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Cohen To Take Questions In Private Before Congressional Panels

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We are beginning an eventful week. President Trump starts for Vietnam today, where he will meet the leader of North Korea. Vice President Pence visits Colombia. He will meet the opposition leader that the U.S. recognizes as president of Venezuela. And then there's Michael Cohen. The president's longtime lawyer and fixer takes questions in private from the House and Senate intelligence committees. And he testifies in public before a House committee. That comes on Wednesday. He takes all these questions after admitting he lied before Congress the last time he came - they were lies about the president's business dealings with Russia, among other things. Some lawmakers have consulted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti ahead of this week's hearings. And Mr. Mariotti is on the line. Good morning.

RENATO MARIOTTI: Good morning.

INSKEEP: He joins us via Skype from Chicago, we should say. What value do lawmakers see in making Cohen testify again?

MARIOTTI: Well, a lot. I mean, first of all, you know, Cohen has told a great many things to the federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, as well as Robert Mueller and his team. But a lot of what he's told them is not public. And some of them may never become public. This way, lawmakers can find out for themselves. These are our elected representatives. And they can ask questions beyond what law enforcement may have been interested in because lawmakers, of course, have a different role - they're providing oversight and trying to make sure that their investigations and the integrity of those investigations are preserved.

INSKEEP: I suppose one thing that we know from court documents is that Michael Cohen now asserts that business discussions with Russia over at Trump Tower, Moscow continued far into the 2016 campaign - many months later than previously believed to be the case. But you said there are questions beyond that. What would lawmakers want to know from Cohen that we don't yet know?

MARIOTTI: Well, for example, as - you know, you just mentioned that fact a moment ago. Of course, he lied to Congress about that in the past. And, according to his attorney, he was in consultation with White House attorneys and staff when he did so, for example. So I suspect that Congress is going to be interested in knowing who those White House attorneys and staff are, what exactly they knew about Cohen's false testimony in advance, if they encouraged him to testify falsely, they directed him to testify falsely, etc.

INSKEEP: Oh, so, suddenly, we're building an obstruction of justice case, potentially, against the president or people around the president then.

MARIOTTI: Potentially. Or obstruction of Congress and their congressional investigation. Yeah. I think that's exactly right. You know, Congress has a duty to make sure that they preserve the integrity of their investigation.

INSKEEP: So one question here is - how much can be made public of an investigation that we know has been going on largely in private? The special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee addressed this question over the weekend. He's Adam Schiff. He's a Democrat. He was on ABC's "This Week." And he said if Mueller's final report is not released, if it doesn't get out to the public, then Schiff might be inclined to subpoena him. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ABC THIS WEEK")

ADAM SCHIFF: Well, we will obviously subpoena the report. We will bring Bob Mueller in to testify before Congress. We will take it to court if necessary. And in the end, I think the department understands they're going to have to make this public.

INSKEEP: Well, so Schiff says, Mr. Mariotti. But as a former federal prosecutor, do you feel a little queasy about Congress demanding to know more than the specific criminal charges that might be brought out of an investigation?

MARIOTTI: Well, in a typical investigation I would. I think that there are good reasons why certain information is designated as law enforcement sensitive or classified, etc. I have to say that, in this specific instance, given the amount of public interest in this investigation, I worry that if the report was kept private - that the speculation and theories and potentially conspiracy theories about what's inside that report would, you know, take on a life of their own. And I think there is - it is clearly in the public interest for, if not the entire report, the vast majority of it, as much as possible, can be made public.

INSKEEP: There would be pressure for leaks, I suppose, if it were kept private in any way.

MARIOTTI: There's no question about it. And, you know, I think there was a CNN poll recently that said 87 percent of Americans want that report to be fully public. I think that's saying a lot. That's the sort of public support that politicians respond to.

INSKEEP: Mr. Mariotti, thanks very much for the time. Always appreciate it.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That is former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.