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Sen. Ron Wyden On Russia Investigation


President Trump says it's now unlikely he'll be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. There were reports this week that Mr. Mueller's investigators into Russian election interference might soon ask the president to take questions from them and their inquiry into ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Of course, there are parallel investigations by a number of congressional committees, including the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. A Democrat on that committee, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, joins us.

Thanks very much for being with us, Senator.

RON WYDEN: Good morning.

SIMON: The president's a pretty busy guy. Is he entitled to say - look, if you have a strong case, you ought to be able to make it without me?

WYDEN: Well, first of all, the president had indicated earlier that he would be available to the counsel, Bob Mueller. So this is another area where he's walking back what he said previously. Look, we are now at a crucial kind of stage. Bob Mueller works on the criminal side. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in which I serve has another very important responsibility, which is to explain to the American people, to tell the story of how the Russians attacked the underpinnings of our democracy. And I am not at all satisfied with where that is going. And particularly, we need more transparency in the investigation. The committee's had just one open hearing related to Russia since June of 2017.

SIMON: You've accused some of your Republican colleagues on the committee of hindering your attempts to gain access to certain documents. What would you like that they've denied you?

WYDEN: We can't, of course, talk specifically about what's being looked at. But let's kind of lay out what this is all about and what the difference of opinion is because that is what this is all about - a major difference of opinion. I feel very strongly that the heart of this inquiry is all about following the money. Since Day 1, I have said financial connections are Counterintelligence 101. The way you compromise somebody is through money. And the committee leadership has resisted making this a special priority. And it's obvious with Paul Manafort, Mr. Papadopoulos, Mr. Flynn - the whole set of issues with respect to laundering money, shell companies and the like - this is what is being missed. So yes, I have put a public hold on a major appointment that the Trump administration wants until we get documents.

SIMON: Bank records?

WYDEN: Pardon me?

SIMON: Bank records?

WYDEN: Again, I don't want to be specific about matters with respect to the inquiry. But certainly, shell companies, money laundering - I think that we ought to hear from Mr. Kushner, Mr. Manafort, the president's lawyer Michael Cohen.

Let me give you an example of the way the committee's been played. Mr. Kushner insisted on coming and talking to the staff privately. At the same time, he went public and told the American people that there was absolutely no improper activity by the family. When he was done with that, he went to the White House and made another public statement, and he wouldn't answer questions.

He said things like, we are family. We don't rely on the Russians for financing our businesses. I looked at that sentence. And I said a lawyer got paid a fortune for writing that sentence because the word rely is subjective. It doesn't say we've never had investments with Russia. It doesn't say we don't have any investments now. So those are the kinds of questions that need to be examined publicly and haven't been.

SIMON: I'll ask - just 30 seconds left - but in a rare bipartisan exercise, are you and Republican Rand Paul going to filibuster rather than permit the surveillance bill to be renewed?

WYDEN: We're going to do everything we can on a bipartisan basis. We'll have a big collection of us - Pat Leahy, Mike Lee. We just believe that when you target foreign threats, which we support - they're dangerous people - you shouldn't just sit by and let law-abiding Americans get swept up in searches that could be conducted without a warrant.

SIMON: Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, thanks so much for being with us.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.