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How Cohen's Testimony Could Affect Trump Legally

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump's onetime personal lawyer Michael Cohen is not done answering questions yet. Yesterday, he publicly attacked President Trump in front of the House Oversight Committee, calling the president a con man, a racist and a cheat. Today there will be no TV cameras when Cohen will have to answer questions from the House Intelligence Committee. Members of Congress want to get as much information as possible before Cohen reports to prison in May for, among other things, lying to Congress. But yesterday, though, Cohen insisted it is the president who lies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL COHEN: He would look me in the eye and tell me there's no Russian business and then go on to lie to the American people by saying the same thing.

MARTIN: Cohen leveled accusation after accusation against Trump and brought documents to back up some of those claims. So what does all this mean for the president and the special counsel's investigation? We're going to put that question to Jonathan Turley. He's a law professor at George Washington University, and he is in our studio this morning. Thanks so much for coming in.

JONATHAN TURLEY: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: So Michael Cohen leveled a lot of accusations yesterday, including reimbursing him for hush money payments to cover up affairs, the allegation that Trump knew ahead of time about WikiLeaks' release of DNC emails during the 2016 campaign. Did you hear anything in there that you believed to be damaging to the president?

TURLEY: I think there was damage done to the president. Much of this we've already heard about, so some of these allegations were really rehashed. We knew about the portrait and the fake bidder allegation. We knew about the allegation that the president obviously paid this hush money. And...

MARTIN: Although the WikiLeaks DNC emails, that was new - wasn't it?

TURLEY: Well, what's difficult about the WikiLeaks issue is that what Cohen said is that there was this call from Stone...

MARTIN: Roger Stone, longtime friend of the president.

TURLEY: ...Yes, from Roger Stone - shortly before the July 25th Democratic National Convention and that Stone indicated that he had pre-knowledge that there was going to be this huge dump of WikiLeaks material. The problem is that a month earlier, in June, WikiLeaks was already teasing that dump. They were already - it was already in the news that they were going to be releasing or may release this type of information. So it's not clear from...

MARTIN: Although Michael Cohen, in his testimony, suggested that in the phone call that he says he overheard, he heard the president giving verbal affirmation that that would be a good thing.

TURLEY: Yeah. But that's not a crime. I mean, a lot of people were trying to get those emails - journalists, campaign operatives. It's not a crime. And people have to understand that the key here in terms of the original investigation was whether Trump had knowledge of the hacking, whether he was colluding with the crime that is the hacking.

So that was certainly a sensational moment. But legally, it's not that clear. I think there were areas, however, where he did put around below the waterline for Trump.

MARTIN: How so? Where?

TURLEY: Well, the one that interests me most is his discussion of how Trump tried to - or was interested in buying the Buffalo Bills. And he said that Trump inflated his assets in order to make that pitch. When you look at the documents that he has given to Congress, it shows that in 2011, Trump was reporting around 4.26 billion in worth. And in 2012, it was up to 4.56 billion. But then suddenly in 2013, it jumps up to 6-point - I'm sorry - 8.66 billion, a $4 billion jump. And what Cohen said is that those documents were given to Deutsche Bank, and that's the key issue. Trump can go around inflating his worth. That...

MARTIN: He can tell Forbes magazine...

TURLEY: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...In order to get on a list or something.

TURLEY: He can lie to the public. He can lie to the media. But he can't put in a false bank statement because that could be bank fraud.

MARTIN: So that's where you see real legal liability.

TURLEY: Well, that's what got Manafort and Cohen in trouble. I mean, they're going to jail for precisely that type of crime. Now, Cohen seemed, at a point, to be flailing madly in all directions. I mean, I think that he made a mistake by coming across as so personal. You know, Cohen started out with a lack of credibility. I mean, his lack of legal skill was only matched by his lack of legal ethics. In fact, that was the great reason people would hire him. Right? He would do things other lawyers would not do.

MARTIN: Right. But is it substantive that Republicans attacked him on his character but didn't attack him on the substance of the claims he was making?

TURLEY: I think the Republicans royally blew this hearing. I mean, the fact that they didn't seem at all interested in the litany of crimes that the witness was talking about struck me as perfectly bizarre. But the Democrats also didn't follow up particularly well. They were running over major areas. They never asked about whether he was offered a pardon or other details that would have moved the ball for the committee.

MARTIN: Michael Cohen said yesterday he's aware of potential criminal investigations connected to the president that have not yet been made public. Do you have reason to believe that that has more to do with the president's external business affairs, like what we saw with the...

TURLEY: Yeah. The takeaway is that his most serious problems are collateral, not collusion, and they're in the Southern District of New York.

MARTIN: Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University - thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

TURLEY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.