How Much Did Michael Cohen's Testimony Hurt President Trump? Democrats have promised to go after the president. Steve Inskeep talks to Republican strategist Scott Jennings about how testimony by Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen might impact the president.
NPR logo

How Much Did Michael Cohen's Testimony Hurt President Trump?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/699948809/699948810" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
How Much Did Michael Cohen's Testimony Hurt President Trump?

How Much Did Michael Cohen's Testimony Hurt President Trump?

How Much Did Michael Cohen's Testimony Hurt President Trump?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/699948809/699948810" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Democrats have promised to go after the president. Steve Inskeep talks to Republican strategist Scott Jennings about how testimony by Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen might impact the president.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The leader of a powerful House committee says more than 60 people around the president can expect a request for information. Jerrold Nadler says he wants documents from them all. In part, he is following up on last week's testimony by President Trump's former lawyer. Michael Cohen spoke of a president who paid hush money and understated his wealth to get out of paying taxes. Afterward, Nadler spoke to ABC's "This Week."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

JERROLD NADLER: What we learned from the Cohen testimony was that he directly implicated the president in various crimes, both while seeking the office of president and while in the White House. Impeachment is a long way down the road. We don't have the facts yet, but we are going to initiate proper investigations.

INSKEEP: A lengthy process has begun alongside the quieter probe led by a special counsel. Robert Mueller has, so far, delivered indictments of 37 people and companies, many of whom have pleaded guilty. Mueller is a Republican, once appointed FBI director by a Republican president and later appointed special counsel by the current Republican administration. President Trump, under increasing pressure, described Mueller differently during a more than two-hour speech over the weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Robert Mueller put 13 of the angriest Democrats in the history of our country on the commission.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: Now, how do you do that? These are angry, angry people. You take a look at them.

INSKEEP: Republican strategist Scott Jennings is with us next. He served as an assistant to President George W. Bush and is on the line from Louisville, Ky.

Mr. Jennings, welcome back to the program.

SCOTT JENNINGS: Hey. Thanks for having me. Good morning.

INSKEEP: The president sounds himself kind of angry.

JENNINGS: Sure. Well, I mean, his whole administration has been under a cloud of investigation since he took office. And he feels like it's held him back in certain regards. So I think he's going to continue to be angry until this resolves itself one way or another.

INSKEEP: How much trouble is he in after Michael Cohen's testimony and the investigations that now seem to be spiraling out from that?

JENNINGS: Well, I don't think we learned anything new from Michael Cohen. And I think the entire committee was made up of a bunch of unreliable narrators. I don't particularly think the members of the committee are reliable. They all have partisan axes to grind, and I think Cohen's credibility is called into question. And my view is we should wait for Robert Mueller. He's heard Cohen's story, and he's the only one in a good position and a credible position to tell us whether any of it is true and whether any of it matters.

INSKEEP: I think it's totally fair to say that a lot of what Cohen said had been reported before and of course totally fair to say that Cohen is a liar. He's admitted to lying himself. But he said in his testimony, don't believe me; believe the documents. He brought some documents, and that does raise some political questions. Do you think it is going to be OK with Republican voters if the president of the United States is found to have paid off a porn star, is found to have cheated on his taxes, is found to have done a lot of things that could be construed as crimes?

JENNINGS: Well, Republican voters already know about Stormy Daniels. It's very clear what happened. And if you look at the latest polling, for instance this weekend from The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, near 90 percent of Republican voters are sticking with the president. His job approval was up a couple of ticks. I don't think Cohen raised any issues in that hearing that would shake Republicans at this point.

INSKEEP: Do you think it is OK with Republican voters if the president, as reported by The New York Times, got his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a security clearance over the objections of his own top advisers and intelligence agencies?

JENNINGS: Republicans are not going to care about that. They think the president - and by the way, I believe he does as well - has the absolute right as commander in chief to issue security clearances. I have no doubt the Democrats are going to investigate this. There's longstanding Department of Justice opinion and policy, reaffirmed most recently in 2014 under Obama, that assistants to the president are immune from the congressional testimony process. So I don't think we're ever going to see Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump or other high-ranking White House officials at the witness chair. And I don't think Republican voters are going to think too much of Democrats attacking the president over this issue.

INSKEEP: But I do want to ask - I mean, OK. The president has the absolute right to do that. The president has the absolute right to order a nuclear war. People would still find it to be wrong. Republican voters spent two years being whipped into a frenzy about Hillary Clinton's emails and the alleged abuse of classified information. You feel Republican voters literally do not care about this issue. It does not matter what the president does; they do not care about classified information at all.

JENNINGS: No, I don't think Republican voters are going to care about Jared Kushner's security clearance. I don't think, first of all, it's been proven or alleged that he's done anything improper with classified information. So until someone brings forward some information that says by the president making this decision, our national security has literally been put at risk, I don't think Republican voters are going to care all that much about it, honestly.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Scott Jennings - looks like the Senate now has the votes to try to stop President Trump from his national emergency. The House, of course, is on record opposed to this national emergency. The Senate may have enough votes, which would cause the president to either accept that or veto it. If Republicans are against Republicans on that issue, where do you think Republican voters come down?

JENNINGS: Well, I think Republican voters largely trust the president more than they trust the Republicans in Congress to solve the nation's problems. I think Republican voters do believe we have a crisis at the border. So I suspect they're going to side with the president. This whole thing's headed for the courts. They have a simple majority to disapprove of what the president did, but they don't have enough to override his veto. So this is headed for the court system, which, frankly, politically, it may work out best for the president for him to be able to go against the federal court system if it reigns him in.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks so much - really appreciate your insights.

JENNINGS: Yes, sir. Good morning. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Scott Jennings, Republican analyst and former assistant to President George W. Bush.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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.