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Unconfirmed Reports Allege Collusion Between Russia And Trump Campaign

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And we begin this hour with reports that Russia has collected compromising information on President-elect Donald Trump and that the chiefs of America's intelligence agencies have briefed both Mr. Trump and President Obama on those allegations. CNN broke the story late yesterday, reporting that the allegations involve Trump's personal and political life, also that they were presented in a two-page summary attached to the much-discussed report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. By last night on Capitol Hill, Trump's pick for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, was fielding questions about all this during his confirmation hearing. Here's Senator Al Franken, Democrat from Minnesota.

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AL FRANKEN: Without divulging sensitive information, do you know about this or know what compromising personal and financial information the Russians claim to have?

JEFF SESSIONS: Sen. Franken, allegations get made about candidates all the time, and they've been made about President-elect Trump lots of times. Most of them - virtually all of them - have been proven to be exaggerated or untrue.

MARTIN: That's Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's nominee for attorney general. We're joined now by NPR's Mary Louise Kelly, who's in the studio with us to help answer some big questions - a lot of questions circulating this morning, Mary Louise.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: There are.

MARTIN: So what more can you tell us about what this alleged compromising information is?

KELLY: Well, we know that U.S. intelligence officials have taken it seriously enough to brief both the president and the president-elect. We know that the two-page summary you mentioned is drawn from a larger dossier. The larger dossier was compiled by a private firm. It runs 35 pages. NPR has learned that Senator John McCain gave a copy of that 35 pages to the FBI back on December 9. I have seen those 35 pages. I have not seen the two-page classified summary which, we assume, contains what U.S. intelligence believes is the most credible information.

MARTIN: So we've heard that this information has to do with Trump's political and personal life - those are big realms. What more can you say about that?

KELLY: I can say that they are serious claims. I am not going to lay them out in detail here, Rachel, not because I'm playing coy but because I'm trying to be careful. NPR has not verified these allegations. No news organization have - has. As far as we know, U.S. intelligence has not verified these allegations. I am told that U.S. intelligence has examined the sources for the claims, has found them to be credible. Another factor to remember - we said president-elect and President Obama were briefed. One factor is that one job of U.S. intelligence is to make sure their bosses aren't surprised. These claims are circulating. They are...

MARTIN: Just briefing them doesn't mean that they're giving them any kind of credence.

KELLY: It means they're trying to say - this is circulating. We knew about it, so should you.

MARTIN: How has Donald Trump responded?

KELLY: Well, we may know more later this morning. Trump is scheduled to hold a press conference this morning in New York, his first in six months. If that goes ahead, you can bet that this will be the first question. If you're about to ask me, Rachel, has he tweeted? He has. We have so far from him a tweet that reads - fake news, a total political witch hunt. Presumably, that's referring to these allegations. Meanwhile, some Trump aides who are mentioned in the dossier have personally issued denials. And as of this morning, the Kremlin is also denying all of this.

MARTIN: We said U.S. intelligence leaders are - took the claims seriously enough to have considered them worth sharing. And questions about possible links between Trump and Russia actually came up in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday, right?

KELLY: They did. I was there. This was a hearing on Russia. Democrats asked repeatedly about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Here is one of those Democratic senators. This is Ron Wyden grilling the head of the FBI, James Comey.

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RON WYDEN: My question for you, Director Comey, is has the FBI investigating these reported relationships? And if so, what are the agency's findings?

JAMES COMEY: Thank you, Senator. I would never comment on investigations, whether we have one or not, in an open forum like this.

KELLY: And Wyden kept pushing, demanded that Comey produce an unclassified response to his answer and that he do it, Rachel, before January 20 when Donald Trump is set to assume the presidency.

MARTIN: NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly.

Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.