Will Trump sit for an interview with the special counsel? And, if he does, when will it happen? Those were the biggest questions for reporters following the Trump-Russia probe this week. Trump’s lawyers are advising him against talking to Bob Mueller out of fear that he’ll perjure himself, but a refusal to do so could set up a protracted legal showdown that history suggests would likely end with the President being forced to testify. Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is expected to be interviewed by Mueller’s team next week. Attorneys for indicted Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, meanwhile, are seeking to withdraw their representation, citing “irreconcilable differences.”
On the congressional side, there’s rising tension in the House Intelligence Committee, with Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) reportedly hatching plans to construct a physical wall this spring to separate Democratic and Republican staffers. The Office of Congressional Ethics has been asked to investigate the committee’s GOP staffers over leaks; if the office determines the matter warrants further review, it will refer it to the House Committee on Ethics, which would eventually compile a public report.
The Russia probe saw a rare bipartisan moment early in the week when the House panel unanimously voted to release a Democratic memo intended to refute Nunes’ now-public memo, which alleged anti-Trump bias at the FBI and DOJ. The White House is currently reviewing the Democrats’ memo and has until Saturday to decide whether or not to make it public. Chief of Staff Kelly has hinted that, unlike the Nunes document, the Democrats’ memo may face redactions because it’s “less clean” and “lengthier.”
The committee has also yet again extended the deadline for its interview with Bannon. It will now be next Tuesday. According to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Bannon’s lawyer informed the committee that he would only answer 14 “yes-or-no questions the White House had pre-approved” about the presidential transition. Schiff said this week that, if Bannon fails to comply with a committee subpoena to answer questions about the transition and administration, he should face contempt hearings — a threat the congressional committees have yet to follow up on.
Republicans’ allegations of Democratic partisanship among FBI leadership and resentment of that partisanship among the rank-and-file was dealt yet another blow this week by the publication of a FOIAed trove of emails that revealed dismay among officials at the bureau following James Comey’s firing. A new trove of texts between FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok that Trump deemed a “bombshell” was anything but; they showed that Barack Obama wanted to learn more about the Russia interference investigation, not, as conservative news outlets initially alleged, the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Meanwhile, Russia is already taking steps to meddle in the midterm elections, per Secretary of State Tillerson, who said there was little the U.S. could do to prevent that interference.