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Trump Lauds Disbarred Lawyer While Criticizing Others, Mueller Report Says


Democratic lawmakers have not been shy about the fact that they have a lot of questions for Attorney General William Barr about the Mueller report. They will get their chance tomorrow. Barr is set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. President Trump keeps praising him, but critics say Barr is inappropriately running interference for Trump.

Here's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Trump is still yearning for his Roy Cohn, the notorious attorney who helped him break onto the Manhattan real estate scene decades ago. Cohn was ultimately disbarred for dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation. Never mind that. A lawyer close to the White House tells NPR, as president, Trump regularly told Roy Cohn stories, saying he was a great lawyer.

And in the Mueller report, there are multiple descriptions of Trump bringing Cohn up while complaining about then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House counsel Don McGahn. Trump was mad that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation and upset that McGahn didn't stop him.

This was Trump in a Fox News interview last August still talking about it.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Even my enemies say that Jeff Sessions should have told you that he was going to recuse himself and then you wouldn't have put him in. He took the job and then he said, I'm going to recuse myself. I said, what kind of a man is this?

KEITH: Trump, by the telling of the Mueller report, wanted an attorney general who would protect him like Cohn did. But that isn't the role of the attorney general. In fact, Alberto Gonzales, who held that job in the George W. Bush administration, says presidents aren't even supposed to talk to the Justice Department about ongoing investigations.

ALBERTO GONZALES: It just wouldn't be proper. And if President Bush had asked me a question about it, I would have said, Mr. President, it's probably - we shouldn't be talking about that, and he would have respected that.

KEITH: Also the attorney general and the White House counsel aren't the president's lawyers. They represent the executive branch and the presidency respectively. But critics of Attorney General Bill Barr charged that when he gave a press conference before releasing the redacted version of the Mueller report, he was carrying water for Trump with comments like these.


WILLIAM BARR: There was, in fact, no collusion. And as the special counsel's report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency.

KEITH: Barr's handling of the Mueller report prompted some cable talkers to suggest he was the Roy Cohn replacement Trump has been looking for.


JOE SCARBOROUGH: Donald Trump wanted his Roy Cohn. He got his Roy Cohn.

DAVID CICILLINE: He got his Roy Cohn with Mr. Barr.

LAURA COATES: Didn't the president, at first, once ask, where's my Roy Cohn? Oh, well, I guess he may have found him.

KEITH: George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley says this suggestion is bizarre.

JONATHAN TURLEY: For someone like Bill Barr, it would be deeply insulting to be compared to someone like Roy Cohn.

KEITH: Turley goes way back with Barr and testified at his confirmation hearing. He thinks Barr's press conference and word choice were a mistake but...

TURLEY: While people have focused on these rhetorical missteps, they've largely ignored his record since he became attorney general.

KEITH: Turley and others argued, if Barr was really trying to protect the president, he wouldn't have released so much of the Mueller report, including its embarrassing details, like aides ignoring the president's orders and Trump complaining that real lawyers, like Roy Cohn, don't take notes. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.