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Reports: Former Cohen Business Partner To Cooperate With Prosecutors


What can investigators probing Russian influence learn from New York's taxi king? We may eventually find out. Evgeny Freidman is a Russian immigrant. He controls a fleet of New York City taxis. And he was in business with Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal lawyer. Friedman is accused of failing to pay millions of dollars in taxes, and the New York state attorney general's office says he reached a plea deal. This could lead to his cooperation with state or federal investigations. For more on what this could mean for Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, we're joined by former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. Welcome to the program, sir.

RENATO MARIOTTI: Hi. How are you?

INSKEEP: What's the news, this plea deal, tell you about the Mueller investigation, if anything?

MARIOTTI: Well, it certainly tells us that things are getting worse for Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen is actually the subject of a federal investigation in New York City, and he is reportedly being investigated for bank fraud and for campaign finance violations. Obviously, Mr. Cohen is in significant jeopardy. He had his home office raided. And now this is yet another step that certainly makes it appear that Michael Cohen is in significant trouble.

INSKEEP: I'm trying to think this through. When his office and other locations were raided, it was said that Cohen had a number of taxi medallions, which we should explain. That is the right to put a taxicab on the streets of New York City. He had a number of the medallions. Couldn't understand what that was really about. Now we find out that he's connected with Friedman, who is in legal trouble. It's still hard to connect any of that to Russia. But is the point here that Cohen might be in more and more trouble and therefore might be pressured to give up information about President Trump?

MARIOTTI: That's exactly right. First of all, you know, Mr. Cohen is being investigated by separate federal prosecutors that are not related to the Russia investigation. Reportedly. Mr. Mueller found some information about Cohen and a went to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who determined that it was unrelated to the Russia investigation, it was better handled by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. And so they're investigating. And ultimately, the information that Mr. Cohen has about President Trump, if anything, you know, could - would be shared with everyone in the Justice Department, including Bob Mueller. And it's worth remembering that President Trump seems concerned about Mr. Cohen's cooperation with authorities or potential cooperation. He had tweeted some time ago about his concern that Michael Cohen would flip.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah, that's absolutely true. It was a kind of a - one of his weekend tweet storms, as I recall. Trump has also been very vocal about not wanting to have his wider business activities investigated the way that the Russia interference is being investigated. And that does raise questions about whenever the president himself is interviewed by investigators, does he have any leverage to limit the scope of questioning about his own activities in his own past?

MARIOTTI: Well, the president can always take the Fifth. Any citizen can do that. And he can avoid questioning in that way, first of all. And second of all, he also can try to engage in a high-stakes legal fight as to whether or not he could be subpoenaed. I think - and I think most legal analysts would agree that he's unlikely to succeed, but the mere fact that he could make that challenge gives him some leverage against Mueller, who would want his investigation to continue unimpeded.

INSKEEP: Is there any motivation then for Mueller to say, OK, we're just going to ask you about a limited set of things, not about everything we might be curious about?

MARIOTTI: I think Mueller would agree to some limits just to save himself the time and effort and the potential risk of litigating against the president. But I suspect that the limits would be modest. Any significant limits of his questioning would probably ultimately result in that litigation I discussed earlier.

INSKEEP: Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. Thanks.

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