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Former Federal Prosecutor Reacts To Latest Filings In Mueller Investigation


There are major developments in the cases of two of the key figures in the special counsel's Russia investigation. In two federal courts in New York and in Washington, prosecutors have filed documents in the cases of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. Prosecutors are accusing Paul Manafort of lying about his contacts with the Trump administration and others. And as for Cohen, prosecutors are recommending substantial prison time for the crimes that he has pleaded guilty to. And they say he - Cohen - repeatedly used his power and influence for deceptive ends.

Nick Ackerman is a former federal prosecutor and was a member of the Watergate prosecution team. He joins me now to help us sort through all of this. Welcome.

NICK AKERMAN: Thank you very much for having me.

CHANG: OK. So both Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen are heading to prison. How do these developments fit into the overall Russia investigation, you think? Place it in context.

AKERMAN: Yeah, I think it's important - yeah. No, put this in context, which you really have now, based on what I've seen today and based on the Flynn memo that came out last week, the fact that Rick Gates is cooperating, he basically - Mueller has put together a legal juggernaut that is going straight towards Donald Trump. If you look at the memo he filed on Cohen today, he states that Cohen provided the special counsel's office with useful information concerning certain discreet Russian-related matters core to its investigation, core meaning relating to the conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign...

CHANG: The collusion.

AKERMAN: ...that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with company executives during the campaign. In addition, with the Flynn matter, it's...

CHANG: Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser? Or you mean Michael Cohen...

AKERMAN: That's right. I mean Michael Flynn, the...


AKERMAN: Right, the former security adviser. Basically, he has pled guilty and has cooperated on his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Kislyak, in December 2016 before Trump took office. And if you look at what happened and what that memo says about other witnesses corroborating when and bringing other witnesses in, it's pretty clear that what Flynn is talking about is the sanctions and the lifting of sanctions, which was the quid pro quo for the help that Russia gave the Trump campaign during the presidential election. And what's interesting here is that - what President Obama did on December 28. He basically threw a monkey wrench into this deal...

CHANG: Right.

AKERMAN: ...By getting more sanctions on to the Russians, which prompted meetings going back and forth between...

CHANG: Right.

AKERMAN: ...Flynn and Trump and Kushner and people who were located in various different parts.

CHANG: So it sounds like you are concluding these documents in totality expose the president of the United States to some real legal jeopardy. Is that what you're saying?

AKERMAN: Right. Absolutely. On the Russian conspiracy, no question. And if you read the Cohen memo on the campaign contribution violating - the campaign - the use of money to - as hush money for the two women that had affairs with Donald Trump...

CHANG: Alleged affairs, yes.

AKERMAN: ...that Michael Cohen has testified to - but if you read the government's memo here, it's pretty clear that they view this as a very serious crime, and that Donald Trump was right in the middle.

CHANG: Do you think - very briefly, do you think any other members of the Trump campaign or the Trump family face legal jeopardy...

AKERMAN: Oh, I think...

CHANG: ...In addition to the ones who are already facing legal jeopardy at this point?

AKERMAN: Yeah. Oh, most definitely. There's going to be Don Jr. There's Ivanka. There's Kushner. I think all of those people...

CHANG: Jared Kushner, his son-in-law.

AKERMAN: That's right. They all face legal jeopardy here because, I mean, even as - if you look at the original plea that Cohen entered here, with respect to the original one, but...

CHANG: Unfortunately, (laughter) we're going to have to leave it there.


CHANG: Nick Ackerman is a former federal prosecutor. Thank you very much.

AKERMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: December 9, 2018 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous Web introduction and headline to this story incorrectly identified Nick Akerman as a former U.S. attorney. Akerman is a former assistant U.S. attorney.