STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to a series of lies. He says he lied to Congress, covering up Trump Organization talks about a proposed Trump Tower Moscow. These talks continued even as Russia was moving to assist Trump's election. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas came by to help us understand how the new information fits in with what was already known. Hey there, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: OK. So Cohen has acknowledged what he was really doing in 2016. There does seem to be other evidence to back him up. There's reference to electronic communications in this federal document that came out yesterday. So what was happening in 2016, in what order?
LUCAS: Well, in January of 2016, Cohen was working behind the scenes, reaching out to the Kremlin, for example, to try to get its help in moving the Trump Tower project forward. February 1, of course, the Iowa caucuses in the campaign take place. That really kicks off in earnest the Republican primaries.
INSKEEP: And they're still talking about a Trump Tower Moscow at this point.
LUCAS: They're still talking about a Trump Tower Moscow. A month later, Russian operatives hacked into the emails of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. A month later, Trump delivers a foreign policy address calling for improved relations with Russia. This whole time, Cohen is talking to try to move this Moscow project forward. June 7 is the last big primary day. June 9, we had the fateful meeting at Trump Tower where Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. meet with a Russian lawyer who's offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
This whole time, Cohen is still conducting these talks to try to move the project forward. June 14, news breaks of two Russian hacks of the Democratic National Committee. Cohen meets with a business associate in Trump Tower that day to say that he won't be traveling to Moscow to try to push this project forward.
INSKEEP: Because he'd been talking about a trip to Moscow. And he also, throughout this period, seems to have been informing Individual One, as the document says - that's clearly the future president of the United States - about what he was doing.
LUCAS: Then keeping him abreast the whole time. Yes.
INSKEEP: OK. So now the president has said that Michael Cohen is a liar and is weak. Those are some of the words that he used yesterday. But he also appears to acknowledge the truth of everything that Cohen is now saying, at least in general terms. Here's what Trump says to explain what he was doing.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn't have won, in which case I would've gotten back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities?
INSKEEP: OK. So he admits he was running his business while he was campaigning. He's tweeted again today saying that he was just having some discussions about a possible business deal in Moscow. But what does this plea deal mean for the president?
LUCAS: Well, this plea deal is a big deal. It provides a couple of new puzzle pieces to help fill in the picture about contacts between Trump and his associates with Russia. And if you'd look closely at the court papers, you'd definitely get the suggestion that prosecutors with the special counsel's office know a whole lot more than is currently public.
INSKEEP: That is NPR's Ryan Lucas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.