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Russian Contacts Issue Hangs Over Trump's Administration


We are following news this morning that both the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C., are filing suit against the president of the United States. This is about allegations that he has violated anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution tied to his failure to divest himself of his business holdings after becoming president. This comes as Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, prepares to testify in front of the Senate intelligence committee over questions about the administration's potential conflicts - contacts, rather, with Russia.

Republican pollster Jim Hobart is here to talk through these stories. Hi, Jim.

JIM HOBART: Good morning.

MARTIN: So first these lawsuits from D.C. and Maryland - this is significant. The Trump administration has been putting out fires on a number of fronts, but this is about potential violations of the Constitution. Politically speaking, how big of a threat is this?

HOBART: My anticipation is that it will be something that fires up those folks who are opposed to Trump and that his supporters see it as another attack on their president, which in their mind has been going on since he was inaugurated, really. And so from a political standpoint, I don't see it changing all that much.

MARTIN: People in his base, his supporters, don't get too riled up about issues of perhaps violating constitutional clauses on corruption.

HOBART: It's not necessarily that they don't get riled up about it, but they - one, obviously an emoluments clause is something that not many people spend a whole lot of time thinking about. And also, they just see it as, again, an attack on their president. There's a big belief that people are still so angry that he was elected that they will stop at nothing to undermine him.

MARTIN: So let's move to another challenge for the president, of course the ongoing Russia investigation. After James Comey testified last week about why he thinks he was fired, the Senate intelligence committee decided that it wanted to hear from the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. But let's listen to this bit of Comey's testimony.


JAMES COMEY: If, as the president said, I was fired because of the Russian investigation, why was the attorney general involved in that chain? I don't know. And so I don't have an answer for the question.

MARTIN: Of course the tension here being that Sessions had recused himself from all things related to the Russia investigation. So what do you think? Is the attorney general in trouble here?

HOBART: It'll be interesting to see. There's been issues previously. And why he did recuse himself is because it was revealed that there were some things that he did not speak truthly on in terms of meeting with Russian ambassadors during the campaign. And it will be interesting to see how his testimony goes now that he's under oath.

MARTIN: What does all of this mean for the president's ability to govern? I mean when you think about health care, when you think about tax reform, how likely are we to see any movement on those issues or even infrastructure, like, the president's entire agenda? Is it going to move forward this summer?

HOBART: Well, it's certainly not ideal. And I think that members of the Senate and Congress would certainly like this cloud, as Trump describes it, to not be there. But at the same time, both Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan are people who are very focused on getting things done.

It looks like health care is continuing to move through the Senate. It certainly has some challenges. McConnell has set the deadline of July 4. So my gut is that eventually on health care, something will get done. Tax reform brings its own myriad of challenges. So it will be interesting to see how that proceeds. Obviously it's not something they can fully turn to until health care gets passed, so...

MARTIN: They're all kind of tied in together.

HOBART: Right. It remains to be seen.

MARTIN: Jim Hobart is a Republican pollster with Public Opinion Strategies. Thanks for coming in, Jim.

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