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How the latest Cohen filings could get ‘close to the president’

Two court filings Friday reveal new information about Michael Cohen. Judy Woodruff speaks with Jessica Roth, law professor at Yeshiva University and a former federal prosecutor, about the differences between how Mueller and the Southern District of New York characterize Cohen, Russian “synergy” with the Trump campaign and potential overlap between Trump's political and business interests.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let's dig a little deeper into the legal questions here with Jessica Roth. She is a legal — a law professor at Yeshiva University and a former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York.

    Jessica Roth, I think you have been listening to William Brangham's report. And I'm sure you have had a chance to take a look at these filings that have come one, two, three — maybe not the latest one, but certainly the first two from Southern District and then from Robert Mueller.

    What do you see here that tells us anything more about the president's role in all this?

  • Jessica Roth:

    Well, what we see certainly is a contrast between the two filings, one from the Southern District and one from the special counsel's office.

    And the filing from the special counsel's office makes it clear that Mr. Cohen has provided information about four areas that it enumerated, some of which are described in a way that's fairly opaque and could involve the president and other people in the White House.

    There is a reference to people connected to the White House in, I think, the 2017 to 2018 period, but it's not elaborated further what those communications were about specifically. But there is enough there to suggest that people affiliated with President Trump, and possibly the president himself, were involved in some of the conduct that Mr. Cohen himself was involved in.

    Certainly, that's already been alleged. And Mr. Cohen has said as much in court, in terms of him coordinating with the president, who is identified as Individual 1, with — or candidate for federal office in different filings — with respect to the payments to the women during the campaign, the women who alleged the president, had affairs with them — with him.

    And so there's lots of statements that potentially could connect conduct to the president and to close to the president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we're beginning to see here more pieces of the puzzle. But we also understand that there's a lot more — we are led to believe that there's a lot more that Robert Mueller has been working on that we don't see here.

    What new questions does all of this raise for you?

  • Jessica Roth:

    Well, one of the things that I saw in the special counsel filing — I believe it was in the special counsel filing this evening — was a reference to communications that Mr. Cohen had with people in Russia that brought up the idea of synergy between political alliances, if you will, and business interests.

    And that — if — that has been sort of the missing link. We have had a line of inquiry in the Mueller investigation into communications between people affiliated with the Trump campaign and Russian officials with respect to U.S. policy, such as sanctions against Russia, communications about actions at the Security Council with respect to a resolution on Israel.

    And so those were political policy issues. And those are the things that Michael Flynn has admitted that he had communications about. And then we have a separate line of inquiry about business interests that the Trump Organization had. And that is what Michael Cohen admitted most recently that he lied to Congress about, the timing of those communications.

    And he has most recently admitted that he lied to Congress about how far into the campaign those communications continued. And so to the extent that Michael Cohen is able to connect to those two lines of inquiry to suggest that there was a connection between policy discussions and business interest discussions, that could be quite significant.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just in the few seconds we have left, a clear signal here in terms of, if you cooperate with the special counsel, with the prosecutors, you are likely to get a more lenient sentence than if you don't.

  • Jessica Roth:

    Absolutely.

    I see a big distinction here between how the special counsel certainly wrote in favor of Flynn and his upcoming sentencing and how they wrote with respect to Mr. Cohen. So, for Mr. Flynn, who was facing a zero-to-six-month sentence, they recommended something at the bottom of the range, and were quite clear about that.

    And here the special counsel's recommendation was essentially nothing specific. And, in fact, it wasn't recommending much of a benefit at all. It was recommending simply that the sentence on the single charge to which Mr. Cohen pled guilty, pursuant to charges by the special counsel's office, run concurrently with his sentence on the Southern District charges.

    And that's the traditional practice, is to run sentences concurrently, absent extraordinary circumstances. So, I don't really think that the special counsel is offering him much.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former federal prosecutor Jessica Roth, thank you.

  • Jessica Roth:

    Thank you.

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