Bombshell? According to Buzzfeed news, "President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter. Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. "Make it happen," the sources said Trump told Cohen. And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project."
Guy & Marie walk through the article with National Review Institute fellow David French who says "The BuzzFeed report, if true, not only goes a long way towards supporting a criminal case for suborning perjury, it also compares with the Clinton and Nixon articles of impeachment".
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Graham Audio Clip: [00:00:00] So if there was some reason to believe that the president tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely that could be obstruction of justice. Yes. Under that you're under an obstruction statute. So if if there is some evidence that the president tried to conceal evidence that would be a Trojan of justice potentially right.
Marie Harf: [00:00:22] Welcome back to Benson & Harf that exchange you just heard was Senator Lindsey Graham the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee interviewing William Barr who is the president's nominee to be attorney general about obstruction of justice. And the reason I played that is because last night of course is as Guy and I spent much of the first hour talking about there was this BuzzFeed story about the president allegedly directing Michael Cohen his personal attorney to lie before the United States Congress. David French senior writer at The National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute is on the line with us now. David thank you so much for joining tonight.
David French: [00:01:04] Well thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Marie Harf: [00:01:06] So you have a new piece up at the National Review that calls this the gravest allegation yet against President Trump and that if and that's a big that's a big if right if Trump directed Cohen to lie he knew right he faces a very real legal jeopardy. And you compare it to the alleged misconduct of both Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon. It's a really good piece. People should go read it. Walk our listeners through your argument and how serious you see this latest allegation.
David French: [00:01:36] Yeah it's really pretty simple. We've had two in recent history have two presidents who have either been impeached or face the prospect of impeachment Nixon resigned before he's impeached. Both of those presidents instrumental in the articles of impeachment with the claim that they had caused people to lie to congressional investigators are going to go enforcement officials. In other that they had participated in a scheme to lie to them and actively lie to investigators. And so Nixon did this. Clinton did this and it was him. It was a key part of the articles of impeachment. And so if Trump did that if he told Michael Cohen to lie then bring him to the Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton is recommending impeachment. But what could potentially even be more problematic than impeachment is with depending on the facts. If he very specifically ordered his attorney to lie to Congress that could be subornation of perjury a violation of a federal criminal statute. So the the allegations against Clinton that Nixon approached that the elements may have been there but some of that is in many of those allegations against Clinton and Nixon it wasn't even quite as cut and dry as the Buzzfeed piece so that means Trump would place legal jeopardy political jeopardy simultaneously if this is true.
Guy Benson: [00:03:17] And if it's such a huge piece of this David. Because right. Yes it's a bombshell. If it all pans out but there seems to be some conflict between the two journalists who collaborate on a piece about whether or not they even saw the documents that purportedly back up this claim against Trump. To me that's a pretty significant detail for them to get on the same page on at least if.
David French: [00:03:41] You would think that they'd be on the same page on that. But there are factors here that make this that it makes us more and less plausible so that the BuzzFeed story. So obviously not just the conflict between the two reporters over what they did or did not see helped to make this less plausible. It's also a little less plausible that one of the reporters actually has a bit of a checkered past on these anonymous sources. Now a lot of people say that he has you know he has learned the lesson of the past and that he may be more careful than the average reporter now as a result of being burned previously but that that has to exist and it does make it less plausible. But there are some things that make it more plausible including and this is an overlooked statement in Michael Cohen's legal teams sentencing memo on his behalf that was filed in the false statements case. And in the campaign finance case. And it says quote We addressed the campaign finance and false statement allegations together because they both arose from Michael's fierce loyalty to client one. That's Trump in each case. The conduct was intended to benefit client one in accordance with client was directed. Now it's been an overlooked statement. Now later on however the sentencing memo seems to say that what Cohen was wanting to do was comply with the pup that he was observing trumps public messaging while communication with White House staff. So there's a lot we don't know but there are things that make it raise your eyebrows about the BuzzFeed report and there are things that race make you raise your eyebrows eyebrows about Trump's conduct.
Marie Harf: [00:05:30] And David of course and you make this point. The key here to getting some more of this information is Robert Muller because the BuzzFeed piece says that Mueller has not just Michael Cohen's word but also documents or e-mails or some additional evidence that backs up this claim. And I'm sure there are many other things that Robert Mueller has that we don't know. So the key to so much of this is we talk about is Robert Mueller's report Robert Mueller finishing his work and the public getting to see it right.
David French: [00:06:01] Oh absolutely. So you know I feel like you know we're all sort of taking little clues right now. And it can be contentious and sometimes even silly. But let me take another little clue. Mueller said in his sentencing memorandum for Michael Cohen had this interesting statement that Michael Cohen's testimony to Congress that was false was not some sort of spontaneous lie that he blurted out in the heat of the moment but was the product of prepared testimony that had been circulated to others. Now that's a very interesting revelation. Why did they provided it. Did they know its content was false. Right. What's the paper trail. So you're right.This is all in the hands of somebody else and we're kind of chasing around these clues.
Guy Benson: [00:06:53] And those answers to the questions that you just raised could cut in either direction we don't know. I think the other elements for skepticism David would be it sounds like let's just say for the purpose of this argument that the BuzzFeed piece is 100 percent accurate just for a moment. If that's the case it would seem to me that the Muellar team has leaked and they don't really leak very much.
Guy Benson: [00:07:21] Is there someone else who could access to this could have gotten them this information about what Mueller has if not for the Mueller team because then leaking to me is suspicious because they've been very disciplined.
David French: [00:07:33] I guess that that is something that made me raise my eyebrows as well. One potential because remember one potential explanation it's not the Mueller team but somebody in the Southern District of New York. Because remember there has there has the Muellar team handed over elements of the Cohen case to the Southern District of New York. To what extent have documents commingled. To what extent have some of those have members of the FDNY seen and had access to other kinds you know evidence that wasn't specifically related to their campaign finance case. You know when you have e-mail chains when you have text message records you have all kinds of things like that you it's easy to see how the FDNY could be seeing a lot of what the Mueller team was saying in this matter. Now that's just pure speculation. But we we do at least know that there was another set of prosecutors who've been scouring Michael Cohen's red records not the special counsel. So that's one possible explanation.
Guy Benson: [00:08:37] Yeah and another piece of this David is I've seen a number of people saying well if this is what Cohen truly had on Trump he wouldn't be serving any jail time he has been a fully cooperative witness. He would have gotten a much juicier deal basically from the special counsel because this had been like a real smoking gun against the guy they're really going after, but it's also possible that they got their hands on this information without a tremendous amount of help from Michael Cohen example during raids of his office in his hotel room in his house and all that sort of thing. David last question for me here. I have now seen a few op eds popping up from anti Trump lefties in particular a tweet from a Democratic senator. There is at least a portion of the resistance that's saying the BuzzFeed story proves that they can't wait for Mueller. They have to start moving towards impeachment now. I think Senator Murphy said before it's too late which I don't really understand what he means by that to me while I am perfectly open to the notion that if this is proven that this would be impeachable we're not there yet. I've been saying let's wait for Mueller the entire time which Marie just referenced. What is your message to people who are saying OK now we've got at least this report that should be enough to get the ball rolling to oust Trump from office already.
David French [00:10:00] Well three words. Hold your horses. Yep we've got some pretty important events coming up on February 7. Michael Cohen is going to testify. He will be asked directly about this. Now you know Michael Cohen is a liar. So is Donald Trump. I don't believe the word any any of the words that either one of them says.
Guy Benson: [00:10:21] Plus David there are some reports that Cohen might be reconsidering his testimony. I saw that flying around too. Another wrinkle in all of this.
David French: [00:10:29] There may be agreement to special counsel not to testify on certain topics as well. But here's what I would say. So hold your horses. Let's wait for something beyond a news report based on anonymous sources that you know the hints we've been trying to get from other areas other areas of evidence. But here's what I would say. We need the Butler report with all prudent speed. This debate and this argument has long been very destructive within our larger body politic. We're like you know the proverbial blind men feeling different parts of the elephant. We don't know exactly what the evidence is but we're having intense argument as if we did. I think it's for the for the sake of the nation especially for the presidential race gets truly heated. It would be good to see more rather than less from Mueller.
Marie Harf: [00:11:24] Yeah. And David last question for me what Chris Murphy tweeted basically wise Muller shouldn't end his inquiry but it's time for him to show Congress his cards on this specific issue. Right. So I don't know if there's any mechanism for Bob Mueller to issue multiple reports or interim reports it seems to me like we should wait for the whole thing because we get little tidbits from filings, court filing I mentioned.
Guy Benson: [00:11:50] Because Murphy says in that tweet before it's too late. I don't get it.
Marie Harf: [00:11:52] He doesn't say we should move to impeachment. He just wants Mullar to give information to Congress that feels like it may be a little too piecemeal. We should get this all done at once and as soon as possible. Like you mentioned.
David French: [00:12:04] Right. Well you know the one area where he can work he has been. And it is appropriate to piecemeal it is with each individual indictment gives you a little bit more of a piece of the puzzle. So if there is an indictment or or other court filing that could could shed particular light on this that could have some value but overall I'm completely and you're coming up. We need the full picture. We need to see the entirety of the evidence and it needs to be as transparent as humanly possible consistent with you know only the most grave national concerns security concerns on redactions. This is a very damaging period in American history and the American people need to know what has happened.
Marie Harf: [00:12:50] Amen to that David French senior writer for National Review senior fellow at the National Review Institute a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom you can find him on Twitter. David A French don't forget the day and read all of his pieces he writes a ton and a lot of good stuff. David thank you for joining us tonight.
David French: [00:13:07] Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Marie Harf: [00:13:09] We're going to take a break. We will be right back. To round out this week of Benson and. Stay tuned.