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Week In Politics

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Stay tuned for more. For now, let's try as best we can to try and make sense of all the woulds and the would-nots with Margaret Talev, senior White House correspondent at Bloomberg. She joins us now. Margaret, thanks so much for being with us.

MARGARET TALEV: Good morning, Scott. How's your whiplash?

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: All right. Well, you know - which raises my first question because we usually try and get out of the bubble, but this is a great week to ask you what was it like inside the bubble with the president calling Europe...

TALEV: Right.

SIMON: ...Go ahead, please.

TALEV: Yeah, my goodness. I mean, we were - because I'm in wire (ph) service, we were in the pool for the entire time that we were in Helsinki. And so, of course, I was in the pool van with my colleagues from the AP and Reuters trying to prepare questions should we get one of the two questions, much less two of the two questions. And, of course, there was an opportunity to ask questions both of President Trump and President Putin - what an extraordinary opportunity. We never imagined the answer that was delivered and the fallout that came afterwards. And what has ensued in the days has been an absolutely dizzying, dizzying turn of events.

As a journalist, you had that moment where you're like a dog with a shiny object. You think, oh, my goodness. Major news has just broken. But when you take a step back, there was also the recognition that what the president was saying side by side with Vladimir Putin could have profound implications, not just on U.S. intelligence agencies, U.S. relations with NATO allies but on - just imagine. Close your eyes for a minute and imagine Montenegro, eastern Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, you know, the Balkans. I mean, what was the signal that was sending and what would Putin's next move be? It was extraordinary.

SIMON: Let me get you to follow up on that because the president - whatever statements have followed seemed to really put a thumb in the eye of his director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, didn't he?

TALEV: He sure did. And what we've seen, you know, in the ensuing days is Coats seeming to send a very clear signal that he really doesn't care. He's going to say what he believes and let the chips fall where they may, and then the president doing what he often does when somebody pushes back on him, which is kind of to back down. We've heard the president in the last day or so say Dan Coats is a great guy. You know, I - I'm with him. If this is what he believes, then this is what he believes. But it's an extraordinary moment again. And the idea underlying all of this, which was that President Trump had been back at that point for 2 1/2, three days and his director of intelligence still didn't know what the president and the Russian leader had said in their one-on-one meeting to each other.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a story that's been breaking over the past 18 hours. Michael Cohen - I think we can fairly call him President Trump's fixer - when he was in New York apparently has some kinds of recordings of himself in conversation with then-candidate Trump discussing payments intended to keep Karen McDougal quiet about an affair she said she had with Mr. Trump over a year. Maybe not a lot of international relations implications, but are - there are legal and political implications, aren't there?

TALEV: Well, there certainly are because this goes to the heart of Robert Mueller's investigation, even though Mueller had referred most of the lead role in investigating Cohen, you know, to prosecutors in New York. This all ties back to sort of two central questions, which is, No. 1, is President Trump himself in any sort of trouble or jeopardy on a campaign finance, you know, basis and, two, these larger questions not only of trust, not only of whether the president's sort of, you know, dismissal of any accusations related to women ahead of the campaign are true, but more to the point, what did they seize from Michael Cohen's office? How many tapes are there? What questions do they go to beyond whether the president had relationships with some of these women? Does Michael Cohen have tapes or paperwork or information related to Russia and Russian ties that the prosecutors are now looking at and the investigators are now looking at?

SIMON: I have to ask, Margaret - because you are also on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association - a moment this week when Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, declined to answer a follow-up question from NBC's Hallie Jackson, called on Jordan Fabian, a reporter from The Hill. He said, go ahead, Hallie. Has it reached a point where White House reporters should stand together and refuse to go along with the way the White House conducts briefings?

TALEV: I have long encouraged both on the board - I just finished my term this week - and just individually as a reporter have long encouraged reporters to take care of each other in the briefing room. I think we did this at times during the Obama administration when there were reporters whose desire for questions was getting skipped over. And it's an option we have now. We can all be good neighbors to each other, and we can all help each other to be allies in our shared mission, which is to help provide information to the American public on burning questions of the day.

SIMON: Margaret Talev, who covers the White House for Bloomberg, thanks very much. I hope you get some time to rest up this weekend.

TALEV: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.