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The Latest In The Trial Of Notorious Drug Lord 'El Chapo'

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Another story now. Explosive testimony yesterday in the trial of Joaquin Guzman, the notorious Mexican drug kingpin also known as El Chapo. A witness alleged that former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto took a 100 million - $100 million bribe from El Chapo. The president denies this. Vice News editor Keegan Hamilton has been in the federal courtroom in Brooklyn throughout the trial. He joins us now. Hi, Keegan.

KEEGAN HAMILTON: Hello. How are you doing?

KELLY: Hey. I'm OK. Thank you. So I gather that bribery testimony yesterday just drew gasps in the courtroom. You were there?

HAMILTON: I was there. I'm at the courthouse now. And I think we're all still trying to process exactly what happened. There were certainly audible gasps and a lot of journalists sprinting from the courtroom to the pressroom trying to get that news out when it broke.

KELLY: Right. What was the bribe allegedly for?

HAMILTON: Just protection in general, permission for the Sinaloa cartel to operate and for El Chapo to not have to worry about being captured. Obviously, that didn't work out for him in the end because he was captured and is currently on trial in New York.

KELLY: Here's my question. This apparently came out because of questioning by his attorney, by El Chapo's attorney. I mean, if my client were accused of bribing a president with a hundred million bucks, I'm not sure I would want that to come out in court.

HAMILTON: It is somewhat puzzling. And there's some nuance here that I think was lost on the jury and has been lost on most observers of this. What El Chapo's lawyer was getting at was that the statements that were given by this witness, Alex Sifuentes, to U.S. law enforcement after he was extradited were inconsistent. And the first time he talked about it, he said that Pena Nieto asked for $250 million and that Chapo made essentially a counter offer of a hundred million. He stuck with that number for a couple interviews. And then recently, he - in another interview with U.S. law enforcement, he changed the story and said he couldn't remember exactly what it was anymore. So he was essentially trying to say that this witness can't be trusted because he couldn't remember exactly how big the bribe was that Chapo paid.

KELLY: OK. So this is an effort, maybe, to undermine a witness's testimony. Fascinating. Are we expecting El Chapo himself to testify at some point?

HAMILTON: The defense yesterday told the judge that they put Chapo's name on a list of potential witnesses. That doesn't necessarily mean that he is going to testify. But they just didn't want to foreclose on the possibility that he could be called to testify in his own defense. It seems like it's a real possibility. Normally, defense attorneys tell their client, do not get on the stand under any circumstances because you could perjure yourself. You could open yourself to incriminating questions from the government. But in this case, given the amount of evidence we've heard, it's - Chapo has nothing to lose. And he probably wants the opportunity to tell his side of the story. So it's a very real possibility.

KELLY: And was there any more wild testimony today?

HAMILTON: Today's testimony was pretty incredible as well. We heard some stories about Chapo plotting a murder in Canada with the Hells Angels. We heard some more details that he was making - trying to make a movie about his life and gave an interview to a film producer where he told a story about being dangled from a helicopter by the Mexican military. Who knows if any of this stuff is true. This is all coming from the same witness who made the hundred-million-dollar-bribe claim. But that's what the jury heard. That's what everybody in the courtroom heard today.

KELLY: Wow. Sounds like you've got plenty of opportunities to dash out of the courtroom and run to file in your future. That's Keegan Hamilton. He's U.S. editor at VICE News, and he hosts the podcast Chapo: Kingpin on trial. Thanks very much for taking the time.

HAMILTON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.