Examining The Investigations Into Russian Influence In The U.S. Election
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Let's just take a breath here and consider where things stand with all of these investigations into Russia, a country that intelligence officials believe tried to interfere in our country's presidential election. One of the big questions is what Michael Flynn knows. He's President Trump's former national security adviser. And he made this offer last week to testify about Russia if - if - he is granted immunity. Let's try and sort out where all of this goes next with NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly, who's in our studio. Mary Louise, good morning.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: Let's start with this House investigation. They had the director of the FBI come testify. It seemed like they were making a whole lot of progress, then they just descended into partisan bickering. Is that a...
KELLY: A partisan bar brawl, as I've taken to calling it...
GREENE: Partisan bar brawl. Yeah.
KELLY: (Laughter) Yeah.
GREENE: I mean, can that committee actually credibly get back on track?
KELLY: It is hard to see how they credibly get back on track and carry out an independent investigation at this point. They were supposed to hold another public hearing last week. The chairman, Devin Nunes, canceled that. It was supposed to be replaced by a classified hearing. That hasn't happened. And so far there is nothing on the calendar this week. So we're at a point where the questions that the House committee is supposed to be investigating have been completely overtaken by questions about the committee itself...
GREENE: About the committee itself - whether they can ask - still ask questions...
KELLY: Right. In particular, the questions about the chairman, Devin Nunes, whether perhaps he is too close to the White House to carry out an independent investigation. He denies that. And meanwhile, the White House is accusing the press and Democrats of creating a witch-hunt atmosphere. So you have this, you know, again, you pick your metaphor - bar brawl, mass paralysis - on the House side which then raises the stakes for the two other investigations which are creeping forward.
GREENE: Well, and you had Charlie Dent, a Republican from Pennsylvania, who said, you know what, this House investigation, it's just too partisan now. Let's turn the focus to the Senate. So the Senate is now investigating. They held one hearing, but it - not a huge deal because it was mostly just getting academics to weigh in on Russia and what they might have done. You also have the FBI, I mean, just a lot of investigations here.
KELLY: Yes, exactly, moving forward. I mean, the - we have less visibility into where the FBI is. They have announced - they have confirmed they're running a counterintelligence investigation into Russia and specifically into possible ties between people in Trump's orbit and Russia. But exactly where they are in that investigation, we don't know. I mean, I will say - in the service of tempering expectations - we're in this for the long haul.
KELLY: Buckle up. We got a ride ahead. Counterintelligence investigations are among the most complicated the FBI does. They can take months. They can take years.
GREENE: Why? Why?
KELLY: And the Senate's going to take a long one, too. It's partly they are sorting through now the mountain of evidence. This is the mountain of evidence that convinced the U.S. intelligence community that Russia did in fact try to interfere in the U.S. election. So at the CIA, as we speak, they have compiled big binders of classified information. Senate staffers are traveling out, driving out to Langley headquarters and reading them.
And you need to get through all of that before you bring in big-gun witnesses like Mike Flynn, who we mentioned. I'll play you one piece of tape. This is from the Senate chairman - Senate Intelligence Committee chairman - Senator Burr. He has talked about this list that the Senate has compiled, 20 witnesses they want to interview. But they also want to talk to all the staffers and aides and schedulers for those 20 witnesses. Here's Senator Burr.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RICHARD BURR: We weren't given a free pass to do a witch hunt. We were asked to do a real investigation. And we'll see high-profile people. And we will see analysts from the intelligence community. Or we may see a 28-year-old that happened to answer the phone at the White House on the wrong day when an ambassador called him, and when they went around and said who talked to the ambassador, they raised their hand.
GREENE: OK, so this could go on forever if they're talking about all sorts of different people.
KELLY: (Laughter) Yeah.
GREENE: Well, one high-profile person we now wonder will ever appear would be Michael Flynn, former national security adviser. And there's a new twist in his story over the weekend.
KELLY: The new twist is that the White House has released information on his financial dealings going back to 2014. And they show, among other things, that Flynn failed to report payments from Russian firms. He's since corrected that. But this raises questions about whose payroll he was on.
And it comes as he is negotiating for immunity for his testimony, which - if you want a reminder of why all of this matters - let's just pause and remember the national security adviser of the United States was forced to step down because of his ties to Russia. His lawyer says he's got a story to tell. He wants to tell it. You can bet the White House will be watching very closely what exactly he's got to say.
GREENE: And we'll all be wondering if we'll ever actually know what that story is in public. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, thanks as always.
KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.