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New Developments In Russia Investigation


OK, there's lots of news to catch you up on when it comes to the Russia probes - new emails coming to light, new subpoenas from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and an attempt by one lawmaker to rein in Mueller's investigation. Here to get us up to speed is NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Hi, Mary Louise.


MARTIN: Let's start with these new subpoenas that Mueller's team has issued. They're for aides to Paul Manafort - right? - Trump's former campaign chair.

KELLY: That's right - Manafort who was only the campaign chair for a couple of months last summer but whose name keeps coming up over and over and over in connection with questions about possible ties between Trump and Russia. So CNN was the first to report this twist, which is subpoenas to a former lawyer for Manafort and to his current spokesperson.

This follows, you'll remember, Manafort's home was raided earlier this summer. The FBI got a warrant to go out to his house in Alexandria - suburban Virginia - and look around for business and tax records. And they carted some stuff away - so all adds up to a pretty strong sign that Mueller's team has an aggressive effort underway.

MARTIN: Yeah, right? So in Congress, meanwhile, one Congress member is mounting this effort to try to stop Mueller's investigation altogether. This is Florida Republican Ron DeSantis. What's his game here?

KELLY: Well, so he is pushing an amendment to stop the funding for Mueller's probe. He says if he can get this amendment passed, that 180 days later, the funding should cut off. So he's basically trying to put a time limit on Mueller.

I should say, Rachel, this looks like a long shot. We're not seeing other Republicans piling on to support this effort. And, of course, earlier this summer, we saw over on the Senate side, bipartisan bills introduced to make sure that Mueller can't be fired because there had been reports that maybe President Trump was thinking about that.

MARTIN: Did those pass?

KELLY: They - that's a great question. I think that they're still - I think that they're still working their way through. But clearly, you know, for now, Mueller is full steam ahead.

MARTIN: So I want to turn to those emails that we mentioned - two names in particular, Michael Cohen, Felix Sater. I'll just let you do the work here. Sell up why they're in the headlines right now.

KELLY: So these two names - Michael Cohen is a longtime lawyer for President Trump, dating back to before Trump was president. Felix Sater is a Russian-American businessman who's also had dealings with Trump. And the reason that they are making news - it has come to light, as things often do via emails, that Cohen wrote to Vladimir Putin's personal spokesman to try to jumpstart a deal that would result in a Trump Tower being built in Moscow and that the reason Cohen did this is that Felix Sater told him he had an in with Putin's team that he could help get this deal passed. And he bragged that this would help the Trump campaign. Here's a key line from the emails, quote, "buddy, our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it," end quote.

MARTIN: Oh, OK. That's jaw dropping, to say the least. So what was the upshot of that? Did they engineer this deal? Did anything come of this particular email?

KELLY: No, nothing came of it. The project never got funding. There is no Trump Tower in Moscow. But it's significant because this adds to the list that is growing of known contacts between Trump associates and Russia. And it also shows that Trump's - the business side - the Trump Organization was reaching out to top government officials in Russia even as the Trump campaign in 2016 was turning ahead.

MARTIN: Big picture - what's the time frame for all these investigations?

KELLY: Everybody you talk to says that they would love for these probes to wrap up, that there there's an urgency to this. But then in the next breath, they say there is a lot of work left to go on the congressional side - not likely to wrap up even by the end of this year. And Mueller, so far, open-ended.

MARTIN: NPR national security correspondent, Mary Louise Kelly this morning. Thanks, Mary Louise.

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

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.