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Russia Investigation Update


A very busy week in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been following the story and joins us in our studios. Ryan, thanks so much for being with us.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: My pleasure.

SIMON: A lot to catch up on. And a lot's revolved around the attorney general himself.

LUCAS: That's right. And the bottom line right now is basically this - the attorney general is in hot water. His latest troubles stem from a New York Times report that came out on Friday. And that article provides a deeper look into how concerned the White House has been about the Russia investigation. And it also gets into how the administration has tried to keep control of it.

Now, one aspect of this was the top White House lawyer, Don McGahn, lobbying Sessions to try to get him not to recuse himself from Russia matters. Sessions told McGahn that he'd consulted career Justice officials, and they had advised that he needed to recuse himself and that he was doing so. Now, that really angered the president. President Trump has been angry about that ever since both behind the scenes and in public. The latest indication of that - in that Sessions is not in favor is from this weekend. And that's the fact that Sessions is not attending a retreat at Camp David with top administration officials. And the Justice Department says Sessions was not invited.

SIMON: Let me get you to go on, too, about what was in that New York Times article because there were other details.

LUCAS: There were. And one big thing related to Sessions that's in there is that he allegedly enlisted an aide to get dirt on then-FBI Director James Comey. He wanted the aide to get it from a congressional staffer. Sessions also reportedly said that he wanted one negative article a day in the press about Comey. The DOJ denies this, but if it's true, this is highly, highly unusual for an attorney general to try to smear the FBI director, who really works for him.

SIMON: Yeah.

LUCAS: It raises a lot of questions about Sessions and his ability to continue to lead the Justice Department and its various agencies, including the FBI. So all of this just really creates a heap of questions about whether he'll be able to hold on to his job.

SIMON: Finally, there's a book out called "Fire And Fury." Have you heard about that?

LUCAS: I have, yes (laughter).

SIMON: All right. Not just on NPR, I'm sure. Michael Wolf's book, of course. And stuff has spilled out that pertains to the Russian investigation, right?

LUCAS: That's right. There are a few things in particular that stood out in the early excerpts. I haven't had the chance to get my hands on the book yet. But a couple of things in particular. One is that Bannon talks about that infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 that featured Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and the meeting that they had with the Russian lawyer, who was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Bannon describes the meeting as treasonous, as unpatriotic. And he says that those three should've called the FBI immediately. A second thing is that he also says that there's no way - there's no way that Trump Jr. didn't walk the Russians up one floor to the 26th floor of Trump Tower and introduce them to Trump himself.

SIMON: We should explain that's his - he doesn't know that happened, but he just finds it inconceivable it didn't.

LUCAS: He doesn't offer any proof. He wasn't in the campaign at the time. But this would be important if true because Trump has denied any knowledge of the Russian overtures, any knowledge of Russian outreach. And it would - this would obviously contradict that. The last thing is that Bannon says that the investigation is going to focus on money laundering. There are indications that Mueller's team may indeed be looking at that. So a lot to digest there.

SIMON: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thanks so much.

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

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.