Week In Politics: Trump And Sessions, McCain, David Pecker

Aug 25, 2018
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ALI VELSHI: Two explosive stories...

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Which made for a momentous week in the Trump presidency.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We're following breaking news tonight out of Northern Virginia.

SIMON: Almost simultaneously, President Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud...

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JAKE TAPPER: We have some breaking news in the case.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Unintelligible).

TAPPER: Michael Cohen...

SIMON: ...And the president's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts of tax evasion, falsifying submissions to a bank and campaign finance violations. The plea documents all but named the president.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Mr. Cohen says, at the direction of the, quote, "candidate for federal office" - that would be the now-President Trump - he arranged to make payments, quote, "for the principal purpose of influencing the election."

SIMON: Trump defended himself on Fox News and Twitter. So did press secretary Sarah Sanders...

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president has done nothing wrong. There are no charges against him. There is no collusion. That's what I can tell you about this.

SIMON: ...In back-to-back briefings.

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SANDERS: The president, in this matter, has done nothing wrong, and there are no charges against him.

SIMON: And this only gets us to the middle of the week. Meanwhile, not one but two of the president's intimates have been granted immunity to talk to federal prosecutors.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Allen Weisselberg, the longtime Trump Organization CFO...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Immunity to David Pecker, the CEO of the National Enquirer and a longtime friend...

SIMON: Ron Elving doesn't need a deal to talk to us. He's NPR's senior Washington editor. Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: I hope you'll give me immunity, though, Scott, for whatever I may testify.

SIMON: Well I'll take it under advisement, all right? This is a tough crowd here. Ron, for about the 20th week in a row, my friend, is this a turning point?

ELVING: Yes, it is a turning point in the sense that this was the week we saw people turning on President Trump - Michael Cohen, as you just said. Allen Weisselberg, the chief finance officer of the Trump Organization since 2000 - has been with the company since the '70s - granted immunity to testify at least in the Cohen matter. And ditto the publisher of the National Enquirer David Pecker.

But is this the turning point that people are always on to ask about? It's not the kind of turning point where everything changes overnight. It's more like a trajectory that's been bending in one direction and is now accelerating in that direction. It's a storm that's building. You could say Hurricane Michael, as in Michael Cohen, has gone from a Category 2 up to a 3 this weekend. It's still strengthening.

SIMON: Boy, I'm getting all mixed up with the metaphors. But Michael - or Messrs., rather - sorry - Weisselberg and Pecker can probably dish a lot about Donald Trump. But what can they tell federal prosecutors that might have legal implications?

ELVING: We don't know the full scope of these deals. It could be a single-shot-rifle kind of arrangement for the crimes to which Cohen pled guilty this past week - the payments he says he made on Trump's behalf to the porn star and to suppress the story of the Playboy model.

But if it's more like a shotgun immunity for any and all subjects, that could be a far more lethal weapon against the president because the assumption is no one knows more about his finances than Weisselberg. He's been with the Trump Organization all that time - and that few would know as much about Trump's personal life as the publisher of the National Enquirer, who's a longtime friend and, apparently, a longtime collaborator.

SIMON: In the middle of all this, President Trump did everything but throw a banana cream pie into Jeff Sessions' face. It sounds like he wants to boil him in oil. Do you see any chance the attorney general of the United States will be fired?

ELVING: The apparent strategy has been to humiliate him and force him to resign. But that hasn't worked so far. This week, Sessions said he would defend the department against political influence and interference. So if Sessions won't jump, yes, he could be pushed. And we can't rule out that the president could step in to fire people or otherwise interfere in the special counsel's investigation using his powers. There are surely other people who would like to have Sessions' job. And there are moves afoot in Congress to restructure the Justice Department and possibly reduce the independence of the special counsel.

SIMON: Amid all the President Trump news, very sad news out of Arizona this week - Senator John McCain, one of the most - I think we can fairly say - respected and revered people in public life of except, perhaps, the White House. John McCain has decided to end his treatment for brain cancer.

ELVING: This news has been expected since the senator began his treatments last summer. But there was hope, as he himself expressed in his last memoir. But he also expressed in that book his acceptance of what may be ahead and his deep gratitude for his extraordinary life of 81 years.

SIMON: As always, thanks so much. Ron Elving, NPR senior editor. Thanks very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.