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Politics & Government

Paul Rosenzweig On Giuliani's Comments, Trump Legal Team Shakeup

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Keeping track of President Trump's legal team can feel like a full-time job. The latest - Ty Cobb is out. Emmet Flood is in. And then there's the relatively recent addition of Rudy Giuliani. He went on Fox News last night to defend the president. He ended up seeming to contradict the president's previous public statements about a hush payment to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Giuliani said on TV that Trump reimbursed his lawyer for that hush money after Trump had said he knew nothing about the payment. Now, the president has been tweeting this morning, saying the money sent to Daniels was taken from the larger retainer paid to his lawyer. I want to bring in someone who has experience dealing with legal questions surrounding a sitting president. Paul Rosenzweig was senior counsel to Kenneth Starr when Starr was leading the Whitewater investigation into the Clintons.

Mr. Rosenzweig, thanks for coming on this morning.

PAUL ROSENZWEIG: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: I want to ask you about the latest shake-up in a second, but let me start with Rudy Giuliani on Fox last night. Do you see a strategy here that's being orchestrated, or was this a flub-up (ph) by the president's lawyer really seeming to contradict his own client?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, I think the strategy has to be disclosure of the truth, which is to say that everyone suspected that Michael Cohen was not paying off Stormy Daniels out of his personal funds without a promise of reimbursement. And so this has to be a disclosure that was, in some sense, inevitable - the why and wherefore of exactly how it is he came to have the money reimbursed to him.

GREENE: Is it possible that the president was being truthful when he said that he did not know about this payment? Is it possible that he gave a retainer to his lawyer, Michael Cohen, and Cohen made this payment to Stormy Daniels without the president's direct knowledge?

ROSENZWEIG: That is, I guess, conceivable, but it would be highly unusual. Most people, when they pay retainers to attorneys, require an accounting of how that money is spent. I work on retainer all the time, and on a monthly circumstance, I send a bill back to the client with how much I've spent, how much time, what expenses I've incurred, et cetera, for his information. It's also part of a lawyer's obligation to generally keep a client advised of all significant material things that are happening. And from my perspective, I surely would've thought that settling the claim with a porn star to keep her quiet during a campaign would be one of those large material items that you would advise your client you'd done for him.

GREENE: So wouldn't Giuliani know that this would at the very least appear like it could be stretching the truth? I mean, what - why would he go on television and say this?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, again, I assume this is part of a - bit of a change of strategy to try and litigate facts like this in the public rather than save them for behind closed doors with the special counsel, or in this case, the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, who's investigating it. As to the exact timing of it, you'd have to ask Mr. Giuliani. I don't know.

GREENE: We'd be happy to have him come on if - whenever he's willing. Let me get to the shake-up now. We have a new player in the game, a new lawyer, Emmet Flood. Turns out he was part of President Clinton's defense team during Clinton's impeachment proceedings. Ironic that President Trump would hire a lawyer who defended President Clinton, or is that how these things work?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, not terribly ironic. The bar that has participated in impeachment proceedings in the past is actually very small. It's limited to anybody who represented President Clinton during - back in the 1990s or maybe a lawyer who worked for the House of Representatives in prosecuting the impeachment in the Senate. So there aren't a lot of people with very close cognate experience. And frankly, Mr. Flood is an excellent attorney. One of the things that's interesting is that his hiring, if it goes forward, puts a stake in the story that Trump can't get good lawyers because, at least in this instance, he got a very good one.

GREENE: Do you do see the strategy changing with Emmet Flood on board?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, I think that it's probably likely that there'll be less overt cooperation. But no defense lawyer worth his salt purposely antagonizes the prosecutor. No defense lawyer worth his salt settles on a strategy that is all slash and burn, at least not until all other options have been taken off the table. I think Mr. Flood is well-equipped to engage in that sort of strategy. His firm, Williams & Connolly, is well-known for being very zealous in the representation of their clients. But I would say that this is more of - changing a bit of the harmony. It's not a change in the base line, if you will.

GREENE: OK. Well, let me just finish by asking you about this list of questions that The New York Times reported - 49 questions that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, wants to ask the president. What do you make of that? And what does that tell us about where Robert Mueller's going?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, first, it's not 49 questions, really. It's 49 areas of inquiry. Each of those questions has about a dozen to two dozen questions backed up behind it, so it's really quite...

GREENE: That's a lot of questions.

ROSENZWEIG: ...An extensive list. I would sort this kind of into two buckets. There's a bucket of those questions that clearly indicates that Mueller is focused quite like a laser on the idea of obstruction of justice and trying to understand what was in the president's mind when he contemplated firing Comey, and indeed, what he was thinking of when he critiqued the attorney general for recusal from this matter. So that's a very prominent focus. The other one, quite obviously, is the number of questions that are related to contact between the Trump campaign and people from Russia, whether they're government officials, intelligence officials or just people who were putting money in the pocket of some of the people who eventually went to work for the Trump campaign. It's clear from the numerosity of these questions that, at least on the second of these, Mueller's inquiry is very wide-ranging...

GREENE: I guess it...

ROSENZWEIG: ...From a Ukrainian peace plan to a change in the Ukrainian portion of the Republican national party platform.

GREENE: That gives you a sense of the scope. Sadly, we'll have to stop there. We're out of time. Paul Rosenzweig, thanks so much for joining us this morning. We really appreciate your time.

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