Breyer wants this tomorrow. Fine. Let's say we go along with what you've outlined so far. What else can you offer? What else? That's not enough? No, it's not enough. Okay. Well, if that's not enough, you tell me. What else? You know what else, Bob. You want buybacks? Okay. Volkswagen will also offer a buybacks to anyone who bought a clean diesel. But in exchange, I want something from you. And what could that be? Let Volkswagen give car owners the option to keep their vehicles. Those who want to do that will upgrade their cars and make them compliant. The lead plaintiff lawyer mulls it over. Giffre extends his hand across the table expectantly. After several seconds, the plaintiff lawyer nods and stands as well in the two shake hands. Giffre can feel the entire room. It's hail. The preliminary deal is done. Two months later, Giffre paces up and down a hallway at the law offices of Wilmer Hale in Washington, DC. Judge Breyer accepted the preliminary agreement back in April, but he also told both teams to get back to the negotiating table. The two sides he said needed to quickly hash out a final settlement. Since then, Giffre and the other lawyers have endured eight weeks of mind numbing mediation. They owe their entire existence to DC's late-night pizza delivery. Tonight, Giffre is on the phone with the government official in Texas trying to get him to agree to the final settlement terms, but it's not easy. The Texan demands assurance, clarification, promises. There are more tainted diesels in Texas than almost any other state the official says. It makes a counter to everyone of Giffre's offers. The conversation goes on for hours until the official says he'll go for the deal. Giffre thanks him profusely and hangs up in relief. He hurries back to the law firm's main conference room and breaks the news to the negotiators. The settlement is complete. He nearly whispers the next three words, stunned by the enormity of the figure. $15 billion dollars. It's largest payout by an automaker in history. Giffre gathers with the other lawyers around the conference room phone. They call Judge Breyer and lay out the terms of the deal. $10 billion dollars will be distributed to the car owners. $3 billion goes to programs to reduce air pollution. $2 billion goes to a program to promote battery-powered vehicles. Judge Breyer says it works for him and offers his congratulations. He'll grant his official approval in court tomorrow. Giffre can't believe he actually pulled it off. Yes, $15 billion dollars is an almost incomprehensible sum, but Volkswagen's top brass agreed it could have been much much worse. So Giffre is pleased. He stopped the bleeding and managed to keep the company alive. His success today gives Volkswagen a fighting chance. Still, he knows this is not the end of the story. The class action settlement may be almost wrapped up, but Giffre is certain more charges will come. And when they do, Volkswagen is going to need every last penny to defend itself. It's July 19, 2016 in Albany, New York. Massachusetts Attorney General Mora Healy is visiting the state capital in town for an important press conference. She stands in the press room flanked by the attorneys general of New York and Maryland. Healy wears a conservative navy blue dress in pearl earrings. She wants everything about her presentation today to be uncomplicated and direct. She looks out at the room, which is buzzing with anticipation. Cameras click rapidly as New York state attorney general gives introductory remarks, then steps aside. Healy takes her place at the podium and speaks directly. She announces that there's been a major development in the Volkswagen case. The not-alloy-did Volkswagen lie when it claimed its diesel engines were clean. Volkswagen is also lying about who is responsible. Therefore, Massachusetts, New York and Maryland are suing the company and its CEO, Mateus Mueller. Healy reminds the audience of the story Volkswagen has been telling. Mueller's claim that a handful of engineers, low on the totem pole, are responsible. He says they independently initiated the emissions cheating scheme. But that's not true, Healy says. The conspiracy ran all the way to the top. Long before Mueller became CEO, he knew that Volkswagen had no intention of meeting US emission standards. Healy sums up the company's crimes for all in attendance. This clean diesel was nothing more than a dirty cover-up. Volkswagen acted as if it was above the law. The journalist Barrage Healy with questions. She answers each one of them in turn and she feels pleased to have made one thing very clear today. With this new civil suit, Volkswagen's troubles are far from over. Soon, there will be criminal charges. Next, on American scandal, Volkswagen faces an aggressive criminal case brought by the US government and soon the arrest begin. From Wondery, this is American scandal. Just a quick note about our re-enactments. We can't always know exactly what was said, but everything in our show is based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited, and executed produced by the Lindsay Graham for airship, sound designed by Derek Barrens. This episode is written by Hannibal Diaz, edited by Christina Malzberger, produced by Gabe Riven. Executive producers are Stephanie Jens, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her non-lopes for Wondery.