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House Intelligence Committee Agrees On Scope Of Russia Investigation


And we're going to hear now about the reaction on Capitol Hill to the attorney general's decision to recuse himself of any investigation involving the Trump presidential campaign. Joining us to talk about this is NPR national security correspondent David Welna. Hi, David.


SHAPIRO: How is Sessions' decision to recuse himself playing on the Hill?

WELNA: Well, you know, I think it has to come as a big relief to Republicans because just what course of action Sessions should take was becoming an issue dividing GOP lawmakers. A lot of Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, had said they saw no reason for Sessions to recuse himself from any probe unless it was specifically about him. But there were at least half a dozen prominent Republicans who said Sessions should recuse himself, and they said that before he announced that he would.

Chuck Grassley, the Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, was one of those who'd recommended recusal. He chaired the confirmation hearing where Sessions failed to disclose his meetings with the Russian ambassador. And Grassley says he asked Sessions to send a letter to the committee, in his words, to clear up any confusion regarding his testimony so we can put this issue to bed once and for all.

SHAPIRO: If that's the Democratic - the Republican reaction, rather, what is the Democratic reaction?

WELNA: Well, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is still demanding that Sessions resign. She says what she calls his lies to the Senate and the American people make him unfit to serve as the nation's top law enforcement officer. She calls Sessions' recusal from matters dealing only with the campaign narrow and an attempt to keep control over a larger investigation into the grip that she says Russia has on the Trump administration.

And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer says Sessions' recusal was the right thing to do but that it only happened because he got caught misleading Congress. Schumer and other Democrats are demanding that the acting attorney general, who's a holdover from the Obama administration, appoint a special prosecutor to deal with the Russian election meddling.

SHAPIRO: Acting deputy attorney general, you mean.


SHAPIRO: Meanwhile, both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have launched their own investigations. There's been a lot of talk about these probes. Has there been any action so far?

WELNA: Well, not if you consider action to be calling in witnesses and gathering evidence. But there was a possibly significant step taken last night by the House Intelligence Committee. Its leaders finally agreed on just what it is that they should be looking into, namely what it was - cyber hacking, fake news or otherwise - that Russia was doing last year to interfere with the U.S. election. And perhaps even more significantly, they agreed to examine any links between Russia's nefarious activities and, as they put it, individuals associated with political campaigns or any other U.S. persons.

SHAPIRO: How likely is it that these congressional probes will get to the bottom of this?

WELNA: Well, there are serious doubts, especially among Democrats, that the Republicans who control the Intelligence Committees really will go wherever the evidence leads them. In fact, just getting that evidence could be a huge problem.

FBI Director James Comey met behind closed doors this morning with the full House Intelligence panel to talk about sharing information. And afterward, there were two very different assessments of that meeting. Here's the committee's Republican chairman, Devin Nunes.


DEVIN NUNES: The director was very upfront with us. I think we were very direct with him that we want to continue to get this information. And he, you know, I think has an agreement with us that he's going to try to provide what he can with us.

WELNA: There was a very different assessment, though, from the committee's top Democrat, Adam Schiff. He said Comey repeatedly refused to answer questions about the scope and breadth of the FBI his own probe into Russian meddling. And Schiff suggested the FBI may actually be withholding information from the committee.


ADAM SCHIFF: Thus far, the bureau has not been willing to give us a full counterintelligence briefing. That can't persist. If we're going to do our job, the FBI is going to have to fully cooperate with us, and that means they can't say, we'll tell you about this, but we won't tell you about that.

WELNA: Schiff's raising questions about how much both the White House and the Justice Department might be involved in the FBI's decision making, questions that Sessions' recusal is unlikely to put to rest.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR national security correspondent David Welna. Thanks.

WELNA: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.