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Russia Investigation Update


It's been another wild week in the Russia investigation. Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has pleaded not guilty again. More of the president's advisers when he was candidate Trump testified before the grand jury in Washington. And the special counsel appeared to focus on a meeting on the Seychelles during the presidential transition. With us to sort all of these developments through is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hi, Carrie.


GONYEA: So, Carrie, let's start with this mysterious meeting in January of 2017. Why is it important to the Russia investigation?

JOHNSON: Well, we know special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at Russian interference in the presidential election and whether any Americans took part in that. This meeting during the transition period in the Seychelles could be important because Erik Prince, the founder of the security company Blackwater, was a big Trump supporter. His sister Betsy DeVos is now the secretary of education. And Erik Prince had a meeting with an Emirati prince and a Russian banker in January 2017. Prince has told the House intelligence committee that the meeting was happenstance that lasted as long as it took to drink a beer, but news outlets including The New York Times and The Washington Post have been reporting there was more to it, that it may have been an effort to set up a back channel for talks between the incoming Trump administration and Russians.

GONYEA: So the implication there is that someone may not be telling the truth to Congress or to the special prosecutor?

JOHNSON: That's right. And it's not clear who's telling the truth right now. George Nader, who's an adviser to the United Arab Emirates, is reportedly telling one story to investigators. And that conflicts with what Erik Prince has told Congress. Now, Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, says he wants to figure this all out.


ADAM SCHIFF: It either was a back channel, or it wasn't. It was either a meeting arranged as a result of other discussions in December in Trump Tower, or it wasn't. And we need to get to the bottom of it.

JOHNSON: Now, Don, remember people close to Trump in his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security advisor Michael Flynn had a meeting with the Russian ambassador in December. Prosecutors want to know if that's connected to this meeting in the Seychelles with another Russian operative. It's not clear how much the House is going to do here, though, because Democrats like Adam Schiff don't control the committee. Republicans do. And I've heard they want to move on pretty soon.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, Paul Manafort, the former campaign chair to President Trump, returned to court this week. What's the latest?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to bank fraud and tax fraud charges in Virginia. The judge there set a trial for July 10. This is in addition to a separate trial Manafort will face in September in Washington, D.C. So far, he's holding firm, fighting these charges. If he's convicted in either case, he could spend the rest of his life in prison. He's now 68 years old.

GONYEA: And Carrie, last but not least, there was the spectacle - and that's really the only word to use...

JOHNSON: (Laughter).

GONYEA: ...The spectacle of Sam Nunberg. Nunberg started this week all over cable TV and everywhere else, promising to rip up his grand jury subpoena. But he ended the week testifying before the grand jury.

JOHNSON: Yeah. As they say, how bizarre. Nunberg went on nearly every show that would have him this week, vowing to resist the subpoena. Lawyers, reporters and various random people felt obliged to give Sam Nunberg legal advice on air. Don't do this. You're going to wind up in jail. Lo and behold, Don, by the end of the week, Nunberg was marching past the cameras into the grand jury to testify. Moral of the story is he fought the law here. The law won. He testified for six hours. And Robert Mueller got what he wanted.

GONYEA: There's always a moral. NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, thanks for joining us.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.