Rep. Chris Stewart, Of The House Intelligence Committee, Discusses Manafort Verdict
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
All right, here to reflect more on today's legal developments for two close associates of President Trump is Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee, and he joins us now. Congressman, welcome.
CHRIS STEWART: Good evening.
CHANG: So let's start with Paul Manafort's case. What did you make of the mixed verdict in that case?
STEWART: You know, I don't know that there was a lot of surprise there. I think - and I'm not an attorney, and so - understanding that. But I don't know that everyone fully expected to have convictions on all 18 counts. But I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming that this is a guy who broke the law. He did so willingly. He did so over a long period of time. And I'm not surprised that the jury came back with at least some of the convictions that they did do.
CHANG: Well, the fact that it was a mixed verdict - I mean, Manafort's trial is the first trial in this ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election. When you see a mixed verdict like this, I mean, what do you think the implications might be for Mueller's investigation going forward?
STEWART: Well, I'm not sure that we can read anything into it either one way or another. In fact, I think maybe if we're going to try and read something into this process, it's not necessarily the convictions. Although had there been, you know, 18 innocent charges, that obviously would have been dramatic and very, very different. But to have a mix like this where, yeah, he's guilty here; we're not sure on here; we're hung jury here - but I think some of the more meaningful things that we may - I think - I don't want to say assume but maybe guess or at least use our best educated guess and logic on this - and a couple things.
One is, none of these at all had any relation at all to President Trump nor to the original source and reason for the investigation. Of course that's looking at Russia collusion or Russian interference with the election. But the second thing is it would appear to me that Mr. Manafort had no information regarding that. He's always claimed that, but if he did and if he were willing to share that with Mr. Mueller, I'm certain he would have done that prior to the trial. I mean, that's not something you share after you've been found guilty or during sentencing. For one thing, federal sentencing guidelines allow very little leeway.
STEWART: That would clearly be something that he would share before. And so I think we can assume that he doesn't have any information that's going to cast much light on the original charges, original direction of the - of Mr. - again, Mr. Mueller's investigation.
CHANG: Well, that's still left to unfold. But I want to turn quickly now to Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to eight counts today, including bank fraud, tax evasion. He also admitted to making excessive campaign contributions during the 2016 campaign. And he implicated President Trump when he made those admissions. He said that a federal candidate at the time directed him to make those payments to keep two women silent before the election. If all this is true, how concerned are you about the position this may place the president in?
STEWART: Well, it certainly doesn't help the president. And even if he's not in legal jeopardy - and I don't know whether he is or not. But even if he's not in, you know, very technical legal jeopardy, it's - it doesn't help the public perception. There's no doubt about that. Now, Mr. Cohen has not been consistent in his - in some of the things that he's said publicly and some of his testimony. I think Mr. Burr and members of the Senate Intel Committee indicated today that he had given them testimony that was different than apparently what is revealed in this - in the prosecutorial case here. But...
CHANG: But if I may just cut in, I mean, there's some talk now about maybe Congress would bring impeachment proceedings if there were efforts to hide these payments. Do you think that that would amount to high crimes and misdemeanors, possible grounds for impeachment?
STEWART: I think it's way too early to really come to that conclusion. And frankly, you know, I'm not saying it couldn't. We just don't know yet. But I think it's very premature to be saying that, you know, this would reach that level.
STEWART: And by the way, in essence, you know, federal...
CHANG: We're going to have to leave it there.
CHANG: Thank you very much. Republic Congressman...
STEWART: Thanks much.
CHANG: ...Chris Stewart of Utah.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.