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Update On Investigations Into Trump Associates


The federal investigations looming over the Trump administration kicked into high gear this past week, yielding legal consequences for not one but four of his associates. Former campaign Chairman Paul Manafort was convicted on eight counts in federal court while, at virtually the same time, Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty and implicated the president. Add to that news that prosecutors reached immunity deals with two Trump allies - David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer, and Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of The Trump Organization. To sort through what all this means, I'm joined by Anne Milgram, a former state and federal prosecutor and former attorney general of New Jersey. Welcome to the program.

ANNE MILGRAM: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And let's talk about that immunity. Prosecutors have worked out deals to get cooperation from at least these two men that we know about. What's the upshot of that?

MILGRAM: So the upshot with Pecker, I think, could be enormous for the government in terms of getting evidence about Donald Trump. We understand that he had - he's friends with Trump for 20 years or more and that they've had a long relationship. What I think is one of the most interesting questions here is not just that he's cooperated related to the Cohen piece but also what other evidence he may have. Were there other deals made? Were there other stories that they caught and killed, as they say in the business, where they pay people to not actually publish a story and not have it go public? So that, I think, is particularly interesting.

With Weisselberg, I think it's almost too early for us to tell. To me, he could be one of the most important witnesses in all of this. He's the bank for The Trump Organization. He knows everything there is to know. And you can think about whether it's the Trump Foundation case that's ongoing or related to some of the criminal conduct that we've been talking about. So that could be enormous. What's been publicly reported is that, at this point, he's only been given limited immunity, which would mean that he was immunized and told he wouldn't be prosecuted for his participation in crimes as they relate to the two things that Cohen pled guilty to - the payments to these women related to having relationships with Donald Trump. What's really interesting is if he's either cooperating with the government beyond that immunity agreement - so he's giving information about other incidents. He's been with Trump also for years.

BLOCK: Yeah.

MILGRAM: And he's been the finance guy. We just don't know that yet. But I think, you know, if it turns out that he is cooperating or does get fuller immunity, he really could turn out to be an enormously important part of this investigation.

BLOCK: After Michael Cohen pleaded guilty and implicated the president, we saw a tweet from President - in an interview, Trump said flipping almost ought to be illegal. Fair to say that the cases couldn't be made without getting people to flip?

MILGRAM: Absolutely. I mean, there's no question. And we often see people who are convicted of crimes where there are cooperators - say, you know, you shouldn't be allowed to do this. That itself should be a crime. But the reality is that in order to prove a lot of cases, particularly very serious cases, we need to have someone who's in the room when all the action happens, when the crime happens or who's involved in transactions or murders or whatever who can tell the story. And so it's essential to have that voice.

And there are two things I think that are really important to remember. The first is that those people are still held accountable. They still plead guilty to crimes. And they often do prison sentences that are very long - not as long as people who don't cooperate. But they often really do - they really do get punished for that.

The second thing is when you think about the most serious cases the president talks about all the time, like MS-13, you simply couldn't make those cases without cooperators. You need people on the inside because things like gangs are highly secretive organizations. And so you need to understand where drugs are coming from, where money's coming from, how violence is committed and by whom. And so it really is essential. You know, it's an unsavory part of the criminal justice system. But it's a part that becomes very important to get serious crimes prosecuted.

BLOCK: OK. Anne Milgram, former federal prosecutor and attorney general of New Jersey, now a professor at New York University Law School, thanks so much.

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