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As Special Counsel Interviews AG Sessions, Trump Again Takes Aim At FBI

Jan 23, 2018
Originally published on January 23, 2018 7:28 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The investigation into Russia and the 2016 election has now reached into the president's cabinet. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the latest official to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sessions answered questions for hours last week.

Here to talk about the latest in the investigation and all its twists and turns is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey there again.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Do we have a sense of what special counsel Mueller asked and what the attorney general may have answered during this interview?

JOHNSON: Here's what we know. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, knows a lot. He was a top adviser to Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Sessions met at least twice with the former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And the attorney general recused himself from the Russia probe last March, but he played a big role in the firing of FBI director James Comey last year. He advised President Trump that Comey had to go. Now there are some big questions about whether that firing was carried out to obstruct justice and impede any investigation. What came out of the attorney general's mouth is not public, at least not yet. But we'll be watching.

KELLY: We certainly will. I wonder, Carrie. Does the fact that this interview happened at all shed any light on where the special counsel probe stands?

JOHNSON: Yeah. It suggests that the special counsel is actually pretty far along and has reached into Trump's cabinet. The New York Times was the first to report the Sessions interview today. We know the special counsel has already interviewed former chief of staff Reince Priebus, White House lawyer Don McGahn, presidential adviser Jared Kushner and James Comey, the fired FBI director. Well, who does that leave - President Trump himself. Trump's lawyers are thinking about the interview now. No date has been set. But for what it's worth, the White House continues to say there was no collusion with Russia, no wrongdoing. And President Trump today said he wasn't concerned at all about the Sessions interview.

KELLY: But worth reminding people - if you're a prosecutor, you're always going to want to save the biggest fish for last. So we watch that. Meanwhile, while I've got you, Carrie, I want to ask you about related developments about the president and the rocky - I think it's safe to say - relationship that he has had with the FBI. What's the latest there?

JOHNSON: Very rocky. The website Axios has reported the FBI director - the new FBI director, Christopher Wray, threatened to quit after Attorney General Sessions was pressuring him to fire a top deputy last year. Trump denied that today. I made a bunch of calls on it. I couldn't confirm that Chris Wray threatened to quit, but I did hear that there may have been a conversation along the lines of let's wait for the investigations to play out. Let's respect some - but let's respect some civil service rules in place. The White House says it respects Chris Wray's integrity and character and that the president's beef is with holdovers from the Comey team. But it's not clear if the public is drawing those distinctions when the president continues to beat up on the FBI.

KELLY: And interesting because Chris Wray has only been running the FBI for - what? - months at this point. I mean, you know, let me stick with this question of social media and the president and the FBI. He tweeted - President Trump tweeted this morning about the FBI. What did he have to say?

JOHNSON: Yeah. He seemed to be attacking the FBI based on some text messages between a lawyer there and an investigator in the bureau. The president seems to be arguing there's some political bias. But if you look at the texts, those people criticize Democrats, too. There's an open question, a back-and-forth now about whether Congress has gotten all of the text messages, whether some may have been lost, as the FBI says, with respect to a technical glitch.

KELLY: That is our Justice Department correspondent Carrie Johnson on the case. Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

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