Morning News Brief: Michael Cohen Releases Trump Tape

Jul 25, 2018
Originally published on July 25, 2018 6:36 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We have known since late last week that there are tapes of Michael Cohen talking with his then-client Donald Trump, and now we can hear that audio.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That's right. CNN released parts of it last night. This recording is of a meeting between Cohen and Trump that took place two months before the 2016 election. In it, the two men appear to be discussing payments to a news organization to suppress a story about a model who alleges that she had an affair with Trump. Cohen is facing legal pressure himself, and his lawyer gave the tape to CNN. But President Trump's current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has taken issue with how the tape is being interpreted.

MARTIN: OK. Let's sort all this out with Robert Costa of The Washington Post. He has listened through the tape, and he joins us now from New York. Robert, thanks for being here.

ROBERT COSTA: Great to be with you.

MARTIN: Let's start off by playing two quick excerpts from the tape, which is a little bit hard to understand. But let's go for this. First, we're going to listen to Michael Cohen talking with Donald Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL COHEN: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all of that info regarding our friend David.

COHEN: And then moments later, much less audibly even, Trump responds. And then we hear Cohen again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So what are we going to...

COHEN: Funding - yes. And it's all the stuff, all the stuff because...

MARTIN: All the stuff. All the stuff. Robert, what are they saying? What's the gist? And why does it matter?

COSTA: In brief, it shows that President Trump as a candidate was aware of his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, making some sort of effort to make a payment to Karen McDougal, the model that you mentioned. And this awareness is something that President Trump has long denied. And this is part of the ongoing effort by Michael Cohen to show that he could cooperate with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, should he be charged in the future.

MARTIN: And when Michael Cohen makes reference to our friend David, he's talking about an executive with the National Enquirer or the parent company of the National Enquirer, right?

COSTA: It's not entirely clear by the transcript, but based on our reporting at The Washington Post and others, he's referencing David Pecker, who is running the tabloid - the National Enquirer - through an American media company. And he worked closely with Michael Cohn and Trump over the years to have exposure in the tabloids.

MARTIN: So now Rudy Giuliani, though, is making a different argument. He says the tape is somehow exculpatory. It shows that this is the first time that Donald Trump is hearing about this possible deal to buy McDougal off. Is that your understanding of the tape? Is that how you hear it?

COSTA: We're right now in the middle of a legal war between Michael Cohen and President Trump's legal team. I experienced it firsthand this week and last night when this tape came out on CNN, I talked to Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, who said the president was actually just informed by Cohen about Karen McDougal and that perhaps potential payoff by that conversation. At the same time, Michael Cohen and his adviser and lawyer, Lanny Davis, are saying, you know what, the president knew everything, and we've got to prove it with this tape.

MARTIN: Is - just to be clear - is the Trump campaign now acknowledging the affair and the payoff?

COSTA: Not exactly. They try to dance around the affair. Giuliani is saying the president is being made aware of something, but he wasn't aware of it in the past.

MARTIN: All right. To be continued, for sure. Robert Costa of The Washington Post for us this morning trying to unpack these tapes. Thanks so much for your time this morning, we appreciate it.

COSTA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. What exactly did President Trump communicate to Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un in the summits that he held with those leaders?

KING: It is a big question because those were closed-door meetings. And the president has not been clear about what he said in those meetings. Congress wants to know, so Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is going to go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today to try to shed some light on what, if any, deals or promises the president made.

MARTIN: NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe joins us now. Hey, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: One of the things that's really surprising here is that so many people have been left in the dark about what happened in those one-on-one meetings. Secretary Pompeo tried to calm some nerves yesterday about the summit with Vladimir Putin. Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE POMPEO: The press has been clear about some of the things that were agreed to. There were many things that came from what I view as an incredibly important meeting between President Trump and President Putin.

MARTIN: But even Mike Pompeo wasn't in the room for the one-on-one. Is it clear that the secretary of state is going to have all the answers that the senators are going to be looking for today?

RASCOE: Pompeo says he's talked with Trump about what he discussed with Putin. The White House has not given a detailed readout. They've just kind of listed some broad topics of discussion. So Pompeo is almost certainly going to be pressed to give more information about exactly what happened. The committee is also going to be asking about that big summit that happened just last month with North Korea's Kim Jong Un. The - what progress is being made towards denuclearization? Pompeo has been to North Korea to begin finalizing details of how that agreement that Kim reached with Trump will be implemented.

MARTIN: I mean, this is not just pro forma Democrats getting in line criticizing the president about this. Many Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee are miffed that there hasn't been more transparency over this.

RASCOE: Yes. They - and they have raised concerns. There's still just so many questions from Republicans and Democrats about exactly what Trump might have agreed to when he met with Putin alone. The chairman of this committee, Republican Senator Bob Corker, when he talked about Trump's news conference with Putin, he said it made the U.S. look like a pushover. And since Trump has been back in the States, he's given mixed signals about exactly what he believes when it comes to Russia's involvement in the 2016 election.

So that will almost certainly come up in this hearing. And Pompeo's also likely to talk about the administration's approach to Iran. Before Trump sent that warning tweet to Iran in all caps, Pompeo had given this speech accusing the Iranian government of being corrupt. And in that speech, he said that the U.S. stands with the people of Iran.

MARTIN: Right. One more big White House story to get to today before I let you go. The president of the EU, Jean-Claude Juncker, is going to be at the White House today. He's going to talk face-to-face with President Trump trying to avert a trade war between the U.S. and Europe, although the president decided to just kick things off early with a tweet last night, right?

RASCOE: Yes. He tweeted yesterday that - why doesn't the U.S. and EU just drop all the tariffs and barriers and subsidies? And he said he doesn't think the EU will do it. But that's a very big ask. It would be very complicated. An EU official said on Tuesday they aren't expecting any big breakthroughs from this one meeting, but they're just trying to get clarity on exactly what Trump wants from the EU. They say they haven't been able to get a straight answer.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. Whether with Europe or others, disputes over trade create losers and winners.

KING: Yes. And at the moment, American farmers are feeling the hurt. Prices for their crops are dropping because of these trade disputes started by the Trump administration. So the administration said yesterday that it will offer aid, up to $12 billion to help farmers. But even some farm state Republican lawmakers are criticizing the package.

MARTIN: Bloomberg's Alan Bjerga joins us now in the studio to talk about this. Alan, thanks for coming in.

ALAN BJERGA: Good morning.

MARTIN: All right. So President Trump said yesterday - yes, I understand farmers are feeling the pain from this, but be patient because eventually my trade policies are going to benefit you. Are they buying that, these farmers?

BJERGA: Well, farmers have historically been beneficiaries of trade. They're one of the few sectors that have a trade surplus, projected $21 billion this year. They kind of like things as is. And this has very much been roiling their economic finances. So as you go into this key political constituency for the president, you see a lot of skepticism of the trade war. But they supported him, so they're giving him the benefit of the doubt. The fact that the president is counseling so much patience right now means the White House thinks that politically this could be a block in jeopardy, and they're trying to show them that, indeed, they do care.

MARTIN: Although $12 billion to help ease the pain, this does not - this is a big old subsidy. This does not really feel like a free trader kind of solution to this problem.

BJERGA: And I think that's part of why you're seeing such strong opposition from Republicans in the U.S. Senate because at some point, the cognitive dissonance becomes just too much. You have folks who were elected saying that they were going to wean farmers off of the government, that they were going to protect, you know, their interests in terms of expanding trade. Now, they're being asked to accept an expansion of farm subsidies to support a protectionist trade policy. It doesn't add up for these Republicans who were elected on a certain set of platforms to now be standing for something that really is 180 degrees opposite.

MARTIN: So is this going to happen? I mean, is this $12 billion actually going to go into the pockets of farmers?

BJERGA: Most likely, it is going to happen. The USDA has the authority under a Depression-era program to allocate this money in an emergency. It's been done before. President Obama allocated about $170 million during a drought in 2012. But this is such a large expansion of that authority. You're going to have to wait for the harvest to come in. You're going to have to see just how much conflict has been inflicted upon the farmers through this trade war. And then you're going to have to start putting out the checks.

So there's a long process here. You're not going to see it really designed until probably after Labor Day. But, indeed, this should reach the pockets of farmers. Of course, if this extends for a longer period of time, do you keep giving more money?

MARTIN: Right.

BJERGA: That's the big question going ahead.

MARTIN: It's not necessarily a sustainable solution. All right. Alan Bjerga from Bloomberg reporting this morning on the president's plan to help farmers, give them $12 billion he wants to to help ease the pain of his tariffs. Alan, thanks so much for coming in. We appreciate it.

BJERGA: Thank you.

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