SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Federal prosecutors say the president of the United States ordered his personal attorney to commit crimes. Documents in the case of Michael Cohen were filed last night in a New York federal court. Then, the special counsel revealed more about the president's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here. Carrie, thanks so much for being with us.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Happy to be here.
SIMON: Let's begin with Michael Cohen. Two new documents from the government describe what they say Michael Cohen did. You've been over them. What have we learned?
JOHNSON: Yeah. Federal prosecutors in New York say Michael Cohen deserves a substantial prison sentence. They laid out a lot of bad conduct. They say that Michael Cohen acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1, who happens to be the president of the United States, in a campaign finance probe of hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, two women who alleged they had personal relationships with Donald Trump. Those payments were supposed to keep all of those issues out of the 2016 campaign.
Prosecutors also say that Michael Cohen consulted with Donald Trump in 2015 and 2016 about the potential for meetings with Moscow - part of a highly lucrative Trump Tower Moscow project that never came to fruition. But if it had, authorities say the Trump Organization stood to gain hundreds of millions of dollars. Michael Cohen would've profited, too.
Another new detail, Scott, is that Michael Cohen was contacted by a Russian back in 2015 about a proposal for an amazing political synergy with the Trump Organization. None of this could've happened without the approval of the Russian government. And those talks between the Russians and Michael Cohen continued into 2016 during the campaign.
We also found out yesterday, from the special counsel Robert Mueller, that Michael Cohen's been cooperating with them, met with them seven times and has provided some really useful information on matters core to their investigation that Michael Cohen got through contact with company executives at the Trump Organization during the campaign.
Michael Cohen also talked with the special counsel about his contacts with people in the White House in 2017 and 2018. And he also, once Congress started knocking on his door, was coordinating his responses with other people close to the administration. This is big, Scott, because Cohen has offered new details on Russian contacts and also possible obstruction.
SIMON: And yet, last night, the president said on Twitter, totally clears the president. Thank you, exclamation point.
SIMON: How does he see it that way?
JOHNSON: You know, the president has, once again, tweeted this morning that there's no collusion. It is important to know these are allegations. Judges have not accepted them as of yet.
With respect to these campaign finance allegations, these things are tough to prove. You've got to prove Donald Trump, if he did something wrong here, did it knowingly and willfully. We don't know that Trump had that intent, at least not yet. And the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, points out that Michael Cohen is a liar and is no hero, according to prosecutors.
SIMON: Manafort - what have we learned there?
JOHNSON: Yeah. Paul Manafort met with prosecutors 12 times and testified twice before a grand jury before his plea deal blew up. Authorities say he lied about a lot of things, including his contacts with one of his associates, who they say has ties to Russian intelligence. He also lied about his contacts with people in the Trump administration in 2018.
The thinking here, Scott, is that Paul Manafort has been angling for a pardon, and he may have been angling for one up until May of 2018, which has some implications for people in the White House with whom he was speaking. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.