With Examination Of Trump Administration Inauguration Spending, List of Investigations Grows

Dec 14, 2018
Originally published on December 15, 2018 10:39 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Recent days have brought a number of significant revelations in the investigation surrounding President Trump's campaign, his businesses and, as of last night, his inauguration committee.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Breaking news - a major development in the Russia investigation.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: President Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen is going to jail.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: New information ties President Trump to his campaign's efforts to silence women.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #4: More legal difficulty for President Trump - the Journal reporting that the Trump inauguration - their spending is now under criminal investigation by federal...

CORNISH: With all the big headlines this week about the president and investigations and who did what, it's easy to lose track of the big picture. So we're going to take a step back and get a sense of it all with NPR's national security editor Phil Ewing. Welcome to the studio.

PHILIP EWING, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: Do we even know at this point how many investigations are running right now that, like, target President Trump or his associates or the White House?

EWING: The short answer to that question is no. And the long answer is there are at least three big important ones. The famous one is the one we hear about a lot that's being run in Washington by the special counsel in the Justice Department Robert Mueller. He's looking at whether anyone in the Trump's campaign conspired with the Russians, who tried to influence the election in 2016. Mueller's also probably looking at whether Trump might have broken the law if he tried to frustrate that investigation.

There's also one taking place in New York state. The attorney general there has sued the Trump Foundation saying that it abused its non-profit status. And a judge has said that case can go forward. And then there's one that we're just learning about last night from the Wall Street Journal, which suggests that prosecutors in New York City could be looking at whether Trump's inauguration committee might have taken some improper donations. And it's not clear how exactly that's going to play out. But we don't know about what we don't know. There could be others inside the government, or there could be others that could just be getting started.

CORNISH: And to go back to something you just said there, is this the same U.S. Attorney's Office in New York that prosecuted Trump's attorney Michael Cohen?

EWING: Yeah, that's right. And we talked a lot about him on this show earlier the week. That's the Michael Cohen case. He's been sentenced to three years in federal prison for his role in a number of crimes. But one of them bears on the president in particular. Cohen says that Trump directed him to basically break the law by arranging payments to two women in 2016 to keep them from telling their stories about alleged relationships they had with the president at that time.

And there's another party in this case - the company that publishes The National Enquirer, American Media Incorporated. It also has said in court documents that it was part of this scheme to try to help the president politically. So the president says this doesn't have anything to do with him - that Cohen is responsible because he was a lawyer. He was supposed to know what he was doing. And that's why he gets paid the big bucks because he's liable if in fact there was any wrongdoing in that case.

CORNISH: Then how much danger is the president actually in here - I mean, from one of these cases, from all three of these cases?

EWING: That's a great question. And it's really hard to say right now. Mueller is not close at all to make any kind of conspiracy charge that we're aware that Trump's campaign conspired with the Russian campaign. There's a ton of puzzle pieces in that story. But right now, we don't know what picture they're supposed to form. This lawsuit in New York state, as I mentioned, is going forward, but we don't know where that's going to land. And this inauguration committee case is so new that it's difficult to know what it's going to mean either - except to say that there is a lot of these, and there could be even more than we know because officials aren't talking about them publicly.

CORNISH: And then the political fallout, what do we think Congress is going to do when it comes to their investigations?

EWING: Well, I think there's going to be a lot of them. I think we're going to have to get used to hearing about even more of these findings or committees in Congress investigating the president. Democrats are going to take over the majority in the House in January. They're going to control three very important committees - intelligence, judiciary and oversight. And those chairmen have said publicly, before the fact they want to use their resources to compel witnesses to come in to issue subpoenas. So we could be living in this world of a lot of intensity, a lot of investigations for at the very least two more years.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Phil Ewing. Phil, thank you.

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