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Mueller Investigation Latest: Michael Cohen's Guilty Plea


We are going to spend some time today reflecting on the life and legacy of President George H.W. Bush. He died yesterday. But we feel we need to take a few minutes to check in on that other big story this week - or stories, rather.

There were two major developments in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Early in the week, we learned that a plea bargain Mueller had struck with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort broke down. The special counsel says Manafort lied to investigators. We also learned that Manafort's lawyers had been sharing information with the president's attorneys. Later in the week, another key player, Trump's longtime attorney Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying before Congress about the extent of Trump Organization business contacts with Russia.

Now, all of this has certainly got the attention of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee who will take charge when the new Congress is seated. And one of the members, Congressman Joaquin Castro, is with us now.

Welcome, congressman. Thanks so much for joining us.

JOAQUIN CASTRO: Oh, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And I promise to give you a minute to reflect on the passing of your fellow Texan in a minute, but we do want to speak about the news of the week. The filing for Mueller's office this week revealed that Michael Cohen had lied to Congress. Cohen now says that the Trump Organization continued to pursue a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow through June of 2016, well into the presidential campaign. And I just wonder, what was your reaction when you heard that?

CASTRO: Well, you know, on the one hand, I'm glad that Michael Cohen apparently has been cooperating incredibly. He's spending lots of hours with the special counsel and apparently telling them everything that he knows. But, on the other hand, it also doesn't surprise me. My sense is that, when it comes to lying to Congress by witnesses who went in front of the House and the Senate, that the case of Michael Cohen is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

MARTIN: What issues do you want the intelligence committee to zero in on in the new Congress when the Democrats take control in January?

CASTRO: Well, with respect to the Russia investigation, we're not going to reinvent the wheel. We're not going to start all over again and bring in every single witness. But there are a handful - probably about a half dozen to a dozen gaps, important gaps in information that we weren't able to get because the committee under Devin Nunes was not willing, for example, to issue a single subpoena to verify what was being told to us by the witnesses. So we're going to start from there.

And one of those, for example, was - is a phone call sandwiched between the phone calls to set up the Trump Tower meeting. It was a blocked call. And I have reason to believe - I'll speak for myself - that based on all the testimony that we heard that there is a decent chance that that could have been President Trump that Donald Trump Jr. spoke to at the time. Of course, he wasn't president yet. He was a candidate. But this was about setting up the Trump Tower meeting.

MARTIN: Can I ask why you think that?

CASTRO: Yeah, a few reasons. First, Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric and the family really didn't do anything on their own. They operated as a family with Donald Trump in charge of basically everything. We also received testimony from another witness that Donald Trump, in fact, had - one of his numbers was a blocked number that he used. And so that's why Adam Schiff and others have pointed out that that's one of the mysteries, so to speak, that we're going to get to the bottom of.

MARTIN: So, finally, I promised you some time to reflect on President George H.W. Bush. Obviously, the two of you were - you're both Texans, but you're very different people - of a different generation, different political parties.


MARTIN: But I am interested in your thoughts on learning of his death today.

CASTRO: Yeah. He loomed large in Texas. He was a celebrated figure, a diplomat - president, obviously, but also, you know, a father and a husband and somebody that Texans of - across the political spectrum revered. I had a chance to meet him a few years ago when Neil Bush invited me to speak at the Points of Light foundation, an annual event. And he and the first lady, Barbara Bush, were very gracious. And that's how he was to everybody.

MARTIN: That is Congressman Joaquin Castro. He represents the 20th District of Texas. He is a Democrat, and he was kind enough to join us on this very somber day.

Congressman, thank you so much for talking with us.

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