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Week In Politics: Flynn And Russia, Sexual Harassment On Capitol Hill

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And this week - is Michael Flynn about to look out for himself in the investigation of Russian election intervention? - sexual harassment claims against Republicans and Democrats in Congress. NPR senior political editor Ron Elving joins us this week from KQED in San Francisco.

Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Michael Flynn, of course, the former national security adviser - his lawyers have reportedly cut off communication with President Trump's legal team. What are the possible implications of this split?

ELVING: The first thing people will think is that Michael Flynn's attorneys are now cooperating with Robert Mueller's independent investigation of Russia connections in 2016. Now, that is because Michael Flynn has had connections to the Russians, has had contacts with the Russians. It was his failure to adequately disclose those that got him forced out of the administration.

But he was with the campaign in 2016 as their defense adviser, and he knows a lot about what went on in the Trump campaign in 2016. Clearly, that would be of interest to Bob Mueller, and there is that possibility that his attorneys are now discussing some sort of an arrangement, a deal, something that would win his testimony for Bob Mueller in furthering the larger purposes of this overall investigation.

SIMON: And this doesn't necessarily mean that Michael Flynn is in a position to draw any kind of link with Donald Trump. There are other people in the campaign, too. Aren't there?

ELVING: Much larger than a one-man campaign - many, many people who might have been talking to people who might have been connected to the Russians - including, though, some members of the president's family and some people who were quite high up in the Trump campaign.

SIMON: Now to Congress and elections for the Senate, because this week, there were more allegations about sexual harassment in Congress, including members of both parties. How do you see what went on this week?

ELVING: Sadly, this seems to be the one place where Congress is truly bipartisan. We have seen, of course, Senator Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota. We've also seen John Conyers, a senior member - a ranking member on the Democratic side from Michigan and Joe Barton - a Republican committee chairman from Texas, a 17-term veteran all put in the dock by some degree of evidence, either documents or, in the case of Al Franken, that photograph as well as the witnesses. And then of course, with Joe Barton, this remarkable recording.

All of those things make it extraordinarily difficult to deny or push back on these allegations, even though each of these members has, in his own way and in one degree or another, pushed back against them. And it's meaning is probably that we should set aside a lot of our 2018 to see the House Ethics Committee and the Senate Ethics Committee handling one of these cases after another. And sadly, that is going to be a big part of the year before us.

SIMON: Ron, given the persistence of sexual harassment allegations, more names brought in against long-sitting members of Congress it seems every week. Do you foresee that the composition of the Congress and the Senate could be substantially different over the next two election cycles than it is now?

ELVING: Yes, I do. And one of the ways it could be would be to have more women in the House and in the Senate. We saw back in the early 1990s after the Justice Clarence Thomas controversy, Anita Hill's allegations - led a lot of women to say, why weren't there more women on that committee passing judgment on Anita Hill's accusations? - because there was not a single one. They were all men. And why can't we have more representation for our gender when we are, after all, half the population?

That led to the so-called Year of the Woman - 1992 - in which a record number of senators who were women were elected and a large new number in the House. And that we have seen somewhat rise and continue to rise. And the number of women who are in the Senate today is the highest it's ever been, but it's still a minor fraction. And it's still a minor fraction in the House. And as women become more politically active, they become more politically attuned - they are seeing these things, and they are realizing that they need to be represented in Congress to have full power and full equality in this society.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.