Trump's Week In Washington

May 19, 2017
Originally published on May 19, 2017 6:45 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump is calling it a witch hunt. He was talking yesterday about the special counsel that is looking into his campaign and Russia. He said he has accepted that that is taking place. But the president suggested there's just not much to be found. This came on a day when the full Senate got a closed-door briefing about all of this. And let's talk now with NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis, who's in our studio.

Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, briefed senators in this briefing. What exactly happened in the meeting?

DAVIS: The most interesting revelation to come out of this meeting was that Rosenstein told senators that he knew James Comey was going to be fired before he drafted his memo. That memo, of course, was initially what the White House pointed to as the justification for Comey's firing. We obviously found out later from the president himself that he had already made up his mind he was going to fire Jim Comey. So it was one more data point to sort of undercut the White House's original story. He did not tell senators much more than that. He said, now that there's a special counsel appointed, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, he was going to defer to him on those matters.

GREENE: So the larger context here, of course, is that Rosenstein wrote that memo, Trump fires Comey, and then there's also the whole question of whether Trump, at some point, told Comey, when he was FBI director, to stop investigating the former national security adviser. This all sort of ties together as we go forward here.

DAVIS: Yes. And that is what Robert Mueller's job is now - is to get to the bottom of all that and figure out exactly what happened.

GREENE: OK. So we have these congressional investigations into what happened. We also now have Mueller, as you said, as special counsel. And I want to ask you - we heard from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham after that hearing with Rosenstein yesterday. And here's what he said.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think the shock to the body is it's now considered a criminal investigation. And Congress's ability to conduct investigations of all things Russia has been severely limited, probably in an appropriate fashion.

GREENE: A lot to work through there. He's suggesting that now we have this special counsel, that's going to limit what Congress can do. But he's saying that that's appropriate. What is he talking about?

DAVIS: When there is an active criminal investigation, Congress often defers to them on who gets to testify and when. That said, the congressional investigations are still going to continue. Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, explained it this way - that the Senate intelligence committee is more of a counterintelligence investigation and what Robert Mueller is doing is more of a criminal investigation. So those are the two lanes to think of. For instance, Congress has the ability - and only the ability - to do things like enact sanctions against Russia for meddling in the election, while the FBI investigation and Mueller's investigation can only bring charges. Congress can't charge you with a crime.

GREENE: What about James Comey, the former FBI director? Would he be testifying in any of these congressional inquiries?

DAVIS: He is the hottest ticket in town right now.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIS: He has been invited by multiple committees to appear before them. He has not accepted any of those invitations, although there is an indication that he would like a chance to publicly testify.

GREENE: And wasn't the president hinting that he would be naming a replacement for James Comey, like, now?

DAVIS: He has. And it's possible it could come as early as today before he leaves on his first foreign trip. The latest name in the mix that popped up this week is former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, once a Democrat now an independent.

GREENE: Yeah.

DAVIS: And he has been received very favorably among Republicans, but Democrats are still saying they do not believe someone with a political background should lead the FBI at this moment.

GREENE: All right. We'll be waiting for that news. NPR's Susan Davis - thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: Have a great weekend.

GREENE: You, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.