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Week In Politics: Sessions To Testify To Address Comey Statements


We'll spend the first part of this hour trying to wrap our heads around the political chaos we're witnessing. In a few minutes, we'll hear the latest from London on their electoral surprise and the pickle that's put Prime Minister Theresa May in. First, Washington - and for that, we turn to NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hey, Mara.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK. So we had former FBI Director James Comey's testimony on Thursday. And he certainly alluded to more to know about Attorney General Jeff Sessions' contact with the Russians. And now Sessions is going to testify in front of that same intelligence committee on Tuesday. What do we know?

LIASSON: We know Sessions was supposed to testify before the appropriations committee this week. But in light of all the questions about his role with Russia, he's now going to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, probably behind closed doors. He'll be asked about his own contacts with the Russians and why they weren't disclosed. He'll be asked about what happened when President Trump cleared the room on Valentine's Day to talk to FBI Director Comey alone. He was there at that meeting. He'll also be asked about why - if he had recused himself from the Russia investigation, why was he involved in firing the guy who was conducting the Russia "investigation?"

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, Mara, elsewhere in the program today, Senator Ron Wyden said secrecy behind closed-door testimony has no national security value and it's only being used to protect the administration. What's your view?

LIASSON: Well, there are just classified matters that people can't discuss in public. And that's why the committees go behind closed doors.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Donald Trump, of course, has tried to make the case that this is all done and dusted. But it's clearly not. He would already be in much more trouble, fairly or not, if he didn't have the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. So how are congressional Republicans swallowing things right now?

LIASSON: Well, Republicans on Capitol Hill might not have the same bravado as the president, claiming total and complete vindication. But they do think that on the narrow legal matter of obstruction, they think the president is on firm ground, as Trump himself said. He denied what Jim Comey says he said. But he said, even if I did say that, quote, "there would be nothing wrong." As Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina described it, he said, Trump might be rude and crude but not criminal.

But Republicans still are worried about where special counsel Mueller's investigation goes next. Comey made it clear that if the president wasn't under investigation for collusion, he probably is now under investigation for obstruction. And they're also worried about how the president is handling this. So much of these problems were caused by his own actions. In his frantic effort to get out from under the cloud of the Russia investigation, he now put himself under a cloud for possible abuse of power and maybe obstruction.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Has any congressional Republican whispered to you what they think the breaking point could look like?

LIASSON: That is the big question everyone is talking about this week. No matter what the White House says, this was a bad, bad week for the president. The FBI director, under oath, accused him of lying. And what Republicans say is that as long as his numbers stay in the high 30s or low 40s, he's probably OK. But if they see those numbers slip into the mid-30s - if his base stops drifting away, that will be a big, big problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly - we only have a few seconds. Republicans are advancing some agenda items, right?

LIASSON: They are. The agenda might be behind schedule. It's not hopelessly stalled. The House took steps to undo the Obama-era Dodd-Frank banking reforms last week. And in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to be making progress on an Obamacare replacement bill. So Trump's troubles have not rendered his party totally ineffective.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.