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What we know about Sessions’ questioning in the Russia probe

For the first time, a member of President Trump's Cabinet has talked to the special counsel's office investigating Russia; Attorney General Jeff Sessions was interviewed last week for hours. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that Robert Mueller plans to question President Trump about the firing of Michael Flynn and James Comey. Jeffrey Brown talks with Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There were multiple developments today connected to the ongoing investigation into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

    The Washington Post reports that special counsel Robert Mueller plans to question President Trump about why he fired former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey, this hours after the Department of Justice confirmed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions faced questions just last week.

    Here is Jeffrey Brown now to help piece together what we know.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The attorney general is the first Trump Cabinet member to sit down with Robert Mueller's team that we know of. We also learned today that former FBI Director James Comey was questioned by the special counsel's office last year. The New York Times reported that this afternoon.

    And the paper's Washington investigations editor, Mark Mazzetti, joins me now.

    So, Mark, we have Attorney General Sessions last week. We have James Comey last year. What does this tell us, if anything, about the state of the probe?

  • Mark Mazzetti:

    Well, it certainly says that Mueller's team is looking pretty closely at this question of obstruction of justice. Did the president — did President Trump since he took office try to impede the ongoing FBI investigation into Russia and later the investigation taken over by Mueller?

    Did he try to impede it with regards to Michael Flynn? Did he try to impede it when he fired James Comey? And so Sessions and, of course, Comey himself would be critical witnesses to try to answer these questions.

    But it's not just the obstruction issue. Recall that Sessions was also a key campaign adviser for Donald Trump, and so the question of, was there any collusion, was there — what was the extent of contact with the Russians, Sessions would also be able to speak to that question.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Now, he was a key campaign adviser on foreign affairs specifically.

  • Mark Mazzetti:

    That's right.

    And he sort of ran the foreign affairs team, a team that has several members that have already been examined by Mueller and FBI because of their contacts with the Russians, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Flynn himself. Sessions was running that group.

    And there were key meetings in the spring and summer of 2016 that Mueller would want to ask Sessions about.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    There is also, as Judy said earlier, new reports that Mr. Mueller wants to talk to President Trump. Do we know anything more about timing?

  • Mark Mazzetti:

    You know, reports have come out in the last few weeks that Mueller in the coming weeks and months will want to talk to Trump. Obviously, we knew he would.

    The new report today in The Post was that it would be or could come in a matter of a few weeks. That certainly is very interesting. It would certainly indicate that Mueller is beginning to, you know, perhaps wrap up the investigation, because Trump would in normal circumstances be the last witness.

    You would want to interview the president last, because he would be — you know, you might only get one shot at him. But this is not normal times, so I don't want the make any predictions, but certainly he would want to ask President Trump about the obstruction question, about the Flynn and Comey issues, as we just discussed. He'd want to ask about any possible collusion.

    There would be any number of things to talk to the president about, and the president and his legal team would obviously want to have their ducks in a row before that happens.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Another development here is the reports that the attorney general has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire his deputy, Andrew McCabe, and further that the FBI director has threatened to resign himself if the pressure doesn't stop.

    What do we know or not know about all this?

  • Mark Mazzetti:

    It's unclear whether Wray actually did threaten to resign, but there is no question there has been this tension, in part because Wray was put in after Comey was fired, and yet he inherited a lot of Comey's team.

    The White House and the attorney general, Sessions, have sort of made no secret about the fact that they thought Comey and his team were partisan and to some degree corrupt. So the question of how much Wray should clean house at the FBI has been a point of tension. And certainly Wray would want to at some point put his own team in place.

    I think the question of the pace at which he did that and how much pressure from above to fire Comey aides, that's really the issue. And all of the backdrop of this, of course, is overriding tension between President Trump and the FBI. President Trump has made no secret of the fact that he thinks the rank and file of the FBI and the senior leadership has been very partisan and against him.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    No secret. That's continued.

    Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times, thanks very much.

  • Mark Mazzetti:

    Thank you.

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