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Latest In Mueller's Russia Probe Is Damning For Trump, Ex-Prosecutor Says


How much legal trouble is President Trump really in? Court filings offered some clues Friday night. One came from federal prosecutors in New York. That document said the president's former lawyer admits to violating campaign finance laws by paying off two women to remain quiet about their relations with Donald Trump during the presidential campaign. And Michael Cohen says he acted at the direction of the president described in the filing as Individual 1. Another court filing concerned the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors say Michael Cohen provided useful information in several areas. So how useful really?

Chuck Rosenberg is with us now. He's a former U.S. attorney who was appointed by President Bush, also a Drug Enforcement Administration head under President Obama and Trump. Welcome to the program, sir.

CHUCK ROSENBERG: Well, thank you for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: Can you help stitch this together a little bit? How deep - based on the public information, how deep is the connection between the president and his aides and Russia's government?

ROSENBERG: If there's a central theme to the filings that we've seen this week and last, it's Russia. Whether it's Mr. Manafort or Mr. Cohen or General Flynn, all of them seem to touch Russia in some way.

INSKEEP: OK. So there's a lot out there. Does it seem damning at this point?

ROSENBERG: It seems damning. What we are missing, of course, is - anything that is sensitive is not public. Anything that's public is not sensitive. And then all of the documents so far, at least the most important ones, have significant redactions, Steve. And that's probably where the good stuff is.

INSKEEP: So do you mean it is possible that this evidence is a lot worse than it looks?

ROSENBERG: I think it's probably much worse than it looks. I've always believed that the Mueller team has much, much more than we do, of course. We have quite literally, metaphorically, the tip of the iceberg. There's much more beneath the surface that, I imagine, touches closely on Russia and players central to the Trump Organization.

INSKEEP: Isn't the tip of that iceberg getting a little large then? I'm just looking at this document - this filing about Michael Cohen. He had a contact in November 2015, it is said, with a trusted person, so-called, in the Russian Federation who offered political synergy and synergy on a government level. And the person said this could have phenomenal impact not only in political but in a business dimension. That was on the table in 2015, and it appeared that contacts through Cohen and others continued with Russia for months and months and months after that.

ROSENBERG: In fact, they continued through the middle of 2016 - later than we were originally led to believe. And Cohen is just one part of this. Remember, we tend to focus individual by individual as different documents are put into the public record. But there are many people that the Mueller team has spoken to that we don't know about. And again, Russia seems to be a central theme - outreach for business purposes as well as, quite possibly, interference in our election.

INSKEEP: Is there something ominous here as well? The court filing says that Cohen provided, quote, "relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House in 2017 and 2018." Now, why would the special counsel be interested in Cohen's contacts with the White House after the election?

ROSENBERG: Well, it would show that contacts continued once Mr. Trump became president. That to me is quite significant. So it's not just in the run-up to the election or Russian interference in attempting to get the president elected. It also seems to be an ongoing and perhaps illegal relationship.

INSKEEP: And this is a period, of course, where Michael Cohen now admits he was lying to Congress, lying to the FBI, covering up relations with Russia. He was also talking to the White House at that point.

ROSENBERG: That's right. And so Mr. Cohen has much to account for, as does Mr. Manafort. They will be sentenced soon.

INSKEEP: Chuck Rosenberg, thanks so much - really appreciate it.

ROSENBERG: Thank you, sir.

INSKEEP: He is a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia among other offices. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.