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President Trump Issues A Denial About His Ties To Russia


Two big stories over the weekend have raised more questions about President Trump's relationship with Russia. First, The New York Times reported that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump was working on Russia's behalf when he fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017. And then The Washington Post reported that Trump concealed details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and ordered his interpreter not to discuss the meeting with other government officials. On the White House lawn today when he was asked about these stories, Trump gave a sharp response.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I never worked for Russia. And you know that answer better than anybody. I never worked for Russia. Not only did I never work for Russia. I think it's a disgrace that you even asked that question because it's a whole big, fat hoax.

SHAPIRO: We're joined now by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.


SHAPIRO: Trump was asked a question like this on Saturday when these reports first surfaced, and he did not give a direct answer at the time. Why was it so important today that he denied working for Russia?

LIASSON: Because he didn't give a direct answer on Saturday. But it was pretty interesting. The clip you played, he said three times, I never worked for Russia; I never worked for Russia. And that was a very specific denial. He didn't answer the general question about whether he had business dealings in Russia or acted in Russia's interest. So every time the president talks about Russia, he managed to - manages to deepen instead of clearing up the mystery about why he is so solicitous to Vladimir Putin and why he manages to repeat Russian talking points on issues ranging from the Russian invasion of Afghanistan to Montenegro or to NATO.

SHAPIRO: Now Democrats are talking about issuing subpoenas for the interpreter at that Putin meeting and any notes the interpreter might have taken. What sort of political risk could that carry for both Trump and the Democrats?

LIASSON: Well, I think it's a risk for Trump. He was very nonchalant about this on Saturday on Fox. He says he wasn't keeping anything under wraps. But today when he talked to reporters, he claimed ignorance of the issue. Here's what he said.


TRUMP: But I have those meetings one-on-one with all leaders, including the president of China, including prime minister of Japan, Abe. We have those meetings all the time - no big deal.

LIASSON: No big deal. But I think what Democrats are going to want to know is did he confiscate the interpreter's notes from any other meetings with other world leaders or only Vladimir Putin? Now, presidents do have executive privilege. They need to be able to have confidential conversations with world leaders. But the big question that I think Democrats will be interested in exploring is, why doesn't he want others in the U.S. government to know about his conversations with Vladimir Putin?

SHAPIRO: The president's been on a tweeting frenzy lately. He's pushing back against these stories and against people he opposes. Just in the last 24 hours, he's created a new nickname for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post. He's attacked Senator Elizabeth Warren again. What do you think is driving this burst of activity?

LIASSON: I think it's a challenging time for the president. He's used to driving and dominating the media narrative. That's one of his metrics for success. But now there's a Democratic House, so he is sharing power. And he hasn't really absorbed what that means. Meanwhile, there's a grinding legal process not just by the special counsel, but Democrats are going to start issuing subpoenas pretty soon. That keeps Trump on the defensive. And the government is still shut down, and he's not winning that fight, either.

SHAPIRO: Right. It's Day 24 now. We surpassed the record for the longest-ever shutdown in the United States - any movement on that standoff?

LIASSON: No movement at all. Here's what Trump had to say about it today in a speech to the Farm Bureau.


TRUMP: They think if they can stop me from building the wall, that's good. This is the reason why they don't want the wall bill - 'cause they all know it works. They all approved it numerous times.

LIASSON: They of course meaning Democrats. But the president has made it very hard for Democrats to offer him anything because he has made the wall the definition of border security. And he's made it the most important thing right now for his presidency. So we're stuck. There are no negotiations, and neither side is feeling the kind of political pain that would cause them to capitulate.

SHAPIRO: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson - thanks, Mara.

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