Reviewing The Status Of Various Russia Probes

May 21, 2017
Originally published on May 21, 2017 8:20 am
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The investigations into ties between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign are moving forward in Congress, at the Justice Department and with the newly appointed special counsel, Robert Mueller. We're now going to look ahead to what we can expect this week. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us on the line. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning. We're all just trying to recover from last week.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We really are. With Trump still on the first stop of his trip, I'm curious, how are members of the House and Senate are progressing in their investigations into the Russian ties?

LIASSON: Well, those investigations are progressing. The fact that we now have a special counsel, Bob Mueller, will complicate things for some of the congressional committees because his investigation takes precedence. He'll decide who gets immunity. His investigation is criminal.

Was there collusion? Was there obstruction of justice? However, the intelligence committees on Capitol Hill will still be looking into the larger questions and the national security issues around whether and how Russia interfered with the 2016 elections.

The other things that are on Republican Congress members' minds this week and next week is going to be, how much does this issue dominate and distract them and the president from selling their legislative agenda? What does it mean for the 2018 elections? They're really worried about that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we're expecting to hear from James Comey this week, aren't we?

LIASSON: Yes. No - not this week. After Memorial Day, James Comey will testify publicly on Capitol Hill.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Is it harder for the White House to deal with the investigation with Trump continuing to talk openly about it, sometimes contradicting his own administration?

LIASSON: That is a problem according to lawyers and former administration officials who have gone through this kind of investigation in the past. They say the best thing to do is to lawyer up and shut up. It is a grinding process. But Donald Trump has decided not to stay silent about it, as you just heard him in that audio clip. He said this is a witch hunt. He's described himself as a victim.

And the problem is that in the past, Donald Trump has succeeded in business, in show business as a presidential candidate by fighting, by as he puts it, if you punch me, I'll counterpunch you 10 times harder. So he really is acting like he's still in a PR battle in the New York tabloids, not embroiled in a legal proceeding.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we mentioned, President Trump is on his first foreign trip. How might the investigation affect Trump's conversations with foreign leaders this week? He's headed to Israel?

LIASSON: Yes. He's - well, he's in Saudi Arabia today. He's headed to Israel. I think in Israel in Saudi Arabia, not at all. This is - he sees foreign policy as transactional. Those two countries are happy with him. They think he's an upgrade from President Obama. They had rocky relationships with President Obama. He is touting this big $100 billion-plus arms sale with Saudi Arabia. He got an elaborate welcome there in Israel.

There might be some bumps because, of course, one of the big news stories this week was that Donald Trump passed highly sensitive intelligence information that the U.S. got from Israel to the Russians, but I think in Europe he'll get a much different kind of reception. Europeans are worried about how distracted and diminished this controversy has made the leader of the most powerful nation on earth.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much.

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