President Trump Faces Deepening Legal Troubles
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, will be sentenced today. Cohen pleaded guilty to several campaign finance and business crimes, including tax evasion and bank fraud. What's now starting to take shape is the extent to which President Trump may be implicated in those crimes. Over the weekend, prosecutors in New York released court documents showing that Cohen made illegal hush money payments at the direction of President Trump. What do Republicans make of the fact that the president could be implicated in a felony? Here's what South Dakota Senator John Thune recently said on CBS's "Face The Nation."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")
JOHN THUNE: But I think at this point, we have an incomplete picture. And I think at this point, the president has denied some of these allegations that have been made. So I guess my view is that - let's wait. This thing is still not complete until it is complete.
MARTIN: For more, we're joined by Chris Buskirk. He is a conservative talk show host based in Phoenix, Ariz. Thanks so much for being with us, Chris.
CHRIS BUSKIRK: It's my pleasure.
MARTIN: So let's get back to what came out over the weekend. Southern District of New York says Michael Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels, a porn star, and a Playboy model to cover up affairs just days before the presidential election in 2016 and that Cohen orchestrated those payments at the direction of then-candidate Trump. You hear from a lot of Trump supporters on your radio show. What are they saying, if anything, about this?
BUSKIRK: Well, it's - I guess it's - this was the week we learned nothing new. That's kind of the way I've been thinking about it. We learned that Michael Cohen is exactly the type of lawyer who you would expect to be paying off a porn star - right? - no surprise there. He's like just this sort of totally low-rank lawyer. And at the same time, we found out that in sending this case over to the Southern District that Mueller's Russia collusion claims collapsed...
MARTIN: Well, the...
BUSKIRK: ...Because there just - there was nothing there.
MARTIN: Well, let's take each of these in and of themselves. First off...
MARTIN: It is new that President Trump has been implicated, that the Southern District of New York can point to the fact that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to make these payments. And that's a crime under campaign finance laws.
BUSKIRK: Yeah. Yes. Well, let me - just let me hit on that directly. So I guess I say it's nothing new because I don't think that there's anybody who seriously thought that this was - that the president was not in some way involved in what he is now (unintelligible). And I understand that it's a bit of a change in the story is that these were not - that these were personal payments. They didn't have anything to do with the campaign. That's something, I'm sure, that's going to be litigated both probably in court and also in the court of public opinion. But I...
MARTIN: You're saying his supporters understood or believed that then-candidate Trump was making these payments, and it didn't bother them.
BUSKIRK: I - that's exactly what I'm saying, is that with Donald Trump, we had somebody that people knew didn't drink, didn't smoke. And I think everybody knew what his particular vice was. And it was baked in the cake.
MARTIN: But this isn't just having an affair with a porn star. This is breaking a law. This is covering up what he knew to be a complicating factor just days before a presidential election.
BUSKIRK: Well, that's yet to be determined whether, in fact, it was breaking a law or not. The argument is that it violates the campaign - that it violates campaign finance law. The argument that the president has deployed is that it was a personal payment. That's going to be litigated and decided at some point, I would think, in court. And at this point, whether or not it's breaking a law we just don't know because it hasn't been decided. From a purely political point of view, the president's supporters just view this as something that they kind of knew already. Maybe they didn't know all the details, but they got the gist of it, you know, two years ago, basically.
MARTIN: Let me ask you more broadly about the Mueller investigation. We've been learning more about the extent to which members of the Trump campaign had connections to Russians. It's far more than previously disclosed. According to The Washington Post, at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and transition were in communication with Russians. What do you make of that?
BUSKIRK: Well, I just - there's nothing illegal that suggests collusion by being in, you know, quote, unquote, "in contact with Russians." I mean, take - one of those people, for instance, is Michael Flynn. That was his job. He was the incoming national security adviser. He was supposed to be engaged with foreign powers. He was...
MARTIN: Although, now he's been charged with lying to the FBI about it. So he clearly knew there was something wrong in that communication.
BUSKIRK: Well, I don't think that's clear. He's been - I think he's been - I would classify that as a process crime in order to sort of salvage some sort of dignity for what has otherwise been a totally unsuccessful special prosecution.
MARTIN: So you think it's just - and your supporters - or Trump supporters, when they talk about this, view this is just a coincidence that 14 Trump associates were talking to Russians.
BUSKIRK: Well, I think - I would turn it around and say if Mueller has evidence of collusion, he should produce it. But here we are, you know, a year into his special prosecution. And he has not been able to point to any collusion. If he has evidence of something, then he should bring those charges and stop trying to...
BUSKIRK: ...Avoid it with - sorry, go ahead.
MARTIN: Well, 33 people have been indicted...
BUSKIRK: Not for collusion.
MARTIN: ...Or have pleaded guilty. Not on the...
BUSKIRK: That's not for anything related to collusion.
MARTIN: Although, George Papadopoulos, I believe, was indicted on something related to collusion.
BUSKIRK: For which he got 14 days. I mean, this was - this is not - the big crime here is supposed to be, you know, somehow Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin plotting to, quote, unquote, "steal an election." There's been no evidence of that. And as I've been saying now for over a year, if Mueller has the evidence, show it to us.
MARTIN: And I guess that's the point is that the people you hear from, the Trump supporters who call into your show, don't see any of this as swaying their support - their unequivocal support of President Donald Trump.
BUSKIRK: The poll I saw yesterday had Trump approval with the Rasmussen polls at 49 percent. I think that speaks volumes.
MARTIN: Chris Buskirk, conservative talk show host, publisher of the website American Greatness. Thanks so much.
BUSKIRK: Thanks, Rachel.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And when you look at the polling average from FiveThirtyEight, you find the president's approval rating more like 42 percent, disapproval about 52 percent. It's been in that range for quite some time. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.