Examining News Topics: Michael Cohen, President Trump, Russia Probe David Greene talks to Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent, about developments this week pertaining to the investigations into connections between President Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.
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Examining News Topics: Michael Cohen, President Trump, Russia Probe

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Examining News Topics: Michael Cohen, President Trump, Russia Probe

Examining News Topics: Michael Cohen, President Trump, Russia Probe

Examining News Topics: Michael Cohen, President Trump, Russia Probe

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/686450993/686450994" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

David Greene talks to Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent, about developments this week pertaining to the investigations into connections between President Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen is deciding how much he wants to say in public. He is scheduled to take questions before a House committee next month. The lawyer's lawyer, Lanny Davis, tells MSNBC Cohen is feeling some pressure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LANNY DAVIS: He's considering whether to go forward in light of the concerns about his family. My guess is that he won't let a bully silence him. But I can tell you that he is still considering whether to do this or not.

INSKEEP: As it is, Cohen has said plenty. He confirmed yesterday that he paid a company to try to rig online polls in favor of his client, Donald Trump. Cohen said he did so at Trump's direction. And BuzzFeed reports Cohen has said one thing more to federal investigators. Cohen has admitted lying to Congress about President Trump's business dealings with Russia. And according to Buzzfeed, Cohen asserts that he lied at the president's direction. Adam Schiff, the head of a House committee examining Russia, described that as a crime, saying the president, quote, "may have suborned perjury." We're going to talk about all this with Clint Watts. He's a former FBI special agent who now researches cybersecurity and intelligence. Good morning.

CLINT WATTS: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Is it important that Cohen tell his story in public?

WATTS: I don't know that it is. I think the most important, you know, investigative part of this has probably already happened with Special Counsel Mueller's investigation. And what I worry about in both these hearings at the House and this public debate that we heard - you know, the cable news at night is that it actually undermines people's understanding of what actually will come out, I think, eventually, from Special Counsel Mueller.

INSKEEP: Oh, because there are different lines of questioning. There might be different versions of the truth. And it becomes hard to keep straight what we actually know.

WATTS: That's exactly right. How would we be able to sort that out? - because ultimately, there'll probably only be one reporting round from the Mueller results. And so if you're listening to this over time, it can become very confusing to try and understand.

INSKEEP: Well, let's take it face value this BuzzFeed report - Cohen telling investigators, Donald Trump told me to lie. The president of the United States told me to lie. That is certainly consistent with everything that Cohen has said in public, that he was always acting at the president's direction. How significant is that allegation?

WATTS: I think it's significant because now it involves one branch of government, essentially, undermining another branch of government. This is different from everything we saw up in terms of Russian collusion and election interference and in terms of obstruction. This is a very current sort of thing that just happened recently. So I think it could put the president in a very dangerous position and may change some people's view in Congress of how to handle this, maybe with impeachment. This is - you know, helping someone or encouraging someone to lie to try and avoid the truth with regards to Congress, that could change people's opinion.

INSKEEP: Oh, because it was testimony before Congress that Cohen allegedly says was compromised here. That makes it more significant to you.

WATTS: I think it does because, ultimately, impeachment is a decision that comes out of Congress. And so, you know, up to this point, we've talked about it as if the special counsel produces results, then maybe they turn that over to Congress to pursue impeachment. Well, now this could just, really, be all in Congress's hands in many ways. This would be a lie that was essentially issued to Congress. This, you know, almost sets aside the special counsel investigation.

INSKEEP: I want to note a couple of things that have been said by Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, as regards to Michael Cohen's latest alleged charges. Giuliani simply notes that Cohen is a liar. And he is an admitted liar. That is certainly true. Giuliani also made a statement the other day to CNN's Chris Cuomo about the president's collusion - alleged collusion with Russia. The president has always denied collusion, but Giuliani put some qualifications on that. Let's listen.

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RUDY GIULIANI: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign.

CHRIS CUOMO: Yes, you have.

GIULIANI: I have no idea if - I have not. I said...

CUOMO: You...

GIULIANI: ...The president of the United States - there is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here - conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.

INSKEEP: OK. I never said there was no collusion - so no longer denying that somebody on the campaign was talking with the Russians.

WATTS: Yes, it seems like a slow pivot, meaning that there was one version of this story from Rudy Giuliani before. And it's suddenly changing or being qualified to where you're not really sure what he's saying. And this has been part of the public trial, essentially, that Giuliani's been waging against the special counsel investigation. So I think what's concerning is he either doesn't know or he does know, and he's concerned that the results of the special counsel investigation will continue to come out. And it will really change the American perception of what was going on in the Trump campaign with Russia.

INSKEEP: So we hear Giuliani - the lawyer's anxiety in the changing story there. Mr. Watts, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

WATTS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Former FBI special agent Clint Watts researches cybersecurity at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

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