The Week In Politics: Comey, Russia, Flynn, Secret Tapes?

May 13, 2017
Originally published on May 13, 2017 10:43 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Not sure anybody's put a name-gate on the collection of alligations, events and controversies that now includes the firing of James Comey, the testimony of Sally Yates, the investigations into Michael Flynn and Russian meddling. Maybe NPR's Ron Elving has something in mind. Ron, so glad you could join us this morning.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Now yesterday, President Trump suggested in a tweet there might be tapes - as he called them - meaning recordings of his conversations with James Comey. Journalists of a certain age are often accused of comparing every damn scandal in the world to Watergate, but there are tapes.

ELVING: Yes.

SIMON: When - wouldn't - well - ask - let me ask you the implications of that.

ELVING: The implications of there being tapes, of course, would be that there the comparison to the Watergate tapes - which eventually brought down Richard Nixon, forced his resignation - would be unavoidable. We can't stop talking about Watergate. It's almost as if the president were begging us to make the comparison.

SIMON: If there are tapes, would they not potentially be material evidence in several criminal investigations?

ELVING: That is correct, they would be. And to destroy them or to lose them in any way would be to destroy material evidence. This is, of course, one of the sources of the Nixon references because he did partially erase some of those tapes and try for very many months to keep them out of the hands of investigators. He was eventually done in by a unanimous ruling by the Supreme Court that he had to turn over the tapes. But

look, we don't know that there are tapes at this point. The president himself put that word in little quotation marks as if to sort of hold it out there at arm's length. And we don't for that matter know that there will ever be any criminal charges in any of this as we've heard others say, so we really don't want to get too far out ahead of our skis here.

SIMON: I don't want the weekend without speaking about the testimony of Sally Yates this week, in which she said that she warned the administration about the ties to Russia of Michael Flynn, his national security adviser. And they heard that warning and kept Mr. Flynn on that job for another 18 days. Where does this go from there - from here?

ELVING: It funnels into the vortex of what we're calling the Russian connections for the lack of a better term. Flynn was fired for lying to the vice president about his conversations, Flynn's conversations, with the Russian ambassador. And those conversation had to do with the sanctions that the U.S. imposed on Russia for interfering in the U.S. election last year.

So that's just one more of the things, along with all the other connections between Donald Trump, his business dealings, his administration now and the people around him.

SIMON: A number of Democrats, including Senator Klobuchar of Minnesota who's on our program in the other hour, are calling for an independent prosecutor to be appointed to look into Russian election meddling, but is that realistic?

ELVING: Well, it doesn't seem realistic at the moment. The law under which independent counsels used to be appointed back in the Clinton era, when we seemed to have a new one every month, that era lapsed essentially in 1999 with the statute itself. But we could still have either the attorney general or the Congress establish a special prosecutor or at least a special investigating committee.

And the question here is whether a Trump-appointed attorney general, Jeff Sessions, would actually do that or whether a Republican-controlled Congress, where the leaders have said they're not interested, would actually do that.

SIMON: Let me ask you about some of the names that someone familiar with the process has furnished to NPR, that Attorney General Sessions is apparently reviewing and perhaps interviewing candidates for FBI director this afternoon. And they include John Cornyn, the Republican senator from Texas and Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director. What do you hear about some of those names?

ELVING: Well, there are a couple of others who are being interviewed today by Attorney General Sessions and by his deputy who's become so well known in the last week, Rod Rosenstein. So those other names are Alice Fisher, she's a former assistant attorney general, And also Judge Michael Garcia of the New York Court of Appeals.

These are also people with sterling reputations, people who are not household names and certainly not political figures. And that's really their main kind of appeal here. Whereas McCabe has obviously already gotten famous defending James Comey, and John Cornyn is obviously a political figure as a United States senator, as would be other people like Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani, whose names have been mentioned in the media.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving. Thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.