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Journalist And 'Fear' Author Bob Woodward On Where Mueller Investigation Is Headed

President Trump looks at Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they take their places for a photo during the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, on Nov. 30, 2018. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)
President Trump looks at Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they take their places for a photo during the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, on Nov. 30, 2018. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images)

President Trump continues to defend himself after his former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to Congress last year about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump tweeted Friday that he did continue to run his business while running for president, saying that was “very legal.”

Journalist Bob Woodward, author of the book “Fear: Trump in the White House” and who broke the Watergate scandal as a reporter for The Washington Post in the 1970s, says one thing that stood out to him about Cohen’s plea is the simple fact that “it’s Michael Cohen.”

“If you have a lawyer for 10 years and you’re involved in so many controversies as Trump was, there could be a gold mine there,” Woodward (@realBobWoodward) tells Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson. “At the same time, it depends on what the quality of the evidence is that they get from Cohen. He is a tainted witness because he’s acknowledged that he lied. So they’re going to need some sort of documents and tapes to really get something substantial.”

As NPR reports, Cohen’s account also raises questions about Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony to Congress in 2017 about Trump real estate negotiations in Russia.

Recent reports describing Trump as concerned and distracted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe align with what Woodward found while writing his book. The day Mueller was appointed was “one of the worst days for Trump’s aides, because he went into a rage,” Woodward says.

“A bad mood underdescribes the emotions, which were serious,” he says of a scene described in the book. “So I think this is clearly worrisome to Trump, and it probably is going to be disorienting for some time until there is the next crisis — real or manufactured.”

Interview Highlights

On Trump saying Cohen is lying in an effort to get a reduced sentence

“I’m sure Cohen is trying to get a reduced sentence, if he’s got a good lawyer and he’s thinking this through. He’s got to be very careful to be as truthful as possible. This is part of the Trump attack machine, and it gets directed at anyone who offers any criticism or evidence about what Trump is up to.”

On whether Trump’s concern about the Russia investigation will lead him to fire Mueller

“This is the great debate. [Trump] says no, lots of people say no. One of the things if you go back to the Nixon case and Watergate, as soon as the special prosecutor in that case was actively pursuing the tapes and got lower-court orders directing Nixon to turn over the tapes, that’s when Nixon fired Archibald Cox. So a cornered president with the power to fire somebody, like I think Mueller indeed can be fired by the president, once you get into that final corner, that very well could occur.”

On how this compares to Watergate

“I think what’s happened in this week ups the ante. It doesn’t make it like Watergate at this point. It’s not clear, and Trump and his lawyers have said this and it’s important, exactly what’s the crime? And you need I think in an investigation like this if you’re going after the president, you really have to have evidence that is almost incontrovertible of some sort of criminal activity. As Trump says when he’s running for president, trying to run his business and build a Trump Tower in Moscow was not illegal. It’s certainly unsavory, and I think if people knew more about it at the time it would have been a big deal. But it doesn’t cross that line, and there are certain things that do cross the line that are very clear: paying money for illegal activity, destroying documents or asking people to perjure themselves and lie.”

On whether personal financial interests in Russia and Saudi Arabia are factoring into White House decision-making

“That is a great question and that is the question that Mueller, the special counsel, is tangling with. I have not seen any evidence that establishes a conclusive link. But there certainly is a pattern here. Certainly, Trump was always, as people are in the real estate business, interested in making deals and money. So this leads to the question of Trump’s finances and his taxes, which we don’t know. I’ve always felt very badly in 2016 that no one got Trump’s tax returns. I worked on it. I didn’t work hard enough to get those returns, which people in the IRS have said those returns for 30 years are a road map to who Trump is and how he operated, and that was a dark part of the campaign that we just didn’t see, and we should have.”

On the dynamic between Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and whether it’s shaped the response to journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder

“Jared Kushner at the beginning — it was the first month of the administration — started proposing some outreach to the Saudis. It was astonishing to me that the opposition to establishing this link with [Mohammed bin Salman], who was then the deputy crown prince, of all things … Kushner fought it very hard, the secretary of state, secretary of defense, were all opposed. Kushner went ahead, had Trump’s support, and the second month the administration, MBS, the deputy crown prince, came to Washington and had lunch with the president — unheard of. And then Trump went to Saudi Arabia in May, and this whole relationship was solidified.

“It’s directed at Iran. We all know Trump was so opposed to the Iranian nuclear deal, and I think developing that relationship may make sense. But the intelligence agencies warned Trump that MBS was somebody who was very, very impulsive, and we see this in the murder of [journalist Jamal] Khashoggi. The warning was issued, and it was neglected and now the country and Trump are paying that price.”

Jill Ryan produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.

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