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Congress Launching Probes Into Russia, Wiretapping

Mar 16, 2017
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The headline on The New York Post today refers to Russian hacking. It's the allegation that Russia was behind breaking into millions of Yahoo accounts. And the headline reads "Internyet." It just underlines the way that the Russia spying story just keeps expanding and expanding with new chapters and new characters like a great Russian novel.

NPR national security correspondent David Welna has been following an unfinished chapter about President Trump. It's his claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. David, good morning.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. So the president asked Congress to investigate his claim. They said they'd folded into the broader investigation of Russian interference in the election. So what are they doing?

WELNA: Well, you know, on Monday, we're going to have the first public hearing in an investigation that the House Intelligence Committee is getting started. Admiral Mike Rogers who heads the National Security Agency will be there. But really, the star witness will be FBI director James Comey. He's reportedly urged the Justice Department to make clear no wiretaps were ordered on Trump or his associates.

Since the Justice Department hasn't done that, Comey may do so himself on Monday. But already, the committee's top Democrat and its Republican chairman Devin Nunes agree such wiretaps could not have been ordered by President Obama. Here's Nunes yesterday talking to reporters.

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DEVIN NUNES: We don't have any evidence that that took place. In fact, I don't believe just in the last week of time the people we've talked to - I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.

INSKEEP: OK. So the panel's top Republican says that, the panel's top Democrat says even more explicitly that he doesn't think this happened. They agree, but do they agree on what else needs to be investigated?

WELNA: Well, that's about as much agreement as you might find between the two. Nunes is actually a big Trump supporter. In fact, he served on the Trump transition team's executive committee, and he's had phone calls with reporters at the bidding of the White House to try to rebut stories critical of the president.

Nunes seems to want this investigation to focus on alleged espionage and leaking of classified information by U.S. officials, especially those tied to the Obama administration. Here's what Nunes said yesterday were two things that he wanted to look into.

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NUNES: One of the incidental collection of Americans that were possibly tied to the Trump campaign that could have been leaked similar to General Flynn, and secondly the unmasking of Americans names potentially for political purposes.

INSKEEP: Oh, Michael Flynn former national security adviser who was fired for his contacts with Russia. Nunes' question is how was that leaked? How did we find out about it? That's what he wants to know. What does Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat want to know?

WELNA: Well, it should come as no surprise that the main thing that Schiff wants to know is if Russia's interference in the campaign was purely the work of Moscow or if others were involved. Here's Schiff yesterday laying out his key questions for the inquiry.

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ADAM SCHIFF: Were U.S. persons involved? Did they get help? Was there any form of collusion with the campaign? I think the public knows far less on that issue than they do on many of the others.

INSKEEP: Is the committee likely to look seriously at those questions?

WELNA: Well, you know, I think it's only going to go as far as the chairman Nunes lets it go. The key to this investigation is the panel's power to subpoena witnesses and evidence. But the ability to do that requires support from the Republican majority. The witnesses so far are testifying voluntarily. But there are others including General Flynn who Democrats want to hear from, but it's not clear that Republicans do - ditto on Trump's tax return.

INSKEEP: There are some Republicans who want more investigation though, right?

WELNA: That's true. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham is one of them. He said at a hearing yesterday that he wants to get to the bottom of this. Graham ran against Trump in the primaries, and if there is a Republican in Congress willing to take this inquiry wherever it leaves - leads, it would likely be Graham.

INSKEEP: Thanks. That's NPR's David Welna. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.