Trump Ends Critical Week In His Presidency On The Defensive

Aug 24, 2018
Originally published on August 24, 2018 7:26 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump is ending this week on the defensive.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is found guilty on eight of the counts against him.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Breaking news - president's former fixer and personal attorney Michael Cohen has entered into a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The only thing I'm doing badly in is the press doesn't cover me fairly.

CORNISH: Two of the president's former associates, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, were found guilty or pleaded guilty to felonies, and now word that two others have reportedly received immunity and have cooperated with investigators in the Cohen case. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now to talk more. Hey there, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: What more have you learned?

KEITH: The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Allen Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization, was granted immunity by federal prosecutors and provided information as part of the Michael Cohen investigation. Weisselberg is someone who has worked for Trump and his father before him for decades. He touches every check that comes out of the Trump Organization.

And this follows news from yesterday also from The Wall Street Journal that David Pecker, the chairman of AMI, which is the parent company of the National Enquirer, had also gotten immunity to cooperate. So President Trump is in this place where there are all of these people who he thought were friends or thought were loyal to him who are now cooperating in one way or another. Add to that Michael Cohen's guilty plea. And earlier this week, President Trump talked about that on "Fox & Friends."

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TRUMP: It's called flipping. And it almost ought to be illegal. You get 10 years in jail. But if you say bad things about somebody - in other words, make up stories if you don't know, make up - they just make up lies. Alan Dershowitz said compose, right? They make up lies. I've seen it many times. They make up things. And now they go from 10 years to they're a national hero.

KEITH: Now, we can't read the president's mind, but there is sort of a sense of powerlessness or frustration in the way he talked in this interview and also in some of his recent tweets and also in the way that he has resumed lashing out at Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

CORNISH: Let's talk more about that. It was news this week when the attorney general actually replied, right? But the president is still going after the attorney general.

KEITH: Right. So in Sessions' reply, he said that as long as I am attorney general, the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. Well, today the president was basically trolling him on Twitter, saying, Jeff, this is great, what everyone wants. So please look into - and then he listed a bunch of things involving Democrats and ends, come on, Jeff; you can do it. The country is waiting.

CORNISH: At the same time, the president has been complaining about Jeff Sessions for more than a year. Is Sessions' job really in jeopardy?

KEITH: You know, put this in the category of cliffhangers, but some Republican senators who in the past had warned, don't fire Jeff Sessions are now saying things that are slightly less ominous, saying things like, well, maybe he won't be attorney general forever or, you know, after the midterms, go right ahead, Mr. President. It's not clear when or if the president will act. As you say, it's been a year already that he's been complaining about Sessions. And the fact is the midterms are not far away. And also, the Mueller investigation is ongoing. And that investigation is believed to be looking at obstruction of justice among other things.

CORNISH: I want to ask about Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, 'cause people started talking about the idea of a presidential pardon.

KEITH: Yes, because the president of the United States was saying very nice things about his former campaign chairman who was convicted on eight counts. Rudy Giuliani, Trump's outside lawyer, has said a bunch of very confusing things about this. But what he has settled on is that they just had a very general conversation about pardons and that the president told him there would be no pardons for anyone involved in the Mueller investigation while that investigation is ongoing.

CORNISH: All right, Tamara Keith, very big week for the president. Thanks for your reporting.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.