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How a new FBI director could impact Congress’ Russia probes

May 10, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Amid the turmoil over James Comey's firing and how it may affect the FBI's investigation into Russia's meddling in the election, there are other investigations underways in both the House and the Senate. Where do those probes stand and how does Comey’s sacking factor in? William Brangham speaks with Adam Entous of The Washington Post.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Late today, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence announced that they have issued a subpoena for former National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn. It requests documents related to Russian interference with the 2016 election.

The Senate’s is just one of many sprawling investigations into Russia’s meddling.

And William Brangham is back with that.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: As Judy said, it’s not just the FBI that’s looking into Russia’s role in the election. As we heard, there are investigations under way in the Intelligence Committees in both the House and the Senate.

So, where do these various investigations stand? And what will James Comey’s firing mean going forward?

To explore these questions, I’m joined now by Washington Post national security reporter Adam Entous.

Adam, welcome to the NewsHour.

ADAM ENTOUS, The Washington Post: Great to be here.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I really want to talk to you about what this means from this point into the future. And, as we mentioned, there’s House and Senate committees looking into this same Russia investigation.

Where do those stand, in light of Comey’s firing?

ADAM ENTOUS: Right.

Well, I think, at this point, we don’t really know. I mean, those investigations have been sort of mixed, in the sense of, you know, it’s unclear how far they have gotten. They have received some cooperation from the intelligence agencies in terms of providing them with documents.

But they have been waiting for other documents, very sensitive documents, which they were negotiating to get access to with Comey at the time that he was fired. So, the question is, you know, depending on the — you know, is the acting FBI director, is the future FBI director, are they going to be as cooperative as apparently Comey had been with these committees in terms of sharing documents that they would need in order to try to reach a judgment as to what occurred?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I mean, broadly speak, what are these two different committees trying to uncover?

ADAM ENTOUS: Well, I mean, basically, the top line is that they’re looking at, what did Russia do in 2016 in terms of interfering in the election?

You know, they’re also looking into whether or not, much like the FBI, there was any associates of Donald Trump during the campaign who were in contact with and may be potentially collaborating or cooperating, working together with the Russians.

And that’s something that they’re also going to be looking into. Particularly on the House side, but also on the Senate side, on the Republican side of the aisle, the focus is on exploring the leaks. They really want to get to the bottom of, you know, where is this information that’s come out in the press that led to the firing of Flynn, that led to, you know, different things happening to, you know, different people who have come out?

And that’s something that the Republicans seem to be most focused on.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Let’s say we do get a new FBI director sometime soon. How much does that person’s role and their actions dictate how these House and Senate committees do their work?

ADAM ENTOUS: Well, certainly, if the new director is somebody who wants to help the senators and the congressmen pursue their investigations, they can lean forward in terms of cooperating with them, in terms of sharing some of the intelligence that they have collected. That would, obviously, be a huge benefit to these investigations.

On the other hand, if this next FBI director is somebody that is, you know, maybe under pressure from the White House not to be as cooperative, then you might have a situation where they’re withholding these documents. And then the question is, how hard are these Republican-controlled committees going to push to get the documents?

Are they going to threaten to hold up, you know, support for things that the intelligence agencies want to do until they get the documents? That’s something that I don’t know what the answers are at this point, and I don’t think anybody does. And it depends, largely, on who is chosen to take over this role at the FBI.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: I mean, obviously, that person on day one that they’re in the new job, day one means now we start investigating the boss.

I mean, how on earth does an FBI director insulate themselves from that kind of obvious conflict?

ADAM ENTOUS: Yes, that’s a great question. And I don’t have an answer to it.

It’s obviously a very difficult position that that person will be in. You know, what kind of pressure will be on that person from day one to try to downplay this investigation?

And, you know, I do want to say, you know, that the person in charge of the FBI is going to have a tremendous amount of say over how aggressively this case is pursued. Even though we are dealing here with career professionals, in terms of resource allocation, personnel devoted to the investigation, these are the kinds of things where the FBI director would have tremendous power.

And so this really is a critical moment, I think, where, you know, contrary to, I think, some of the earlier guests on the show, I do think the investigation is potentially in jeopardy, depending on how the new FBI director decides to pursue this investigation.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Adam Entous of The Washington Post, thank you so much.

ADAM ENTOUS: Thank you.

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