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Morning News Brief: Rudy Giuliani, Gina Haspel

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Rudolph Giuliani, friend of President Trump, former U.S. attorney, former mayor of New York City and now a member of the president's legal team has been talking a lot.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Right, this started with an appearance on Fox News Wednesday when Giuliani disclosed that the president had reimbursed his fixer Michael Cohen for hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. The White House has spent the following days defending, responding to and revising statements made by Giuliani. And the former New York City mayor has continued giving interviews that raise even more questions, including this with George Stephanopoulos on ABC yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Did Michael Cohen make payments to other women for the president?

RUDOLPH GIULIANI: I have no knowledge of that, but I would think, if it was necessary, yes.

MARTIN: Here's the president on Friday responding to reporters' questions about Giuliani's earlier comments.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Virtually everything said has been said incorrectly, and it's been said wrong or it's been covered wrong by the press.

INSKEEP: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson has been following this story, and she's on the line.

Mara, good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So I'm trying to think about this from Giuliani's perspective, and I guess if you're a lawyer and also somebody with a political background and you think your president has some issues, one thing to do is just try to disclose everything. Is he possibly just doing that?

LIASSON: Sure. I think that's right. But as the president said, also, Rudy doesn't have his facts straight. And the problem is is that every time Rudy Giuliani has tried to get the president out of legal jeopardy for one issue, he's opened up a potential path for legal jeopardy in something else. And it's ended up with a very muddled message. It's possible that Rudy is just rusty. He hasn't actually acted as a lawyer in a while. And Rudy Giuliani and the president are pretty much doing this by themselves. They've really blindsided the rest of the White House staff and lawyers. And maybe, in this case, the president is not his own best communications director.

INSKEEP: Although, let's remember, chaos, mixed signals, contradictions, false statements have not necessarily hurt the president with his supporters in the past. But this time, we've got Laura Ingraham of Fox News or The Wall Street Journal editorial board all saying that they're a little disappointed here.

LIASSON: That's right. That's what's been so interesting about this whole episode. Instead of everyone going to their corners with Trump supporters defending him and his critics attacking him, everybody is saying Trump needs to get his story straight; he needs to be more credible. And this is - today is the fifth day of a mess entirely of Trump's own making.

INSKEEP: Do you feel you understand what the president's legal strategy is now?

LIASSON: Well, that was what was interesting. I think that Rudy Giuliani did tell us that it sounds like the president has decided to fight Mueller instead of cooperating with him. Here's what Giuliani said yesterday to George Stephanopoulos on ABC.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you confident the president will not take the Fifth in this case?

GIULIANI: Oh, how can I ever be confident of that when I'm facing a situation with the president - and all the other lawyers are - in which every lawyer in America thinks he'd be a fool to testify?

LIASSON: So it sounds like the president and his newly more-aggressive legal team have decided that taking the Fifth or fighting the subpoena to the Supreme Court or even being in contempt would be less risky, less of a political price to pay than the potential legal risk of sitting down and cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller and talking to him.

INSKEEP: Although, let's note the rest of that statement. Every lawyer in America thinks that he would be a fool to testify, says Rudy Giuliani. But he goes on to add, I have a client who wants to testify. The president wants to testify, he says.

LIASSON: He actually doesn't want to testify. He wants to show that he's not afraid of testifying. And he wants to - you know, his usual bravado - he wants - he says he wants to testify, but he also always says, but it depends on what my lawyers tell me to do.

INSKEEP: Ah, I see. Thanks for the distinction. NPR's Mara Liasson, really appreciate it.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: All right, President Trump's nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency faces a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, and it is not expected to be gentle.

MARTIN: Gina Haspel is the agency's current deputy director. She's a 33-year veteran of the CIA. According to The Washington Post, Gina Haspel offered to withdraw her name on Friday. She's concerned that the work that she has done in the past for the agency and her own reputation and the agency writ large would be unfairly attacked over the course of her confirmation hearings. She is quoted by The Post's sources as saying she doesn't want to become the, quote, "next Ronny Jackson" - of course referring there to the former White House doctor who was up for secretary of veterans affairs. Then according to The Post, top White House officials hurried over to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and eventually succeeded in convincing Gina Haspel not to withdraw.

INSKEEP: So the hearing goes forward for now, so as far as we know. NPR National security correspondent Greg Myre has been covering this story.

Hey there, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what are the problems that Haspel faces when it comes to getting past this committee, getting through the Senate?

MYRE: Well, she is going to need some Democratic votes. This is going to be a very unusual hearing. Almost anytime you have a person at this level going for Senate confirmation, they have a long record, a long history. Gina Haspel has none of that because she was undercover for 32 of her 33 years at the CIA. We don't know how she's going to come across and how much of this - her classified past - will come out during the hearing.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And what is known is not very flattering or at least takes some explaining. Let's talk about that a little bit. She was the leader at a secret CIA facility in Thailand, and there at that location, waterboarding took place. Later, she was involved in some way in destroying videotapes that showed that waterboarding. Does she have an explanation for all of this?

MYRE: Well, we'll see. So we don't know for sure, but I think the people at the agency will say things like, they were asked to do this; this was not part of the usual CIA activities; they did it; they were given a legal opinion that this was legal at the time. Obviously, it sparked a big controversy. It's illegal, and the CIA says, we're out of the interrogation business. So I think she'll say it was something we were asked to do; we did; we don't do it anymore.

INSKEEP: Can she also say, I was in the vicinity of this misbehavior, but it wasn't actually me? I may have signed a paper. I may have been around, but it wasn't actually me giving the orders.

MYRE: We don't know the details. And because it's classified, we - there's a little bit of some fuzziness there. She was at this black site prison where al-Qaida detainees were waterboarded.

INSKEEP: Any idea how she's likely to do in public before TV lights?

MYRE: We found one clip of her talking a year ago, and she's a very poised, professional person. But we just haven't heard her voice. We haven't heard her answer tough questions. Professionals who - in the intelligence community love her and are a big supporter.

INSKEEP: Going to be an interesting week. We'll be listening for your reporting, Greg. Thanks very much.

MYRE: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Greg Myre.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: All right. At the end of this week, President Trump has to decide, does he extend Iran's relief from U.S. economic sanctions, relief that is part of a deal limiting Iran's nuclear arsenal?

MARTIN: Yeah, for the past few weeks, we've seen leaders around the world try to lobby the president on the deal, and those efforts continue as this deadline approaches. Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, gave a televised address saying the U.S. would face, quote, "historic regret" if it withdraws from the deal. British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson is due in Washington this week to try to convince Vice President Mike Pence and national security adviser John Bolton that the U.S. should stay in this agreement. NPR's Peter Kenyon is going to be on the line from Istanbul now to answer some questions.

INSKEEP: Hey there, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: So Boris Johnson's visit raises a question. What could he possibly say to the president that Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel have not said?

KENYON: Well, that is a big question - what would it take to get President Trump to change his mind? And that really isn't clear - I mean, except for the fact that he's made no secret about what he wants. He wants to get rid of the time limits in this deal. He wants to reach a deal that would limit missiles in Iran, curtail its regional influence. And the Europeans really don't see a way forward on that right now, although in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Boris Johnson says there are talks going on; we're trying to find a common approach on Iran. But we haven't heard any announcement of a breakthrough on that, and the time is ticking.

INSKEEP: OK. So The New Yorker and before that, I believe, The Guardian have reported on the campaign to undermine this deal - and specifically, to undermine people who were involved in putting together the deal, people who worked for the Obama administration on this deal or journalists who covered it. What was going on?

MYRE: Well, two publications, The Observer, which is connected to The Guardian...

INSKEEP: Gotcha.

MYRE: They're in London - and The New Yorker magazine - they're both reporting that an Israeli private intelligence firm known as Black Cube was engaged in effort to discredit some of the supporters of the nuclear agreement, some of its proponents. The Observer's account links aides to Donald Trump to that effort. Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told The Guardian that these allegations are extraordinary and appalling and smack of desperation on the part of the deal's opponents. It didn't succeed, obviously, this campaign. And we should say, NPR hasn't independently confirmed the allegations.

INSKEEP: So much to discuss there, but one other question, Peter - there's this deadline. It's May 12. President Trump decides, does he extend the sanctions relief or let the sanctions snap back into place? If he lets the sanctions go back, does that mean the deal is dead?

KENYON: Well, not necessarily. It doesn't have to fall apart. And some argue, since it's Europe, Russia and China who do the most business with Iran anyway, they might just carry on doing so. There is this risk of secondary sanctions targeting the Europeans, of course. And there's a lot of other uncertainties. And certainly, this is not going to bring Iran back to the table for more talks. It might get them to kick out inspectors and restart their nuclear program.

INSKEEP: Oh, which is a good reminder that part of this deal is permanent inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities. That was one of the things that the proponents of the deal have promoted the most.

KENYON: That's right.

INSKEEP: OK. Peter, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

KENYON: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEV'S "SLOWMOTION FALLING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.