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An Update On The Russia Investigation

Dec 16, 2017
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We begin this hour with the Russia investigation.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They're spending millions and millions of dollars. There is absolutely no collusion.

SIMON: The president on Friday on the White House lawn. But special counsel Robert Mueller's team has so far gotten indictments or guilty pleas from four people tied to President Trump's campaign. Also this week, congressional Republicans charge bias. NPR's Ryan Lucas joins us now. Ryan, thanks for being with us.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And tell us about the bias charges. The controversy seems to, in many ways, be defined by some text messages, doesn't it?

LUCAS: Text messages are certainly a major part of the Republican allegations, yes. And these are text messages sent by a senior FBI agent by the name of Peter Strzok. They run from about August of 2015 to December of 2016. Many of them are disparaging comments about then-candidate Trump. In one, he calls Trump an idiot. And the reason that Republicans are kind of seizing on this is because Strzok worked on the Clinton email investigation and then was a member of special counsel Robert Mueller's team for a period of time until these texts surfaced. So this is one part of the Republican allegations of bias. Another major thing that they're pointing to is political donations made by members of Mueller's team over the years to Obama, Clinton, other Democrats. So both of these things kind of taken together are kind of the main threads of Republican claims of deep bias.

SIMON: Any reaction from Mr. Mueller or the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein?

LUCAS: Mueller has not responded. But he did remove this agent this summer as soon as he learned of the text messages. As for Rosenstein, he was on the Hill this week. He defended Mueller. He said he was the ideal man to lead the investigation, cited his past service as FBI director, for example, for both Republicans and Democrats. He said he's seen no reason to fire Mueller. He said he's running the investigation properly. And he also said that political contributions are OK under government guidelines. He also acknowledged that DOJ employees have political views. And he said it's his job and the job of those supervising the investigation to make sure those views don't impact the work. Mueller's aware of this he said. Let's give a listen.

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ROD ROSENSTEIN: I believe that Director Mueller understands that and that he is running that office appropriately, recognizing that people have political views but ensuring that those views are not in any way a factor in how they conduct themselves in office.

SIMON: That was Wednesday. Friday, President Trump headed out to the FBI National Academy in Quantico for a speech. But before he could even get there, he took a poke at the FBI.

LUCAS: He did take a poke at the FBI. That's right. Before getting onto Marine One to fly down there, he briefly spoke to reporters. Here's a bit of what he had to say.

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TRUMP: Well, it's a shame what's happened with the FBI. But we're going to rebuild the FBI. It'll be bigger and better than ever. But it is very sad when you look at those documents. And how they've done that is really, really disgraceful. And you have a lot of very angry people that are seeing it.

LUCAS: Now, this is the latest in kind of a long line of disparaging comments that the president has made about the FBI. Remember, he called former Director James Comey a liar. And less than two weeks ago, after his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty, he said that the FBI was in tatters and the worst in history.

SIMON: The president also didn't rule out a pardon for Michael Flynn. He said this.

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TRUMP: I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens. Let's see.

SIMON: So Ryan, is the president saying standby, or is he just being a showman?

LUCAS: Well, the president's attorney, Ty Cobb, said on Friday, there is no consideration that the White House have a pardon Flynn. Now, the president, of course, is prone to making comments that sometimes are not borne out. Sometimes they are. It's important to note that Flynn has not been sentenced yet. Court documents suggest he's cooperating with the special counsel's team. He has a long career in military service and a clean record. That means he may not actually serve any prison time. So we're going to have to wait and see.

SIMON: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thanks for being with us.

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