News Brief: Michael Cohen Accusations, Deadline Passes For Reuniting Migrants
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
What a week it has been for Michael Cohen.
NOEL KING, HOST:
It certainly has been. It started with reports that Cohen had recorded conversations with his then-client Donald Trump. A couple days later, some of that audio leaked to CNN. It appears to show Cohen and Trump talking about buying the story of a model who says she had an affair with Trump. And now a handful of media outlets are reporting that Cohen says Trump knew in advance about a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a group of Russians. Trump was still a candidate then and the Russians were expected to offer his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. Now, NPR hasn't independently verified the story yet, but Trump has long said he didn't know about this meeting before it happened.
MARTIN: All right. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us now. Hey, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: If Michael Cohen is telling the truth here that President Trump, then-candidate Trump, did know about this meeting beforehand, what would be the consequences?
LUCAS: Well, one of the lingering questions has been whether the president did know about Russian efforts to reach out to his campaign during the presidential race. Now, the White House and Donald Trump Junior have said that Trump did not know about the meeting, that he only found out about it a year afterwards. But, remember, we now know that the president helped draw up a statement that Donald Trump Junior released after The New York Times broke the story about the meeting in the summer of 2017. We know that because Trump's lawyers have admitted as much in writing. So if Trump did indeed know - and, that's still a big if - then you have a line from the Russian outreach that reaches directly to Trump. They offer to help Trump. Trump is aware of the offer, and then Trump draws up a misleading statement about the meeting. Now, Donald Trump Junior has testified to Congress that his father did not know about the meeting. Trump Junior's lawyer said in a statement last night that they are confident about the accuracy and the reliability of the information that Trump has provided. So they're saying that everything that they've said has been aboveboard.
MARTIN: Also, I mean, we need to ask questions about what Michael Cohen's motives are in this moment, right? I mean, CNN and other sources are saying that Cohen is not presenting evidence to back up this particular claim, like tapes, for example. And he clearly has incentive to be seen as handing over valuable information to prosecutors to save his own skin.
LUCAS: Cohen does have a reason to want to make nice with prosecutors, yes. He is under investigation in New York. The FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office are looking into his business dealings there. So he is under immense legal pressure, financial pressure, because of that investigation. And, certainly, the president's legal team is saying that Cohen doesn't bring a lot of credibility to the table. I spoke to Rudy Giuliani last night, the president's lawyer. He denies the CNN report. He says it's not true. He says the president did not know about the meeting beforehand. And then Giuliani attacked Cohen's credibility. He says that he's a liar. He criticized him for recording conversations with Trump when Cohen served as Trump's personal attorney, and he says that Cohen is simply trying to make a deal here. Now, Cohen's attorney declined to comment to me last night, but going after Cohen's credibility is definitely the move that we're seeing from team Trump.
MARTIN: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas for us this morning. Ryan, thanks so much.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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MARTIN: OK. There are two ways at looking at yesterday's deadline for reuniting immigrant families.
KING: Yeah. On the one hand, the Trump administration says it has reunited all of the eligible parents with their children who were separated under this zero-tolerance policy. But on the other hand, hundreds of kids are still in government custody far away from their parents. And it's not clear when they will be reunited, if ever.
MARTIN: Ari Shapiro - you might know that name. He is one of the hosts of All Things Considered, and Ari has been in South Texas reporting from the border and joins us now. Hey, Ari.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So a lot of reunions were happening yesterday to coincide with this deadline. Where were you, and what did you witness?
SHAPIRO: Well, I was in McAllen, Texas, which is sort of the easternmost edge of this border. And I was in the bus station, which is one place where many detainees are first released when they're let out of detention. So picture this bus station full of people, many of them wearing ankle monitors, many of them carrying manila envelopes with names of cities all over the South that they're going to board buses to take them to. And, this place full of volunteer activists trying to help. One of them was named Dr. Melba Salazar-Lucio. She's with a group called Angry Tias and Abuelas. That means Angry Aunts and Grandmothers. And she told me she was trying to look out for some of these families that were just trying to figure out what their next step was. Her organization started giving out backpacks full of food and supplies. They were told not to do that. So then they just started giving out cash, instead.
MELBA SALAZAR-LUCIO: There was a teacher from Austin that came. She's like, well, I've got to leave. She handed me $2,000.
And she said she was just distributing those $2,000 sort of $10 per person. So a family of four would get $40 and be sent on their way.
MARTIN: Wow. I imagine you talked to some parents, too, right?
SHAPIRO: Yeah. I want to play you some tape from a woman named Maria. We're only using her first name because she's afraid of violence against her family still in Central America. She was separated from her 7-year-old son six weeks ago. She was hoping to be reunited with him yesterday. And when my colleague John Burnett spoke with her yesterday morning, she told me - she told him that in the detention center, the guards would mock her and the other mothers for crying over their lost kids.
MARIA: (Through interpreter) They yell at you. They tell you, why did you come to the United States? And, that because we cried too much for our kids, we were just putting on a show, and that if they were going to reunite us, it was going to be to deport us. They don't want more children here, and they don't want to provide refuge for immigrants.
SHAPIRO: And, Rachel, we received word from her lawyer that, close to midnight last night, after seven weeks apart she was finally reunited with her kid.
MARTIN: So this deadline came and went. I mean, what did the government actually achieve? Did they meet the technical deadline, or not?
SHAPIRO: Well, civil rights lawyers say they set the victory line themselves and announced that they had cleared it. The government says it reunited about 1,400 children over the age of 5 with their parents, and they say that's everyone who's eligible. But there are more than 700 kids whose parents are deemed not eligible by the government 'cause they failed DNA tests, or criminal background checks or 'cause they've been deported. And it's not clear now what's going to happen with those children and the people who say they are their parents.
MARTIN: So you have spent the last few days there in McAllen, in Texas, reporting from the border, and now you're going across the border? You're going to go to Mexico?
SHAPIRO: Yes. We're heading into Mexico today to talk with people who are still hoping to cross over in spite of all the new hurdles that have gone up recently. In the rest of our time reporting here, we're also planning to look at a few other questions. Like, we want to look at the business of immigration detention. There's a new facility near here that just opened just two years after a detention center in the same place closed down.
MARTIN: NPR's Ari Shapiro, co-host of All Things Considered. You can find more of his reporting all this week, obviously, and online at npr.org. Ari, thanks so much.
SHAPIRO: Thank you, Rachel.
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MARTIN: All right. At South Korea's Osan Air Base this morning, drums rolled as what are believed to be the remains of 55 American soldiers were removed from a U.S. Air Force plane.
KING: That's right. North Korea handed over the remains of troops who died in the Korean War. That war ended with an armistice exactly 65 years ago today.
MARTIN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Beijing to talk about this. Hey, Anthony.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.
MARTIN: Just tell us what this repatriation involved. I mean, this is pretty remarkable.
KUHN: Yeah. Well, this is a joint operation between the United Nations command under which the U.S. fought in - during the Korean War. Also on this cargo plane that went to pick up the remains were a Defense Department POW/MIA unit in charge of prisoners of war and missing in action remains. And so they flew back to Osan Air Force Base, and there were soldiers from several nations from the U.N. command there. And they're going to have a formal repatriation ceremony next week. And then the remains are going to go back to Hawaii for a forensic examination to identify them. And this is an issue because, in past, some of the remains that were repatriated had animal bones and things that were just completely unrelated.
MARTIN: So as I understand it, I mean, this is something that came out of the North Korea-U.S. summit in Singapore, right?
KUHN: Yeah, it is. The White House statement that came out today says that the White House is encouraged by the move, and President Trump tweeted his thanks to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. South Korea said it's happy about this also. North Korea has not commented directly, but it did say this week that it sort of upped - it expects the U.S. now to make the first move to bring an end to the Korean War. There's some criticism about this whole repatriation process and that is that some people say that North Korea is using these remains as a bargaining chip, and it still has a lot of sets of them, and it's not going to release the remains until a politically appropriate moment.
MARTIN: So this was one concession - "small c," quote, unquote - that North Korea made during the nuclear summit in Singapore. But what about the substance of those talks? I mean, what happens now on the nuclear negotiation front?
KUHN: Yeah. The nuclear issue is kind of stalled over the issue of sequencing, whether the U.S. gives security guarantees first or the North gives up its nuclear weapons first. And Secretary of State Pompeo admitted that there's another problem. He told senators this week that North Korea is still producing ingredients for nuclear bombs. So there's going to be a lot of diplomacy in the coming months. Leaders of South Korea and China may have summits in North Korea and also, you know, President Trump said he might invite Kim to the White House. But all this is only if confidence continues to be built and confidence does not collapse completely.
MARTIN: And this repatriation of the remains being seen as at least an initial confidence-building measure. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reporting from Beijing this morning for us. Anthony, thanks so much.
KUHN: Sure thing, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.