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White House Aides To Meet With Mueller Team

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now that President Trump is back in the U.S., he confronts an unpleasant reality - the investigation of Russia's participation in Trump's election has now reached the West Wing of the White House. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It was inevitable that special counsel Robert Mueller's team would want to speak with aides currently working in the Trump White House. After all, some, like top adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, communications director Hope Hicks and policy adviser Stephen Miller were key players in the campaign as well. Their outside lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. White House special counsel Ty Cobb, the lawyer brought in to handle the Mueller investigation and the various congressional inquiries, wouldn't go into details of who or even how many aides will ultimately face questioning.

TY COBB: I sort of have a blood oath with Mueller that I don't get into that. I mean, it complicates his job, and it sort of defeats the confidence that people here have in me to, you know, protect them. So, you know, I can't talk about the who, what and where stuff.

KEITH: But Cobb is talking about when.

COBB: The interviews ideally will be completed by Thanksgiving or shortly thereafter.

KEITH: Mueller's team has reportedly already spoken to former administration officials Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus. Thus far, under Ty Cobb's guidance, the White House posture has been full cooperation.

COBB: I think it's been highly professionally done, and I think they've moved, you know, with an alacrity that they're proud of and that the American people can be proud of.

KEITH: But that is paired with frequent comments by the president and his allies meant to undermine the investigation, calling it a witch hunt or suggesting the real scandal involves Democrats. Regardless of public expressions, when White House aides must hire outside lawyers and sit for interviews with federal investigators, it's intense, says Lanny Davis.

LANNY DAVIS: No matter how you try to put it out of your mind, it's like a cloud or mist that never goes away.

KEITH: Davis is a lawyer who served in the Clinton White House for two years handling the response to Ken Starr's independent counsel investigation. And he says he's spoken with members of the Trump administration who were looking for advice.

DAVIS: If everything were good and nobody had done anything or met with the Russians or talked about meetings with the Russians or emailed about meetings with the Russians - if everything were good, it would still be stressful.

KEITH: Davis remembers in the Clinton White House, everyone was so afraid of getting into the investigative crosshairs that many stopped taking notes altogether. He used 3-by-5 note cards that as a practice he'd throw out at the end of the day. He imagines aides in the Trump White House are experiencing similar highs and lows.

DAVIS: You're so thrilled to be there, and when you walk down the driveway early in the morning and you see the house lit up and you think, gosh, Abraham Lincoln walked down these very same stones, you say I'm so lucky to be here. And then you walk into your office and you turn the lights on and you suddenly see some 3-by-5 cards from notes that you took the day before and you think, oh, my God. I didn't throw those away last night. Now what do I do?

KEITH: For his part, current White House special counsel Ty Cobb, who projects a permanently unruffled attitude, insists aides in the Trump administration are sanguine about the whole thing.

COBB: I don't think there's, you know, much angst here.

KEITH: As for how much longer the special counsel's microscope will stay on the president and his administration, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says things are nearing the conclusion. Cobb, on the other hand, says the timeline is up to Robert Mueller. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE HUNTER'S "EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN UNTIL THEY GET PUNCHED IN THE MOUTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.