Where The Russia Investigation Stands
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're returning now to that ongoing investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections and to determine whether the Trump campaign was somehow involved with those efforts. In just a few minutes, we're going to speak with BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith. We're going to talk about why his outlet decided to publish a report on that subject, which was put together by a former British intelligence officer, when other news outlets would not because they couldn't independently verify the information in those reports.
But first, since this story has gone on so long and has taken so many turns, we thought it would be useful to try to gather up the threads of what we know so far and the latest developments. And for that, we turn to NPR's Tim Mak, who's been following all these stories. He's with us now.
Tim, thanks so much for joining us.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Thank you for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: With so much news this week, we thought we would just go in chronological order and take these developments one-by-one, OK. So first, let's start with Dianne Feinstein, the California senator, releasing a transcript of an interview that her committee did with someone called Glenn Simpson. Now, who is Glenn Simpson? And why was her decision to release this transcript such a big deal?
MAK: OK, so Glenn Simpson is the founder of a private intelligence firm called Fusion GPS. And during the 2016 campaign, they were looking into any possible ties between Trump and Russia. As part of that, they decided to hire a former British spy called Christopher Steele to look into exactly what happened.
Those reports ended up becoming what we now call the Steele dossier, the Russia dossier - this very controversial set of notes that came from that investigation. And so the Senate Judiciary Committee, in August, had the Fusion GPS founder before their panel in order to investigate kind of what is the motive behind these notes - this dossier - especially since Republicans have argued that this dossier was funded by Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign and thus might be biased or have some sort of nefarious motive behind its original creation.
MARTIN: So why did Dianne Feinstein release it, and why was her decision to do so a big story?
MAK: She wanted to clarify what the Fusion GPS founder eventually did say in his testimony, which is we sent this former British spy out in order to just look into these connections. We didn't send him out to Russia in order to dig up dirt or scare the FBI into an investigation. That's what he eventually testified. And it kind of clarifies and undercuts a lot of what Republicans have been arguing about the entire dossier.
MARTIN: What did the Glenn Simpson transcripts say? What did we learn from it?
MAK: We learned that Fusion GPS was shocked when they found out what Mr. Steele eventually did report back from Russia. We're talking, at a particular time during the campaign, when there was no hint in the public realm that the Russian government was actively interfering with the election. That prompted Mr. Steele to end up going to the FBI. And we learned a lot about this early period when the FBI was just starting its investigation into possible Trump-Russia ties.
MARTIN: So that was Tuesday. Then, on Wednesday, the president gave a press conference, and he was asked about whether he would be speaking with the special counsel investigating Russia - that's the former FBI Director Robert Mueller. What did he say?
MAK: Well, he wavered. In the past, he said, 100 percent, I'm going to meet with the special counsel. And now he says he's not so sure. He says that it probably won't even be necessary to meet with the special counsel because there's going to be no evidence of collusion.
MARTIN: And has the White House been cooperating with Robert Mueller in other ways?
MAK: Well, they say they have, but it's actually a very obscure process. The special counsel isn't talking to reporters. And all we have to base this off of is the White House's say-so. They say, hey, we've been providing documents, and we've been providing people who the special counsel wants to talk to. But it's very difficult to say whether or not they've been fully cooperative.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, what else are you going to be looking for? What other threads are you following as you continue to follow this story?
MAK: Well, there are a lot of interesting developments that are coming up next week. Steve Bannon - you'll remember him - he is going to be testifying before the House Intelligence Commitee. And Bannon's testimony isn't going to be public.
But you can bet that what he's going to be asked about, I'm sure, is a lot about his comments that were reported in a book that just came out - "Fire And Fury" - where he talked about the president's son meeting with Russians in Trump Tower and said that that was treasonous. Republicans are going to try to undercut his testimony this week. Democrats are going to try to tease out more from that thread.
MARTIN: That was NPR's Tim Mak. Tim, thank you.
MAK: Thanks for having me.
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