© 2024 WUKY
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Trump Isn't So Naive When It Comes To Being Investigated


Vice President Mike Pence has announced that he is hiring an outside lawyer. This would, in theory, help Pence deal with questions asked by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his Russia investigation. And this comes as The Washington Post is reporting that Mueller is investigating President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for his business dealings.

Mueller's also reportedly investigating the president for possible obstruction of justice. As for the White House reaction, well, yesterday Trump attacked Mueller's probe as a, quote, "witch hunt." His surrogates are trying to undermine Mueller's credibility. NPR's Mara Liasson reports that not all Republicans are onboard with the White House game plan.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: On Capitol Hill, Republicans are offering an unusual defense of President Trump's actions in the ongoing investigation into his administration. House Speaker Paul Ryan says the president is just naive.


PAUL RYAN: The president's new at this. He's new to government. And so he probably wasn't steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He's just new to this.

LIASSON: But Donald Trump has never been described as naive or inexperienced when it comes to the legal system.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Donald has long, deep experience with federal grand juries and state investigations of criminal behavior.

LIASSON: That's David Cay Johnston, the author of "The Making of Donald Trump."

JOHNSTON: Since he was a young man, Donald has been the subject of a number of criminal investigations, including four federal grand jury investigations and a New York state investigation into sales tax cheating, which he acknowledged he did.

LIASSON: In fact, in his interview with NBC's Lester Holt last month, President Trump seemed to display a sophisticated knowledge of how the process works, describing what it's like to get a target letter - an official notification that you're the subject of an investigation.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: First of all, when you're under investigation, you're giving all sorts of documents and everything. I knew I wasn't under...

LIASSON: And, as it turns out, the president was right. As Comey testified, Donald Trump was not - at least at the time of Comey's firing - personally under investigation. As for the question of when it's inappropriate to interfere with an ongoing investigation, Trump seems to understand that as well.

During the campaign, he repeatedly attacked then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch for meeting with Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac at the time the Justice Department was investigating Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. Here's Trump on "The Mike Gallagher Show."


TRUMP: You know, I've been talking about the rigged system - how it's rigged. And, you know, this is terrible.

LIASSON: Trump attacked Lynch and Clinton for, at the very least, creating the appearance of interference with an ongoing investigation.


TRUMP: You see a thing like this and - even in terms of judgment, how bad a judgment is it for him or for her to do this? I mean, who would - who would do this?

LIASSON: According to a tweet Trump fired off just yesterday, that meeting on the tarmac was potential obstruction. So while Republicans try to paint the president as a babe in the woods, he presents himself as pretty experienced in these matters. The other part of the Republican's defense is to focus on the legal definition of obstruction.

According to Comey's testimony, which Republicans on Capitol Hill took as credible, the president said he hoped Comey could let the Flynn investigation go. Comey may have heard that as a directive, but Trump's defenders, including his son, say that wasn't an order. It was just a hope. Here's Don, Jr. on FOX.


DONALD TRUMP JR: When he tells you to do something...


TRUMP JR.: ...Guess what? There is no ambiguity in it. There's no, hey, I'm hoping. You and I are friends. Hey, I hope this happens. But you've got to do your job. That's what he told Comey.

LIASSON: But that's not what the president says he told Comey. In fact, Donald Trump is emphatically denying Comey's sworn account of the conversation.


JONATHAN KARL: He did say, under oath, that you told him to let the Flynn - you said you hoped the Flynn investigation you could let - he could let go.

TRUMP: I didn't say that.

LIASSON: Not only did President Trump say he did not tell Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, but...


TRUMP: And there would be nothing wrong if I did say it, according to everybody that I've read today.

LIASSON: And the president went even further, setting up a dramatic, perjury-risking confrontation between him and his former FBI director.


KARL: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of these events?

TRUMP: One hundred percent.

LIASSON: That the special counsel's investigation has now reached the Oval Office is not good news for the president. But his team seems to feel he is in more political than legal jeopardy. Their latest strategy to deal with the controversy has a lot of layers. First, they say, Comey is a liar and a leaker. Second, even if he isn't lying, what Comey says the president did was not obstruction.

Third, even if the special counsel decides it is obstruction, the Department of Justice has a long-standing legal opinion that it's not appropriate to indict a sitting president. That's a decision left to Congress, which has the power to impeach. And, at least as long as Republicans control the House of Representatives, that will not be happening. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.