GOP And Democratic Lawmakers To Be Briefed On Russia Probe Documents

May 24, 2018
Originally published on May 24, 2018 11:01 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump says he wants transparency. So the White House has pushed the Department of Justice to brief a select group of lawmakers today on one aspect of the Russian investigation. For weeks, Republicans in Congress have been pushing to get more details about an informant who shared information about the Trump presidential campaign with the FBI. So today, leading Republicans will get that briefing. Democrats pushed back that they weren't going to get the same information, so a bipartisan briefing will happen today as well. We are joined in the studio by NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi.

MARTIN: What are lawmakers hoping to learn today?

LUCAS: Well, first, let's step back. For months, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, and other Trump allies in Congress had been really pressing the Justice Department and the FBI for some very, very sensitive materials related to the Russia investigation. Now, as a rule, the Justice Department doesn't like to share information about an ongoing investigation. Nunes has threatened to hold senior Justice Department officials in contempt or even impeach them if he doesn't get his way. Today's fight is over materials related to this FBI confidential source that you mentioned.

MARTIN: Right.

LUCAS: He's been identified as an American professor who arranged meetings with three Trump campaign aides early - in the early days of the Russia investigation. Nunes says he's worried that the FBI was targeting the Trump campaign. The president, of course, has seized on this, said the FBI embedded a spy in his campaign - no evidence to support that so far. The meeting today is to provide more access to those materials so that Nunes can get an idea as to how this all played out, what the informant did. The top congressional leadership in the House and Senate, the so-called Gang of Eight, is also going to get briefed on these materials. Senate Democrats and Republican leaders are worried about what sort of precedent a special briefing like this for Nunes might set. The Gang of Eight is usually briefed on top intelligence matters. And so if this has to be done, it seems like the proper forum for it.

MARTIN: Which - so the Gang of Eight at first wasn't going to get briefed. Now they are.

LUCAS: Now they are.

MARTIN: So another aspect of the Russia investigation - we learned yesterday Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, sat for a second interview with a special counsel team last month. What do we know about this?

LUCAS: So the meeting took place in mid-April, lasted about seven or eight hours, and they discussed a full range of topics - the campaign, the transition, stuff that happened after Trump was inaugurated, big-ticket items like, say, James Comey's firing, former FBI director. The interview did not deal with Kushner's business or financial dealings. Those could be under investigation elsewhere, such as in New York. We also know that yesterday Kushner got his security clearance, which suggests that maybe he's in the clear as far as the Mueller investigation.

MARTIN: And would also suggest that they would have had to have at least thought about his business dealings because that was part of the reason that the security clearance was held up - ethics concerns about conflicts of interest.

LUCAS: Ethics concerns. We don't know the full details as to why all that was held up, but certainly the fact that he got his security clearance suggests that he is perhaps in safer legal waters at this point.

MARTIN: All right. Two other key figures in the Russia probe - former Trump campaign head Paul Manafort and former campaign aide George Papadopoulos. Both of them had developments in their cases yesterday. Let's start with Manafort. What happened there?

LUCAS: So Manafort is fighting a bunch of charges - conspiracy, money laundering, tax charges and others. Prosecutors have used materials that investigators collected during a search of Manafort's storage unit and his apartment in Virginia. And what Manafort's legal team says is that the search warrants were too broad, agents picked up a lot of stuff that isn't the government's business. The judge didn't make a ruling on that yesterday. We'll have to wait and see on that part.

MARTIN: And Papadopoulos just briefly.

LUCAS: So prosecutors say that Papadopoulos lied about a number of things in his conversations with the FBI. Yesterday, Papadopoulos' legal team and the special counsel's office said they're getting ready for his criminal sentencing. That could happen this summer. We don't know what information he's provided to prosecutors, but we may have a better idea when his sentencing actually happens.

MARTIN: All right. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas for us this morning. Thanks so much, Ryan.

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