Mueller Probe Update
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The president's lawyer, a former U.S. attorney and mayor of New York, says the president repaid hush money to keep Stormy Daniels from talking. President says his lawyer just didn't know what he's talking about. Lots of head-spinning news this week. We're joined by Carol Leonnig, political investigations reporter for The Washington Post. She's been covering the special counsel's investigation for the past year. Carol, thanks so much for being with us.
CAROL LEONNIG: Glad to be here, Scott.
SIMON: And let's have a clip from President Trump addressing the National Rifle Association convention on Friday. Once again, he called the investigation a witch hunt.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me tell you, folks - we're all fighting battles. But I love fighting these battles.
SIMON: So I don't know where to begin. What was there to fight about this week?
LEONNIG: There was a lot of slugging. Let's see. The week started with news that there were a specific set of questions that the Trump lawyers were preparing for. Then there was the threat that Bob Mueller gave to Trump's lawyers that he might subpoena the president for testimony if he didn't voluntarily agree to be interviewed. Then there was Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer representing the president but more importantly, the White House - resigned and was replaced by Emmet Flood. Then there was Rudy Giuliani going on TV without the president really knowing that he was going to do it and explaining that the president had actually repaid Michael Cohen when he paid a porn star to keep quiet about an alleged affair.
SIMON: Let me follow up on a couple of things there, OK?
LEONNIG: (Laughter) Too long a list?
SIMON: Well, you know, let's dive into it for a couple of follow-ups if we can. The president referred to the possibility of him meeting with the special counsel as a setup and trap. Does your paper's reporting suggest that Mr. Mueller needs information for the president or wants confirmation of information they believe they already have?
LEONNIG: I am - our reporting indicates that the special counsel and his team already has a wealth of information about the president's actions, his step - the steps that he took - and what people who were next to his ear and listening to him in real time heard him say when he was taking specific steps which are under scrutiny. Remember, Bob Mueller is investigating whether or not the president obstructed justice by seeking to thwart this criminal probe. And what Mueller really is seeking, as every prosecutor is, is the words of the actual person. What was your motivation? What was your intent? What were you thinking when you fired Jim Comey? What was your real reason? And surely, the president could misspeak or misstate or not tell the truth. And that could be more criminal or legal jeopardy.
SIMON: Yeah, it could be perjury. Let me ask about about Mayor Giuliani - joined the president's team this week. Rudolph Giuliani was a famously effective U.S. attorney in Manhattan years ago. He got the goods on the five mob families Ivan Boesky, Michael Milken. A respected, if not beloved mayor of New York the days following 9/11. Did he really step in it this week?
LEONNIG: I think he spoke colloquially and imprecisely. And, you know, he is America's mayor. I mean, a lot of people, including the president, have a great deal of respect for him and rightly so. And he, to be honest, has been very candid about what he thinks happened. But when you're the lawyer for the president, there is something else required, which is more precision. And in this case, you know, there are a lot of people who believe that Rudy Giuliani may have also created jeopardy by waiving an attorney-client privilege, talking about what the president said to him. When you do that, you're basically saying, you know, these private conversations aren't so private.
SIMON: And, Carol, finally, how significant is the criticism a federal judge delivered on Friday against the special counsel where he thought the special counsel had overstepped his powers by bringing a case against Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign manager?
LEONNIG: I think this is a fascinating episode because now all of America is getting, basically, a law school degree through this experience, right? And you're all learning that judges ask a lot of mean-sounding questions to get answers. And sometimes, they're, like, just curious like the rest of us. And sometimes, they're just being - they're batting someone around because they want a more fulsome answer. In this case, he basically said exactly what all of America is wondering. Are you just trying to get information from Paul Manafort so you can impeach the president? And it's a decent question.
SIMON: Carol Leonnig of The Washington Post, thanks so much.
LEONNIG: Of course. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.