Sen. Amy Klobuchar Discusses New Allegations That Trump Told Cohen To Lie To Congress
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
For all of President Trump's enemies perceived and real, it is emerging that one man could pose the greatest threat to his presidency.
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MICHAEL COHEN: I'm obviously very loyal and very dedicated to Mr. Trump.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
That was Michael Cohen in 2017. Now he tweets, I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn't deserve it. What changed?
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WOLF BLITZER: Federal agents raid the office of President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Michael Cohen guilty to violating campaign finance laws and...
LESTER HOLT: Former lawyer and fixer admits to lying in the Russia investigation about dealings during the campaign for a Trump Tower in Moscow.
KELLY: The latest is, today, BuzzFeed is reporting that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about those negotiations with officials in Moscow. NPR has not independently confirmed their reporting. Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, categorically denies it. But if the BuzzFeed report is accurate, it seems to fit this description of obstruction of justice.
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AMY KLOBUCHAR: You wrote on Page 1 that a president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?
WILLIAM BARR: Yes.
BARR: Or any - well, you know, any person who persuades another to - yeah.
KLOBUCHAR: OK. You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?
SHAPIRO: That was our next guest, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, questioning attorney general nominee William Barr at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday. In light of BuzzFeed's new report, her questions seem prescient. This is her first interview since that story broke. Senator Klobuchar, welcome.
KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks, Ari. It's great to be on.
SHAPIRO: Let me begin by asking whether you asked those questions because you knew then about the allegations that BuzzFeed is now reporting.
KLOBUCHAR: No, I did not. I asked those questions really for two reasons. One was to set up the fact that there were things he hadn't said in the report that could in fact be obstruction, including things like offering pardons, which I asked him about, or drafting a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting.
But the second reason I asked him was that I thought they were an interesting part of that 19-page memo which basically was meant to undermine part of the Mueller investigation. But in fact there were nuggets in that memo like him saying that if a president persuaded someone to commit perjury, that in fact would be obstruction of justice.
So I decided to lead with the things he had actually said in the memo that I thought were helpful in case that ever came up, which this report seems to indicate it might - that you would have the nominee for attorney general actually firmly stating that this was obstruction of justice.
SHAPIRO: To remind listeners, this memo was about when a president can be said to have committed a crime. NPR has not been able to confirm the BuzzFeed report, but given what it lays out, is it your understanding that if true, then the president has committed a crime?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I am a former prosecutor, Ari, and I never opine on whether something is a crime or not until I actually see the evidence. And as you have made clear, this is simply a report at this point. We have heard reports that there is some other corroborating evidence. There may be things from within the Trump Organization. There may be texts or other documents. But again, all of this combined, if it were true, it would be the most serious allegation seen yet to involve the White House and the president.
SHAPIRO: And given the debate over whether a sitting president can be charged with a crime and given the questions that you asked William Barr, nominee to be attorney general, what's your understanding of his belief in this area?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, Barr was very clear in his memo that was sent out earlier in June but also in his answers to me and a couple others. You know, if they persuade someone to perjure themselves, then that in fact would be obstruction of justice. Or similarly, if someone, including a president, tried to convince someone to change their testimony, that that also would be obstruction of justice. And both of those things could come into play.
SHAPIRO: I'd like to read you a tweet from President Obama's former attorney general, Eric Holder, who said, "if true - and proof must be examined - Congress must begin impeachment proceedings, and Barr must refer at a minimum the relevant portions of material discovered by Mueller. This is a potential inflection point," end quote. That's the former attorney general speaking. Do you agree with him, first, that if this is true Congress must begin impeachment proceedings?
KLOBUCHAR: If the House were to start impeachment hearings, we would get the evidence. We would get the case. And so I am careful about what I say because of that. But I believe two things have to keep happening. One, the House now will be able to start having hearings themselves. And that's why they're having Michael Cohen come and testify on, I believe, February 7. That's very important. I would hope that anything they do wouldn't interfere with Director Mueller's investigation.
The second is we have to allow Mueller to complete his investigation and get that report. And that's why asking Barr about, hey, are you going to take the advice of career ethics people and be recused if they suggest that you do because you wrote this memo is important. But equally important is that you allow this investigation to be completed, and you allow that report to be made public. I can't emphasize, Ari, how important that is. And he equivocated on that answer.
SHAPIRO: Well, you say he equivocated. He said he does want to make it public consistent with the law.
KLOBUCHAR: He did, and that was very good, except he at times would say, well, I have to look at the rules. Well, you would have to see what happens. And people said, well, is it possible you would just let the conclusion come out and not the evidence? Or would you allow the conclusion to come out?
The rules make it very clear that that report is in the attorney general's hands. And then the attorney general decides whether it's released to the public. And I am glad he said he wanted to see it. But again, he's put a lot of wiggle room in place that would allow him to redact major portions or not make it public.
SHAPIRO: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar speaking with us from her home state of Minnesota. Thank you very much.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Ari. It was great to be on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.