The Latest Filings From The Special Counsel And Federal Prosecutors

Dec 8, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Yesterday, the president of the United States called his former secretary of state dumb as a rock and lazy as hell, and a former director of the FBI testified in front of Congress almost doesn't make the news these days because there were three legal filings late in the day containing what we can fairly call some bombshell clues about the investigation at the Department of Justice and the special counsel into potentially criminal conduct of President Trump and people around him. We turn now to a former solicitor general of the United States, Neal Katyal. Mr. Katyal, thanks so much for being with us.

NEAL KATYAL: Thanks, delighted to be here.

SIMON: What's the headline for you as you go over these documents?

KATYAL: So there's three different filings that were made yesterday, two about Michael Cohen, one about Paul Manafort. And to me, by and away, the most significant filing is the one about Michael Cohen filed not by Mueller, by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, but rather by the Southern District of New York, the career prosecutors there. Because it's a 30-page document and, initially, the headlines were all about how prosecutors are throwing the book at Michael Cohen, saying you should have significant jail time - but there are three places in that 30-page memo which make very clear that the prosecutors believe that President Trump ordered the commission of Michael Cohen's felonies with respect to campaign finance violations. That is a headline. I mean, indeed, in my lifetime, the only time we've ever seen anything like this is in Nixon when he was an unindicted co-conspirator. But here if you put it together, that filing says the president directed the commission of very serious campaign finance violations and that are felonies.

SIMON: And those were the payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels?

KATYAL: Exactly. So federal campaign law prevents, as I think many of us know, you know, more than $2,700 from being given to any particular person. And here, the president took, it looks like, you know, $130,000 in one instance and even more in the other to pay off these women. So that's a serious campaign finance violation as the memo said yesterday, and it also may have tax liability not just for President Trump but also The Trump Organization and the like. And so there are real felonies now that the president and The Trump Organization are looking at.

SIMON: But let me ask you, Mr. Katyal, reading between the lines, I think some of President Trump's supporters say, well, find that outrageous if you choose to, but the fact is the president of the United States can't be prosecuted for any of it, so why have this big, long extensive and expensive investigation?

KATYAL: Well, I mean, boy, what a horrible statement about American democracy and the rule of law to say a president is above the law so we shouldn't even investigate. So I think there are several problems with that. The first is, even if it's true, it doesn't mean you don't investigate. It actually calls for an even greater need for an investigation precisely because you won't necessarily have a criminal trial right away. And you definitely want the voters to be able to know what happened. So that's, you know, No. 1. No. 2, I think historically it's very important as the memo yesterday from the prosecutors said, you know, this is not some minor technical thing. This is, literally, you know - this is about, you know, how Trump actually won the presidency and doing an end run around the laws and the transparency regime Congress has put in place. That's No. 2. Then No. 3 is, of course, impeachment and the role of Congress in policing this. And then the fourth is the president can be indicted once he leaves office, and so the investigation is necessary for that, and Trump has to know that.

SIMON: In the half-minute I'm afraid we have left, in the Manafort documents, anything relating to Russia you want to draw our attention to?

KATYAL: Well, I think they make very clear that Trump's involvement with Russia has been long and hidden from public view, and Manafort looks like he's been complicit in trying to hide that. And so there's a lot there I think that for Mueller to look at in the days to come and ultimately for the House to look at next year. So all taken together, it was a devastatingly bad day for President Trump.

SIMON: Neal Katyal, former solicitor general of the United States, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

KATYAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.