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The Latest Political Fallout From Trump's Russia Ties


President Trump was asked a pretty extraordinary question over the weekend. It came from Fox News host Jeanine Pirro. She asked Trump if he has ever worked for Russia. The president did not exactly say no. He did say this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think it's the most insulting thing I've ever been asked. I think it's the most insulting article I've ever had written.

GREENE: The article he's talking about was in The New York Times. And it said the FBI was concerned about President Trump's ties to Russia as early as his 2016 campaign and that after he fired former FBI Director James Comey, it opened a counterintelligence investigation into the president. Let's bring in NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.


GREENE: Wouldn't no have been an easier answer for President Trump there?

LIASSON: It certainly would've been, and all his answer did was increase the mystery about what his connections to Russia are and why he's so solicitous of Vladimir Putin and so often repeats the talking points of Russia, whether it's on Afghanistan or NATO.

GREENE: I mean, and this was just one story. I mean, a lot of questions raised over the weekend in a couple major stories that came out. Walk us through what we learned.

LIASSON: Well, as you just said, New York Times revealed that there's a criminal investigation into whether the president obstructed justice when he fired FBI Director Comey. We already knew about that. Then there was the counterintelligence inquiry about whether he was acting on behalf of Russia after the firing of Comey. The question there is, did the FBI inform the relevant members of Congress about that investigation? Then The Washington Post said that Trump was actively working to conceal details about his meetings with Putin as president, going so far as to ask an interpreter to hand over their notes to him. So now there are no in-depth records of any of Trump's in-person meetings with Putin - not even classified records. The White House is pushing back against these stories - not with any detailed denials. And Trump did say in the Fox News interview that he hasn't been keeping anything under wraps.

GREENE: Although, a lot of, I mean, seasoned diplomats saying, if nothing else, it's just unusual for a president to keep secret what happened in a meeting with another foreign leader.

LIASSON: Yes, yet another unusual thing. Right.

GREENE: Yes, yet another unusual thing. Well, let me turn, if we can, to the partial government shutdown, which is breaking records now. It's broken the record for the longest shutdown, which was back in 1995. Any sign that Republicans on Capitol Hill are going to be breaking with the president over this shutdown and over the border wall funding?

LIASSON: So far, only a handful of Republicans have either voted with Democrats in the House to reopen the government or said in the Senate that they want to do that. You do have some lawmakers who are getting antsy about the government shutdown as it goes on and on. Here's South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham - big ally of the president's - on Fox News yesterday.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: Before he pulls the plug on the legislative option - and I think we're almost there - I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug. See if we can get a deal...

GREENE: What's he talking about there, Mara?

LIASSON: What he's talking about is whether the president should declare a national emergency and take this issue off of Congress's laps. Declare a national emergency, and then he would build the wall himself, for all intents and purposes, with unobligated Pentagon money. Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, is arguing that moderate Republicans should pressure Mitch McConnell in the Senate to bring up the House bills that reopen the government. But none of these options are gaining any traction or looking close to becoming reality. So right now, things are really stuck. And it's a snow day in Washington.

GREENE: (Laughter) NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.