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Congress Prepares For Investigations Into Russian Ties To Election

Mar 2, 2017
Originally published on March 8, 2017 9:30 am
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A little more now on the role of Congress in this investigation - news about Attorney General Sessions' conversations with the Russian ambassador arrived just as the House Intelligence Committee's leaders agreed on the scope of their own investigation into Russia's meddling in the American election.

Joining us now to talk about where that increase seems to be headed is NPR's national security correspondent Dave Welna. Hi, David.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: There's been a lot of talk but not much action on Capitol Hill about investigating Russia's role in last year's election. What did the House Intelligence panel agree on today?

WELNA: Well, they agreed to look at just what it was - cyber activities or otherwise - that Russia carried out against the U.S. last year. They also agreed to examine what links there might be between Russia's activities and, as they put it, individuals associated with political campaigns or any other U.S. persons.

They're also going to look at how U.S. officials have responded to those actions and whether the classified information was leaked when intelligence agencies were looking at these questions last fall.

SHAPIRO: How likely is it that this congressional panel would get to the bottom of this?

WELNA: You know, that's a good question. This is a very politically loaded issue. Obviously what's at stake is really President Trump's legitimacy, which could be badly tarnished if a congressional probe showed any ties between Russia and his presidential campaign.

We already have an investigation underway at the FBI, and FBI Director James Comey did meet behind closed doors this morning with the full House Intelligence Committee to discuss the sharing of information that that panel is seeking. And after that, Devin Nunes, the Republican committee chairman, declared he was satisfied with what Comey told them.

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DEVIN NUNES: The director was very upfront with us. I think we were very direct with him that we want to continue to get this information. And he, you know, I think has an agreement with us that he's going to try to provide what he can with us.

WELNA: There was quite a different response, though, from the committee's top Democrat, Adam Schiff. He said Comey repeatedly refused to answer questions about both the scope and the breadth of the FBI probe and suggested the FBI is withholding information from the committee.

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ADAM SCHIFF: Thus far, the Bureau has not been willing to give us a full counterintelligence briefing. That can't persist. If we're going to do our job, the FBI is going to have to fully cooperate with us, and that means they can't say, we'll tell you about this, but we won't tell you about that.

SHAPIRO: David, is Congressman Schiff suggesting any political motives for the FBI to withhold information from the committee?

WELNA: Well, you know, Congressman Schiff is wondering if the White House has any role in this decision or if the Department of Justice and, by extension, the attorney general who's in charge of the Department of Justice might have a role in this. Schiff is not the only one who is raising questions about possible interference in the FBI investigation. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer raised questions as well today about that.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: Have there been any attempts to interfere with the investigation in any way? Has the AG or his close associates personally managed the work of career officials at the Department of Justice or FBI in the course of the investigation?

SHAPIRO: How are Republican lawmakers dealing with the news about Sessions and the Democrats demands that he resign?

WELNA: Well, many of them are rushing to Sessions' defense. Ted Cruz of Texas, who sits on the Judiciary Committee and was a colleague of Sessions when he was on the committee too, said that this is just a big ploy.

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TED CRUZ: What we're seeing right now is political circus. It is Democrats who oppose President Trump, who oppose Attorney General Jeff Sessions because he's a conservative and a Republican, who did not want him to be confirmed and who are now using this as an excuse to impugn his character.

WELNA: But of course as Tam mentioned, there are other Republicans on Capitol Hill who are calling at least for Sessions to recuse himself from this. And of course there are Democrats calling for him to resign.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's David Welna. And as we have been having this conversation, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been holding a press conference. We will be having more reporting on this throughout the show.

But the headline out of the press conference is that Attorney General Session (ph) has, quote, "decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States." He says, I have taken no actions regarding any such matters to the extent they exist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.