1 Year And Counting Since Robert Mueller Began The Russia Probe
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
This past week, President Trump made note of a troublesome anniversary. In a tweet, he wrote, (reading) congratulations, America. We are now into the second year of the greatest witch hunt in American history.
Mr. Trump is talking about, of course, the yearlong investigation run by special counsel Robert Mueller, which has led to some unexpected places. Mark Mazzetti is an investigative correspondent for The New York Times and part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of contacts between Russian figures and Trump's advisers. And he's broken some news this week on the investigation, so we've brought him into the studio this morning to talk about it.
MARK MAZZETTI: Hey. How are you?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm good. So you have this new story in the Times. You're reporting that countries other than Russia may have offered to help the Trump campaign before the 2016 presidential election. Tell us what you found.
MAZZETTI: So a couple months ago, we started hearing about a new line of inquiry in the Mueller investigation. And that was whether countries in the Persian Gulf - Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates - might also be in the mix here as possibly having helped the Trump campaign, either with money or something else. What we reported today was that there were actually meetings with top campaign advisers and emissaries from these countries several months before the election and really right up until Election Day.
And this was the first evidence that we had of that. And what the significance is is that the Trump campaign clearly didn't have issues with receiving some kind of help, having contacts, at least entertaining offers of help from foreign countries. And this is illegal. You can't receive anything from foreign governments, foreign emissaries in connection with an American campaign.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's not just his advisers. I mean, we're talking about Donald Trump Jr. here, right?
MAZZETTI: That's right. His - the president's oldest son meets with an emissary from the south - from Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates two months after the infamous Trump Tower meeting with the Russians. So this was in August 2016. After Donald Trump Jr. has this meeting, there are several follow-on meetings with other advisers.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Donald Jr. has acknowledged the meeting but said nothing came of it and so it really isn't of interest.
MAZZETTI: Right. And so he has made that statement. And we reported today that maybe Donald Trump Jr. didn't have follow-on meetings with these individuals. But Jared Kushner did. Michael Flynn did. Steve Bannon did. These are the top echelon of the Trump campaign, who, during this period of time, are busy doing - they're running a campaign trying to win the presidency. They seem to have a lot of time for this emissary, George Nader, who was representing these Persian Gulf states.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what do they want, these Persian Gulf states? What were they trying to do? What were they offering? Do we know?
MAZZETTI: We don't know specifically at the moment. We know that in this meeting in August 2016 with Donald Trump Jr., George Nader, the emissary, was basically saying, we're here to help. We want your father to be president. We do know that the leaders of those countries preferred Trump to Hillary Clinton. They were very angry about Obama administration policy in the Middle East, especially towards Iran, toward the - in the Arab Spring. They saw Clinton as a potential extension of that. And they saw Trump as someone who would advance their interests more. And we have seen in the first year of the Trump administration, he has done that. He has been very close to Saudi Arabia. He's been very close to the United Arab Emirates...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And pulled, of course, United States out of the Iran deal.
MAZZETTI: That's correct.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Does this indicate interest from the Mueller investigation in extending the investigation to countries beyond Russia? Because, obviously, this investigation was started specifically about Russia - but do you think it's going elsewhere?
MAZZETTI: It's always hard to know or predict where Mueller's going. So we always have to sort of chase witnesses. We try to find out who's being pulled into the grand jury, who's getting interviewed by prosecutors. That's how we came across this story. Mueller has a mandate to look at anything he comes across effectively. If he thinks that there's potential wrongdoing or criminality, he doesn't have to just focus on Russia.
There is a question, of course, about whether these countries may have been in some kind of coordination with Russia. There are ties there. George Nader, the emissary from the Gulf, has ties to Russia and some of the Russian figures in the middle of this. This is one of the things that Mueller's trying to sort out and we're trying to sort out.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I just want to ask you briefly - we only have a few seconds - but where is this going now? I mean, how - what are the pressing unanswered questions that we have?
MAZZETTI: The biggest unanswered question, of course, is - was there coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians? We know the Russians carried out this active effort to help Trump. We know there were extensive contacts. The question still is coordination - some people call it collusion. But where does it lead in terms of active coordination between the campaign and the Russian government - or other governments?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times, thank you so much.
MAZZETTI: Thank you.
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