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Impeachment Inquiries

November 15, 2019

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Why Cohen’s answers on Russia could pose potential legal problems for Trump

During his appearance before the House Oversight Committee, Michael Cohen was questioned about possible ties between the president and Russia, as well as Trump’s relationship with Roger Stone. Yamiche Alcindor talks to Judy Woodruff about the significance of the information Cohen relayed and whether any of it could pose a potential legal problem for the president.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, finally, once again to the hearing, a central question of the ongoing investigations into President Trump and his campaign has been about potential ties to Russia.

    Cohen offered some details about actions of campaign advisers during the 2016 election.

  • Michael Cohen:

    Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of e-mails.

    In July 2016, days before the Democratic Convention, I was in Mr. Trump's office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone.

    Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange, and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of e-mails that would damage Hillary Clinton's campaign.

    Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect, "Wouldn't that be great?"

    Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. And I want to be clear. But I have my suspicions.

  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.:

    Do you have reason to believe that the president explicitly or implicitly authorized Mr. Stone to make contact with WikiLeaks and to indicate the campaign's interest in the strategic release of these illegally hacked materials?

  • Michael Cohen:

    I'm not aware of that.

  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.:

    Was Mr. Stone a free agent reporting back to the president what he'd done, or was he an agent of the campaign acting on behalf of the president and with his apparent authority?

  • Michael Cohen:

    No, he was a free agent.

  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.:

    A free agent that was reporting back to the president what he had done?

  • Michael Cohen:

    Correct.

    He frequently reached out to Mr. Trump. And Mr. Trump was very happy to take his calls. It was free service.

  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.:

    Roger Stone says he never spoke with Mr. Trump about WikiLeaks. How can we corroborate what you are saying?

  • Michael Cohen:

    I don't know. But I suspect that the special counsel's office and other government agencies have the information that you're seeking.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    Are you aware of anything that the president has done at home or abroad that may have subjected him to or may subject him to extortion or blackmail?

  • Michael Cohen:

    I'm not, no.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    Are you aware of any videotapes that may be the subject of extortion or blackmail?

  • Michael Cohen:

    I have heard about these tapes for a long time. I have had many people contact me over the years. I have no reason to believe that tape exists.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, bring — coming back to you, Yamiche, listening to all this, did we learn anything new about legal implications for the president with regard to the Russia investigation?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the key question coming out of this Michael Cohen hearing is going to be, is there any criminal and legal implications and consequences for anyone, either for President Trump or people around him, because of Michael Cohen's testimony?

    So I want to walk you through some legal problems that might pose to be an issue for the president. The first is Roger Stone and this WikiLeaks issue and these hack DNC e-mails.

    Right now, if the president was possibly directing Roger Stone to work with illegally — illegally hacked information, that could prove to be a criminal problem for President Trump. The other thing is this Trump Tower Moscow project.

    Now, the president has said over and over again that he didn't have business going in with Russia during the campaign. But, in fact, this could be part of the — what could be a case about collusion, because he would have had a business interest for working with Russia.

    The other thing I will talk about briefly is the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. Michael Cohen is making the case that President Trump knew very well that Donald Trump Jr. was walking into a meeting and trying to get information about Hillary Clinton from Russia.

    That also could be a problem, because that would be working with a foreign country to impact an American election. So we will have to see whether or not that happens.

    And there are, of course, political issues too, but these legal issues might be the ones that matter most.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right.

    Yamiche Alcindor, thank you very much.

    And, Lisa Desjardins, here in the studio, we appreciate it.

    And to you watching, we are going to have more on Michael Cohen's testimony a little later in the program.

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